San Diego Comic-Con: IDW: Walter Simonson

Jaws, letters, editors, frogs, and mutants made for an entertaining panel.

Noon on Thursday, July 20, had iconic writer and artist Walter Simonson the focus of a spotlight panel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, interviewed by his wife Louise Simonson. Both engaged with the audience well, with Louise starting things off by saying that she didn’t really need to be there, because once Walter gets talking he can go for hours.

The first question asked was if the Thor in the currently running Ragnarok was the same character from Marvel’s run. Walter said they don’t look the same, since the current Thor has no lower jaw. He then addressed the elephant in the room, “How is the character able to eat and speak?” Walter said he didn’t know, but it works for him. This had the audience laughing.

A fan from Nigeria said he wrote a letter back when Walter was on Marvel’s Thor and he got a personal response, which he carried in his pocket for years. Walter said in the old days, when he was writing a book, he would write back to people. Marvel would let the writers of books do the letters pages, with Walter doing them in third person to sound like a different person. “The crabby letters were the most interesting.” This was due to them being pointed and easier to address. Walter shared that the weirdest letter he got, which Louise also recalled, was from a woman who was in a huff because he wasn’t using Jane Foster. She couldn’t relate to Thor dating Sif. Both remember her closing words, “We are Earth people.” This drew laughter from the audience.

Louise brought up that he received a letter from a woman who studied ancient Norse. In an issue of Thor, Walter said he wrote all the captions in admittedly bad poetry, with stressed verse and not in alliteration. There was no rhyming. The letter writer said she was so refreshed by what Walter was doing it compelled her to dig out her college textbooks.

When asked if an editor ever had him rewrite anything while on Thor, Walter stated not really. “Until the 1990’s companies worked from the bottom up.” With corporations getting involved, things have changed. However, he did remember that in the first issue of Thor he did, Nick Fury picked up Donald Blake forcefully, because he didn’t have time to be polite — Thor was needed. Fury reveals he knows that Blake is Thor and he needs to speak to hero as soon as possible. The flying car that the pair are in are shown from a distance and a clap of thunder occurs, with two dialogue balloons coming out of the car. The first has Fury, obviously, yelling something to the effect, “You didn’t say that was going to happen!” The second balloon stated, “Thou didst not ask.” Editor at the time, Mark Gruenwald corrected it to say, “You didn’t ask.” He didn’t make the change in malice, he just didn’t think it needed to sound so fancy. Walt spoke with him that the change would confuse the reader as to who was speaking. Gruenwald agreed and never touched another world Walter wrote.

The Frog of Thunder was brought up, with emphasis on how Walter got away with changing the Avenger into a hammer wielding amphibian. “Marvel didn’t mind.” Walter was a big fan of Carl Barks as a kid. When he writes he makes notes for future stories. He always wanted to do Thor as a duck, but Howard the Duck was already at Marvel. However, in fairy tales, frogs are often used. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby told Walter that one can tell the most ridiculous story in the world as long as it’s done with a straight face. Letters at the time were 50-50: “I love this” or “…I’m not so sure about the last story.” The three most praised stories in his run on Thor are Beta Ray Bill, the Executioner’s Death, and the Frog story. There was no hate mail for it.

Walter was asked if he had read Neil Gaiman’s recent book on Norse Mythology. He said he had not and probably wouldn’t. “It could be an idea I have in a drawer somewhere.” He didn’t want to be accused of taking someone else’s ideas, which he said Erik Larsen had been detailing on Facebook recently. However, from what he had heard, “It sounds like we’re mining the same area.”

Louise was asked about undertaking the crossover series The Fall of the Mutants. Chris Claremont came to her with an idea about killing off the Morlocks. There were too many of the characters for him to keep track of and artist Paul Smith kept creating new ones for background characters. She said that sounded cool and she wanted to “play” too. It was an optional story, Marvel didn’t force it onto anyone. Walter said he drew a chart showing how the books should be read. He titled it the Merry Marvel Marching Mutant Massacre Chart, but someone at Marvel didn’t think that was appropriate, so it was retitled. Louise said it sold really well, which was a surprise since it came out in the autumn, which was the start of the school year when comics traditionally didn’t sell well. Success breeds imitation, so Jim Shooter mandated a follow up the next year. Shooter had an idea for something, but “We said no, because we have another storyline. We didn’t, but we came up with Inferno.” This lead to a funny line from Louise, who said that all the crossovers that happen in comics are “…all your fault (you fans) for buying this stuff,” which made the audience laugh hard. She went on to say the same thing happened at DC Comics after The Death of Superman. “The powers that be only wanted epic tales after that.”

A question about residuals came up, in light of the films that have, and will be coming out, that the power couple created. Louise stated that Shooter really fought to get creators a piece of the action and she appreciated that. In regards to films, DC is really good about it. Both agreed, “We are really grateful for it when it happens.”

“Do you help each other with your work?” was the final question. This elicited smiles from the pair, with Walter admitting, “Weezie is stuck reading all my stuff.” Prompting her to say, “He gets grumpy when I don’t like something.” “I do,” said Walter. “Louise is much better with characterization than I am.” “Walter does choreography better than me,” Louise said.

Being waved at by convention attendant for time, the panel ended and the Simonsons thanked the crowd for attending. Should anyone ever have the opportunity to hear either of these talents, I strongly recommend it.

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
One Comment
  • Dapo
    3 August 2017 at 2:44 pm -

    Great Panel by Walter and Louise and very informative.

    I was the fan from Nigeria in question and was trying so hard not to gush!

    I found the story about how events started really eye opening.

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