Talk about pressure.
The comics industry first heard the name of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa amid the temporary state of internet chaos that resulted from news of Mark Waid’s dismissal from Marvel’s Fantastic Four. Introduced as a playwright, and the creator tasked with steering the Four into a new (and some say controversial) direction, Aguirre-Sacasa became collateral damage as outraged fans lodged protests and promised boycotts, attempting to voice their belief that The House of Ideas was having a terrible one. Apparently, Joe Quesada agreed, as Waid and artistic collaborator Mike Wieringo are returning without missing a single issue, allowing message boards everywhere to sigh collectively in relief.
In addition to the recent reversal, Marvel announced that 2004 will in fact be the year of the Four as Waid and Wieringo continue their critically-acclaimed run, Bendis and Millar update the myth for the Ultimate line, and two young upstarts, Aguirre-Sacasa and Steve McNiven bring you the Family Fantastic as Marvel Knights.
Roberto was kind enough to drop by this week, to speak on his background and influences, handling mass controversy, and how his version of the family fits into the overall picture.
Brandon Thomas: Marvel revealed that you have a background in playwriting. What was it about that particular medium that appealed to you as a writer?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I’ve always been drawn to the theatre and to theatre people, so when I discovered I liked writing (at an early age), it made sense to me to start writing plays. Of course, those early efforts are pretty horrific to read now, though, like my more recent work, they reflect my early influences and loves: Horror movies, science-fiction stories, and, of course, comic books. (In fact, I named the central couple in my latest play, “Dark Matters,” Reed and Sue, and that was before I got the FF gig.) I remember the first play I ever saw, that my older brother took me to: A late-night stage version of the old “Batman” television show. It was really, really weird…
Thomas: Do you remember what your first comic was, and did it ultimately influence you?
Aguirre-Sacasa: I read a lot of comic books growing up. Every week during the summer, my mom used to take me, my older brother, and my younger sister to the local 7-11 to buy us Slurpees and comic books. My brother got the superhero stuff, my sister got the Archie stuff, and I got the horror comics DC used to put out: “The House of Mystery”, “The Witching Hour”, that kind of stuff. After my brother and sister had read their comics, I took them and read them and re-read them and traced them and re-wrote their dialogue, you name it. (Hey, this actually reminds me of a dark incident from my youth. True story: We had this set of Encyclopedia Britannica’s in my dad’s study, and I remember I was so upset that the “S” volume didn’t have an entry for “Spider-Man,” I drew and wrote my own entry for him over the entry for, like…Spain. Needless to say, my dad was justifiably upset.)
Thomas: Was this when you discovered your interest in writing, when you began re-working the dialogue in the books you were reading?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Not specifically. My dad was a writer and my grandfather was a newspaper man, and still is, so I always thought I’d end up writing something. When I was really young, I used to play “reporter” all the time. And, come to think of it, before I started playwriting seriously, I was a journalist. I wrote news articles and theatre, movie, and book reviews, for DC’s free weekly, “The City Paper.”
Thomas: What brought you to Marvel Comics?
Aguirre-Sacasa: What brought me to Marvel was Teresa Focarile, who was originally hired, I think, to scout out new writers for Marvel. Teresa has a background in theatre, she actually used to work with an agent who once turned me down as a playwright, so we had some mutual acquaintances. Some of whom must have said: “You really should read Roberto’s plays, they’re comic book-themed.” At least, that’s how I think it happened. Then I started writing pitches for different series and projects, and eventually landed on the Fantastic Four.
Thomas: What other Marvel characters grabbed your interest when you started pitching things there?
Aguirre-Sacasa: I remember one of the first people I talked to at Marvel was Andy Schmidt and before I pitched anything, I sent him a vague e-mail that was like: “Hey, Andy. I’m not sure what Marvel’s looking for, but I’m interested in writing superhero teams and strong women characters.” Or something like that. I also mentioned wanting to work on some of Marvel’s old horror characters, like “Werewolf by Night,” I think. I didn’t mention The Fantastic Four because, well…they’re the Fantastic Four, you know?
Thomas: When you scored the FF gig, did Marvel attempt to prepare you for any potential backlash over the dismissal of Mark Waid?
Aguirre-Sacasa: You know, when everything went down with the “controversy,” which I think has been resolved in a great way, I’m thrilled Mark and Mike are continuing their run, I was in the middle of some major personal upheavals. I had just graduated from Yale and was moving to New York. I was trying to keep my job as a waiter while writing a comic book. One of my plays was opening in the city…so I didn’t have tons of time to prepare for anything, let alone the backlash. That said, when I finally clued into it, I was surprised by all the stuff being written about the FF on the internet. Though I have to tell you, I understood where people were coming from. I remember thinking: “Okay, these are some of the most beloved characters ever, Roberto, don’t drop the ball on this one.”
Thomas: Has the mending of fences between Waid and Marvel taken at least some of the pressure off your shoulders?
Aguirre-Sacasa: I’m really, really glad things shook down the way they did. For dozens of reasons, beginning with the fact that I think Mark and Mike’s run is really kicking ass. And, of course, maybe now people who were boycotting what Steve and I are doing will give it a chance. At least I hope so. Of course, now there’s a different kind of pressure because there’s this mega-spotlight on the Fantastic Four, which is actually a good kind of pressure.
Thomas: What does the Family Fantastic mean to you?
Aguirre-Sacasa: For me, the Family Fantastic means…family, first and foremost. Being there for each other, trying not to hurt each other, hurting each other anyway, coming together in times of crisis, celebrating together, weathering rough patches together, hating each other, loving each other, talking about each other’s problems in the kitchen…you know, family stuff.
Thomas: Have you developed a favorite on the team yet?
Aguirre-Sacasa: As for my favorite member of the Fantastic Four, well…it’s early still, I like them all, but I would have to say that…Sue’s definitely up there. Of course, it helps that Steve’s drawing her. (Oh, and by the way, if you think Steve’s preview art is good, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Every time I get an envelope from Marvel with Steve’s pencils in it, it’s like my birthday. He’s totally my hero.)
Thomas: What’s your first storyline going to involve?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Our first storyline’s called “Wolf at the Door,” and I don’t want to give away too much more than what’s already leaked out, but let’s just say that it totally changes the Fantastic Four’s day-to-day existence, and makes them question what it means and takes to be a hero.
Thomas: Will you be using any of the FF’s classic villains in your stories?
Aguirre-Sacasa: One of the first things that I did when I first started writing Fantastic Four was read the three “Essential” volumes, and all of those early, classic villains are so cool, they’re surreal almost. (I mean, the Impossible Man? The Red Ghost?) But so far, none have popped into any of my stories yet. Though there’s one who might come into play a little further down the line in a really major, scary way.
Thomas: Joe Quesada commented that your title will be very “unexpected.” Do you think this will make it easier or more difficult for you to carve a unique niche within the overall frame of FF books?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Joe Q described the MK Fantastic Four as taking place “between the cracks” of the regular FF, and what I like about that description is that it allows us a little room to play and experiment with the characters, I think. What all our stories will have in common, though, is that they’re going to be down-to-Earth adventures told in a more naturalistic way, focusing on the characters in a thoughtful, true, emotionally resonant way-which I hope will surprise and excite the fans who clearly love Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny.
Thomas: There’s going to be three FF books on the stands next year. You feel any little bit of competitiveness to ensure yours is the best one?
Aguirre-Sacasa: I don’t think competitiveness is the right word to describe what I’m feeling right now. I mean, I know Steve and I are doing everything possible to produce the best FF comic book we can, which is, I’m sure, what the other teams are doing as well. More than anything, it feels really exciting to be working on the FF right now. And honestly, the three takes are so different, I truly think they complement each other, rather than cancel each other out.
Thomas: Thanks to Roberto for stopping by, check out his FF book from Marvel Knights next year, and enjoy the Quotables reprinted below…
Spectacular Spider-Man #5 (Paul Jenkins)
“…I never claimed to be anybody’s judge or jury. I just get to save people. I’m Spider-Man, and that’s what I do.”- Spider-Man
The Punisher #33 (Garth Ennis)-
“There’s a hole in your femoral artery. You’ve been bleeding out for the last five minutes. Save me a bullet. Go towards the light.”- The Punisher
JLA #88 (Joe Kelly)-
“…somewhere in the world, Superman has just uttered his first real swear word in years. That has to count for something.”- The Martian Manhunter
“Get up, or the world is going to burn. I can’t make it any clearer.”- Batman
Runaways #7 (Brian K. Vaughan)-
“I’m in hell. My parents already killed me, and I’m in hell…”- Alex Wilder
Ultimate X-Men #38 (Brian Michael Bendis)-
“…I came here to say that if you ever so much as entertain a thought about me…A romantic thought…If an inappropriate image dances across your mind, even for a second…I will use my power to stop your heart. I will telekinetically detach your brain stem from the rest of your body. Do you understand me?”- Jean Grey
Back in seven…