First Comics News: How did you come up with the name DarkMark?
DarkMark: It’s two fold. First, Dark, concealed, as in secret identity. Second, Mark, wrestling lingo for a fan; and a tribute to my best three friends in the comics industry, all of whom are/were named Mark: Evanier, Gruenwald, and Waid.
1st: Why not use your real name?
DarkMark: Makes it harder for the powers that be to find you. If you’re going to play in bull’s pasture, it’s better not to wave a red flag while you do.
1st: How did you get started writing fan fiction?
DarkMark: I got started before I knew there WAS such a thing as fan fiction. To me, I was just writing a Supergirl story. I loved Kara and hated the fact (which is only a fact in canon) of her death in 1985. 12 years later, I just wanted to write a story about her and did. Well, it was lousy, but I did it! By the second story I was getting more into characterization and plot. By the third one, I had to explain how she’d survived the Crisis, so I wrote “Kara and the Dreamsmith”. That was the one that broke it for me. I showed that to an interested party, TransformerMan, and he offered to host my stories on his Supergirl site. Later, I heard from Kielle of CFAN, who informed us that we had been added to her fanfic director. Fanfic?? You mean I’m writing something called fanfic? The rest is history.
1st: What can you tell us about Supergirl as a professional wrestler?
DarkMark: OK, here’s how it came about. I’ve been a fan of women’s wrestling all my life. So, somewhere along the way, I got to fantasizing about Supergirl as a professional wrestler. I wrote that little story, which is about as close to straight erotica as I ever get, which was “Ring of Fury”. She got beaten, and pretty badly, by Black Flame, one of her old foes from the Silver Age. It was a pretty thin story, only good, I’d say, for personal fantasy material.
But when I got around to doing the sequel, I started thinking more about Kara the character, and found one thing: when you took away her powers, as you did when she was in a Krypton-like environment, you could focus a lot more on Kara as a person. For the first time since she’d landed on Earth, she was forging her destiny without the use of super-powers, taking on a real challenge and working to respond to it. In her mind, that was a much bigger goal than holding down a day job in disguise and functioning as Supergirl in her spare time. She could be plain Kara, on a world of her own people, and love doing it. She could also show her strength, which was an aspect DC Comics tended to play down…not ladylike!…and be proud of it. Also, she could take a hell of a lot of punishment and come through it, which is part and parcel of superhero stories.
So, as stupid as the premise might be or seem, that helped me “grow” her as a character. By the third story, “Kara and the Dreamsmith”, I had to show how she’d survived the Crisis, and I dropped the wrestling milieu entirely for a different kind of story. That came off so well (and it’s still my favorite story) that I realized how limiting the wrestling stories, which were, after all, just personal fantasies, were. I did a couple more, but in the midst of that I watched the movie “Air Force One” with Harrison Ford, and thought, “Right. That’s where I want to put Kara…in an action movie.”
With that as inspiration, I wrote the first part of “Zoners”, in which she encountered four escapees from the Phantom Zone. TransformerMan suggested we make it into a serial, and that’s how we presented it. I fell in love with that sort of story, and almost everything I’ve written since has been serialized. I finished up Kara’s wrestling career with “Pain and Jasmine” and never looked back.
After that, I wrote “Hellsister”, which set the pace for everything that’s happened since.
1st: Have you always been a wrestling fan?
DarkMark: Oh, yeah. I was imprinted with it in my pre-school days, when I saw my first matches on an old black-and-white RCA Victor set. I’m not big into the WWE stuff these days, which is too much “out there”, but I still enjoy a good deal of it.
1st: What similarities do you notice between comics and wrestling?
DarkMark: Now that you bring it up, there’s a number of correspondences. Heroes and villains, continuing storylines, climactic battles, the whole nine yards. I’d be surprised if some of the writers of WWE and such weren’t influenced by comic books at some point or another.
It’s also great training for writing action scenes. A lot of the dynamics of a wrestling match is similar to that of a super-hero fight. And since I was and am a fan of women’s wrestling, I always thought it was stupid of Marvel and DC to allow the heroes and villains to duke it out and wallop the dickens out of each other, but when it came to the heroines and villainesses to just have them point and unleash a hex power or invisible force field. When I saw Black Canary in 1963, a sexy heroine who didn’t have any more powers than Batman and had to get in there and fight, I was hooked! There was a reason why she was the first JSA member to join the Justice League, gang, and that was it.
Plus part of the whole Kara thing for me came about when I saw an ADVENTURE COMICS cover in which Starfire, a villainess, was punishing Supergirl with an arm lock, and Kara was really hurting. Tell me Mike Sekowsky, the artist, wasn’t a wrestling fan!
1st: Considering in all of your fan fiction you are using characters that someone else holds both a copyright and a trademark, what is the legal status of fan fiction?
DarkMark: Murky and undecided. The courts haven’t quite ruled yet, I think, as to whether fanfic is protected or not. the powers that be could stop any of us with a word. There have been authors who have asked that fanfic not be written about their stuff, and we’ve complied. On the other hand, if you don’t make money from it and don’t kick up too much of a fuss, the owners aren’t much bothered by it. But I’m also careful not to do things that dishonor the heroes I’m borrowing. I don’t get them into kinky sexual escapades or violate their personalities, I think, just for a personal fantasy. The closest I got to that was the early Kara stories, and I abandoned that tack soon after. Heck, one of my biggest fans is John Carbonaro, the guy who owns the THUNDER Agents copyright, and he tried to see about getting “Spiderweb” published as a paperback!
1st: Did you start writing fan fiction before or after you started writing comics professionally
1st: How are fan fiction stories different then comic scripts?
DarkMark: As different as a prose novel or short story is from a movie or TV script. For one thing, you don’t have to deal with an artist or editor. You can pretty well do what you want, but you have to make pictures in your reader’s mind without the benefit of actual pictures. You also aren’t bound by space restrictions, such as a 20-page story. I can go on and on and on with my stories until they’re done. I also have used characters whom DC can’t use now, such as Captain Action or Isis or Captain Midnight. That’s the benefit of the field I work in.
1st: Would it be safe to say that fan fiction is more like a novelized version of a comic book?
DarkMark: I’d say so, yes. The best fanfic compares favorably with comic novelizations, and I’ve seen writers published in comics-based anthologies that I thought I could out do. But part of that is just opportunity.
DarkMark: More by the scope of the story. Ring of Fury was just a short fantasy about a wrestling match with Kara. It was the first fanfic I ever wrote for the Net. War With the Wizard (which, by the way, is a LOT shorter than some works like The Apokolips Agenda) involved a much larger group of characters…the Mighty Crusaders, the rest of the Archie / MLJ heroes, and a corresponding bunch of villains…and had a much greater over plot, which, in this case, was finding the Wizard, learning why the heroes had suffered selective memory loss, and learning the answer to a decades-old mystery. That and saving the world.
If I have a smaller story, it takes less space to tell it: theRocketeer story comes to mind. It was just there to establish a new hero, a revived Rocketeer. I didn’t know how long theSuperboy of Earth-Prime story was going to go, but once I had it figured out, it only took a few chapters. However, stuff like FIRE!and Apokolips Agenda had a much greater, Crisis-like scope, and they needed the space to stretch out and breathe. When you do enough of these, you get a feel for about how long they’ll run.
1st: Do you outline your stories in advance?
DarkMark: Sometimes. What I usually have is a clear idea of the beginning and end of a story. The middle I have to make up as I go along. I first started plotting in advance with “A Summer of Wendy”, and it worked out really well there.
DarkMark: Thanks for the comment about range. I’m kind of proud of that. Most ficcers stay with one character or group of characters till both they and the readers are bored to tears with it. That’s one reason why I’m still at it after 8 years.
The problem with a lot of ficcers is limited input, which leads directly to limited output. If you just know about the X-Men or Batman, that’s all you’re going to be able to write. If you’re curious enough (and have enough dough) to investigate a wide range of comics, you’ll get a lot more ammunition for your work. I’ve been reading comics for about 40 years now. While I don’t have a great grasp of present-day stuff, I know about practically all the characters from the Golden Age on up to the mid-Eighties, plus a lot after that. Hence, the range.
As for what kind of story I prefer…jeez. I would imagine, if you’re talking about what I like to write, a story with a good blend of action and characterization. Most girl ficcers fall down on action and most guys fall down on character. You have to have a combo of both to make a superhero story work. They’re not just about soppy swoony romance or about faceless costumes bashing each other over the head. A writer that knows that is going to get readers. A writer who doesn’t know that will soon lose them, except for the small handful of fans who get off to that sort of stuff, write him / her letters, and keep them in that groove.
I like a challenge, characters I haven’t handled before, ones I can see how I’d do if I had the opportunity to do them. In the case of Wendy, it was just jawing with Cherry Ice, a friend of mine, online one night and wondering what would happen if a guy fell in love with a girl who could do magic, and then found out she was actually Wendy, the good little witch. And, just recently, after reading some Spire Christian Archie comics and scoping out some of the swimsuit covers by Dan DeCarlo and others, I wondered what I could do with, of all things, Archie and his gang. That led to “Maybe the Last Archie Story”, which was one of the most fun things I’ve done recently.
But…it’s all in what characters speak to me. The Bouncing Beatnik, a throwaway character from ASTRO CITY, appealed to me, and I ended up writing one of my most popular stories about him. The same with Angela, whom I thought I could do something with, as opposed to Spawn, whom I don’t care for. There are a lot of characters that are Teflon to me, but there’s a lot more I can work with. And do.
1st: You released a fan fiction piece that was your Mr. Justice proposal for Impact Comics, How far did the proposal get at Impact?
DarkMark: Probably about as far as the Impact editor’s desk. Mark Waid put it there for me, but I never heard back from them. C’est la vie.
1st: You recently released your Buffy Novel proposal, was this your first novel?
DarkMark: I’ve never had a novel published, but if they’d picked up on it, it would have been.
1st: What is the CBFFA?
DarkMark: Stands for Comic Book Fan Fiction Awards. It was a series of awards the CFAN crew handed out annually for their favorite stories in fanficdom.
1st: Tell us about your win for best writer.
DarkMark: Well, I got Writer of the Year in 2001 from theCBFFAs, and was grateful for same. I don’t remember just what I wrote back then. It may have been either “Superman and Man” or “Maggie”, or maybe something else. In 2003, they put me in the Writer’s Hall of Fame, which was even nicer. I appreciated the awards.
1st: Tell us about your stories that won.
DarkMark: Well, two Superman stories have won awards. “Superman and Man” was, of course, the story of Christopher Reeve (never named in the story) and Superman switching bodies. That was born from an idea I’d passed Mark Waid for DC to do a comic benefiting spinal injury research in the wake of the Reeve incident. Nothing ever came of it there, so, after awhile, I thought of doing it on my own. I don’t know how many people made contributions to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF) because of that story, but some did. I think it’s one of my best. It won the Best DC Fic for the year it was written.
“Heroes” won Darth Yoshi’s award. It was a tale I wrote shortly after 9 / 11, to kind of get my emotions back in equilibrium. It’s an exploration of the purpose of Superman and other fictional heroes of his sort in the wake of a real-life tragedy that they don’t have the power to avert. It’s also an exploration of why we create such heroes, and what they mean to us, and why it’s important to choose the right kind of hero. “Let’s Roll”, with Wolverine, was kind of the flip side of this story.
“Devil’s Diary” won a Maggie Award from Alara Rogers, Magneto fan supreme. This one was important to me because it was the first non-Supergirl story I’d written in fanfic. I wanted to see if I could do a character other than Kara successfully. Since most of the CFAN crew were heavily into X-Men, which I wasn’t, I had to pick a character there that I still cared about, and the one who filled the bill was Magneto. But most of them had come into fandom after Chris Claremont overhauled Mags’s personality in X-MEN #150, which was really at odds with the Stan Lee / Roy Thomas version of Magneto, who was a powerful, evil tyrant. I had to find a way of melding both versions together, and I think it worked. They weren’t used to seeing a Magneto who was more ruthless, less of a misunderstood nice guy. Back then, Magneto wasn’t the Jew…he was the Nazi. I chose to portray him as a Jew who had learned too much from his tormentors. As he said in the story, “The world crucifies the Messiah, but it fears the Hitler.” A lot of Magneto fans have cited this as one of their favorite Mags stories, thankfully.
“Maggie” was another “What If?”. Like everybody else, I loved Kurt Busiek’s MARVELS and the character of Phil Sheldon. But what stuck with me was Maggie, the little mutant girl in issue #3, whom Alex Ross visually based on a Wally Wood character in an old EC story, “The Loathsome”. The source story is a heartbreaker, and I wondered, well, what if Phil and his family met with Maggie again, took her into their household, and how they would cope with trying to raise her while keeping her a secret from the outside world. It was a really emotional fic with a small cast of characters, and understandable to most folks, even those who haven’t read the source books. I was amazed by how many readers told me it had made them cry. So, after “Superman and Man,” I think it was my second biggest story.
“The Steel Handshake” teamed up Iron Man and Colossus of the X-Men. Since Iron Man had been the biggest anti-Communist Cold Warrior ever in the Silver Age, I wondered how he’d react to a Russian super-hero, and vice versa. It didn’t seem realistic that they’d just slap each other on the back and have a beer. But they found they had enough in common to bond, despite it all, and I really think it came off well. Also, I knew something about the old Iron Man, which most straight X-ers don’t.
“The Last Fast Blast of the Bouncing Beatnik” is another favorite. I was kind of proud of this because the source material was a little younger than my usual beat, but I love Kurt’s Astro City. I’ve always had a soft spot for beatniks, after seeing them on TV when I was a kid. Kurt wrote a late-Fifties based story in which one of the characters was the Bouncing Beatnik, a beatnik hero with leaping power, and I was fascinated by him. That gave me the challenge of coming up with an origin and a history for him, and it was, like, serendipitous. So, baby, that one came off rather copasetically, and it cribbed another award. Can you dig it? I knew that you could.
“Everybody’s Gotta Leave Sometime”, the Peanuts story, was written between the time Charles Schulz announced his retirement and his death a few days later. I’d been a fan of Peanuts since circa 1959 or so and wondered what would happen to Charlie Brown and company after he was gone. I also wondered how I’d handle characters who weren’t superheroes. Thankfully, the readers responded really well to it.
I think that covers all the ones which have won awards.
1st: How did one of your stories end up in the O’Neil Observer?
DarkMark: I believe Bob Brodsky, the O’Neil Observer editor, was planning on featuring some reader-written stories in there and I submitted some that I’d written. He went for the Captain Marvelone, which was all right by me, and two episodes have been printed. I was honored.
1st: How did you get involved in comic book indexing?
DarkMark: Well, I’ve been an index buff since I was writing down numbers and story titles in a brown spiral notebook back in 1965 for the Marvel Comics I owned. I bought Mike Nolan’s Timely Comics Index when it came out in the late Sixties. Then, when George Olshevsky started doing his Marvel Comics Indexes in the Seventies, I wrote him in a big list of corrections for the Avengers volume and he wrote back. We became pen pals and later friends, and I ended up helping him by fact-checking his indexes. Later on, I wrote my first fan articles for him, though they ended up being printed by The Comic Reader.
I also kept personal indexes that followed up on the books George indexed, after the cutoff point. Plus I did an Earth-Two index for the fun of it, and since the characters were involved in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, I did some entries for that series. By that time, Murray Ward was doing the DC Indexes for ICG (Eclipse), and he asked if I’d step in and write a Crisis index for him. Mark Waid was living about 61 miles away at the time. Since he was a lot more of a DC fan than me, I yoked him into the project, and it came off spectacularly. We did a follow-up, and then I did the first issue of an All-Star Index, which got yanked for low sales.
Later on, what with all the DC ficcing I was doing, I hit on the idea of indexing the Earth-One titles to keep things straight. It became one heck of a reference tool, and entries from it are all over the net, it seems.
1st: How big is your comic book collection?
DarkMark: The room where I’m sitting has all the walls covered with shelves stocked with comic books. There’s another bookcase full of them in my bedroom, plus a smaller bookcase in the same room.
I have practically all of Marvel’s hero books from 1961 through the early Eighties, most of the Silver Age DC hero books, a bunch of stuff from the minor publishers from the late Forties through the Eighties…EC to the Ultraverse and everything in between. I have a great sampling of Golden Age books, over 100 Fawcetts in hard copy, Quality, Timely, Fiction House, etc. Plus stuff from Warren, Dell, Gold Key, Valiant, Malibu, ACG, Eclipse, etc., etc. Beyond all that, I have other books in microfiche or microfilm form, and I have almost 200 CD’s full of comic scans, spanning the Forties to the present. And what I don’t have, very often I’ve borrowed and read. I’m a nut for this sort of stuff.
1st: When placing these stories on the web, how do you decide which stories to place on FanFiction.net and which to host yourself?
DarkMark: Well, I host just about all my stories myself. The ones at FanFiction.net are picked by how well I think they’d represent me and how I think they’d appeal to a different or more specialized audience. I’ve got a lot more that could potentially go out there, but I’d rather put a few things out and have them come to my site.
“The League Extraordinaire” I thought would work, since there was an LXG section. FIRE! was another experiment, but since I thought it was one of my best stories, with a classic Marvel cast, I put it up there and it got more reviews than any other story I’ve posted on FanFiction.net. The two 9/11 stories, “Heroes” and“Let’s Roll”, have also done well there, as did the Batman and Outsiders serial. The two Supergirl serials haven’t gotten much attention, but they did like the Supergirl / Prez / Sandman crossover, “The Golden Boy’s Last Temptation”. I put up my littleGen13 story there because I noticed they had a section for that. And I took a leap of faith and posted “Archie” there too, and it turned out to be one of my most popular stories. Go figure.
1st: At FanFiction.net the stories are rated, how do you feel about rating fiction?
DarkMark: It’s a necessity. If I have something that’s potentially off putting, I try to let the readers know about it on the front page. I don’t do anything really that bad, in my humble opinion. But there are fic writers, very often immature ones, who deal with subjects mainly for shock value…incest, all variations of slash, male pregnancy, etc., ad nauseam. If you’re going to allow that, then you should at least warn the readership beforehand. That allows them the privilege of avoiding such stories. Allows me that privilege, too.
I’m also a believer in the fact that the owner of an archive has the right to accept or reject the stories he or she wants to. If Xing at FanFiction.net puts out the rules clearly enough, and you violate them and get banned, don’t come crying to anybody else about how unfair he is. Its his site and he can run it the way he wants to. And if you push the outside of the envelope hard enough, you’re going to break through and crash.
1st: What are your feeling about taking charters that exist in a “Kid-Teen” universe and placing them in mature stories?
DarkMark: I’d have to get more concrete examples to be sure what you mean. If you’re talking about putting, say, the Powerpuff Girls in a sexual situation, I’d be pretty much against that. Putting the Harry Potter kids, as kids, in sexual situations is despicable, and a lot of that goes on. The problem with a lot of fic is that it’s written specifically as sexual fantasy, by young people who are working out their sexual feelings, and doing that in public can get you in a hell of a lot of trouble. If a young fan of Rowling’s comes into an archive, seeking a Harry Potter story to tide him over, and runs into twincest between the Weasleys, you’re in hot water…or should be.
On the other hand, I have taken Wendy and put her in a mature situation, as a 20-year-old woman. It was a romance, dealing with the emotional and physical aspects of love, and I’m not in the least bit ashamed of it. I didn’t handle things offensively. I didn’t have her romantically involved with other characters in her canon. If anybody got offended at that one, I’d say they were nuts.
Anyway, archivists need to be careful about these sorts of things, because writers often aren’t. To the writers, I’d say the cardinal rule should be: HONOR THE CHARACTERS. If something is a personal fantasy, leave it on your hard drive. We’ll both be better off.
1st: Between the indexes and the fan fiction, about how much time do you put into this in a give week
DarkMark: Less than I used to. Most of my indexing work is done. I used to churn out two 10-page chapters per week. Now I’m lucky to get that much done in a month. It varies. Depends a lot on when inspiration strikes. Yesterday I spent probably over an hour writing four pages of the next Wendy chapter. But when I did the original story, I was churning out maybe 8 pages every two days. And that’s the ONLY time I’ve been that prolific. The story just grabbed me and wouldn’t let go till it was done.
1st: How many stories do you work on at a time?
DarkMark: Nowadays, I tend to stick to one. But if I can see my way clear to work on something else to give myself a break, I do so. I broke from Wendy to do the 11 chapters of Archie, and managed to fit a chapter of Magnus in there somewhere. After“A Summer of Wendy”, I learned the virtue of doing one story at a time and sticking with it.
1st: Why didn’t you always work on one at a time?
DarkMark: I do that more these days. However, I’ve found that having a few others around unfinished lets me have a break.
1st: You have a few stories listed as “a story in progress”; do all the stories get finished?
DarkMark: Not so far! Undoubtedly a few will and some won’t. Sometimes one lies fallow for years, and then I think, “Well, what about this?” FIRE! was like that, and Magnus had been dormant for years till recently. But there are some that I’m so far from inspirationally that I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to them. Can’t say I won’t, though.
1st: How has your writing improved over your years as a fan fiction writer?
DarkMark: I’d like to think it’s improved a lot! I started out just doing a quasi-erotic wrestling fantasy and improved to writing big, multiverse-spanning epics that have won awards and gotten me somewhat of a following. I think I’ve improved my style as well, though I’m not the judge of that. More or less, I decided that if I couldn’t be a pro, I’d be the Mark Waid of fanfic. If there’s anybody who can be said to be that, I think I am.
1st: Thank you for your time and I am looking forward to many more stories over the years.