July of 2009 saw the release of a new, experimental project from DC Comics: Wednesday Comics. The twelve-issue weekly comic, the brain-child of DC Comics Art Director Mark Chiarello, immediately set itself apart from other books by virtue of being printed on broadsheet in order to evoke the “funny pages” of newspapers. At sixteen pages with fifteen regular features written and drawn by superstar creators, each issue of Wednesday Comics featured one page from each story that would be completed when the series wrapped up its twelve issue run.
“I kept pitching the idea to my (then) big boss, Paul Levitz, but I don’t know that I verbalized the idea as well as I could have. I blurted out something about BIG pages and SUNDAY strips and STRETCHING the medium. In his divine wisdom, Paul, thinking I was nuts, kept shooing me out of his office, month after month.
Because I can visualize better than I can speak, I finally mocked-up a full-sized 14X20 fake newspaper. I sort of glued together old comic book panels, photoshopped together a fake logo and ran it up to Paul’s office. Once he could physically see what was in my head, he green lit the project. Whew!” – Mark Chiarello, creator of Wednesday Comics
Telling an exciting story in a large, single page may be one of the greatest creative challenges one could give to a creator because they would have to produce something that was both exciting and that would advance the story along. This experiment for DC Comics was similar in a lot of ways to the anthology books Dark Horse Presents and 2000 AD in how the format demanded a certain economy of storytelling. With fifteen stories all competing for attention and each issue coming in at $3.99, these were stories that needed to grab readers. This sparked a wave of creativity that saw the talent attached to the book really stretching their muscles to create pages that served as condensed issues with their own beginning, middle, and end while serving the larger story.
“Any time a format has restrictions, it’ll be a challenge in some way. In this case, [series editor] Mark [Chiarello]specifically wanted to have the feel of a classic Sunday comics section, back when they had full-page strips, so doing a full chapter in a single page was the limitation going in, and it was an interesting challenge. Some of the WEDNESDAY crew went for various classic comics for inspiration — Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook translating KAMANDI into a PRINCE VALIANT-like strip was a real wonder that way — and some experimented free-form with such a big page. I stuck with the early-Sixties era, and got a lot of our format and inspiration in pacing each strip from what Leonard Starr was doing on the Sunday strips for ON STAGE back then. I even requested that it be lettered in a font that resembled Ben Oda’s lettering, since Oda had lettered ON STAGE.
I’m not sure it was completely successful — trying to do something we’d never done before and get it right straight for the starting line is always tricky. But in the end, I think we told a good story, and Joe [Quinones] made it look fantastic, so I think we managed what we needed to.” – Kurt Busiek, writer of Green Lantern with artist Joe Quinones
To demonstrate creative uses of the format, we are going to take a quick look at two stories. The first is Paul Pope’s Strange Adventure, a retro science-fiction adventure with shades of both Carmine Infantino and Edgar Rice Burroughs. The story followed two threads: sci-fi hero Adam Strange becoming stranded on Earth and his love Alanna fighting an uprising on her planet of Rann while exploring themes of identity and metaphysics. In several of his pages, Pope utilizes insert panels to tell parts of the story. It makes for both a striking visual and a way to save space on the page. These insert panels either precede or supersede (the difference is easy to tell given the level of depth created by the line-work and the coloring) the events of the panels they are breaking through.
The other is Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher’s Flash. The two set out to tell a twisty time travel tale that takes the scarlet speedster through several runs at the same events in an attempt to get things just right. The kindest move the two make as storytellers is to split several pages into two parts, something the sheer size of the pages affords them to do easily, in order to devote one to a specific character in a specific time period that relates to the other section. Don’t worry, it only sounds complicated. Due to the time travel machinations, a later page from the duo presents a myriad collection of alternate universe being created that are rendered in the style of different famous comic strips like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes as an homage to the medium that they are now working in.
The other stories are not to be skipped over in favor of searching out another feature. With a Neil Gaiman and Michael Allred Metamorpho story appearing alongside a Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso Batman feature, there’s something from every corner of the DCU for every type of DC Comics fan. It is because of this that I believe Wednesday Comics to have been and to still be the most successful creative experiment that DC Comics has ever conducted as a publisher.
Now, the legacy of Wednesday Comics can be felt in the work of many of the creators that have worked on it. Paul Pope has gone on to create the rip-roaring, all-ages comic Battling Boy, Kurt Busiek is dazzling people as always with Astro City and his new creator-owned book Tooth & Claw, and Karl Kerschl is now the artist on the exceptional young adult comic Gotham Academy while his Flash collaborator Brenden Fletcher co-writes that book and the new run on Batgirl. And the creative success of Wednesday Comics has been followed up with DC’s digital comics initiative. Books like Adventures of Superman or Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman play with the aspects of a rotating creative team and self-contained storytelling to create comics that rank among the best being published right now, digitally and in-print.
When asked about the influence of Wednesday Comics on DC and the medium as a whole, Mark Chiarello remained humbled and praised the creators involved:
“Wednesday Comics gave a bunch of great artists and writers the opportunity to work on a larger scale, both physically and conceptually. I don’t know that that influenced what’s currently being done in the DCU, but rather runs parallel to it. There are some BIG thinkers at DC who have been creating oversized worlds and stories for years. Wednesday Comics simply gave an even bigger canvas for them to think on.”