At the 29th Barcelona International Comic Convention, our own Sam Salama Cohén got the chance to interview two great pros of this 9th art we love with such a passion; the mastermind duo behind the much fabled Astro City series: Kurt Busiek and Brent E. Anderson. Much to his delight, he found out that these two top-notch creators are fun and accessible, and the three of them ended having a nice and interesting conversation about the past, the present and the future of these prolific creators. And yes, in case you were wondering, Astro City is coming back. Read and enjoy!
Sam Salama Cohén: You’ve said that Astro City is coming back-so that’s great for fans-but is there a timeline that you have scheduled?
Kurt Busiek: Not that we want to announce yet. We’ve got a target but the problem we’ve had with Astro Cityfor years is we say we wanna do it monthly but we don’t produce it monthly, so it doesn’t come out monthly and we say: “Oh, we are going to do 4 issues monthly” and then we’ll take a break and we’ll do 4 issues and we’ll do 2 issues monthly and then the third one is a little late and the fourth one is a lot late. So, we wanna make sure that by the time we come back we have things moving. So that we are producing it on a monthly basis and we don’t embarrass ourselves with issue four (laughs). If we embarrass ourselves with issue 10, maybe, but we don’t wanna… you know we wanna make sure we’re prepared, and producing it well.
Salama Cohén: Ok, then, if you don’t want to announce that, I guess we’re not there yet, we’re coming there, but…
Busiek: We have a target date, but it won’t be a firm date until we put it on the solicitation catalogue.
Salama Cohén: Ok, great. And how many issues or how many arcs have you guys plotted already?
Busiek: Oh-we don’t…-we have dozens…
Salama Cohén: Well, in your mind, sure (laughs)
Busiek: But you know, we have plans for what’s going to be throughout the entire first year. And then move to our plans after that we have it’s a question of what happens in what order.
Brent Anderson: But we can say that we are back to shorter stories, you know, one-shots, two-shots.
Busiek: Yeah, the new first new issue is a one-issue story, and then we do a two-issue story, then a one-issue story, and then three-issue story, and then I don’t know if there’s a two-issue story and then a one and then two…depends on stuff. But yes, after sixteen issues of The Dark Age, we wanna mix it up, we wanna have more variety, and I think the readers want that too.
Salama Cohén: Yeah. Sure.
Anderson: And also in the present, instead of doing it in the past or future history of Astro City.
Salama Cohén: Set in the present? Cool.
Salama Cohén: This one’s for you Kurt; lately you’ve been doing some work for independent publishers, you did Conan, you’ve been doing Dracula, right now you’re working on Kirby Genesis, right?
Salama Cohén: You did a short Jonah Jameson story for the Age of Heroes title and this new/old Defendersstory with Bagley’s pencils, from which you didn’t know anything…
Salama Cohén: Do you have any plans to dive right in any mainstream Marvel or DC titles again?
Busiek: Well, not in the near future, because I’ve got Astro City and I’ve got The Witchlands which is a new creator-owned book that is going to be published alongside Astro City, and that would really be a fine workload, but I also got Batman: Creature of the Night which is, you know, it’s a DC character, but it’s like Superman: Secret Identity, it’s not part of the regular universe.
Salama Cohén: Ok, so it’s not in continuity.
Busiek: And I’ve got the Kirby Genesis, which is eight issues. You know, my part of it is going to be writing this first eight issue series, and then they’re going to spin out characters and such with other writers; but my part is this self-contained eight-issue story.
But all of that, that’s keeping me busy, I’ve been also working on things like the Astro City screen treatment for a movie.
Salama Cohén: You’re working as a producer on the Astro City movie, right?
Busiek: Yes. And we’re going to do an Arrowsmith novel, so…
Salama Cohén: Yeah (laughs) I’m gonna ask you about that…
Busiek: So you can see, that’s a lot of work. If I’m going to do something for Marvel or DC in their mainstream line, it better be small, because I don’t have much time.
Salama Cohén: Yes, some mini-series or something…
Busiek: And my feeling is, at least for the near future, for Marvel I did Avengers and Thunderbolts and Iron Man, and they all sort of built up to JLA/Avengers. And I feel like everything I wanna do for the Marvel Universe I finished.
Salama Cohén: Don’t tell me that! (jokingly serious expression).
Salama Cohén: …I’m an Avengers sucker (pointing to my Avengers t-shirt).
Busiek: Well, just to go on, over at DC, doing Superman, and Aquaman and Trinity…SO much stuff in Trinity…
Salama Cohén: Yeah (laughs)
Busiek: …Made me feel like “DC Universe…I finished”
Salama Cohén: Over and done! (Laughs)
Busiek: In two/three years I may feel very differently, but right now, I’ve been so deep into those universes that I feel it’s time to do other things.
Salama Cohén: Ok.
Busiek: And, you know, if at some time I was to write a Thor short story for Marvel or an Iron Man arc, it would be fun.
Salama Cohén: Yeah, for the movie or something.
Busiek: But right now I don’t need to, I’m more interested in doing creator-owned material and new stuff. But that’s because I’ve been so busy in their universes that, you know, once I am away from them for awhile I may start going “Oh, it would be
nice to go back!” (Funny voice).
Salama Cohén: (Laughter).
Busiek: But for the moment, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.
Salama Cohén: Everyone agrees that you guys make a great team. Do you have any projects as a tandem-apart from Astro City, of course-that you would like to share?
Both: As a team?
Salama Cohén: In the works, yeah.
Busiek: No. I mean, no, we’ve done a couple of things…
Anderson: A great Spirit story…
Busiek: …We did a Spirit story, we did an issue ofAvengers…But for the most part, if we have time to work together, we should work on Astro City (Laughter).
Salama Cohén: (laughs) On Astro City, yeah, that’s the main goal, no?
Busiek: Yeah! It would be nice to do other things but I think that would have to wait until some time when we’re not trying to do Astro City. Because right now, if we have time to work together…
Salama Cohén: It has to be on that.
Salama Cohén: Brent, I understand that right now you’re working on your Graphic Novel El Jaguar, no?
Anderson: Oh, El Jaguar, yes.
Salama Cohén: Could you take me through the creative process and the challenges it involves, because I understand that it’s not an easy task the way you’re doing it?
Anderson: Yeah, it’s a different way of approaching producing a comic. It’s closest to Somerset Holmes, when I did Somerset Holmes I took many photographs, simply because I had two actors-Bruce Jones and April Campbell-they’re also the producers and the writers of the book, the creators. So I thought, what if I referenced everything with photographs that I took? Basically filming a movie, a still movie, and then translating it into a comic. Part of the experiment of Somerset Holmes was to see what translated from doing a Hitchcock film in a comic So I tried to film it and then see what worked in the comic, what worked best, what didn’t…
Salama Cohén: I see…
Anderson: It was just kind of fun. It was probably as successful as it wasn’t. As a comic-book story. El Jaguar is a lot different than that. I actually hired model actors from a local ensemble group that my son’s involved in to do the characters. And the process of actually directing them to act out the scenes that are in the comic script and then I take still pictures of them for the story and use those pictures as reference for the story, it’s an ongoing thing.
Salama Cohén: Yeah…
Anderson: The other challenge is that my collaborator is my wife Shirley Johnston…
Salama Cohén: Yeah (laughs), I had read that.
Anderson: That’s something that when I told people I was gonna be collaborating with her, they said (laughs) “how is that working?”
Salama Cohén: But you had done it before, you collaborated with her before, right?
Anderson: Yes, actually, I had done a lot of world-building for a Graphic Novel which is called Jar of Ashes-the tech night-it’s a looong Graphic Novel, but I had no story. So, my wife, she’s a writer, said “why don’t you give me the world-building material and see if I come up with a story for it?” And she did! It’s a wonderful story. But that’s a much looonger project, and I don’t have a lot of time to work on it, so…
Salama Cohén: Ok. I wanted to ask you about El Jaguar. I understand that it has a social vibe to it, so I wanted to know more about the story.
Anderson: Well the inspiration was…my wife Shirley was trying her hand at writing Elseworlds Batman stories, back when they were doing the Elseworlds…the idea of a Coyote, someone who takes money to smuggle inmigrants across the border, what would motivate him to do that, was it just money, or something else? So she took the Batman mythos, an orphaned child whose parents are taken away from him and he becomes a creature of the night to help the oppressed.
Because the Batman mythos is much like El Zorro, a person in a high position, from a high place, wanting to help the oppressed and the powerless against criminals, by becoming their savior. So Shirley has written in a lot of the mythology of South America and Central America around El Jaguar, the spirit of El Jaguar and combine it with the Batman mythos. It’s actually very symbolic, but it has a lot of social commentary.
Salama Cohén: Social critic.
Salama Cohén: Kurt, back to you. I loved the firstArrowsmith series
Busiek: Thank you.
Salama Cohén: …Because of its mix between real world and magic-all those magical creatures, butterflies, and everything. I saw Carlos and spoke with him recently and he told me he was working with you on the second part, and then I read an interview with you saying it was going to resemble Fables, in the way that it was going to be much more like a novel, right?
Busiek: Yes, the second part is going to be…I’m writing a novel, called Far from the Fields We Know. It’s going to be very heavily illustrated by Carlos, like Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Charlie Vess.
Salama Cohén: So, one-page illustrations?
Busiek: No, no, the text and the illustration will combine. Sometimes one-page illustrations, but sometimes a spot illustration or a border illustration or a…you know, combining the text and art in a pleasing graphic combination. So, originally we were going to do that because DC had a six month window where Carlos would be available to work on Arrowsmith…
Salama Cohén: And now he is at Marvel (laughs).
Busiek: …And during that six months he couldn’t draw a mini-series but he could do the illustrations for the novel.
Salama Cohén: I see.
Busiek: So we set all that up, and then they took seven months to get me a contract, so the window was closed! And now Carlos is at Marvel, but he’s got a deal in his Marvel contract that he can do theArrowsmith illustrations…
Salama Cohén: Do creator-owned material, right…
Busiek: When it’s time to do, though. BUT, I have too much work.
Salama Cohén: (laughs).
Busiek: My plan was: I do Astro City, I do The Witchlands, I have spare time to do the Arrowsmith novel and other things. But instead, it took DC more than a year to get me a contract for The
Witchlands, and during that time I had to do other work, so I agreed to do Kirby Genesis, I agreed to do Batman: Creature of the Night and then presto! Here’s the contract!
So now, instead of having two projects to work on and extra time, I have four projects to work on and no time! (smiles)
Salama Cohén: (Laughs)
Busiek: So, once I get one or two of them done, I will have more time and I could work on getting the Arrowsmith novel written.
Salama Cohén: And, the work you’ve done so far, how’s it been the creative process with Carlos?
Busiek: All we’ve really done so far is, I’ve done an outline of the whole novel, I’ve talked it over with Carlos, we discussed stuff back and forth and then I sent him the outline when it was done, and, you know, he suggested a couple of changes, add more things that he would like to draw…and now, I mean, I’ve written the sum of the prose, but I haven’t written enough to show him yet.
Salama Cohén: Ok.
Busiek: So that’s what the collaborative process has been so far.
Salama Cohén: And will it be for this year, you know, or..?
Busiek: No, I have too much work to do. I don’t know if I’ll be able to start it before the end of this year, so, no.
After this great and very nice interview, both Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson signed an Spanish copy ofAstro City: The Dark Age, that we recently gave away on our Astro City Contest. Brent confessed us that Kurt and other creators are urging him to get on the Twitter wagon, a plea we hope he considers!