BCP was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with comic book writer, author and former award-winning Vertigo editor Stuart Moore. Here’s what was said;
Big Comic Page: First off Stuart, thanks for taking the time to have a chat with us. You’ve worked as both a writer and editor in you career, so we’re going to start this off by discussing your time as an editor. You reigned over many well-regarded titles such as Hellblazer, Books of Magic, Swamp Thing and Preacher, so really I guess the most obvious thing to ask you would be – how did Vertigo really set the bar for ‘adult’ comics?
Stuart Moore: The Vertigo line was, and still is, an amazing thing — the only full-line imprint of a major comics company composed of creator-owned and creator-driven projects, that nevertheless paid full page rates to its creators. Especially in the early days, we felt a strong sense of responsibility about the content: Since we had such freedom to show violence and sexual scenes, we didn’t want that material to seem gratuitous. It should be adult material in the true sense of the word, illuminating the human condition in dark ways that comics traditionally couldn’t touch.
I also looked at it as a kind of bridge between superhero comics and the more alternative, Fantagraphics-type material of the time. Vertigo was always very strongly literary, very writer-driven (though it was also a home for some stunning artists whose work didn’t fit in super hero books, which at the time weren’t as open to a wider range of art styles). In that, Vertigo was a strong influence on the path superhero comics have taken since then, particularly at Marvel. I’d argue that the pacing and long-form serial storytelling was an influence on the modern style of sophisticated TV, too.
BCP: Following on from that, how do you feel about DC absorbing some of the Vertigo mythos into mainstream DC, such as Hellblazer’s recent cancellation and Constantine/Justice League Dark being featured in the New 52?
SM: Mixed feelings. As a Vertigo editor, the DC-owned properties were always a great tool for me: I could try out a new writer or artist on HELLBLAZER or SWAMP THING without committing to a full creator-owned miniseries, and going through all the contract negotiations necessary to that. It’s also tricky to maintain an imprint based on all creator-owned and -controlled projects…you have to hope your next big hit, your FABLES or 100 BULLETS, comes along soon enough after your PREACHER or SANDMAN has ended.
But all that said, it was time for a change. SWAMP THING in particular was probably due for a return to his (WAIT WAIT WAIT FOR IT) roots.
BCP: You also edited other titles geared towards older readers Editing for DC’s Helix line and over at Marvel with Marvel Knights and Max. Was this a conscious effort on your part or do the publishers find your work suits more adult oriented books?
SM: Both of those came from my work at Vertigo. Knights wasn’t actually a mature line (most of Helix wasn’t, either), but both featured a lot of Vertigo creators and a similar adult sensibility. I guess I find that stuff interesting. Knights was a particularly wild ride…Joe Quesada had just become editor-in-chief of Marvel, so I replaced him as Knights editor. Axel Alonso came over to Marvel at the same time, and we were already friends. There was a while there where it seemed like we could do anything.
BCP: I guess this one will have an obvious answer, but what kind of duties does being an editor entail? And how do you then get the companies to differentiate between you being and editor and being a writer?
SM: The biggest trick for a comics editor is knowing just how much to stick your hands into a project, to direct and shape the creators’ vision, and how much to hang back and let them work. That said, an editor’s duties, and level of authority, differ a lot depending on the attitudes and philosophy of the management they’re working for. I was always fortunate to work in creator-friendly environments. I come originally from book publishing, where the editor really is considered to be in service to the author. I always preferred to pick good creative teams and nudge them subtly, hopefully in the right directions.
In past eras, there was a lot of crossover between comics writing and editorial. That was good and bad; on the one hand, being in an office is great training for writing the books, as long as you have good teachers. On the other hand, there’s enormous potential for conflicts of interest. When I went freelance, I basically started from scratch. I wrote for Tokyopop, for a Dark Horse startup line, for small presses; I wrote novels for Games Workshop. Anything and everything to get my name out there.
I always say that knowing people in the comics industry will get your phone calls answered, but it won’t get you work. You have to prove you can do the job. And that’s not easy; in fact, it SHOULDN’T be easy. There are a million people who’d like to write comics. You have to prove that you’re the best person to do it.
BCP: As a writer you have also had stints on the likes of Iron Man, Namor and Detective Comics. Which characters do you like writing and which would you still like to write?
SM: I have a very soft spot for Iron Man — I just finished a couple of licensed projects involving him. I also love Wolverine. You’d think he’d be so overexposed by now, there’d be nothing left to write about. But I can always come up with a new angle on him. He’s endlessly fascinating.
BCP: Back in 2007 you wrote New Avengers/Transformers. When approached about writing a comic with these two seemingly unrelated worlds, where do you begin?
SM: It’s funny you ask about that project, because it wasn’t, uh, the most critically-acclaimed book I’ve ever written. :) Let’s see: the first TRANSFORMERS movie was about to come out, and the IDW books had launched within the past few years. Everyone involved agreed we wanted to keep the scope of the story small — the fans were throwing around phrases like “Unicron vs. Galactus,” which is an undeniably cool idea, but seemed wrong for a first meeting of the two teams. So we treated the Transformers as aliens who’d been hiding all along in the Marvel Universe, until this fateful first meeting. The book was fun to write, and I loved working with Tyler Kirkham.
The story, incidentally, fits into both NEW AVENGERS and IDW-TRANSFORMERS continuity, though loosely. I did a TRANSFORMERS SPOTLIGHT one-shot, RAMJET, following up on the AVENGERS project. That was fun — like a giant-robot Bugs Bunny cartoon.
BCP: Then you dealt a lot with the Avengers characters when you wrote the prose novel for Civil War. How did you go about adapting what was a fairly action-heavy comic event like Civil War into a prose novel, and were they any particular difficulties you encountered along the way?
SM: The action scenes were a bitch to write — keeping track of dozens of characters is very tricky. You also wind up using up a lot of space, whereas a comic book can bring you instantly up to date on ten or twenty characters’ status quo in one clever splash panel.
But that was just mechanics. The real tricky part was updating the story, which was written very much in the heat of the volatile, late-Bush-era struggle for the soul of America. I approached it this way: The original story asked the question, Do we really want to build a security state for ourselves to live in? In my novel, that’s updated to: We built this security state — did you really think the powers-that-be weren’t going to use it? Fortunately, that was perfect for Tony Stark. He’s an idealist and a businessman, and he really does believe he knows what’s best for everyone. You can see that in the Senate-hearings scene from IRON MAN 2.
BCP: How much freedom did Marvel give you in terms of artistic licence during the adaptation. Were you able to make any changes you saw fit, or did you have to stick to the story as it was originally told?
SM: I suggested a number of changes, and basically all were accepted. We all agreed that the cast of characters should be pared down slightly, to make the story more accessible to new readers; and that Spider-Man in particular should be unmarried. Some of the new sequences, like the Peter Parker scenes and the new Captain America epilogue, are among my favorites in the book.
But I stuck very close to the basic spine of the story. It’s a really nicely paced piece, full of big, character-driven action scenes. Hopefully I didn’t screw that up.
BCP: You have written your own titles such as PARA, How does that differ from working with the ‘Big Two’, and which way of working do you prefer?
SM: I’m doing more original work again now — though I can’t discuss it yet — and it’s amazing. I’m at the point where I know my strengths and weaknesses pretty well, and it’s great to get back to original projects. On the other hand, you know, it’s hard to beat Wolverine. I really like bouncing around, working on different genres and characters…it keeps me fresh, it keeps me interested.
BCP: Who are you biggest influences as a writer?
SM: In comics: Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin, Steve Gerber. In prose: Philip K. Dick, Cordwainer Smith, Charles Willeford, and dozens of more literary, less pulpy guys.
BCP: And Finally, what’s next from Stuart Moore?
SM: A lot of stuff I can’t talk about yet! I’ll have new comics out from two major publishers by the end of the year. I’m still writing the comic THE 99 for Teshkeel Media, and I’ve been doing some kids’ books for Disney — those should also be announced soon. I’ve cowritten THE ART OF IRON MAN 3, which should be out any second. Right now I’m working on a crazy top-secret project that I can’t even breathe a word about, but it’s very exciting.
If I ever get a month free, I’ll finish the fantasy novel I’ve been working on for the past four years. That’s my next big personal challenge. Wish me luck!
BCP: Best of luck with that! Can’t wait to see more of your work in the future, and thanks again for taking the time to chat with us.
Interview by Gary Kane
You can follow Stuart on Twitter at @stuartmoore1