Monday, February 11, 2008

Chad's Jackass Comic Creator Interviews from 2001: Kurt Busiek

[The first in our final week of interviews from 2001 where I walk that fine line between "Cool, insightful questions, man!" and "Why the fuck are you asking Kurt Busiek about his underwear?" Goddamn you, 18-year-old Chad... won't you ever learn? The final two posts on Wednesday and Friday.]

Sunday December 2, 2001
Interview With . . . Kurt Busiek!
I don’t remember Kurt for Marvels or Astro City or even his run on Avengers. I remember Kurt for Untold Tales Of Spider-Man and the first issue. I was about 12 at the time when the first issue came out and one Saturday when I was at the comic book store with my dad, he said I could get a comic. Remember, this was when I was in that “gotta get every number 1” stage that most of us were going through at the time (early-middle nineties), so I saw issue one and saw Spider-Man and then I saw the price: 99 cents US or $1.38 Canadian. So I got it and read it on the car ride home. I was blown away. I was used to the clones and the wife and the dead aunt and here was Spidey as I had read about in magazines and the occasional reprint. I was so excited about it, too. I remember telling my mom all about it, the writing, the art, the classic Spider-Man, and of course, the price. I picked up issue two after that, too, but sadly my interest went off in another direction and I stopped buying it. Since then I’ve bought a few issues here and then, and if I see a back-issue, I’ll pick it up. I’ve read a lot of Kurt’s work, but that’s what I think of when I think of him.

Me: Tell us a little about yourself.

Busiek: Born in Boston, September 16, 1960 -- grew up in the area, mostly in Lexington. Four sisters, no brothers. Got interested in comics first through strip collections (Pogo, Dennis the Menace, Peanuts) and European albums (Tintin, Asterix) that my parents had, and discovered American comic books at the barber shop and at the homes of friends. Decided I wanted to be a comics writer during high school, and wrote (and sometimes drew) amateur comics with my friend Scott McCloud until we'd pretty well figured out how to do it. Sold first script to DC Comics several days before graduating from college, first script to Marvel a month or so later. Married for 12 years, two daughters. Spend too much time on the Internet.

Me: How did you get into writing?

Busiek: I always wanted to be a writer of some sort, going back to my first efforts to write my own Oz novels in elementary school, which tended to peter out after a couple of paragraphs. But writing a novel or a screenplay seemed intimidating -- all that work, and it might turn out that once you're done, it sucks. So I never got around to doing much until I realized that comics were written and drawn by real people who made a living at it. And with comics, at least, they weren't all that long -- 17 pages, when I made the realization. If you sucked, at least you'd be done sooner . . . ! As I practiced, figuring out how to write comics, I found out I liked a lot more than just the length -- I liked the storytelling, the way the words and pictures combined to do something neither could do on their own. So I found out it was something I loved doing, and kept at it. I've been doing it professionally over 20 years now, and I'm not ready to stop anytime soon. While I was in college, I interviewed Dick Giordano, then the editor in chief at DC, for a term paper on magazine publishing. I told him I was hoping to be a comic writer when I graduated college, and he suggested I send in script samples. So I wrote four sample scripts and sent them to him. He parceled them out to the editors of the books they were written for, and one of them -- a Flash script -- got me an invitation to pitch “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” backups from the editor of FLASH, who also edited GREEN LANTERN. That led to my first pro sale, in GREEN LANTERN #162. While I was working on another GLC story, I noticed that over at Marvel, POWER MAN & IRON FIST was running a lot of fill-ins, so I sent in a story outline to the editor there, including a note saying I was already writing professionally for DC. I was invited to flesh it out into a script, so I did that -- and wound up writing the book regularly for a year.

Me: What have you written?


Me: What are you working on right now?

Busiek: I'm wrapping up over four years on AVENGERS, starting off a new project, THE POWER COMPANY, co-writing DEFENDERS, writing ASTRO CITY as my health allows, and writing the long-awaited JLA/AVENGERS project.

Me: How big of chunks are you having to write the Avengers/JLA scripts, page-wise?

Busiek: I'm not sure what you mean. I turned in the first plot in chunks -- first ten pages or so, then twenty, then the whole thing -- just to get some stuff in George could start on. With the second issue, which I'm working on now, I'll have the whole plot done before George begins on it. In dialoguing them from George's pencils, I'll write each issue all at once.

Me: What are some of the upcoming Astro City stories about?

Busiek: The next one's about a girl who lives in Astro City and is sent to live on a farm for the summer, and what she finds there, in a place she expects to be nowhere near as exciting as home. After that, we'll do a story about a superhero's girlfriend and her unceasing attempts to uncover his secret identity, and what that leads to -- then a story about a lawyer trying to win a case by arguing that the murder victim's not dead but in a death-like coma -- and a story about a retired superhero's last case. After that, we'll start in on another extended story, but I'm not 100% sure which one it'll be yet.

Me: What's the creative process with George Perez like? I remember Warren Ellis, who hates the Marvel style of scripting, saying that doing that style with George was an enjoyable experience. So, is it that good?

Busiek: I have no problem writing plot-style, myself -- I write in whatever format best serves the artist and the project. But working with George is great. He's an inventive and terrific storyteller, always eager to do new things, and he's a nut for excess -- ask him how many Avengers he wants to draw, and his immediate answer is “All of them.” One of the biggest thrills of working on AVENGERS was getting new pages in from George. When I wrote the plot, I generally thought it worked fine -- I was happy with it as a story, happy with the characterizations, that sort of thing. But it was just a story, something I'd written. Once it came back from George, though, it was an _Avengers_ story -- it had that majesty and larger-than-life oomph that I've always associated with the book and with George. You could practically hear trumpets in the background. So George takes a story, and he makes it sing. He makes it magic. That's what's so good about it.

Me: Boxers or briefs?

Busiek: Almost always, yes.

Me: Cats or dogs?

Busiek: I've owned both -- don't have either now, but we're planning to get a new dog. My wife is allergic to cats, so I doubt I'll be a cat-owner again. But I grew up with six of them . . .

Me: Winter or summer?

Busiek: Depends where I am. Summer here in the Pacific Northwest is wonderful. But in general, I'd rather be cold than hot, so winter, I guess, if I have to choose. But my favourite season is fall.

Me: Any cool stories involving a chick?

Busiek: Yes.

Me: I just handed you gun and 100 untraceable bullets. Who or what do you use them on?

Busiek: Nobody. I don't have murder in my heart, and I wouldn't want to shoot anyone, even if I despised them. Besides, you're just some guy on the Internet. Why would I believe you?

Me: What comics are you currently digging?

Busiek: Favourites include KANE and JACK STAFF by Paul Grist, USAGI YOJIMBO by Stan Sakai, SAVAGE DRAGON by Erik Larsen, Chuck Dixon's NIGHTWING, CASTLE WAITING by Linda Medley, ROB HANES ADVENTURES by Randy Reynaldo and a bunch of other stuff that isn't leaping to mind right now.

Me: Do you find it hard to use certain characters in team books when their regular series are taking unexpected turns? For example, the Hulk's book now and The Defenders. Any conflicts?

Busiek: Haven't had any problems so far. The only difficulty -- and it was a minor one -- was when Captain America kept changing his shield, and they'd forget to tell us until we'd gotten it wrong . . .

Me: What artists do you really want to work with that you haven't yet?

Busiek: Lots of 'em, from Alex Toth to Walt Simonson to Claire Wendling to Bryan Hitch to Dave Gibbons to Steve Sadowski to Michael Golden to Mike Wieringo to Yanick Paquette to Lee Weeks and many, many, many more.

Me: What one book would you write if you could, ideally?

Busiek: ASTRO CITY. But assuming you're not talking about health, and you mean something I didn't create . . . KAMANDI. I'd love to write KAMANDI someday.

Me: Are you reading Thunderbolts? And if so, how do you like it under Fabian?

Busiek: I read it off and on -- it's always hard to read a book you've been heavily involved in writing, because every time the characters do something you wouldn't have had them do, you tend to think, “Hey, they wouldn't do that . . . !”, whether it's a good idea or a bad one. It just doesn't fit your own internal conception -- and since the new writer, whoever it is, can't possibly have your particular perception -- however close they are, it's still different -- it's impossible to read it the way an ordinary reader would. So I pay attention, but I find I don't read every issue. Still, what I've read, I've thought Fabian has done a good job on, even if it's not what I would've done . . .

Me: How do you respond to sceptics who think that your upcoming Defenders storyline is just a rip-off of The Authority?

Busiek: I laugh. First off, how would they know? It isn't out yet. Second, once they read it (if they read it), they'll realize they were wrong. It's a big ol' splashy superhero story, but it's not Authority-like. It's about character and the curse and warmth and humour and creepiness from characters who have often been presented as scary long before the Authority came along -- or, heck, before Warren was born.

Me: Who do you love?

Busiek: Not Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson, no matter how often they ask me to take a little walk with them . . .

Me: Any final words?

Busiek: I've always been fond of George Orwell's final words, which were reputedly, “God damn you all, I told you so!”