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Slush Interview: Silver Surfer's Dan Chariton Speaks By David Weter
If you're not already familiar with the name Dan Chariton, you soon will be. Together with partner Stacy Weiss, Dan is tearing up the Marvel Universe as the writer on Marvel's brand new Silver Surfer relaunch.
Dan sat down with Slush to discuss the the character, where the book's been, and where it's going.
Slush: Why don't you tell Slush readers about yourselves?
Dan Chariton: Stacy and I met in the undergraduate screenwriting program at USC, and we’ve been friends ever since. Actually, we’re now engaged, so I suppose that makes us more than just friends.
The years between film school and Silver Surfer are now pretty much a blur.
Slush: What drew you to comics? Silver Surfer specifically.
DC: I’ve been a pretty big fan for years. I was blessed with a very hip older cousin who, when I was nine or ten, introduced me to the work of Byrne, Claremont, Miller... I loved it to the extent that I could grasp it. Up through high school, I was a complete Marvel junkie. And not just superhero stuff. I recently went through my old comics, and was shocked to discover that at one point, I was quite the Alf collector. I’ve got the first 20 issues in Near Mint condition. Annuals, too. I’ve got nothing to hide.
Stacy was introduced to comics later. Around college. Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison. Stacy has an enormous, yet sophisticated, appetite for Sci-Fi and Fantasy, which started in childhood. So while I was devouring Groo and Ralph Snart, she was working her way through Asimov and Philip K. Dick.
How we got into writing comics is a nice tale of serendipity. About a year and a half ago, I reconnected with an old friend from film school (our freshman year screenwriting TA, as a matter of fact): a hugely talented writer named Jeff Teitelman. In the course of catching each other up on our lives, he mentioned that he was working on an original comic book project with John Romita, Jr.
And I gasped. Because his name is etched in my childhood fan consciousness as deeply as any other. He was the artist on Uncanny X-Men when I started reading it. And he was drawing Daredevil when I was going through a serious Daredevil phase. [Sighs] If only he’d drawn Alf...
Jeff and Johnny were kind and trusting enough to invite us into their project. We spent a couple of fantastic afternoons in casa de Romita, hashing out some ideas and ogling his ASM pages. When our project felt solid enough, we all went to New York and pitched it to Joe Quesada. Joe was into our idea, but as Marvel wasn’t ready to take on creator-owned projects, there was little he could do with it. But he liked our writing, and passed our samples among his editors. A few weeks later, we got an e-mail from Tom Brevoort, asking if we had any thoughts on a Silver Surfer relaunch.
We’re well aware of how fortunate we are to have this opportunity.
Besides, anyone who’s worked as a screenwriter can appreciate the freedom of writing comics. Don’t get me wrong. We still have to answer to Tom B., and we take his notes very seriously. That’s because they’re always productive, which is testament both to Tom’s editorial acumen and the creative health of the comics industry. Good notes, however drastic, are much easier to absorb than bad notes, however mild.
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Slush: Describe your take on the Silver Surfer. Will it be different from past incarnations?
DC: That’s the idea, and I say that with no disrespect to Starlin or Englehart, or anyone else who’s breathed life into him. Certainly not Lee, Kirby, or Buscema. Our take may at first seem like a great departure from previous Surfers, but we see it more of a progression. The original series was conceived and written in the ‘60s, and was very much of that time period. I don’t think that’s a profound revelation, but it bears saying. And the subsequent versions of the Surfer, really, have been an extension of that original conception. Which is as it should be. He’s a great character, and unique in the Marvel Universe. Who else fills that role of bringing a kind of cosmic consciousness to battle? Who else gives us that peek into the mythologies and politics of space?
But what we’re doing approaches Norrin from a different perspective. Our society has changed greatly in the past 35 years; our views of science, our understanding of the Universe, and all the ethical dilemmas of living in an advanced civilization have become far more complex. We may be comfortable with the Silver Surfer as a shining and benevolent superhero, but in truth, a being of his mental complexity and advanced consciousness would most certainly not appear so kindly. Think of the biblical Archangels. They’re not cute smiling cherubs. Far from it. They’re terrifying, menacing creatures, wielding awesome power. They don’t care about making you comfortable. They’re here to fight evil, not to make your day a little brighter.
So, yes, this will surely be different from past incarnations. It’s neither cynical nor postmodern. We’re just ushering this character into a new stage of his conscious life. We hope we’ll do him justice.
Slush: How much of a factor will prior continuty be in your book?
DC: I’ll put it this way: we’re not denying any of it. But neither will it come up, really, until its necessary. The only real continuity we’re concerned with is the continuity of Norrin’s soul. Not to sound flighty, but this guy has been through a lot, and it’s all part of his emotional memory. It’s led him to where he is now, and its given him a more complex understanding of the workings of the Universe.
Slush: Can readers expect any old faces, like Firelord or Terrax, to show up?
DC: Not at this time. I know that will come as a disappointment to all the readers dying to see their favorite Surfer characters, and all I can say is ‘give it a chance.’ Those characters are still in the Surfer’s universe, but it’s not yet appropriate to introduce them here. The way we’re devising this story, it would be a real mistake to drop the familiar characters into the mix. Worse than that, it would be unnecessary.
Slush: Let's talk about the first story arc. What can Slush readers look forward to?
DC: The first arc begins with a series of child kidnappings around the globe. Brilliant children are being snatched from their homes by a terrifying silver alien. (Betcha can’t guess who…) We follow the experience of one mother, a New Orleans street psychic, as she struggles with what’s happened and tries to get her daughter back.
Needless to say, there’s much more to it than that. We do, in fact, “get off the Earth,” as it were, and though this first arc is centered around the human characters, it gets pretty gnarly, pretty quickly, as the Surfer’s presence is increasingly felt.
A lot of people who’ve read the first issue are concerned that Silver Surfer will be a supporting character in his own book, which isn’t our intention at all. I’ll admit, we are teasing the reader just a bit in these first few issues. But when you relaunch a character like the Surfer, you only get one shot at introducing him. We’re just trying to make it as grand and memorable as possible.
I think if people give this story a chance, if they don’t grumble because the Surfer isn’t battling on every page, or because Thanos isn’t in it, they may find themselves getting emotionally invested in the characters. What’s been truly gratifying about the response to the first issue is seeing how genuinely engaged people are by the human characters. And it’s only going to get more dramatic. And it’s only going to get more cosmic.
Slush: Like yourself, Milx, the book's artist, is also a newcomer to professional comics. What does he to Silver Surfer with his art?
DC: Milx brings a style unlike anything I’ve seen in a Marvel comic. Stacy and I like to describe it as looking “handcrafted, like a children’s storybook illustration.” Which, given the subject matter, winds up looking pretty creepy and interesting. Anyone who’s seen the preview art for “Wake The Dead,” his new project with Steve Niles, probably has a sense of why this guy’s special. We get goosebumps every time we see a new piece of color art from him. Just thinking about it makes me want to look at some of these pages again....
Slush: How do dual writing partners tackle a single project? Is there a method that you apply?
DC: This is the first project we’ve written as “official writing partners.” Previously, we would read and comment on each other’s work, day by day, batch by batch; which requires some trust, but nothing like that between official writing partners. As we’re both somewhat stubborn and independent-minded writers, collaboration can easily turn into combat, so we’ve had to work at keeping our egos at a manageable level. But so far, so good.
As for our method, it’s simple: lots of drafts back and forth. We work out the plots together, then take turns doing drafts. That way, one of us is always free to either run errands or work on other projects.
Slush: What are your plans for future arcs? Will there perhaps be any crossovers?
DC: I’m afraid we can’t divulge anything about future arcs, other than saying that we want to take this character everywhere he hasn’t been before. Both dramatically and emotionally. As for doing a crossover, again, it’s a matter of appropriateness. It would have to be necessitated by the storyline, and not the other way around. Our Surfer’s got his own storyline to follow, just like you or me. Which is not to say there aren’t characters we’d love to work with. But for now, isn’t the Silver Surfer interesting enough?
Slush: If you had the power cosmic what would you do with it?
DC: I’m pretty sure Stacy would do something noble, like feeding all the world’s hungry, or restoring the ozone layer.
Whereas I would restructure the molecules of my Alf collection into, say, a really nice vase.