Astro City Mail – June 2015

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Hi! Sorry to be about a week and a half late with this online letter column. I’ve been traveling, and also working on 5 issues of ASTRO CITY at once, as we strive to get on time production-wise and (fingers crossed, knock wood) stay that way. We’ve just gotten one issue off to press, three others are being drawn, and I’m writing the next one after those. So busy busy busy.

But that’s not your concern. You want letters? I got some letters. First off, here’s what was printed in #24…

• • •

So. What song do you think they’re playing? I keep thinking it’s “I Wanna Be Sedated,” but then, I’m hopped up on cold medicine, and it’s been running through my head all day.

I’m also caught in multiple-time—writing this lettercolumn about #22 as I balloon pages of #24, work on script for two other issues and get a cover rough in for yet another issue, all in the same day. I’m spread across at least six months (seven if you count yesterday, when we were lining up another terrific guest artist for an issue a little further out), and Even without the Delsym, I think my head would be spinning.

But soft. What Letter of the Month through yonder computer-window breaks? Hey, look—it’s everyone’s favorite guy named:

JOHN VOULERIS

Issue 22 was another great issue in the long-running ASTRO CITY series! In just one issue we are introduced to Starfighter, his family, his world, his mythos, etc. It immediately feels so rich and detailed and fires up the imagination. Reminds me of that feeling when I was a kid looking through back issue bins at the comic store and some awesome covers making me wonder about the crazy adventures inside (the NEW TEEN TITANS Pérez covers I remember distinctly making an impression years before I could afford to read them. And sometimes (but not often—usually when Perez did not draw the issue) the cover evoked a better story in my head that what was found inside.

You manage to bring the same feeling with ASTRO CITY—so many cool references, background characters, etc.—sometimes it is better to leave some mysteries untold, or adventures unchronicled and to let readers fill in the blanks (James Robinson did this to great effect in his STARMAN series).

The one item in this issue that I feel may be interesting to follow up on is the threat Starfighter senses on the periphery of his awareness…could it be linked to the Broken Man?

Keep up the great work and we will keep on reading!

It certainly could be, John…but is it? Ah, that’s another question for another day.

Then again, the Broken Man did say the Oubor had “gotten to” Astro City’s major heroes in some way. And if Starfighter’s cosmic abilities sense something out there but can’t quite get a hold on it, well, could be. Could be indeed. If so, that’s a reference we’ll be following up on, you bet.

I’m glad you like all the side-references and mentions of adventures that have happened offstage, too. We want the world of ASTRO CITY to feel like it’s rich and complicated and full of all kinds of history, just as our world is, and following any one character—or two, or seven, or ninety—through their days will still leave a ton of events unseen. The story we’re telling at the moment should work as a story, but it should feel like it’s happening in a world that should feel bigger and more…ooh, cold medicine…

Anyway. Thanks for the letter, John. Hope you like what’s coming. Meanwhile, as ever, them what wrote the Letter of the Month gets a copy of the issue in which their letter appears, signed by me. So fire us off your mailing address, and a copy of “Apeman Blues” will be on its way to you.

And now I’m going to go buy new comics! Wish me luck!

• • •

Just in case anyone was wondering, I safely bought comics and made it back home in one piece. I may have had dinner, too.

And now that your curiosity’s settled on that score, let’s see what’s in the e-mailbag.

We’ll start off with a PS of John’s that I left out of the print lettercol, because I wanted to keep the focus there on ASTRO CITY:

PS: Quick question on other projects: Is the ARROWSMITH novel still being planned? What about that BATMAN mini with John Paul Leon?

Taking those in reverse order: BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT continues to inch forward with a terrible, unstoppable slowness. John Paul’s working on issue #3, and it’s looking stunningly good. If I can stay on time with ASTRO CITY, I’ll be able to put together the time to write #4, and once it’ ready to schedule and solicit, we won’t be shy about it.

As far as the ARROWSMITH novel goes…we decided to put that story aside and do actual ARROWSMITH comics instead, since we figured that’s a better way to return to the stands after all this time than a work of prose. And we’ve been hashing out the business side of things, which is more complicated than it might be for reasons I won’t go into publicly, but let’s just say it’s complicated. Hopefully, we’ll have that straightened out and be able to make announcements about that before too long, as well.

So who’s up next? Ah, MARCO:

Some time ago I was trying to convince a friend of mine to read the new series of ASTRO CITY, being a fan since the first issue of the first series. I was giving my advice on trust, because I had so many commitments I was not able to find the time to read the new series. We were around the tenth issue…

He asked me why he should read ASTRO CITY and I said the “usual things”: compelling stories, excellent art, consistent quality, the best covers there is… all absolutely true, but I wanted to say something more meaningful.

In the following months I found myself several times thinking about what it was that I liked so much about ASTRO CITY and finally, thanks to a few days off, I read all in one breath the numbers 1-21 and I got the answers I was looking for.

In ASTRO CITY, everything is functional to the story. The characters are fantastic (Quarrel and Crackerjack are the most striking example), but the focus is not only them. It’s on the story they’re telling. The art is great but it become ten times better when you stop to simply look at it and you start to read…

I have also always loved the style of Kurt in which the story is told in a subjective way and then is never the truth, but it is a truth.

Due to my mistake, or rather two, I was also able to enjoy a quality of Kurt and Brent which is hard to notice if you read the books in batches as usually I do. I accidentally reversed the reading order of a couple of issues in Winged Victory’s story, and I did it again with issues 18 and 19. Of course, the story works best if you read the books in the right order, but everything was holding perfectly in every issue, there was no recap, there was no need for it. I do not know how you write and draw stories that stand so well separately and are even better together!

The story of Quarrel and Crackerjack is now definitely one of my favorites of all time, along with “Safeguards” and the short but beautiful 1/2. A solid ending, rational and emotional at the same time, simultaneously sad and happy as is often the life of us normal people who do not jump from buildings.

I end up with three great truths:

Mr. Busiek know how to write stories.
Mr. Anderson knows how to draw them.
I do not know to line up a handful of books in the right order.

Thanks for the very kind words, Marco. I’ve always thought it was part of a comics writer’s job to make sure that if anyone picked up a random issue of a comics series, they’d get all the information they needed to enjoy the story. I don’t much like text recaps, like they use at Marvel—we did them on the inside front covers of ASTRO CITY for most of the Wildstorm run, but I tried to make sure they weren’t necessary.

Used to be, you could be right up front about recapping the story on page 1, as you eased into the next chapter, but as we’ve gotten more and more used to comics being collected in book form, neither writers nor readers want things to be quite that obvious. So I try to make sure you get everything you need, but organically, so ongoing readers don’t feel beaten over the head with exposition, but new readers get caught up unobtrusively. This is something they do on virtually every ongoing TV series, with or without those “Previously On…” clips, so the techniques are out there to be had. Two of the best at it are Neil Gaiman, who slipped recaps into SANDMAN so smoothly that readers would insist they weren’t actually there, and Leonard Starr, who had three panels of ON STAGE per day to tell nuanced character stories, and managed to fill readers in on what they needed to know while almost never feeling obvious about it. If I can manage half what they did, I’m doing okay.

And I hope your friend liked the book!

Here’s ANDREW:

Issue 22 was wonderful. The storyline and each page helped me, the reader get into the mind of Duncan. Kurt, you and the ASTRO CITY crew keep up the great writing and art. Each page pops.

We’ll do our best! And we’ve got Jesús Merino, the artist of #22, back for another guest-shot with #25 next month!

Next up, TOM:

I just wanted to drop a brief note and say thanks for the spotlight on Starfighter. I’ve wanted to learn more about him since I saw him drawn by Tom Grummett several years ago. I loved his story, especially the “John Carter/Adam Strange”-esque influence on the character. The art was fantastic. I would have enjoyed seeing Mr. Grummett’s take on the character again, but Mr. Merino’s art was an outstanding substitute. Thanks again for the focus on this character. Hope to see more in the future!

More Starfighter? I think that’s likely, yeah.

And GARY:

Firstly, congratulations. With FABLES reaching its conclusion, ASTRO CITY is now the longest running ongoing at Vertigo. (Correction—AMERICAN VAMPIRE—but you have the higher issue number).

Secondly, congratulations on ASTRO CITY’s Eisner nominations. Is 19 years between nominations for the same book a record?

Thirdly, congratulations on your latest issue. Jesús Merino is best fill-in artist so far (don’t let Misters Grummet or Nolan see this).

I won’t tell them if you don’t, Gary.

And yeah, I guess we will have the highest issue number at Vertigo, once FABLES #150 comes out. AMERICAN VAMPIRE’s been a Vertigo series longer, but hey. We started in 1995, so we’ve got history, man. History!

Thanks very much for the congrats on the Eisner nominations. I have no idea what the longest gap is; I’m just happy that we’re getting some attention, and thrilled to be on the ballot with such an amazing set of quality comics. It’s a cliché to say it’s an honor just to be nominated, but it really is.

I’m sad I won’t be at the ceremony this year, since I’m not attending San Diego. But Brent and Kristy’ll be there, and JG, Sinc, Wendy and our new editor, Molly “Wooly Bully” Mahan stand a good chance of being around, too.

If you’re there, say hi for me if you run across any of them!

And to wrap up, here’s BILLY:

I’ve read one or two trade paperback collections of ASTRO CITY, and enjoyed them very much, but did not become a regular subscriber to the series until it started publishing under Vertigo.

I’ve never read a bad issue of ASTRO CITY. Issue #22, like the other one-and-done stories you’ve created, remind me of the Silver Age Superman stories I read as a boy in the 1960’s. Most of them were six to eight pages long and packed a lot of action and characterization into a few pages. ASTRO CITY issues, like this latest one, create a world, a life and a whole career in one issue.

When I’m done reading the issue, I have one response, I WANT MORE. I’m left wanting to dig into the life and career of whatever person or superhero who was the main character of the story. None more so than the life and career of Duncan Keller, Starfighter.

Making them feel real—and more than that, feel like they’ve got a whole complex life and career out there, if you could only step into their world and explore it—is very much what we try to do each issue, Billy. So I’m delighted whenever someone reacts that way.

As for more, next time around you’ll be learning more about Honor Guard member HUMMINGBIRD, then more about Samaritan, more about American Chibi and Wolfspider, and on we go. More about Starfighter? Well, he’s in next issue, if that counts for anything…

That’s it for this month. See you next time, and hopefully more on-time with this column, to boot!

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