The Outhouse sits down with Artifacts and Witchblade writer Ron Marz and discuss his new series, the recent Crossgen developments, and the likelihood of him becoming a vampire.
OH: First and foremost, thank you for doing this, Mr. Marz. I'm a big fan and I know that many of the Outhousers are too.
Marz: Sure thing.
OH: So how did you wind up working on the Artifacts maxiseries?
Marz: It just evolved out what I was doing at Top Cow. We've done stories outside of the regular books before. There was the First Born miniseries outside of Witchblade and then that was followed up with the Broken Trinity miniseries. It just followed naturally that this series would be the next thing on the horizon.
OH: For those readers that aren't familiar with the series, could you try to give a brief synopsis of what Artifacts is all about?
Marz: Artifacts is a thirteen issue miniseries for the Top Cow universe. It's an actual event series that's hopefully worthy of being called an event series. The plot is based around the thirteen supernatural or mystical artifacts in the Top Cow universe. The myth around these artifacts is that if you bring all thirteen artifacts together, it'll bring about the end of the world.
So the short version is that we're going to bring all thirteen together and bring about the end of the world.
OH: It really seems like Top Cow gave you all the toys in the toy box. You're getting to play with basically all their characters in this event. How are you handling all that?
Marz: It may be the cliché answer, but very carefully. Top Cow has been great about trusting me with all their characters and giving me the freedom to do some things that you probably wouldn't be able to do at another company.
When you do one of these events at Marvel or DC, ultimately the toys go back in the toy box in pretty much the same fashion in which you found them, even if it doesn't happen right away. Captain America will eventually be Captain America again and Bruce Wayne will be Batman again. There's a cyclical nature to all of it. But with Artifacts, we're not going to wind up where we started.
OH: Most of the characters in Artifacts have pretty extensive histories with one another. How are you dealing with all of the continuity that's already in place for all these characters?
Marz: For the most part, I'm the last guy that gives a shit about continuity. I feel like my job is to tell a good story, not to dot the i's and cross the t's in past stories. I don't let continuity become an obstacle in the way of telling the story or helping new readers latch onto the stories. I think it's a pretty unpardonable sin if you're just writing the material for the enjoyment of the readers you already have. The story should be accessible to people who have been reading Witchblade for fifteen years and they should be accessible for people who have never looked at a Top Cow book before.
I try to make sure that all the information the reader needs is in the pages of the story. Certainly, in Artifacts #1, we had a two-page origin story for Witchblade that was drawn by Marc Silvestri and some bio pages in the back but hopefully that's just the icing on the cake.
Comics shouldn't be so complex that you can't just hand it to somebody and say "Here. This is a good story. Read this." You shouldn't have to have a degree in continuity to come along for the ride.
OH: One of the things I discovered about Artifacts #1 is how new reader friendly it is. Most events just start off in the middle of the story but with Artifacts that didn't feel like that was the case. How did you pull that off?
Marz: It's part of the writer's job. If other writers can't manage it, it's their fault for not doing their job. I don't feel like I deserve a special pat on the back for doing what I consider is an aspect of the job that should always be done. All comics should be accessible to new readers. Really, it's just a matter of creating the story so that there are natural points of explanation that new readers can plug into to understand what's going on.
I'm not dumbing the story down or telling it in a different fashion for new readers. I'm just adapting the story that I wanted to tell in a manner that's friendly for someone who's never read one of the books before. To me, it's a failure of craft when a writer can't manage to do that.
OH: I've noticed that a lot of characters in Artifacts revolved around Christian iconography. Have you done any research on the symbology or just taking what's been done in the past and running with it?
Marz: It's probably a bit of both. Like I said, I'm not one to be a prisoner of continuity. I'm not going to worry about the minute details of an issue that was published 8 years ago because, to me, that was only of interest eight years ago. Those issues shouldn't have a major effect on a storyline that's happening now.
When I approach a story, I try to see what relationships occur organically from the story. For instance, how does Sara Pezzini (Witchblade) know Jackie Estacado (The Darkness)? And if you look into that and try to find the things that make logical sense the connections kind of start to fit together themselves.
I wrote an essay piece in the back of Artifacts #1 that compares the size and scope of the Top Cow universe now to what the Marvel Universe was back in the 60's when things were smaller and more manageable. The inevitable sprawl of a huge interrelated universe hadn't gone into overdrive back then. Not that a big universe is necessarily a bad thing, it just makes it harder to encompass the entire universe and the entire cast of characters into one series.
So, it's really both a question of researching things to find out where the Magdalena history might have touched the Witchblade history, both in an actual historical context and also within the stories in the books.
OH: To follow up on that, what sort of universe do you prefer working in? Do you prefer the smaller Top Cow universe or would you prefer the larger universes like the Marvel or DC universe.
Marz: As a writer, it's certainly easier if you have a more finite number of toys to play with and if the toys have at least some connections to each other. Take the Marvel Universe for instance. It's much harder to have a story that touches on both Silver Surfer and Daredevil because the worlds they inhabit are so completely different and the power levels they operate on are so different. It's hard to make logical sense of those two characters hanging out together.
With Artifacts, everybody is pretty much in the same sort of power range. There are really two sides to the Top Cow universe. One is a more supernatural side with Witchblade and the Darkness and Magdalena. The other side is more science fiction with Cyberforce and Hunter-Killer. For the most part, those two worlds don't brush up against each other too much, which is one of the reasons I like the Top Cow universe. Both sides are separate yet equal.
In Artifacts, particularly in the second story arc, the supernatural side and the technology side are really going to come together for specific story reasons, not just because it's cool to have Velocity standing next to Witchblade. There's an absolute core story reason for those two sides of the universe to end up coming together and for the most part ending up in conflict with each other.
OH: With Artifacts being an event comic, how much leeway did you have with the story? Was there an end point from the top that you were told to get to or has this been your story and you've been told to do what you want with these characters?
Marz: With a storyline that's this extensive, it's not like I can just go to my laboratory and just make it up all by myself. There's editorial conferences and input from Phil Smith and Fillip Sabilik on the editorial side as well as Matt Hawkins, the COO of Top Cow, and Marc Silvestri, who's the leader of the Herd. But beyond that point, they let me take the ball and run with it, which has been a real blessing.
As for the end point, we sat down at dinner last year at San Diego. I told everyone how I wanted it to end and it was pretty radical, and startling way to end the series. I half suspected everyone to say, "What are you, nuts? We're not going to do something like that". Instead they were okay with it. That's still the plan now and that's where we're going to go. The way that Artifacts ends is not with all the toys in the toy box unbroken.
OH: Will related titles such as the Darkness and Witchblade be directly tying into Artifacts or will there be separate story arcs going on in those stories?
Marz: We're going to do a little bit of both. Since it's a yearlong series, we didn't want Witchblade, the Darkness and Magdalena to have a year's worth of tie-in issues. It wouldn't serve the series or the readers well. So all three titles will reflect what's going on in Artifacts but every issue won't be a tie in.
We have some stories to tell that don't really have a huge hook into Artifacts because I want people to just read Witchblade if that's what they're reading. And I want people to just read Artifacts if that's what they're reading. Obviously, I want everyone to read everything but when someone comes in and just wants to read Artifacts we're not going to hold an editorial gun to their head and make them go read other books because they have some tangential tie in to the main story. You can read Artifacts 1#-13 and get the whole story. If you happen to read Witchblade and Darkness, you might get some fun side stories. Obviously, something pretty traumatic happened in Sara Pezzini's life at the end of Artifacts #1 and it would be disingenuous of us to not reflect that in the monthly Witchblade book. So what happened will definitely be reflected but it will not be a constant tie in to Artifacts. The series will remain as separate as much as we can logically do so.
OH: So which character do you enjoy writing the most in Artifacts?
Marz: That's like trying to pick between your children! I've gotten friendlier with the Tom Judge character but if I had to give you one answer, I'm going to cheat and give you two.
I really like writing Sarah and Jackie together because they're really the heart of the story. They're the emotional heart of the story. It's their daughter that goes missing at the end of Artifacts #1. Despite the fact that this is an epic series that will change the Top Cow universe, if that's all you're doing is big action set pieces and explosions and double page spreads but don't give a shit about the characters, it's not worth your time. I keep coming back to Sara and Jackie in the script because that's where the emotional content lies. Hopefully the story works on two levels: it should work as spectacle and it should work as two parents trying to find their daughters.
OH: If you had to convince people to read Artifacts in twenty words or less, what would you say to them?
Marz: If you're sick and tired of event series that don't really end and just lead into more event stories, then this is the one you should read.
It has a beginning, a middle and an end. And it's not going to just spiral into another ten issue miniseries. We're going to do this once, and we're going to do this to the best of our abilities and we're not going to just go back to the status quo when it's all done.
OH: So we shouldn't expect Artifacts II or Final Artifacts?
Marz: Not with me involved. One of the nice things about working with Top Cow is that it's a fairly small publishing company wit ha finite amount of books so we can worry more about the quality of the books instead of the quantity.
OH: Moving on a little bit, a lot of the posters at the Outhouse were wondering about how you felt about the recent Marvel/Crossgen news. What are your thoughts and opinions of the revival?
Marz: I really don't have much of an opinion at this point because I don't know more than anyone else does. I'm just glad its happening. I liked a lot of the books we did there and not just the ones I worked on. I think they're really strong books and so I'm just pleased that those properties and characters and stories aren't going to just disappear without another trace. The chance that they're going to get to live again is pretty cool in my book.
OH: Besides Artifacts, what other projects are you working on?
Marz: Well I'm sticking with Witchblade and Magdalena. I'm also writing the Velocity miniseries, which the second issue should be out soon. We're also finishing up the Angelus miniseries. We're actually proofing issue five tonight to send it off to press.
OH: What other comics are you reading right now? Anything besides Top Cow stuff?
Marz: I don't read nearly as much as I should because I just don't have the time. But when I can get to the store, which tends to be when I do signings, I try to pick up a range of stuff.
Right now, I'm a pretty faithful Hellboy and BRPD reader as well as Captain America, Criminal and Jonah Hex. I usually just end up reading most of it in trade because I just can't keep up with it monthly books. . I guess you could say I'm a trade waiter.
OH: Have you been following any of the Green Lantern stuff recently? I know you wrote some Sinestro Corps tie-ins a few years back. Have you stayed up on Kyle Rayner?
Marz: He's in my buddy Tony Bedard's hands so I know he'll be taken care of well. And I think it's cool that there's three Green Lantern books. Everything goes in cycles. Right before I took over Green Lantern, there were three books and now there are three again.
To me, Green Lantern is one of those properties that's really elastic in what you can do with it. Superman, Batman and Spider-Man are all very obviously singular characters and they all have multiple books but ultimately they deal with one guy. With Green lantern, there is any number of characters involved and everyone can pick their particular flavor.
OH: Any thoughts on the Green Lantern movie?
Marz: Other than I'm glad that they're doing it, not really. It seems like they've put a lot of money and care into of it so I'm just as anxious to see it as everyone else.
OH: And if it's successful enough, maybe we'll see a sequel with Kyle Rayner in it!
Marz: I expect that Hal will be front and center for the near future. I think it's probably always a mistake to start to spread the franchise too thin. I think as soon as we saw Chris O'Donnell as Robin, we knew the Batman franchise was dead. Let's get the first movie out and make sure that's good first.
Interviewer's Note: At this time in the interview, Ron Marz wanted to speak with DarcieSomething, an Outhouse lurker who happens to be a huge Witchblade fan.
OH: Hello! It's nice to talk with you
Marz: Thanks for talking him into buying the books.
OH: So what gets you into your storywriting? How do you make your stories?
Marz: You know at this point, I've been doing it long enough, that it's kind of my job. I sit at my desk every day and this is what I do. But certainly there are times when it's just not flowing so I take a bike ride or walk in the woods or something like that. The worst thing you can do is sit at your desk and stare at your computer all day.
OH: So do you use running and biking to help come up with things?
Marz: The hardest thing to do is just to sit down and say I'm going to have an idea right now. The ideas show up when they want to, not when you want to.
OH: So how does that work with your deadlines?
Marz: Well, the deadlines sure help. Part of the equation is to not have the phone ring with an irate editor on the other end. Comics are basically creativity on demand. You can dick around a little bit but eventually you have to sit down and do the work.
OH: So even if it's not what you want it to be, do you write it anyways? Or do you wait for your genius idea?
Marz: I never know if it's going to be a genius idea. It's just a matter of sitting down and doing the work. I know when I finish the script if it's good or not. I don't need to turn it in and have someone tell me. If it's not good, I don't turn it in. Thankfully I work on enough different things that if I don't have a Witchblade idea that I feel like is working, I put that away and work on a Magdalena script instead.
OH: Well, thank you. (Hands phone over)
Marz: You're very welcome. Thanks for getting involved. I'm glad that this all worked out!
OH: Darcie told me how I couldn't put her on the phone because "you're a big comic book celebrity and that you're all cool and stuff".
Marz: The notion is that there's no such thing as a big comic book celebrity. That's like being a famous short order cook. No one really cares.
OH: With comic books entering into Hollywood, you don't feel like comic book writers could become rock stars of the pop culture universe?
Marz: I hope not. I don't want to have to deal with it.
OH: Ready for a few lightning round questions?
OH: Cat or dogs?
Marz: Dogs, absolutely.
OH: Elephants or donkeys?
OH: Beer, wine or liquor.
OH: Ninja monkeys or samurai rats?
Marz: Can I have samurai monkeys?
OH: Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston?
Marz: Depends. Do I want my ass kicked or do you want bad romantic comedy?
OH: Aquaman or Namor?
OH: If you could eat dinner with one fictional character, who would it be?
Marz: I've never been asked that before! Dracula, as long as I'm not on the menu.
OH: So you wouldn't be adverse to eating other humans with Dracula? Or would you go for the vegetarian platter at that menu?
Marz: Well, my wife is vegetarian so there's the answer to that one.
OH: Animal, vegetable or mineral?
OH: Best website on the planet?
Marz: Mine. (www.ronmarz.com)
OH: Best comic on the market not written by you?
Marz: Another good question. What's the one comic I couldn't live without? I'll say Criminal.
OH: Anything you'd like to say to the Outhouse?
Marz: "I'm happy to finally be on the Outhouse because people have been telling me for years that they've been taking my books to the bathroom."
OH: Thank you very, very much.
Marz: You're very welcome.
Artifacts #2 comes out September 15th at a local comic store near you.