Author Glen David Gold is a respected name in literary circles…and a hardcore comic book fan. His two novels, Carter Beats the Devil and Sunnyside, combine historical figures and settings with fictionalized circumstances that combine emotional moments and characterization with pieces of humor, action and some very obscure pieces of trivia.
Gold is also a big advocate of comics, having written of his love of Jack Kirby and collecting classic comic art, along with doing stories for Michael Chabon’s Escapist and Will Eisner’s The Spirit. In what became one of the longer-running interviews at Newsarama, we chatted with him when Sunnyside came out in hardcover last year….and over the course of some follow-ups, now have a finished conversation ready just as the book’s been released in paperback.
In the first part of our conversation, Gold discusses the odds of a Carter film, an unusual project he’s currently working on, and the challenges of working in comics.
Newsarama: Glen, thanks for talking with us! I thought we could just do this as a free-flowing conversation with comics as the base, while also touching on Sunnyside…though I’m not sure how to tie it together, given that it takes place before comics became a popular art form…
Glen David Gold: Well, the two comics I’ve done were written during the time it took me to finish it…(laughs)
Nrama: Well, there you go! First, an odd question about Sunnyside – while researching this, I found your blog (link: http://glendavidgold.blogspot.com/), and there were these numbers counting down. Was there ever an explanation about what they were all about?
Gold: There never was an explanation. The reason for that was I was six years into working on my novel, and I was feeling this pressure to complete it. So at first it was just a page count, a way of keeping track of how many pages were in the final version, and then it got tricky, because I was reediting it, so the notes got to the point where there were three sets of numbers – how many I’d read through, how many I’d edited, how many were left, something like that.
I didn’t really feel like explaining it (laughs), but a couple of writer friends who found it were like, “What the hell is this?” and started to enjoy it, as though it was soothing – these randomly generated numbers.
Nrama: The mystery is solved! This might solve things for a few readers…
Gold: It’ll definitely help the people who’ve started reading the blog, now that I've stopped, started and stopped it again. Right now, those page numbers refer to the first draft of a play that I finished and then promptly pulped. Originally, it was going to be about Tolstoy, but that seemed like too much of a half-step from Sunnyside.
Nrama: You know, here’s a comic connection to Sunnyside – they just did a Charlie Chaplin character named “Archie Maplin” in IDW’s Doctor Who book.
Gold: Really? Do they do that often in that book, bringing in historical characters?
Nrama: I’m not sure. They just started this after a miniseries with art by Pia Guerra.
Gold: Huh. I might have to check that out – I loved Pia’s work on Y. But I have huge gaps in my contemporary comic knowledge. I basically learn everything I need to know by learning Chris Sims. I sent him an email saying how horrified I was that he was reading Sunnyside and Anita Blake at the same time, and hoping he could tell them apart
Nrama: I knew Chris was a fan – and he has a cameo in the book – so I actually asked him if he had a question for this interview, and his reaction was, “Uh, ask if there’s going to be a Carter movie…”
Gold: A Carter movie?; Light a candle. Tom Cruise optioned it for about four-and-a-half years – Robert Towne was going to direct it, and Michael Arndt, who wrote Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 was going to do the script. And then AMC optioned it with the idea of doing a TV series.
Nrama: I saw that on a list on AVClub.com about novels as source material for TV. The odds they gave Carter were not very good…
Gold: you know, the odds of basically everything in my life have been pretty extreme, so I don’t worry about it. I didn’t actually see their note. In a heroic effort, I stopped Googling myself about ten months ago, and it’s been a huge lift off my back.
Nrama: Okay, brought up the AV Club’s note – they said it would work better as a miniseries or movie.
Gold: The thing with Carter is that it’s about 500 pages long, and it would work as a 13-episode series. And we found a way to expand it so that it wouldn’t be about a magician leading a group of multicultural magicians through a different scam every week.
But they had a way of actually making the overall story work, with each episode having an individual theme…but no, utterly dead. And now, basically every third Hollywood movie will be about rival magicians in the 1920s, so…there’s a new genre out there.
Nrama: In fairness to the AV Club, they said they really wanted it to work as a TV series.
Gold: Oh, it could work, but we won’t find out anytime soon. (laughs) And Sunnyside won’t have any more luck in Hollywood. I think it’s unfilmable, though my agent tells me otherwise.
That said, a couple of weeks ago, Warner Brothers optioned Carter again, this time as a movie. I'm still doing the paperwork and know nothing about what they have in mind. I'm hoping I get a macchiato or two out of this.
Nrama: That leads into something I want to talk about – you see a lot of things pitched as multi-media these days: Book, film, TV, comic, etc. Do you see this as an expansion of how storytelling can work, or do you think it’s more important to make sure a story just works in one particular medium?
Gold: Yeah, I’ve heard about that. When I talk to writing students, they say they've heard about it too. But I’ve been very lucky as a writer – I can pretty much write what I want, and see where it goes. For example, I’m writing the libretto for an opera right now, and nobody’s worried about whether it can be a Broadway show or anything – it’s just an opera.
It’s probably one of the least commercial things I’ve ever done, unless you want to tell your stories through paintings on trellises or something. It’s pretty far down there, as far as commercial mediums go. Well, I guess, you could do a Twitter opera. Arias would have to be 140 characters long.
Nrama: You frighten me.
Could you tell us about your opera?
Gold: The composer is named Gavin Bryars. He’s a British composer who’s worked since the 1960s – he’s worked with Brian Eno and Tom Waits, so this is the real deal. He contacted me because he’d read a story and thought it might make a good opera.
The best book about cheating at cards ever written is also the best book ever about how to do card tricks. And no one knows who wrote it. It was written in 1902, but the guy who wrote it left no fingerprints. And so, for the last hundred and five or so years, magicians have been trying to figure out who he was. And the best guess is that he was a serial killer. That strikes me as opera material.
Nrama: That’s operatic, all right…
Gold: We’ll see. We’ve had some meetings, and talks with musicians, and we’re kind of going over the structure of it. It looks like it would work. Gavin is doing an opera about Marilyn Monroe first, so I'm working on the story for ours.
The idea that there would be any story at all is very intriguing to people. Apparently, there hasn’t been any story in an opera since 1978, so this would be a nice big throwback.
Nrama: You’ve had experience in these different media. What’s it bring to you as a writer?
Gold: What’s cool about it is that ideas always come in more than one form. Sometimes they’re visual, sometimes they’re things you can imagine being written down in sentences, and sometimes they’re both – you can pitch them one kind of way or the other.
I’ve had plenty of ideas that were just screenplays – they couldn’t have been anything else. And I’ve hesitated because I like writing screenplays, and I like the process of filming movies, but I don’t like anything in between.
Anytime someone mentions the word “meeting,” I start to shudder and display bad behavior. So I tend to try to not want to write screenplays, but then there are things I work on that want to be in that format. And sometimes when I’m working on a idea, it sort of takes a while for me to realize what it is – fiction, nonfiction, short story, or opera, apparently.
Nrama: And finally getting into comics – writers of comics have gotten a higher profile in the last decade, and more writers from other media have been entering the field of comics. But some people I’ve talked with say they’re looking for the next great writer/artist. Which do you ultimately prefer – writer or writer/artist, and what do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
Gold: Huh! That’s an interesting question. It’s like singer vs. singer/songwriter, right? Bob Dylan often does the best version of his songs, but Warren Zevon’s cover of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” is much more powerful, I think.
Nrama: Well, he was dying when he sang it…
Gold: Well, yeah! That’s all he had to do. (laughs) It’s a pretty simple formula, mortality.
But I think it varies from form to form. Look at one of the greatest artists in the history of the medium, Jack Kirby. He was at his best when he was working with a writer, Stan Lee, who occasionally reined him in.
On the other hand, Jim Steranko did a great job from the beginning, writing and drawing at Marvel. And R. Crumb – good lord! He does it all! And there are also some people who really flourish when they work with other people.
I’ve only worked with two artists now, and I don’t know if Eduardo Risso or Gene Colan have written any of their own work, but when I did the Spirit story with Eduardo, he was brilliant – he took the outline I’d written, which was page-by-page, pretty tight, and changed it around and made it better.
He approached it as someone working in a visual medium, while I’d approached it as someone used to working with type. He understood when I had things in the wrong order – what I had in my head went one way, and he went another, but he was so completely good at visualizing it in a way that was beyond me.
In a way, a 180 of that was my experience with Gene Colan on the Escapist. I wrote one thing, and then he looked at it and went in a completely different direction. (laughs) So I went back and rescripted it. It wasn’t anything major, just asides and things he was interested in doing that made it like jazz, improvising off someone else’s riff.
I think sometimes when something is really autobiographical…I can’t imagine Allison Bechdel doing someone else’s stories. She fits things in so interestingly with her own style, I wouldn’t want anyone else to mess with her. But it seems like it could go in any way.
Next: Gold discusses his favorite comic creators, some pieces of comic artwork he owns, working with Gene Colan and more.
Sunnyside is now available in paperback.