Astro City Mail – November

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Lettercol lettercol lettercol. Here we go, first off with the text from the print edition…

First up, apologies to inkmaster Wade von Grawbadger, whose name was inadvertently left off last month’s cover. And a hearty welcome to Peter Pantazis, on his first trip to our fair city, as he steps in for Alex Sinclair and Wendy Broome, both of whom were too tangled up in deadlines to manage this story. Sorry, Wade. Yo, Pete!

And on that elegant note, time for the Letter of the Month. This month, it’s from:

KEVIN SEAN MAHONEY

I haven’t written in for a few months, but I haven’t missed an issue. I bought #27 the day it came out, and while I enjoyed it on its own, it synergized (can I use that word non-corporately?) with #25 to the point that they both got stuck in my head and forced me to write you again.

Those issues have a lot in common, on the surface. There are two female protagonists making tough choices. Each issue features guest spots by Honor Guard. There are two reality bending crises. Both stories have a mother daughter component to them. And of course each issue has a guest artist.

But there are plenty of differences too. The Hummingbird story really gives the reader a bird’s eye view (ugh!) of her whole life, where she’s come from and where she’s going. The Chibi story really is about one day, though it does reveal the past and sets up a new future for a couple of characters. The progression of the Hummingbird story focuses in more on how she relates to her heroic cohorts, thus she feels more complete and real. The Chibi story almost has that unreliable narrator feel, where her realizations are almost more important than the plot, but she doesn’t gain her emotional reality until the story’s close. The art in each issue couldn’t be more different. Mr. Merino has a similar look and feel to Brent, which helps sell the multi-era tale. Mr. Infurnari’s scenes set in the real world just jarred too much. The Chibi-verse looked great, as did the last couple of pages, but those first ten or so pages just didn’t sit right. If that’s his regular style and not a choice meant to evoke contrast with the other world, I guess I just didn’t like it. But I’m a story over art type of guy anyway, so it’s bearable because…

You made me cry, Kurt. Both times. Twice in three months. Dammit. Admittedly, there are certain tropes I’m a sucker for. Give me caring women sacrificing for a real goal and I’m a soft target. Combine that with young kids doing the right thing and I’m useless. I am sure it’s part of getting older and having nieces and godchildren in my life, hoping for them and helping them become good strong people, but when you hit that idea just right…well, I guess I had something in my eye. Yeah, I guess I’ll have to go with that.

So we get a story about Wolfspider next month? Cool. Was that story rescheduled? I want to say I saw a previews for it or something similar ages ago.

Always happy to make readers cry, Kevin—though I will say I doubt we could have done it without the tone set by Joe Infurnari’s nuanced character portrayals. I thought he brought the story to life beautifully. But to each their own. And no, this is our first time scheduling a Wolfspider story.

So you know the drill: E-mail. Mailing address. Signed copy. To you. Badaboom!

And boom chakka lakka boom, there’s more…

First up, ANTONIO:

Dear Mr. Busiek, if you answer this question I’ll be truly thankful.

For the past two months now I’ve been writing my own superhero fiction. I’ve been inspired by writers like you, Robert Kirkman, and Mark Millar to reimburse my dreams of wanting to work in the comic book world. My questions are:

Do you have any recommendations for colleges in New England (preferably near Connecticut) that deal with becoming a writer?

Also, do you have any tips on becoming sure in your ability to write dialogue, because that’s the thing I have the most problems with.

Also to get this into the letters page, will we get an issue dealing with Nick Furst’s kids like we did for Astra?

I don’t know of any colleges in New England that have courses in comic book writing, but I bet a lot of them will have writing classes as part of their English departments. I went to Syracuse University, way way back, and took courses in Creative Writing, Playwrighting, Musical Film, Comparative Mythology and more, always with an eye toward becoming a comics writer, so even though they didn’t have any comics-focused classes, I got a lot of stuff that proved helpful.

And for all I know, they do have classes in comics writing by now; the world’s changed a lot since I was in college. But I haven’t had any reason to keep up on New England colleges and their curricula. Anyone know more than I do? Let us know.

As for dialogue, my usual answer is that there’s nothing like practice to improve your skill at anything. Practice, write, try things, see what works for you and what doesn’t. But with dialogue, another essential skill is listening. Listen to the people around you, how they talk, what makes their individual voices distinctive and interesting, and try to learn from that—not just to write characters that sound like them, but to extrapolate from how they talk to how you can make other characters talk in ways that’ll be distinctive as well.

And don’t just listen to the people around you. Listen at the movies, when you’re watching TV, think about dialogue when you’re reading books…one of the best things you can do as a writer is to be aware of what writers are doing in things you read (or watch) and like. How did they make that character distinctive? How did they get the scene explained without sounding clunky? What made the drama work? Think about those things, try to duplicate them, see what works for you and what doesn’t. And practice, practice, practice.

As for Nick and Darcy’s kids, well, the last page of this issue looks pretty promising (or dangerous), wouldn’t you agree?

Who’s next? Ahh, DAVID:

I remember the first time I heard about ASTRO CITY. It was…twenty-one years ago! In 1994, I decided to try out this Comic-Con thing I’d heard so much about. I had a great time there, and one of the highlights was a two-person spotlight panel with you and Scott McCloud. MARVELS was relatively new, and UNDERSTANDING COMICS was only a year old, and the two of you were old friends, so they put you together.

I’ll confess freely that I went to see Scott, not you. I’d been a huge ZOT! fan all through the ’80s, and I thought UNDERSTANDING COMICS was great, too. MARVELS, by contrast, hadn’t made that big an impression on me.

(I’m still a huge ZOT! fan, but I’m more or less reconciled to not getting any more for the foreseeable future.)

Anyway, I went to see you two. You were intelligent and interesting and made a good impression. And you mentioned the terrific series you wanted to do someday, that would deal with things like the legal system in a superhero universe: the Evil Twin Defense, and “Are you sure this victim is dead? Maybe he’s just in a death-like coma!”

Of course, “someday” turned out to be just next year. (Though it took a while longer to get around to that lawyer story.) I’d like to think that the first issue came out before the next San Diego con, and that everyone there loved it and was congratulating you, but the honest truth is that I don’t remember.

What I do remember is how from that first issue to this one, ASTRO CITY has been among a select few comics that I’ve not just picked up from habit, but been actively excited to get and read; one of only a few that I’ll buy in both floppy format and collected, just because I feel that strongly about supporting it.

Where will we both be in another twenty years? I don’t know. But I do know that if ASTRO CITY is still around, and if I’m still around, I’ll still be reading.

Thanks, David. Much appreciated. And I remember that panel. It’s always fun to partner up with Scott.

Here’s to finding out what’ll happen in 20 years!

But before that, Here’s VIC:

What an honor to have my letter be selected for Letter of the Month! Truly a giddy surprise. That was only the second letter I’ve ever sent to a letter column. The first one was for ELFQUEST #16 back in 1983. Sadly, that letter never made it into the lettercol. So thank you for helping me check one long-standing item off my bucket list!

Yet another great issue. I have to admit that American Chibi was perhaps my least favorite character to date, but after this issue, she (they?) have rocketed to beloved status. Finally, you need to give us an update on any movie or TV adaptation news. ASTRO CITY should be the next great animated series. I can see an adult-oriented Amazon animated series as the perfect venue. Chop chop! Make it happen.

Ha! I can attest that there’s no adult animated series in the works, but beyond that, all I can say is that there’s always stuff going on, and many things can happen at any time. But when and if something happens, it’ll be announced somewhere rather more well-read than this online lettercol.

Still, you never know.

But CHRIS might know something. CHRIS?

I​’​ve been reading ASTRO CITY since it was first published, loved so many of the stories, the way they mine the depths of human emotion and the human condition ​o​n a larger than life stage.

But the story of the Lorus and Duncan Keller is now my favorite ASTRO CITY​ story​; it’s the quintessential ASTRO CITY story.​ If anyone in the future asks me what’s ASTRO CITY about? Why do you like? I’m going to give them my copy of issue #22.

​​Jésus Merino’s art was perfect (sorry if that makes Brent upset); this kind of cosmic story almost demanded a different visual style, and, man, did you get it!​

The nod to Sean Connery circa HIGHLANDER made it all the more enjoyable​, and your efficient storytelling in giving us the origin, hero hi-lites, and now Keller’s twilight years is another example of why I so enjoy your writing.
​​​
​After I closed the final page of this story, I thought out my own relationship with the “hero world”—that is, comics—and how as I’ve matured over the past three decades my view of the medium has changed and been challenged. Is it no longer, primarily, for me? The stories and characters that I grew-up reading and loved throughout my 20s and 30s, now seem disconnected from what made them special, like the writers & editors miss the point of what it means to have the honor to tell stories with these beloved characters and the responsibility that they have. This is no doubt how Duncan felt about his failed protege (or at least that’s how I’m interpreting the story).

When Duncan let go of needing to know about the universe through the Lorus, and felt comfortable passing the baton to his children. I felt like it’s okay for me not to want to read Marvel and DCU comics any more, because those characters aren’t why I love the medium—even though they were the very reason why I became a lover of comics for over half my life.

​​​So a toast to creator-owned comics!

A toast indeed.

I’ve been through similar changes, myself—the things that brought me into comics as a reader aren’t the same as the things that keep me reading them today. But then, the same can be said of the movies I liked back then, the TV shows I watched, and so on. You get older, you have different life experiences, you welcome different kids of stories, different thoughts and challenges.

We age and grow, and hopefully, there’ll always be something to hook our interests in what we pick as entertainment.

And Brent’s delighted with Jesus’s work, and we hope to see him gracing these pages as often as we can, when it can’t be Brent. Wait’ll you see #31!

Here’s ANDREW:

I get it. You’re back. Kurt Busiek is back! That is to say, whatever illness kept you from doing your great works of imagination: Over and done with. So why aren’t you taking over the industry?!? In case you think you wouldn’t be asked back to write AVENGERS? Just look at the next series they’re doing: With Mark Waid!

Okay, so AC #27 featured a guest artist, right? I didn’t mind, really. The work was not notably better or worse, I just don’t think it’s a good idea to keep the same artist for 20 years; that’s why I picked up this fine issue: To experience a new taste from an old favorite. The issue was great!! The Honor Guard was featured so much, in fact, that I’ve committed almost all their names to memory—finally. The Egyptian woman, who I would’ve thought was called “The Egyptian,” is called Cleopatra…the tuxedo guy is The Gentelman…Samaritan I kinda knew before this ish…and so on.

Would you say, Kurt, that the Honor Guard is more like the Justice League than the Avengers? And that the setup is supposed to be like a DC/Justice League type team or characters in a Marvel/New York setting? That’s just what I’m thinking. Also, I think that it’s: Time to do spin-offs!? TRANSFORMERS at IDW has like 4 or 5 series’ right now (and that sux, if you’ll excuse my francais). Issue #27 has me excited about ASTRO CITY again! More guest artists!!

I’m guessing you were happy with Gary Chaloner and Wade von Grawbadger in #28, then!

I wouldn’t say Honor Guard is meant to be either an Avengers-type team or a JLA-type team. They certainly have aspects of both, and doubtless of other teams out there in comics history, but what they’re meant to be more than anything else is Honor Guard.

As for spinoffs and taking over the industry, no plans for either—my health is better than it used to be, but I’m not fully recovered and may never be. But even if I was, I’m not itching to go write AVENGERS again, or to franchise out ASTRO CITY. I’m happy with it being one ongoing book, and exploring the world as we have room to explore it. If I had more time and energy, I’d be writing other creator-owned books (already am, with THE AUTUMNLANDS and some other projects that aren’t scheduled yet) or finally getting to write novels as well as comics.

IDW’s got multiple TRANSFORMERS titles, and DC and Marvel have a gazillion Spider-X-Bat-Super series, but I like to keep it small enough so that I can write it myself. So we’ll stick with it the way we’re doing it, and I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

ROBERT?

Issue 27–now that was an ASTRO CITY story.

Joe Infurnari’s art was a bit unusual, but it worked quite well. The story, as my first sentence might imply, was terrific, even by Kurt Busiek’s standards. American Chibi proved to be a great character and it has been good to see The Gentleman turning up in recent issues. The ending was just perfect. You did yourselves proud on this one.

Thanks! We’ll have to get to the Gentleman’s story soon—maybe for our hundredth issue?—but meanwhile, Alex keeps sneaking him onto the covers, so I keep writing him into the stories!

And now, not Robert, but BOB:

I am not a big fan of anime. In fact, I hate it. So it surprised me that you took a character that I thought looked pretty stupid and made quite a touching story in issue #27. I should not be surprised because ASTRO CITY is the first comic I read every time I get new comics and it has been consistently the best comic for 20 years. Keep up the great work.

We’ll do our best, sir.

And to wrap things up, here’s LIAM:

First off I want to say congrats on 20 years of ASTRO CITY! I had heard about the book for about a year & only recently got around to picking it up but I can now say I’ve read almost every issue & can not wait for more!

I loved the American Chibi story, I really didn’t know what to expect from her origin & loved that ending.

Will we see more of Marguerite in the future? I also really loved how fleshed out the book’s characters are, even the background heroes. Really makes me wonder if everyone will eventually get a story of their own.

I also want to ask if you guys ever plan to release an Astro City Omnibus as I’ve been trying to get my buddy to read it but he’s a little more into those then normal trades.

So to cap it off, you’ve guys have got yourselves a new reader and I can’t wait for what comes next. Congrats on 20 years and thanks for an awesome issue!

Glad you liked it, Liam. I’m sure we’ll see more of Marguerite, though I don’t know for sure when. And not everyone’ll get a story of their own, I expect—not even all the costumed heroes. We just create ’em too fast to ever catch up.

Astro City Omnibi, or some other larger-format books, have been discussed, but we’ve mostly been focused on getting all the TPBs back into print. I think that’s about done now, or close to it. So maybe it’s time to start talking more about other editions.

Omnibi? Deluxe Editions? What would you folks like to see?

Let us know, and we’ll see you next time!

2 thoughts on “Astro City Mail – November

  1. Kurt, I just read “Lovers Quarrel”–of course, gobbling it up in a sitting or two, despite my intention to make the experience last longer by reading one chapter at a time. I haven’t finished comparing the script for issue #18 with the final version, though, so I can still look forward to that.

    About that comparison: how do the differences come about? Who decides that something in the script needs to be changed and what the changes should be?

    Since I have no shame about outing myself as a language nerd, here’s another question: did you intend the title of the book as a full sentence (with “Lovers” the subject and “Quarrel” the verb), or should there be an apostrophe in there (“Lovers’ Quarrel”)?

    And finally, I was sorry to read that the Crossbreed have retired: offhand, I can’t think of any other faith-based superheroes, and I think that’s a concept that really merits the Astro City treatment. Of course, one of the benefits of AC as a creator-owned, independent series is that you aren’t limited to stories that fit in some current shared universe—so I can still hope to see a story about the Crossbreed back in their heyday. Come to think of it, another underutilized concept that might be great grist for the AC mill is the superhero-group-as-law-firm concept you developed in The Power Company. Any chance you might revisit that idea here (minus the DC characters, of course)?

    Those hopes notwithstanding, your own ideas about what stories to tell have been working out okay. 😉 As always, thanks to you and your colleagues for all the pleasure your comics give me.

    • Aw, you should have sent this in as a letter of comment. I’d totally have picked it for the Letter of the Month!

      But rather than dwell on your terrible tactical mistake, I’ll address your questions:

      1. I do a rewrite on the script after the art’s done, for lots of reasons — to improve flow, to fit the available space in the art better, to take advantage of facial expressions and body language that suggests different emotions, etc. Sometimes Brent and I will rework a scene while he’s drawing it, and I’ll rewrite to fit afterward. Or maybe I just named someone something and changed my mind before lettering. Basically, it’s all about making the comic as good a comic as it can be rather than hewing faithfully to the script as it was written.

      2. Leaving out the apostrophe, as in RAINBOWS END, was deliberate, you bet.

      3. The Crossbreed may have broken up, but they’re still out there and still devout (for all we know). And yeah, we can tell stories of them set when they’re young, or the story of the team’s breakup, or whatever we want. We are IN CONTROL!

      4. I have other ideas for stories involving a for-pay superhero team, but at least so far haven’t developed them for ASTRO CITY. They seem to want more room than most individual superhero characters/concepts get in these pages…

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