In today’s market, you can count he number of creators that stay on a series longer than a year on one hand. While some of feat is being achieved on some of the industry’s bigger books, there’s a creator who’s been quietly plugging away on a series that doesn’t always get the lion’s share of attention. We’re talking, of course, about Ron Marz on Witchblade.
Marz has said all along that he’s committed to the Top Cow series through at least issue #150 – and that’s saying something, given that the writer began on the tale of Sara Pezzini and her gauntlet with issue #80.
He’s hit the 50 issue mark, and we caught up with him to talk about it.
Newsarama: Ron, first off, congratulations on finishing the writing for 50 consecutive full issues of Witchblade. Not many comic book writers are allowed or able to accomplish such an extensive run on a single title nowadays. Did you sign on to writing Witchblade thinking that you’d still be working on the series today?
Ron Marz: Thanks. I truthfully didn’t even realize I had hit 50 in a row until Top Cow’s publisher, Filip Sablik, congratulated me on it. I kind of said, “Uh … what? Oh yeah, I guess that is 50.” Whenever I sign on to an ongoing title, my plan is to run with it as long as I can, as long as I feel like I have stories to tell. Sometimes that amounts to a year of issues, sometimes it turns out to be substantially longer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had three runs of at least 50 issues now, with Silver Surfer and Green Lantern being the other two.
NRAMA: So what attracted you to the book and Sara Pezzini’s character when you first began writing it? More importantly, what did you first set out to change?
RM: In all honestly, when was offered the book, I hadn’t read more than an issue here and there, if that. So I can’t tell you anything specific I set out to change. I was more concerned with providing a character that readers could care about, and a way into the story for new readers. I wanted people to care about what happened to Sara, not wonder what happened to Sara’s clothes. So the first thing that went out the window was the “metal bikini” look for the Witchblade itself. Mike Choi started drawing the book when I began writing it, and we both agreed that the Witchblade should make sense as a warrior’s armor and weapon, rather than looking like something you could buy at Victoria’s Secret.
Everything was about putting the emphasis on Sara as a character, rather than Sara as a pin-up. My mindset was that Sara’s life and her role as an NYPD detective should be interesting enough to keep your attention even without the Witchblade. Yes, we’ll do sexy stuff on occasion when it’s part of the story, and some of the covers tend to push the cheesecake element. But what’s between the covers is a supernatural crime story, not something that panders to hormonal 14-year-olds.
NRAMA: For better or for worse, what has been the change of the fan perception of the series and who Sara Pezzini is as a character since you took over the writing duties?
RM: Well, I guess fan perception is really a question you have to ask the fans. I know our readers get it. The people who are reading the book understand what kind of book we’re doing. People who don’t bother to look past the cover are probably still laboring under a reception that’s at least a decade old.
It’s funny, prior to Stjepan we’ve had some artists come in and do fill-in or one-shot issues, and we’ll usually send them a stack of recent issues. I’ve had a number of those artists get in touch with me and say, “Wow, this isn’t anything like I thought it was.” So even people in the industry still have a misperception of what the book is. It’s something you have to change literally one reader at a time.
NRAMA: What are some of your proudest moments from the last 50 issues of Witchblade?
RM: I’m happy we were finally able to give the Witchblade an origin that makes sense, which happened in issue #92, with the help of an all-star array of artists like Marc Silvestri, George Perez, Brandon Peterson and a bunch of others. Working with Chris Bachalo on a very creepy standalone issue for #87 was a treat. I’m pleased that we had the balls to let Sara have a baby and not cop out with any half-assed comic clichés, like having the baby miraculously grow to a teenager in a month. I think we’ve played the whole baby thing pretty straight.
NRAMA: And of course, the other side of the coin - anything you wish you could go back and tinker with?
RM: Sure, there’s always something I’d like to go back and tweak. I would’ve liked an extra issue for a storyline here or there, because some of them feel a little too compressed. But I’d rather err on the side of cramming in too much story than not enough. Ultimately, though, looking back is not the nature of doing a monthly book. You’ve got to worry about making the next issue better, you can’t spend time worrying about the previous issues.
NRAMA: With 50 issues down and another twenty to go for your proposed tenure to write Witchblade until at least issue #150, what else should fans be expecting from the series?
RM: In an overall sense, more of the same, in that we’re going to keep doing character-driven stories that have one foot in the real world and one foot in a darker reality. But in more specific terms, the last thing we want to do is more of the same, because that’s what you get from way too many comics already. Most comics just keep plowing the same ground, giving readers a steady diet of what’s familiar instead of challenging them with something new. Comics should be like sharks – they have to keep moving forward, or they die. I’d like to think Witchblade keeps evolving instead of repeating.
NRAMA: Has the work produced by the various artists working on the series prompted you to change a plotline or your scripting in any way?
RM: Sure, I think any writer worth his salt should play to the strengths of the artist. This is visual medium, so the writer’s job, in addition to telling an intriguing story, is to help the artist find the best way to visually tell that story. When Mike Choi was drawing the book, he had a really great touch with acting and facial expressions, the more subtle stuff that’s a lot harder to do than an action scene. So I pushed the storytelling in that direction for Mike. With Stjepan on the book now, one of his strengths is the epic stuff, real widescreen, large-scale imagery, so I try to get in that stuff as often as possible.
NRAMA: Speaking of him, current Witchblade artist Stjepan Sejic will also be staying on the book through issue #150. Are there any outstanding contributions Stjepan has made to the series that still blow you away since he first became the regular series artist on issue #116?
RM: At this point, Stjepan and I have more stories than could possibly fit between now and issue #150, so all things considered, I think we want to be around longer than that. Stjepan is a great collaborator, because he’s an idea machine. He’s always tossing out concepts and designs that we incorporate into the book. It’s a real partnership, rather than an assembly-line process of “I write, you draw.” I don’t think going for 100 issues in a row is out of the question, as long as Top Cow will have me.
NRAMA: Fans know that the current “War of the Witchblades” arc was planned over three years ago when Dani first appeared in the book with issue #100. Without revealing anything, are there any other seemingly minor supporting characters with grand roles ahead of them who fans might want to keep an eye on?
RM: Yeah, well, the whole “without revealing anything” part is the trick, isn’t it? Until issue #130 hits the stands, we’re not revealing who ends up with the Witchblade, so I can’t say too much about where we’re headed. But I can say that some of the supporting characters who’ve been brought into the book recently, like Sara’s sister Julie and Dani’s friend Finch, will be around for a while.
NRAMA: Jake McCarthy met a startling end early into your work on the series, but his death paved the way for Detective Patrick Gleason to become Sara’s new partner and romantic interest. After getting maimed on several occasions while protecting Sara, it seems Gleason is somewhat of a “marked man” lacking mystical gauntlets, superpowers and whatnot. Does his destiny at all tie into the Thirteen Artifacts?
RM: Yeah, Gleason’s kind of suiting up for the NFL without a helmet or pads. And yet he keeps going back out for more. One of the reasons I like his character is that he puts a human face on the stories. He doesn’t have a mystical gauntlet or superpowers, so he provides a “one of us” point of view for the reader.
NRAMA: Can we expect any new characters to come along with the conclusion of the “War of the Withcblades” arc?
RM: Not new characters, per se, because that’s not really what the arc is about. But we’ll definitely see some existing character is new roles. I’m not going to tell you which character is going to have which role. But the conclusion of the arc definitely gives us a new beginning. Even after 50 issues, I feel like we’re just getting started.