MATTHEW ROSENBERG On His Rise In Comics, Lessons From DC Writer's Workshop, Why He Doesn't Have a Vision Board

"4 Kids Walk Into A Bank" preview
Credit: Tyler Boss/Thomas Mauer (Black Mask Studios)
Credit: Black Mask Studios

This time three years ago, Matthew Rosenberg had just completed his first miniseries, 12 Reasons To Die. This week, Rocket Raccoon #1 came out on the shelves, with two other ongoing Marvel titles - Kingpin and Secret Warriors - coming soon after. And he continues to do creator-owned work, with 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank recently returning from a long hiatus.

Rosenberg has come a long way in three years, including being one of the graduates of DC's inaugural Writer's Workshop program taught by Scott Snyder. The writer talked about his path in comic books, his experience with the DC talent program, and how his experiences as a comic shop employee tempered his approach to comic books today.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Newsarama: Other interviews can go in-depth on your other individual books, but is this mix - these four books, and who knows what unannounced titles - what you had in mind when you thought, "Hey I want to be a full-time comic book writer!"?

Matthew Rosenberg: Hmm... I don't know? No. Probably not. I am super happy with the work I have and the books I get to write, but I certainly never assumed I would be working at Marvel or that anyone on Earth would care about my creator-owned stuff. I am a huge fan of Rocket Raccoon and Kingpin, so I am ever grateful that I get to play with them. To be honest there was a long while where I just sort of assumed I'd never be a full-time comic writer, and that time may come back. But for now I try not to focus too much on that.

Nrama: Where did you see yourself, or how did you see yourself?

Rosenberg: I think if you spend a lot of time planning your career you are going to burn out really fast. I set goals for myself and they would change and shift every six months until I just gave up. My dream was to be working at Marvel and making my own stuff at the same time. But I don't think it's a question of where I saw myself. I didn't have a vision board or anything. I just would try and take steps in those directions when I could. But mostly I just tried to keep my head down and do work that I would like. 

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: You're primarily known for Black Mask and Marvel work, but you did a rare appearance over at DC with Black Canary #9 and even participated in their DC Writer's Workshop. What was that experience like?

Rosenberg: Black Canary was a little rough. My editors were great and I love the series. But, at least in terms of writing, that book is so singularly one person's vision and I just stepped in and sort of derailed that for a second. It was Brenden Fletcher's book and I interrupted it. I had some folks say nice things about my issue, and I was really happy to get to work in the DCU for a second, but it was a tough circumstance. But that's the job I guess.

As for the DC writer's workshop, I thought it was great. Scott Snyder is, without a doubt, one of the best writers working in comics. But he is also a great teacher. Getting to listen and discuss story, character, and just about everything comics with him was a real great experience and I am definitely a better writer for it. I think just having the chance to talk in depth about process and craft is invaluable to creators, and it helps a lot when you get to do it with one of the best.

Nrama: What was your biggest take-away from that experience?

Rosenberg: I think watching Scott work, watching how he processes all the moving parts of a story and all the intricacies of a character was incredible and intimidating as hell. I am not sure if that is something you can learn, but I am certainly trying. That was a big thing for me, think about the bigger picture, the broader strokes, and how those manifest in smaller ways throughout the story.

Credit: DC Comics

Also, that some of my peers are writing beasts. Chris Sebela, Vita Ayala, Michael Moreci, Adam Smith, all of them were awesome and I am hoping DC finds some use for them. They definitely earned their shots and readers deserve to read their books.

Nrama: I don't know if this is a sensitive subject or not, but - any plans for work with you and DC in the near future?

Rosenberg: They didn't ask me to come work there. So, no.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: Was there anything specific in DC's training on how to be a writer that you've found is not the way it works at Marvel, Black Mask, or in general?

Rosenberg: It wasn't so much training as it was just honing a certain set of skills, if that makes sense. I don't want to give away any trade secrets or anything, but I think the obvious thing is apparent in the books. Often DC goes for bombastic and huge, they really like that summer blockbuster feel- Michael Bay or Zack Snyder type stuff. Obviously it's not all that, or mostly that maybe, but it is very much in the DNA there. That, for me at least, is something I am still learning to do. So hearing the perspective on that, getting notes and advice, was really interesting and helpful. But I didn't really work at DC so this is all a bit of an outside perspective.

At Marvel I feel like they very much are encouraging me to try and be myself, but better. My editors have all been amazing to work with, and they really keep pushing me to try and do my own thing in a lot of ways. I really get the feeling I was hired because they saw what I do and thought it would be interesting at Marvel, which is a really great feeling. When I started working on the Kingpin ongoing I met with Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso and he gave me some of the best advice of my career. He was so supportive and just fully encouraged me to try and make it a standout and unique book, and I am pleasantly surprised with the stuff they are letting me do on the series. And I can see that in a lot of my favorite series of the last few years- The Vision, Black Widow, Daredevil, Moon Knight, Karnak, Ms. Marvel, Black Panther, Squirrel Girl, Nighthawk. All these books feel like they are letting creators really run with the ball and they are coming back with great work.

And at Black Mask I don't have an in house editor. But I deal closely with Matt Pizzolo, who runs the company and whose sense of story I trust a great deal. I bounce a lot of stuff off him and he always encourages me to push things further and harder. I think that's why so many of their books are finding readers right now. There is a fearlessness there that is liberating and inspiring.

Credit: Black Mask

Nrama: The biggest takeaway I have from prepping for this interview is having the perspective to learn that most all of your comic book titles have long names - even work-for-hire projects like Civil War II: Kingpin and Archie Meets Ramones. Where does that come from?

Rosenberg: When I worked in a comic shop the number of people who could never remember the names of the single word titled comics they wanted was really eye-opening. Trees and The Woods, Descender and Drifter, Sheltered and Severed, it was a near-daily occurrence. I just figured if people aren't going to remember the exact name of a book anyway, I'll just make it easier for the comic shop employee. When people say "You Can't Go Home Again" they probably mean "We Can Never Go Home". So that is my plan going forward. Long titles, Twitter be damned.

Nrama: [Laughs]

Rosenberg: Also, I just find them much more evocative. Unscientifically, 70% of readers pick up 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank because of the title. 29% because of Tyler's art. 1% is a split between fans of my writing and people who bought it as a joke. So I think those titles work. If I had my way Rocket Raccoon would be called Angry Space Raccoon and The Planet That Hates Him. But I don't get to name that stuff.

Credit: Tyler Boss/Thomas Mauer (Black Mask Studios)

Nrama: As you mentioned, you spent time working at a comic book store. How else does that experience help you all in the writing and promotion of comic books?

Rosenberg: Yes. Without a doubt. That's why I did it. And I'd encourage all aspiring (and many established) creators to try and work in a comic shop, at least for a bit. Comics is a weird business because you aren't really selling to the public in a lot of ways, you are selling to shop owners. It's their money you are asking for and it's their support you need. It is so crucial to understand what you are asking of them and how best to help them sell your books.

Every shop is different, and obviously a lot of factors determine how much mileage you get out of supporting the shops that support you, but I try to make myself available for questions and help whenever I can. I try and sign in all the local shops and make sure they don't need anything. And I like to keep all the stores who want to know well informed about my books and anything else they need to know. It's hard and time consuming, but it is a crucial part of the job. We're an ecosystem and we need to work hard to keep every part healthy.

Nrama: So, we've talked about how you pictured yourself as a comic book writer - but now that you're doing it, what are your goals moving forward?

Rosenberg: I want to make good comics and not starve to death.

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