Astro City Mail – October 2014

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Over the last few days, I kept reminding myself that I had to write an online letter column Tuesday night, but something kept feeling somehow wrong about it.

Finally, it dawned on me: I didn’t have any copies of the issue yet! DC’s advance copies always arrive about a week before the book comes out, and…wait, what’s this unopened box here in the corner that came in when I was overwhelmed?

Ah. Here it is.

Okay then.

Starting out with the print lettercol…

There’s a story behind this particular story, so if you’ll indulge me a moment.

Back around Thanksgiving 1981, I traveled to New York City to interview Dick Giordano for a college term paper I had to write for a course in Magazine Publishing. At the end of the interview, I told him I wanted to be a comic book writer if I grew up. He very kindly invited me to send him some sample scripts.

So I went back to school, and in early 1982, I wrote four sample scripts for various DC titles, and sent them to Dick. None of them actually sold, but they did lead to my first professional work. But that’s not quite the story here.

One of them, “The 24-Hour Truce of Lex Luthor,” was an 8-page script for the “Superman: The In-Between Years” backup feature that ran then in SUPERMAN, detailing his early college days. Like I said, it didn’t sell—Associate Editor E. Nelson Bridwell told me it was “perfectly publishable,” but that they’d ended that particular backup feature, and so there was no place to put it.

But I always liked the story, and thought about it over the years. And a few years ago, I realized that if I added a framing sequence, modified the characters a lot, and retooled the script somewhat, I’d have the basis for a workable ASTRO CITY story.

And that’s what “Wish I May…” is. That 8-page script got reworked into pp. 3-18 of this issue. Admittedly, there were a major trompload of alterations and reconfigurations along the way, but he heart of the story’s still there. [For those of you who are curious, I’ll put the original script up at my website , in case you really want to compare 1982 versus 2014 Busiek wordsmithing. You can find it right here.]

So that’s how this issue is simultaneously my latest release and one of my first-ever scripts. It feels good to see it finally come to fruition, and I’ve got to thank Brent, Alex, Kristy and everyone else listed over there to the left for helping make it happen. Now, about these other three scripts, gang…

Ahem. [coughs] Is there a Letter of the Month we can fit into the space we’ve got left? Why yes, there is!

From STEFAN:

Just love that the protagonist of the latest ASTRO CITY is a woman and an old woman at that. She looks like my grandmother.

Thanks for another interesting perspective, I look forward to next month’s conclusion!

There you go. Short and sweet.

As it turns out, Dottie Thomas, Alex Ross’s model for Ellie on the cover to #15, is a relative of his…but when he did the painting, we here at Casa Busiek were startled by how much Ellie looked like my late and much-missed mother-in-law, Phyllis Huntington. The resemblance was so strong that we sent Brent photos of Phyllis from her college days for Brent to use as reference for that scene.

So it just may be that Ellie reminds everyone of someone they know. Glad you liked seeing our world through her eyes, Stefan, and I hope you liked how it ended.

And as ever, since you wrote the Letter of the Month, you get a Busiek-signed copy of this very comic. E-mail us with your address, and we’ll package it up and get it out to you just as soon as we remember where we left the comics.

So, what else we got?

Here’s a letter from DANIEL, who’s not very happy:

I just bought the newest issue of PREVIEWS today. It contains your solicitation for ASTRO CITY #16 for October.

I don’t know who at Vertigo came up with the “Defy Covers” idea but it really is one of the, if not the dumbest thing I have ever seen in comics.

I always look forward to seeing Alex Ross’s newest AC covers. And I guess this still qualifies since it is his art work.

But who the hell at Vertigo thought this was a good idea? And beyond that, were you forced to go along with this stupidity, or, heaven forbid, did you also think it was cool?

I noticed that THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE, BODIES, and THE NAMES didn’t have to do it. Was it voluntary? Is it too late to drop out, show some common sense, and give us a cover we will fondly remember? Or will I be flipping through my back issues of ASTRO CITY some day, stopping at #16, shaking my head, and saying to my self, “Unbelievable crap…”

I realize creative people are always coming up with new ideas. That’s what they do. But I also know that not every new idea is a good one. And creative people can not always be trusted to know the difference.

This “Defy Covers” is really, really, really stupid beyond belief.

I can’t believe you went along with it. I’m going to keep thinking you had to unless I hear otherwise.

Dumbest idea of 2014. Everyone will look back and regret this. At the end of the year, it will be on everyone’s “What Were They Thinking?” list. Everyone at Vertigo who is on board with this should be fired for lousy judgment and artistic cluelessness. I am also astounded that Alex Ross didn’t get on the phone and say “Hell NO!”

What is wrong with you people? Since when is leaving off the cover and using the first page as the cover considered clever?

Really, really, really…unbelievably…stupid.

And this is what I get after reading AC #13…THE worst ASTRO CITY issue in its history.

We didn’t leave off the cover. That’s still a cover. It’s a gorgeous painting by Alex, and it’s got all the usual cover stuff on it—logo, price, date, ugly UPC box, and so on. It’s a cover. It’s just that the story starts on the cover this time, making it the first actual story page of ASTRO CITY to be painted by Alex. Which is kinda cool, in its way.

Here’s how it happened, more or less.

Whoever it was who came up with the “Defy Covers” idea, Vertigo Executive Editor Shelly Bond contacted Kristy Quinn, our editor, and told her about the idea. Kristy called me.

I thought it was an interesting idea, and I’d come up with potential formats that worked that way before, starting with a cover that worked kind of like a Sunday comics page. But I suspected Alex wasn’t going to like it. Kristy told me that if he doesn’t, no problem, it’s voluntary, and if we didn’t want to do it, we didn’t have to.

So I called Alex, and told him the idea. Alex said, “Hey, that’s a pretty cool idea. Let’s do it.”

And thus, we did it.

I think it worked out pretty well, and I honestly don’t think anyone’s going to be bemoaning the idea at the end of the year and regretting it. It’s still a bold, attention-getting cover, it’s really nicely painted, it’s on our usual cover stock, and in addition to it being a nice cover, this way readers get a 25-page story instead of the usual 24. That seems like win-win, to me.

It’s not even the first time comics have started stories on the cover. Aside from books like WATCHMEN, where the covers served as the first panel of the story, there have been others that did it whole-hog—multiple panels, captions, balloons, an even more traditional look than we did here.

And frankly, I’d way rather do this than have, say, a banner ad for some TV show or sweepstakes clogging up the top of one of Alex’s covers. And that’s something DC and Vertigo actually were doing, shortly before we re-started ASTRO CITY there.

But you have a perfect right to like or dislike whatever you choose. So, sorry you didn’t care for it.

Who’s next?

Here’s JOHN, who had a different opinion of #13 than Daniel:

I finally got to read ASTRO CITY #13 last night, and I really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed the non-linear structure that you chose to tell the story with, and I was wondering if you could talk a little about how that came about.

Did you originally plan to tell a story out of order as a stylistic exercise, or did you initially plot it as a linear story, and then decide that it would be more effective to skip around the 24-hour period?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go try re-reading it in chronological order…

I actually talked about how the story came to be for the “Inside Astro City” column over at MajorSApoilers.com, and you can read that here.

Short answer: I started out wanting to write a story told in fragments, and early on in the process realized that it world work best if told non-linearly.

But wait, here’s another fragment of JOHN, from a later time:

I just finished reading “Waltz of the Hours” again, starting with the “1:00 AM” segment and ending at “Midnight”, and I think I enjoyed it even more this way. You can see connections and cause & effect that you might miss in the non-sequential order, and there are some nice subtle transitions between the hours.

If any KBAC readers haven’t tried reading the issue this way, I thoroughly recommend it. It reminds me of other stories that have played with time in a similar way, like the movie MEMENTO or the Alan Moore “Greyshirt” story that showed the different floors of the building over a number of decades. And Alex Sinclair’s coloring was particularly superb, particularly on the character Laura’s face—there was some great subtle coloring, but it was never overdone or overwhelming to Brent’s art. Well done to the entire team!

A few more questions for you:

1) Was “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” any influence on your story, with certain lovers being bewitched over the course of the tale, and some of them still being under the spell at the end?

2) By any chance was Laura’s boyfriend at the beginning of the story Jim, Rover’s other controller?

3) Do you have any opinion if Laura & Gundog will last as a couple?

4) Is newscaster we see at the top of the “3:00 PM” segment is Zachary Johnson’s wife Tamra, right?

5) Is there a particular reason that Roscoe & Zack are still doing their Jack-In-The-Box partnership? I’d think that if this story took place in 2014, that Roscoe’s “training wheels” would be off by now.

6) What is going to happen to Rover now?

7) Dammit, Trudy, WHAT ABOUT THE PINEAPPLE? (Oh, wait, that’s an unresolved question from HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. My apologies.)

Once again, thanks for a great, thought-provoking read. ASTRO CITY never disappoints.

Glad you were able to enjoy it two different ways, John!

To answer your questions:

1. Not intentionally, at least. But I wouldn’t put it past my subconscious.

2. You know, it’s certainly possible, and I’ve thought about that myself. But for now, at least, we don’t know either way.

3. We may just find out more about that, if the last page of this issue is any indication.

4. You bet.

5. Because it works. It’s not just for training, but because Zack can feed Roscoe helpful information, do research while Roscoe’s in the middle of a fight, figure out a villain’s weak points from HeroCopia.com, and so on.

6. Darn good question.

And now, with a complaint about #13, here’s YAAKOV:

Kurt, I have been enjoying your work since MARVELS, UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN and ASTRO CITY, the original series. However, I was offended by your inclusion of a gay relationship. I am not a bigot, but am a religious Jew. The Bible clearly forbids such relationships on pain of death. I felt that if you don’t want to bash them, at least don’t play them as being a normal relationship. What offended me most, is that you made him a Jew!

Not sure what to tell you, Yaakov. I can’t say “Sorry you didn’t like it,” because I’m can’t honestly say I’m sorry there were gay characters in the issue.

Your reading of the Bible may be that such relationships are forbidden—there are plenty of people who’d agree with you, and plenty of others who’d argue against that reading, or point out various “forbidden” things in the Bible that don’t get observed much these days. But that’s neither here nor there, and I don’t want to argue about religion anyway.

The plain fact is that whatever the Bible may say, the Bible doesn’t get to run the world, and it certainly isn’t in charge of ASTRO CITY. Zvi and Dennis aren’t the first gay characters in ASTRO CITY by any stretch, and they won’t be the last. They’re not even the only gay characters in that issue, come to that.

I’m not a religious Jew (indeed, I’m neither religious nor Jewish), so I’m not going to bash gays or depict homosexuality as abnormal, not when I see the world around me and I see plenty of normal, kind, loving, positive people, gay, straight, trans and more. I don’t want to tell them they’re not normal, any more than I want to tell Christians or Jews they’re not normal. It’s a big world, and there’s a wide variety of people in it. As such, I want there to be a wide variety of people in ASTRO CITY, from devout Christians like the Crossbreed and the original Confessor to lesbians like the Flying Fox to trans women like this issue’s lead. All I ask is that they make for interesting stories that I’m moved to tell.

So while you’re certainly free to make whatever choices you want to make in stories you write yourself, your religious beliefs—and I say this with all due respect—can’t, don’t and won’t determine what kind of characters appear in ASTRO CITY.

In any case, I hope you enjoy what’s coming up, whoever the characters may happen to be.

And now, on to PERRY:

I’m a trade waiter these days—for the usual reasons of cost and space, and because DC’s management and their New 52 have so alienated me that the only series I would be eager to read monthly are ASTRO CITY (of course), FABLES (ending soon, alas!) and SAGA. So, since I won’t have a chance to write in response to ASTRO CITY 17 when it comes out, I’m instead writing in response to the solicitation for it—specifically to the fact that Tom Grummett will be the guest penciller.

Seeing Tom’s name brought a big smile to my face, partly because I’m sure I’ll (eventually) enjoy seeing his art again, and mostly because it reminded me of the work you and he did together on THE POWER COMPANY. That book was the most criminally underrated, underappreciated series I know of, and I still lament its demise. I rarely buy collections of issues I already own, but if there were ever a POWER COMPANY Omnibus, I would shell out the big bucks so I could point to it on my shelf and say, “THAT’s what the rest of you missed!” Hey, a man can dream, right? 😉 Anyway, thanks for joining forces with Tom again, and keep up all the great work on ASTRO CITY. I’m looking forward to reading the Winged Victory collection soon!

I expect you’re in for a treat, Perry—every new page that’s coming in from Tom is cause for celebration. It’s looking like it’ll shape up into a gorgeous issue, and while it may take you a while to see it, it’ll be worth savoring.

And I’m all for a POWER COMPANY Omnibus, too. Hey, Bob, Jim and Dan—!

That’s it for this month. See you next time!

4 thoughts on “Astro City Mail – October 2014

  1. re: Daniel and Defy Comics

    To answer the question, “Since when is leaving off the cover and using the first page as the cover considered clever?”

    Will Eisner used it pretty much on every cover of every weekly issue of his Spirit Comics. Those were extremely clever.

    British Comics like TV CENTURY 21, the prestigeous EAGLE and nearly every single other title published in merry old England used the format for decades. Here’s a very small sampling.
    https://www.google.com/search?q=eagle+comics&client=ubuntu&hs=l8m&channel=fs&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=cxg2VLvkDcT2yQTqqIFg&ved=0CD4QsAQ&biw=1142&bih=882#facrc=_&imgdii=LGWHVUhiIujAuM%3A%3B0LfGppF6fwf5bM%3BLGWHVUhiIujAuM%3A&imgrc=LGWHVUhiIujAuM%253A%3BFr4EqWo95c2c5M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Ftelstarlogistics.typepad.com%252Fphotos%252Funcategorized%252F2008%252F04%252F15%252Feaglecomics01.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Ftelstarlogistics.typepad.com%252Ftelstarlogistics%252F2008%252F04%252Ftransport-cutaw.html%3B355%3B500

    I consider many and most of them quite effective.

    It pretty much comes down to personal taste of course, along with exposure, cultural conditioning and boundaries of expectation. I definitely like to see creative boundaries being pushed. I found Astro CIty #16’s cover to be a good pull visually and it definitely tapped into some childhood memories of dozens of British Comics I aquired from kids in my neighborhood who were transplants from England and Scotland.

  2. Dear Mr. Kurt Busiek,
    I have been a long time fan of your Astro City work. And this issue number 16 “Wish I May”, simply ranks as one of your very best works. I think this story should be read by everyone who loves comics, whether a DC or Marvel fan. In the future, this story could be re-issued, together with your Lex Luther 24-truce story so people can see how the comic came to be. Like Superman: Secret Identity, the back story is sometimes as good as the story. It adds a different dimension to the comic. For want of a better phrase – it makes the story even more personal, enduring and a true work of art. Congratulations Kurt and – no kidding – this could be the most beautiful story I’ve read in years. A TV-animation adaptation could even work. Warmest regards to you and your team. – Dr Willie Ong – Manila, Philippines

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