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Interview: Kurt Busiek

Written by Brian Burchette on Wednesday, March 04 2009 and posted in Features
Outhouse Staff Writer, Brian Burchette, was able to corner the prolific Kurt Busiek for a couple of quick questions on everything from the conclusion of “Trinity” to new “ASTRO CITY”. Always the gentleman, Kurt was kind enough to answer all questions that were thrown at him; even the underwear one.

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Outhouse: Now that you are in the final issues of DC’s weekly comic, Trinity, what have you found to be the biggest challenge of a weekly comic?

Kurt Busiek: It's been pretty much what we knew it would be going in:  The deadlines.  The cosmic story, juggling a huge cast, coordinating the work of two writers, four pencilers and more, all that's a lot of fun, and we'd learned a lot from DC's experiences with the previous two weeklies, to do our best to prepare, and to make the whole process as smooth and streamlined as we could.  And I think we've done that -- the series has been a roller-coaster ride, but we've had no disasters, we've kept things moving along, and I think everyone working on the book has had fun challenging each other and working to make the book the best we can.

But even knowing it's coming, it's hard to prepare for 52 weeks of weekly deadlines -- two plots and two scripts, due every single week.  We knew that we'd be skating the edge by the time we got near the end, and we're getting there -- we haven't had trouble making the ship dates, and it looks like we'll avoid that the rest of the way, but it can be pretty grueling.  You can't slack off for a week and rest, and catch up later -- it all has to keep going, all the time.  I think by the time we're done, everyone'll need a vacation before we start our next projects.

     OH: Looking back on this creative journey, what have you been most proud of?    
      And is there anything you would have changed?

KB: It's next to impossible to look back now.  I'm almost finished with the plotting, Fabian's close behind me, I scripted 6 pages of a lead chapter, did my co-writerly tweaking of ten pages of backup script and went over another ten-page backup today.  And it's a Sunday.  So it's hard to step back in the middle of all that and look back -- I'm looking forward to tomorrow, where I'll outline at least one more plot, tweak another backup script and maybe script another 3 pages of the lead.  Look back?  I've just realized another bit we need to get in with one of the secondary characters, and where it needs to go, and I've been working out how to structure out the final issue, which will be a lot of fun, and more.

But trying to drag myself out of forward mode and look back, I'm proud to have worked with such a talented group of people, and I hope I'll have the chance to work with all of them more, in the future.  And, watching the way the story's coming together at the end, I'm glad that all the setups we did, hundreds of pages ago, are coming together so nicely -- when you're in the middle of it all it feels like you're juggling a million things and can't see the big picture any more, so it's nice to see that our plans actually worked.  And I think we've done good work with the Trinity -- who they are, what they mean and how that matters, to them and to the world around them.  I've also had a blast writing new characters like the Dreambound, Warhound and Graak -- some of the readers may hate the little yellow guy, but I love him -- and getting a chance to write Hawkman and John Stewart and the Crime Syndicate and so many of the others.

Is there anything I'd have changed?  There always is.  But the thing is, if I'd done it the way I would have changed it, I'd be looking at it now and thinking of three different ways to have done it.  There's no way to say that the instinct of "if I could go back and do it again I'd do it this way instead" is going to produce better stuff; you're going to second-guess whatever you put down on the page.  So it doesn't get you anywhere to play that kind of game -- and for that matter, that kind of post-mortem isn't anything I can manage when we're still rocketing toward the finale.

OH:   What is next on your schedule once Trinity is over?

KB: I'm going to take my family up to Seattle, where we're going to see the Red Sox play three games, and then we're going on a cruise to Alaska.

What, comics?  I've got a couple of things in the works, and one very big, very cool project that reunites me with an old collaborator and takes me into realms I've never had the chance to play in, which I hope to be starting in June, but it hasn't been announced yet, so I can't name it.  I will say I'm doing a cool little Green Lantern project with an artist named Joe Quinones.  And we're still talking about other things -- including stuff that features some of the other characters from TRINITY -- but I can't announce anything.

astrocity.jpgOH: Any plans for more ASTRO CITY in the future?

KB: We've been working on ASTRO CITY all along.  The next four issues are done, and start coming out in May -- that's Book Three of our big epic, "The Dark Age," and it has new characters, new mysteries, and brings the Williams brothers' story to even more of a boil.  And Brent's already finished penciling the first issue beyond that, a look at Astra Furst as she graduates college.  Last time you saw her, she was in third grade, I think, but ASTRO CITY takes place in real time, more or less, so she's in her early twenties now and her story's going to take her to some very, very strange places.

OH:   On a more personal note: Who were your major influences while both growing up and while you were studying your craft?

KB: When I was a kid, I think I got my sense of what a story is by reading and re reading books of Norse mythology, and Andrew Lang's "Fairy Books" -- the Red Fairy Book, the Blue Fairy Book, the Orange Fairy Book, like that.  They're anthologies of fairy tales, piles of them, and I went through them many times.  I was also a big fan of the Oz books, and Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, and the Mrs. Coverlet books, and Narnia, Edward Eager and lots more.

When I was studying comics, learning how to write them, I was strongly influenced by classic Marvel writers -- Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin -- and over on the DC side, by Cary Bates.  And the storytelling of Jack Kirby, whoever he was working with.  Strip creators, like Milton Caniff and Leonard Starr, too.  And outside the world of comics, William Goldman, Robert Towne, Lawrence Block, Robert Heinlein and lots of others.

OH: If you could write for any company in any period of comic history (excluding ec.jpg
 now), which would it be and why?

KB: The trouble with that question is that, much as I might want to work with Julie Schwartz in his heyday, or with Kurtzman at EC or Marvel of the 1970s, the trouble is that most eras of comics were lousy for he creators in terms of the rights they had to their own work and the pay they got.  So would I like to have had the chance to work with Bill Everett in the 1950s, or Frank Robbins in the Seventies, or John Buscema, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane and Alex Toth any time?  Sure.  But I'd also like to feed my family and have my rights respected.

So on the one end of the scale, doing something for Field Enterprises back in the heyday of the comics adventure strip would be fun, back when newspapers had a huge audience, the strips were printed nice and big, and a comic-strip creator could really break new ground.  And on the completely greedy end of the scale, going back to the late 1980s, when books were selling huge numbers and creators were getting big royalties, that'd be nice, too.  I was there, but I didn't get to work on anything big until after everything collapsed.

But overall, I'm happy in the current industry -- things aren't perfect, but there's amazing stuff coming out, and creators are treated far more fairly than they were when I was reading the books as a kid...

OH: Who were your heroes growing up?

KB: In comics?  I mostly didn't start reading comics 'til I was a teenager, but before that I liked Batman and Asterix and Pogo.  Once I started reading comics regularly, my favorites were Hawkeye and Iron Man and the original X-Men and Green Lantern and the Flash.  And the Levitz Legion.  Loved that stuff.pogo.gif

If you mean personal heroes, in real life, I guess it would have been Rico Petrocelli and Bobby Orr.  And anyone who ran against Richard Nixon.

OH: Is there any comic or hero that you haven’t written yet that you would like to?

KB: I've written an awful lot of characters.  There are some I've only written on occasion that I'd like to do a good solid run on, like the Fantastic Four, the Legion, the Flash and Green Lantern, but between Avengers, Defenders, Trinity and JLA/Avengers, it's hard to imagine who I didn't hit at least once.  Maybe the THUNDER Agents.  Or Hercules Unbound.  Or the All-Star Squadron.


OH: Boxers or Briefs?

KB: Yes, usually.  The other options...naaah.

OH: Did you always want to write comics, and if not, what were your long-term goals?

avengers.jpgKB: I wanted to be a writer from when I was very young.  The only other career goal I remember having for any length of time was fighter pilot, but I got over that.  I never got over wanting to write, though -- I learned to read when I was three, and I always wanted to tell stories.  I didn't know whether I wanted to write novels or plays or movies or what, but I wanted to write something.  When I stumbled onto comics, and realized people write them as a job, that was a big turning point for me.

But you never know, maybe I'll get back to those other kinds of writing, too.

OH: Any last thoughts on Trinity that you would like to share with The Outhouse readers? 

KB: I'm glad so many readers have been willing to come along on the weekly ride, and I hope they like how it all wraps up!

Thank you, Kurt, for taking the time to talk with us!



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