Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
The second half of the near year-long weekly Q&A interview that I conducted with Joe Casey. The first half is here.
Chad Nevett: What was it like to be one of the ‘main’ writers of a big event crossover story (“Our Worlds at War”)? Is it something you would ever want to do again?
Joe Casey: As a writing challenge, my first instinct is to say, quite cheerily, “Hey, it’s always a blast to chip in on those big stories.” But then, all of a sudden, common sense intrudes and I have to be realistic — not to mention honest with myself — because I know exactly how those Events are constructed. Especially these days. There’s not a whole lot of individual creativity involved, aside from the creativity involved in coming to terms with the fact that you’re providing a product — one that exists primarily to boost the corporate bottom line — more than you’re telling a story. There might be a story there, by pure coincidence or even by accident, but I can’t imagine that any of the writers working on something like AvX have been harboring some deep, lifelong, burning desire to have those two teams fight. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I hope not, because from my perspective, that would just be sad.
The thing is, Marvel and DC are now trying to emulate the so-called “Hollywood system” in some of the worst, most clichéd ways, and when it comes to making comicbooks, that whole pool of quicksand is probably not for me right now. And maybe I’m just spoiled… I came up during a decidedly “writer-driven” mainstream market, and I benefited greatly from that, as both a creative artist and as a brand. At that time, crossover “Events” had become a rare thing and when we did OWAW, we had a degree of autonomy because it was really just us dipping a toe back into those Event waters (and to limited success… I think my last year on ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN blows OWAW out of the water, in terms of quality and energy). Now it’s 100% editorially driven, and I get enough of that kind of control when I’m working in television and making a commercial product for that medium (coincidentally, I get paid a lot more to put up with it). I didn’t get into comicbooks to “make product” or to be told what to write. The medium is still about personal artistic expression for me and I can’t think of anything that would kill that spirit more than simply being a cog in some Event-writing machine, which seems to be what writing for Marvel or DC is all about, almost without exception. Besides which, I wrote my Marvel Event Comic when I wrote VENGEANCE last year and that managed to kick out the jams without a bunch of spotlights shining up my ass.
CN: When your name comes up and people mention stuff of yours they like best or think is ‘the best,’ it’s usually the same comics like Automatic Kafka or your Wildcats work (and almost always Version 3.0, which always bugs me a little, if only for the thought that people are missing out on the stuff done with Sean Phillips and Steve Dillon) — stuff that’s almost a decade old at this point. Does that bother you? Do you ever feel like you’re competing with yourself? Hell, is there a sense that, no matter WHAT you do, those will always be the works people single out for the simple reason that those are the works that people single out?
JC: That’s just the warm glow of nostalgia at work. At the time they were coming out, plenty of folks disparaged WILDCATS and KAFKA and the sales tended to reinforce the negative opinions that existed. That’s just how it goes and I’m fine with that. These days, some people will even talk about how much they loved my run on UNCANNY X-MEN, which was pretty much universally hated at the time. Go figure.
All I can do is make sure that I’m expressing myself honestly and making the best comicbooks I can. However well they sell (or don’t sell, as the case may be) is a transitory circumstance… y’know, some of the best-selling books of the past thirty years are absolute dreck and some real artistic gems never sold for shit. Every time I make a new comicbook, I’m striving to make motherfucking Art and I’m making it to stand the test of time. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t… but I don’t feel so much like I’m in competition with myself as much as I want to push myself further than I might’ve gone before.
CN: How do you generally approach taking over the writing on an existing comic series? Do you ignore what’s been happening on the title, try to integrate things for a smooth transition, or is it all situational?
JC: For the most part, WFH gigs are laboratories. And it all depends on the experiment I feel like conducting if and when such opportunities arise. On some gigs, I might decide that honoring the previous run poses the greatest, most worthwhile challenge, while on others, I might blow everything up just to tickle my own shit. These days, I’d probably be more inclined to blow things up, simply because having a long, “classic” run on some iconic corporate character is not what my career is ever going to be about. For better or worse, it’s just not what I’m gonna be known for. Not to mention the fact that sales are still so crappy, just maintaining any status quo, just doing the same ol’, same ol’, is just courting disaster (or, at the very least, cancellation). So I might as well go for it and piss everyone off, right? Sounds like what DC did last year and what Marvel are doing this year anyway…
CN: Because it comes up all of the time and I figure that if I ask and you answer, people will stop asking: will there ever be a collection (preferrably in hardcover on BIG pages and in English) of Automatic Kafka?
JC: Does it really come up all the time? I’m not so sure. In any case, I wouldn’t hold my breath for an English language collected edition of AUTOMATIC KAFKA any time soon, if ever. It seems to me like the “golden age” of Wildstorm — such as it was — has pretty much been relegated to the forgotten mists of time, from a corporate point of view. Sure, they pop out the occasional collection now and then, but anything that even remotely smacks of “art comix” is not going to be a high priority at DC right now. I mean, if you want proof of that, look at Vertigo, which has never seemed more irrelevant within the greater DC culture than it seems to at this moment…
CN: Reading Godland #36, I was wondering how much of the narration is written ahead of time and how much is done after you see the art? I know you and Tim Scioli work “Marvel Method,” but it’s not unusual for writers working in that style to have some bits and pieces of dialogue/narration written and included in the plot they provide the artist. Did you give Tom any idea of the bombast and craziness you were about to unleash to match his art?
JC: Well, the direct answer to your question is, “No”… but it’s not that simple. For #36, Scioli and I were probably more closely collaborative than we’d been in the previous run of issues, in terms of the events that took place within the issue. I’ve said this before: ending this series has been one of the major challenges of my career to date. So we definitely put our heads together to make sure all the narrative bases were covered, but while still containing the improvisational spirit of the series overall. But, ultimately, the plot that Scioli worked from didn’t really have any dialogue (or dialogue suggestions) whatsoever. It was enough just to choreograph all the shit that had to happen on the page. Then I had to sit down with 50 pages of art and just pour my own creative id all over them, coming up with dialogue and whatnot, absolutely from scratch. It was both fun and frightening in equal portions. But I’d like to think that the end result speaks for itself.
And now we’ve gotta top it with the Finale issue. Fuck me…
CN: You’ve done comics, a movie, TV series, music… any interest in other media beyond the ones you’ve worked in already (prose, poetry, plays, etc)?
JC: Ah, I dunno. To be honest, not really. Part of my brain is a little occupied with what kind of storytelling media hasn’t been invented yet. Because I know they’re coming. So, when that next thing shows up, whatever it is, I might be interested in exploring that. But I really don’t think anything is going to top the buzz I get from making comicbooks. I can’t imagine it, anyway. And, having worked in all those media you mentioned, many of them quite extensively now, I also know which one has the most artistic autonomy… and, big surprise, it’s comicbooks, hands down. And artistic autonomy is what it’s all about.
CN: How do you approach scripting comics that you didn’t write/plot? You did some of that early in your career, for a few issues before taking over Wildcats, and for that hardcover of the original Youngblood mini-series. Was each experience the same? How did they differ from scripting comics you wrote/plotted?
JC: To the best of my addled recollection, those have actually been fun gigs. They’re definitely different than my normal mode of writing, for what I hope would be obvious reasons. You get to play out certain “writer fantasies” you might’ve had as a fan. Or, at least, I’ve certainly had ‘em. For instance, I always thought a really choice gig would be the J.M. DeMatteis role on Giffen’s Justice League, where he simply got these cool Keith Giffen plots and killer Kevin Maguire pages in the mail and just went to town on the dialogue (which I actually got to do — to a degree — on the first two issues of THE LAST DEFENDERS, which Giffen and I co-plotted together and then he did his patented layouts which I then scripted over… fuckin’ great fun). It’s just a certain kind of writer muscle to exercise in a very specific way.
The ones I’ve done over the years have certainly been different from each other. The Wildcats issues were very cinematic, very much of their time, Y2K-era comicbooks, and you’ll never go wrong dialoguing over prime Bryan Hitch art (if I remember correctly, he was able to squeeze in a fill-in issue of Wildcats while he was in the middle of his Authority run…!). The Youngblood gig was interesting, because it was an editing job as much as it was a writing job, rearranging scenes and entire sequences while attempting to provide a stronger voice to those particular comics. Not to mention writing a new ending for it.
So, if the right opportunity came along, I’d certainly consider doing a job like that again…
CN: Do you consider superhero teams to be more like families or like work places? Or is it neither and I’m entirely misreading large chunks of your work?
JC: Tough question… and I’m not sure if I can come up with any kind of definitive answer. Ten years ago, I might’ve been able to bullshit some kind of hard liner opinion, but now I actually have much more of a sense of what “family” really means and, conversely, what co-worker relationships are truly all about. But I tend not to do those kind of general classifications of superhero teams, if I can help it. Each one is its own thing, based on its core concept. The Fantastic Four? Obviously a family. The Avengers? Co-workers. I could go down the list. Interestingly (to me, anyway), I think the Claremont X-Men and the Wolfman/Perez Titans, in their heydays, both pulled off a neat hat trick of effectively creating, for the readers, the idea of the “surrogate family”… but that’s what happens with young people (and, by “young people”, I mean late teens to mid-20’s), when their friends (co-workers, to some extent) do become their family for a brief time in their lives. Those times never last, they’re very transitory states… but they do connect with a certain age of reader. Unfortunately, that age group doesn’t really read comicbooks anymore, hence the diminished value of both of those properties in the current marketplace.
In my own work, I probably leaned closer to the “co-worker” vibe on the team books I’ve done, because that’s what interested me as a writer. As a human being, the concept of family is much more fascinating, but probably too personal for me to attempt to translate into fiction right now. I probably need a little more perspective on it before I can write about it with any real style or authority.
CN: Are there any plans/desires to return to some of your recent Image one-off books/minis like Officer Downe, Charlatan Ball, or Doc Bizarre?
JC: There are no plans at the moment, but I never say never. Any original IP’s are always built to be revisited, if we ever choose to. All of my creator-owned series are complete worlds that I’ve built with my artistic collaborators, they’re all there for us to dive back into, if the timing were right and we had more stories to tell. Actually, it’s interesting that you classified some of them as “one-off books”, because I suppose I never look at them like that. Once these things are out in the world, they tend to have a life of their own. They’re living, breathing work. Some of them might not be huge sellers right out of the box, but they exist to be discovered. I mean, come on, if OFFICER DOWNE ain’t an evergreen title, one for the ages, I don’t know what is…!
CN: How do you view your relationship with letterers? You seem to gravitate towards working with the same letterers when you can (in recent years, Rus Wooton seems to be your preferred letterer), so I imagine you have some thoughts/preferences on how the lettering looks…
JC: Working with a good letterer is all part of the collaboration, the meeting of the minds that occurs when you make comicbooks. For me, Rus is an ideal collaborator because, aside from his obvious skill as a letterer, he’s someone I can talk to right at the outset of a project to discuss what kind of lettering we want, what’s right for the overall look and style of the book, what kind of tone we want to set. We’re doing that right now on a couple of things. And me being the annoying micro-manager that I am, Rus puts up with all my bullshit, sending him reference, asking him what’s technologically possible, etc. I’m a total, uninformed font snob… and, stemming from that, a lettering snob. For me, reading a comicbook with bad lettering is like watching a movie with horrible sound. So we take a fair amount of time to make sure it’s right. Again, I chalk it up to Rus’ patience with me… I’ll ask for the tiniest adjustments and he’s right there, every time. In a lot of ways, I’m just grateful that every time I throw a party, Rus shows up to play DJ. At this point, it’d be difficult to imagine doing a comicbook without him. I honestly don’t know how other writers interact with the letterers they work with, but I hope it’s as smooth — and as rewarding — as it is for me with Rus.
CN: Did anyone notice ahead of time that there’s a giant naked breast on the cover of Gødland #30? Not you and Tom, but retailers/readers/etc? Any negative reactions at all? Because it seems like a cover with a giant naked breast would cause SOMEONE to get pissed off…
JC: Listen, when it’s a breast that’s as boldly cosmic — not to mention, one that’s full of seething, milky goodness — as the galactic mammary Scioli and I can conjure up between us, who’s gonna crawl up our asses about that? We may go more phallic with the FINALE issue…
CN: You’ve made it clear that one of things you enjoy about comics is the collaborative process, but how do you deal with the times where things don’t work out how you’d like? Times where, maybe, an artist is assigned that doesn’t do your writing justice, or where delays happen? Without naming names, how do you move forward on projects where things like that happen — how do you view works impacted by subpar art, delays, or any other collaborative problems now?
JC: That kind of stuff, you just gotta roll with it. It comes with the dinner, so to speak. I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that the upsides of this kind of close collaboration absolutely outweigh any potential downsides that come from possible miscommunication, scheduling fuck-ups, conflicting intentions, what have you. I’ve sure as hell got enough work out in the world where everything went really well, I think the batting average is pretty good overall. Let’s face it, I’ve certainly got it in me to micromanage every aspect of everything I work on, be it creator-owned or work-for-hire. At least, I’ve got the energy to do it (even if I don’t always have the time). I’m just that personality type that can have an opinion on everything, on every aspect of the process, every element involved. I’m sure I’ve driven my collaborators insane in certain instances, but that comes with the dinner of working with me. I take this shit seriously.
I can say this… when I’ve been “assigned” artists by editors, it’s rarely turns out to be as fulfilling a collaboration as it is when I bring the artist in, when I seek them out and recruit them for the project. Obviously I can think of exceptions, but those tend to date back quite a few years. But when I want to work with an artist, I’ve already got some enthusiasm for what they do, I’m already a fan of their work. So I’m juiced from the get-go, I’m excited about what’s going to be happen when our minds meet.
Y’know, when it comes to the whole collaborative thing — and if you’re a real “inside baseball” kinda comicbook reader — a great game to play is called “Who Cared The Most?” It’s very easy to play: you look at a comicbook — any comicbook — and you try to suss out who cared the most. Was it the writer? The artist? The letterer? The colorist? The editor? Sometimes it’s pretty obvious. When it comes to my own work, if I don’t at least feel like I’m the one who cares the most, then I’m not doing my job. And I do my damnedest to work with collaborators who care just as much as I do. That sure as hell cuts down on the instances where things end up on a more disappointing tip.
CN: Do you think you’re more suited to shorter stories than long runs? You’ve only had a few runs on titles that went beyond a year and only one creator-owned work that’s been an extensive run. Is that simply the reality of your place in the industry, or is that simply where your talent (and, perhaps, desire) lies?
JC: That’s an interesting question. Honestly, I never think about whether or not I’m more suited to one over the other. I can do both and I’ve done both. I put years of my life into runs on Cable or Adventures of Superman or Wildcats or, on the creator-owned side, GØDLAND. So, yeah, I’ve been there. And SEX is certainly designed to be long-form storytelling. Granted, I have no idea how long that one’ll go (a good long while, I hope). I do think, as you get older, time becomes much more precious, and you realize you can accomplish more things if you’re willing to do them for shorter periods of time. That’s definitely become more of an issue for me, personally.
Another factor is that the nature of the industry isn’t as hospitable to long runs anymore. And I know that’s not 100% true across the board, but I think the rarity of the exceptions end up proving the rule. So, on that level, it’s not about my place in the industry… it’s about the industry in general. Attention spans are a lot shorter these days — and I’m not just talking about the readers here — so folks tend to want those creative team turnovers to happen quicker and with more frequency. And, certainly, the publishers themselves have turned those turnovers into major marketing initiatives (which, I guess, proves that their attentions spans are shorter, too). I guess it’s something to hang their hat on when most of the content itself can be so… fucking… boring…
Overall, I tend to be more philosophical about these things… if we were in a climate where longer runs were more the norm, I suppose that’s what I’d be doing. If writing is a talent (and the jury’s still out on that one, right?), then it’s the talent for telling stories. And at this point in my career, I do that in many different mediums, in many different formats, so the “long runs vs. short runs”-question is merely one of opportunity.
CN: Have you considered trying to launch a new comics project through crowdfunding like Kickstarter?
JC: I’ve had good friends of mine talk seriously about trying it, but for me, I’ve never considered it an option. And I couldn’t tell you why… I couldn’t say that I have some hardcore stance on it, one way or another. In fact, I know I don’t. It’s just not a part of my general outlook right now. Image Comics has been far too accommodating to both me and my work to ever consider another way. I definitely don’t have anything against it… I think it’s an interesting avenue for creators to take and I’m sure its existence — and the success that a lot of folks have had with it — says something about the current state of Art in our culture. I just haven’t thought it would be a great fit for me, personally. Not yet, anyway.
CN: You’ve made the odd reference to wrestling over the years, even done a comic or two featuring it (like the one issue of Gen13 you did with Kevin Maguire). Is that something you have an active interest in still? I’m an active fan/reader/viewer/whatever of both wrestling and superhero comics and keep noticing the similarities between the two — in the fan culture of each, in telling stories through violence, in the fact that both are often dismissed as being for kids or the unintelligent. Do you think there’s a relationship between the two at all?
JC: I think there’s probably a relationship between them, both good and bad. But I’m honestly not enough of a wrestling fan to talk about it with any real authority. That Gen 13 issue with Kevin was a case of me specifically asking him what kind of shit he wanted to draw. That thing is like a “Maguire’s Greatest Hits” comicbook, as far as I’m concerned. My own exposure to professional wrestling is limited to when Hulk Hogan and Mister T co-hosted SNL to promote Wrestlemania, back in the day, or maybe the Andy Kaufman/Jerry Lawler gag. I can certainly see the similarities you’re referring to. I tend to think the perceived simplicity of something like the WWE probably belies the sophistication of the industry, although I could be wrong about that. I really have no idea. Then again, I’m more inclined to read a business expose of Vince McMahon than I am to actually watch an episode of WWE Raw… just as I’m more inclined to read and enjoy Sean Howe’s Marvel book much more than I’m inclined to actually read a current Marvel comicbook.
CN: How much thought goes into your public persona? The sunglasses, the “don’t give a fuck if I say the ‘wrong’ thing in public” attitude, not discussing your personal life much… It seems very purposeful, but is it? Or is it just naturally how you are?
JC: Well, first things first. Let’s define the parameters of this particular discussion. To me, celebrities are the ones that need to have bona fide “public personas”. And as far as I’m concerned, a comicbook writer — or any other “behind-the-scenes”-type creator — is not a celebrity. Not even close. We really don’t owe people any entertainment beyond the work we produce. Unfortunately, I came of age as a professional when a group of us were… let’s just say we were experimenting with the notion that we could be celebrities, on some fucked up level. I think we’ve all since realized that the idea of a “rock star comic creator” is complete bullshit, and it’s probably a little embarrassing to look back on some of our efforts to make that concept a reality. We wanted fame, plain and simple. And I’ve since come to realize that, in my opinion, fame sucks. Fame kills. To seek out fame is to seek out a circumstance that will probably lead to your own grizzly demise. But I guess it was one of those motivations that was, as they say, of its time. I’m sure it was part of what drove me to score the Uncanny X-Men gig when I probably had no business being let near that title (historical note: this was back when writing that book was actually a feather in your professional cap, when there’d only been maybe three or four guys who’d written the book before me, over the quarter-century lifespan of the series). For me, I’m a lot happier now being a so-called “cult writer” but some of the impressions that I made back around 2000 tend to stick around with some people. Now, in some cases, you’re right… it is because that’s just who I am — or who I was — on some level. I’m sure some of it came out of my experiences playing in bands, where you are making conscious efforts to be… I dunno… somewhat transcendent as a personality (that’s the diplomatic way of putting it, btw… you learn how to make a spectacle of yourself). In other words, I was saying fucked up shit in interviews as a musician years before I did it in the comicbook press. But I suppose that has a lot to do with just being young, too. I was trying to define myself and there were times I was pretty ham-fisted about it.
So whatever it is I do end up doing these days when I stick my head out in the world, I don’t look at it as presenting a public persona, per se. It may appear that way on the surface, but it’s more of a way I’ve learned to maintain some privacy while still being an advocate for my own work. But even that’s starting to wear a little thin lately. As I embark on yet another round of PR to spread some awareness about SEX and THE BOUNCE and, later in the new year, the GØDLAND FINALE and CATALYST COMIX, I find myself strangely ambivalent about the entire process. And this is really personal shit I’m doing, work-wise, so you’d think I’d be fuckin’ enthused about going out there and talking about it. But, for whatever reason, I’m not quite in the headspace for it. It seems like a dance I may have danced one too many times already. I’m sure I’ll get back there eventually.
I dunno… maybe I’m also a bit put off by the bloodlessness of most creator interviews I’m seeing these days… especially when it comes to Big Two promotional efforts, which tends to be the most visible PR we all see. Aside from a few notable exceptions, I’m just not feeling any sense of fun or enthusiasm from these writers and artists that are the current stewards of these corporate IPs. It’s seems like a whole new marketing vibe… but I know that when Morrison took on the JLA or the X-Men, I wanted to hear what he had to say about it. Or Garth Ennis on Punisher. I didn’t just want to read that book, I wanted Garth to verbalize his approach, because I knew that would be just as interesting to me. Or when Ellis would write Thunderbolts (to pick an unlikely writer/property combo off the top of my head)… you knew he’d at least have some insight on the gig that was worth hearing about. They had some left-field, personal take on the material — as well as the career opportunity it might present — that, at the very least, seemed to exist outside of the obvious corporate parameters of those particular jobs. And, yeah, I know a bit more about what goes on behind the curtain than your average reader, but I feel like I’m seeing some weird level of ambivalence on display… so maybe it’s not just me. Maybe it’s the fact that there are some good writers out there doing their damnedest not to let their enthusiasm for the medium get squeezed out of them when they find themselves trapped within the grinding gears of the corporate machine… and not being completely successful at it. Or maybe I have seen it all, and I’m just a bit more cynical than I used to be. That’d be fuckin’ sad, wouldn’t it?
Although, in terms of how creators are allowed to present themselves in a PR situation, we seem to be a long way from the more in-depth journalism of say, The Comics Journal and the mammoth, no-holds-barred interviews they would run. I feel like most of the current generation of journalists (and/or bloggers) — the ones that, to me, have the necessary insights, perspective and enough talent to conduct a worthwhile interview — seem to spend a lot of their time simply talking to each other while taking the piss out of those same Big Two creators… and I guess I can’t blame them, in most cases.
But, back to your original question. I would say it’s up to anyone and everyone reading this to decide for themselves… am I bullshitting them? Did I just spout a bunch of ape shit because it’s part of the game I always play when I do these things? Maybe. But maybe not. Ultimately, does it matter?
CN: Do you have any plans to return to Krash Bastards? How did that book come about?
JC: That book started out as a new project that I was gonna do with Ashley Wood, post-Automatic Kafka. He had a title — a different title — and I took it from there, I came up with the characters, the names, the conflicts, etc. I’d written about ten or twelve pages when he fucked off and got busy drawing more robots or whatever he was doing at the time. But I’d liked what I’d written. I was experimenting with dialogue and language and trying to create some weird new slang/vernacular for the characters and, at the time, I thought it was kinda interesting. So I just changed the title and kept on writing. Somewhere in there, I got the notion to really go for the full-on manga thing, as authentic as I could make it. I don’t quite recall how the curiously named “Axel 13″ entered the picture. Probably through Larry Young. But he was willing to draw this monstrosity so we were off to the races. As it turned out, he took quite a bit of time to draw it, which can sometimes dampen one’s enthusiasm for a project… which is why I’m probably in no hurry to do another one. I loved the characters and I dug the set-up, but it was really more of an experiment that, as it turns out, hardly anyone read. Oh well. Fuck-a-doodle-do.
CN: So… Haunt #28 came out and you were replaced by Todd McFarlane at the end of the issue with it telling readers to check out Spawn for more Haunt. He then said that Haunt is being retooled. Does that mean your time on the book has come to an (unexpected) end? Beyond the way that the run (possibly) ended, how do you view your time on that book?
JC: In terms of the “unexpected” part, believe me when I tell you that when it comes to any and all WFH gigs, nothing surprises me anymore. Nathan and I were having a ball playing with those toys and we had some crazy fucking plans coming up… but the fact is, they’re Todd’s toys and he can do whatever he wants with them. He’s more than earned the right. I did love the idea of him ending the book in the middle of a goddamn flashback. Those last few pages that Todd wrote — I’m assuming it was him, as they were credited to him — to get out of it were fun to read. Although, I’m not 100% certain that Todd knew it was a flashback. Hell, I’m sure the editor told him.
I think the uphill battle of Todd’s monthlies — all two of them — is that no one really seems to pay attention on a regular basis. No one takes them too seriously. Unless he pulls some cover stunt or invents a pseudonym to write under, no one seems to regard Spawn very much, even though it’s got a pretty great artist, Szymon Kudranski, drawing it on a regular basis. But Todd’s books just don’t seem to be part of the conversation anymore, and I guess I thought that what we were doing on Haunt — and especially where we were going with it — deserved to be part of the conversation. Of course, I’m no dummy… I knew about all the baggage going in. It was part of why I was interested in doing it.
But ultimately, I took the gig to work with Nathan and have a bit of fun and I accomplished both of those goals, so it’s a win for me, no matter how anyone else wants to look at it. The folks at TMP treated me well and, best of all, Nathan and I got paid to make some wild-ass comics together and we’ll take that experience with us to the next project, which we’ve already started talking about.
CN: Are you still involved with any bands or play music anymore?
JC: I still play out around Hollywood occasionally with my friends. I don’t get to do it nearly as often as I’d like, but then again I’m a helluva lot busier than I used to be. But it’s still good fun, it’s still a purely visceral experience that really cannot be matched. For a long time, it was my only chance to, as they say, “live in the moment”… something that gets much more difficult to do (and I was never very good at it to begin with) but there are now other areas of my life where I can put that concept into practice. But, again, it’s one of those things that I’m content to keep to myself now. I used to talk about the band shit occasionally in interviews… but these days I’m perfectly happy not to.
CN: Is the cover to the Butcher Baker hardcover the closest we’ll see to some art from you? Do you draw? I know some writers like to sketch out page layouts or do crude designs of characters to give an artist an idea of what they have in their head. We saw a little of that in the Butcher Baker hardcover back matter, but is that something you do on a regular basis? Or, are you more of a words-only sort of guy?
JC: I have no idea what the extent of my drawing ability is. But, yeah, I’ve had occasion to do layouts and horrible character sketches… mainly when I’ve been too lazy to explain shit in writing to an artist. Plus, it gives them something to laugh at me about. I think most writers who were interested in comicbooks — the art form — from an early age probably started out wanting to be an artist. Or, more specifically, a penciller. At least, that’s how I made comics when I was eight years old. I think it might be the only way to really learn the language, to put pencil (or pen) to paper and try to make comics that look like comics. And it doesn’t have to be great drawing to learn storytelling. Look at Harvey Pekar and how he wrote his stories. It might’ve been just stick figures, but through that technique, he mastered panel-to-panel pacing, as well as page-to-page pacing. Mike Baron used to draw out his comics and those were the scripts he turned in to artists (and to editors! Who would have the balls to do that now?!). I’ve written a few comicbooks that way… one of my first no-money gigs, THE HARVEST KING (for the late Caliber Comics) was written like that. Even something as recent as MARIJUANAMAN was a situation where I gave Mahfood horrible, psycho-scratch layouts of each page, with dialogue written right in the margins, and he did his thing with them. And I thought that turned out fuckin’ great, from a collaborative point of view.
Sometimes I do thumbnails that artists never see. In those cases, I’m just trying to work shit out for my own edification, to make sure that what I’m asking an artist to do is actually possible to do on the page. I’ve done my fair share of random cover sketches, too. Basically, whatever it takes to convey the idea I’ve got in my deranged head, I’ll do it. I’ll probably always end up doing it from time to time, because that’s just part of creating comicbooks. To do it just on the keyboard is not taking of advantage of the medium you’re writing in.
CN: Back when it was first announced, I asked about SEX and you swatted me away, claiming ‘fatigue’ and ‘not wanting to talk about it’ as if those were valid excuses for not answering questions asked mere hours after the title was announced. Well, the solicitation for the first issue is out and, honestly, our time together is coming to an end soon, and it’s kind of now or never to drop a little knowledge on the Random Thoughts readers about SEX… well before the final order cut-off date, I might add. In whatever terms you’d like, what’s SEX? What’s it about? Where are you coming from with it?
JC: Well, I guess at this point, there’s been plenty of PR to go around. Feels like I’ve been talking a lot of SEX lately. Here’s something I haven’t been saying in a lot of the press I’ve been doing… there’s an improvisational style of writing comicbooks that I use for more of the surreal, whacked out projects — like GØDLAND or CHARLATAN BALL or even some of my recent WFH gigs — where I just empty out my head onto the page and see what happens And for the most part, I let the characters and whatever shit I’ve got on my mind at the time lead me through the narrative, as opposed to vice versa. It’s a less controlled way of writing stories. For the SEX series, I was curious to apply that same approach to something that wasn’t so over-the-top wacky, something that was a little less cosmic, a little less surreal. Despite the title and some of the more salacious marketing that we’ve put out there, it’s really a much more understated series than the title implies. But readers will hopefully find all that out on their own. I honestly have no fucking clue how this series will go down… there’s every chance it’ll go down like a goddamn lead balloon in the current marketplace. It might piss a lot of people off, for any number of reasons. It might disappoint people that, over the last few years, have come to expect a certain kind of comicbook from me (although I think readers who liked what I did on WILDCATS back in the day will dig what I’m doing here). And, quite honestly, I’m nervous as hell about it. And not in a good way, either. But I think it’s a creative experiment worth doing. Format-wise, it’s more of a follow-up to BUTCHER BAKER, since there’ll be some significant backmatter material in every issue, which the readers of that series seemed to get a perverse kick out of. It’ll be a different approach than I took in BUTCHER BAKER backup stuff, but it’ll still serve to hopefully give readers their three bucks’ worth of the entertainment.
Thanks to Joe for participating.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.