"Ultimately it's great that the culture has spread to everywhere in the world." Ron Marz, writer Odinforce, Green Lantern, DC vs. Marvel
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ABOUT RON MARZ:
Legendary comic book writer Ron Marz returns to the 162nd episode of the podcast. Ron was on the 3rd ever episode of the show, and we start by talking about how the comic book industry has grown and changed in the last few years. Also, will we see another DC versus Marvel crossover event? Ron was the writer on the first and only series in 1996 but now DC is hinting at a second crossover. Ron remembers how the DC vs Marvel came to be and gives his thoughts on a sequel. Plus, hear all about the third issue of Odinforce out now!
Jeff: I want to talk about your industry. I want to talk about the comic book industry because in the last two, three years since we've talked on the podcast ... we talk a lot outside of it, but since we talk on the podcast... the comic book industry has I think, gotten a lot more visible and from a print side of it, maybe a lot less visible. Do you agree with that? Let me start it by saying this: Do you think that the pop culture side of the comic industry is hurting the print side of it?
Ron: No. I don't think it's hurting. I don't think... it's not a one-to-one translation. It's not like everybody who buys a ticket to go see a vendors goes in-
Jeff: And buys a book.
Ron: .. goes and buys and Avengers comic.
Ron: Or a trade paperback or something like that. Because you know, the movie audience is not the comic audience. Right? But people are so much more aware of comics.
Jeff: Which is awesome.
Ron: You know, everybody ... look, Thanos is a punchline on Saturday Night Live now. You know, everybody is aware of stuff like, even 10 years ago I would be on a plane with somebody and they'd say, Hey, what do you do? And you'd have the typical conversation of, well I write comics and you know, what have you written? Oh, I've written Green Lantern, Silver Surfer. And they're like, Oh, Green Lantern, I love Green Lantern. He's the coolest. Cato was the best. And you're like, well-
Jeff: Same color. Different [crosstalk 00:01:31]
Ron: Well really, really not. And now you say Green Lantern and people actually know it. You say Silver Surfer or Thanos and people know it. Even characters that were basically like C list characters. Doctor Strange, Iron Man are these worldwide brands now. So yes, comic book properties are more visible than ever, which is good. Which is great. And certainly that doesn't hurt sales by any means, but it's like I said, it's not a one to one translation. So any attention we get is good. But I think there's a hell of a lot of people that show up for superhero movies, right? We've trained the audience to just show up ... I'm going tearing this place apart. People show up for whatever Marvel movie comes out, and to a slightly lesser extent, whatever DC movie comes out, right?
Jeff: The audience is trained that, Oh, there's a Marvel movie this weekend, I'm going to go see it, because they know they're going to have a fun time. They know they're going to have a fun ride. At worst, they're going to have a fun ride.
Ron: But the audience that shows up every weekend for that movie is not necessarily going to go into Barnes and Noble and buy a trade paperback of the Infinity Gauntlet or go into a store and buy whatever came out on this past Wednesday. But it's all to the good. So I don't think it's a one-to-one translation by any means, but people are more aware of what we do. People are plugged into comic culture, even if they're not reading the comics per se, they're aware of it and you know, little by little people find it.
Jeff: And I think the fact that comic culture is everywhere, on toy shelves and Funko pops and you know, you can go into a Walmart and there are comics there. I think that it just helps spread what we do. And people are finding comics not necessarily at the local comic shop. I think some of them do, but people find comics everywhere. They go into Barnes and Noble or Walmart or whatever big retailer they go into. Usually there are comics there. That didn't used to be the case.
Ron: Never. It used to be very hard unless you had a spinner rack and like a news standard or something like that.
Jeff: Yes. And I think obviously we're doing things differently as an industry in terms of what packages out there. You know, it's not a dollar or $2 comic on a spinner rack or now a $4, $5 comic on a spinner spinner rack. Because to get into the weeds of the economics of it, that item, which is obviously easily damaged because it's a floppy thing, is not generating enough money for that square footage in the store. But a trade paperback or a hardcover that's 15 or 20 or $30 and is racked on a shelf in that store, that's worth the retail space.
Ron: So, more and more I think where comics are going is we're going to do a lot more graphic novels and a lot fewer singles. There's always going to be a local comic shop that has stuff every Wednesday and you know, that has collectible single issues. But I think the majority of the reading public is eventually going to gravitate towards give me a hundred pages at once that I can pick up in a store. And I think that's ... we're seeing that evolution. Robert Kirkman of Walking Dead fame just said that the book that he's doing with Chris Samne, Firepower, the first issue bit of it basically is going to be like seven issues worth of content, like 150 pages worth of comic stories as a trade paperback. That's the first blush of what this series is going to be. It's not going to come out as a single issue. I think you see that kind of stuff, that's the direction in which we're headed.
Jeff: I think that's a lot of to do with the binge culture that we've assessed too as well with streaming and stuff. I mean, I'm guilty of that. My favorite show comes on Netflix or something like that, and it's like I crush it in a week.
Ron: Yeah. Over a weekend you watch 10 episodes. Okay. What's next? I mean I think that's how we're trained as an audience. Even when the Mandalorian came out and we had to wait a week between each episode, which I thought was great.
Jeff: Oh, of course.
Ron: I mean, actually I actually liked that because it allowed me to actually catch up with it. [crosstalk 00:06:18] So I thought that was cool. And it also, I think, made in a marketing sense. I think it was smarter for the Mandalorian to do that because then people talked about it for two months instead of like ... Lost in Space season two just came out. And I haven't watched it, but all the episodes are there. You can binge it in a weekend. You're in, you're out and you're done, and then you're onto something else.
Ron: Something like the Mandalorian, people talked about it for two months and they're still talking about it obviously. So I think there's a line to be walked in the binge culture, but I think what binge culture tells us is 20 pages of content for a regular comic once a month is not enough.
Jeff: Yeah. Especially when you're talking about most comics. Especially for the big two, like Marvel, DC, you know, you're looking at anywhere between a six to 12 issue arc. So some stories per se that you want to tell are going to take a year for it to come out. And I mean that's a big ask, especially in this, in a culture that's not only a binge culture that we're such a ... you have a second to reach somebody on a tweet or on an Instagram post, you know, it's like-
Ron: Give it to me now.
Jeff: Right, exactly.
Ron: And I think you can see, particularly DC, which I think is very smart and, and doing a really good job of reaching audiences that were not there before and were not reached before. They're doing a lot of YA graphic novels and they're doing them as graphic novels. They're doing them as here's a hundred pages. Maybe a slightly smaller size. So they're doing different formats for different audiences, putting out bigger packages, which makes sense.
Ron: I mean, we've sold comics to the same audience in the same package for 70 years. And part of it for me was like doing this for a living, you kind of go, when I started in the business, which was 30 years ago. So I was like 12 obviously. My first comic came out in 1990 and for the first 10 years of my career I was left to sit there and go, well, why are we just selling comics to like half the population?
Ron: Like there weren't comics that were really, to a great extent, there weren't comics that were like, here, women, this is one you might be interested in. And I noticed it when I worked at Crosstown, which I started in 2000, which was a sort of an alternative publisher in Florida where we actually had an office and everybody worked in the same building, and we did stuff that was not superheroes. We did everything but superheroes. And one of the books I did was, was called Soldier. And it was a fantasy book, which was something I wanted to do because Lord of the Rings was about to come out. And I thought ... well, my reasoning was Lord of the Rings is going to be a big deal. We should have a fantasy book. The truth of it was, I wanted write a fantasy book, right?
Ron: So conveniently enough, I was like, well these Peter Jackson movies are going to be a big deal, so we should jump on that train. But really it was just me wanting to do elves and trolls and stuff like that. And it turned out that that was our best selling book. And so that was probably 2001 when that book came out initially. And the number of women I signed books for just went through the roof because it was a female lead in the story. And it was not adolescent power fantasies, like most superhero books are. It was, it was a story about a female protagonist. Who was kicking ass and taking names. I signed more books for women than I did for men. It wasn't when the penny dropped for me, but it was sort of confirmed what I thought, which was, "Yeah, there's another whole audience out there that we're not servicing." Little by little ... You go to a comic book convention now and you're apt to find more women than men.
Ron: That never used to be the case. For the first 8, 10 years of my career if you are at a comic book convention, or what we call a comic-con, and there was a woman there, you were like, 'Ma'am, are you lost?"
Jeff: "Are you lost?"
Ron: I literally remember the first show I ever did, which was first year of my career, probably six months into my career-
Ron: Was a little show at a high school down in, I actually don't know which side of the state line I was on, it was either southern New York or northern New Jersey.
Ron: It was a high school gymnasium. There's quite a few comic pros that live within our environs here.
Ron: It was a pretty smoking guest list, and me. I remember looking around that room and it was a large high school gymnasium, lots of tables, quite a few dealers. I looked around that room and I thought, 'There is not one woman in this entire building." I mean literally, 3, 400 people there, not one woman.
Ron: I thought, "Well this is an odd place to be."
Ron: But obviously comic culture has spread to the mainstream.
Ron: Comic culture is everybody's culture now.
Ron: We're doing better and better in terms of reaching audiences that we did not reach before. I think it's just going to... The pace is going to quicken because the women who started to read comics as adolescent girls or whatever, 10 years ago-
Ron: Have now grown up and are making comics.
Ron: Those comics are going to reach even more people. I know from friends that I have that teach animation classes in college, that teach comic art classes, more than half the students are women now.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Ron: People say the revolution is coming, the revolution has already taken place-
Ron: We just haven't realized it yet.
Ron: It's going to be even more obvious in, I would say 10 years, but probably five years, is the truth because this is a storytelling medium, like any other medium, and you want to tell stories to reach as many different people as possible, which means you have to have as many different storytellers as possible.
Jeff: Yeah. It's funny because you look at the landscape that has been the cinematic universe as opposed to the print medium, and the way the print medium, it took a while. When comics first came out, they weren't even realized as a good form of media.
Ron: They were disposable entertainment-
Ron: For a dime or a quarter. They were seen in the same way as baseball cards or something like that that was not in any way appreciated-
Ron: By even the audience that was there for it. You traded them with your friends and you threw them in the back of the closet.
Jeff: But the storytelling itself was so very closeted, for lack of a better term, that you didn't see female led books or female led stories for years and years. Especially even talking about minorities or that kind of thing. That inclusion, it took time in the story telling [crosstalk 00:14:09].
Ron: Oh sure. Comics used to be, in the '40s-
Ron: And into the '50s-
Jeff: Way back, yeah.
Ron: Comics used to be, again, kind of like what we have now, which is comics were a storytelling medium.
Ron: There were romance comics, and detective comics, and horror comics, and every kind of story you could tell, there was a comic for it. Then the implosion came, and the sort of congressional oversight stuff that demonized comics, and a lot of that stuff went away and we were left with superheroes.
Ron: We left largely with, like I said, male adolescent power fantasies-
Ron: For 10 to 12 year old boys-
Ron: Who would read the comics for a few years and then age into something else. That's what we had for a long time-
Jeff: Long time.
Ron: Until other forms of stories started to be viable economically in this business. Now I think in a weird way we're getting back to what we had in the '40s and '50s where superheroes are a part of the landscape, they just don't dominate the landscape.
Ron: Marvel and DC are certainly the big dogs in the business and probably will be for a long time-
Ron: And obviously media wise, movies, and TV, and everything else, certainly superheroes are part of the zeitgeist now. But you can do any kind of story you want in comics and have a chance of it being financially successful enough that you can keep telling that story.
Jeff: Yeah. Which is so incredible. The storytelling medium itself now is able to tell it not just on the page, it's able to tell it everywhere. I think that's what's exciting about the comic book industry because it all starts, the comic book itself is the idea, and then germinating from that idea can be any other form of anything.
Ron: Yeah. The comic is the seed-
Ron: And everything else sprouts from it.
Ron: It used to be that the comic was the seed and what came from it, you couldn't do anywhere else.
Ron: You couldn't show Thanos fighting the Avengers in a movie-
Ron: Because there was no way to actually even create Thanos.
Jeff: No way, no way.
Ron: The best you could hope for was Lou Ferrigno painted green.
Ron: [inaudible 00:16:34], you're damn good to have it.
Jeff: Yeah, damn right.
Ron: Damnit. Filmmaking technology finally caught up with the stuff that we've been doing in comics for 50 years.
Ron: I think that's the biggest step of why we are where we are, is that the digital effects have allowed us to show the kind of stuff that only Jack Kirby could draw 50 years ago.
Jeff: Exactly, exactly.
Ron: I always feel like in a lot of ways, what movies are putting in front of audiences now is this stuff that Kirby did in 1965.
Ron: And did five pages a day of it.
Ron: This is awesome. I'm looking over your shoulder and I'm looking at that Thanos with the infinity gems.
Ron: It's so cool that everybody knows that, but it used to be our little secret club.
Ron: There's always that, "We used to be the only place you could get that and now you can get it anywhere-"
Ron: Which ultimately is good. Ultimately it's great that the culture has spread to everywhere in the world.
Ron: I was at a convention in Nairobi, Kenya-
Ron: Over the summer and I'm in the middle of East Africa-
Ron: And there are people walking around in Thanos t-shirts. You kind of pinch yourself. For me especially, because Jim Starlin was the one who created Thanos-
Ron: And got me into the business, and is still one of my best friends. I'm sitting there in Nairobi, Kenya, watching people with Thanos t-shirts walk past me and I'm thinking, "I know the dude that made that guy up-"
Jeff: [crosstalk 00:18:24], yeah.
Ron: That now is in the middle of East Africa.
Jeff: It's incredible, it's incredible. I think one of the greatest things about pop culture embracing this as well is it allows for more stories to be told. We're obviously digging in the wealth of what the seed of the comics is to make a movie, or television show, or whatever. Personally speaking, I think I'm seeing that start to translate back into comics themselves. I think a great example for people who might not be super fans of either, we're seeing some properties that might've been tried before, might not have, but are breathing new life into them, and story-wise through TV or movies.
Jeff: I'm going to use the Watchman is a great example. An incredible graphic novel that came out is lauded by comic book collectors and comic book readers and was done to an okay movie years ago that was taken with a grain of salt by the people who liked it. But now been breathed new life in both of the avenues, both in the HBO series and also DC taking that property and actually bringing it into its own property.
Ron: Yeah. The snake eats its own tail in some ways.
Ron: Again, it's all to the good. I know Alan Moore's probably pissed off that there's a TV series, but-
Jeff: Alan Moore can be pissed off as much as he wants.
Ron: It's stunning to me that not only was there an HBO series based on Watchman that was appropriately respectful of the material, I think, and was also really good.
Jeff: And really new.
Ron: It took that seed and went other places with it.
Ron: Look, Obama watched it. It was on his watch list. I think the society we have as a whole is starting to see comics as just another way to tell a story, which is what it's always been. But it was always perceived that when you said comics, even 10 years ago, everybody went superheroes. Everybody thought, you know Adam West Batman. Now that's not the case. Now it's part of the consciousness. And certainly look, 10 years ago I would get the question, "What do you do?" "I write comics." "Somebody writes those? I thought a computer did that." And now, I say I write comics and people are like, "Oh my God, tell me about that. That sounds cool."
Ron: You have the coolest job ever, which I do. But it's just, I would say in the last decade, it's permeated everything. And you know, to go back to what we talked about originally, I ultimately think it's great. And the nicest thing about it is that if you still want comics, we got plenty of them.
Jeff: Oh my gosh, stories for days.
Ron: We've got plenty of them and we're doing more. It would be interesting to find out how many pages actually come out every week of comics. A vast, vast number of comics come out every week. There's more and more and more and more, because it's, to me, it's still the most exciting way to tell your story. In relation to what it costs to make a movie or a TV show, it's still a very cheap way to make your story and to take your story exactly how you want it to be and put it in front of the audience. It's a very direct connection.
Jeff: And it's an exciting time for storytelling because I think people just want to consume stories now, away from the cinematic or anything. I'm talking about just the comic book industry. I think people really are wanting to consume everything, not just a superhero, not just Superman leaping over buildings the X-men fighting Magneto or whatever. Like they want the real man story. They want all of these fantasy stories. They want to hear these storytelling stories. But like you kind of mentioned, which is interesting, even in a landscape like that we still have the big two. It's always been Marvel and DC. It's always been at the forefront. These giants of that industry, which people are embracing more and they're doing more with their storytelling and it's something kind of to bridge into something I wanted to talk to you about that you know a lot. It has just been finished in DC.
Jeff: DC basically brought the Watchman Universe into their Normal Justice League Universe and did a whole mess of craziness that you guys can go pick up all the comics at your local comic shop and read all that if you want. But one of the things that came out of that is now this idea that they have put into the minds of creatives out there, will there be another crossover event? Will there be this DC versus Marvel that will spawn out of this because they've planted the seed in there? And it's something I wanted to talk to you about because you had a hand in creating that to begin with.
Ron: First time through.
Jeff: Before we get into that actual creation, do you think that it is something that could work in this comic book landscape?
Ron: I think it could work. Yeah, because it's the most fun you can have. It's still probably the most fun gig that I've ever had in my career, is the first Marvel versus DC event that we did and I think it was 1995
Jeff: Who was the one? Was it one company coming to the other or was it Marvel and DC working together being like we should do this?
Ron: Well I know this comes as a shock but there were economic factors involved.
Jeff: Yes, there were.
Ron: Comics have always been kind of the shotgun marriage of art and commerce. So we creators might pursue it artistically, but publishers are there ultimately to make money. If you don't make money you don't publish comics after a while. In the mid 90's, there was a boom time and then the bottom dropped out. Speculation in comic stores and people buying up copies because they thought they were going to be worth huge amounts of money in 10 years and they could put their kids through college on it. Like all of that stuff. The bottom fell out. There was a bubble and it burst. A lot of stores closed because they had too much product on the shelves, owed too much money.
Ron: So the industry was very much in a trough after that bubble burst and Marvel and DC came together, and basically said, we need to do something to make sure that shops can stay open. We need to put out a product that people are going to want to get their hands on and that can put money into the cash registers of your local comic shop. So, that's how Marvel versus DC came about. Obviously it done on a executive level initially, but the two editors that were assigned to it were Mike Carlin, who is the Superman editor at DC, the executive editor and Mark Grunewald, who had been one of the longtime editors at Marvel. And both of whom I had worked for and knew, and who were also best friends. They initially both worked in Marvel and then Mike went over to DC. And in those days Marvel and DC both were located in New York city.
Jeff: New York city, right.
Ron: The editorial staffs and the freelancers that worked for Marvel and DC all hung out together and played softball against each other. And you know, it was a very communal feeling even though there was certainly a rivalry between the two companies. But everybody knew everybody. Everybody was friends. And so to have Mike and Mark do that project just made all the sense in the world. And in fact, the initial meeting for the project actually took place in Mark Greenwald's apartment up on 120th street, I think.
Jeff: Where you a part of that meeting?
Jeff: So, you were a part of this idea right from the beginning?
Ron: Yeah. They offered me the job, one of the two writing jobs on the thing because they wanted to have a quote unquote Marvel writer, which was Peter David and a quote unquote DC writer, which was me. Even though Peter and I were at work-
Jeff: You both worked for both companies.
Ron: We were working at both companies at that time still. But we had played with a lot of the toys at both companies. So, the initial meeting to sort of hash out what we were going to do was at Mark's apartment because they didn't want to have it at either Marvel or DC because they didn't want to have anybody in the offices looking at, like what one of those guys doing here? why is Mike Carlin in the Marvel office or why is Mark Grunewald in the DC office? And this was before social media. This was before that stuff would be out and on the internet in 30 minutes. But they were reticent to have anybody even know that this was going to happen, because they didn't want word getting out. So we had the initial meeting at Mark's apartment.
Ron: And then after everything had sort of been hashed out, it was announced to both editorial staffs at the companies. And you know who were told under pain of death, don't tell anyone. Right. And then we actually got to work on it
Jeff: When you guys start working on this, and for people who might not be familiar with this series, it was a four part series, one of my favorites for collecting because I was never... I always joke like make mine Marvel, but I was never completely loyal to one or the other. There's great stories in both and I loved that they were coming together and you guys are coming and making this story. But one of the things that was implemented in this way before social media, it was a poll. You guys basically had your story created and had... You pitted Batman against Captain America and Superman, versus the Hulk and all of these different characters. But two, I think it was two issues into it, or even after the first issue, there was a reader's poll that was like, tell us who you think should win these? Was that an idea that was always from the get go or did that kind of come from the higher up?
Ron: No, that was part of it initially. Right from the beginning, because they've wanted to engage people. They they wanted reader involvement. They wanted people to talk about the kind of stuff that you always talk about. Who would win Batman or Superman?
Jeff: Yes. Superman or the Hulk? Who will win.
Ron: That's ultimately what the whole series was about. And it was a big popcorn sort of summer movie entertainment kind of thing. So, the way it was set up that the two rival universes went to war with each other because cosmic gods were at play.
Jeff: As they are.
Ron: As you do. And so there were 11 contests, 11 battles.
Ron: 11 battles. Now since we were doing this in the mid 90's, this was a four issue mini series. If it was done now, it'd be like a 38 issue maxi series with everybody. That's actually my only regret of the whole thing is we didn't have enough pages to do all the stuff I wanted to do. There were 11 battles. There were six that we were going to decide who wins. Obviously they were going to end up three and three.
Jeff: Of course.
Ron: Then the last five battles, the big ones, which were all going to be in issue three, which I wrote, were going to be the ones that everybody voted on. We split up the initial six and then the big five were the ones that people voted on. The vote was legit.
Jeff: Yeah. I voted.
Ron: I mean, we didn't ignore the votes. We actually went with the votes, so that meant that I had to write two different endings for every battle. That further meant that we had to have two different endings drawn for every battle. Because once the votes were in, the books had to go to press. Issue two came out, set up the battles that we were going to have and people started to vote. Then we kind of had a sense. Like, look, you knew Wolverine was going to beat Lobo.
Jeff: Right. Because he's a little bit more popular.
Ron: Right. Because ultimately, these are popularity. We pretty much had a sense of how the battles were going to go, but I had to write a different ending for each battle and have two endings drawn. So like, the Wolverine one-
Jeff: With the Wolverine one, if my recollection is right, you technically didn't need to draw two endings because that fight takes place in a space bar, because of course it does, and it mostly takes place behind the bar. At the end, Wolverine comes up and puts Lobo cigar in his mouth and he's like, "Get me another beer." One of them could have popped up.
Ron: Well, so the task in front of me was figure out how these battles would go with as little redrawing as possible.
Jeff: Perfect. Perfect, yeah.
Ron: Because time was tight. You know, me being a genius obviously, I was like, "All right, they both smoked cigars." So somewhere there is, probably in Dan Jurgens house, because he was the one that drew that battle. There's a bottom half of a page and instead of Wolverine coming up and smoking the cigar, it's Lobo coming up and smoking this car. Even though we knew there was no way in hell Lobo was going to win, we had to have it ready.
Jeff: That's fair.
Ron: When Superman and the Hulk fight and they end up after pages of battle, they end up slamming into a mountain and the mountain collapses on them, superman stands up he's the winner. Well, there's a page somewhere by Claudio Castellini who drew that battle. There's a page, I think I've actually seen that page, of the Hulk standing up and Superman sort of passed out in the rubble.
Jeff: Of the Hulk standing up? Yeah.
Ron: Every one of the battles I had to do something like that so we could have as little redrawing as possible but still have two different endings.
Jeff: That's so cool.
Ron: Ultimately, the one that we didn't know how it was going to go was Wonder Woman and Storm.
Ron: Because it was just we didn't know how people were going to ... Like, Storm was probably more comic popular because of the X-Men and Wonder Woman was more sort of-
Jeff: Relevant I guess? Yeah.
Ron: ... relevant to pop culture overall, and you we just didn't know about it.
Jeff: Wow. I would have thought though, hardest one would have been Batman and Captain America, because I felt like that was a even popularity contest almost.
Ron: Well, but this was Tim Burton Batman era, or following Tim Burton.
Jeff: That's true. Tim Burton, yeah, following that.
Ron: And pre Chris Evans, Captain America. Because at that point in Captain America history, the only guy we had seen play Captain America was Reb Brown in a motorcycle helmet.
Jeff: In a very unfortunate movie that [crosstalk 00:34:11].
Ron: Captain America I know people can't even envision it at this point, but a lot of Marvel characters were just unknown in terms of the overall pop culture. I mean obviously, Spider-Man was known.
Jeff: Spoiler, I think Spider-Man was the clone at this point, right?
Ron: Yeah, well that was another big discussion with discussion that we had at Mark's apartment at the time was, okay, are we doing the current versions of all those characters? Are we doing the Ben Riley clone version of Spider-Man?
Speaker 2: Because he was in the comics at the time, yeah.
Speaker 1: Or are we doing just like the classic versions of everybody? I was the one who said it should be the classic versions. It should be exactly. It should be the versions that the majority of the public knows.
Jeff: Which you can do a time travel, and cosmic entities, and stuff, yeah.
Ron: Or you can just ignore it and tell the story.
Jeff: Yeah, right? Just tell the story.
Ron: It's all just made up anyway.
Jeff: Yeah, just tell the story.
Ron: I was the one saying we should just do-
Ron: ... Peter Parker Spider-Man, all that stuff. Ultimately, it was decided we were going to go in the other direction. We were going to do the current versions of those heroes as represented in the books. Because the idea behind the whole project was to get people into comic shops to buy these, so they wanted to reflect what was in the comic shops at that time. I'm not sure I agree with that sentiment But so as with any of these big crossover kind of things, you play the cards you're dealt and you do the best you can with them. I had a ball doing it.
Jeff: Well, I love that series. If you were to get the call tomorrow to do this series again, one of the things you kind of mentioned, like you had 11 battles, and some of those were like the bottom of the barrel, like Robin verse Jubilee and Superboy was in it too, like some of these characters that were known in the comics but not as popular, I would say. Now because of the success of Marvel and DC cinematic universe and stuff like that, the wealth of characters that just people, like you said in a comic convention in Kenya know about, as opposed to everyone around the world would know about, how would you attack doing it now? If you got the call tomorrow to be like, "We're going to do Marvel versus DC again and go with it," how would you do it?
Ron: It would be the same damn thing, you know?
Jeff: Same damn thing.
Ron: You know, this guy fights this guy. But the players would be somewhat different because I think you have to...
Jeff: You have to be bigger, right?
Ron: This is a populist project, so you want to appeal to as many people as possible. You would put basically the characters that you have made an impression on people in the movies would be the ones that would be the stars. That would mean Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk.
Jeff: All of the Avengers, basically.
Ron: Yeah. I think it would be kind of the same and kind of... Hulk would still fight Superman, you know?
Jeff: Of course, but it would definitely be larger than four issues.
Ron: Oh, sure. Oh, yeah.
Jeff: Because it'd be larger than 11 battles.
Ron: The way the way comics have... Honestly, I think if it got done now, it'd probably be like 52 issues. Because he had put out one issue a week and get people excited. We tell a lot longer to take stories, the storytelling has become somewhat decompressed in terms of how much is actually in each issue. Again, publishers want to maximize profits. The idea for ours was, "Look, we need to do these four issues right now and get them into comic stores as soon as possible to float retailers and put some money in their tills." To me, the coolest thing that came out of Marvel versus DC, which was we had one month buffer between issues three and four that was built into the package.
Ron: When we met at Mark's apartment, it was okay, "This guy's going to fight this guy," and we made lists, and all that kind of stuff. Then Mike and Mark told us, "All right, well there's going to be a buffer month between issues three and four, because we got to get the proper stuff into the comic, and it's got to get printed and shipped, so we need that extra time, and we're going to smush the two universes together.
Jeff: The amalgam universe.
Ron: And my jaw hit the floor. Because okay, Superman fights the Hulk, everybody expects that?
Ron: The two universes getting smushed together to create-
Jeff: Captain Superman or whatever, yeah.
Ron: ... To create characters that were mushed together, that were one part DC and one part Marvel, like Super Soldier, which was Superman and Captain America together as the same character.
Jeff: Super Soldier, that was a great one. Yeah. Or Dark Claw, Wolverine and Batman.
Ron: I think that's still the thing that that resonates with people because it had never been done before.
Ron: And has obviously never been done since.
Jeff: Yeah, that's so that's so exciting. From a writing standpoint then again, if we're just hypothesizing, if you had the call to start writing this 52 issue arc tomorrow and you had to put all of these characters together outside of the normals like Superman verse Hulk, would there be a pairing, that now with everybody knowing these characters, that you'd love to write this guy versus this guy?
Ron: I think the pairings that we have are mostly the it was Green Arrow versus Hawkeye. Of course, nobody knew who the hell those characters were.
Jeff: That's archer versus archer.
Ron: But now, Green Arrow's had, what five, six, seven seasons of a TV show. And Hawkeye's-
Ron: ... been in the movies, going to have his own TV series. So I think, even for a panel, we did all the obvious ones. The ones that 10-year-old me wanted to see. So we did Thanos and Darkseid.
Ron: At least for a panel, I think.
Ron: The other one that I was... I don't know if we did this one or not. I wanted to do the Vision and Red Tornado, the two android characters, because I was always a huge fan of both of those characters for some nerdy reason. I don't even know why. The other one that I really wanted to at least show once was Doctor Strange versus Doctor Fate, the two sorcerers of the universe. And I was the guy who got to put those two characters together in the Amalgam book, Doctor Strangefate, to... When we went over the list, because they had the list of what the Amalgam books were... There was 12 of them. Six produced by each company. And we got to Doctor Strangefate, and I was like, "I'm doing that book or I'm walking out of here right now." And they're like, "All right." So they gave me that plum off the tree to do the Doctor Strangefate Amalgam book.
Ron: And it's still one of my favorite things ever because I got to play with cool toys, and also the art team was José Luis García-López, who was one of the Mount Rushmore guys of comics. And inked by Kevin Nowlan, who is one of the most amazing artists that's ever worked in comics. That was actually the only time I ever got stage fright to write something.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
Ron: Because I was writing a book for García-López and Kevin Nowlan to draw, and I was like, "Oh, shit. I can't screw this up. These guys are all-time greats. And I'm this peon that's going to work with them. I have to come with my... not my A game, but my A plus plus plus game." For two weeks I just sat in my office, on my couch, and couldn't come up with a damn thing. And then I finally realized.... The light bulb of inspiration came on over my head, and I realized that I could write any piece of crap, and it was going to look amazing because García-López and Kevin Nowlan were drawing it. So, once I got over that hump, I went, "Oh, okay. I can do this."
Jeff: That's so awesome. That's so awesome. Well, you know what? I think it'd be a fun thing to do. Regardless if you get to be involved in it or not, I think it would be fun to marry the two universes again, and kind of see that-
Ron: Oh, I think it would...
Jeff: Especially in the comic.
Ron: I think it would be the biggest deal ever.
Ron: Now because so many more people are familiar with it. And it would take the parent companies of Marvel and DC to, sort of, be not quite so territorial. Because now it's, well, like, "Why should we let you draft off of our cinematic success?" Or, "Why should we let you have access to the all-time icon that is Batman or Superman?"
Jeff: Right. Right. Well, I-
Ron: So it's not a storytelling problem. It's an executive problem.
Jeff: Executive problem. I get that. I get that. Well, at the end here, I wanted to just briefly talk about some things maybe that you've got coming up. One of those being, we just released the third issue of Odinforce. Has it been fun writing a comic for a coffee company?
Ron: It's been... And this is going to totally sound like bullshit, that I'm blowing smoke up your ass now. But it's one of the most fun gigs that I have, or that I've ever had, because you guys just let me do what I want to do.
Ron: And, obviously, there's... We're just making it up.
Ron: There's no continuity to follow. There's no past history of where these characters have been. It's our own thing, and we're just doing what we want. I'm not playing with company icons that are worth literally billions of dollars. So we're just kind of doing what we do. So, in that sense, it's really the most fun thing I do because we just figure out what would be cool.
Ron: I remember the first time we had a meeting about it, and I said to you and Mike, "Well, how do you want coffee to come into the story? Should they be drinking coffee, or have coffee on the Viking longboat, or what's the deal?" And Mike was like, "You don't have to put coffee in it. There's no reason to do that." And I'm thinking to myself, "This guy's nuts. Because we're going to spend money to produce this comic, and it's not even going to advertise the product." Well, it really does advertise the product...
Ron: [crosstalk 00:44:56] It has it on the cover.
Ron: ... because it's just cool.
Ron: But there's no product placement.
Ron: There's no whorish goal of, "Put coffee in the story so people think coffee's cool." I remember to this day. When we talked about it, Mike just said, "Just do something cool." And so that's what we've done, and it's grown into this now, sort of, ongoing story that we have a chapter every year, and we actually know what we're doing. We're telling an overall story that will all, in the last issue... if there is a last issue... but in this arc will sort of... Everything will come together, and you'll see some of the seeds that we planted in the other issues. I approached this with the same storytelling sensibility that I do anything else that I write.
Ron: And because we've been fortunate enough to bring in a team like Rick Leonardi to draw it, and Neeraj Menon to color it, and Joe Jusko doing the covers... If I'm at a show and I've got some copies with me... And I've literally had people reach out to me on Twitter and go, "Oh, my God, where do I get one of those copies?" And, "All right. Send me your address. I'll send you a copy." In fact, there's an envelope of the first three issues in my car right now, in the parking lot, to send to an editor friend of mine who's like, "Oh, I didn't know that these existed. I got to get ahold of these." So this is something that people actually seek out. So I'm very proud of what we've been able to do.
Jeff: I'm so proud of it, too, because not only put a dream team together like you guys, but being able to just tell a fun story. Vikings fighting monsters. I always tell people working for Death Wish Coffee... It's like, "Oh, yeah, we created our own comic book. It's not about coffee. And it's about Vikings fighting monsters." And people go, "What?" And it's like, "No, really!" Like, "It's awesome!" Like, "Vikings on adventures!" And-
Ron: It's so off-brand that it's on-brand.
Jeff: Yeah! Well, I mean, with Issue 3... And for anybody who might be just finding out about this for the first time, we finally have gotten it so now you can digitally get all three comics off of DeathWishCoffee.com/comics. And with Issue 3, you actually introduce probably the most on-brand character ever, our big bad, Death himself. The Reaper.
Ron: The Reaper...
Ron: ... who likes riddles.
Jeff: He does like riddles, and it's pretty great. So, I'm really excited to continue on this journey with you, with this story, because it's been a lot of fun. And it's always been a dream of mine to be tangentially connected to the comic book industry. There was a moment, when I was a young kid, where I was like, "Maybe I'll be an artist. Or maybe I'll be a writer." And it never panned out. But I've been such a lover of the industry and such a collector of the industry. I always wanted to kind of, sort of be connected to it. And...
Ron: Well, we're doing it. And, like I said, I'm proud of what we've been able to do. And we're now in the middle of Issue 4. Spoiler, Issue 4's coming.
Ron: And I love the fact that we've got a cast of characters that actually you can sort of connect to, at this point, because you've seen them over and over. Yeah, it's Vikings fighting monsters, but hopefully you're not just showing up for the monsters. You show up because you care about the people. And, look, you're getting comics for free. What more can you want?
Jeff: What more can you want? It's so awesome. So, speaking on that, I know this industry is an industry... especially from a writer's standpoint... where you're working on things that, obviously, you cannot talk about. But is there things that are coming out, or that have recently come out, that you can talk about? That you can promote?
Ron: Yeah, we just... I should've been a good freelancer so I can hold the book here.
Jeff: Well, I can sink it right in here.
Ron: We just put out a hardcover graphic novel through Ominous Press called Harken's Raiders, which is a World War II story. That's by me and Darryl Banks, who was...
Jeff: You might remember.
Ron: ... my long-time Green Lantern artist.
Jeff: A little guy named Kyle was born... [crosstalk 00:49:05]
Jeff: ... you and him.
Ron: We're Mom and Dad.
Ron: I don't know who Mom is, but...
Jeff: I do.
Ron: So it's my first time working with Darryl on an extended project since we did Green Lantern.
Ron: We've done little stuff here and there, but we kind of got the band back together for this one. And it's a World War II story, and it's a straight-up... There's no monsters in this one. It's just a World War II story. It might go on to have some supernatural kind of stuff in it, but for now it's just a World War II comic that tells a story not terribly different from what you would get in one of those classic '60s movies like The Dirty Dozen, or Guns of Navarone, or something like that. And, again, it was a pleasure to do a story that... It was not a superhero story. It's just people. And working with Darryl was great. This was his first time working digitally, actually.
Ron: Instead of old school pencil to paper and that was cool to watch him embrace the technology. So that hardcover just came out from Ominous Press. I think it's actually ... The biggest shipment to our Kickstarter backers just went out today.
JEff: That's excellent.
Ron: It's been shipping all week, but I think they just sent me a picture of piles and piles of boxes going out. And thank God I don't have to package the books myself.
Jeff: Right. Right.
Ron: So that just came out. There's stuff that I'm working on that I can't talk about.
Jeff: Yep. Understandable.
Ron: Odds and ends and different things for different publishers, but I'm the editor in chief of Ominous Press, so I do a lot of my work there. We did Beasts of the Black Hand.
Jeff: Yes. Love it.
Ron: We're working on the second volume of that, now.
Ron: So there's always ... One of the coolest things about my job is there's always something different on my plate every morning.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Ron: So if I get bored, it's my own damn fault. And I guess, to a certain extent, that's what I've tried to do that throughout my career is do different kinds of projects because I don't want to be just a guy who writes superheroes. And there are plenty of comic pros that they want to write the characters that they grew up reading and that's what their main interest is. That's totally cool. By all means, embrace what you love, but I love all kinds of stories. So I want to tell superhero stories, as well as detective stories and horror stories and war stories and anything else I can get my hands on because it's like stretching different muscles. You want to work out every muscle that you can and telling different kinds of stories allows me to do that.
Jeff: That's so exciting, and I'm excited for many more stories for me to come.
Ron: It's good because I really have no other job skills.
Jeff: That's so good.
Ron: So I have no other job skills other than making stuff up.
Jeff: That's so good. That's so good.
Ron: And I've been getting away with it for three decades now.
Jeff: You're going to continue to do it. You're going to continue to do it. Ron, thank you so much for being on the show again. It's always a pleasure to talk to you and we're not going to wait this long again.
Ron: All right.
Jeff: It was 160 episodes this time, since the last time you were on, and it's not going to be this long. I'll get you on. We'll have a Ron Mars volume three.