Dan Slott, currently writing Amazing Spider-Man and Silver Surfer had the next spotlight panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego 2014.
TheMarySue.com E-i-C (and Newsarama alum) Jill Pantozzi moderated the panel, and started by asking Dan Slott what he wanted to be when he grew up.
"This. I started out thinking I wanted to be a TV writer or film, but once I found comics, it was then on, always comics, and writing Spider-Man. Which is weird. When you're growing up you start to learn your limitations and learn the things you can't do.
"We were at a Marvel retreat, and went around the room saying if you were able to work on something right now that you're not doing, what would it be? Everyone in the room said "Spider-Man," and so I said "Moon Knight." At that point, Spider-Man seemed like something I just plain couldn't do.
"The first time I got to go to one of the big meetings was the aftermath of Civil War. JMS was outlining One More Day, and the first thing I thought was 'good luck to whoever is going to be writing Spider-Man after that!' I had no idea it would be me."
Turning back the clock, the panel turned to Ren and Stimpy, one of Slott's first works. "We did the comic book and had a simultaneous launch with the show. Nickelodeon actually hated Ren and Stimpy, they had no idea what they were in for! With every episode, they would get complaints from parents and viewers, and they'd re-edit the episodes for reruns, which would get smaller and smaller.
"They were the ones who would actually do approvals on the comics, so we had to be cleaner than the TV show. We were not allowed to use the Nose Goblins in the comics. We fought about it for a year, so for issue 13, they finally acquiesced and said 'you can have ONE nose goblin.' So I wrote a story where Stimpy put one Nose Goblin under the table, and it gets shot with a monster ray, and grows into a giant Jack Kirby snot monster, and he at the end of the story is terrorizing the city and gets hit with nasal decongestant and covers the city in snot.
"So halfway through this issue as pages are coming in, they changed it into a piece of gum stuck under the table. So that's why that one reads weird."
He said that Nickelodeon was constantly telling him that "you don't understand our characters." Slott was never allowed to put in a fart joke - he had to fight for years for that, too, despite it being the whole conceit of Powdered Toast Man.
"I went to a fancy Nickelodeon breackfast, and the Marvel people were sat with the Standards and Practices people! And when I walked in, they were laughing at all the jokes that they had cut. One came up and said, 'You're the one who wrote that funny fart joke!' and I said, 'and you're the one who cut it!' She said, 'Well, you understand, we had to...' and I said, 'It's okay, you can cut my farts anytime.' My editor was a bit worried after that."
Another lost story was about addiction, where the thing that gets abused is "Slapping fish on your head." And when little Billy is thinking about slapping fish on his head, out of nowhere come "TV celebrities Ren & Stimpy who say 'it's okay, man, you don't have to slap a fish on your head to prove you're cool.' Then it flashes back to when Ren was addicted to slapping fish on his head." Slott told the whole story of "the boss and his wife" coming over to Ren and Stimpy's house, and Ren is desperate for a fish to slap on his head. The boss arrives, and Muddy Mudskipper is his wife, and Ren just starts slapping himself on the head with Muddy. "The end of the story has Ren with this elaborate pully system with a giant Sperm Whale to slap on his head. Stimpy says, 'It'll never work, Ren!' Ren says, 'Why?' and he says, 'Because a whale's not a fish!'"
Turning to his work on Batman Arkham Asylum: Living Hell he said it was his "way out" of writing kids books. He figured "one Joker rape scene in the shower and I'd be good."
That dovetailed quickly into how he gets notes from editors, and some specific examples of editors telling him to pull things back.
"When you're writing, sometimes you just do things you have to do - if you have to write all night, you do that. So because of that, sometimes you get these four in the morning ideas. You record them and then listen later and woooo no that's just a 4am idea.
"So here's the difference between Tom Brevoort and Steve Wacker. So I get this idea and I send it to both of them at the same time, about Spider-Man. The note I get from Tom is, 'Don't ever do this story, it's a terrible story, it's a 4am story, keep working.' The note I get from Steve Wacker was, 'oh that's greaaaaat... how's that script coming?'"
The story in question? "It was Spider-Man getting Pym particles, and being Giant Spider-Man, but still doing Spider-Man stuff. Like leaning over thugs in an alley yelling, 'STOP THAT.'"
"Everything has had its own flavor," Slott said of his writing. "She-Hulk was lots of fun, I could've done that forever. We had a couple stories we just never got around to, and I was pretty bummed. We had a Superhero divorce case with like who gets custody of the sidekick and the secret hideout.
"We had one where a science teacher gets fired for teaching Marvel Creationism, with Odin and the World Tree, and the Celestials and he's teaching this as history of the universe, and he's fired, and they have to go in and defend him. The Watcher gets called as a witness and he says, 'everything he said is true.'"
Asked about how he writes women non-exploitively, Slott said it's simply "writing about things that feel real to anyone. It's talking about things we all know. Women are not an alien species. How do I write women well? The same way Louise Simonson wrote Cable well; you don't have to check chromosomes for writing specific characters."
Slott told a story, with some prompting from Pantozzi, about his Doctor Who fandom, and the time he met Noel Clarke aka Mickey Smith. He accidentally cut a line and had a bunch of Doctor Who cosplayers scream at him.
And then, Fan Q&A!
Q: How did you decide when you were going to put Peter back in the Spider-Man suit?
"When I pitched it, they said they wanted to make it much shorter, probably only 6 issues or 12 at the most, and I said, no, I can keep this going until the movie, then we'll have Amazing Spider-Man #1 right before the movie!
"I actually originally pitched Spider-Verse as a Superior Spider-Man story, and there was a big fight at the retreat saying, 'You only get one chance to do this, and you're not doing it without Peter Parker.' So Spider-Verse got picked up, air-lifted and retooled. So that's the closest to an editorial mandate I've dealt with - but they eventually won me over. You can't have every Spider-Man in existence and not have 616 Peter Parker."
An Avengers Initiative fan asked about the moment when Eric O'Grady knocked out Cassie, and said "who's your daddy?"
"Well that line was not the original one! That was one of the only ever art corrections we had to do. It's the first time he grows, and he picks up the bus and hits her with the bus and it's a cheap shot. So the original shot was he hits her, then he pulls his pants open and looks down, and says, 'I'm bigger than the bus!' The art came in and it was so horrible, and it was like, 'That's getting the patch! That joke is NOT going in!'"
A fan tried to get some word about Superior Spidey's place in Spider-Verse, but Slott didn't want to offer up any spoilers.
"Silver Surfer is scientifically proven to be great for significant others and children," Slott said to a fan who said his girlfriend loves it.
Q: Any chance of doing the Reckoning War?
"For those of you who don't know, basically everything I've ever written for Marvel has had a hint about the Reckoning War. It's a thing I've wanted to do since I was 8. It doesn't work with Spidey though, because it's so cosmic - if only I was working on a cosmic character! But with Surfer right now it is getting its own voice; I'd still really like to do the Reckoning War someday."
Q: Will Peter Parker ever be happy?
Slott essentially jokingly said that it would be a really boring story.
Q: How do you manage to write Spider-Man and Silver Surfer twice a month?
"When I was first pitching Silver Surfer, I did it accidentally. I knew that doing Spider-Man twice a month was a my limit. That's why I have this beard, because I just stopped shaving because I didn't have time. I pitched Surfer to Tom Brevoort - we were just shooting the shit over the phone talking about none of the pitches that hit. So he said, "how would you do it?" and we just started talking. He said, 'I would read that book! Write it up!' I told him it wasn't a pitch, but he said I'd find a way. The way I found is to stop sleeping and not shave myself.
"I have not gone to a con where I haven't brought my laptop and been writing all night. I can't see Kangaroos, I'm writing Spider-Man."
Q: How do you figure out how to use the Power Cosmic?
"The story is all about the character, it's not about the power. I remember reading Miracleman/Marvelman when Alan Moore was writing it, and it progresses to where he's a god. And I thought that was the end, but then Neil Gaiman came in and showed what it's like to live in a world with a god.
"The fact that he has this deus ex machina power cosmic isn't nearly as important as the fact that he still hasn't told Dawn what a Herald is. That's much more interesting."
Q: "The thing I'm going to say is a compliment, but also not, kind of..."
"That's every compliment I ever got when I was growing up. I am innoculated to that. Right after I had gotten an exclusive contract and got benefits and stuff, I went to see my mom for lunch. My mother literally said to me, 'Daniel your father and I are so proud of you have let yourself go.' Right in one breath. So I'm innoculated to that."
Q: I don't know how long you're going to continue writing Spider-Man. You've done a great job with his changes but he always goes back to normal. Have you ever thought about making him older or anything like that?
"Stan Lee has said that if he knew this character would go on this long, he never would have taken him out of high school. It's not about you, it's about the readers who come after you. They deserve to meet Peter Parker, too. There have been changes, but every generation deserves that heart of the character. And that's not a bad thing. When you have a bad day and you want to come home to a grilled cheese and a tomato soup, or a big bowl of mac n' cheese, you feel better. Spider-Man is our big bag of mac n' cheese," he answered to applause.