The Master Builder: Creator Marv Wolfman

Interview by Max Delgado

Let’s be honest: Marv Wolfman might be the reason you love comics.

While a statement this bold might seem debatable from a distance, if your love of the medium is tethered to anything mainstream then it gets real hard, real quick, to tease out Wolfman’s individual impact from the genre as a whole. Wolfman has, afterall, been toiling in the industry since the late ‘60s -- his first writing credit appeared about a decade after the creation of the Fantastic Four, and he’s been credited with creating dozens of beloved characters since he first bent over a typewriter and began plucking at the keys (Bullseye, Cyborg and Tim Drake just to name a few).

Simply put, he’s had his creative fingers in a lot of pies. And while some of his creations have gone on to be memorialized in television and film (Blade and Deathstroke) most geeks associate Wolfman less with the characters he created, and more with the franchise that he built -- The New Teen Titans.

Yes, back in 1980 Marv Wolfman and George Pérez re-imagined the retired team book and created what continues to be one of the defining runs of that decade --and helped established a new expectation for readers. After Titans action simply wasn’t good enough; we wanted character development and drama. We wanted stories where heroes like Dick Grayson and were finally allowed to grow up. So, if you’re a fan of any of the meaty emotion-driven mega-arcs that the industry has put out in the last twenty years, then you have to accept the fact you’re also a de facto Wolfman fan. Because he’s one of the writers that set that bar.

Just recently, Wolfman chatted with LBP about his career, and memories associated with his comic book collection.

LBP: Tell me about the comics you read when you were growing up, specifically any titles that you felt passionate about.

Basically I read almost everything. Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman were the only super-hero books published back then, so I also read Harvey Comics, Archie, and more. When DC started adding super-hero comics, I followed all of them, too. Of course I'd been reading their science fiction and mystery line, too. Marvel came about a bit later but then I became a fan of theirs. My favorite was Superman followed by Spider-Man.

LBP: It seems that you locked onto a career in the arts pretty early in life -- you attended New York's famous High School of Art and Design and began your professional career shortly after that. How did this love of art eventually segue into a passion for writing?

I always drew and I always wrote the stories for me to draw, so when I realized my art would never be as good as my writing, I easily switched over to it. I can make my words do what I want but I could never get my art to do so. But having an art background is vital; to this day I can see the visuals of each scene and strive to make them as important as I can.

LBP: In your post Origin of The New Teen Titans you share that when considering how to relaunch Haney/Cardy’s classic title you and George Pérez decided it was essential to not imitate what had come before. The result of your approach was, of course, remarkable. As to how you got there, you write, “Our characters reflected our interests. Our stories came out of our personalities.” How might Teen Titans helps us better understand Marv Wolfman?

None of the characters are specifically me. If they were they wouldn't be true to themselves. But the idea of compassion and empathy are things I believe we all strive for. My wishes and hopes may be in the Titans comics, and a touch of my politics, but not my specifics. Then again I also wrote Tomb of Dracula for 8 years and those characters reflect very, very little about me, except, perhaps, the desire to achieve goals.

LBP: Confession: I’m a huge Batman fan. I still consider A Lonely Place of Dying, which introduced fans to Tim Drake, to be one of the best story-lines of the ‘80s. I’d love to hear the story behind how you created Tim Drake.

Simply, I was asked for ideas on what a new Robin would be like. My thoughts were that he'd be the opposite of previous Robins; he came from a loving family. He was not angst ridden. But like Dick Grayson he was smart. Smart enough to figure out that Dick, a circus kid he saw when Tim was a little toddler, later became Robin. So the final piece of the puzzle was Tim would be a character who saw and understood the exuberance of being Robin rather than the grim and gritty of being Batman. He was positive, not negative, and always grounded.

LBP: You’ve created a ton of major characters over the course of your career at both at Marvel and DC. I’m curious to know if any of your creations went on to have an impact that surprised you in any way?

Most of the good ones surprise me with their longevity. The ones you mentioned before, as well as Black Cat. Somehow they clicked with people which of course thrills me; it's my job, and hope, that what I do touches people's hearts, and when they take my characters and continue to love them it means I succeeded. There's nothing better than that. As for characters later being misinterpreted, I never read my characters once I leave them so I have no idea. My view is I never asked the people who previously wrote series I later did what I should do and I don't want the next generation having to worry about what I think. They need to do what is right for them. I wrote what I believed in and now it's their turn.

LBP: I know the first time you became aware of The Longbox Project was after reading Anthony Loveday’s personal essay which cites The New Teen Titans as a series that provided him with comfort and guidance during his difficult childhood. I’m curious if any other fans have approached you with similar stories over the years.

Because of email and my website, Facebook page, Twitter postings, etc. people can and do get back to me when they never could before. It is an amazing thrill when I get a letter or meet someone at a con who was affected by something I wrote. It means all those years in a room hunched over a typewriter then later a computer meant something more than just a paycheck. It's how I felt about comics when I grew up and I couldn't be more happy that others share that same experience. It's often embarrassing when they gush, but later it's a feeling of wonderful warmth and caring.

LBP: Your love of storytelling has expanded well past the comic medium and into other fields -- most notably video games. What's the experience of writing a video game like?

Writing games is completely different from writing anything else. They are not structured linearly and the writing of them rarely is; you might be writing a middle scene then an end scene then the third scene from the beginning, etc. You write based on the needs of tech. So that's makes it harder. But at the same time it's more challenging which is what's fun.

Superman #149: The first Death of Superman story was amazingly powerful to me.

Amazing Spider-Man #33: The Master Planner story in Spider-Man was all about a hero doing everything he can, and more, to save the people he loved and therefore was highly emotional.

Fantastic Four #48: The Galactus trilogy in Fantastic Four showed how huge comics could be in a way they'd never been before.