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Wolfman: After 40 years, a Homeland

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Marv Wolfman writes to tell us that HOMELAND, his graphical history of Israel, illustrated by Mario Ruiz and William J Rubin has been winning a slew of honors of late, including National Jewish Book Award, the latest in a string of honors for the book:

Homeland has previously won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for non-fiction, the USAbooknews.com adult award for history/politics and last week received a Notable Book for teenagers by the Sydney Taylor Book Award for the Association of Jewish Libraries. That means the comic-based book, actually inspired by my old History of the DC Universe book, has won non-comics acclaim for kids, teens and adults. As I say I don’t yet know the category for the National Jewish Book award but in that world this is the big one.


Marv with friend in 2007
While he’s still going strong with the recent Raven mini-series for DC and racking up the awards, Marv also recently celebrated his 40th anniversary as a professional writer. We thought it would be nice to check in and get some insights on his time in the comics business — few people have seen its inner working from such a wide perspective.
What are you working on in 2008?
I’m working on a number of different projects. I’m writing several video games but unfortunately I can’t say what they are right now. Hopefully soon. But they’re a lot of fun. More than one realizes because it forces you to rethink everything. Nothing is by rote because the stories aren’t and can’t be linear in the same way we’ve all written all our lives. Forcing you to think, forcing you to challenge yourself, forcing you out of any possible rut, is exciting and I think actually makes the work itself better. Plus, on top of that, the stories are fun to do.

I’m also scheduled to do a couple of graphic novels, but I’m not sure when they are supposed to begin. In comics, I should be working on the new Vigilante book for DC as well as a few smaller projects which haven’t been announced yet. But the five-part Raven mini-series I did last year will start coming out either in February or March. I’m also scheduled to write a novel, but again I don’t know exactly when that’s supposed to begin.

If everything happens the way they should I’ll be busy, but I’ve learned long ago that rarely happens. Life of a freelancer.

What’s the BIGGEST difference about being a freelancer now and 40 years ago?
Well, for me, I was usually on staff which means I knew exactly what my next assignments were. These days as you can tell from the above, I know what I’m supposed to do, and I’ve actually been paid for some of that, but until I’m told to start I don’t know when. But I’m absolutely thrilled that after all these years I’m still working. And even more, still loving it. Taking a few years off of comics writing actually made me love doing it more than ever. Sometimes you need to get away and recharge the batteries. Last year, 2007, was probably the busiest I’ve ever been. And that includes the year I was writing Titans, Crisis and a dozen other titles… while working on staff and doing my first animation scripts.

What’s the SECOND biggest difference?
I think way back in those prehistoric days we knew we were writing for an 8-14 year old audience which meant we had to be careful with what we were doing. But even by the 70s we were starting to see a paradigm shift. Tomb of Dracula was never written for the same audience that was buying, say, Nova, both books I wrote. These days you can write almost anything for any audience. Comics are finally coming into their own as they always should have. People are understanding that comics are merely story and art and that you can use those tools to tell any story you want. Hell, I even did a book last year that used the techniques, if not the specific form, to tell the non-fiction history of Israel. Comics aren’t just for kids anymore.

How has the role of editor changed in that time?
Editors have always had different styles. Some are strong and have specific ideas what they want. Others encourage you to find your own way, others catch all the little mistakes and have you fix them, others miss those very same mistakes. That hasn’t changed in time. My view of editors has however. For many years, after the original editors retired, the business had a number of editors who weren’t really on top of the game, so I developed a deep desire to stay away from them. The fact is every one of them is out of the business now. On the other hand, the people I’ve been working with these past few years are really solid. I may not always agree with them, but unlike the late 80s, early 90s, I actually don’t work with any I believe doesn’t know what they’re doing. I expect differences of opinions – we all don’t think the same way – and though I do let them know what I think, probably a bit strongly – my New York way of talking – I always follow what my editor demands. I expected that when I had the job and I can give nothing less when they have it.

If there are any negatives, and I think it has more to do with working in a large universe rather than individual titles, is it takes longer to get approvals because if you use a character Editor B normally edits, Editor A has to wait until B has time to read it. When you think premise stage, plot stage and script stage, that adds a lot of time to the process. But I guess it also leads to fewer mistakes down the line.

Marv in 1982

Give me a crazy editor story…no need for names!
My God, get me in trouble will you?

Okay. Back in those days mentioned above, there was an editor – out of the business for a long time now – who though smart had honestly no idea what she or he was doing. Meanwhile, another long-term professional writer as well as an editor (not me) was asked by the company to give writing lessons to all the new editors, to help them out. I thought that was a good idea as many of those people were actually not comic readers but editors brought in from the book business. Comics, for good and bad, have a unique vocabulary that one needs to be somewhat familiar with. At any rate, the teaching editor gave a lesson in foreshadowing which, I assume, the editor I worked with had never heard of before. It must have been a revelation. Of course all writers of any quality use it as it’s a standard writing trick that goes back probably to hieroglyphics or before. It’s something I’ve been doing regularly since the early Tomb of Dracula days if not before, and certainly had done with Titans, most notably the Terra storyline. In fact it’s almost impossible to write anything without some foreshadowing. I mention Dracula and Titans because the editor was very familiar with both those titles.

At any rate, the editor began to “teach” me the idea of foreshadowing, which I patiently listened to, although I said I knew and understood the concept. Anyway, the following month I wrote a book where on the splash page I had the lead character on a motorcycle, driving toward a city. The character had his hand raised toward a bird in the sky and was pretending his finger was a gun which he cocked as if to shoot the bird. That the splash was indeed foreshadowing to the fight inside where the lead character was going to fight a known bird-concept character, meant nothing. Not even with dialog that anyone reading the full script, although not the comic, should have realized was foreshadowing the interior event. Even if you didn’t pick it up in the beginning, it would have hit you across the face once you got to the fight itself. Again, the editor was reading a script which pointed it out, not the printed comic where the foreshadowing would have been less on the nose.

Instead, the visual was removed and I was screamed at by the editor and told that shooting a bird with one’s finger was too violent. I thought the editor was joking so I replied, “But his finger isn’t loaded.” The editor was not joking. I kept saying the character didn’t have a gun. He was pretending to shoot. With his finger. And he didn’t have super-powers. He was an ordinary person. His finger couldn’t do any damage unless the bird flew so low he could use it to poke out its eye. I tried to explain I was setting up a fight scene inside, visually and emotionally. I was doing ^&$%# foreshadowing! But no. It was removed. Although of course the 10 or so page fight scene inside the story had no problems. Pretend finger shooting a bird is violent. Punching your enemy black and blue and trying to kill him is not. The editor had been taught a lesson but obviously had not learned it. That was only one of many run-ins with this editor who was always certain but seldom right. By the way, this is also the ONLY editor in my 40 years I actually quit a book because of. Everyone else, whether I agreed with them or not, could always be talked to.

Heidi, if that person reads this and beats me up at a convention or elsewhere, I’m holding you to blame for making me tell that story!

  1. Great story Marv! :)
    Thanks H.

    Every time you see that guy, you should ask him to give you the exact definition of foreshadowing and pretend not to know what he’s talking about every time. ;)

  2. The Pulse at comicon.com has the publicity release, the National Jewish Book Award is in the Children & Young Adult Literature category.

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