By Joshua Stone
When I went to my first SDCC in 1999, I was often able to sit down and actually have a conversation with an artist or writer whose work I enjoyed and respected. Over the years the opportunities to have actual conversations has kind of dried up. However, covering SDCC for Bleeding Cool has reopened this world to me, and this year I was able to have a conversation with the super nice Matt Wagner. Wagner was at SDCC promoting a number of products, which you can read about in the interview, but one of his most awesome looking projects is Grendel Vs. The Shadow, which is due in stores on September 3rd, and is written and drawn by him, with colors by his son, Brennan Wagner. Now as for my interview, Wagner was great to talk to and very friendly. He also did a quick little sketch for me that I didn’t even ask him to do, so I am now even more of a fan than I was before actually being able to meet him. Thankfully this was one of those occasions where meeting someone you respect was far from a disappointment.
Joshua Stone: I know you’ve had The Shadow: Year One and Grendel vs. The Shadow coming out. With The Shadow character, I know you’re not that old that you were listening to the radio show when you were a kid.
Matt Wagner: I was at the right spot at the right time though. My parents were World War II era, so they were listening to it when they were kids. So I kind of inherited that nostalgia off them, but then when I was about 12 DC started doing the Denny O’Neil and [Mike] Kaluta run.
JS: And that was before [Howard] Chaykin’s run?
MW: Yeah, yeah. Chaykin’s was an updating [of The Shadow character]. This [O’Neil and Kaluta run] was all set in the 30s. This would have been 1972, 73, something like that. Around the same time you could all of sudden get all these LP records with the radio shows, so I had a lot of those. Then about a year after that, Pyramid Books starting issuing the original pulp novels with these terrific covers by Jim Steranko. All of a sudden I had this deluge of Shadow stuff I could get my hands and I just became a giant fan. When the idea came up to do the crossover, you know I did the Batman/Grendel crossover many years ago and I’ve had a lot of offers to team-up characters with Grendel and I’ve always kind of turned them down because my idea was after Batman where do you go. And The Shadow means as much to me as Batman does, maybe not as commercially as big a character, but in my heart he is.
JS: Hunter Rose and The Shadow both live in these worlds of red, black, and white, so it seems like a natural fit, is that part of why you wanted to bring them together as well?
MW: Yeah, they just seemed to fit. I mean the same way that Hunter Rose against Batman was a perfect fit, but of course Lamont Cranston and The Shadow were the inspiration for Batman. I also am a firm believer, even though I like Chaykin’s updating, I like The Shadow in the 30s, so I take Hunter back to the 30s. Strangely enough, for all the stuff I’ve written over the years, Sandman Mystery Theatre, The Shadow: Year One, Green Hornet: Year One, this is the first thing I’ve drawn set in the 30s. I’ve written lots of stuff set in the 30s, but this is the first thing I’ve ever drawn and that’s been a lot of fun too. There’s a certain sense of style, of course everyone dresses great, just a different aesthetic and I’m loving it.
JS: Great. So when I was growing up I loved the King Arthur stories, which made Mage my favorite thing that you have done. The question I therefore have to ask is any chance anytime soon?
MW: Yeah, that’s the best I can do.
MW: It’s around the corner I think. More immediately tomorrow I’m doing this big panel with [Quentin] Tarantino, I’m co-writing a Django/Zorro crossover with him.
JS: Your working with him?
MW: Yeah, we did this story together and I’m writing the script and he goes over the script, but there’s also a couple spots where he is going to write the actual dialogue for two specific scenes we’ve outlined. So, that’s kind of more immediate than Mage, but Mage is edging its way closer.
JS: You’ve done Green Hornet, The Shadow, Zorro, a lot of these…
MW: Classic characters
JS: Classic characters, yes. And then your own characters, Grendel and Mage…
MW: Truthfully, if you look at both of those characters they have their roots in classic stuff too.
JS: Which do you like working on more?
MW: I don’t know, I kind of enjoy a golden spot where I can do both. Unlike a lot of my contemporaries, my peers, who started out in the trenches at DC and Marvel and then went and did their own stuff, I did it the other way around. So I never felt like when I go and play with the big boy’s toys, I never feel like I am shirking my own stuff because I know I am going to come back to it. I’m kind of living the best of both worlds, which is great.
JS: Last question, since I know they have us on a time limit for interviews. Do you still read comics yourself, and if so what are you reading now?
MW: I don’t read enough comics myself. I find the more I produce the less I want to read because I don’t want to be influenced by other people’s stuff. I’m a voracious reader, but it doesn’t tend to be comics. I read a lot of books. I just met Joe Hill and they gave me Locke & Key and The Wraith, so I’m really looking forward to that because I liked his books.
JS: Did you like Horns?
MW: I loved Horns.
JS: And NOS4A2?
MW: I just picked up NOS4A2, but I haven’t read it yet. So I get to have a crossover event in that too.
JS: It is a crossover. I’m not giving anything away, but there’s a map within NOS4A2 that shows the Joe Hill universe, but it crosses into the Stephen King realm.
MW: Oh great, awesome.
JS: I will let you go, so thank you very much.
MW: Thanks Josh.
Grendel Vs. The Shadow #1, a 48 page start of a mini-series, arrives September 3rd from Dark Horse
Further musings of Joshua Stone can be read on Twitter @1NerdyOne.