Here's an interview with Gregory Wright, who has written and coloured issues of DD. He talks about his work and his opinions on colouring and writing comics.
Kuljit Mithra: Can you give some background on yourself and how you made comics a career?
Gregory Wright: It's a long answer, and I hope it won't bore everyone to death. At first, I never considered comics as a career. It was an accident you can blame fellow DD scribe D.G. Chichester for. I went to NYU to learn filmmaking. However, a degree in film is like a degree in nothing when it comes time for the real world and the rent it charges. Therefore, I needed a temporary job before I would undoubtedly hit the big time. My good friend, and fellow unemployable film grad, Dan Chichester (D.G.) was already working for Marvel in the Epic department and basically got me a job as the departments glorified secretary. Fortunately, we were both blessed to work with enormously talented editors like Archie Goodwin, Jo Duffy and Margaret Clark, who showed us that comics were just as valid a storytelling medium as film. Even though I was just a "secretary" the entire department made sure I got some great experience working on all the books. At the time it was TRULY exciting as Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz were doing ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN and J.M. DeMatteis and Jon J. Muth were doing MOONSHADOW. Eventually I got out from behind the secretary's desk and into Mark Gruenwald's office as his assistant editor. I'd say it was there that I pretty much decided to make a career out of comics. I was attracted to filmmaking because it was a form of visual storytelling, which was exactly what comics are. Mark was one of the most enthusiastic people I knew when it came to comics. If you didn't like or appreciate comics, you would after working with Mark. Assistant editors were paid paltry sums of money and were encouraged to do freelance work. The thought was, that actually writing, pencilling, inking, coloring or lettering would make you a better editor later on. Good theory, but what it did was make most of editorial scramble to get as much freelance work as they could so they could quit and do freelance full time. Anyway, I learned to color by redoing pages that were badly colored, fixing costume details and in one memorable evening, participated in an all night session with several other artists and staffers cranking out an entire 22 page issue of MERC. And I mean the whole issue--pencils, inks, color, lettering. It was a good crash course. I enjoyed it enough to beg Gruenwald for an assignment. The assignment in question was the coloring on WEST COAST AVENGERS annual #2. I did it over a weekend and the deal was that Mark didn't have to buy the job if he didn't like it. Fortunately, he liked it and that job got me a regular assignment on MARVEL AGE and everything to follow. As a writer, I must have written dozens of short stories for SOLO AVENGERS (which Gruenwald edited) without making a sale. Finally, I teamed up with another film school friend, DWAYNE McDUFFIE. He and I managed to sell a couple stories for SOLO AVENGERS--a BLACK KNIGHT story that Alan Davis drew and a WONDER MAN story which Jackson Guice drew. Can you believe the LUCK of having top notch talent like that working with you your first time out? Time passed and I wound up a full editor on both Epic and Marvel projects until I found myself doing too much staff work and too much freelance work. Something had to give and freelance was more lucrative and satisfying. So off I went, but not before taking along a few projects to freelance edit. But that's another long story.
Mithra: Besides Daredevil, what titles have you either coloured or written?
Wright: Wow. That's a long list. Let me see is I can get them all--
DEATHLOK, SILVER SABLE, NICK FURY-AGENT OF SHIELD, MORBIUS, NIGHTBREED, SPIDER-MAN "THE POWER OF TERROR" , THE PUNISHER, SHE-HULK, TERMINATOR 2, COSMIC POWERS (SILVER SURFER and STARMASTERS), The SUIT and various short stories for the NEW UNIVERSE and other annuals.
MARVEL AGE, PUNISHER, PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, PUNISHER WARZONE, DEATHLOK, ROBOCOP, GHOST RIDER, SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE, GHOST RIDER/CAPTAIN AMERICA:FEAR, WOLVERINE/NICK FURY:BLOODY CHOICES, FOOLKILLER, MARVEL SWIMSUIT, MARVEL YEAR IN REVIEW, MORBIUS, SPIDER-MAN, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, PETER PARKER, SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN, THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA, FANTASTIC FOUR, X-FACTOR, NEW MUTANTS, POWER PACK, DOCTOR STRANGE, NICK FURY, GREEN GOBLIN, GROO, POWERLINE,INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, WOLVERINE, X-MEN, SILVER SURFER, MARVEL VS. DC. ALL ACCESS, SUPERMAN VS DOOMSDAY, ZERO HOUR, SUPERMAN VS ALIENS, BATMAN, BATMAN-LONG HALLOWEEN, MADNESS, ETC, BATMAN VS ALIENS, TEEN TITANS, STARMAN, TERMINATOR-SECONDARY OBJECTIVES, YOUNG INDY, ALIENS: NEWTS TALE, ALIENS VS PREDATOR-DEALIEST OF SPECIES, PREDATOR: HELL AND HOT WATER, HARLAN ELLISON'S DREAM CORRIDOR, THE MASK, THE SAVAGE DRAGON, Stories for DISNEY ADVENTURES and numerous short pieces for everyone. And, I've done several posters. I'm sure I've overlooked some important thing I've done.
Mithra: On Daredevil, as the writer, your first work for the title was on the annuals (which you did every year from #5 to #10). Was this your first shot at writing?
Wright: No, I'd co-written the SOLO AVENGERS stories as well as co-created and co-wrote the latest incarnation of DEATHLOK with Dwayne McDuffie. I had also written a NIGHTMASK and a JUSTICE story for the NEW UNIVERSE. But those Daredevil back-up stories were an important break for me, as they served as my official introduction to the Marvel Universe as a whole, and brought me recognition by other editors.
Mithra: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the character?
Wright: I think, for me, Daredevil represents the best part of who we wish we were. He is committed to seeing justice done for everybody. What he can't accomplish legally through the law, he does as Daredevil. This in itself is a great bit of duality. As a lawyer, he knows what he does as Daredevil is in many ways illegal, and against his principles. Yet, our system of justice is set up in such a way that sometimes the victims often suffer far more than the criminals. Under these circumstances, Daredevil becomes even more necessary. As for his powers, it isn't so much the fact that his senses are enhanced, as it is the manner in which he uses them to his advantage. He sees far better than a sighted person every could, not because his other senses are stronger, but because he chooses to utilize what he's got to the full extent. That's a pretty strong bit of character. Daredevil's weaknesses depend on who's writing him. I would say his biggest weakness is his belief in our system of justice. But that's due to my own opinion of our system.
Mithra: Was it difficult to make your stories fit into the smaller segments needed for the annuals?
Wright: No. You always have a limited number of pages to tell a story. You tell a story that takes that many pages. I actually found the shorter stories easier to write. There weren't enough pages to ramble on, so you just have to get to the point of the story and tell it. Plus, some of the minor characters really don't deserve a long story. Who really wants to see the FAT BOYS in a 48 page opus besides me?
Mithra: For your first annual, you wrote 3 stories. They mostly focus on DD's supporting characters (at that time), like the Wildboys, Fatboys and Ben Urich. Why did you choose to concentrate on these characters instead of writing a 'Daredevil' story?
Wright: The editor, Ralf Macchio wanted the back-up stories to focus on minor characters. He felt Daredevil's world was just as important as he was. Ralf wanted stories that explored the fringe a bit more. This was fine with me, as I always find the bit players to be some of the most interesting ones. It also gave me more freedom to do what I wanted to storywise. And as a result, Ralf and several other editors liked my back-up stories better than the main story. That led to my getting to do the lead stories from then on, as well as having my story proposals taken more seriously. The Ben Urich story is still one of my favorites. And an added bonus was continuing my lucky streak of having great artists work on my stories. Jim Lee did the WILDBOYS story, John Romita Jr did the FATBOYS, and Whilce Portacio did the BEN URICH story.
Mithra: Your second annual featured the 'Lifeform' story and some backup stories once again with the Fatboys. What was the appeal of the Fatboys to you?
Wright: Chichester always threatened to kill them off when he was writing DD. I'm a big fan of variety. And I always felt that one of the things that Daredevil, the comic was about was the NEIGHBORHOOD in New York. And I wanted to tell the whole story of the neighborhood. I thought Ann Nocenti did some really nice things with the locals when she brought DD back to the streets. The FATBOYS were like comedy relief, something to take the edge off the grit before something really awful happened. It was also a chance to show the younger readers that they really shouldn't try this at home. As well as a way of showing Daredevil through another set of eyes. And I just had fun with them. So sue me.
Mithra: The most interesting story from this annual was the one with Typhoid Mary meeting the Lifeform character. Do you feel your portrayal of the split-personalities of both characters worked? What were they trying to learn from one another?
Wright: I think Typhoid's character worked better than the Lifeform's did. Ann Nocenti did a really great job of creating a multidimensional character that was easier to work with. The Lifeform character never really went anywhere. It was simply a primal creature bent on surviving, who happened to have a good and evil side. I don't think that story could have worked at all if it weren't for the terrific artwork of Michael Bair. He really got into the duality of both characters.
The characters weren't trying to learn anything from each other, as much as they were recognizing the mental anguish and torment they each were going through. It was a good opportunity to play around inside the minds of two schizophrenics who could see into each other. The Lifeform certainly benefited from the good Mary's control over Typhoid more than she benefited from him.
I felt that one of the interesting things about that annual was the fact that all of the stories fit together as a whole, and that they each have scenes crossing over the main story. It was just a technical little gimmick, but no one ever noticed. That always bugged me somewhat.
Mithra: Your next annual featured HYDRA, another story with the Fatboys, and the debut of a character called the Crippler. You even featured him in the next year's annual as well. You also created the Devourer (with Scott McDaniel) in 1993's annual. Did you feel hesitant at all about creating characters that you would not retain any rights to? Or do you hold any rights to the characters?
Wright: If I'm hesitant, I don't create for others. A lot of folks moan about creating characters that they don't own, but it's ridiculous. I have numerous characters I wouldn't want to give away, but they don't do me any good just sitting in my brain. If I use them in a company owned project, they get to come to life. Crippler was my own deranged creation, and I felt he would function best within the confines of the generally straight Marvel Universe. I got to use him in annuals and then made him one of the main characters in Silver Sable. Had I tried to do a creator owned project with him, it never would have gotten off the ground and I would never have gotten to enjoy using him. And I do hope to use him again sometime. Once I create a character and place that character into someone else's sandbox, I'm going to go back and play with them whenever I get a chance. Hopefully, no one will kill the character off or ruin him/her. If everyone just kept all their idea's for themselves you'd have pretty lame comics. I think certain creators have a better chance at self-publishing and owning their own creations than others. Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane can certainly create and own whatever they please and make a good living. Most of us don't have that luxury.
The DEVOURER was actually created on demand. The gimmick for the annuals that year was new characters. The characters were supposed to be used more often after that, but no one really used them. Since we went to the trouble of creating him, I used him again.
Mithra: On the regular series, you wrote the Tree of Knowledge interlude and the Humanity's Fathom storyline. You even featured the Devourer in your story. What did you base this story on? Did you look back on Frank Miller's storyline with the 'King' character? How important was the race and class issues to you?
Wright: FATHOMS of HUMANITY (Or as the cover touted :"HUMANITY'S FATHOM") was inspired by many incidents I had read about in NYC newspapers as well as a book entitled THE MOLE PEOPLE. This book sheds some light on the culture of people who choose to live underground in the sewers and subway tunnels of NYC. I was fascinated by the diversity and complexity of these underground communities and the people who join them and who leave them.
I did go back and read the Miller story with the King. I think it's always a good idea to tap into a characters past. Though the King was a very minor character, he was tied to some very important aspects of Daredevil's world. The King was a fun character to write.
The race and class issues were very important. I was trying to make a distinction between the racism and bigotry of the people above and the more civilized brotherhood of this particular underground community. No matter how far we claim to have come in the race and class war, we as a people still judge too quickly and harshly without thinking. I think this story points that out pretty clearly and shows the pitfalls of such behavior. It also paints the characters in more shades of gray. Everybody in the story seems to be teetering between right and wrong. Even the Kingpin, manages to do a good thing, although he goes about it in a nasty fashion.
Mithra: I had never heard of Peacekeeper before your story. Who was he supposed to be?
Wright: Interesting that you assume he actually was part of some back story. He wasn't. I created him. He was meant to represent those heroes who didn't come out on top every time, those who didn't make a difference despite their best efforts. I also wanted to show that it isn't just the dregs of society who wind up down below. Some model citizens choose that lifestyle. I find flawed characters to be the most interesting, and I would have liked to have used him more, but I got carried away with all of the other GUEST STARS I used. I certainly could have left the Demolisher and Blackwulf out of the story. Walter Jenkins definitely could have used more fleshing out as well. One of the things that has always plagued me is that I have too many ideas at a time. Since Daredevil was always a book I longed to write on a permanent basis, I tried to shove more of my ideas into that story than I should have. Still, I'd say that story line is one of my better efforts, despite its flaws. Peacekeeper's another character I'd like to go back and play with some more.
Mithra: One thing that bothered me about this arc was the dark colouring of the art. How do you feel about the art that went with your story?
Wright: I was very pleased to work with Tom Grindberg. I felt he really succeeded in capturing the essence of this darker New York and it's underground world. This was one of those stories that demanded a certain mood and scale and Tom fulfilled all of it. He told the story with pictures elegantly. You weren't alone in disliking the dark color, but I happened to like it. I felt it went along with the story Tom and I were telling. It was a dark story. Had I colored the story it probably wouldn't have been as dark. For some reason I never have been able to color murky. I tend to prefer more contrast when I work. This does beg the question of who gets to decide what is good and what is bad. Readers' tastes sometimes differs from those of us who do the work. I find that you have to do work that best serves the material. Sometimes that choice is not what the audience likes. The difficulty is that some of us want to do more artistic work when our audience just wants a flashy good time. In the end, though, the only opinion that really matters is that of those who put down their money for the comics we do. I try to choose a variety of projects as a colorist so I can do the darker, more moody color sometimes and the bolder color others. I've been lucky that way.
Mithra: What did you think of the new Daredevil costume?
Wright: I've never been a big fan of costume changes, unless a costume isn't any good. Daredevil's red suit was a classic and didn't need to be touched. However, I refuse to judge the armored costume against the red. It deserves to be judged for what it was. I think Scott McDaniel designed a terrific costume, and D.G wrote a story that made the change necessary. I never thought of it as a permanent costume though.
Mithra: How was your experience writing for Virtual Comics?
Wright: I hate to air dirty laundry in public, so I'll be careful here. To be honest, it wasn't the best. It's always great to team up with D.G. Chichester and I liked working with Danny Fingeroth and Mike Lackey, but the entire project had tremendous potential that was never realized. I think there were too many cooks in the kitchen meddling with the story, and I don't think any of the artists visualized what was written particularly well. We received some favorable letters on the story, but I just wasn't happy with the end result at all. Especially the end. I will say that I was pleased with some of the interactive bits along the way.
Mithra: Has the incorporation of computers in colouring comics helped your job, or do you still try to colour the 'traditional' 4-colour way?
Wright: It's definitely helped. We can do so much more now. Unfortunately, I don't color on the computer much as I'm pretty slow. I do color guides to be translated by separators. Some do a nice job and others...should just go away. It's great to be able to use any color you want, and to do special effects to punch up the art. The downside is that too many computer colorists have substituted the computer for actual talent. Anyone can be taught to do a nice job rendering or to do wild effects. And a whole slew of mediocre pencillers are getting credit for work that would look just plain awful without the hyper-rendered color and effects. The color is about just that--THE COLOR. Color should be used to tell the story, for dramatic effect. I see far too much color that's beautifully rendered with color that wrecks the moment. As for those who do it right, I put Steve Oliff on the top of the heap. He manages to do great rendering and has an outstanding grasp of how to use color effectively. Some art shouldn't have any rendering. I did BATMAN-THE LONG HALLOWEEN with Tim Sale, and that book has a minimal amount of color and no rendering. It's one of my better jobs, thanks to Jeph Loeb's story and Tim's art; and could have been done without the aid of any computer separator.
Mithra: Do you colour the art after it is inked or before? Why?
Wright: Most, if not all color is done after the art is inked. The art changes during the inking phase and it is foolish to put color on pencils that may change completely. However, I have worked over pencil art that was NOT going to be inked. I got to do this over Gene Colan on a Predator mini-series. This is a tricky thing to do as you don't want to overpower delicate pencil strokes, and a good separator is a must. Darkhorse did a nice job. And THORION for Marvel was done with digital inking. (Not by me, but by DIGITAL CHAMELEON) Occasionally a book will be so late that I'll actually have to color faxes of pencils that I have to scan into the computer and e-mail to the separator. Let me tell you, that is the worst way to do comics. But, it came out all right in the end. Check out PETER PARKER-SPIDER-MAN #81. Most of the end of the book was done that way. This is unfortunate, because it teaches editors that they can wait till the last second and it will still work out.
Mithra: Which is stronger - Your writing or colouring ability?
Wright: I don't think you can really compare the two. And even though I have an answer, I have a feeling no one will agree with me. I think that over the years there have been many really great writers doing comics, and so there's a high mark to hit. The competition you get measured by is strong. The great ones are easy to list: Stan Lee, Jim Steranko, Archie Goodwin, Walt Simonson, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Gardener Fox, Chris Claremont, John Byrne and on and on. It's easy. To compound matters, unfortunately today, writing ability is too often judged by sales. If you write a book that sells well, people assume you must be a great writer. But color is another story. I don't think there have been that many really great colorists out there, so any of us who are doing good work aren't being judged against much. Try to list the great colorists on par with the writers. Steve Oliff, John Higgins, Klaus Janson, Jim Steranko...It's hard. Color just never got the attention it deserved. And few people understand it's importance today. This is a shame because the color can make or break a story. And no one faults your color for poor sales. As a writer, the competition is stiff, as colorist, it isn't. Hence, as a colorist I seem to rank higher than I do as a writer. So it would seem that my color is better. And I do get more calls as a colorist. Yet, I consider myself to be a stronger writer, though I don't think I've proven that. As far as quantity goes, I've colored more books well than I've written. But I feel that the best writing I've done exceeds my best color. The trouble is, I've never had a really great run with the right character at the right time with the right artist and had it sell enough copies to get my work noticed. Not that there haven't been moments, just nothing that put me on the map. Daredevil might have been the place to do a two year stint to show what I could do. The type of material that makes up a Daredevil's world is strong socially relevant stuff. And that's where I like to work. Silver Sable was a nice run, but the work that got me noticed and subsequently more work was the weaker early writing. And my solo writing on Deathlok was much stronger at the end of the run as well. I had a tendency to do my best writing during the last issues of the books I wrote. So who read 'em?
One factor that no one talks about much is that your work is judged on the final product, the printed comic in your hand. As a colorist, my color depends on the work that came before--the writing, pencilling and inking. I put color on the page that is appropriate to the story and art. I can't just do anything I feel like. And, since I'm the last in line, I get to put my final stamp on it. The only way my work really changes, is through bad separating and printing. So my color work gets a better shot at being seen as I did it. Since I've been fortunate enough to work over so many good people, my color can look even better than it actually is. As a result, my reputation as a colorist goes up because I worked over a certain artist on a certain book. But as a writer, your work gets translated and changed all along the way. Editors make changes in the original story for good and bad, as do pencillers, inkers, colorists and letterers. Many a lame story has been salvaged by a great editor or penciller. It winds up being possible that some writers get acclaim for good work they didn't really do on a book that would sell no matter what, and other writers never get noticed because they're working with a second or third string artist on books no one cares about. Most of the work is somewhere in the middle, but the extremes cause most of the difficulty in judging ones work. I guess my point is that in many cases the most difficult thing to judge based on the final product is the writing. Unless of course you are the writer/artist/editor.
Mithra: I know you currently colour Starman, but what other titles do you currently work on?
Wright: PETER PARKER SPIDER-MAN, SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN, THOR, TEEN TITANS, BATMAN and soon another project with Dan Jurgens and a team-up book with two of my favorite DC characters of all time.
Mithra: What are you going to write next for comics?
Wright: Good question. I'm finally ready to do some more writing, but now isn't the best time to start. I've got a few pet projects of my own I'd like to do as well as a few company projects. It all depends on whether or not an editor will let me at it. Or, I could get a call tomorrow to write something I haven't though about and take it. I've been pretty lax about taking editors up on offers to write things, so I hope I haven't blown it.
Mithra: What do you think of the Event Comics deal with Marvel to produce Daredevil?
Wright: I don't know the inside dirt on that, but I will say that I think it's a big mistake for Marvel to give up any sort of editorial control over any comic. I think it's a slap in the face to Marvel editorial. I hope the book is great, Daredevil's a great character who deserves the best talent available. It's unfortunate that Marvel has allowed itself to be in a position where they have to make these sort of deals to get top talent doing Daredevil. I remember when the best people would kill to get to work on that character. Those were the days...
(c) Kuljit Mithra 1998
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