KURT: I was born in Boston, on September 16, 1960. Grew up in the Boston suburbs, went to college at Syracuse University in upstate New York. Decided to become a comics writer while in junior high school, and bamboozled my pal Scott McCloud into doing some fan-created comics with me (me writing, him drawing), thus figuring out the mechanics of how to go about writing comics, and changing the course of Scott's life utterly in the process. By the time I graduated college in 1982, I'd submitted script samples to DC and gotten my first pro writing assignment out of it, followed up shortly thereafter by my first Marvel writing assignment. I've been plugging away ever since.
You've had an interesting year, what with your daughter Sydney being born and a sinus attack forcing you to be late with most of your writing assignments. How'd you survive it all?
I didn't exactly have much choice. Throughout the period where the sinus infection was making it hard to concentrate and harder to write, I just plowed ahead doing the best I could, albeit much more slowly than I'd like (and of course, ASTRO CITY stopped completely). Things got worse and worse, and by the time doctors were scanning for possible permanent brain damage, things were getting pretty scary -- we had a baby coming, no assurance I'd ever recover, and every indication that things would get worse. Luckily, that CAT scan revealed the truth -- my sphenoid sinuses were blocked and couldn't drain -- so they solved that in very short order and I started on the (fairly slow) road to recovery. But by the time Sydney arrived, I was mostly back to normal, and that was an occasion of joy. Sydney's been a dream baby, and I've been getting more and better (I think) work done in recent months, so things are looking up.
After hitting the Big Time with the "Marvels" mini-series, it seems like every project you touch is insanely high profile with high expectations. Has that gotten any easier to deal with? I don't think that's been the case -- my first "big" project after MARVELS was my creator-owned JONNY DEMON, which vanished without a ripple, and I also did NINJAK, which vanished with maybe a ripple or two. And then there's VALOR, NIGHT THRASHER, SPARTAN, VELOCITY, REGULATORS, SHADOWHAWK... I also did UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN, which certainly won me a lot of fans and got great reviews, but was never high-profile in a numbers sense. And THUNDERBOLTS, again, has been very satisfying in terms of reader response, but has never been expected to be a top-ten book or anything like that.
AVENGERS, AVENGERS FOREVER, IRON MAN and ASTRO CITY, however, have certainly been pretty high-profile. But there's not much point to thinking about expectations -- you just do the book the best you can and hope the audience will want to see the kind of thing you're offering them. Luckily for me, that's seemed to be the case on these books.
What do you think people like so much about your writing style?
A: Judging from their comments, they like the way I write the characters -- that I try to make everyone unique and interesting in their own way. And on the Marvel books, they like the way I build those characterizations out of the character's history -- trying to figure out just what each of them would be like based on their past, rather than simply imposing a convenient personality onto the character as if I've just recast them with a new actor.
And I think I win over new readers by making sure to be comprehensible -- if I'm doing it right, you can pick up any issue of any of my books, even something as complicated as AVENGERS FOREVER, and you'll understand enough about who these guys are and what's going on to enjoy the issue on its own, without having to read other comics to get the information you need to find out if you liked the one you just read. That's something I've always felt was Job One in mainstream comics, but it doesn't get done nearly often enough for my tastes.
Which is your favorite character to write and which is your least-favorite?
Of the Marvel characters, my favorite to write is Hawkeye. He's so lively and so versatile -- I never have any trouble figuring out what he'd do in a given situation, or making it interesting. As for least favorite, well, it's probably someone I'm not writing. I can't say I much liked the current Swordsman, for instance, but I tried to do right by him, at least.
Which character did you never expect to enjoy writing until you actually started writing him/her/it?
That would be Power Man. My first regular writing assignment was POWER MAN & IRON FIST, and I'd always been an Iron Fist fan, but not much of a Power Man fan. I started reading the POWER MAN book when Iron Fist showed up in it, and read it all through their team-up, so I knew enough to start writing the character. But when I got the assignment regularly, I went out and bought all the POWER MAN issues I didn't have (a practice that's since become standard for me) and read them through from the beginning. And to my surprise, by the time I was done I liked Power Man better than I did Iron Fist -- Luke Cage is a really well-conceived character, very solidly-crafted, built cleanly around a simple situation that shapes his power, his personality, his motivations, everything. Iron Fist, on the other hand, is an engaging mish-mosh of detail, layering SF concepts over mysticism over big business intrigue and more -- it means there's always stuff you can play with in Iron Fist's life, but none of it's terribly strong or focused, like Power Man is.
That was my first experience with discovering I'd missed the boat -- much as I liked the Power Man/Iron Fist team, I realized that I'd probably have even more fun writing Power Man as a solo character, an opportunity I didn't have the chance to do. Even now, I think a solo Luke Cage book, while it'd be a blast to write, wouldn't catch on and would be canceled too fast. Once this interview comes out, I'm sure I'll get another spate of "Hey, you like Power Man and/or Iron Fist, so why not put them in the Avengers?" e-mails. But that's not the point -- it's not that I like the characters and thus I'd be happy writing them under any circumstances, it's that I like the characters in a context that allows them to be unique, to show what works best about them. And neither of them can do that in the Avengers -- where that team structure allows characters like the Scarlet Witch and the Vision to shine, it cuts Luke off from the kind of setting and story he thrives in, and would make him just another super-powered soldier in the platoon. So no need to ask, guys, okay?
What's it like collaborating with the best talents in comics: Alex Ross, George Pérez, Brent Anderson, Sean Chen, etc.? Who's your favorite?
Whenever I answer this question by saying that each artist has their own strengths and that there can't be a "favorite," people assume I'm just being polite, but I'm being absolutely honest. Each collaboration is different, and I write different kinds of stories for different artists, so the best guy on the planet for one kind of story isn't necessarily going to be right for another kind -- and I like writing both.
For instance, I think Neil Vokes, who drew NINJAK, JONNY DEMON and TEENAGENTS, is a fantastic artist. Whenever I give him a plot to draw, he comes back with artwork that takes all the characters and gives them life in a quirky, distinctive way that makes them more than they were in the plot -- and I have to respond to that in the dialogue, bringing through my story through those facial expressions and body postures in a way that builds on what Neil's done, and the result is a quirky, fun, more distinctive take on the characters than I'd started with. But for all that that approach is fabulous for many kinds of stories, it wouldn't work at all for MARVELS or ASTRO CITY, where I'm better off working with Alex or Brent. They take a different approach -- they want to come to a mutual understanding of who the character is, deep down, and what he's thinking and feeling, so that when they draw, they and I are pulling in exactly the same direction, right from the first line. The sort of freewheeling back-and-forth I do with Neil -- or George, or Mark Bagley -- wouldn't work with them.
And neither approach is "better" -- it all depends on the particular collaboration.
But I'll certainly admit that it's an absolute joy to be able to work with artists this good -- Alex and Brent are wonderful, amazing talents, George is someone I've admired and wanted to work with since I was 15 or 16 years old, Mark Bagley is relentlessly inventive, Sean started off great and grows by leaps and bounds, Carlos Pacheco is enthusiastic, dramatic and engaging -- I'm having the time of my life.
What's your favorite story that you wrote? What's your fave story that you didn't write?
My favorite of my own is probably ASTRO CITY #1/2, "The Nearness of You." My favorite that I didn't write is the entire run of the TERRY AND THE PIRATES newspaper strip by Milton Caniff -- it's the most fun I think comics have ever gotten, and an amazingly-rich sweep of drama, action, adventure, intrigue, romance, comedy and more. Everyone should read it.
Who are you influenced by?
In comics -- Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Englehart, Milt Caniff, Archie Goodwin, Leonard Starr, Frank Miller and others. Outside of comics -- Lawrence Block, Edward Eager, Walter Tevis, Nevil Shute, William Goldman and a host of other writers.
What do you think is the best thing to happen to comics in the last decade, and what do you figure was the worst?
My major concerns about comics are not creative -- I think there are more good comics being published today than at most times in the past -- so it shouldn't be any surprise that my answers are more about business than writing and drawing. I think the best thing to happen in the last ten years has been the growing success of trade paperback programs, which is the only thing, as far as I can tell, that's been significant in getting comics into new places, new outlets for new readers to see them. Trade paperbacks have been making inroads into bookstores and libraries, and are our current best hope, I think, for catching the attention of readers who don't go to comics shops.
As far as the worst thing -- I think the whole exclusivity game with publishers signing up with Diamond destroyed the healthy competition we had among the people who actually get comics into the stores, and has been terrible for industry growth. Comics need to reach out in all directions, and I don't think one distributor, with no serious competition, is the way to accomplish that regardless of anyone's intentions. Any more than having one publisher with no serious competition would be good for creative freedom or freelance conditions.
Finally, do you have any predictions on where the comics industry will end up in the next century, or is it possible to make any predictions?
I hear people make predictions all the time -- comics will move to the Internet, comics will die, comics will change format and go back to being thick anthology magazines that'll supply a whole afternoon's entertainment -- but I don't think they're so much predictions as they are expressions of what the speaker is hoping for. I don't know what's coming -- I just hope it'll be positive, and I hope I'll be able to be around for all of it, good and bad, for years and years to come.
>>Thank you for your time, Kurt. Have fun!!>>
My pleasure, and thank you.