Prose superhero anthologies have become an increasingly common site on bookstore shelves as superhero films have taken off…but only one boasts your favorite comic writers telling new prose stories.
Bill Willingham, Mike Carey, Gail Simone, Peter David and Paul Cornell are just some of the minds behind Masked from Gallery Books It’s a new anthology of tales that examine heroes, villains and more from a variety of perspectives, be it the confessions of a super-thief to the tragic tale of a super-thug to a villain being forced to track down the killer of a famous hero.
With plenty of unique perspectives from some high-profile comic writers and established SF and fantasy names new to superheroes (Joseph Mallozzi will probably be writing for one of the big companies within a year), Masked is already earning acclaim as one of the most unique takes on superheroes in prose.
To get the scoop on the book, we talked to editor Lou Anders (www.louanders.com, www.pyrsf.com), a four-time Hugo nominee for Best Editor and a Chesley Award-winning Art Director. He also serves as editorial director of Pyr Books, and has been nominated for the PKD and WFC Awards.
Anders, a hardcore superhero fan, offered some insights into how he put the anthology together, why superheroes and villains are such a resonant concept, and what makes this superhero anthology different.
Newsarama: Lou, give our readers the hard sell on Masked, what they can expect to find, some of the stories, and what they won’t find.
Lou Anders: What they won't find is the sort of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” approach to writing superheroes in prose. We didn't want anything that “takes the piss” as the British say. There have been other superhero anthologies before, but several of them seem to be ironic, post-modern looks at the genre from an outsider perspective, or just works that are interested in superheroes for their camp value.
We didn't want this. We wanted a book of prose stories about costumed crimefighters that were as sophisticated as today's contemporary comics, and which contemporary readers of DC/Vertigo, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, Boom!, etc... would recognize and appreciated. And for that, we turned to the people that actually write comics.
Ten of the 15 contributors in the anthology currently write comics - mostly for DC and Marvel - and the remaining writers are all award-winning SF&F authors and one television producer!
NRMA: How did you go about assembling the talent for this book? How did you determine which comic writers would be the best fit for prose stories, and which writers not typically associated with comics would do the best job with superhero-themed tales?
Anders: I tried, at the start, to invite comics writers who were also prose writers, so you have people like Marjorie M Liu, who in addition to writing for Marvel, is a New York Times bestselling author of paranormal romance and urban fantasy and Mike Carey, who in addition to comics like Hellblazer and The Unwritten, writes the Felix Castor series of urban fantasy novels.
We have Paul Cornell, who is a novelist, a comic book writer (most recently of DC's Action Comics), and scriptwriter (most famously of the new Doctor Who). But authors like Mark Chadbourn, while he hasn't written comics (yet), has written a Hellboy novel, in addition to great many other books.
But comics sensation Gail Simone and Stargate Universe executive producer Joseph Mallozzi both turned in their very first prose story each, and the results were fantastic. And Stephen Baxter and Ian McDonald need no introduction in the world of science fiction - being as they are big award-winning authors. I'm pretty amazed, actually, at the caliber of our contributors.
NRMA: While a number of comic writers have worked in prose, it's not always typical to see them move from comics to this medium. Why do you feel that is, and do you think there is still an inherent prejudice against writers who come from comics?
Anders: No, I think that Neil Gaiman opened the door for that a long time ago, and that plenty of publishers would like to see his success duplicated. Fables author and Masked contributor Bill Willingham has one novel out from Vertigo and another coming from Tor. JSA writer and Masked contributor Matthew Sturges has written two books for me at Pyr (Midwinter and the just released The Office of Shadow).
I think that the move from screenwriter to comics writer might be a more natural fit, simply given that the format is similar (comic scripts being very similar to storyboards) and that novel writing and comics writing are different skills, but talented people are people with talent!
NRMA: Which stories and creators really surprised you?
Anders: Joseph Mallozzi. I've read prose work by television writers before, and knew that anyone who worked in TV successfully would be able to string words together effectively and tell a tale with a beginning, middle and end.
And Joe specifically is a smart guy, so I knew his story would be interesting and worthwhile. But I had no idea that someone who had never written prose before would turn in such a brilliant, layered, nuanced, compelling diamond as “Downfall.”
It's being called out repeatedly in reviews as one of the best entries in the book, and that's as saying something given the rest of the tales. Frankly I was stunned by it. It's exceptional. (And should be a movie...)
NRMA: What novelists/screenwriters would you most like to see working in comics, based on what you know of their work or their appreciation for the medium?
Anders: I think that novelist Mark Chadbourn would write a great comic. His Age of Misrule series, about a modern Britain into which the gods and demons of Celtic mythology return, reads like Stephen King's take on Lord of the Rings. I think he'd do really interesting work.
And Daryl Gregory, whose first novel Pandemonium involved comic conspiracies in its plot, wasn't a comic writer when I commissioned him for Masked, but is now, thanks to a gig at Boom! (Dracula: Company of Monsters). I expect that will be the first of many titles for him.
NRMA: Would you want to write any comics yourself?
Anders: Hell yes! Are you kidding? And... funny you should mention that. I'm actually in the final stretch on a young adult urban fantasy now that I think would lend itself to be a great comic once the book is done. (And I used to write screenplays as well as theatrical plays so I am knowledgeable about the specific requirements of more than one medium of storytelling.)
So... short answer: would love to and hope to.
NRMA: What are your favorite comics, current and past?
Anders: I was reading Batman and Detective for as long as I've been reading. I have issues going back to the ‘50s (before my time) and my mother still talks about the time that I spent a day in Paris, not sightseeing, but dragging them all over the city looking for a tiny comic shop so I could find rare issues of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' run.
Long before anybody knew who Frank Miller was, I was obsessed with Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’ acclaimed run in Detective Comics #471-476. Though of course, The Dark Knight Returns is a favorite (if somewhat soured by The Dark Knight Strikes Again).
Obviously, Killing Joke, Watchman, Batman: Year One, Elektra: Assassin, Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, Grant Morrison on Doom Patrol, and all those greats in the ‘80s when comics was first forcing the mainstream to pay attention. Morrison's The Invisibles might be my all time favorite series (though, oddly, I don't like him on Batman). Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan.
I am quite fond of Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed. I loved J. M. DeMatteis's Kraven's Last Hunt, his Moonshadow, and his work on Doctor Fate. I loved Mike Grell's Green Arrow. I really liked what Paul Dini did with the Bat-villain Hush (and think Heart of Hush could make a great Nolan film if the more supernatural elements were stripped out). Loeb and Sales' The Long Halloween, of course.
I dug Paul Cornell's Wisdom and Captain Britain. Fables, of course. Anybody remember Marc Hempel's Gregory? Herman Vermin is just priceless.
NRMA: For that matter, what are your favorite superhero prose stories? Quite curious as to what you thought of Superfolks (Robert Mayer’s 1977 novel that helped inspire everything from Miracleman to Watchmen to Astro City)...
Anders: I didn't see Superfolks, so can't comment. But before Masked, “Happy Birthday”, Mark L. Van Name and Jack McDevitt, which appeared in The Further Adventures of the Joker, edited by Martin H. Greenburg and published in 1990 by Bantam Books, was one of the best Batman stories I have ever read, and still is.
Daryl Gregory's “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm” which appeared in the anthology Eclipse 2, edited by Jonathan Strahan, is sickeningly good, and the reason I invited him to be in this book.
NRMA: The book's just recently come out, but what has been your favorite reaction to it so far?
Anders: io9 wrote a review of it that was titled (and went on to explain) “This Book Could Teach Hollywood to Do Superheroes Right.” It's pretty hard to top that reaction (but reviewers should, um, feel free to try). Interestingly, a few Hollywood producers called after that came out.
NRMA: Why do you feel superheroes have become increasingly ubiquitous in popular culture, not just in comics but in film, TV, video games, toys, and even elements of such “highbrow” novels as Kavalier & Clay and Oscar Wao?
Anders: I think that the superhero represents an examination of our relationship to power. The idea of the superhero arose (from out its mythological roots of course) as a direct counter to the Nazi superman, and how we confront that abyss while gazing into it is endlessly interesting.
I think that the world we live in today makes us more distrustful of our leaders than we've ever been, and that tension between needing a hero and distrusting anyone capable of marshaling enough power to actually be a hero makes for compelling stuff.
NRMA: Conversely, do you feel the comic book medium has taken advantage of exploring stories outside of the superhero genre?
Anders: I was struck just last week by something Comic Vine's Sara Lima said, which is that she came to comics through Batman: The Animated Series, which was her first significant exposure to superheroes. My son, who is only now old enough to start reading kid's comics, is already well aware of Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc... from videogames.
That the majority of his relationship to these characters may be comprised of games, animation and live-action cinema, rather than in the pages of monthlies, is really mind-boggling to me as a fan who lived to see his niche interest colonize the rest of media.
NRMA: What's next for you, and do you see doing any more anthologies in the tradition of Masked?
Anders: Because of the aforementioned novel-in-progress, and because of the demands of my duties as Editorial Director of Pyr Books, I'm cutting back on “extra curricular activities” for a while, though I would love to do Masked 2 if the demand for the first one justified it.
I also had a sword and sorcery anthology out recently— Swords & Dark Magic, co-edited with Jonathan Strahan, and I'd do a sequel to that one too if the opportunity arose.
NRMA: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Anders: Only that I'm well aware that in the actual comic books themselves there are today many more options for storytelling than costumed crime fighters. Comics can truly be about anything these days, but we limited Masked to stories of costumed heroes and villains because that's the heart and the root of the medium, and because a story about something other than heroes and villains, told in prose rather than in pictures, obviously wouldn't be a comic-in-prose, it would just be a story!
So when I invited the contributors in, we picked The Shadow (that pulp vigilante who inspired Batman and so much more) as the “edge of the table” so to speak, and indeed a Shadow-like figure shows up in I, Zombie creator Chris Roberson's Masked contribution. So I think we've done superheroes proud, from their origins to their modern incarnations.
Also, Bill Willingham's “A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (Villains Too)”has to be read to be believed.
Masked is in bookstores now.