Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Beginning with the March 6, 2012 edition of Random Thoughts, I’ve been doing a weekly Q&A with Joe Casey. For those that have missed it and don’t want to go searching through months of Random Thoughts just to read Joe’s thoughts on a variety of subjects, here’s a post compiling all of the questions I’ve asked and Joe has been kind enough to answer.
Chad Nevett: What’s the hold-up with the finale of Gødland?
Joe Casey: I’ll have to take the bullet on this one. As we zeroed in on the big finish, I became a little concerned about exactly how it was all going to wrap up. It wasn’t writer’s block, it was simply that the series thus far had been a real improvisational jam… which is great fun while you’re in the middle of it but doesn’t lend itself to crafting a solid, satisfying ending. I knew there was one buried in there somewhere, but I had to dig it out. So it took me awhile — and Scioli was a big help in this regard — to figure out exactly how everything would (and should) play out. Now that it’s all worked out, it’s full steam ahead. Scioli is currently drawing #36 and I’m writing the FINALE issue and between the two of them, this is going to be, as Howard Chaykin used to say, a “major league motherfucker” of a conclusion. With #36, which is titled, “GOTTERDAMMERAGNAHABHARATA”, we’re actually going to tie up all of the various plot threads that have been unraveling since the series began (a monumental feat in and of itself), and then with the FINALE, we’re throwing our cosmic hat into the ring of fire and attempting to, in our own small way, actually try to change the form. Or at least evolve it forward a little bit. Superhero comicbooks — the manner in which they deliver stories — have been so formulaic for so long, they’ve succumbed to either the perfectly balanced, three-act structure of movies (Zzzzzzzz…) or the endless middle act of dramatic television (Zzzzzzz…). It’s all so played out. I think it’s one of the reasons there’s such a sense of apathy in the air, when it comes to mainstream superhero readers. The structure of the GØDLAND FINALE is all about what Kubrick called “non-submersible units”, but even morphing that concept in a way that even Kubrick couldn’t have imagined (because he didn’t create comicbooks, natch). It’s really the pinnacle of everything I ever wanted this series to be, a significant step toward the New Narrative. And, as far as I know, both issues will be out in the stores this year.
CN: Last week, you gave us an update on Godland and, in The Manhattan Projects #1 there was a Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker teaser parodying the Obama ‘change’ poster with the word ‘patience,’ clearly sending a message of sorts about the book’s absence as of late. What’s the status of Butcher Baker right now and when should we be expecting new issues?
JC: I think the “Patience” piece kind of says it all, as does your use of the words “absence” and “late” in your question. I wish I could say more — and I’m sure I will at some point — but we put that art piece out there for three simple reasons: 1) Because it’s a beautiful piece of pop art, 2) so I could avoid directly confronting the current situation for as long as possible, and please take this final reason in the spirit it’s intended, 3) because I can and Fuck You. The whole vibe of BUTCHER BAKER, THE RIGHTEOUS MAKER is that it’s all performance art, from conception to execution to collective memory violation. And, as it stands, we’re still smack in the middle of it. But I guarantee, what’s coming up in regards to this series is pretty fuckin’ cool. At least, to me, it is.
CN: What went wrong with your Uncanny X-Men run? Why did it never quite ‘click’ like your work usually does?
JC: I have to say, thinking back on that gig (which I rarely do, unless asked), I don’t necessarily feel like things “went wrong” so much as they just… didn’t go right. There’s a difference, y’know. But, taking your question at face value, there are really three answers, and people can put them in whatever order of importance they choose… the A-B-C’s of why it didn’t “click”…
A) The art. There was no consistent artistic vision to my stint on the book, which — even in that bygone era of “Writer-driven” comics — makes a big goddamn difference. Besides which, here are the artists I specifically brought to the X-party: Sean Phillips, Ashley Wood, Eddie Campbell, Javier Pulido. Compare that list to the artists that editors teamed me up with, without my input: Ian Churchill, Ron Garney, Aaron Lopestri. To me, those two lists are as stylistically different as night and day. Now, you can argue that the editors had more “mainstream” tastes and that I had more “alternative” tastes, but I know which type of artist I work better with. I didn’t stand up for myself the way I’ve learned to since then, and the book suffered because of it. Obviously, they’re all skilled artists, but it’s rare that I’ll have that real, lasting, creative chemistry with artists that editors hook me up with (even when I get along with them, personally). Another lesson I learned the hard way.
B) Grant Morrison writing the other book. The guy is such a tremendous creative force, there was no one who was going to either compete with or even compliment him when it came to the level of ideas and enthusiasm that he was delivering on his book. In retrospect, I don’t even know why Marvel attempted to have two “core” books, or why Grant simply didn’t write both of them. The fact that he had guys like Frank Quitely, Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo and Marc Silvestri drawing his stuff was like a double-whammy of “clicky-ness”. Conceptually, he was just operating on a whole other level — to which the entire Internet responds with a resounding chorus of, “NO SHIT!” — and even then, I went out of my way not to inadvertently fuck with anything he was doing, because I was also reading it as a fan. That probably made me a little gun shy, which again is all on me. Grant couldn’t have been more gracious or more generous while we were in the X-trenches together. And having said all that, my friendship with Grant was definitely the best thing to come out of my experience on that job.
C) Okay, for me, this is really the most important reason: I simply had no strong vision for the book. Nor did I have any particular love for those characters. Grant had both, when he started. Oh, I had a few scattered ideas, some of which I developed later (and to greater effect) in WILDCATS VERSION 3.0, but I really didn’t have that unique “X-Men mojo”, certainly not enough to make good on the promise to readers that a writer of that franchise should always strive to make good on. You gotta want it, deep down in the dark depths of your soul. Writing UNCANNY was mainly a career move on my part — as I believe it has been for practically every writer that’s come after me on that book — and while it did have some career benefits, in the ten years since then, I’ve learned never to take a WFH comicbook gig because it might be “good for my career”. My comicbook career is just fine, thanks very much.
And, finally, for a true “The More You Know…”-moment, if you really want to read more of me waxing quixotic about my rocky relationship with the X-Men, check this out: http://www.smartpopbooks.com/playing-god-and-discovering-my-own-mutanity/
CN: Are there any projects you regret accepting? Any that you regret passing up?
JC: I like to work, I’m pretty much a blue collar bastard in my approach to the physical act of writing (as much as it is a physical act… which is not much), so I tend to find some value in even the dopiest gigs I’ve taken over the years (even if I have to dig deep for it). So I would say I don’t regret anything, in terms of actual jobs I’ve accepted. Certainly I regret some of the work I did on some of those jobs, but I can only hope that everybody feels that way about their own work. It’s a healthy way to keep your ego in check.
The things I’ve passed on… well, I only pass on things I’m absolutely sure that I don’t want to do, so there’s never any regret there. As a professional, you eventually learn to weigh all of the factors involved when it comes to new opportunities… and, at this point, whether or not I’ll have some fun doing it is definitely a factor I consider. If we’re talking strictly about comicbook projects, I feel like I fiercely protect that strand of my work life. I fuckin’ love writing comicbooks way too much to risk that bromance by becoming bitter taking jobs that I knew going in were going to suck ass. Now, despite my reputation as a no-filter loudmouth, I hesitate to specifically name check any of those projects, out of respect to the writers who ultimately took those jobs (and probably made a better go of it than I ever would’ve)… but they’re out there.
CN: After Vengeance brought together so many different characters and ideas from your work at Marvel, do you have any desire for a follow-up? (I guess, more importantly, does Marvel seem to?)
JC: VENGEANCE was really a one-off kind of thing, a confluence of weird events that will probably never repeat themselves in our lifetime. And even though it sold way better than anyone expected (including me!), things are really weird at Marvel right now (as anyone who looks at sales rankings can confirm). Since I hear practically all of the inside scoop — both through the proverbial grapevine and directly from the horses’ mouths — and the fact that I pretty much know how the current system works there (in ways that would probably dishearten the average fan), I figure it’s something that I’m probably better off just generally steering clear of for now. And the truth is, with all the guys they’ve got on contract that they have to… service (double entendre absolutely intended there), there’s not a lot of room for other writers. It’s not an ideal situation for anyone, but it is what it is.
Now, I’ve got no problem saying that I’ve loved reading Marvel since I was a kid, and I’ve generally had a really good time writing for them, so I would never say never… but their corporate climate is such that I should just concentrate on making a few bones producing multiple shows starring their biggest icons on the TV animation side of things (let’s just say it outright, Man Of Action Studios are currently the “Architects” of Marvel’s TV animation division… we’re even working on shooting some embarrassing boy band photos). In that kind of work environment, I’m absolutely a corporate cog and I don’t question it. But I prefer to make comicbooks, even WFH gigs, in more of a creatively free, Wild West-setting — I think you make better comicbooks that way, and ultimately provide more relevant source material for all the ancillary stuff that comes later (movies, TV, merch, etc.) — and Marvel Publishing has become very controlled, very editorially driven (as has DC), in ways that don’t necessarily jibe with my own personal creative bent. That’s why you see me doing a WFH job like HAUNT right now, because with that series, I get a lot of freedom to do my thing. And there’s a reason Image Comics has so much great momentum now… I think everyone’s feeling the same thing, professional, pundit and reader alike.
CN: In his art book, Jim Starlin praised Bernie Wrightson and Ron Lim as two of the best artists he ever worked with. Wrightson because he would always deliver surprising work that looked nothing like what was in Starlin’s head; Lim because he would somehow capture exactly what was in his head. Of all the artists you’ve worked with, who is your favourite in each category?
JC: It’s a strange question for me, not just because I have trouble picking favorites, but also because in the category of “artists who’ve delivered exactly what was in my head”, there’s quite a few of them… but that’s mainly because I tend to build projects around the specific artists I want to work with. Someone like Chris Weston on FF: FIRST FAMILY, he gave me exactly what I had in my head… because what was in my head was Chris Weston artwork. Sean Phillips on WILDCATS, same thing. Frazer Irving on IRON MAN: THE INEVITABLE, same thing.
I think I’ve been surprised by the level of skill that certain artists have displayed, far beyond what I thought they were capable of. Chris Burnham on OFFICER DOWNE seemed to take a quantum leap in his art from what he’d done on NIXON’S PALS, which was already pretty goddamn good. Nick Dragotta on VENGEANCE really stepped up to match my own insanity when it came to a certain kind of storytelling, mastering certain panel-to-panel techniques and visual transition riffs that he’d never been asked to do before.
In the other category, I would say, right at this moment, Nathan Fox and I are really getting into a groove on HAUNT and he’s doing work that’s pretty breathtaking. So I guess he is surpassing a lot of what I might’ve imagined when we started on the book. And I’m not just talking about the over-the-top action stuff (which he does great), but even the quiet, dramatic beats of the story. Some of his pages in the most recent issues… I could just stare at them for hours. The nuanced emotions in the art and the specific kind of mood he can create… well, I don’t think anyone working in modern comicbooks can touch him. He’s a massive example of an Inkmaster General.
CN: Where did Superman’s pacifism come from? Was there any blowback from DC — hell, did they even notice that you had Superman declare himself a pacifist when it happened?
JC: Nah. There are certain editors you work with where you end up playing that game of, basically, writing over their heads… and for me, that was never more true than my last year on Superman. On those big IP’s, you obviously can’t have Superman sucking cock or bending Lois over a chair to give the ol’ ball and chain what-for (back when they were happily married, y’know), but if your ideas go into wilder, Mort Weisinger/psycho-dramatic areas, it gets more difficult for an average, overworked editor to recognize the subversion (if you can call his pacifism “subversion”), even though it’s right there in front of their face. And, on top of that, no one really gave two shits about Superman comicbooks back in, what was it, 2003…? Ah, the good ol’ days…
CN: One thing I’ve noticed (and others I’ve spoken to have agreed) is that fight scenes in superhero comics tend to suck. I would even argue that the average squash match in wrestling is a more entertaining and coherent fight than what you see in most superhero comics. What’s your views on fights in comics and how do you try to make them more interesting and better executed in your comics?
JC: There’s a semantic thing here, so maybe we should clarify something: there are fight scenes in comicbooks, two opposing forces — either individuals or groups of individuals — beating the shit out of each other… and then there are action scenes, where something physically and visually dramatic is happening, usually on a larger scale. A car chase is an action scene, for instance. Someone firing a gun in a shootout is an action scene. An alien invasion being repelled is an action scene. A super-villain enacting a scheme that involves a fair bit of property destruction is an action scene. But since you made the wrestling analogy, which is typically two guys going mano-a-mano, let’s just talk about fight scenes…
I pretty much agree with you… maybe not about the squash match part… but the whole concept of fight scenes in superhero comics has become pretty fuckin’ impotent as a device to propel or advance a story. For me, it’s because the stakes involved are usually either dramatically nonexistent or so esoteric that they end up meaning nothing to the reader because they can’t relate to the overriding conflict involved (Iron Man fights Captain America. The Marvel Universe fights Skrulls. Avengers fight X-Men. The Flash fights an Elseworlds reality. The DC Universe fights its own continuity. Blah, blah, fuckin’-blah… another verse, same as the first). It’s all video game bullshit. When they truly matter on a dramatic story level, a physical confrontation between two opposing forces is representing that story’s philosophical or ideological conflict in some way. It’s physical-izing the stakes, whatever they are. For myself, in my own work, I don’t even know how well I succeed at making them mean something more… oftentimes I resort to subverting them in some way, shape or form. I think maybe that has more to do with the other reason that fight scenes occurred so often in superhero comicbooks… THEY WERE FOR KIDS. But there’s a different demand there. Kids like to see characters displaying their abilities. Kirby was a master at this… his extended fight sequences tended to be exhibition matches for heroes and villains to show off what they can do.
I just did an issue of a mini-series coming out in May, HULK SMASH AVENGERS (or whatever the fuck it’s called, I don’t remember), where the 1970’s–era Avengers end up fighting the Hulk over a classic Marvel misunderstanding (as they tend to occur when it comes to the Hulk). I gotta say… it was kind of refreshing to write, to provide the set-ups for the Hulk and the Avengers to use their powers in a manner that wasn’t intended to portray the kind of mindless viciousness that modern fight scenes seem to end up glamorizing. But I was writing it for the ten-year old me (who I probably idealize as a lot brighter and more sophisticated than I actually was at the time), not the mid-thirties superhero reader.
Now, granted, I like to see a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence in my comicbooks… especially when it’s well done. The Ellis/Hitch AUTHORITY comes to mind. Or Frank Miller’s work in the 80’s, where his fight scenes had a visceral, almost balletic quality to them. The good shit that’s out there gets it right. But I’m probably appreciating them purely on a craft level, not to mention those fight scenes usually had a point to them. And when I put over-the-top violence in my creator-owned work, I’d like to think the subtext is always there. Of course, my creator-owned work is generally for adults only, so there’s that. But in comicbooks for adults — even superhero comicbooks for adults — a fight scene is not a prerequisite. Nor should it be. How many extended fight scenes are in WATCHMEN, y’know…? Even AMERICAN FLAGG! is a lot less violent than you might expect.
CN: In the short semi-autobiographical story you did with Sean Phillips, “Autopilot,” you seem to talk around the idea that, working as a writer in mainstream comics, you basically have three areas you have to service: your own creative interests, your professional interests/the interests of your employer, and the interests of the audience. The conclusion you come to suggests that it’s near impossible to satisfy all three (hell, it’s difficult to satisfy one of them completely, I imagine). Do you place any of them as your priority usually? What’s the closest you’ve come to satisfying all three do you think? Hell… do you care about satisfying all three? (Also, did I just miss the point completely and am creating a question off of a false assumption?)
JC: I really don’t think I’ve ever satisfied all three. And, really, you miss out on a lot of the fun involved in the creative process when you’re chasing any of them. If your artistic sensibilities happen to cross over with the sensibilities of the audience, then good for you. As for my “professional interests”, it’s been a good long while since those have been any real consideration for me. Which is how it should be.
These days, I’m usually out to service my own creative interests exclusively. I figure, if I can do that to a satisfactory degree, then at the very least I’m being honest with myself… and if an audience is receptive to that work, then I guess I win. And I’d rather connect with an audience in a genuine way rather than blatantly pander to them to get them on my side. I already work in mass entertainment media, where you’re trying to please everyone and their picky-ass mother. So I know the goddamn difference from first-hand experience.
I’m quite content with comicbooks being a niche market, like poetry or jazz. I didn’t used to feel that way. Ten or twelve years ago, I really wanted comicbooks to be on par with movies and TV. Then I came to my senses… because they’re obviously so much better than those other entertainment mediums…!
CN: How do you view your time on Cable now? Do you remember it fondly, with embarrassment over early work, or some other way?
JC: I’m not that nostalgic a person, in general, so I don’t think much about it. Not to mention, it seems like a completely different person wrote that series. I thought I could take on the world then, but realizing how much I’ve learned about writing comicbooks since then — just by doing them consistently for the past 15 years — gives me no choice but to look back on CABLE with a slight degree of embarrassment. I think, if there’s anything I could look back on with both pride and relief, it’s the fact that Ladronn was the artist on the book when I got the gig. I’m so fucking grateful that my first major foray into mainstream comicbooks was on a book with a visionary artist that demanded attention from what I considered important segments of both the readership and the fan press. That immediately put me on a level that might’ve taken me a lot longer to get to, had I not worked with Ladronn right away. His skill level and his commitment to telling stories using the language of comicbooks gave me license to push myself and strive to do better work.
And I guess the fact that the character had a slightly negative connotation to him — that he was perceived as an example of the rampant vapidity of early 90’s superhero comics — gave me a chance to make a decent impression, because until James Robinson came on as the writer before me, no one expected CABLE to be a particularly good comicbook. They expected it to sell well, but that’s different from actually being good. And whether or not we succeeded in that is a completely subjective opinion, but I know we wanted it to be good. The interesting thing is that, as early 90’s comics nostalgia is back in a big, bad way, our take on Cable is probably as out of fashion now as it was back then.
CN: When attempting new or different techniques (eg. the letter in the final chapter of Codeflesh, the infoscroll in The Intimates), do they usually come out of the comic you’re writing or are they something you apply to the book externally, hoping the two will mesh together well?
JC: When I’m developing a new project, things like that tend to rise to the surface fairly organically. Besides which, I usually have several techniques or tricks that I’ve probably already thought about in the abstract, either based on some sort of outside input (like the 24-hour news networks for the infoscrolls) or an untapped comicbook influence, something a past master did that no one has been able to apply to their own work yet in any tangible way. I’ve been on a huge Steranko trip recently, trying to deconstruct how he did comics, how he constructed his individual issues, so you may see that kind of influence showing up in future work.
CN: You’ve written books alone, with co-writers, under editorial mandate, in full script, in ‘Marvel style,’ basically in a variety of ways and with various degrees of collaboration — it seems almost like you’re moving more and more towards close collaborations (though I could be wrong there). Do you find it difficult to work with others or is it something you prefer?
JC: When it comes to collaboration, working with others, etc… it can be all over the map for me. I’d like to think that the partnerships with my comicbook collaborators — the artists I work with — are extremely close. After all, we’re trying to be in each others’ heads to create something greater than the simple sum of its parts. Admittedly, some collaborations are closer than others, that’s just the nature of the beast. I guess I never find it especially “difficult” these days, mainly because I’ve been doing it for 15 years… I’ve written a ton of shit and worked with a long list of artists. So I pretty much know how to maneuver those waters, even when they get a little rough.
Lemme put it this way… it’s preferable when it works.
CN: I recently picked up the big Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes trade that collects both minis and it got me wondering about those minis you did for Marvel where you would either tell a story in between early issues of various Marvel series or string together the plots of early issues into a coherent narrative. What’s the appeal of projects like that? Also, how do you approach them compared to other work you do that isn’t dictated by what has happened — for example, how do you approach a series like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes where you need to tell one story out of the pieces of many stories that weren’t meant to tell a cohesive narrative?
JC: I’ve never hid my obsessive comicbook fan side — it’s been a part of my psyche since I was a pre-teenager, reading superhero comicbooks and loving the minutiae of them — and doing those “historical” projects has been the best way to scratch that itch, to tap into that part of my DNA that obviously exists. And when I say “obsessive”, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve done countless hours of fairly meticulous research on these projects, starting with X-MEN: COTA back in ’99, to make sure that everything fits in a way that satisfies that fan side of me. On a pure “brain teaser” level, there’s also something to the notion of making… everything… fit. It’s like solving a meaningless equation… it has no real significance but it gives your brain a helluva workout. I feel lucky that I’ve gotten to do a fair amount of those projects at Marvel, most of them using my favorite characters in their classic incarnations.
In some ways, it’s easier to cling to the scaffolding of Marvel continuity, as whacked out as it is, because it means you’re not starting from a completely blank piece of paper. That’s always the hurdle when developing my creator-owned stuff… I’ve got to get to that point where it’s developed enough so it feels, to me, like it always existed. I’m the one building the scaffolding, but then I try to act like I didn’t, so I feel like I have the freedom to play around with it, to not be too precious about it. It’s kind of a mind game I play with myself to get to the next step of the creative process.
CN: How do you view your relationship with reviewers/critics?
JC: Well, those are different things, aren’t they? Reviewers seem to approach what they do like a job… a lot of it probably having to do with, “How soon can I get this review up so the site I write for can be seen to be writing about the most recent (i.e. “relevant”) releases?” They basically act as an advertisement — regardless of the reviewer’s opinion — for something you can go out and buy on the stands that day. To me, that’s not a situation that fosters a lot of thoughtful analysis… so I tend to ignore most of it. Critics, on the other hand, tend to come at their writing in a much more studied, considered way. That, I have tons of time for. Now, that may just be me splitting hairs, but hey, you asked.
I’ve said many times that a lot of insightful writing is happening in the comicbook “blogosphere” (if anyone still uses that term), and I think that’s still the case today. You’ve gotta’ seek it out, but it’s there. So, strictly on a writer-to-writer basis, I’ve got a real appreciation for what they do. I wouldn’t call it a “relationship”, exactly… I read comicbook criticism and when it’s effective and well-written, I love it.
CN: What role have drugs played in your writing? Would you view them as a positive influence? Negative? Neither?
JC: Listen, I’m a grown man… so there are a lot of things that are simply part of the fabric of living life on this planet that ultimately inform my writing, and have for quite some time. I don’t know if I would emphasize any one thing over anything else or classify them as “positive” or “negative” or even “neither”. To me, it’s all part of the soup. But, just so I don’t look like I’m trying to dodge the question… I think they’ve played a significant role in how I’ve thought about my writing, how I’ve approached the creative process over the years. Personally, I don’t think drugs can be much of an “influence” in someone’s writing… more of a circumstance that a writer may or may not find themselves dealing with. If you do (or if you have), then those experiences can influence what you write, or how you write it. I suppose whether it’s positive or negative all depends on how good the writing is, how good the final product is.
CN: Most writers tend to write villains in a somewhat sympathetic manner when possible (they think of themselves as good people or, at least, the heroes of their own stories), but you tend to write villains that glorify in being bad. It’s not even an awareness that they’re bad people who have their reasons, it’s usually a conscious choice to actively be the bad guy in opposition to the good guy. Why does that approach appeal to you so much?
JC: I guess, when it comes to morality, I’m just a believer in free will over all else. I don’t think someone is “born good” or “born bad”. You’re simply born and then eventually you begin to make choices, based on a multitude of factors. If you’re referring to a character like Zodiac (which I kinda assume you are), he definitely revels in his own evil nature… primarily because it’s a choice and not only is he supremely confident about that choice, he loves himself for making it. But, there again, there’s another level to Zodiac’s nature: yeah, he’s an evil motherfucker… but he also has a strict code. A code of evil, if you will. A general code of conduct for super-villains. He lives by that code and when he sees other villains who don’t… well, that shit pisses him off. That was the whole point of the Dark Reign story that we did. I wanted him to come across as the most clear-headed thinker of anyone who appeared in that book. Seeing how other writers collectively depicted the character who was supposedly the Big Bad at that time, Norman Osborn, always left me thinking that Osborn was weak sauce. And here he was at the center of this stupid, line-wide story where this guy actually ended up in charge of the Marvel Universe and he was supposed to be perceived as some sort of threat. But all he was — to me, at least — was lame. I created Zodiac as a response to that.
CN: What is your view on Before Watchmen and the controversy surrounding Jack Kirby and the Avengers movie? You’ve worked for both DC and Marvel (you had an Avengers comic and a trade collecting two Avengers minis you wrote come out in the past few months to boot) and probably will in the future. Is either a situation you find hard to deal with ethically? Do ethics necessarily enter into it?
JC: I think they do, but maybe not in the obvious, “Let’s pick up a sign and protest”-kind of way. I don’t know if Kirby (if he were still with us) or Moore (who I don’t know personally) — both who’ve been tremendous influences on my own work — would want any dedicated comicbook creator to take up arms on their behalf or sacrifice their ability to make a living. I’d like to think they’d want those of us who came after them to learn from their mistakes, which I think a lot of us have. It’s definitely a sad thing, but that’s the way any given art form tends to evolve, where you have important figures — seminal, visionary individuals — that, unfortunately, end up being the pioneers that sacrifice parts of themselves so the rest of us can forge ahead.
I guess I can say this, in terms of the ethics involved that mean something to me personally: If I were offered one of the Before Watchmen titles to write (which, I should stress, would not have happened in a million fucking years), I would’ve turned down the gig simply on the basis of Moore having stated unequivocally that he’d rather this specific project didn’t exist. On a personal level, that’s enough for me. Now, I don’t recall Jack Kirby ever railing against other freelancers who worked on the Marvel books he helped create. Am I splitting hairs again there? Maybe. But, again, you asked…
I would think that my philosophical reaction to the notion that, “Hey, big publishers tend to screw over individual creators on a regular basis” should be fairly obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. Just look at the amount of creator-owned material I’ve put out in the past ten years or so. Now more than ever, the ratio of comics I get paid to write vs. the ones I get no money for making paints a pretty clear picture. But I guess I am one of those assholes that tend to value ownership over money. I’d like to think that, in some ways, I’m following Kirby’s example… which, to me, is simply this: create… and keep on creating. Ultimately, that’s gotta be the best way to honor someone’s legacy.
You can read more of the ongoing Random Joe Casey Q&A every week in Random Thoughts!
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