Interview: Mark Waid Discusses Thrillbent and A Return To ‘Empire’
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Anyone who reads comic books is familiar with the name Mark Waid, not only as a writer of one of the best series on the market, Daredevil, but also as a writer of many celebrated series such as Kingdom Come, The Flash, Fantastic Four, and many, many more. He is also an innovator in the world of comics, having worked as Editor-in-Chief of BOOM! Studios for a time before starting his own digital comics platform, Thrillbent.

Thrillbent recently made a change to their business model allowing readers to subscribe to every book Thrillbent releases for $3.99 a month, or readers can continue to buy issues individually. To celebrate this change, Thrillbent is offering new readers a free copy of Waid and penciller Barry Kitson’s series Empire, originally released in 2000. Empire tells the story of Golgoth, a classic megalomaniacal super-villain who has conquered the world before the first issue even starts. The series is an examination of the character and the world he has created for himself.

Thrillbent will also be home to the all-new second volume of Empire, which reunites Waid and Kitson to tell the continuing story of Golgoth and where he goes after the events of volume one. Chapter two of the new series is available now, and the series is just as intriguing and thought-provoking as it was the first time. You can also read the first chapter of Empire Vol. 2 for free right now.

I was able to talk to Waid about not just Empire, but also the future of Thrillbent, as well as what goes into writing Daredevil. You can see what he had to say and also some preview images below.

Geeks Of Doom: What’s it like coming back to Empire after a fairly long break?

Mark Waid: A fairly long break? The good news is that Barry Kitson and I have been percolating on it all that time in the interim. Even back ten years ago, twelve years ago we were eager to do a sequel right away, we just couldn’t get the star in alignment. We weren’t at the same company at the same time and nonsense like that. And once the rights reverted back to us a couple of years ago we went back into it full steam ahead. And what’s cool is being able to come at something in comics from a perspective of fifteen years later, in terms of your own talent, you own craft. And I’m finding that both Barry and I seem to have a better handle on how to do comics, and a better handle on storytelling, a more nuanced handle on storytelling, if you will.

Geeks Of Doom: I know that you’ve worked with Barry Kitson a lot in the past, not just on the first volume of Empire, but also in things like Legion of Super-Heroes. Is it a fairly comfortable thing for the two of you to work together?

Mark Waid: It is a very comfortable thing for us working together? I’m not telling tales out of school to say that Barry, by his own admission, this is the first time he’s worked exclusively in a digital format like this. Certainly using the sort of storytelling bells and whistles we can use on Thrillbent, and he’s having a difficult time making the adjustment, he says. I look at the finished product and I go “You’re insane, not only have you made the adjustment, you’ve thought of things we haven’t thought of yet.” But, it is a learning process. Doing stories in the Thrillbent format, even though it’s still tradition comics, it’s a slightly different form of storytelling. There’s things we can do, and it’s a bit of a learning curve for us.

Geeks Of Doom: Is it something that you’ve had to help him through, just to give him pointers on what you’ve done in the past?

Mark Waid: A little, but to be honest, Barry’s much smarter than I am, so he picked up on it pretty quickly. As I say, he’s already inventing new techniques that we haven’t even thought of yet. So, he’s firmly into it and I think that’s terrific. It’s so refreshing to work with somebody who is not only on the same page as you but frankly is a few pages ahead of you.

Geeks Of Doom: When you’re writing Empire, is there something you do to get into the heads of the characters since these are all mostly villains in the book? Or are you planning to do something different in volume two, where even in the first chapter you’re showing more from the resistance side?

Mark Waid: It’s still very much about the villains to me because the thing I think helped make volume one that successful and well regarded seems to have been is that at no time did we ever float the possibility that Superman or Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four would come in and save the day. We were very adamant before the first page of the first issue of the first series, Golgoth already won. He had already conquered the Earth.

And the story is not about how he’s managed to conquer the Earth, the story is about what happens next. What happens when a megalomaniac achieves absolutely everything there is to achieve and he’s not done yet. What does he want? What happens to him? And that what that leaves us with in volume two is not only more of that question of where you go once you’ve conquered the world, but of course in volume one he has lost a lot of his own personal foundation. He sacrifices he made in volume one to get to where he is, certainly involve stripping himself of what was left of his humanity. Or seemingly so, and as we going into volume two, he really has to put on the game face of omnipotent villain, but in reality he can’t break the façade of “What do I do now?” He can’t afford to show any weakness at a time when he is trialed like he never has been before.

Geeks Of Doom: Since you’ve had so much time to work on it and think about it, is there anything about volume two that changed from when you were done writing volume one?

Mark Waid: Yeah, actually a lot, in a couple of ways. One is that Barry and I have both, like a said a slightly more nuanced point of view on why people do what they do then we did fifteen years ago and that applies to villains as well as heroes. But since then also, we did what we did before there was a Breaking Bad, before there was a Mad Men, before The Sopranos premiered. And so, in the intervening fifteen years there have been a lot more stories told that are villain-centric, or at least about people who are not traditionally the good guys, and their descent into villainy. And that has informed what we do, because I’m impressed by all those series and more, and I wanted to surprise people with what we do, so we have to work harder. We have to work harder than we did fifteen years ago because now this ground that has been tread by other people as well so we want to go back and take the next step and show them what to do next.

Geeks Of Doom: Is there any difference that you go through in your process between when you’re writing for Thrillbent as opposed to when you’re writing the standard sized comic?

Mark Waid: Yeah, it’s a surprisingly different process. You would think that comics is comics, but the reality of it is, with the Thrillbent format, we’re doing faster paced, serial material. Where it’s not as 20 or 22 pages every month, but rather every week or two it’s another short burst chapter. That means that the story telling is at a different pace. You’re telling the same story, you’re just telling it in more bite sized chunks if you will. Frankly, it given the opportunity there is in digital, you can surprise your readers a little more consistently and a little more shockingly then you can in print.

Geeks Of Doom: When it comes to digital comics, do you have any idea what the future will be like or is that part of the fun, where you get to do something completely new with the comic book format?

Mark Waid: I don’t know what the future holds except that the audience is growing which is a great portent of things to come. That our audience is growing, that the digital comics audience is growing and I think that’s largely because we’re in a digital world where we’re able to create a new newsstand, if you will, where it’s much easier to buy digital comics online at 3 in the morning if you live where there’s not a comic store to be found.

Geeks Of Doom: Have there been any new creators that have approached you since the re-launch of Thrillbent?

Mark Waid: Yes. Many. I’m not trying to evade you by not naming names, but that’s only because they’re still developing things. Especially in the last two or three months, a few things have finally gelled together showing that the last two years proved that Thrillbent worked, that we’ve had more and more name creators, writers and artists from outside of comics, have approached us about doing things in the Thrillbent format, because they see this as a potential future for them as well. And that’s great!

Geeks Of Doom: Getting to Daredevil, what is it that’s most interesting about Daredevil for you to write?

Mark Waid: One is that his power set amazes me. The idea that he lives in a world where he has to consider, and I have to consider as a writer, everything he tastes, everything he smells, everything he feels, everything he hears. As a blind hero, he has no sense of sight upon which to rely. I find that fascinating because we live in a 21st century where being able to see things on screens and manipulate things on screens is so much more important, that Daredevil is one of the few comic book super heroes that I can think of who’s actually progressively made less powerful by the evolving world around him.

I’m also very fascinated by a character who has been very dour, and depressed, and tortured over the last few years as so many comic characters tend to be these days, but one who has the inner strength to rise above his depression. To me, that’s a hero, someone who can face his fears, face the demons that thwart him, and do it with a smile on his face and do it with energy because he knows you only get one life, and no one’s going to make you happy but you.

Geeks Of Doom: One of our readers wanted to ask how do you approach the challenge of visually depicting a blind man’s interaction with his surroundings?

Mark Waid: This is something I think about literally every single day. There’s not one time in any given day where I’m not in a situation and wondering to myself “Hey, I wonder how Matt Murdock would perceive this?” And luckily I’ve got one of the greatest artists I can work with. I mean, Chris Samnee, he’s terrific at visualizing the way things would sound, the way things would feel to Daredevil. It’s impossible to describe in a phone interview, but it really is a matter of trying to use the comic book medium to convey things other than visually, and I think Chris is great at it.

Geeks Of Doom: Is that something where he’ll give you an idea of a visual, that you then work into the script somehow?

Mark Waid: A lot of times it’s that, a lot of time it is “How do you see this playing out from the point of view of a blind man”, and then sometimes it’ll be something like coming across a news item. Like last week, about the sound that massive data servers tend to make. There’s a common, very specific sound or tone that computer servers make regardless of who runs them or what part of the world they’re located in. That there’s sort of an inaudible tone that they make and it’s eerie to read about that and realize “Wow, that gives me an insight into how Daredevil might try to track someone” and it give me an exciting plot or a fight that takes place in a cold room or something. It’s all those little things. It’s always trying to bear in mind “What is the world like for you if you were blind and had enhanced senses”.

Geeks Of Doom: With moving the series from New York to San Francisco, did you guys have to do a lot of research to make sure you were getting the setting correct?

Mark Waid: We both did a huge amount of research and talked to our friends who live in San Francisco and the Bay area, and do all that research. It’s funny, we had a lot of time to do it because I had forgotten this until last week, but I was looking over my original outline from three years ago, before I even began writing my first issue of Daredevil, and it starts with a pitch that we up and move him to San Francisco sooner or later. I had forgotten that was thought about before we even began on the book.

Geeks Of Doom: It’s interesting that those ideas come back around.

Mark Waid: Yeah, that was a confirmation to me that we made the right choice. That we had done the right thing.

Preview Images [click for larger view]

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