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Thoughts From The Land of Frost:
Chuck Dixon By Alexander Ness
Hello and welcome. Featured this week is an interview with a top writer in the comic book industry, Chuck Dixon. From Batman to his current gig at CrossGen Comics, his work has appeared at a great multitude of publishers in a volume and propensity that is hard to ignore. He is as talented as he is prodigious and I appreciate his time and answers to my questions.
AN: Mr. Dixon, welcome to my column, "Thoughts from the Land of Frost." Please tell my readers about your background, vitals and such. Where were you born and raised, did you go to college, are you married, etc...
CD: I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I attended college for only a couple of semesters. I am married and have two children.
AN: What interests do you have outside comics?
CD: Target shooting and collecting toy soldiers. I had to replace my childish pursuit with comics once I entered the comics field professionally. So I turned to my other obsession as a child; toy soldiers. The unexpected by-product of this is that my boys have an appreciation for history that grew out of lots of mock battles on the floor of my office.
AN: When did you start reading comics? At what age did you decide to be somehow employed in the medium?
CD: I cannot remember NOT reading comics. I had hundreds of comics before I could read and actually learned most of my reading from them. In first grade I was reading on a sixth grade level but was in the lowest reading group in my school because I was so bored. Dick and Jane? Give me the Fantastic Four and Sgt Rock! At the same time I was always drawing my own comic books. I was never serious about any other career.
AN: How did you get into the medium? And who were some of your mentors?
CD: Archie Goodwin and Larry Hama were the first pros to really give me a lot of encouragement. Archie would patiently read my meandering proposals and give me very helpful advice on my writing and career. My initial efforts were absolutely miserable and I'm not sure why he took the time other than the fact that he was a very generous person. Larry's approach was a bit more astringent but just as effective. It was a good cop/bad cop kind of deal between the two but they got me off to the right start. The rest of dogged persistence and the over-riding fear of spending my life working dead end jobs.
AN: What was your first published comic work and who were your co-collaborators?
CD: My first work was a series of short stories in a cheesy HEAVY METAL knock-off called GASM. I still cringe at that title. I collaborated with no one because I wrote, penciled, inked and lettered the stories myself. The results are an embarrassment but I got paid the grand sum of forty bucks a page!
AN: How was the market different then when you broke in as compared to now?
CD: Comics then were a world of unending optimism then. Partly because I was young and partly because sales of ANY comic were big and growing bigger. Everything moved off the shelves so it was a wide open field that encouraged experimentation and new talent. Today we're seeing lowered sales and more market forces on comics. I wouldn't envy anyone trying to get in now as the field is narrow and crowded.
AN: Who are your closest colleagues in comics?
CD: Well, the gang at CrossGen obviously. I see them every day and we collaborate shoulder to shoulder. I have a legion of good pals elsewhere in the field. Graham Nolan and Flint Henry. Beau Smith, Enrique Villagran, Scott McDaniel, Quique Alcatena and lots of others.
AN: You and Beau Smith are rather famous friends. Can you tell my readers something about Beau that they might not otherwise know?
CD: For a rough, tough he-man kind of guy he's very fussy about his clothes. They must be starched, ironed and hung up with great care. And he does it all himself. Even his long-suffering wife is not allowed to prepare his clothing. He would have made a hell of a valet for an English lord if he weren't such a crusty hillbilly.
AN: Well Chuck, now Beau is going to take me target shooting, with me as the target...I am going to be a dead man.
Who would you claim as your most important influences upon your work?
CD: Again, it's Archie Goodwin. From his massive talent (for my money the best comics writer ever to sit at a typewriter) to his professionalism to his charming personal demeanor Archie was the Real Deal. He understood how to write briskly entertaining stories that took full advantage of the comics medium; a perfect melding of words and pictures. I could list all of the stuff I learned from him but no one has all day to read the list. Other heavy influences would be Harvey Kurtzman, Milton Canniff and Robert (Bob) Kanigher.
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AN: Your work on CONAN at Marvel was very good, and now you are (at this time) about to release a series BRATH which is another barbarian style character. How are the two similar, different and what was it like to work on a character such as CONAN with regards to it being a licensed property?
CD: Conan and Brath are big hairy brutes who can take on all comers. But Brath is a leader of a clan and tied to them. He's not a lone wanderer like Conan. BRATH is more of a huge, continuing historical epic rather than a series of loosely related stories. The Howard Estate was pretty easy about interpreting Conan. I never had to change anything at their request. Conan is a pretty wide open property and the character is simplicity itself.
AN: IDW or someone else smart, say someone like perhaps CROSSGEN, should reprint WINTERWORLD, and perhaps revisit that frozen nightmarish world with a new series. OK, I know, I know...that wasn't a question. Would you return to such a series? Was it a favorite of yours?
CD: WINTERWORLD is a career highlight and the work I'm most often asked about. There already exists a sequel called WINTERSEA that was produced for Epic but never released. I'm working now with Jorge Zaffino's son to put together a collection of both. It won't be from CrossGen because the material is kind of rough for our line. That was a decision of mine not CrossGen's. I don't want us to break our across-the-line PG rating and I particularly don't want to be the first one to do so. I'd make edits in WINTERWORLD but the grim and profane nature of it is really at its heart.
AN: It was such an awesome work. One of my all-time favorites.
Some people believe that you came to CROSSGEN because Mark Waid was about to leave. Was that the case, and if not, would all the work that you are doing now -- CRUX, SIGIL and such -- be replaced by original series such as WAY OF THE RAT?
CD: I was invited to CrossGen independent of Mark Waid's leaving. But his departure sure speeded things up. I'm enjoying CRUX and SIGIL but may have to drop one of them as I'm also doing BRATH, RAT and another book that will premiere in the fall. Five titles is a bit much in addition to mini series and one-shots like ARCHARD'S AGENTS. Even I have to sleep sometime.
AN: You've worked in a collaborative fashion with plenty of artists, but somewhat uniquely you've managed some excellent writing partnership works with Beau Smith -- The BLACK TERROR, WILDCAT/CATWOMAN and WILDCAT/BATMAN. What is it that allowed this partnership. Is it all in the friendship or is it a similarity of styles?
CD: Sure, we're pals. But Beau's also a talented guy. I often joke that together we create a third writer. Like the two murderers in IN COLD BLOOD. Separately they were harmless. But together they became a third personality. My work becomes crueler when I work with Beau and he works more sly humor in when I'm on the other end. The final issue of WILDCAT/CATWOMAN is possibly the most violent thing I've ever written under the comic code. And all the ugly stuff was me. I collaborated with Beau the same way I would with Scott Beatty. We come up with a basic plot and then trade off scenes. Each tries to write the other into a corner. Then we each take a whack at a final write-through before handing it in.
AN: Under your authorship, in the book SIGIL, the war was carried to the human home planet and billions of civilian casualties were counted. Was that an effort on your part to illustrate that generations of war numb the mind to untold catastrophe? Or something else?
CD: I guess I unconsciously influenced by the events of September 11th, 2001. I also wanted to bring the war center stage. In the prior 20 issues of SIGIL this big interplanetary war seemed thrust into the background. I wanted to take advantage of Scot Eaton's massive talent and plunge right into the fray.
AN: Eaton is/was perfect for that book.
IDW recently published INVASION '55. I thought it was quite excellent, and I felt like it was a work that came from your comfort zone. Since you were born in 1954 is it a nostalgia for the works of your youth, or was it just easy to write for you because of your familiarity with that era?
CD: Sure. The language and settings and characters were like old friends. But I wanted to do an earnest space menace story and not a pastiche. I was kind of proud of the twist in the story that allowed the humans to beat the aliens. But I was a bit aggravated when the same gag showed up in SIGNS.
AN: SIGNS had Mel Gibson in it so for me it is automatically an aggravating and silly work. The horror...think BRAVEHEART, a 5'7" brown haired actor playing a 6'7" red haired warrior...
Talk about your feelings about your book BIRDS OF PREY coming to television and whether or not you knew it was going to happen before you left DC for CrossGen?
CD: I knew far in advance about the TV show. I even contributed to the bible that Jordan Gorfinkel worked up. I think it could have been a really cool TV show. But it wasn't terribly inventive and even a tad campy. It was cool to read an interview with Dina Meyer where she expressed he disappointment that the show wasn't at all like the comic.
AN: BATMAN, BIRDS OF PREY, ROBIN, NIGHTWING were all well-written works of yours within the Batman family of comics. What do you think your writing legacy will be with regards to those books? Did you particularly enjoy them?
CD: The Batman universe. It was fun and challenging and rewarding. But I did it for eleven years and that's a long time in comics. That's as long as Jack Kirby spent in the Marvel Universe. I guess that my lasting legacy will be Bane and the creation of Bludhaven.
AN: You've been published outside of comics in children's books as well as in commercial writing. Do you have desires to be published in other forms or genres?
CD: Nope. I hated kids books. I'm not working on a novel and have no screenplays lurking on my hard drive. I love comics and they're really all that I want to write.
AN: Wow. They say that in every actor there is a director waiting to happen, I almost assume that most comic writers have a book or other project on their back burner.
CD: It's just a forum where I can alert readers to what I'm doing. It also hosts the most civilized and thoughtful message board in comics. Sometimes they praise me, sometimes they heckle and sometimes they tear me apart. But it's all reasoned arguments and (most of the time) fun.
AN: I enjoy visiting the site but have not jumped on the message board. Perhaps now I will.
Finally, thanks for your thoughtful answers, and could please talk about some of your future projects?
CD: My new book for CrossGen is another historical adventure. It's a genre that hasn't been done in decades and the initial art is astounding. We'll be announcing it at Megacon.
Thanks Chuck Dixon for your answers and willingness to be interviewed.
All comic book publishers are welcome to submit comics for review.
Send them to: Alexander Ness Land of Frost Box 142 Rockford MN 55373-0142