This summer, comics universes are colliding, converging and in some cases ending -- but one comics fan is spending his summer reminiscing on one that's been gone for years, and turning it into a project. For the past year, Joseph Hedges has been working slowly and dilligently trying to track down the players involved with the now defunct comics company WildStorm.
Initially launched in 1992 as part of Image Comics with Wildc.a.t.s., Jim Lee and Brandon Choi's then-fledging company WildStorm quickly stood apart from the other Image founders books and developed into its own cohesive universe. In 1998, DC Comics bought WildStorm -- both its characters, universe, and its staff contracts -- to join the fold of its DC Multiverse. At first, WildStorm continued under the DC umbrella with new titles like The Authority and Planetary, but as years went on the once independent company fully merged with the company with Lee rising to become co-publisher of DC Entertainment.
Hedges, who works at a University in the Financial Aid department, has spent the past year talking with people involved with the 18 year old Wildstorm, ranging from top-name creators down to letterers, staffers and those tangentially related to the company. Hedges' goal? A comprehensive oral history of the La Jolla-based comics company, from its beginnings as part of Image Comics and onto its acquisition and eventual merging with DC Entertainment.
Newsarama: Joseph, first question is big picture – why are you so interested in Wildstorm comics?
Joseph Hedges: I was 10 when Image started and, although I was reading comics by then, it was mostly Marvel’s G.I. Joe and Transformers and then eventually checking out X-Men and such. With WildStorm, it was really the first time that kids of that age could be at the beginning of something instead of coming in at Uncanny X-Men #275. There was something really different about that.
Nrama: You can’t deny you’re coming into this as a fan first, so tell us – how did your fandom for Wildstorm flourish?
Hedges: Like most, I knew Jim Lee’s and Whilce Portacio’s work from X-Men and developed an affinity for it. Then, BOOM, Image. I checked out WildC.A.T.S. since that was the one that Jim Lee was doing. I really took to the characters he was creating but I was especially excited by the connected universe of the books. It was really cool to see it all develop. “Wait, all these guys knew each other before and were on Team 7 together?? Tell me more!”
Nrama: And with Wildstorm being dead as a branding of its own, how do you feel about the ending of it and the state of the heroes now as they populate the DC Universe?
Hedges: It was certainly hard to see the “WildStorm versions” of those characters go away but you can’t fault DC, right? Every part of a company needs to meet their goals and if that isn't happening, then things like this are bound to happen. I’m glad to see that DC is trying to incorporate them into the DCU and grow the audience of those characters. Obviously the audience of the WildStorm versions of those characters weren't enough so maybe this will lead to bigger and better things. It’s also great to see old stories being rereleased like the Planetary Omnibus but it’s definitely sad not to see the WS logo on the spine.
Nrama: Getting into this oral history project, you’re focused not so much on the characters but on the creators and other people involved. What made you want to write more about, and talk more, with people like J. Scott Campbell than say, doing a write-up on the Daemonite/Kherubim War?
Hedges: What’s cool about the scope of this project is that, as I interview people and they talk about the work they did for WildStorm, they are naturally discussing some plot points and story beats so a lot of the blanks are filled in as I go. As I edit everything together and separate chapters into eras and years, I’ll write short blurbs that will set the stage a little. This way you don’t have to be a die-hard WildStorm fan to follow along the amazing story of the studio and the incredibly talented people involved.
Nrama: The oral history format is one used to document eras and events like ESPN and Saturday Night Live, but I believe this is one of the first time it’s been applied to comics. What led you to this format?
Hedges: I have always been a fan of long-form interviews. I can read back issues of The Comics Journal all day long - great books like Tim Sale: Black & White, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Conversations with Scorsese etc. I would probably guess that I first heard about Schales and Miller’s SNL Oral History through one of Brian Michael Bendis’s interviews on Word Balloon. I checked it out and immediately loved it. For those that are unfamiliar with the format, it takes multiple interviews and chops them all up to go from quote to quote and person to person to build a narrative. For fans of the topics they cover, the SNL and ESPN books you mentioned are highly recommended. IDW: The First Decade is a great comic one and if you’re a fan of sports and entertainment, search Google for the awesome articles that Grantland and GQ have done.
Nrama: IDW, coincidently, sprung forth in part out of WildStorm.
For this WildStorm Oral history project, how did you get started? Who was your first interview?
Hedges: After the idea had been percolating for a while and I had been researching, I launched the site and just started “cold calling” creators. So many were keen on the idea right away. Mike Carey was the first to agree to participate, John Arcudi was the first to complete an email interview and Chuck Dixon was my first audio interview!
Nrama: What surprises have you encountered in doing the book?
Hedges: The later books released are easy to research via press releases and publicity stuff but you have to remember that this goes back to the early 90’s. Being a fan, you’re really only coming at it from what you get in the printed books, right? There was barely internet back in the early days, never mind social media so the only behind-the-scenes information you can get were from letter columns or the occasional Wizard Magazine interviews. Talking with so many people that were there back then and hearing the stories of how these awesome books came together has been so much fun.
Nrama: Who've been the most useful of your interviewees, and why?
Hedges: There have been so many great interviews that I could go on for days about every participant and how helpful they've been- Claudia Chong, Scott Peterson, David Baron to name just a few, but the main man that I owe so much to is former WildStorm editor, Ben Abernathy. I often say that he’s been my consigliere since day one. A couple of years ago, we happened to exchange some tweets about WildStorm and he mentioned I should find him at New York Comic Con so we could talk in person. He ended up inviting me “behind the table” and we would chat for awhile. When he had something else to do, he would keep saying, “- but come back later and we’ll talk some more!” And that’s exactly what happened. It was hearing these fun stories that really planted the seed for the whole project. We talked a few times in official capacity for the book but he was also quick to vouch for me when creators that I reached out to would email him and ask, “Hey what’s the deal with this WildStorm oral history thing?” We still stay in touch and email often about the progress of the book.
Nrama: Have you had any formative talk with the founders with Jim Lee, Brandon Choi or anyone in an official capacity at DC about the book?
Hedges: I reached out to DC pretty early on but they denied access to people still on staff. I plan to contact them again as the manuscript is coming together. They separately said that Jim Lee’s schedule was too hectic to be involved at the moment so again, I’ll reach out as I’m rounding third base and keep my fingers crossed that he will want to contribute. Some big names with a lot of WildStorm history are still pending- J. Scott Campbell, Alex Sinclair and Scott Dunbier all said yes so it’s a matter of trying to squeeze it into their busy schedules. I’m in talks with Whilce Portacio and am hopeful the stars will align there. I reached out to Brandon Choi and Travis Charest but have yet to hear back.
Nrama: You've got well over 40 interviews in the can, with a few more to go. Are there any missing information or creators you’re still trying to get your hands on so to speak, besides those already mentioned?
Hedges: The numbers are constantly fluctuating. I've had a nice range of people talking about the WildStorm Universe books, but then also the plethora of licensed and creator owned titles that WildStorm released over the years. I just completed my 50th interview last week and got commitments from some fun new names like Kevin Altieri, director of the Gen 13 animated movie and longtime WildStorm in-house artist, J.J. Kirby. What I’m really hopeful for is that some creators that are really connected with WildStorm that declined to participate early on will have a change of heart if they see all the progress that has been made and that continues to be made.
Nrama: And what is your ultimate goal for all this work? A book, a website, a documentary, what?
Hedges: Book. Book all the way. I have yet to dive into the publishing ABC’s of it since I’m still in the middle of interviews and reviewing transcripts but I will cross that bridge soon enough I’d imagine. I know that no matter what, I will publish physical copies for all the participants, but if it’s more cost effective to launch with an eBook first and go from there, that might be what happens. This whole project is self-financed in between my full-time work, life and family commitments, so to be continued for sure.
Nrama:This is still a long ways off, so there’s not much any interested fans can do now. But what can they do in the meantime?
Hedges: Great question. First of all, if you're a creator that was involved with WildStorm and want to be involved, please reach out via my contact details on the site www.wildstormoralhistory.com. Fans can follow the progress and please spread the word. The main site has a link to my Tumblr which is where I do the interview updates and there’s a Facebook page that has other fun stuff from my research. If more eyes are on the project then that might grease the wheels for creators that are on the fence about being a part of it or being able to penetrate the Twitter feeds of mega stars like Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, John Cassaday and Adam Warren etc. Most importantly though, hopefully the added attention will get DC to take a second look at the book, which at the end of the day, is a love letter to an entity of theirs that created some of the most fun and singular titles across their long history.