"When Dynamite First Offered Me The Gig I Said No." – Matt Wagner On Writing The Spirit

Leah Moore, writer of Swords of Sorrow: Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler #3, talks with writer Matt Wagner about The Spirit #2, both on sale now. Cover art by Eric Powell.

Spirit02CovAPowellLEAH MOORE: A Spirit comic needs action, humor, bags and bags of noir, and then some weird, to keep the reader on their toes. You have nailed all these things and the art is stunning. I'm guessing you are pleased with how it's turned out, but wasn't it terrifying filling the biggest shoes in comics? 

MATT WAGNER: Well first off, Leah…thanks for the kind words.  And, yeah…I'm very pleased with how this is all turning out.  Truth be told, when Dynamite first offered me this gig, I said "No"…twice.  Not so much out of fear but rather because I felt like I just really had nothing to add to such a rich and honored legacy.  But, the publisher and editor-in-chief both kept at me until I finally acquiesced and decided to give it a shot.  One of the ways I feel we're striking new ground with the character is in telling a long-form narrative.  Obviously, Eisner pretty much nailed every possible angle of the comic-book short story since The Spirit's original adventures were all delivered in 7-page installments.  Our story and our mystery gradually unfold over a full 12 issue arc and, by the end, I think readers will be happy to discover that we do bring a whole new something to this iconic character.

LM: I am so happy to see Ebony White given the role and the dialogue he deserves. We might not be living in the world Eisner wrote the Spirit in, but comics still has a habit of making POC minor characters, or token characters there to make a book seem diverse. By putting Ebony front and center, you seem to be addressing that head on. Is that a fair assessment?

MW: Yeah, I found that I just couldn't ignore the character of Ebony as many readers have since said that they expected me to do. Despite the minstrel-show trappings of the character and his time period, I found that I had a real fondness for Ebony. The solution for to how to handle him from a modern perspective just seemed rather natural. When I discussed what I intended to do with the series' artist, Dan Schkade, he said, "When you think about it…Ebony is an urban orphan who (underage) drives a gypsy cab and in the evenings hangs out with a detective who's presumed dead and fights crime under the guise of a masked alter-ego. That's pretty badass!"  I also really enjoy writing the give-and-take that he and Sammy have in working together.  When I found (via my "research assistant" for this gig, Denis Kitchen) that Sammy never had an assigned last name in the old days, I dubbed him with the Dizzy Dean-esque moniker of "Strunk" due to his baseball origins (as in, "OY!  He strunk out!"). This let me kick off their introduction in this new series with the grammar based meta-joke that their detective agency operates under the shingle of "Strunk and White"…firmly and quickly establishing that this isn't the Pidgin-English version of Ebony we'd seen in the past.

LM: I grew up wishing I looked like the women Eisner drew, with their amazing perfect hair and cheekbones. Are we going to get some femme fatales in this series? 

MW: Pfft…are there gonna be femme fatales? Is this a Spirit story?! And, here again, readers will ultimately find us bringing something new to the table. Or, should I say…a hot and somewhat dangerous dish to the dance?

LM: The Spirit always had fun and creative layouts, which were more like a really great opening sequence in a film (Citizen Kane or Night of the Hunter spring to mind). Do you layout your pages and script from them, or script them and let insanely talented Dan Schkade do that part?

MW: Being an artist myself, I feel like I'm pretty good at writing for other artists as well. My scripts are fairly visual but also afford a lot of room for interpretation. I've always felt that, when I'm working with another artist, I really want to provide the opportunity for that kind of collaboration. Otherwise, I might as well just be drawing that particular story myself. In the case of working with Dan, I'm doubly lucky in that he just really seems to get the gist of my scripts as well as the fact that we live in the same city. As a result, we actually get together once a week to review his progress and discuss the story-telling and dynamics in a very old-school, hands-on fashion. I'm glad you brought up Dan and I'd like to take a moment to talk about him. Finding the right artist for this series wasn't easy. I mean, there are so very many talented artists at work in the field these days but many of them tend to stylistically fall into one camp or the other—either full-on cartoony or straight-up adventure mainstream. As you mentioned in your first question, Eisner's work on The Spirit straddled the line with many disparate styles coalescing to make something unique. We had quite a few artists try out for this gig but they were all just missing a certain something from that special blend of elements. In the end, I've gotta give credit to my son (and the series' colorist) Brennan Wagner. He and Dan have been pals for a while and were in fact talking of collaborating on their own project someday. During our search, Bren kept badgering me, "Dad, you've gotta give Dan a shot at this book!" I finally woke up and listened…and I'm really happy that I did. The combination of Dan's art and Brennan's colors really help nail this story and bring it to life. Of course, we all like to hope that Will Eisner would agree!

For more information on Will Eisner's The Spirit #2, click here.

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About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.
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