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The Spencerview Part One: Nick Spencer Talks Morning Glories

Written by Christian Hoffer on Monday, April 11 2011 and posted in Features

In the first of three parts, Nick Spencer stops by the Outhouse to discuss Morning Glories and the comic speculation market!

Nick Spencer is the Eisner Award nominated writer of Morning Glories, Iron Man 2.0, and T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents.  Over the course of the last year, Spencer has experienced a meteoric rise through the comic book industry culminating in a Marvel exclusive contract and multiple Eisner Award nominations.  Nick graciously spoke with the Outhouse about his career, his Marvel contract and answers readers' burning questions.  In the first of a three-part interview, Spencer talks about Morning Glories, its impact on comic speculation, its connections to Lost and what's to come in the hottest book on the shelves.  

The Outhouse: You've come a long way from Newsarama poster to indy sensation and Marvel exclusive writer. What would you say has been the secret to your success?

Nick Spencer: I knew what I wanted to do a long time ago. I tried to work as hard as I could and made sure that I conducted myself with professionalism to show my editors that I was serious about this. I studied very closely what the market was responding to, what the industry was responding to and the career trajectories of people that I wanted to emulate. I also pushed myself to tell the best stories that I had in me.

I also was very persistent. When I got my first book, I was working on my second and third books. When I got those books, I was working on my fourth and fifth books. That was the key in those early years. You can't afford to breathe or relax or pat yourself on the back yet. If you want to have a long and lasting career in the comic book industry, you have to be willing to give up some hours of sleep and weekends. Sometimes when people get their first book green lit, they have a tendency to take six months and just enjoy it and just work on that one book. In my opinion, that's precious time that's being wasted.

OH: Right now, you're working on four ongoing series as well as a miniseries. How do you keep up with all of the different projects you're working on?

Cover of Morning Glories #7
: There's a lot more than that. I'm working on a lot of projects that haven't been announced yet. Right now, I'm working to close to a dozen different projects at this point.

It's challenging and has been a learning experience, but it's also very rewarding. I like working on a lot of things at once. Some guys do very well focusing like a laser on one or two books. I've found when my workload is lighter; I get bored and write less. When I work on a lot of different things, my mind stays on writing. So it actually helps me.

I think I'm a better, faster writer because of how much I work on. I would also say, on the creative standpoint, I enjoy it because I get to work in a lot of different genre and have a lot of different voices and go in a lot of different directions. Secret Avengers is very different from Morning Glories. Morning Glories is a very different book from Iron Man 2.0. And Iron Man 2.0 is a very different book from Infinite Vacation. For me, getting to do more than one thing and not getting stuck in a pigeonhole and getting to stretch different muscles is a big part of the appeal of why I do as much as I do.

OH: You don't have any plans to slow down, do you?

NS: No, I hope not. [laughs] Right now, I'm hitting the deadlines and more importantly I'm feeling like the work that I'm putting out is as good as it would be if it was the only script I was working on that month. It's very important to me that scripts don't go until they are ready. Obviously, that can be tough when you have as much on your plate as I do. It's hard to not try to rush and get it all down on the page because of the other two or three scripts you have waiting for that week. I just turned in a script last Friday that I'm going to redo seven to eight pages today because I wasn't satisfied by it.

It's just a case of not turning in scripts that you don't feel is the best that you can do. As of right now, it's all on track and it's all working. I'm going to keep pushing myself as hard as I can. It actually gets easier as you get into your rhythm. You get used to sitting in front of the keyboard for x hours a day.

OH: Let's talk a bit about Morning Glories. Morning Glories has been a runaway success and really started the rise to where you are today. It's really cemented your role as "the next big thing" in the comic book industry. What was the inspiration for Morning Glories and how did the project come into existence?

NS: I wrote the script for the first issue while staying with my parents in their guest room. They live up in the hills in Kentucky and there's not a whole lot to see or do up there. It was a really relaxing trip up there and gave me time to think. It was around the time that Existence 2.0, my first book with Image, had been picked up but before it got published.

I had the idea for the book late at night and wrote the first issue the next day. The first issue was forty-four pages and I wrote it all that day. A few things got changed in the ensuing two years but for the most part the script stayed pretty intact. I held onto the script because I knew it was a long form story and a very ambitious book. I felt that I needed to have a little more under my belt before I felt qualified to write it and could have a publisher take a chance on it.

So I shelved it and kept in the back of my head and did Forgetless and Shuddertown for Image. After Shuddertown had shown some progress in sales from Forgetless, I went to Jim [Valentino] and Kris [Simon] at Shadowline and told them that Morning Glories is what I wanted to do next. After that, it still took another year to fit it into the calendar and find a spot for it. But now, it's off to the races.

OH: Did you expect Morning Glories to be as popular as it is today?

NS: I had hoped that I was going to have a story that could break past the heavy indy reader audience and penetrate that broader audience that picks up Marvel, DC as well as the Walking Dead or Chew or American Vampire. I knew based on the story and the creative team that we had put together that if it was going to happen, it was probably going to be on Morning Glories. I felt very good about the team we had, Rodin [Esquejo] and Joe [Eisma] and Alex [Sollazzo] and Johnny [Lowe]. I also felt that the story had some resonant themes and some universality that maybe a broader audience would appreciate.

OH: How did you feel about the fact that Morning Glories breathed new life into the comic book speculation market?

Cover of Morning Glories #8
: [laughs] I knew this was coming! My beloved Morning Glories Speculators. Can I say hi to Fourthy, Squid and John Snow? I just want to say thank you for my career and thanks to the rest of you for buying the shit on ebay!

I dunno, it wasn't manufactured. For an Image book, we had a nice healthy first run. We overprinted by ten to fifteen percent. The first order was around eight thousand issues, which was really healthy for a new book, but it was way under what the demand was. People wanted the book! There were a lot of people who were seeing their friends talking about it on twitter, and on messageboards and in the shops and they didn't want to get left out. Sometimes, in smaller cities and smaller towns where there was a little bit of stock left, people saw opportunity to make some cash!

I don't see a problem with it. In my opinion, they weren't buying the book because they were spoiled on the cover or because we shifted it one in ten or one in fifty. They were buying the book for the story. They wanted to be part of it and they wanted to be part of it from the ground up.

Image sent me thirty comp copies and I haven't sold a single one of them so I don't feel too guilty about it. That's for you and your God to figure out.

OH: Do you know how well Morning Glories is selling now? It's been staying pretty consistent, hasn't it?

NS: You know, what happened to us was pretty simple. The first issue came out and it was gone within a day. We started doing a reprint, which usually is around three thousand copies. And we went through three of those. Because of how ordering works, retailers weren't ordering more of issues two and three so there was scarcity in those later issues, so we had to do reprints of that as well. But for the customers, all they could see was a scarcity of space on the wall. So we sort of bottlenecked where we had seventeen to eighteen thousand people buy that first issue but there were only nine thousand copies of issue two.

To be completely honest with you, and most retailers would admit this as well, ordering patterns on most books are set up with the assumption that it will fail. With Morning Glories, that wasn't the case. It's hard in shops, especially smaller ones, to adjust on the fly like that even with reorders and second printings. We hit a bottleneck and hit a level around twelve thousands copies a month.

But we knew that it was too low. We knew there was more people who couldn't find issue two and three when they came out and decided to just wait for the trade. So we printed really hefty for the trade. We did a ten thousand book print run, which is ridiculous. On last month's Diamond Graphic Novel Chart, only Return of Bruce Wayne beat us. We beat stuff like Naruto, which we had no business beating. We had initial orders of about five thousand, which is pretty good for a ten thousand print run. And then when the trade came out, after two weeks, we were through the first print run of the trade so we had to do another fifteen thousand book print run.

I went through a bit spiel about this on Twitter. People looked at the graphic novel chart and said "Oh, you were almost number one." No we're number one. We sold that five thousand and then we sold another five thousand. And now we're on a second print of the trade.

The trick now is to get retailers to see that they can get the ten thousand people who just picked up that trade onto the single issues. That's why we rushed the trade to come out a week before issue seven. Unfortunately, what you're seeing now is certain retailers not pushing the number up as high as they should and so a lot of those trade readers instead of getting the entry into the single issues are becoming long-time trade readers.

I want to be clear; I'm not blaming retailers for this because I understand why they're as risk-averse as they are. If I were in their shoes, I would do the exact same thing. It creates this bottleneck over and over. It's why you see a book like The Walking Dead, which is now a phenomenon and has a TV show, only sell twenty thousand issues per month, when really it has one hundred thousand readers reading it in some way or another every month. It creates these artificial ceilings. Selling the books on eBay is just another facet of that.

OH: What are your thoughts on the constant comparisons between Morning Glories and Lost? It seems like whenever someone talks about Morning Glories, it inevitably gets compared to Lost. Do you feel that it's an accurate comparison?

Cover of Morning Glories #9
: Yeah, I do! I do! We're really upfront about that. I was the guy that originally used the "Lost meets Runaways" tagline. I think it's much more Lost than Runaways. It's always worn of its love of that show and the storytelling method that Lost pioneered on its sleeve.

We're not ripping Lost off in anyway. We're not hitting the same beats, we're not telling the same story and we're not going the same places. But there are things about the method to the way the story unfolded in Lost that I really am a huge fan of. It shows in some of my other work too. Morning Glories is really my covert love song to Lost and The Prisoner and Runaways and a lot of the teen slasher films that I really grew up with and love. We don't talk about that too much, but if you really look at Morning Glories, you'll see a lot of The Faculty and Disturbing Behavior and you'll see a lot of influence there too. That stuff when I was a teenager was a big deal for me and is still kind of influential in what I write. I think it was all a lot of fun and it's kind of sad that we don't see much of that very more.

Morning Glories is all of those things. It wears its influences on its sleeve. Part of the book is about being pop culture aware and about pop culture aware people being in a pop culture situation. That was part of the brilliance of Scream was that the characters knew they were in a story. There's a lot of that in Morning Glories. Hunter is a nicer guy version of Jamie Kennedy's character in Scream in some ways. He understands the rules and sees everyone as part of it. That's true of all the kids and that's part of the fun of the stories.

OH: So what can we expect to see coming up in Morning Glories?

NS: We're halfway through the second arc. The second arc was an opportunity to spend some time with the kids individually and get to know their past. It also lets the reader see how they're responding to being at the Academy and their first interactions with some of the other students. That's been a big component in this arc.

We're also answering some questions from the first arc and adding some new ones. Really we're adding the foundations for the rest of the first season. Next up is Jun's issue. We had a big reveal about Jun in issue eight and now we're going to find out a little more about that with a whole lot more to come. Basically what you're seeing in this arc is the beginning of the characters' backstories and what's going on inside their head. By the end of season one, I Really want you to have a good firm well-rounded idea of who these characters are. That's what this whole story about.

Tomorrow: Nick Spencer discusses his decision to join Marvel as an exclusive writer and talks about Iron Man 2.0 and his upcoming run on Secret Avengers

Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer

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