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Any regular readers of What Are You Reading? likely know how much I enjoy Mark Waid‘s writing. So when Waid made himself available for a brief email interview regarding BOOM!’s The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh, the first issue of which goes on sale tomorrow, I jumped at the chance. As I found out in this interview, Waid and I share a love of research. My thanks to Waid for the interview, and please be sure to check out CBR’s five-page preview of issue 1 here. As detailed at the preview: “Back by popular demand, Mark Waid brings another installment of the world’s greatest detective! With only six months to live, Catherine Allingham’s condition is terminal. But nothing will stop her from trying to solve even more mysteries. It’s international suspense and hair-raising macabre as time runs out for our detective.”
Tim O’Shea: It was years ago and in a different corporate universe, but as a fan of your run on Ruse, I have to ask–is Catherine Allingham a creative descendant of Emma Bishop to some extent?
Mark Waid: Ha! Man, someday, I’ve really got to go into hypnotherapy and see if someone can help me remember which prototypical Sarcastic Genius became the template for my scientists and investigators. Actually, Emma’s more tender than Catherine. Catherine has no time for tenderness.
O’Shea: What was the appeal to mixing a spiritual quest with scientific exploration?
Waid: The appeal was in making an attempt to use science to answer (or at least approach) the great metaphysical mysteries. Detective fiction is full of excellent gumshoes who can tell you whodunnit. I wanted to get more into the impossible questions; a detective’s only as interesting as the challenges she faces.
O’Shea: Early in the first Unknown miniseries, Catherine is shown reading Pierre Bayard’s Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Was that a throwaway bit on the creative team’s part, or does this project find some inspiration in Bayard’s book?
Waid: It had no specific bearing on the story; it was just perfect reading for Catherine. The fact that she enjoys a book like that tells you volumes about her and her level of arrogance.
O’Shea: On some level, do you consider Unknown to be a modern noir? What makes me ask is the great chase scene on the train in issue 2.
Waid: On some level, yes, but I think of it more as modern pulp. The original “Hollywood paragraph” was “Doc Savage as written by David Lynch.” Less noir in the sequel, The Devil Made Flesh, in part because the settings are less exotic–though the mystery is more macabre.
O’Shea: In The Devil Made Flesh, are we going to learn more about James Doyle’s tragic past, or are you saving that for another miniseries down the road?
Waid: We learn MUCH more about James Doyle’s tragic past. Sadly, he does not. As will be evident.
O’Shea: In terms of developing Allingham’s back story, how large a collection of untold solved cases have you developed–potentially to tap for “present day” story reference or maybe even a back-up feature at some point?
Waid: A ton. A bookfull. You could spend an entire workday just surfing the sites I’ve bookmarked, to say nothing of the actual books and magazine articles I’ve accumulated–but that’s because I collect “impossible crimes” material anyway, have for years, and I’ve been busy making notes where I’ve inserted Catherine into these mysteries and come up with her solutions. I’ve got LOTS to draw upon.
O’Shea: Given your duties as an EIC for BOOM!, plus your freelance commitments at Marvel, I doubt the term “relaxing” is one that matches your work pace. That being said, given the miniseries nature of BOOM! properties, is it a bit less stressful not dealing with the worries of cancellation as much as if you were attempting a series of monthly ongoing BOOM! properties?
Waid: Good question. I suppose it’s some comfort to know that nothing’ll be yanked out from under me, though I’ve been pretty lucky in my career and haven’t had a series cancelled out from under me since the Impact Comics days. Still, the pressure to deliver and deliver big is always there, regardless of who I’m working for or how long the commitment. So I’m not sure I understand this concept of “less stressful” of which you speak.
O’Shea: With the start of the new Unknown project, will you be looking to expand the supporting cast? What new international locales will you be taking the tales?
Waid: There are two important new additions to the cast–a woman named Adriana who shows up in issue one, and a strangely articulate assistant who debuts in issue two. I can’t say anything more about either without revealing too much, but both are fascinating to write for.
O’Shea: In writing for artist Minck Oosterveer, what strengths of his skillset do you try to tap to best suit Unknown?
Waid: His storytelling is exemplary; he communicates setting and mood with little details in the art that keep me from having to over-write and use words where pictures would be better. Plus, the man can draw anything. That allows my imagination to run totally free without ever worrying that I’m overreaching. What a godsend, that guy.
O’Shea: What about the mystery genre do you enjoy most when writing in it?
Waid: The elaborate plotting. The jigsaw-puzzle nature of it. The challenge of dispensing information in a play-fair way that doesn’t make the mysteries too transparent. The research. All of it. Seriously, all of it.