Comic Book Biography: PETER DAVID (volume 1)
Peter David – also referred to by his initials of PAD – has been one of the industries most outspoken creators, unafraid to bite the hand that feeds him even as it passes out the biscuits. First Comics News’ own Rik Offenberger recently caught up with him to discuses the industry and his plans for 2003
First Comics News: You have had your feuds over the years, with John Byrne, Todd McFarlane and now Joe Quesada. Would you say that you don’t play well with others, or that you don’t suffer fool well?
Peter David: Well, certainly the latter is true on a general note, but I wouldn’t say any of the men you bring up are fools. The fact is that there are lots of people in the industry who don’t get along for any number of reasons. And in most cases, the fans never know about it. In my case, they know, because I have this odd philosophy that it’s gutless to talk trash about people behind their backs. If someone says something publicly about something you feel strongly about, my attitude is, you respond publicly. You don’t sit around in bars at conventions and badmouth them when they’re not around. Or you don’t go on line and talk tough while then signing your name as “Deathkill 123.” Hell, by the standards being applied to me, three quarters of the internet is feuding with pros.
1st: Is the general attitude Fuck’em if they can’t take a joke?
Peter: No, because it would sound trivial. My attitude is that I say what I say, and you take it or leave it as you see fit. The problem with the word “feud” is that it makes it sound like I have it in for people. I don’t. But that attitude causes people to study the alleged “why” of what I say rather than what I’m actually saying, and that’s unfortunate.
1st: You started in the Marketing department at Marvel, are all of your feuds just an attempt to market yourself? After all, no press is bad press.
Peter: Again, “feud” makes it sound personal. As if Joe Quesada’s great great grandfather stole a cow from my great great grandfather and the families have been at war ever since. Here’s the thing: I started the column twelve years ago. At the time, a lot of noses were put out of joint. It was considered by many in the industry to be grandstanding to put one’s opinions out there week after week. This, of course, was before everybody and his brother had their own website and put their opinions out there week after week. But I think some of that resentment still holds and I’m judged by that. The “Captain Marvel” stunt was just that: A PR ploy to try and get attention for a storyline that I very much believed in. I was proud and excited by the direction I was taking it, and I wanted as many people to read about it and know about it as possible. Talking to Joe privately about ways to stave off a price hike wouldn’t have accomplished anything, because the ship had already sailed. It had already been announced, bringing with it the negative publicity a price hike always brings. So I did something drastic, because I felt that passionate about the storyline.
In general, contrary to popular belief, I don’t say to myself, “Gee, my sales are down, who can I pick a fight with this week?” I say, “What’s happening in the industry that could make an interesting column.”
1st: Do you think some of you difficulties at Marvel stem from the fact that you did a lot of work for the previous editors at Marvel and you aren’t considered part of the new hip crowd?
Peter: Dunno. You’re asking me to read the minds of the people there.
1st: If you were the editor-in-chief at Marvel how would you run things differently?
Peter: Well, for starters, I wouldn’t fire me.
1st: Joe Quesada has taken issue with your column in the Comic Buyers Guide “But I digress”. Do you see any validity to his claim that employees shouldn’t attack their employer publicly or attempt to show their employer in a bad light publicly?
Peter; Once upon a time, I was a Marvel employee, and I absolutely toed the company line. That was part of my job. It was understood. It came with having an office and a title and paid vacation. Now I’m a freelancer. The obligation I have is to turn in work of publishable quality on a timely basis. I do that. That’s the extent of my obligation.
I comment publicly solely about things that are said and done publicly. I don’t take private conversations and make them fodder for “But I Digress.” I see what companies say and do to the public and say, “Hey, wait a minute, have you considered–?” I don’t “show them in a bad light.” I point out that they have shownthemselves in a bad light. Furthermore, Marvel obviously has no problem if I criticize any other publisher, particularly considering the open disdain they express for DC. They just want to be treated differently. And not just by me: By everyone. If anyone from other CBG columnists to retailers to fans take issue with policies, they get it with both barrels.
They’re a company. No more and no less than that and, to my mind, are entitled exactly to the same amount of loyalty that the company has traditionally shown to its employees. To Marvel, historically, talent is disposable. I understand that, having been disposed of in the past. I’m just not sure why there’s this public vibe being given out that that’s not the case, and there’s this expectation of two-way loyalty, especially in light of the fact that Stan Lee is suing them. STAN LEE, for crying out loud. Has there ever been any more of a company supporter than Stan? Look how that turned out.
1st: On the other hand, wasn’t Joe aware of your column, its content and format prior to your employment?
Peter; One would think. There’s three likely reasons that no one ever tried to get back at me for the column: First, because I’ve always played fair and the head honchos know it. If I never said anything critical, how could anyone take the column seriously when I say something supportive? Second, because I’ve never crossed the line and used inside information or private conversations as fodder for columns, so they know I can be trusted. And third, ultimately they know that I can’t do them any serious damage, nor am I trying to. The column’s disposable. Who remembers what I wrote about four weeks ago? Six months ago? A year ago? It’s not like, week after week, I write “Boycott Marvel! DC sucks!” Now that would be constantly attacking.
1st: You started in the marketing department and have been with Marvel your entire freelance career, would it be difficult psychologically not to be a part of Marvel?
Peter; Well I survived several years of wandering in the wastelands not being a part of Marvel, and came out of it with a thriving novel career and an optioned stage play.
The next few question focus on Marvel’s U-Decide event. For those who are hearing about it for the first time here, the U-Decide promotion started with Peter David publicly offering to write Captain Marvel for free, if Marvel would promote the book and role back an impending price increase. An online war of words started between Peter David and Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada. Publisher, Bill James, counter offered a competition with Peter David. In this competition, over a six month period Bill Jemas and Peter David would each write a comic, Peter would write Captain Marvel and Bill would write a new title Marville. The title that sold fewer copies would be canceled. Thus Peter would be competing for his job. Later, Joe Quesada joined the competition with Ultimate Adventures, which he would edit. At Joe’s insistence the stakes were lowered, to a pie in the face to Joe if he lost, a plunge in a dunk tank for Bill if he lost or living with defeat for Peter if he lost.
1st: The U-Decide promotion was set up WWF style, even to the point where the heal promoter wont give you newsstand distribution, and you still win. Is this latest claim that Joe will fire you if you print negative things about Marvel more promotional hype or is this a serious treat to your career?
Peter; It’s a serious threat to my work at Marvel. And Joe and Bill have certainly taken enough shots at my writing ability to do me some damage from fans who take it at face value. But I think my career is doing just fine.
1st: The U-Decide centered around a price increase, now they are increasing the price to $2.99 in April anyway, don’t you think winning U-Decide should have guaranteed you the lower price point?
Peter; I’d have thought that, yeah. I suspect there’s far greater impetus for the price hike that supersedes U-Decide.
1st: Borderline is a pay per download Magazine, do you see main stream comics ever going this rout, cutting out the printer, distributor, and retailer, as well as their share of the profits?
1st: You were around when everyone said if comics go to a $1.00 no one will purchase them, do you think the $3.00 barrier to sales is real or artificial?
Peter; It has to do with price elasticity. There’s not going to be a massive rebellion as fans en masse stop buying books the second they hit $3. But you will continue to lose unit sales while impeding the ability to pick up new readers because of the daunting price point. The question is, at what point in the erosion does the price hike no longer make up for the lost unit sales. The answer is, I don’t know. But I’m thinking that sooner rather than later, the 22 page package is going to have to go away in favor of something more manga styled. A means of giving people more bang for their buck.
1st: Care to expand on that concept? Are you thinking of an anthology of original material, maybe comprising what is currently carried in half-a-dozen different titles? Or a reversion to quarterly/bi-annual/annual publication of, say, a 100-page Batman title featuring one complete story?
Peter; Whatever works. It’s ridiculous to limit oneself to one particular type of material in the format. Try an anthology style of different types of half a dozen different titles. Try a book that has a variety of stories about the same character. Try one complete story, told by either diverse hands or a single author. Regular book publishing doesn’t limit itself to one type of content. Why should we?
1st: What do you think the anthology format would do apropos extending the life of a series? For example, would there still be a continuing Supergirl series if there were a Superman anthology title?
Peter: Yes, exactly. What I’m saying is nothing radical; it’s the way comics were when I was a kid. You’d buy “Action” or “Adventure” and there would be a lead story and then there’d be a back-up story or stories featuring “Supergirl” or “Jimmy Olsen” or whomever. Same concept. It would benefit any number of characters who for whatever reason have trouble sustaining a single monthly title, but fit quite nicely as a back-up series or occasional strip.
1st: What would you say to those who say that the creator-led nature of many modern American comic books makes the possibility of a change to the anthology format unlikely? The reasoning is that too many books are sold on Big Name Creators rather than characters, and Big Name Creators egos won’t allow for the possibility of one of the “support acts” getting better reviews than they do
Peter: I say it’s nonsense. “Won’t allow?” The publishers give far less of a damn about egos than they do about selling books. If this is what the market morphs into, will there be creators who announce, “That’s it, my ego won’t allow me to share the stage, I’m out of comics!” I very much doubt if. Or if there are, I think they’d be in small enough number to be negligible. Nor do I believe for a moment that books are sold on “Big Name Creators.” I’ve long said that when it comes to ordering and buying patterns, the first two
criteria are publisher and character. Artist ranks third, and writer consideration a distant last. Fan loyalty to creators is transitory at best, and it always has been.
1st: What’s your response to another criticism of the idea, which is that a 100-page-or-more book will feature (if not immediately, then eventually) 22 pages of a popular character and 78 pages-or-more of filler, forcing the reader to buy Expensive Anthology Featuring Wolverine And Some Other Guys at ten dollars a pop to get the same Wolverine story he’s currently getting at three dollars?
Peter: Keep the price to a hell of a lot less than ten dollars.
1st: Marvel and DC went to better paper and computer coloring in the 90’s, this is expensive, do you see returning to color coding with large dot patterns and pulp paper as a viable option for comics?
Peter; Not really, no.
1st: You produced 152 issues of the Hulk, do you see yourself sticking with a character like that ever again or was the a unique situation?
Peter; If I felt I had stories to contribute, sure, I’d stick around. The question is whether readers would.
1st: You have always had a nice blend of humor mixed with the action to make your stories very enjoyable, how do you decide how much humor is enough, and how much is too much?
Peter; Generally I strive for contrast. Ideally, the humor serves to set up the drama and vice versa. I try not to let one overwhelm the other. Whether I always succeed is up for debate. For that matter, there’s different types of humor. There’s word play, banter, sight gags, situational, character. You use whatever seems right for the moment.
1st: What is the process you work with, plot/script or full script?
Peter; Full script.
1st: Do you end up writing based on your artist’s strengths, or do you have a story to tell, and tell it with whomever you are working with?
Peter; I try to cater to the artist’s strengths, but that depends upon the artist being around long enough for me to find them. Then again, every so often I’m blessed with an artist who can do virtually anything I throw at them, like a Todd Nauck or Leonard Kirk. That’s very liberating.
1st: You have worked on a lot of characters, at DC and Marvel, what title or character would you love to work on if you only got the chance?
Peter; I never answer this question involving active characters, because it will come across like implied criticism. Saying, for instance, “I’d love to work on Batman” becomes translated in the retelling to, “Hey, current people writing Batman, Peter David says he doesn’t like what you’re doing and thinks he could do a much better job.” Involving inactive characters, Adam Strange. Doc Savage. And I’d love to do a Phantom Meets Tarzan team up.
1st: Series come and series go it’s one of the great constants in comics. You have two series ending, Supergirl and Young Justice, while your future on Captain Marvel is questionable, is this all just a matter of coincidence, bad timing, etc.?
Peter; Crappy timing. YJ is being canceled to make way for the “Titans” book keying off the new animated series. “Supergirl” is simply one of a number of lower-selling titles that DC is canceling, despite the fact that sales are jumping due to the new storyline and the cancellation is now coming across as premature. They’re canceled a raft of titles in the past few months; mine just got caught in the wave, even though it’s jumped 40 slots on the Diamond ranking and #75 is going for $12 on Ebay.
1st: What irons do you have in the fire for 2003?
Peter; Comics wise, a new series called “The Fallen Angel” I created for DC Comics, which should be pretty exciting. “Soulsearchers and Company,” the series most retailers swear doesn’t exist, rolls into its second decade. I have some projects with Dreamwave and Dark Horse that haven’t been officially announced, so I won’t mention them here. Book wise, I have five novels coming out this year: the novelization of “The Hulk” movie; “Tong Lashing,” the next adventure of “Sir Apropos of Nothing”; “One Knight Only,” the sequel to “Knight Life”; and two more book in the “New Frontier” series. Also I’ve written a straight-up dramatic play called “Shoestrings” which has been optioned by producers in Los Angeles, so we’ll see where that goes.
1st: Would you care to tell us more about “Shoestrings” or indeed about your dramatic aspirations? How do you approach the different creative needs of the different media?
Peter: It’s a straightforward drama about mother/daughter relationships. I just felt that it was time to start branching out into something other than genre. In building and maintaining my career, I’ve consistently tried to look five to ten years down the line. While I’m not out to abandon any particular aspect of storytelling, I must always prepare for the possibility/eventuality of that aspect abandoning me. The stage is one of my great loves, because it allows for a type of storytelling that fully engages the imagination and participation of the audience in a way nothing else does. Furthermore, you can do an entire story that consists of two people talking in a room, and not have to concern yourself about the visuals.
To visit Peter David on the web go to http://peterdavid.malibulist.com
To visit DC Comics on the web go to www.dccomics.com
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