EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Witchblade Co-Creator David Wohl

A few days ago we had the opportunity to talk with long time comic scribe David Wohl.  Most famous for creating indie titles The Darkness and Withcblade, Wohl has been involved with comics since his high school years (working for the House of Ideas at the time), and has dipped his toes in quite a few other publishing houses since.  So jump into the conversation as we talk about this time in the industry, his brand new series LEGEND OF THE SHADOWCLAN, and a ton more!

UTF: How do you feel the landscape of indie comics has changed in the past 15-20 years? You were on the forefront of these new imprints when they first debuted, so how would you measure their success? Did you ever intend to rival DC or Marvel, or was your goal always the given percentage of the marketplace?

You know, it’s a strange thing. During our heyday at Top Cow, we had a string of new series that all launched at or near the top of the comic charts. Witchblade, Darkness, Tomb Raider, Aphrodite IX, Fathom were all top books when they came out. It was an interesting time. Top Cow and the rest of the partners at Image were frequently competing with Marvel, DC (and Dark Horse to a certain extent) for the top spots on the Diamond charts. And at that time, the “Big Two” probably represented around 50-60% of the overall market share. Now, they’re around 75%, and that leaves less room for others to have a piece. Sure, there are still books like The Walking Dead that make it to the top, but it’s definitely more rare now than it used to be. I’m not sure when it started happening, or why, exactly. Part of it, I believe, is the recognizeability of the characters. I’m sure the successful films and tv shows from both Marvel and DC have helped to boost their comic sales. But at the same time, I think that limits them. Even back then, when we were launching our new titles, the big two were reluctant to launch new concepts. They pretty much just did spin-offs, mega-crossovers or re-boots of existing concepts. That still holds true today, if not more so. Look at the biggest “new” titles from them. The “New 52,” or even the “Ultimate” universe from several years ago. When they want to boost sales, they very rarely will create new characters. They mostly just re-tool the old ones. I think that’s where we differed. We created new concepts that fans liked and appreciated. And that’s a very satisfying thing.

I don’t think we ever intended to compete with them for market share, though. We would have needed to publish many more books per month to ever accomplish that and we didn’t really see ourselves in that kind of business. We always considered ourselves more of a boutique operation, with more focus on developing and publishing new concepts.

UTF: From a marketing perspective, how much do you rely on social media to reach your readers? Especially in indie comics, social media seems to be the easiest way to reach fans. Do you still prefer the old press releases and cons?

Cons are always the most fun, and press releases definitely still serve their purpose, since many blogs will pick them up and publish them, but yeah Facebook is probably the top route right now for me, personally. And that’s mainly because I don’t use Twitter enough yet. Maybe soon. LOL. I know other people are way more into it. But what they both offer is the ability to communicate directly with fans anywhere in the world. Better than a con because of the reach, better than a press release because you KNOW people are actually paying attention when they respond to it. And these days it’s especially important to get fans interested because retailers are reluctant to order new books unless a fan comes in and says they want it. So, my job is to get in touch with as many people as possible, as often as possible, to make sure they feel the need to tell their retailer that they want my book!

UTF: You’ve had a hand in creating some wild characters over the past few years, who’s your favorite?

Hmm probably Ian Nottingham. He was always the coolest.The most fun to write for. And Michael Turner always made him look good. Aphrodite IX was pretty fun too. I’ve been blessed with some amazing artists drawing and co-creating my characters, so there are many that I like. But there’s a special place in my heart for the two of them. Actually Iris too. Writing her is really fun. I feel like I can escape into her personality. I guess that sounds weird.

UTF: Based on your body of work you seem to have a clear affinity for giving voice to some very tough ladies (from Sara Pezzini to Executive Assistant Iris), do you think that’s something the comic book industry as a whole lacks?

You know, in comics, film, television, there’s this mantra that strong female leads don’t sell. And whenever there’s a success, people say it’s the exception to the rule, but the rule still exists. It’s infuriating. I don’t think people care, as long as it’s a good comic, a good film, a good tv show. There are countless examples where they’ve been successful, but to this day, people still think it, and that guides their decisions.

UTF: We’re huge fans of Witchblade at UTF (specifically Harrison) do you have a favorite story arc or specific issue from either of your runs? Any parts of the stories therein that you regret penning?

Well, first of all, thank you, Harrison!!! I actually think the first arc is still my favorite. That was the story that took the most time to create, and we had the time to build it because it took months before we even had Michael start drawing it. BUT, if I had the chance to rewrite it, I would because whenever I look at it, I see things that I would have done differently. I’m sure many people say that about their early work. And that was the first regular series that I was ever a part of. Plus, you never know whether something will be a success or not, so the first story arc of Witchblade was really all I was envisioning for that series. Once it was a success, we decided to continue it, but there’s always something special about the first one.

UTF: What’s your process with breaking a new story? Do you have a favorite part when it comes to spinning new tales?

Usually it’s fun at the beginning, then it gets really hard and annoying, then it’s fun again when the story seems to work itself out. At first, coming up with the initial concept is always exciting. Sometimes we’ll just shoot something down immediately if we think of a concept and then discover someone beat us to it. But once we find something that’s interesting and unique, figuring out how to get from point A to point B can be a long and arduous process. But it’s VERY fulfilling when you can finally crack it. I like working with a co-writer because it usually makes the middle process much easier, unless we disagree too much. Then it’s not quite as fun.

UTF: When tackling an already established franchise where do you start with your run? Do you do hefty research or just dive right in?

I’m kind of lucky that I’ve mainly worked on new properties that had no history prior to me. But when I have worked on others’ work, yeah, I’m the type that tries to read everything I can on the character, so I can see what plot threads might still be dangling, and I can get a feel for the characters and the tone of the books. I also like to read what their fans have to say. I want to know what people like and dislike about everything that’s been done before, and I want them to know that I’ve done my research, so when they read it, they know I’m respectful of the source material. It kind of bothers me when people don’t research when they work on an existing property, even if it’s a total reboot. They should know where the characters have been before.

UTF: Legend of the Shadow Clan is due to kick off in February, what are your thoughts about your co-created property hitting the comic book market?

I’m really excited to see it finally coming out. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I think fans will enjoy reading it. This is the third series that I’ve written with my co-creator Brad Foxhoven. But this is the first one that he’s had such an active hand in the creative process. And that’s been exciting for me. He pushes me to do a better story, much the way my erstwhile Witchblade co-writer Christina Z did when we were writing that book. It’s a very different process from writing by myself, and (usually) more enjoyable.

UTF: I have to be honest, the concept of this series sounds incredibly fun but where did it come from?

Brad and I both have a fascination with the ninja mythology, and thought that it would be fun to do a modern ninja story crossed with a regular family that had to deal with ordinary issues. We actually had been bouncing it around for several years, since around the time that we first thought about the Executive Assistant: Iris concept. We’d had such a good experience partnering with Aspen on that one, that we pitched them Legend of the Shadow Clan—and luckily they liked the idea too! So here we are.

UTF: What’s it like working with Cory Smith on the book? Did you pick him? How much room did you guys give him in the sense of visual designs?

Cory has been a PLEASURE to work with. He’s a phenomenal collaborator, who really thinks about everything as he draws. I first saw his work on Aspen’s Broken Pieces book (a fun read, by the way!), and Vince Hernandez felt he’d be a good fit for Legend of the Shadow Clan. He was right! As we’ve been working together, I’ve grown more and more confidence in his capabilities, so I try to give him artistic freedom wherever I can, because I feel that will help make the series as strong as it possibly can be. We had some phenomenal designs from Joe Benitez, so many of them have remained from the original concept, but everything that’s been created since our original outline has been visualized by Cory, and he hasn’t let me down yet!

UTF: How long is this first volume planned to run for?

Five issues. But hopefully, if people like it, there will be more. I hope so, because I’d love to see the series keep going!

UTF: Do you have any favorite moments so far?

Good question. Yes. The beginning of issue 2, where the main villain learns that his ninja have failed, for the FIRST time. Let’s just say he has an interesting way of showing his disappointment!

UTF: If you were going to pitch this to a reader who’s only ever purchased books from Marvel or DC how would you sell it to them?

The story revolves around the Himura family–just ordinary folks with regular hopes and dreams. Mom and dad have 9-5 jobs, and their three children are in high school. But one day they discover they’re descendants of the Shadow Clan, an ancient and powerful ninja family that went into hiding hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, they learn there’s a reason why the clan went into hiding and their heritage has remained a secret—there’s a vicious and brutal group of ninja who are hunting them, the Ghost Clan. These ninja have never stopped training–they’ve been perfecting their art, and embracing modern weaponry to help them become perfect killing machines—and now they’re hunting the Himuras!

UTF: What are your thoughts regarding Aspen’s 10 for 10?

Aspen picked the perfect way to celebrate their 10th Anniversary, with a blending of new series with old favorites. It’s a perfect jumping-on point for new fans who’ve never read Aspen before, older fans who’ve been with us all along, and even fans who just haven’t picked up our books in a while. And with all the first issues selling for only $1, it’s a low-risk investment—with a high reward!!!

UTF: Following Executive Extinction, can you reveal any of your future plans with the franchise?

The next volume of Executive Assistant: Iris is in the early planning stages right now, but my goal is to do a more “intimate” Iris story that hearkens back to the first volume, where she can have some serious introspection again. I also have some ideas for a very cool villain (at least I think he is!!!), so I’m looking forward to getting started in earnest!

UTF: Are there any current properties within the company that you want to work on in the future?

Well, they keep me busy, thankfully, but if I ever had the chance, I’d love to work on Soulfire. I love the concept, and the world that Michael Turner created, and would love nothing more than a chance to play in it. But, J.T. Krul is doing an incredible job, so I’ll just wait until he decides to stop before I throw my hat into the ring…

UTF: You are one of the men behind Sara Pezzini and you’ve done two character defining runs with Witchblade, do you have any desire to go back and work with that franchise again?

As I said earlier, it’s the first ongoing series I was ever involved in, so I often reminisce on the good old days and think about writing it again. If they asked, I’d seriously consider it, but probably would only work on it if I had a cool story to tell. Right now, I don’t know what that story would be, but now that you mention it, I’m sure I’ll think of something!

UTF: You’ve hard your fair share of experience outside the comic book industry working with TNT for Witchblade: The Original series as well as video games via Majesco Publishing and Midway Games, do you have any projects coming down the proverbial pipeline in either of these fields?

Brad and I co-founded an animation company called Blockade several years ago, and we have a few projects that we’re involved with that will be announced in the near future. Unfortunately I’m not at liberty to give specifics until there’s an official announcement, but I CAN say that they’re very well known franchises! Keep your eyes peeled over the next few months…

UTF: Seeing as how your career began with one of the big two is there any desire to work under Marvel or DC, especially considering the current landscape (The New 52 and Marvel NOW!)?

You know, I do think about it, and I’ve pitched a few ideas over the years, but I really enjoy the freedom of coming up with new concepts and developing them into series, and I know I wouldn’t have that chance at the Big Two. That said, I admit it would be cool to write another Wolverine story. I wrote one, a crossover with Witchblade long ago, and that was definitely fun. So who knows—maybe I’ll get another chance!