Through the Mail Slot


So, I seem to have been neglecting the blog. Sorry about that. Since last I posted, we’ve done Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’ve spent a week in L.A. pitching a movie, a week in Florida visiting relatives, written a mess o’ comics, read a ton of graphic novels and three quarters of a ton of novels, gotten very productive, gotten sick and unproductive, and now I seem to be getting productive again.
But anyway, let me answer some of the mail that’s stacked up, at least, and I’ll feel a little less neglectful. For a week or so, maybe.

I apologize if this question is at all out of line or a sore point and I’m even more sad I missed the opportunity to talk to you last weekend at Mid-Ohio, but I’ve been wondering if you felt any kind of way about Marvel’s use of your story beat from the Confessor arc of Astro City as the general concept for the Secret Invasion event from two summers back? As a fellow writer, I wholly subscribed to a “my ideas are for the world to use and explore,” but I know I’m in the minority on that one. Was this something that you were addressed with before or is it possibly another happy-accident of creative synergy?
Thanks in advance for taking the time to read this and I hope I get to make your acquaintance on the con-circuit come next year!
I’ll confess to not having read Secret Invasion, but I expect what you mean is that there were shape-shifting aliens infiltrating humanity, right? If so, the idea wasn’t original to me—Skrulls have been disguising themselves as human at Marvel for years, going back to Fantastic Four #2, when they disguised themselves as the Fantastic Four. And of course, the trope goes back to stuff like They Live, The Invaders and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well.
I’ve also seen people suggest that Marvel took the Superhero Registration Act in the Civil War event from Confession, but that too has predecessors—the Mutant Registration Act at Marvel, the “Last Days of the Justice Society” events at DC, where the JSA heroes were pressured to reveal their identities to the government, the Keene Act in Watchmen, and of course they’re all inspired by real-world examples like the 1940 Alien Registration Act or the Nazi registration of Jewish-owned property, and so on.
What matters isn’t whether ideas are new—most aren’t, after all—but how they’re used. And I’m reasonably confident that Secret Invasion used its ideas rather differently from what happened in Confession.
From MARK:

No question, no inquiry, no request.
Just wanted to say thank you for writing great stories that I really enjoy reading and coming back to again and again.
Reread Astro City Vol 1 again and felt compelled to tell you how much I enjoyed it, again.
Very glad to hear it, sir!

Continue reading

Through the Mail Slot


A little blog mail’s stacked up, so I should deal with it, starting with this picture (and note) from Isidore…
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.

Through the Mail Slot


I’ve been neglecting the blog lately—I’ve been having persistent allergy symptoms, so I’ve spent what clearheaded time I have writing and dealing with the multiple contract negotiations that all seemed to hit at the same time, and as a result there hasn’t been much time to blog and hasn’t been much to say anyway.
But it feels like the allergies are finally getting under control, except that for some reason this morning my right eye is streaming tears. Probably a reaction to the allergy shot I had yesterday, and it’ll settle down over the day. But nobody wants me writing anything for publication right now (or more accurately, no one wants what I’d produce at the moment, peering through the bottom edge of my glasses through a bleary haze). So I figured I’d catch up on some e-mail. Pardon me if there are more typos than usual. And if there aren’t, it’s sheer happenstance.
First up, William Lukash…

I’ve been reading Astro City since day one, but I wouldn’t say I’m a follower of your work. If you write a title I read, then I’m happy you are on board.
I tend to be a comic book archeologist, and by that I mean I like to read the old stuff. I just finished reading Essential Power Man and Iron Fist volume 2 and was quite pleased with your stories in that volume. I thought the confrontation with Master Khan was well paced and fun. Fera was interesting. I liked how she would not fight Iron Fist until he recovered his soul, because without that, he was not truly Iron Fist.
Also, although I can’t recall the hero’s name off the top of my head, I really like the neon guy on the flying disc. Mister Anderson came up with a neat design for that one.
I’m not 100% sure right now, but I think Alex may have had a lot to do with the design of Mirage. But glad you liked it, either way.
And glad you like the Power/Fist stories. Those were some of my earliest professional writing, and I was mostly just imitating Jo Duffy’s excellent earlier run on the series for all I was worth. I figured out how to bring my own “voice” to the series somewhere along the way, and was going to start implementing it with #101, but alas, I got dropped from the book with #100, and only a few hints made it in to the issues I wrote (including the fill-in in #105, which would have been a building sub-plot, had I stayed on). I do recall that I wanted #100 to be a big event focused on Luke, since #75 had been a K’un-Lun/Master Khan story—but I couldn’t think of one in the time I had, so I went with the ideas at hand.
Had I stayed on, I’d have done a lot more with Fera. She was going to develop into a lot more than just an animalistic wolf-woman. Maybe someday, somewhere, I can do something with those idea.
Next up, Victoria Koldewyn…

I have to stop reading Superman: Secret Identity for just a moment to send my regards! This is the first graphic novel of yours that I’ve ever read and I am utterly hooked. I generally don’t crack open the superhero genre but as I was browsing the library shelves yesterday I found yours. Admittedly, it was Stuart Immonen’s stunning artwork that captured my attention at the outset. You two make a great team.
I love that I am totally engrossed by the novel. I feel so….invested! It’s fantastic. I feel so geeked out!
So, thank you.
I haven’t yet browsed your website much but I am already loving what little I’ve seen and read.
Stuart did a fantastic job on Superman: Secret Identity. After the first issue, I felt like my job was just to match up to the excellence of the art, and try not to look too bad by comparison. It all worked out pretty well, and I’m thrilled so many people liked it. But it was Stuart’s A-game, and me desperately trying not to look feeble next to his work.
Currently, I’m working on Batman: Creature of the Night, a thematic sequel (not set in the same ‘world,’ but a similar idea), drawn by John Paul Leon. And as of the latest batch of pages that came in from John Paul, I had the same reaction: “Uh-oh, I’d better rewrite all that dialogue, there, so it doesn’t come off as shabby next to this stunning artwork.” So maybe that bodes well for the series!
And last, I’ll leave this one anonymous…

Have an Idea for a new Superhero already have him drawn out. Need to get comic script written introducing him with an origin issue either a 22 page or maybe a novel 100 pages or more. Let me know if you would be interested in doing this for me and what would be your fee. Or send this to someone who could be interested in writing it. Thanks for your time.
Sorry, but no. I have so many ideas of my own that I’ll never get to them all, so I’m not in the market for other people’s ideas.
I think you’ll find this pretty consistent among writers—ideas are basically cheap, we come up with them left and right. It’s what you do with the ideas that matters. And I’m booked up doing things with my own ideas—character ideas, story ideas, plot ideas. All the writers I know are pretty much the same. If you were a publisher looking for someone to write scripts for you for pay, you could probably find people, but if you’ve just got an idea you want someone to write stories for so you can then try to find a market for it, I wouldn’t know where to send you.
If I were you, I’d write the script myself. Whatever you lack in experience, you are the person who understands your idea best, and is best positioned to realize it. So I’d say give it a shot. If nothing else, it’s fun.
And with that, I think I’d going to sack out on the couch for a while, see if the world gets any less smeary-looking…

Through the Mail Slot


Just wrapped up another Astro City script—and just signed contracts for what used to be called American Gothic, but now has a new title, which I’m sure we’ll be telling you about in time. But for now, let’s see what’s come in via e-mail.
Hollis writes…

Don’t have a lot in common with you, except for one thing—Sept. 16, 1960.
‘Twas a fine day, that day.
Well, I liked it! And it gave us Mike Mignola, as well. And, if I recall correctly, inker Keith Williams and Legion fan and onetime Marvel typesetter Brenda Mings. A pretty productive day, September 16, 1960.
Nikko Elliott writes…

I just saw my letter in the Astro City lettercol! That was awesome! What a beautiful cover on that issue. Give my props to Alex. And I loved that ending. Dark Age was a decent story, not my favorite, but that ending covering Samaritan made it worth while. I’m a big Samaritan fan.
Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for putting my letter in the lettercol and, also, I wanted to make a prediction. I think Old Soldier is the Silver Agent after years/decades/(centuries?) of time travel. I’m eagerly awaiting the Silver Agent specials (there are two, right?). Keep up the great work!
Thanks. The Old Soldier and the Silver Agent, hmm? It’s an interesting idea, at least. And I guess you’ll find out if you were right or not pretty soon.
Next up, Xiko de Couto…

I do not speak your language, then translate the Portuguese to their language by Google. Forgive me.
I’m 29 and I became a fan (of carterinha, as they say here in Brazil) when I read Superman: Secret Identity. For me the best Superman story ever written. I say this because I was tired of the sameness of the comics. Nobody grows old, no one dies (and remains so), nobody does child, very annoying. Unlike the manga, where the stories have a beginning, middle and end. No wear of the hero. Then comes before me this story his own, I wanted to film that turned the world to see his genius, proving that the character may be subject to major routes.
Well after this statement, I humbly ask if you want to do a similar project with other iconic characters from DC or another editor and if you use twitter, so you can follow more readily their future work.
I am indeed on Twitter, Xiko, and you can find me here.
As for doing another project like Superman: Secret Identity with a different iconic character, all I can tell you is to get ready for Batman: Creature of the Night, by me and John Paul Leon—along with letterer Todd Klein and editor Joey Cavalieri, who also worked on S:SI.
It’s not the same as S:SI, since Batman’s a different character and deserves a different kind of story, but it’s definitely in the same territory—and John Paul is doing absolutely gorgeous work. It won’t be scheduled until a lot more of it is done, but it’s in the works, at least.
Who’s next? Ah, Daniel Solzman…

I’m writing a paper on comics and politics and wanted to ask you a few questions.
Is it common for writers to inject their own political views in the content they are writing?
Is it fair to say that most writers tend to be liberal in views?
Also, I just now had a chance to read the Jefferson related post on your blog and I can’t believe that someone would drop your books just because you made a comment relating to the tea party. Right now, my home state of Kentucky is in the national spotlight because of Rand Paul of the tea party—he doesn’t represent Kentucky values—that much I know.
At some point, I’ll stop answering questions for school papers, I expect, but that day doesn’t seem to have come yet. To address Daniel’s questions:
1. I think it’s almost impossible for a writer to not put some sort of viewpoint—social, philosophical, political and more—into their work. It’s their work, after all. It comes from them, and reflects who they are. But I suspect that’s not what you mean—you’re probably thinking about writers having characters serve as a mouthpiece for political speech. And there’s been plenty of that in comics over the years, whether it’s Cap socking Hitler, Bucky urging readers to buy war bonds, Stan Lee’s anti-Communist stuff of the early Sixties, his anti-racism stuff on the later Sixties (and Bob Kanigher’s, and Denny O’Neil’s, and Roy Thomas’s and more), Steve Englehart’s politically-disillusioned Cap or feminist Wonder Woman, and on and on. Comics are fiction and fiction says things; it’s unreasonable to expect them to be viewpoint-free. That said, I think good writers will write stories informed by their own sensibilities, while still respecting the characters’ established personality. A conservative writer may think liberals are a bunch of nutcases, but he shouldn’t write Green Arrow as a John Bircher, because that would be inappropriate to the character, just as it would be for a liberal writer to make USAgent into a knee-jerk lefty.
2. I don’t get into that many political discussions with my fellow writers. I know more liberals than conservatives, and if I had to guess I’d guess that comics writers skew liberal, but I know folks on both the left and the right (and a batch of libertarians, too).
And hey, Rand Paul’s going to be interesting to watch, at least.
Wrapping it up, we hear from Jim Arrowsmith…

My son and I have been collecting comics ever since Arrowsmith came out…I was trying to get him to read more, which he struggled at, when he saw ‘our’ name in Atomic Comics window on an Arrowsmith poster. He started reading and never stopped.
I am now in my mid 40’s and he is 21 and we still enjoy comics…Astro City…Walking Dead are our favorites. Although we don’t see each often…when we do…we always spend some of that time commenting on the latest editions.
He was wondering if you were ever going to do another Arrowsmith Volume 2 series? Thanks for your creativity and Imagination…
Thanks for the kind words, Jim.
There will indeed be a follow-up to Arrowsmith, though it’ll take a while. We’re doing it as a heavily-illustrated prose novel, sort of like Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’s Stardust (but instead of Neil and Charlie it’ll be me and Carlos, and instead of Stardust it’ll, uh, be Arrowsmith). But between my writing schedule and Carlos’s deadlines as an exclusive artist for Marvel, it’ll take a while. But we’ll make it as good as we can manage, and I hope you’ll think it’s worth the wait.
And so goes the mail. More in a while, I’d assume!

Penny and Some Thoughts

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.