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interview: ron marz
Posted: Wednesday, May 24
By: Alan David Doane

Alan David Doane: CrossGen is about to come out with its first major release...can you tell us a little bit about the company and how you got involved?
Ron Marz: Superhero comics really dominate the market. What we're doing at CrossGen is more oriented toward fantasy and science fiction storylines rather than just superhero stuff. Our books have heroes in them, but they tend not to wear costumes under their clothes and pull open their shirts to reveal big "S's" under there.

ADD: Speaking of which, you spent quite a few years working for the home of the Big S, DC Comics, most notably on Green Lantern. How did you come to jump from DC to CrossGen?

RM: I met the CrossGen staff, what staff there was, at last year's San Diego Comic Convention. And I met the head honcho down here, Mark Alessi, who's the guy who started this sort of "mad scheme," who is also the guy who had the money to bankroll this mad scheme. My initial reaction was, well, "There's no way I'm moving to Tampa to work at a completely off-the-ground sort of venture." And the more I got to know Mark, the more we discussed the situation, the more it made sense to me that this was an opportunity for me to be in on the ground floor of something, to help build a new company and to be more than just a freelance cog in the machine.

This was a chance for me to be at a company that I was gonna be part of the decision making process, that I would have input on all the decisions that were ultimately gonna effect my life and the life of the members of my family. Whereas when you work for Marvel or DC, you're kind of a replaceable part, in that new writers, new artists always come in and work on this stuff, the characters are what is always evergreen. So here I had a bit of a chance to be a more fully-functional part of the company, and my wife and I talked about it and we decided to take the plunge.

ADD: Was it scary, to leave behind what I would imagine was the relative security of your gig at DC to move on to this unknown entity?

RM: Well, it was certainly a gamble. I won't tell any bald-face lies, obviously the financial package was enough to induce me to leave that relative security. But as I really got into the job I found myself thinking that this was a lot more secure than that freelance lifestyle where you're really at the mercy of factors that you don't have a whole lot of say, in what happens to you. You're at the mercy of decisions made by the company, you have no input into those decisions whatsoever. So ultimately I ended up feeling like this was safer and more secure than Marvel or DC, even though this place had never put out a book before.

ADD: What was the reaction of your fellow creators when you told them you were going to this new company?

RM: A lot of people that weren't really aware of what was going on down here just thought I was absolutely insane, people, my closer friends, people that are a little bit more in tune with the direction that the industry is headed in right now said "Geez, I know it sounds like a risk, but it sounds like you're doing the right thing." I think it's scary to take that leap away from the way things have always been done, but I like to think that hopefully in a few years I'll look back and pat myself on the back for having foresight.

ADD: What makes you confident that CrossGen is in it for the long haul?

RM: To be very frank, there's a pile of money here to make sure that this place gets off the ground properly. And I know it's not something that's generally talked about, but Mark Alessi, the guy that is running the place, is a multi-millionaire from his previous business ventures, and he set aside enough cash to make sure that we can do this, and do it right. I know it sounds very sort of cold and harsh to talk in real world terms about comic books, which are sort of fanciful entertainment, but this is a business, and there are real world concerns that go along with it, and one of them is you gotta make sure you have enough money to do things properly. I'm feeling really pretty confident that--our launch is coming up and we're putting all that we can into that and getting the word out, getting the promotional machine running so that people are aware of our books.

If we can make people aware of our books and get people to try them, we'll be okay, because I think our books are pretty good.

ADD: Let's talk a little bit about those books. I take it you probably had a pretty big role in formulating not only the titles you'll be writing directly but probably the overall universe of CrossGen?

RM: I guess I'm part of the "brain-trust" or whatever you'd want to call it, along with Mark and his cousin Gina, who's the Chief Operating Officer here. The two of them really put the bare bones of the universe together. Some general concepts and then some ideas for the monthly titles, then when I hired on, it was myself and Barbara Kesel and Brandon Peterson, along with Mark and Gina in a room for a week, kind of putting some flesh on those bones that were in place, and at some points it just meant literally putting flesh on those bones, at other points it meant breaking those bones and completely starting over. I think we had this loose framework initially, by the time that week was over with, we had a universe in place.

ADD: Are you confident you have a storyline in place for the line that is going to be compelling to the readers in the long term?

RM: I guess I wouldn't be here if I didn't think so, and if we don't it's sure as hell my fault. I think we've done what people always give a lot of lip-service to in comics, which is: We've constructed a universe, we've constructed our books so that you're don't have to read every one. You don't have a gun to your head. You don't have to read an issue of Mystic and then finish that story in an issue of Sigil to understand what's going on. Our monthly titles will be self-contained, they'll make sense in and of themselves, but if you want to follow more than one book in the line, you're gonna start to see some pieces of that overalll framework start to fall into place. You'll start to see some of the higher levels of story that we've got built into place that will play themselves out over a number of years. That was one of the goals of that week-long universe-building session, was to not just come up with the four titles that we're going to be publishing on a monthly basis, but to understand how all of those titles fit into the overall context of our universe, and how to play out all of those storylines over a long period of time.

ADD: Tell us a little bit about the titles that you're going to be working on.

RM: The first one is CrossGen Chronicles, which is our launch issue. That's sort of an appetizer to what we hope is gonna be the main course. It's a 32-page story that introduces a lot of the different characters that will be appearing in the monthly titles, and that's got artwork by Claudio Castellini, who is actually the only non-Tampa employee that we have. He's based in Rome, and it just seemed like the situation was going to be much easier if he stayed in Rome and did his work as he was used to, and sent the pages in. It's just a gorgeous looking book.

Hopefully that will whet people's appetites for the books that follow, the first of which is Mystic, which I'm writing, Brandon Peterson is penciling, and John Dell is inking. And that's very much kind of a book in the vein of Doctor Strange, and those sorts of magical characters that have appeared in comics. It's about a young woman who is suddenly granted a huge amount of magical power, and that book is set on a world where magic is the rule rather than the exception. The entire planet works on magic, so it's a very sort of fanciful world. Visually it's modeled after Paris in the 1920s, which is sort of these deco and art nouveau influences in the architecture and visuals of the entire book. That one's--I've always been a big Doctor Strange fan, so has Brandon. I think that's kind of the book that he and I have always in the back of our minds wanted to do. And just never had a venue to do it. So we get to pursue all this magical, sorcerer stuff, and not be tied to the traditional way of doing a magical book, which is, you've got a magician like Doctor Strange or Doctor Fate over at DC, and that character is the exception, that character wields magic, the rest of the world is mundane. We've just hopefully amped up that situation where the entire world is magical, and hopefully the readers will be completely drawn into that world.

The other book that I'm writing is Scion, which is penciled by Jim Cheung and inked by Don Hillsman, and that's more of a traditional fantasy sort of book, at first glance. It has sort of a medieval veneer in terms of the visuals. That look is really just a facade for a very advanced technological civilization. Again, this isn't set on earth, this is set on a world completely separate from earth. That book tells the story of Ethan, who is a young prince of one of the two main powers in the world that are always at each other's throats. And in the first issue of that book, events transpire that Ethan unwittingly sets into motion, puts these two powers at war with each other. So he's in a position of having to shoulder this responsibility of dealing with this conflict that he has unwittingly started. As an underlying theme in that book we deal with concept of genetically-created "lesser races" which are, for easy comparison's sake, they're the trolls and the ogres and the dwarves of this fantasy world, but they've been genetically created and they're very much second-class citizens or in some cases, slaves. So we had that sort of undercurrent of social commentary in the book as well. And at some point Ethan will be forced to maybe consider that predicament as an even greater problem for him to solve than the petty warfare of two kingdoms.

ADD: Are you having fun?

RM: I'm having a ball. It's a little bit different way of working than I'm used to; I used to get up in the morning and walk down the hall, and that was my morning commute. Now I actually do have a commute. I come into an office, I work in the same building that the artists work in, and we're all sort of one big happy family. It was a little bit different to get used to but I think ultimately the finished product is a lot stronger for having all of us here, and it's--this is really sort of a peak behind the curtain for anybody who walks in the building because this is what I think people generally believe comic books to be done like, we have a studio full of little elves that produce these things. And that hasn't been true in decades in the greater part of the industry. Now, it's true here, and I can walk out there and see the stories that I've written being put down on pages, it's like watching my imagination come to life. It's a treat to come into the office every day.