Some comic creators are an overnight success, while others take a little bit more time.
Although Doug Wagner’s comic debut was over fifteen years ago in the pages of Malibu Comics’ UltraForce, it wasn’t until 2010 that he jumped into comics full-time. Earlier this year Doug wrote the one-shot Red: Joe for DC Comics and the miniseries 25 To Life with television star Eriq La Salle. His big project on the horizon is the graphic novel World of Warcraft: Horde announced at Comic-Con International in San Diego, and he’s also working on several creator-owned projects.
Newsarama: You’ve had a lot of work come out as of late – the Red: Joe one-shot and the beginning of 25 To Life over at 12 Gauge. What’s it like to have two big books coming out so close together?
Doug Wagner: Awesome! First time in my career that I’ve had two books hit the stands on the same week. If that wasn’t sweet enough, Red: Joe made it into the “read pile” on CBR’s "the Buy Pile" column and 25 To Life #1 sold out in 24 hours. Pretty tasty week if I do say so myself.
Nrama: Doug, what’s the big project front and center on your plate right now?
Wagner: For almost the past year, my primary focus has been the upcoming World of Warcraft: Horde graphic novel from DC Comics and Blizzard Entertainment. I’m finishing up the final chapter right now. Jheremy Raapack is the artist and from what I’ve seen so far, his work is going to blow everyone away. He’s making me look like a genius!
Yes, almost a year. This is my first graphic novel, so it’s been a bit odd to work on a book for so long and not see anything hit the stands. That can be a bit discouraging at times. However, I’m always under the ever vigilant and all-knowing team of Hank Kanalz and Sarah Gaydos. These two, joined by the fine folks at Blizzard, keep my spirits up while constantly pushing me to write the best work possible. I can’t say enough about the team behind this book.
Nrama: I hear you’ve got a creator-owned project spinning up with Rob Haynes. Can you say anything about what that is?
Wagner: Rob and I have been working on a new concept for over a year. We both wanted to do something fresh and distinctive, so we jumped into the madness and pulled something out that we believe is a unique approach to the concept of super powers and the world of superheroes. Classic themes tossed with your not-so-typical super powers. We’re pretty proud of it. That’s about all I’m comfortable saying at this time, but here’s some images to share.
Nrama: Digging through the archives I think I found your first credit --- writing Ultraforce #4 for Malibu. Blow the dust off this and tell us how you broke in.
Wagner: Wow, you dug deep. What year was that? 1995? At that time, I was heaving pitches at every company under the sun. In early ’95, Cully Hamner and I sent a pitch for a new series to Malibu Comics. Lo and behold, they called back and loved the idea. A glorious day! During the sloth-like legal process, my new editor (Did I mention that editor was Hank Kanalz? Yeah, the same guy I’m working for 20 years later) calls me and asks if I can deliver a script to him in a week. If I pull it off, he’ll throw 3 more issues my way. Of course, I lied and said I could. I didn’t sleep a wink that week and somehow pulled it off. That’s the birth of Ultraforce #4. A few weeks later, Malibu was bought out and their comics’ line was brought to an end. Yes, including the greatest book never published from Cully Hamner and Doug Wagner. At that age, I was crushed.
Nrama: An unseen project from you and Cully – wow. What was it about, and did you to ever think about revisiting it or posting it online?
Wagner: Well, as a matter of fact, Cully and I just recently decided to revisit this concept and have started banging out a new pitch for it. It may be just a bit rash for me to let slip details at this point.
Nrama: I'll give you that. Speaking of collaborating with Cully, I notice your email address comes from the domain of Gaijin Studios, famed Atlanta comics studio. I see you as the only writer in the group – what’s that like?
Wagner: A pain in the a-hole! No, seriously, I shared space with some of the most talented people in our industry and it was one of the most influential times of my career. Yes, from time to time the writer was the odd man out. I can barely make a stick figure make sense, so when they were talking about all that artsy-fartsy stuff – Copic markers, grainy paper, crap like that - I drifted off into the land of laser beams and powers of the mind. However, the discussions we’d have on storytelling were like the heavens throwing open the gates and injecting pure story into my skull. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I learned from everyone in the studio. A writer rarely gets a chance to see the storytelling process on a daily basis from the likes of Brian Stelfreeze, Cully Hamner, Laura Martin, Tony Shasteen, and Karl Story. I took advantage of every opportunity I could get to learn from my creative brethren. Yeah, Laura’s a woman, but she’s so cool we gave her a man card and therefore - a brother. Every one of them changed how I write a script and how I approach each and every page.
Nrama: Do you think working in a studio full of artists made you more skilled – or at least more aware – of what writers can, and should, ask for a in script?
Wagner: Oh, most definitely! More skilled and more aware. We constantly dove into the process of storytelling. We discussed what we thought worked, what didn’t, and most importantly, why. Not in a pretentious way, but from the perspective of truly wanting to understand the art. Did we always agree? Of course not! But, Holy Mother, what I learned from those discussions.
As far as being more aware of what is expected of a writer from the artists’ perspective, the benefits to me were again endless. How many panels to expect on a page for a particular type of scene, how to describe tone and mood to direct the colorist, how to balance a page so the artist can finish in a timely fashion, how panel count can affect the pacing, the list goes on and on. We discussed it all and I use these lessons every day. You know what? I’m feeling a tad generous, so I’m going to save a few lives today - if you like to pepper the word “crowd scene” or “cityscape” throughout your script, you’d better own a bullet proof vest. I’m just sayin’!
Nrama: What’ve you done prior to writing full-time, and do you think any of that informed your writing?
Wagner: I’ve had so many different jobs that I honestly can’t remember them all. I’ve been a construction worker, a farmhand, a bookstore manager, a computer programmer, an income auditor, and my favorite, a security guard. I mean how can you not love wearing polyester, a badge, and a gun belt in the sublime heat of south Florida?
Informed my writing? Undoubtedly. How can you write about life if you haven’t experienced it? Being exposed to so many experiences and so many people has provided an invaluable insight to me as a writer. I truly believe that character and heart are at the center of every great story. And I’ve been fortunate enough to bear witness to some of the best and worst we humans have to offer.
Nrama: Lastly, Doug… What kind of comics work do you want to do?
Wagner: That’s not as simple of a question as it may sound. I absolutely LOVE writing stories that challenge characters internally and externally; stories that push characters to their limits and force them to discover their true inner strength. Such a story could easily exist in many a genre – fantasy, sci-fi, horror, war, western, and even romance. But let’s get real! American comics are built on a foundation of superheroes. That’s what I grew up on and that’s my first love.What do you think of his second break-in story?