KURT BUSIEK

 

Kurt Busiek is well known as a comic book writer, having written the well received Marvels, teaming up with George Perez on a relaunce of The Avengers, turning a group of villains into the world's greatest replacement heroes in Thunderbolts, and giving us the creator-owned Astro City. His co-created Gorilla Comics mini-series Shockrockets (with Stuart Immonen) is about to be followed up by another Gorilla project: Superstar.

We caught up with Kurt and asked him about life, liberty, and the pursuit of amusement park rides. Please join us for this interview which has the obligatory Astro City question.


Wacky hi-jinks ensue.


20 Questions with: Kurt Busiek

Interview Conducted By
Ed Mathews

 


 

1) Kurt, how did you manage to contact George Perez to work with you at Gorilla Comics on WESTWIND for Section Zero #6? Did you have any contact with him before? ;-)

I just kinda dialed numbers at random, and he answered the phone. Lucky, huh?

I'll say. What is WESTWIND about, Kurt?

WESTWIND is about Nicholas West, a young, successful lawyer at a prestigious law firm in San Francisco -- a rainmaker, in business terms. He likes luxury, likes success, and likes things under control and well-managed. But West is also the seventh son of a seventh son, and born under a caul -- and that gives him a mystic birthright; the ability to control the weather. So he's a rainmaker in a whole different way, as well.

And when West comes into his birthright and realizes his power, all the mystic things of the world that generally hide from the eyes of normal humans recognize him as "one of them" -- and stop hiding from him. Which thrusts him into a wilder, more dangerous, less controlled and less controllable world -- and he hates it.

WESTWIND is about how he deals with his new status, how he copes with a world he wishes doesn't exist, but can't ignore -- and how he deals with being at the bottom of the success ladder in a whole new context. It's very much an urban fantasy, mixing magic and folklore with a modern, real-world setting, and a story of character, taking someone who's not really all that nice a guy and throwing him into the deep end of a confusing and chaotic world, and seeing how he'll cope with it.

Will this be a new ongoing series or a mini-series?

So far, it's just the one backup story in SECTION ZERO. Karl offered us 5 pages to do whatever we wanted with, so we figured we'd do a WESTWIND story, both to finally get the concept out there and printed, and to make a trademark claim, and all that good stuff.

We're hoping readers will like it, and that we'll be able to do a full-on series at some point. But right now, it's just the one story.

2) It's become almost ritual by now to ask you in interviews "What's happening with Astro City?"... so... What's happening with Astro City now, Kurt?

[Issue] #23 is written, and in Brent Anderson's hands. I hope to be writing #24 before the end of the year.

The current "arc" of one-issue stories runs 'til #26, so the plan is to see how steadily I can produce scripts, now that my health is improving, and then make a determination after #26 is done as to how we'll proceed -- whether I'm capable of getting it out on a regular basis, or if we should do it as a series of mini-series, or what.

We want to make sure that in any extended arc, people can count on it coming out regularly, no unpredictable delays. If that means taking breaks between arcs, that's a better place for the delays to hit than during arcs. But right now, with my health in flux, it's hard to tell what my capabilities will be in the future. So we're using the rest of this "arc" as a test period to figure that out.

Well, I hope you feel better.

3) What's next with the Avengers at Marvel? Alan Davis is joining you, correct? Will there be any changes in the team line up?

Alan's working on his fourth issue already, so we're well ahead of the game. And it looks great -- Alan's doing a stupendous job, as is Mark Farmer, and Tom Smith's getting to do his own color separations now, which'll make the book look even better.

As for the team line-up -- I don't want to give too much away, but the changes will be making go quite a bit deeper than a mere roster change. The Avengers are going to be facing a different level of threat in the Marvel Universe, and they're changing their approach to suit it. We'll be seeing a much broader scope to the stories, and a lot more heroes, in worldwide action. The Avengers aren't going to become an army, but they are going to be considerably more aggressive in dealing with super-powered threats.

Alan's run kicks off with a three-parter that sets up the Avengers' new approach, and involves the Hulk, the only founding Avenger we haven't used much to date. After that, we're launching a major epic, something that'll be as sweeping (and at least as long) as AVENGERS FOREVER was. Readers have been asking for something that epic in the regular AVENGERS title, and we're doing our best to deliver. It'll involve outer space, Atlantis, Siberia, tons of villains, unexpected Avengers, a threat to the future, two unlikely (and unrelated) saviors, a new villain with an old legacy (and some unsettling connections with at least one of the active roster), Avengers leaving, Avengers joining, cataclysmic battles, personal crises and threats to all of life of Earth on multiple fronts. Nobody's going to accuse us of taking things easy...

Anyone with a... red skull showing up? When might we expect a resolution to the X-Men/Red Skull storyline "Rage Against the Machine" (Summer 1999) in which the Red Skull took off with a SHIELD Helicarrier at the end of the storyline? It seems to me that a glorified Nazi with a resource like that would be a top Avengers priority... (smile)

Well, I wouldn't want to say who we'll be using, but certainly, the Red Skull in possession of a helicarrier certainly falls into the "clear and present danger" category, and I'd figure that one way or another, someone's got to deal with him. The likeliest candidates would be Captain America in his solo book, or the Avengers.

4) Can you tell us a little bit about your stint on MARVEL AGE?

Um... what would you like to know? I was Jim Salicrup's assistant on the series for just over a year, and then assistant-edited the next year's annual. I edited articles, did design and some paste-up, wrote pieces, did interviews, assigned covers, proofread, gathered information on upcoming books when the regular guy who did that couldn't, and generally did my best to get the magazine out, making a pest of myself to editors who didn't know what was happening in their books two months from now, let alone four months down the line.

This was after I had written POWER MAN & IRON FIST for a year. I wasn't getting enough writing work to pay the bills, and in the process of looking for more, I met with Jim. He didn't have any writing work to offer, but he needed a new assistant, so he offered that. I did the job freelance, and did some writing for DC at the same time. It was something of a crash course in production -- I learned a lot about the physical reality of putting comics together, something I hadn't had a lot of experience in before.

A couple of high points: I got to work on the issue that promoted the launch of X-FACTOR, which kicked off with the return of Jean Grey, a story that had germinated from an ideas I'd come up with years ago, as a fan, and had no idea was actually being used until it all happened, and I got called a Nazi in print by Mark Waid.

Well, if I had just outright asked which current comic pro called you a Nazi in print, would I have gotten the other cool info?

What, you're not going to ask for the story? You're just going to leave it hanging like that? Mark'll kill you...

You know, you're probably right, so ... would you mind filling me in on the details on how one of the nicest guys I have ever met could bring himself to call you a Nazi in print? Where was this so we can all hunt it down at a convention?

We did an issue of MARVEL AGE focusing on Stan Lee, and I did an interview with Stan for the issue. It was an article-form interview, not a transcript-form one, so I summarized a lot of stuff. At one point, I said that Stan had worked with numerous artists in creating the Marvel Universe, including Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Gene Colan and more.

Mark reviewed that issue for AMAZING HEROES and went medieval on us, excoriating me, along with Jim Salicrup, the book's editor, for being "good little Nazis" and following along in Marvel's obvious corporate policy to deny Jack Kirby any credit; look, he wasn't even allowed to be listed with a bunch of other Marvel artists in a puff piece on Stan's history!

The thing was, two paragraphs earlier, I'd mentioned Jack as the major co-architect of the Marvel Universe. He'd gotten a paragraph to himself, as the a-number-one guy, and I'd been careful not to phrase it in any way that'd imply that all he did was draw the books, since Kirby's contribution went far beyond drawing. And if there was a Marvel policy to deny Kirby credit, they'd never mentioned it to me. But Mark had misread, and mistook a list of "and here's some of the other guys" as the only mention of collaborators, and bitched us out for something we didn't do.

I was furious -- not only was I innocent, but my family background is half-German, so I didn't take kindly to being called a Nazi. Jim Salicrup didn't want to bother with it, but I called AMAZING HEROES and demanded an apology and a retraction, pointing out that I had grounds for legal action. Not that I had any _money_ for legal action, but I had grounds, at least. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from Mark, who apologized for the misreading and the Nazi crack, and assured me there'd be a retraction.

And when there was, it had been written by someone at Fantagraphics proper, and was the sleaziest sort of retraction -- something along the lines of, "Well, yeah, okay, he's not a Nazi and he didn't even fail to mention Jack, but he works for MARVEL AGE, so he must be a creep anyway."

And a few years later, after Mark had started working at DC, I went out to dinner with Gerry Jones and a bunch of DC folks. In the elevator bay of DC's building, he walked up to me, stuck out his hand and said, "Hi. You're Kurt Busiek. I'm Mark Waid. You don't like me very much." I said, "Well, sieg heil, Mark," and he dropped to his knees in the lobby and said, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! All right? I'm sorry!"

And we went off to dinner and have been pals ever since. But it makes a good story, so I don't let him forget it.

5) Speaking of Mark Waid... what is it like to go on thrill rides in foreign lands with the man?

Mark is the perfect, perfect, _perfect_ guy to have written Wally West and Impulse.

While we were in New Zealand, on our way from Auckland to Wellington, we stopped off at a resort town called Lake Taupo, and we literally could not pass any activity that involved high speed without Mark insisting we stop and do it. Jet-skiing, para-sailing, go-karts, dry luge -- dry luge, by the way, is like ice luge, but without the ice. You luge down a steep concrete track in a very low, virtually uncontrollable wheeled cart, something like skateboarding down a concrete roller-coaster on your back. The only reason anyone was able to beat Mark was that he didn't like to slow down on the turns, so we stood a chance of passing him when he wiped out.

But if it was fast, we did it. If it was dangerous, we did it multiple times. At least Mark got to be the one that got dunked while para-sailing...

I take it this wasn't planned? The dunking, I mean...

No -- the boat that was doing the towing had some fuel line problems, and slowed down to the point where it couldn't keep him aloft. As luck would have it, he was having fun on the para-sail, and was upside-down and facing backward, so he didn't see the boat slowing or the water rushing toward him. It must have been quite a shock.

6) You know, I'm a weird person, because when I think of Waid & Busiek, I don't think "para-sailing" or Gorilla Comics (we'll get back to that soon enough, though)... I think Legion of Super-Heroes "End of an Era"... what do you think of the new direction of the Legion editorially, storywise, and visually?

I haven't been reading it for some time now. I thought the reboot was a good idea, but I think they should have stayed closer to both the spirit and the letter of the original material -- give it a modern gloss, but don't change so much that it no longer feels like the same series. In my case, my emotional attachment is to the Legion I remember -- for me, that's largely the Shooter/Swan Legion and the first Levitz run -- but I'd be happy with an "alternate" version if it felt reasonably close to the source material. That's where the rebooted Legion lost me -- it headed off in its own direction, and it didn't feel like the Legion I wanted to read about any more. It felt like reading a continuing WHAT IF that strayed farther and farther from the stuff I cared about -- that instead of _recapturing_ the spirit of the Legion, which was what I'd understood to be the purpose of the book, it _negated_ that spirit, because it rebuilt something else in its place and thus in DC continuity, that spirit I liked "never existed."

That's not a knock on the creators working on it -- when I stopped reading it, Tom Peyer and Roger Stern were writing the books, and I'm a big fan of both of them. I thought the books were technically well-crafted -- they were just about strangers who looked a lot like old friends, but who kept reminding me that they weren't those old friends.

These days, I don't know what's going on in the books. The art by Oliver Coipiel looks striking and interesting -- I don't know how well it serves the stories, since I haven't read any of them, and it's not my idea of how the Legion should look, but it's attractive art; I think he's a fine craftsman. And I wish him, along with Abnett and Lanning, the best of luck with it -- I hope they can attract a large audience of readers who enjoy the book, because I'd like it to do well even if it's not the sort of thing I want to read.

I'm looking forward to the Alan Davis/Mark Farmer Elseworlds project, though -- it looks like that'll be much more in the spirit that I'm interested in.

7) Now, I did promise to return to Gorilla... with Shockrockets done, I assume Superstar is next on deck for you. What is that about and will it be ongoing or will it be another mini-series like Shockrockets?

 We'd like to do a SUPERSTAR mini-series, but we're kicking off with SUPERSTAR: AS SEEN ON TV, a 48-page no-ads one-shot. It's about a young superhero who is dependent on popularity for his power -- the more famous and loved he is, the more powerful he is and the more lives he can save, the more good he can do. So he's got to walk a line between promoting himself as a celebrity and doing the job -- he needs to be famous enough to have the power, but he can't let chasing the spotlight take over his priorities. 

Luckily -- or unluckily, as the case may be -- he's got his father, an international media magnate, supplying the spotlight, and trying to capitalize on his son's fame. So Superstar's got to keep his father in line at the same time as he needs his support. It's a nice character dilemma, and I think it's working out pretty well. SUPERSTAR's an idea I've been messing around with since high school, and I'm very glad to be getting it down on paper at last.

Stuart Immonen's doing the art, along with Wade Von Grawbadger and Jeromy Cox, and it looks gorgeous. Image has gotten solidly behind it, and I hope retailers and readers will too -- I'd like to do plenty more with the character.

Sounds great! Any plans for another Gorilla project in the works?

Nothing scheduled -- it's hard to plan too far ahead when you're funding everything yourself. As I said, we'd like to do a SUPERSTAR mini-series, we'd like to do more SHOCKROCKETS -- and I wouldn't mind doimng a SHOCKROCKETS trade paperback at some point -- and we've talked over other projects, from crime drama to a comic aimed at girls. But nothing's schedulable or announceable at present.

8) Usenet. How much do you enjoy the interaction? Some comic professionals would shy away from 1000+ post "zombie threads", but you... you seem to enjoy them to a point. Why?

I'm a comics fan. I like to talk comics. It's as simple as that.

I mean, I like the feedback on the work I do, but I could get that just by lurking. But I like to talk to people about this stuff -- it's enjoyable. Sometimes it gets exasperating -- there's one mailing list I've quit twice, in part because there's a guy who can't seem to post without making the exact same complaints he made in his last message, ten minutes ago -- but for the most part, it's fun.

9) Is there an issue of Marvels that you wish you could have done? This can be in addition to the issues that were done, and I don't mean as a sequel... just if it had been a five-issue series...

It's an awful big jump from #1 to #2. I would have liked to do an issue set during the giant-monster era, maybe involving the "Commie-Smasher" Cap, the smart-ass Venus, Marvel Boy, Sub-Mariner and the Torch...

Do you see yourself following up on those 1950s characters again in the near future? What attracts you to that era?

At this point, I couldn't say if I'll ever do something with the Fifties characters -- certainly not as a MARVELS-implant, though. In the context of the question you asked before, what attracts me is that it's a long break between MARVELS #1 and #2, so it'd be nice to fill the gap. But if I were to do a different, non-MARVELS project, there's just a lot of stuff I like about that era. Marvel was doing all kinds of books, from Westerns to horror to humor to science fiction to superheroes to monsters and more, Bill Everett was doing his zaniest stuff ever, there was the Jack Kirby YELLOW CLAW, the Joe Maneely BLACK KNIGHT ... what's not to like?

10) Do you watch cartoons? Which ones are your favorites? They can be current or from days gone by.

I'm not a real big cartoon-watcher -- I spend so much time writing that I don't have much time left over to watch TV, and when I do I tend to favor dramas like THE WEST WING over animated shows.

But I liked BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES a lot...

Is THE WEST WING your favorite? What do you like about it? (I liked BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, too...)

It's easily my favorite current show. I think it's got a sensational cast, and the dialogue and structure of the scripts are both just top-notch. It's a smart show that doesn't apologize for being smart, and it frames stories around ideas and situations you just don't see on TV. It's a fresh show; it's not retreading old ground.

11) A lot of your work is for Marvel Comics and you appear to have a great affinity for those characters. Hypothetically, what would you do for the rest of your life if Marvel ever went under?

Depends on what happened to the rest of the comics industry, I suppose.

The short answer is "Write something else." I've gotten inquiries about writing novels, screenplays and TV animation, but haven't pursued them so far because I'm too busy writing comics. I would like to scrape aside the time to write that novel , at least -- I've written some prose fiction and enjoy it, and wouldn't mind doing more at all. Maybe if and when I get healthier.

But much as I like Marvel's characters, I'm not wedded to them -- I usually have projects going on that don't involve them at all, and I expect I could do fine elsewhere.

What genre would do you think you'd like to explore if you wrote a novel?

The one I have in mind at the moment is a fantasy novel, but I'd like to write plenty of different kinds of stories -- SF, crime, historical adventure, and more.

12) What do you think of Marvel putting back issues of Ultimate Spider-Man on their web site? Would you like to see other, older material up and available to read online? Would you be interested in writing original material that would be web exclusive?

 I think it was a very good idea to put ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN on the web-site -- it made the story available to reads even while the comic was sold out, and since the purpose of the book was to snag new readers, reaching 'em any way you can is good.

I wouldn't mind seeing older stuff put up, either -- maybe they could do it in a themed way -- that if, say, the Molten Man appears in that month's SPIDER-MAN, you could go to the website and read key Molten Man back issues.

I don't know that I'd be interested in writing Marvel-owned material that'd be published on the web -- I'd just as soon read (and write) my superheroes on paper. But I do have a couple of ideas for web-based strips I'd like to do someday, and have been exploring ways to do them over the last few years. Haven't found a way to do it yet that makes economic sense, but I'm still thinking about it.

13) What is it that you enjoy the most about comic books? Can that be translated into other mediums to great effect?

What I like most about 'em as a reader is probably the characters and the drama, and that can be done in any medium. But what I like most about comics as a writer is the dynamic you get in the juxtaposition of text and art -- the way you can control pace, impact, tone and more with the way the pictures and words are arranged graphically. I think the only other medium that does that well is print advertising, which really isn't suited to telling an extended story...

On a tangent, what do you think of product placement in comic books? For instance, what if the only way to keep Avengers on the stands would be to force Captain America to wear Nike products?

I don't care a whole lot about the idea one way or the other, except that it, like anything else, can be done well or badly. Captain America wouldn't be the kind of character who'd endorse Nike, so that would be a bad use of it. Hawkeye, on the other hand, walking around in his secret ID wearing a Nike T-shirt and running shoes, wouldn't be out of character at all, but it wouldn't really add anything creatively.

So ultimately, I'd say that when done well it's neutral and when done badly it's harmful. There doesn't seem to be a creative upside.

But it's an economic argument, and I suppose on that score, I wouldn't gripe about it unless it was done badly. If we saw Jarvis in the kitchen getting a delivery of meat from Boar's Head, then if that makes the book possible, I don't care. If they told me to change the plot to accommodate a scene with Jarvis getting a delivery from Boar's Head, I'd be annoyed. If they told me to change the plot to show Captain America in a Nike T-shirt, I'd quit.

That's where I draw the line, I guess -- not on a moral point, but on a craft point.

14) To date, what do you think has been your best career move?

Probably it was right after getting a very large royalty check for MARVELS and having to decide whether to pay off the mortgage or fund this new ASTRO CITY series I wanted to do. My wife and I decided to go ahead and do ASTRO CITY -- less financial security, but more of doing the kind of thing I wanted to do, and damn the torpedos. And while it was a worrying choice to make, it sure worked out -- MARVELS was the project that made my name known, but ASTRO CITY was the project that said, "Yeah, but he can do it more than once!" It was after ASTRO CITY that the phone really started to ring.

I'd say that was a pretty savvy move. Which Astro City character do you most relate with?

More and more, the father from vol. 2 #1. I'm not divorced, but as of next year, I'll be the father of two girls...

15) Is there an artist that you'd like to someday work with that you haven't had the opportunity to work with to date?

There are plenty, though I've recently gotten to work with Jerry Ordway, John Romita, Jr. and Alan Davis, and I've got a project in the works with Steve Rude, and all of them would've been on that list. But I'd love to work with Bruce Timm, Lee Weeks, Ron Garney, Dave Gibbons, Greg Capullo and plenty more...

Past or present, who are some of the writers that you've enjoyed reading?

From my formative years, I'm a huge fan of Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin ... and Milton Caniff, who did TERRY AND THE PIRATES, the best comic strip of all time (followed closely by Caniff's other major strip, STEVE CANYON). In more recent years, I've been a fan of Neil Gaiman, Paul Grist, Stan Sakai, my ape-brothers Waid and Kesel, Chuck Dixon, Erik Larsen, Frank Miller, Garth Ennis, Dylan Horrocks, Linda Medley, Rumiko Takahashi, and the usual many more.

16) Ok... Acclaim. Ninjak. Looking back, would you do it again? What did you like about it or dislike about it?

 From a pragmatic standpoint, I'd be smart to say I wouldn't do it again -- barely anyone read it, there was enormous resistance to the Acclaim launch at all, Valiant fans were incensed that we were changing the characters -- and that I was turning Ninjak into someone "silly" -- and the editorial experience, aside from dealing with Fabian, was frustrating. But everything else was a blast -- it's always fun to work with Neil Vokes, Fabian was supportive as hell, and it was nice to take a swing at creating a new universe, even if we were doomed from the start.

I also think our Ninjak would make a great movie set-up -- and it was almost sold to the movies twice, so Neil and I got tantalized with the possibility of our Ninjak being played by Jackie Chan or Jet Li -- so if I'd been really smart, I'd have kept the concept to myself instead of doing it under a work-for-hire deal. But heck, life's too short. The bottom line is, we had a good time making some fun comics, so I don't regret it. And I think anyone who enjoyed my run on UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN would have a good time reading it, so if that description fits anyone out there reading this, and you haven't tried NINJAK -- hey, the back issues are out there for really, really cheap...

What I liked about it most was the energy -- the sense of enjoyment and creativity that the VH-2 creators had. That, and co-creating a character named Kraniak. What I liked least about it was the way so many retailers and readers didn't even try the books. If they had, it all might still be going, because there was some real good stuff in there.

I have nothing to add. I just wanted to say the word "Ninjak."

17) Where did you come up with the idea for Thunderbolts?

There are two beginnings there, essentially.

The first came during a long late-night car drive -- one of the things I do to keep my mind active is mentally "assign" myself some book or other, and try to come up with ideas for it. On this particular car trip, sometime in the mid-Eighties, I "assigned" myself AVENGERS, and started playing around with ideas for it.

One of my favorite Avengers teams is "Cap's Kooky Quartet," from the Stan Lee/Don Heck days, when Cap was leading a team of three ex-villains -- Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. In thinking about that period, I started to wonder just what would have happened if any or all of those three hadn't really reformed, but was joining the Avengers under false pretenses. And that triggered an idea for my hypothetical AVENGERS run -- what if, over the course of a year, existing heroes were cycled out, and brand-new heroes were cycled in, until at the end of the year, the team consists of Captain America (or maybe Hawkeye) and a squad of what seems to be entirely-new characters? And that's when the reader discovers that they're the Masters of Evil in disguise, and it's all a plot to take over the Avengers and use their security status to take over the world?

That struck me as a fun, if impractical idea -- if it was ever implement, how long would the readership stand for seeing their favorite heroes pushed out in favor of characters that they thought I made up? But it wasn't like I was ever going to be given AVENGERS, right? So I mentally filed the idea away, and that was that.

 And then, years later, while I was working on UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN, Onslaught happened, and the core Marvel heroes were shuttled off to the Heroes Reborn program. I was invited to attend a Marvel creators' conference, to discuss what to do with the Marvel U. post-Onslaught. I wasn't really looking for more Marvel work at the time, and wasn't planning to pitch anything, but as the conference approached, I started thinking about the situation from the point of view of the average Marvel citizen -- all their most trusted heroes are gone, and the major guys left are mostly scary or distrusted. They'd be desperate for reassurance, desperate for heroes.

So what would happen, I wondered, if my old AVENGERS idea played out without it being the Avengers? If a new super-team showed up, claiming to be the guys stepping up to the plate in the absence of the Avengers and the FF? The public would embrace them -- they'd be so pleased that _somebody_ was there to do the job, they'd practically throw parades for these guys. And if the new heroes were actually the Masters of Evil...

So I called Tom Brevoort and ran the idea past him. He liked it, so at the conference, we braced Bob Harras in the bar and pitched the idea at him. He heard it, was quiet for about 15 seconds, and then said, "Great. Let's do it."

So that's where it all came from.

Did you think he'd [Bob Harras] ever go for it at first?

Sure. I thought it was a pretty strong idea with a good solid hook, it did what I thought Marvel was really looking for -- it made something positive out of the loss of the core heroes -- and Tom thought it'd fly, and he was there in the office every day, so he had a good sense of these things.

I didn't think it was a lock or anything, but I thought we had a good chance.

18) Looking back, is there any story that you wish you could remove from the collective memory that you wrote? Is there a story that you wrote that you wish more people could have had the chance to read?

 There's certainly stuff I've written that I'm less than proud of -- the SPIDER-MAN/X-FACTOR mini-series comes to mind, and there was an Arsenal story I did in DC SHOWCASE that just fell completely flat -- but nothing I'd erase from people's memories. That's just how it goes, so why be ashamed?

As far as stuff that I wish more people could have read, we talked about NINJAK earlier, and there was an 8-page Iron Man story I did with James Fry and Karl Kesel that saw print in a MARVEL SUPER HEROES quarterly special that I thought was nice work and I wish it had been seen by more people. And REGULATORS, which I did for Jim Valentino at Image, was supposed to be a 6-issue story, but sales were so bad only three issues got published -- I think the published issues had some of my strongest character writing, but it was virtually unseen.

And then there's SILVER STAR, which I'd love to get fully into print in some form or other, but that's not quite the same thing...

Whoa, whoa... hold on, Kurt. SILVER STAR? What is SILVER STAR?

Silver Star is a Jack Kirby character, originally done as a mini-series for Pacific. Back when I was writing for the Topps Kirbyverse, I started two mini-series that were never completed, VICTORY and SILVER STAR, both of which got one issue published before the line collapsed. VICTORY was a crossover, bringing together all the established Kirbyverse characters and reintroducing Captain Victory -- and the outline for it will be published in the next Jack Kirby Collector -- but SILVER STAR was a standalone project, one that was completely plotted and mostly scripted. I had a lot of fun doing it, and it would be nice to find a way to get the project either finished or redone someday.

19) Can we assume you had the opportunity over the years to meet Jack Kirby? Are there any Golden Age or Silver Age creators that you wish you could have met that are no longer around? Is there anyone that's you'd like to meet, but haven't had the opportunity to do so as of yet?

I met Kirby a couple of times, and talked to him over the phone once, when I was doing the VICTORY mini-series. I would have loved to meet Don Heck, and wish I'd had the chance to work with Frank Robbins at least once. As for meeting guys who are still around, I've been pretty lucky in that respect -- I never thought John Broome or Nick Cardy would do conventions, but they did, as, it seems, have a ton of other comics creators. So no names are coming to mind right now -- heck, I even had a brief conversation with Steve Ditko once -- but I expect the next time Mark Evanier puts an obit up on the web, I'll be thinking, "Damn -- what a shame. I wish I'd had the chance to meet him..."

Are there any new writers that strike your fancy?

I don't know how "new" they are, but I'm a big fan of Rachel Hartman's AMY UNBOUNDED stories. Like a lot of people, I was amazed by GOODBYE, CHUNKY RICE, by Craig Thompson. And Dylan Horrocks, who'll be "new" to a lot of mainstream readers as of NAMES OF MAGIC, is also terrific -- I can't recommend HICKSVILLE highly enough.

I probably don't see as many new creators as I might -- I read so many books, both new books I follow, and research reading of old comics, that I don't have that much spare time, and thus don't do all that much adding to my reading list. But I try to keep my ears open, and when I hear something a lot of people are excited about, I'll look it up.

20) What advice would you give to an aspiring comic book writer? What pitfalls are unavoidable?

Most aspiring comic book writers are looking for advice on how to break in, not advice on how to write, but I'll give it anyway: Learn to write. Keep learning. You'll never be finished learning -- that's part of what makes it so much fun.

Write for yourself, write for your friends, practice like hell -- nothing will give you better practice than writing stories. And finish them, no matter how lousy you think they are -- if all you do is write beginning after beginning and then give up, you may polish your skills at openings, but you won't know what to do next.

And don't saddle yourself with rules -- there are "rules" in writing, but they're all rules of thumb, and if you try to follow someone else's system, you'll never find out how to write your way, the way that works best for you. So experiment, try lots of different things, and see what works and what doesn't -- what you'll wind up with will be different from what anyone else does.

That's not to say you shouldn't study -- both study comics written by writers you admire, to see how they handle exposition, pacing, transitions, introductions, recaps, characterization, action, whatever; and study the form and the craft of writing more generally. Just don't feel bound by any of it -- what you're getting from other sources is ideas you can play with, not rules you have to follow. Some good books to read include UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud, ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE by William Goldman, TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT by Lawrence Block, CHARACTER AND VIEWPOINT by Orson Scott Card and STORY by Robert McKee.

And once you're trying to break in, the best advice I can give is to follow the publishers' rules for submissions. Write in and ask for a copy of their submission guidelines, and follow them. Of course, if you've just saved an editor from drowning, feel free to presume on the debt, but for most people what you've got to do is show editors samples they'll be impressed with, and for all that the submission procedure is designed to make it easier to reject you without spending too much time on it, it's still the only consistent open door there is, even if it's kind of shabby and not very open.

It may seem unfair that some big-name pro's gardener gets a writing gig, and you're still wrestling with the submissions editor, but keep two things in mind. First, nobody ever said it would be fair -- it's a business, not a sport, and publishers are out to put out comics that'll sell rather than to create a level paying field for aspirants. Second, all that guy got out of his having a better personal contact than you do is that his samples got to the desk of someone who could say yes more directly -- the samples still had to prove he could do the job, just like yours have to. So don't worry too much about who else is getting what breaks -- there will always be someone who has an easier time. Instead, just make your work the best it can be and keep plugging away at any opportunity that presents itself.

And study the market, as well -- if you're a freelancer, you're a small businessman, and you've got to wear your business hat as well as your creator's hat. It won't do you any good to submit plot samples for X-MEN maxi-series -- when was the last time you saw an X-MEN maxi-series written by a newcomer? I broke in at DC by writing backup stories, back when they regularly published backup stories and needed people to write and draw them -- specifically, I broke in on "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps," which was a great new-writer vehicle, because it didn't have a regular creative team attached to it. And I broke in at Marvel by submitting a fill-in for a book that didn't have a regular writer. In both cases, I focused my attention on the places where the editors _needed_ writers, not simply on the books I _wanted_ to write. You may have the greatest idea ever for a CAPTAIN AMERICA story, but if they're full up on Cap writers, it won't do you any good. Conversely, if they need someone to write AQUABABY 8-pagers, that's an opportunity. Look for what they need, and where it overlaps with what you think you can do well. That's the open door.

As for what pitfalls are unavoidable? I have no idea -- I probably stumbled into all of 'em, without seeing them ahead of time, or even afterward. Just don't say, in your first editorial conference with an editor who's hired you, "You know, some day you're going to leave [title of book editor is writing] -- and I'm going to get to write it!" Speaking from experience, they don't react well...

Heh. Imagine that. Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans?

I'm grateful to everyone who reads my work -- that's what makes it so I get to keep doing it, after all...!

Kurt, you've been a scholar and a gentleman. Thank you for letting us turn your brain to Slush!


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