Through the Mail Slot

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Checking in on the e-mail…
From VASILIS:

Would love it if at some point you wrote a few things about Conan: Born on the Battlefield…the writing process, the goals you wanted to achieve and how you went about achieving them! For me Born on the Battlefield is like a Terrence Malick film, difference being that unlike Malick nature offers no sanctuary to the characters.
Also I’m loving your Facebook page, thanks!
My pleasure. Anyone who hasn’t checked it out can find me on Facebook at The Official Kurt Busiek Page.
As for Born on the Battlefield…I’m not sure what to say. We set out to do two things, really. First was to tell the story of Conan’s youth, based on the various hints and snippets and references made by Robert E. Howard in both his Conan stories and his letters. We dug up all the information we could—from the information that he was in fact born on a battlefield to things like his father being a blacksmith, his grandfather telling stories of raiding into the civilized lands in his youth, the bit about breaking a bull’s neck with his bare hands and so on—and tried to shape it into a set of stories that would show Conan growing into the person we meet in “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter,” a wanderer driven to see new things, unable to stay in one place, distrusting of authority but strong enough to lead, smart but moody, someone with so primal a core he stood out even among his own people and so on.
The second thing was that we wanted to use the arc as a way to save Cary Nord some schedule time. So it was done as a series of single-issue stories (except for the two-part finale), to be dropped in in-between the main story arcs. A way of doing fill-ins that wouldn’t feel like fill-ins, but as an event readers could look forward to. It was a little tricky, sometimes, to write it so that it’d work as standalone issues and still read well when collected into book form, but it was worth it. Readers liked it, and it’s gotten equally good reaction in book form.
Howard never really showed us Cimmeria, so building it from his references was fun, making it a relatively cheerless, almost Calvinistic place, full of grim purpose and unending work, building a culture that was primitive enough to be considered barbaric but developed enough to have blacksmiths, and so on. And Greg Ruth did an amazing job with the artwork. I think I drove him crazy sometimes with nitpicks obsessions about swords and terrain and kilts. But he really made it all come to life beautifully.
From MITCH:

I understand a lot of writers don’t like to comment on writer’s block, but I know that it is a real problem sometimes. When you have a deadline, and have yet to nail something down, what do you do to get yourself inspired to write?
Who would be some of your dream actors for Astro City the movie?
Since I’m a producer on the Astro City movie, currently in development (knock wood), I’ll hold off on revealing my top choices, because I wouldn’t want to deal with people saying later, “You wanted Hartley Thrushlocks for that role and had to settle for Craigston Hardwick! Why don’t you like Hardwick?” when ol’ Craigston is in fact perfectly good for the role.
Also, these things tend to be about casting every role with familiar stars who look just like the character even if they can’t act the part, and I’d be perfectly happy with unknowns who can act the essence of the character even if they don’t resemble what Brent and Alex drew. I’ve said for years that someone like Denzel Washington could project what I see in Samaritan, so I’m not that worried about appearance. [Er, not that Denzel is an unknown, or anything.]
As for writer’s block, I’m not sure I’ve ever had it. There are times I find it hard to get going, but that’s usually physical—fatigue, allergies, sinus infections, whatever. So deal with the physical stuff and let the brain work. Or if I’m having a hard time making a story work, I’ll talk to my wife or call a friend and bat it around. I often find that just explaining the story to someone else lets me solve the problems I’m having, that my brain’s chasing things round and round fruitlessly, by forcing myself to articulate the problems out loud brings along the solution pretty easily.
Karl Kesel occasionally mocks me for calling him up for story help, explaining the problem and figuring out the solution without him having to say anything more than, “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. That sounds good.” But I wouldn’t get to the solution without the process of talking to him. Whatever works.
From [Name Deleted]:

My name is [deleted again] and I am seeking a penciler,colourist/inker and a writer for my own comic book. Could you please send me an email to [deleted] with a quote for the following:
2 page origin story
22 page comic book &
88 page graphic novel like (example movie 300).
[here, a link was given to a YouTube slideshow of what seemed to be the entirety of Frank Miller’s 300 graphic novel, which is an interesting form of online piracy I hadn’t seen before]
Looking forward to doing business with you.
I’m deleting the identifying info because I’m not posting this in order to hold this person up to criticism, just using this as an opportunity to publicly respond to this kind of query, which I get every now and then.
The thing is, I’m not actually looking for work, and when I am I’m not just looking for someone to meet my rates, and will produce origin stories and graphic novels like yard goods. I’m plenty busy, and when and if I am looking for assignments, I’m going to seek them out from established publishers. Writing for a living isn’t just about getting paid a certain amount—everyone who writes for the public wants the material to reach an audience and be presented well, so we want to know that just as we bring talent, craft and creativity to the table, the publisher brings the ability to do their side of the job well, too. Can they produce a well-made book, promote it well, get it distributed to stores, and more? Will they be able to team me up with good collaborators for the art, the lettering and so on? Are they well-established enough that I can be confident they’ll pay their bills, and pay royalties on a steady schedule?
So I’m just not going to be available to be hired over the internet by an individual. Sorry. On top of that, I’m trying to concentrate on material I create myself these days, rather than working on someone else’s ideas. [I’ll make an exception when it’s Jack Kirby’s ideas and I get to work with Alex Ross, but that’s a special case, I think you’ll agree.]
I’m also forced to wonder: If other creators are going to be writing, penciling, inking, coloring and lettering the comic, what’s left?
In any case, no offense is meant to the person who e-mailed. I’m just not available on that kind of basis.
From BOB:

Are DC and yourself still going to follow up on the end of Trinity? Is there any timeframe if yes?
As I understand it, you’ve already seen a follow-up, though I’m not entirely sure which one. At one point, the “Earth-One” created at the end of Trinity was going to be the setting of the DCU Online roleplaying game, in which case the follow-up is the DC Universe Online Legends series that Marv Wolfman and Tony Bedard are writing.
Of course, it’s possible that plans changed, and the Earth-One you saw at the end of Trinity is the setting for J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman: Earth-One graphic novel. Or maybe it’s something else.
But when I finished Trinity, it wasn’t with the idea that I’d be following up that thread—it was put in at DC’s request, so they could take things onward as they chose. So it’s entirely up to them.
It would be nice to see someone pick up the Dreambound or Tomorrow Woman or Warhound and do something with them, but since I’m currently not writing anything set in the DCU, it won’t be me, at least not at present. Maybe someday.
From DAN:

I just wanted to say that I first read Astro City when I was 15. I’m 25 now and I’ve just started to gather all the paperback collections so that I can read them over and over again. I have volumes I-III and I’ve probably already read them five, six times over (this is considering I’ve only had them for a month!)
Thanks again for creating the best comic books that have ever existed.
My pleasure, Dan, and it’s Brent’s, Alex’s and the rest of the team’s, as well. We’re delighted you like it so much.
From ELLIS:

I don’t think I’ve ever written to you before, but I just wanted to stop buy and saying thank you for Thunderbolts. It’s my favourite comic ever published, and owes everything to your idea and groundwork. In fact, it was the comic that got me into comics in the first place, which is a hobby I have loved (and still do) for 10+ years.
I know it must be odd, getting a message like this after so long, but it occurred to me I have never expressed to your how much enjoyment and pleasure I have gotten from Thunderbolts. I truly hope it gets made into a film (trilogy) one day. Your work deserves it!
I don’t have much to say in response but thanks—it’s great getting mail like this, but hard to respond to.
I’m quite proud of the Thunderbolts, and glad of the time Mark Bagley, Tom Brevoort and I spent working on the book, and I’m very happy it’s still going today. Not sure it’ll ever make a movie property (so much background and context to explain), but it’d be fun to see someone try it…
From REO:

On page 188 of the trade paperback of Superman: Secret Identity (this would be in the 4th issue) Clark is contemplating what to do with his two daughters when he notices a Post-It by the phone. I was just wondering what was written on that Post-It or what the significance of that note was.
I know it’s been a while since Superman: Secret Identity was finished and released but this has been something that’s really been at the back of head for quite some time now.
Still waiting for the possibility of a Shockrockets Vol. 2 and even Superstar. 🙂 Thanks so much.

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I didn’t remember a Post-It in the story, so I had to go check. No, there’s nothing important on that Post-It (or at least, not important to the story; it may well be important to Clark. It’s just part of the general clutter of his office. What he’s reacting to is the sound of the train derailing, as he notes on the next page. Sorry that was confusing!
And more Shockrockets or Superstar would be nice, someday. In the meantime, I’m just happy both are back in print and available for new readers to try ’em out!
Speaking of Secret Identity, here’s MATT:

I just finished reading all 4 Superman: Secret Identitys and I just wanted to say it’s a piece that really spoke to me. It just made me feel better about my own life. A lot of the things Clark dealt with I could absolutely relate to, I think a few times my thoughts matched his on the page. The books just left me with a very good feeling about life in general, and that for the first time in a long time I’m looking forward to what’s down the road for me. I’m ready to live my life and have my own adventure.
Thank you again for your wonderful work.
You keep writing them, I’ll keep reading them.
It’s a deal. Thanks for the note.
From KEN:

Is Astro City ever gonna come back out?
Yes, it is. We’ve been working on it steadily, but haven’t firmly scheduled its return yet, because (a) there’ve been a couple of waves of business upheaval that delayed things, and (b) we want to make sure both Astro City and the new book, The Witchlands, will be on a monthly schedule when we do return, something we haven’t exactly been great at the last few, uh, forever.
So we want to make sure everything’s going to work smoothly and stay working smoothly, rather than come back with promises of being monthly and then immediately fall off the rails. But we should be ready to make an announcement fairly soon.
And that’s another batch of mail answered!

Through the Mail Slot

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A little blog mail’s stacked up, so I should deal with it, starting with this picture (and note) from Isidore…
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Hello, sir. I’m a fan of Superman and a digital artist…I just wanted you to thank you for Superman: Secret identity. The story that you wrote is certainly the best Superman story ever told.
You were so inspiring to me that i made a picture out of your writing. This one is dedicated to you, sir.
Thank you so much!
And thank you, Isidore, for the very kind words, gorgeous illustration! Anyone who wants to see it full size can check it out at Isidore’s DeviantArt page, along with the other cool art he’s got there. Nice stuff!
And now, from Peter…

I’ve been a big fan of yours since the mid-90’s, and I’m always looking forward to reviewing your stuff. (I write comic-book reviews for Spanish sites and magazines.)
I’ve liked Astro City: The Dark Age (though to be honest, I much preferred the brilliant in-between specials, and I’m really looking forward to more done-in-one stories) but there’s one thing that is driving me crazy: The redacted original proposal in the back of the last issue.
I am a big fan of BTS stuff like that, and it was a nifty extra. Still, I’ve been thinking about it for weeks now, and although I think I got most of the Marvel references, there’s some I can’t make out. Mostly in issue 4, I’ve not been able to guess what are you talking about in the first paragraph, who “the new *******” or which big story is happening alongside the climax.
Any chance you can give us a hint about it? Or about the other redacted names? (I get #1 is all about the Punisher, #2 is about the gang war in Miller’s DD and #3 is the Dark Phoenix saga, though I’m missing some of the details.)
In any case, thanks for the cool stuff, and keep it up.
Sorry, Peter, but if we were going to tell you what was behind those black markings, we wouldn’t have blacked them out in the first place. I will say that we diverged so far from the original plans by then that there really isn’t much left underneath—the first three books are very different from what they’d be if I’d done the story at Marvel, but the fourth one is even moreso.
I apologize if it kept you from sleeping. That wasn’t our intent!
Next, we’ve gone from Secret Identity to Astro City, and now, Matt’s got some comments on Power Company

Just a note to say that I finally got to read Power Company. I wasn’t sure what to think of it when I first saw it. I was afraid it would be like many books put out by the big two where they seem like they want to try something new but end up being very gimmicky.
It reminds of some of the group books I liked back when… similar to early JSA, and independents like Sentinels, Crusaders and DNAgents when I was growing up. It has what I love; character development, action and actual thought behind what makes the superheroes super in their powers as well as psyche. It involved it’s own mythos, yet interacted with the DCU. If you can take this the right way, it’s almost good to have it be a shorter run, like a tasty morsel. But I hope to see more of the characters if possible So, thanks for doing it!
Very glad you liked it, sir.
Here’s a note I’ll leave anonymous…

Hi. I have recently finished reading all the Astro City comics. I never read them all until now. I am sorry that I waited this long to do so. I love your stories, and characters. Please continue this great work. I like the storyline of Royal and Charles Williams. That’s my favorite.
I have been working on a project of my own. It is a superhero story. I don’t want to tell more because the story means a lot to me. I would like to know if someday I could pitch the idea to you. I know for a fact that you would appreciate the story. I would like to know what would be requirements to pitch the idea and who to contact. I wanted to talk to you first because of the stories you write. Any help would be appreciated.
I am looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks for your time.
I’m thrilled you liked Astro City so much. But alas, I’m not the right guy to pitch stories to.
I’m a writer. I don’t buy stories from other people. I sell them. So in the first place, I’m not the guy to pitch stories to because I can’t do anything with them. I have tons of my own story ideas, and those are the stories I want to write. The person who should write yours is you. And the people to pitch stories to are editors and publishers, people who can actually hire you to write the stories you want to tell, and publish them once you have. They’re who I pitch stories to, and they’re who any writer needs to pitch stories to.
In the second place, I’m not the guy to pitch stories to because, like many other writers, I avoid reading or hearing unsold stories for legal reasons. As I said, I’ve got lots of my own ideas, and I don’t want to run the risk of having someone think I swiped their idea. If I’ve had a story idea in my files for twenty years, and someone pitches me a story that’s sorta like it, what do I do? Do I scrap my story idea for fear someone will think I stole it from them? I don’t want to have to do that, so it’s safer all around to just avoid reading unsold stories.
Sorry not to be more accommodating, but I hope you have very good luck in developing your story into something you can write yourself—and sell to a publisher.
And to wrap up, from Pat…

So, Kurt, when’re you gonna give us some more Dreambound? It was such a bizarre little group that I loved it. Plus, I really want to know how Swashbuckler got the slash on his neck? And how in the heck a dead guy dreaming can be resurrected?
C’mon, Kurt…pleeeeeassssse!
P.S. Some Tomorrow Woman would be good, too.
I did work up a Dreambound mini-series, in the wake of Trinity, Pat, but it was—as you might expect—a very odd project. It was far more a fantasy series about these super-powered oddballs who were trying to find a way to make their dreams come true, and not really very superhero-y at all. As such, the artist I wanted to draw it wasn’t interested, because there wasn’t enough action, and I wasn’t that interested in doing it without him. Plus, while I think something like that might have worked at Vertigo, I suspect at DC proper it would have had disappointing sales.
I tried coming up with other ways to make it work—at one point working up a whole intertwined set of mini-series featuring the Dreambound, Tomorrow Woman, Konvikt, Vartox, Intergang, the Odd Man, Live Wire, Commander Steel and more, and at another turned it into a freakish superhero series called The Odd Men—but while it turned into a superhero project that could have been really fun, it wasn’t what I really wanted to do with the Dreambound, which was that quirky little fantasy series about making your hopes and dreams come true. Plus, it never really gelled into something that I thought would last long enough to tell the story I wanted to tell.
So I think I’ve probably let those characters go, and if anyone else at DC wants to pick them up, it’s fine with me. A bunch of the ideas I came up with, I still want to use somewhere, so I’m folding them into Astro City, in various ways—when you see the Dream House, that’ll be a big clue—and I think the only one I’ll really regret not being able to do is Primat’s packed-house pop concert at the Hollywood Bowl. But now that I think of it, maybe there’s another way I could get at the ideas in that, too…
As for Swashbuckler, all I’ll say is that he was buried near San Francisco, and he has that scar on his neck because he “died” by being beheaded. That ought to be enough to figure out who he was. Or was intended to be, at least. You never know, with comics.

Penny and Some Thoughts

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So earlier today I was waxing rhapsodic about the many fantastic reprint projects we’ve been getting recently, and specifically delighting in the existence of Drawn & Quarterly’s Thirteen (Going on 18) reprints and their Walt & Skeezix volumes. Between those, having nice full reprint sets of the Milt Caniff run of Terry and the Pirates, a long stretch of Steve Canyon (but not quite enough; I want reprints up through the early 1960s at least) and Classic Comics Press’s Mary Perkins On Stage books, I’m in reprint heaven.
In fact, I noted, the one additional strip-reprint project that would put the cherry on top, as far as my particular comic-strip obsessions go, would be collections of Harry Haenigsen’s Penny.
My friend Rob Clough said, “You should advocate for that publicly…someone might actually be listening.”
So, okay, I’m doing it.
I first ran into Penny during the summer of 1978, when I was spending a lot of my off-days in the Boston Public Library’s microfilm section, reading through the 1950s run of Steve Canyon by scrolling through microfilm copies of the Boston Herald, finding the comics page in each and then madly scrolling through to the next day’s paper. It was an interesting way to go about it—the scrolling preserved the suspense of the daily strip, and along the way I’d catch the front page news, ads for clothes, cars, movies and more that gave me a strong sense of the period, and in the Sundays, the rotogravure section, full of photos that brought the period to life. [When I was reading wartime Terry strips this way, in fact, I was startled to find a rotogravure picture of a sleek young blonde in a skimpy red-white-and-blue outfit doing a “patriotic tap dance” for U.S. troops, and then discovered by reading the caption that it was our next door neighbor, who I’d only known as a pleasant, dumpy old lady…]
Anyway, while reading the Canyon strips in the comics sections, I’d see other comics as well—and the ones that kept catching my attention were Bob Lubbers’s lushly-drawn Long Sam, and Penny.
Penny was a gag strip about the life of a confident, self-assured teenage girl, her oft-mystified parents and her friends, dates and such. It was amiably, breezy, funny-comfortable rather than edgy in any way—but the thing that made it stand out was the art. Harry Haenigsen, who also drew Our Bill, gave Penny Pringle the cheekbones of Katharine Hepburn, a chin that could cut glass, and a stylized coltish charm that just arrested the eye. Penny was fluff, but the graphics of it were bold and engaging, whether Penny’s sprawling upside down in an armchair as she gabs on the phone, in a raccoon coat cheering on her school football team, wearing bluejeans in the bath to make sure they shrink right, or whatever else she did.
The strip is a charming portrait of mid-century suburbia and teen-agia, light as a meringue and crisp as autumn leaves. I want to see more of it. There was at least one book collection of it, back in the late 1940s, but it’s the Fifties stuff that’s really choice, and it’d make a delightful subject to be unearthed and collected, maybe along with samples of Our Bill and Haenigsen’s magazine cartooning.
Anyone up for it? Any publishers out there?
[Hey, Tom Spurgeon! Spread the word, willya?]
You can see a gallery of Penny Sundays here.

And as long as I’m here, as it were, a couple of e-mails have come in. First, a note from a reader named Chris Cashel-Cordo, who writes…
I discovered Astro City last summer upon finding the first volume and thinking it looked cool, and since then I’ve collected as much of it as I can in trades. My question is whether or not the recent specials (Astra, Samaritan, etc…) and the upcoming Silver Agent special are going to be collected into a trade soon. I can’t wait for next week and the end of the Dark Age!
Glad you’re looking forward to it, Chris!
It’d probably be smart to say, “Gee, I don’t know if those will be collected, you’d better buy the regular old comics,” but after such a steady progression of Astro City book collections, no one would believe me. Those issues—the Samaritan special, the Beautie special, the Astra two-parter and the Silver Agent two-parter—will be collected as Astro City: Shining Stars, sometime in 2011. Alex is working on the wraparound cover already.
Next, a collegiate question from Nic Netzel…

As a graduate (2001, history) of Carleton College, I’ve always wondered why you chose it as Lois’ alma mater in Secret Identity, and then, again, to be warped in Trinity.
And a very simple answer: My sister Amy went to Carleton. Nothing more to it than that. I’ve also made reference to Guilford, where my parents when to college. Don’t think I’ve name-checked the schools my other sisters went to (UMass, Harvard, BU), but you never know.
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