12 September 2009

Five Questions for Ron Marz

This interview with writer Ron Marz was originally conducted for my free new eBook, Conversations with ADD. In the eBook, you'll find an interview I conducted with the prolific writer back in 2000, as he was gearing up for the debut of CrossGen Comics. This new interview, also included in the eBook in a longer form, acts as a nearly decade-later follow-up, looking at what Marz is up to now as well as looking back at his experiences with the short-lived, Florida-based CrossGen.

Alan David Doane: I first interviewed you nine years ago to talk about what, at that time, was your new gig writing for CrossGen and your part in creating the universe the company's comics took place in. When I asked you if you'd like to update that interview, you mentioned that people seem skittish about talking to you about CrossGen, and I'll admit I was afraid I might be opening up old wounds, but you seem pretty much at peace with the subject. That surprised me, so I'll ask you, why do you think people expect you to not want to talk about CrossGen?

Ron Marz: I think people expect me, and other ex-CrossGen employees, to be mad or skittish about the whole thing because it was ultimately a failure that ended badly. Yes, everybody got dinged for some money, some people for a considerable amount. But I think there was a lot on the plus side of the ledger too. I was generally very happy and very invested in the work I did, and it was a great experience to work in the same studio with the rest of [my] creative team. It was very collaborative, with quite a bit of creative freedom. The creative teams were in charge of their own books to a great extent, which is a luxury you don’t often get from the Big Two in the current all-event-all-the-time climate. More than anything, the friendships that were made or continued there are really important to me. No job is perfect, but being able to work with your friends everyday was pretty cool.

Do you think most creators who worked for the company are as easy-going about the topic now, years after it shut down?

I think more are than aren’t, but that’s just my sense of things. It’s not like I took a survey. I know Mark Waid still seems to have some anger over it, but he butted heads with Mark Alessi on an almost daily basis. Waid was more confrontational than I was. I was a little more pragmatic, because I learned early on that Wednesday afternoon’s stupid decision or dictate was very often forgotten by Thursday morning, so I didn’t waste time and energy arguing them with the boss.

Each person’s experience was different, of course, but on the whole, I think the more you look at things in the rear-view mirror, the easier it is to see the good. And it doesn’t hurt that most everybody on the creative side has flourished post-CrossGen. Marvel’s publishing line would look a lot different right now if they hadn’t scooped up most of the CrossGen artists.

Any regrets at all about your CrossGen experience? Anything you'd have done differently?

I regret the way it ended, obviously, and the fact that people got hurt financially. The real problem was that the company expanded too quickly, growing much more rapidly than our audience. Almost all of us who had management-type positions advised against it, but ultimately those decisions were made by Alessi. It’s more complex than that, and personalities and office politics and all of that come into it, but the short version is “too much, too soon.” He wanted to be a big player, competing with Marvel and DC, within a few years, and it wasn’t realistic. In fact, when Alessi started talking publically about his intention to take down Marvel and DC, everybody on staff was going, “Um … what?” We had all signed on to be more of a boutique publisher, maybe be #3 in a decade, so this was all news to us. Alessi tried to compete and grow by spending money, and ended up blowing through all the dough a lot faster than any of realized. The promise was that we had enough operating capital to run a zero profit for five years. Obviously that turned out to be not the case.
It’s a shame. It could have been something. It could have worked, especially in light of how Hollywood fell in love with comics shortly after CrossGen’s demise. We had what I think was more art talent in one place than ever before. But a combination of hubris and foolishness took it down.

Has there been any long-term benefit that you gained from your CrossGen experience?

Supervising an issue from start to finish, and being hands-on with the whole process, was a great learning experience. The chance to see the art being generated, and work with the rest of the team, instead of just being part of an assembly-line process, was tremendous. The chance to do non-superhero stuff was great, and the chance to work alongside guys like Brandon Peterson, Jim Cheung, Bart Sears, Greg Land and everybody else was great. As I said, the friendships that came out of the place are very important to me. Something like Samurai: Heaven and Earth would never have existed if I hadn’t met Luke Ross during his time at CrossGen. I feel like I gained much, much more than I lost.

What advice about the comics industry would you give creators just starting out in their careers?

Do what you love. Sounds trite, I know. If your dream in life is to work on the same Marvel and DC heroes you grew up reading, go for it. But these days the industry has a lot more opportunities than rehashing the same old superhero tropes. It used to be that you made your bones at Marvel and DC, and then went off and got the opportunity to do your creator-owned work. Now it’s almost the reverse. Guys make their mark by doing an Image book or something with a small publisher, or even online work, and use that to get in the door at the Big Two. I think it’s ultimately more satisfying to do you own thing, rather than just work-for-hire. Figure out what really matters to you, what inspires you, and pursue that. Being the next guy in a long succession of creators to work on a particular character is a pretty cool thing, but it’s not the only thing.

Thanks to Ron Marz for taking the time to talk to me, to John Belskis of Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, New York for his help in arranging the interview, and to Fred Hembeck for kindly allowing me to use his photo of Ron Marz from the fall, 2008 Albany Comicon.

For more of both my 2000 and 2009 interviews with Ron Marz, please see Conversations with ADD, a free, downloadable eBook collecting nearly four dozen interviews with comics creators, editors, publishers, retailers and bloggers.

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