Comic book writer and artist Matt Wagner talks about the birth of Mage, and why comic book creations often look like their creators.
This is the first half of a two-part interview. Be sure to also check out Part Two, in which Wagner talks about how Mage
Image (c) copyright Matt Wagner
is like a Zen journey, and what makes for good comic-book storytelling.
Were you a storyteller as a young boy?
Matt Wagner: I was. My father, and this dates him quite a bit, used to say I was vaccinated with a Victrola needle because I was very talkative…. My parents like to tell a tale of when I was quite young. I must have been five or something like that. We had literally — I kid you not — a door-to-door Bible salesman come to the door one day selling these lavishly illustrated Bibles. We were going through it and I was pointing out all the illustrations and saying, “Oh, look this is Noah, this is Jonah, Jesus” etc., etc., and we got to a picture of Adam and Eve in their loincloths in the Garden of Eden and I turned to my dad, apparently, and said, “Dad, Tarzan!” [laughter] So I think I was doomed for this profession from the very beginning.
My mother was an English teacher before she became a full-time mom, and a huge proponent of reading, so she made sure I was an early and vigorous reader. Coupled with that was the fact that I was an only child. I grew up in the middle of Pennsylvania in Amish country — we lived out away from most other houses…. I drew to entertain myself because there wasn’t much video entertainment in those days. I think we had probably three or four TV stations initially. And so I was a vigorous reader and I drew. And comic books were both writing and drawing all rolled into one and just became the magic quotient for me.
So you were headed for comics from the start?
MW: I sure wanted to. They were such a mystery to me. And of course in those days it was all centered around the big two publishers. There was no overnight delivery service at that stage, so pages of original comic art were not going to go from writer to artist to inker through the regular mail. You pretty much had to live in New York; you had to show up at the offices in person to get jobs. As a result it was very, very insular, and I just had no idea what it was all about.
But here again, another childhood tale: My parents have a school-memories book from when I was a kid, and on the back of all the elementary school years is a little spot to fill in what I wanted to be when I grew up. And one year I wrote “astronaut,” and I’m sure that’s the year they landed on the moon. Every other year I wrote “comic book writer.”
From what age?
MW: From kindergarten.
MW: And I wrote “comic book writer” because I just assumed whoever wrote the comics must draw them, too. I didn’t know that it was usually a team effort, which in commercial comics is the norm.