A panel on Friday, March 29th, the first day of programming at WonderCon brought together a rather iconic cast to discuss “iconic characters” and what keeps a character “true” to their origins over long periods of time. Mark Waid opened as moderator by pointing out that the table full of seasoned pros had more than 125 years of comics experience between them and most had worked on longterm characters and newer creations alike. The essential question posed by Waid was how to “vault” characters “into the 21st century without losing what keeps them special”. The question seemed particularly pertinent to Waid, whose ongoing work on DAREDEVIL has evoked critical acclaim. Waid asked his panellists how they handle the “core elements of characters” to face this challenge.
J. M. De Matteis introduced an image that stayed with the panellists as a reference point for discussion. He felt that creators handling long-lived characters work “within a cage”, so they can’t “go wide” with the character in term of change, but they can “go deep” in terms of making new discoveries. For De Matteis, personally, it’s all about the “Big Why” of characters, figuring out what makes them tick. He prefers working with super-villains to pose questions about the formative impact of their past histories because there’s “always a little corner of the psyche to dig into”. Ann Nocenti, however, in her recent work with Catwoman found that “her archetype was pretty clear” as a troubled kid originally, “on the streets” originally, and moving through “foster homes”. Her intuitive approach is to “play with a character and see what feels right” and she doesn’t mind the fact that later creators will do the same with long-term characters. It’s “like treading water”, she said, “You give a sense of constant, dynamic action, but you’re really not moving far”, and she expects later creators to be under the same constraint.