Interview: Mark Schultz: Faster Than A Speeding Bullet
by R.J. Carter
Published: January 1, 2002
Mark Schultz earned his comic book chops in the highly competitive ring of self-publishing, putting out Xenozoic Tales (aka Cadillacs & Dinosaurs) for Kitchen Sink before graduating to such mainstream hits as Aliens and Terminator at Dark Horse. Now heís got his hands on the hottest, strongest, and most high-profile bit a comics professional can hope to work with: Superman! We called Mark to find out how he accomplished this, and also to try and wheedle some secrets out of him about this years DC Universe shaking event, Our Worlds At War.
Why donít you tell us a little bit about how you got into the comics business?
I was a commercial artist and book illustrator for a number of years. I was completely bored with that, so Iíd spend my free time daydreaming about what I would do if I was given a comic book of my own. I had been a fan of comics since I was a kid, and over a period of three or four years, I evolved in my mind the concept that became Xenozoic Tales. Finally, in 1985, I had just about had it with doing commercial work, advertising work, so I drew up about a seven or eight page story which I submitted around to all the major companies at the time, basically just to showcase the type of things that I like to draw. But I wrote the story based around my Xenozoic concept, and Kitchen Sink Press expressed interest in the whole package, not just my art.
So for the first twelve years of my career in comics, I essentially stuck to one book--my own book, Xenozoic Tales--which was developed also as Cadillacs and Dinosaurs into a TV show and related merchandising. After the show was over, the whole merchandising cycle started to spin down, and I was no longer in a position where I was making a living on Xenozoic Tales, so I started to branch out and look for other work. That took me to writing some miniseries for Dark Horse.
That would be the Aliens and Predator stories?
Thatís correct. I did Star Wars; I did Aliens; I did Predator. Iíve also written some Terminator stuff. I also was doing covers for them. Then--I think it was in 1998--I get a call from Joey Cavalieri. He had heard that I was looking for work, and he was aware of my scripting, and he wondered if I would be interested in writing some Superman stuff.
What does that feel like, being handed such a weighty icon in the comics industry?
Pretty amazing! Really, Iím such a huge fan of Superman, because he was the original. In my mind, heís a science fiction concept first, and a superhero second. The whole superhero genre evolves around and after Superman came on the scene. He was just a great science fiction concept, and I admire that above anything else. So being handed Superman, when it could have been anyone... If I had a call from any other superhero book editor, I donít know if I would have been interested in taking it on. But Superman is so great, and such a thorough original--I was just floored that anyone at DC even knew my work, let alone was going to trust me with Superman!
Having the perspective that Superman is, first and foremost, a science fiction hero, how does that reflect in your writing?
What was really cool is that the editorials--Eddie, Mike Carlin, everyone--they wanted one of the books (when we rebooted editorial) to reflect the science fiction side of Superman. I eagerly threw up my hand and said, ďMe! Me! Me! Me! Let me do it!Ē And they were happy to have me do that, so I got an official sanctioning to take that direction.
Thatís just the way my mind works. I donít know if I can say I sat down and actually thought, ďHow do I make Superman more science fiction?Ē I just enjoy the kind of stories that involve crazy experiments gone wrong and exploration of the strange, natural world around us; stories that involve mad nutty scientists as opposed to 300-pound professional wrestler supervillains from outer-space. I enjoy stories that engage Superman intellectually. That sounds like Iím saying the other books are dumb--thatís not what Iím trying to say! But I guess I just look at Superman in terms of--his job in my stories is not to be stronger than someone out, but to figure out how he can best use his powers. Not to have to out-muscle someone all the time, but to figure out when to use his powers and when not to use his powers to deal with the situation.
Speaking of situations he has to deal with, itís not every superhero out there that has the President of the United States as his arch-enemy!
Oh, isnít that great! I wish I had come up with that!
How long are you guys going to play that up?
As long as it takes. I think the answer right now is, as long as we can come up with engaging stories with that, and so far, weíve just begun to scratch the surface. Itís one of those deals where Iím not giving away any house secrets, or talking out of school, to say that weíre leaving it open-ended just to see what the response will be. And so far, the response has been great!
Given the last couple of Presidents weíve had, and the scandals they can endure and still hold on to office, you can keep him in there and still get away with a lot.
Yeah, itís not so far-fetched that someone like Luthor would be President. The guyís got all the money in the world to pump into spin-doctoring and PR. Heís a very magnetic, strong personality. He represents the strength of industrial America to the world. Itís not far-fetched to believe that he could manipulate his way into office.
When you first come on to an established book, I understand the storylines have been plotted months--even years--in advance. Have you reached the point yet where you are writing your own plots?
Oh definitely! That may be a little over-exaggerated. Every year, we writers on the core Superman books--Jeph Loeb, Joe Kelly, Joe Casey and I--get together with the editorial staff in New York, and we all throw out what we would like to do with our books in the coming year, and we make sure they all jive together. But thatís the extent of the long range structuring of the plotting. When I came on the book, I came on in the middle of a story cycle that had already been put in place by the previous writing and drawing teams, so I had to follow through on that. But after that, it was pretty much up to me to try to navigate the direction I wanted the book to go in.
About the same time, after Iíd only been on the book a few months, there was an editorial change. Eddie Berganza came on board, and that followed with changing of the other writing and drawing teams. So there was a whole fresh start implied there. The four of us working together, we all seem to be on the same page. Thereís no one in our group that feels, ďOh, I wish I could take things in a different direction.Ē We all seem to be in synch with that, and with Eddie in editorial as well.
While there is a certain amount with a concept that is such a company mainstay and has such huge worldwide merchandising power, there is going to be a certain lockstep you have to follow. But within that, Iíve been amazed at how much freedom and leeway we have been given to develop the character. I came on board thinking that my job was to take someone elseís character--to take DCís Superman--and do what they want me to do with it. This isnít the book where I get to follow my own muse and work out my own personal grievances and disappointments and psychological problems. This is the book where I do what DC wants me to do. But even within that, Iíve been amazed at how much of my own head Iíve had to develop things.
How far can you develop your own individual stories when you start to work tightly with three other guys. How do you say, ďIíd like to introduce this particular subplot,Ē or, ďIíd like to bring Krypto back,Ē or similar group decisions?
That was something we all had talked about kind of jokingly that weíd like to do, and we threw it out at a Superman summit a couple of years ago, and Jenette Kahn was sitting in. She always spends as much time as she can, she enjoys being part of the process as well. When I say editorial staff, Iím kind of including her in there too. We just kind of threw it out half-joking, thinking theyíd say, ďOh, yeah, yeah, great idea. Next!Ē
She took to it immediately; she said, ďYep, itís time to bring Krypto back.Ē
They have to keep the trademark going, I guess.
Well, there are ways of doing that. Krypto had been brought back as a normal dog just named Krypto [owned by Bibbo]. So I donít think that was the object, I really donít. I just thought--the neat thing about Superman is thereís such a rich tradition, such a rich mix of characters and concepts over the years. Thereís such great stuff to draw from, and to just cut it out and ignore it completely, just for the sake of... You know, at one point it was important to simplify and restructure Superman, but then as it grows again, since the reboot back in í85, to just ignore these things is silly. Theyíre wonderful, time-tested concepts that people have loved in the past and we believe--and obviously in this case, Jenette did too--that we would be able to take something that had been popular in the past, that may now be considered old fashioned, and kind of remold it, refashion it into something that would be acceptable and enjoyed by todayís audience.
It seemed DC had thrown out the Silver Age Superman and all its accoutrements as being an outmoded concept, and Alan Moore had picked up on it with Supreme and people loved it.
You just have to write it for the times. I believe that a good concept is a good concept. But that doesnít mean that you can just be frozen in time. Something that worked, presented a certain way in 1962, if you tried to copy that cold and out of pure nostalgia recapture that exact concept as it was in 1962, it isnít going to work with todayís audiences. Youíve got to take that great concept and try to find a way into it that is going to mean something to people reading the book today.
I noticed Krypto is getting smarter, too.
Krypto used to have those thought balloons: ďMy master doesnít understand that thereís a piece of kryptonite hidden under his bed! How do I let him know he shouldnít go into his bedroom?Ē Weíve avoided that. While weíre trying to show that Krypto does have above normal intelligence, we donít want to fall into the trap of making him just a human in dogís clothing.
A lot of people must be wondering, since finishing up the ďReturn To KryptonĒ storyline that reintroduced Krypto: What Krypton is the real Krypton?
Well... (laughs)... Iím not going to answer that now. Thereís some pretty complex thinking behind it, and I hate to say that because that can be the kiss of death if you canít project it in an interesting visual manner in the comics--I donít want to scare anyone off--but there is some real thinking and some real complexity to this. Weíre not just blowing it off, itís not just something where we thought it would be cool to do this and hang the consequences, weíre going to do what we want to. There is a bigger story here. There is a bigger picture that we will be getting to.
Coming up: Our Worlds At War.
Is this a DCU shaking event, or a Superman-centric one, or both?
Oh, itís DCU shaking! Itís important for readers who want to just get the story, to understand the story, that the Superman books are the key books. If the readers just want to stick to the Superman books, they will get the story. They shouldnít feel--and, God, maybe Iím going to have DC give me a call and warn me never to do this again--but you wonít have to read every book thatís interlocked with Our Worlds At War to get the story. The Superman books tell the key story, the other books just enrich the experience.
And since thereís so much happening in the Superman books too, thereís a lot of things that happen that we just punch on as they affect Superman. But they are epic stories in themselves that will be able to be explored in the other books.
Without giving too much away--what is Our Worlds At War going to be about?
Well, itís about the end of everything.
(Laughs) We did Crisis already!
Well, itís presented on a level as being seen from the soldier. Weíre looking at our heroes in this, and the people involved in this war, as soldiers. This is what Superman goes through psychologically to get through this war. Look at it as the viewpoint of a war through the eyes of an individual soldier--with Superman, of course, because heís our character being that soldier. This isnít just a restructuring. Weíre talking about--the foe in this can literally remake everything, can take everything down to nothing and ďBig BangĒ reboot the universe all over again.
Obviously, Crisis is what weíre going to be compared to, and how can you beat Crisis? We canít. There are only so many stories in the world, and weíre just taking a spin on this particular story--the big universal war at the end of everything. Ragnarok, if you want to call it that. Weíre trying to put a personal shading on this that will make it unique.
Is this a new foe, or someone weíve seen before?
Itís someone weíve seen before, but we donít know much about him. We donít know the full import of what he is yet. But he has appeared in the Superman books before. And thereís more complexity than just that too... in fact, Iím going to shut my mouth now before I put my foot in it. (Laughs)
Thatís okay--I have three more guys to go through. Iím bound to get the info from somebody. (Laughs) Anyway... Is this going to be a book that makes lasting changes to the DC Universe?
Yes, there are going to be some lasting changes. Itís going to... uhm... yeah. (Laughs)
And I say that because everything is relative. But there are definitely lasting changes. Things are not going to be the same.
Obviously you love dinosaurs, having drawn them for so long in Xenozoic Tales. Iím reminded of Bill Watterson, Budd Root, Frank Cho and other artists who are also dino-philes. Have you read any of their stuff before?
Oh, yeah, I love Cavewoman, and Wattersonís stuff of course.
Any chance of maybe seeing Superman fight some dinosaurs soon, with your pencils, or did I miss that issue?
No, I wish! One reason Iím writing for a living is that I draw so slowly. I canít draw a comic book and make a living at it. I was able to do Xenozoic for so long because of the ancillary merchandising--thatís what really paid the bills. Without that, I couldnít afford to put out Xenozoic Tales as infrequently as I did, but thatís as fast as I could get it out. So Iím not going to be drawing any interiors on Superman. Iíve been invited to do covers, and I fully plan--when I have time--to do some covers.
As far as the dinosaurs go: Iíve been batting around this idea with Eddie Berganza for a while, trying to find a place to fit it in. But Iíve got a kind of an epic time travel story with Superman going back to the beginning of time that Iíve wanted to do for a long time, and it just hasnít been able to be fit into the schedule. I might end up proposing it as a mini-series to Eddie at some point, but it would involve my favorite theme of dinosaurs taking on the Man of Steel.
Any convention touring this year?
Oh yeah. Iíll be in San Diego. Iíll be in Pittsburgh in a week or two. Iím also involved in a big illustration project--Iím illustrating Robert E. Howardís Conan, the original short stories for Wandering Star, a publisher out of Britain. So between that and Superman, I have to keep my nose to the grindstone.
Mart Nodell said in an interview that, in his day, kids were getting into drawing comics with the hope of being able to break into advertising where the real money was, whereas these days the kids get into the advertising biz to springboard out and start their own comic books.
Isnít that interesting? That was certainly my case! Comics are neat--you can make a living at them, and yet have just about as much personal freedom as you can hope for in a mass medium. Certainly a lot more, I think, than in movie making, because theyíre so relatively cheap to do, so thereís just not as much risk in putting out a new concept or a new idea. I just loved it for that reason alone. I think thatís what attracts a lot of people to comics.