BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Mark Waid Guest of Honor Panel | FanboysInc

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Mark Waid Guest of Honor Panel

By Jeff Ayers

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Mark Waid Guest of Honor Panel

Towards the end of Saturday, the second day of this year’s Baltimore Comic-Con, there was a panel held to celebrate Mark Waid, who was named this year’s guest of honor for the convention. Joining him on the panel were many of his friends and colleagues, but the entire room had an air that everyone in attendance knew Mark on some level. I myself had met Mark very briefly at a convention long since past, and was over the moon with our short interaction. Of course, I know him much more from his work, which he continues churn out at an almost inhuman pace. While he has too many titles and storylines to list in a single article, I will recall some of my favorites before recapping this incredible panel.

I first “met” Mark through one of my favorite storylines of all time, Age of Apocalypse. This gigantic X-Men crossover event was, and still is, a master class on how to do a mega comic book event right. The bookends to this multi-series spanning story arc were titled X-Men Alpha and X-Men Omega, both penned by Mark. Dating myself a little bit, I was in my early teens when these stories hit the shelves, and I was just floored by the scope and the depth. These two issues proved to me that characters could be elevated to something much, much more than a two dimensional entity existing on the page of a comic book. Mark Waid has an inherent love for character and the way you can shape and turn their arc’s within a story, which I would witness time and time again. He went on to write a lot of the next big Marvel event, Onslaught, which I devoured just as eagerly. I would read and love his tales involving The Amazing Spider-Man, Doctor Strange in the limited series Strange, and so many more. Other notable titles that are a credit to his talent and his love for his craft are DC Comics Kingdom Come, his stellar work on The Flash and Daredevil, and his most recent work on Princess Leia and the S.H.I.E.L.D. comic line that bridges the gap between the ABC television series and the comic book universe.

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Mark Waid Guest of Honor Panel

Left to Right: Barry Kitson, Mark Waid, Bob Greenberger, Dean Haspiel, Christina Blanch. Not pictured J.G. Jones and Todd Dezago

But this panel at the Baltimore Comic Con was filled with people who actually knew Mark, and have worked or are working with him in some capacity. Christina Blanch was on hand to provide some light hearted intimacy to the panel, as she explained she met Mark around five years ago and they have been happily dating and own a comic store together. Dean Haspiel, who writes The Fox along with Mark, was also there. So was J.G. Jones (Strange Fruit), Todd Dezago (Ka-Zar) and the incomparable Barry Kitson (Empire) who has been working with Mark for over 20 years on a multitude of projects. Honestly, you couldn’t ask for a greater and diverse panel of talent to celebrate Mark and his incredible career.

Moderator Bob Greenberger kicked things off by having the panelists talk about the first time they became aware of Mark. Barry joked that it has been way too long, but added that it was inherently because of Mark’s talent with dialogue that drew him to his presence. Dean had heard of his work in comics, but it wasn’t until his run on Fantastic Four that clinched in his mind how important Mark Waid was to comics. Dean really believed that Mark was able to create story that was indicative of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era, and he was also intrigued when he would hear that when Mark got mad he would throw books around, which made Dean want to meet him even more, because he felt he was a kindred spirit.

The entire room had a very jovial and warm atmosphere throughout the panel, and it was heightened by the constant ribbing between longtime friends. Barry was known for being very brash, with his inherent British sensibility, and Todd was the pure jester of the group, who had prepared a hilarious slide-show of pictures that unfortunately was not meant to be due to technical difficulties. In fact, Todd went on to read the accompanying speech he prepared, and held the entire room in fits of awe and laughter. Seriously, Todd Dezago should win an award for that speech, which will remain firmly within the memory of everyone who attended that panel. “Friends, we came here to bury Mark Waid, not to praise him.” Let me end that thought by the cryptic question posed by Todd: What if Mark was instead, a ferret? Would Ferret Mark Waid have the same problems, and the same triumphs?

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Jokes aside, this panel gave invaluable insight into Mark’s illustrious career and his process for writing, that truly showed the type of person he is. He started out at the assistant editor at DC Comics, and things spiraled out from there. There was a lot of talk about how Mark is completely authentic with the characters he writes, and it stems from a deep love of each one. Mark said that anyone could look at, lets say, an Archie comic and write “Scene One. Panel One. Jughead is on heroin, with a needle in his arm.” That is flashy, and shock writing. True character development comes from digging really deep within the story you want to create, and the characters that inhabit it.

Honestly, the wealth of knowledge provided by the panelists and Mark himself is too much to contain in this recap, and much of it will remain solidified in that place and time, as it should. There are a few choice nuggets though that I will share. Mark Waid’s influence is so severe that Barry Kitson said he would have retired already if he still didn’t get the chance to work with Mark. Mark loves to write cliffhangers in his work, but even he doesn’t know how to get out of them. While working on a Daredevil story arc, he got increasingly frustrated because he couldn’t figure his way out of his own cliffhanger he had left the character in.  Dean and Mark want to do a Moose(from Archie Comics) story, penned by Mark and drawn by Dean. Mark is so knowledgeable about comics, that he can ramble off the most obscure facts, and even tell the comic by the advert on the back.  Mark looks for someone to work with that puts story first, and has a moral and ethical center. This is because, by his own volition, Mark doesn’t write cynical characters or storylines, yet he would entertain the idea of trying to do just that to push his writing further.

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Mark Waid Guest of Honor Panel

Royalty, complete with a crown

The panel ended with two poignant revelations. The first was from Barry Kitson, who said that Mark always does what he believes he should, and he would defend Mark even if he is doing the wrong thing, because he would be doing it for the right reasons. That is a monumental testament from a true friend. The last question posed to Mark was to recall the first comics he read. He immediately said Batman 180, but he went on to say Action Comics 500 was the first story that really stuck with him. But the one that showed him the meaning of character, and the way you can infuse emotion, and heart, and meaning into a comic book was a story called “Superman Owes A Billion Dollars.”

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON: Mark Waid Guest of Honor Panel

Mark got increasingly emotional as he recounted the story from his youth. Superman stories were written for 8 year olds, he tells the audience, so the premise is a little different. The tale finds Superman being called into the IRS to pay back taxes and the billions of dollars of charitable work he has done over the years. Ever the good guy, Supes decides to make good on the IRS claims, so he goes all over the world and beyond, looking for things of great value. But in a true “comedy of errors” subplot, Superman would find a rare mineral in space, or an account artifact under the waves, but then he realizes that there is someone who needs it more than him, so he is not able to get the money in the end. Mark tells us its ridiculous that he is getting choked up like he is, and his voice quivers as he gets to the end of the story. When the boss of the IRS comes in to deal with Superman, he says that if you want to go by the code, then there are deductibles on taxes for your dependents. With a visible tear in his eye, Mark Waid explains that everyone depends on Superman, and with that realization, he knew he loved comics and the characters that they contained.

It might sound silly as you read this account, but the emotion in the room was genuine and real. Many of us in attendance, including me, were moved by the raw love for the medium that Mark Waid expressed that day. It was completely and utterly fitting of his own character, a man that works so hard to pour his soul into everything he writes. I feel the same way about many of his stories as he did about that Superman tale, and that is the true testament of an incredible talent at its best in the comic industry. Mark Waid knows how to dig deep and truly love the characters he writes as hard as he can, and that big heart was placed upon his sleeve at this panel for everyone to witness in awe.

Jeff Ayers

Both my parents instilled in me at an early age the awesome power and incredible wonder of the written word. My father sat with me when I was four years old and taught me to enjoy reading with classic comic strips like SPIDERMAN, PEANUTS, B.C. and, later, CALVIN AND HOBBES. My mother exposed me to such classics of literature as Poe, Tolkien, Stoker and Doyle, and I started my own comic collection with allowance money from mowing lawns. I liked Wolverine before it was cool, I watched as Superman died and returned, and huddled under the covers as I turned the pages of SANDMAN. Reading is like oxygen to me, and all genres and formats are welcome and devoured equally. I am the co-host of The DW and Incredible Jeff Show, CEO of Permian Productions, and a reviewer at Graphic Novel Reporter. I am 34 and live in scenic Saratoga Springs New York, where I haunt coffee shops and dive bars and the best comic shop anywhere, The Comic Depot.

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