I had a chat with comics legend Mark Waid about his upcoming title from Legendary Comics, Shadow Walk, which we previewed in October. Waid discussed the process involved in creating this particular comic, as well as larger themes of morality and faith.
Check out the audio interview here below, along with the transcript.
Geeks of Doom: Thank you for taking this call to discuss Shadow Walk for the Geeks of Doom. So, Shadow Walk: Legendary main man Thomas Tull came up with the concept — how did you become involved?
Mark Waid: Bob Schreck, who was the editor on it, had reached out to me in San Diego, a year-and-a-half ago, ‘cause he and I had been looking to do something together. And he pitched me the basic elevator pitch, and that led a meeting with Thomas. And I must admit, I had my shields up, because I was ready for this be another meeting where some big Hollywood executive pitched me an idea to do a comic, and what he’s really trying to do is get a movie made. And my shields were up, but within five minutes, it what clear to me that Thomas didn’t really care about what medium it was being made. He just wanted it to be told in a medium that made sense. If it was going to be a graphic novel, make it a really good graphic novel. Don’t try to disguise a TV pitch as a comic book. And that was what sold me. He said, “let the story have its own integrity.”
GoD: To what extent do morality, hope, and optimism, inform your writing?
MW: That’s a good question. The answer is, in every aspect. I believe that — and I cannot defend this belief as articulately as I would like — and I’m reticent to say it, but I’ll say it — I honestly believe that you have a certain moral and ethical responsibilities as an artist. Not necessarily to reflect a moral and ethical stance of the 1950’s, or of a particular mindset or worldview, but just even the ethical and moral responsibility to do something with your art, and to tell a story that has a voice, and has a point of view. And luckily for me, I don’t have a very cynical point of view. I loathe and abhor cynicism, ‘cause I think it’s so easy to write. Anybody can write a cynical story.
So the challenge in writing Shadow Walk, where there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of hope or virtue in the basic setup — ‘cause it’s science fiction/horror — is how do you find that ray of optimism in what is truly a dark, horrific story. And the answer became how to use the story as a platform to examine the concept of faith. You put a group of people together who are marching through the valley, investigating faith in different things. Some of them are theologians, some are mathematicians, some of them are hard science guys, some of them have no obvious faith in anything at all. And you let those people bump up against each other, and the drama that results out of that, the contrast, gives you a real motor for a story.
GoD: You touched on one of my questions. A scientist’s faith in his or her science can be as strong as a priest’s faith in a higher being or God. And I guess we’re going to see this played out. The one thing I wonder is, if in searching for truth, for a higher truth, is that you may not want to find out the answer.
MW: That’s true. There are times when you don’t want to find out. Exactly. And that is one of the big running threads of the book. One of the main characters, and the point of view character of the story is an elderly priest, and he’s not sure at this point in his life, what the reward for his faith is going to be. And it is constantly and severely questioned throughout the entire story.
GoD: Kingdom Come is legendary for its themes, and its impact and tonality of it. And now we have Shadow Walk. Are biblical themes compelling for you, and if so, why?
MW: It can be. It’s easy to forget that Kingdom Come was 15, 16 years ago, so it doesn’t seem like a well I’m going back to as often as it might seem for other people. Though that said, I was born in the Deep South, and we did our big Thursday tent revivals, with snake handling; the big bible thumping, bible belt that I grew up in. I’m not a religious or spiritual man today, but it’s certainly hard wired into my DNA. So one of the reasons that biblical themes appeal to me, is to be able to go back to these things that were mysterious and eerie and almost frightening as a child, and to able to look at them from an adult perspective.
GoD: Does one need faith in order to survive? What does the faithless person do? The atheist? Is faith in one’s self — the will to prevail, simply to live — is that enough? And was that a theme in the book?
MW: That in fact, is the central question of the book. A few years ago, I read a terrific book called, The Survivor’s Club, and it was a non-fiction book. It was an examination; the writer had become intrigued by this notion of, is there a common thread between the people who survive? The cancer survivors. The survivors of terrible plane crashes. The survivors of devastating natural disasters. What sort of common threads are there in their lives, is there anything? And the one that kept coming across, that seemed to be universal, was faith in something, whether it’s some force above you, or whether it’s your own force of will, or what have you, but having the ability to have faith in something was the ultimate survival tool.
So the central question of Shadow Walk becomes how does faith manifest itself in all of our players, and how do they define faith; what do they find faith in.
GoD: In Shadow Walk, is the Valley of the Shadow of Death given an exact location, and if so, will it conflict with interpretations of the valley where David walked?
MW: No, in fact, thanks to Max Brooks and his incredible research and reservoir of knowledge, it ties in directly to where the Valley of the Shadow of Death is most by all theological definitions, most likely located. What Max did, that was amazing, was that he really did his homework. He dug into ancient mythology, he dug into pre-history, he dug into legends and mythologies all over the world, and all cultures, and sort of knitted this together as a backstory for the valley, and its existing. That gave me a lot of material to draw from.
GoD: Right, because the Valley of the Shadow of Death is referenced by at least two religions, and he’s managed to combine those interpretations, which is fascinating. Is that correct?
MW: Yeah, that’s absolutely correct. And my girlfriend is getting her doctorate in anthropology, so she was also a great help in knitting together cultural beliefs and cultural histories.
GoD: I’d read that it’s perhaps — without spoiling too much — perhaps Iraq, where this valley is situated?
MW: Yeah, it’s actually situated in what has become Iraq.
GoD: In what was formerly part of the ancient Kingdom of Israel?
MW: Yeah, the wellspring of human civilization.
GoD: That’s rather interesting, given our recent political troubles in that area.
MW: And we’ve made a story out of that. The fact that this is now some incredible hotbed of military unrest, and has been for some time, becomes a story point that we were actually able to walk up to and address.
GoD: Is Shadow Walk perhaps intended to perhaps have a sequel: to live beyond graphic novel, in other media, given the fact that Legendary is a film company as well?
MW: It could be. I mean, it’s certainly a question that’s been floated, but overall attitude, first off, was just make it a really good graphic novel, and worry about other media later, and secondly, if it’s well-received and people like the story; people dig what we’re saying, then maybe there is a possibility for it to live in other media; other graphics novels. We’ll see.
GoD: Comparing the other companies you’ve worked with, how did you find working with the Legendary crew?
MW: It was incredibly easy and fulfilling to work with them, because there was no edict given down at any time. There was no sense that I wasn’t a vital part of the process; there wasn’t a sense that I was a hired hand or an interchangeable cog, which can be the case sometimes with other companies. This is something where I get to make it my story, too.
GoD: Thank you so much for your time, Mark!
MW: Thanks for your time, and thanks for your interest — I appreciate it!