Writer Joe Casey has written the big super-hero epics like X-Men and Superman, and redefined classic characters like the Wildcats and his current Marvel series Vengeance. But what he’s found along the way is he most enjoys creating his own work, and he’s found a place to do that at Image and his friends at Man of Action.By day Casey is one of the principal writers of cartoon series such as Ben 10, Generator Rex and the upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man, but by night (and sometimes mid-afternoon) he develops new concepts into creator-owned series such as the recent Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker. As that series continues to steamroll onto comic shelves like the big rig the titular character drives, Casey’s next launch is a graphic novella with his Charlatan Ball artist Andy Suriano called Doc Bizarre, M.D.
Set to debut later this month, Doc Bizarre, M.D. answers the question about what a monster would do when he comes down with a cold, or god forbid, something worse? It’s not like he can walk into the ER and get a check-up. For the monster crowd, they need their own kind of doctor. Luckily, there’s Doc Bizarre, M.D.
2011 has been a banner year for Casey between his animation work, the launch of Butcher Baker and new projects like Doc Bizarre, M.D.. Newsarama caught up with the writer to talk about his recent work as well as his outlook on comics as a reader and a professional.Newsarama: Jumping right into it, how did an idea like “monster doctor” from Doc Bizarre, M.D. come to you, Joe?
Joe Casey: Okay, let's see... lemme try and make up an answer that actually sounds like it could be true. I know I had the name kicking around for awhile, just one of those names that has a particular ring to it, and I'm pretty sure that when Andy Suriano and I were coming off the Charlatan Ball experience, we started kicking around ideas for our next project and this is what we landed on. Probably what happened is that this whole doctor thing came out of us brainstorming ideas and me realizing I could use this name I'd come up with years before.
Nrama: And just how is Doc Bizarre’s bedside manner?
Casey: Well, the Doc himself thinks it's amazing. He sees himself as a unique medical genius in a very specialized field. The reality is somewhat different, and that's where a lot of the laughs come from. His self-delusion is part of his charm. And I'm using the word, "charm" in its broadest definition...Nrama: What’s it like re-examining the horror genre through the lens of a doctor like some sort of Rex Morgan M.D. of the monster variety?
Casey: It's a good laugh, is what it is. If we can't get a chuckle out of the horror genre, where can we? So while we knew there would be a lot of material to explore within this concept, but the book ended up a lot more fun than I expected. A lot of that has to do with Andy's artwork, which doesn't look like anything else out there in the so-called mainstream. But there's a vibe to this book and the characters that is pretty unique. Feels that way to me, anyway. And I like the notion that we're taking this funky idea and presenting it in such a sweet-ass hardback edition.
Nrama: Speaking of artist collaborations and, in your words “sweet-ass hardback” editions, Image is re-releasing last year’s Officer Downe one-shot in hardcover with added pages. What’s it like to revisit this 2010 book, the one that paved the way for Chris Burnham to be picked up by DC?Casey: Timing is everything in this business. In this case, schedules lined up with personal creative desires so it felt pretty natural to jump back into it. Truth be told, I barely remember the floppy coming out. When was that, last summer, maybe? I guess it doesn't matter. Originally, the one-shot that we did was a chance for Burnham and I to cut loose and have a bit of a chuckle. What ended up happening was that we made something -- pulled it right out of our twisted, subconscious brains -- that turned out way better than we'd ever imagined. Instantly, we realized we'd maybe sold ourselves – and the material – short by rushing it out in the manner that we had. So it was always the plan to dive back in and really make it count and place it in its proper format. This new, oversized version really showcases the insane amounts of work that Burnham in particular put into it.
Nrama: This new addition promises not just a hard exterior like Officer Downe himself, but also some new pages. Can you tell us about those, and what held them back from the first edition?Casey: Hard to say. There are usually months out of my life that I just cannot recall, even if I wanted to. It's not so much that the new material is stuff that was left on the cutting room floor, we just saw a few cool opportunities to expand the story in certain directions. There's a new opening scene that pretty much sets the tone for how much further we've pushed things with this edition. Fun for the whole family, actually. It's really the perfect X-Mas gift.
Nrama: The gift that keeps on giving for readers is your big ongoing series at the moment, Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker. How’d this concept develop for you, and were there any unexpected swerves or revelations as you were putting it together?
Casey: The whole series has been a revelation. That's how I try to look at it, anyway. It's also been such a concentrated creative experience that it's hard to have any perspective on it. The truth is, I'm on the ride just like everyone else is, just trying to hang on and not get thrown off at every hairpin curve.Nrama: As much as I enjoy the comics, I also enjoy your essays in the back, harkening back to the days when you did a column for us here at Newsarama. What’s it like to be able to get things off your chest and tell a story with just words in the back of each issue?
Casey: I don't feel like I particularly have anything on my chest, so to speak. I'm much calmer now than I was ten or twelve years ago. A lot of these creator text pieces you find in the back of comic books are usually a lot of obnoxious self-aggrandizing so I figured why not join in the fun? I'm actually shocked when anyone takes the time to read them at all. Then again, those pages are designed so well, they look so good, I can't imagine anyone who sees them doesn't just get sucked in and finds themselves compelled to read it about my obsession with the first Batman teaser trailer or my love of Mike Baron's original Flash scripts.Nrama: One of the running themes to all the work we’ve talked about today is that it’s all with artitsts you’ve worked before. This trend spreads through most of your creator-owned work as well as work-for-hire even with it’s the publisher who ultimately makes the call. I know comics is a pretty solitary medium, so what’s it about finding and keeping with collaborators that’s so attractive to you rather than always seeking out someone new?
Casey: I don't know if I'm understanding the question. And if I do, maybe I don't agree with it, 100%. A lot of the guys I work with – when I first work with them – are either 1) fairly new to the industry or 2) they've been around, but have never been properly showcased on project that allowed them to shine. I guess it's true that when you find a collaborator you really click with creatively, you tend to cling to each other because you know how bad it really is out there. I've been really lucky, since I've made several love connections over the course of my career. And quite a few of them recently. Mike Huddleston and Nick Dragotta, to name two artists who's work is out on the stands as we speak. But I've been woodshedding lately with a few more great artists who I'm a genuine fan of, but whose names must remain top secret at the moment.Nrama: Well let you keep that secret for now. After spending a number of years doing comics primarily with Marvel and DC, in the past few you’ve been almost exclusively working on your own with Gødland, Charlatan Ball, Officer Downe and Butcher Baker. How have your views on working in comics changed since you’ve been able to do them on your own like this?
Casey: Absolutely. And in a very healthy way. Through my creator-owned work, I rediscovered the buzz of just thinking of new stuff. It's the feeling I had when I was a kid, just writing and drawing endless homemade comics on my parents' kitchen floor. It's such a pure feeling, it's what creating comic books is meant to be like. And in the past few years, I've generally been able to channel that kind of enthusiasm back into whatever WFH gigs I happen to do. So, the whole thing has become really fun again. There were a few years in the mid-2000's when it was decidedly not as fun as it should've been. Guess it was just a phase I had to go through.Nrama: You worked at Image very early on in your career with 1998’s Hellcop, but I imagine it was a very different experience than what you deal with these days. How would you compare to the two?
Casey: Back then, it didn't even feel like I was working for Image. Mainly because something like Hellcop was still a WFH gig. It wasn't until I did Codeflesh a few years later that I really had my first Image Experience. And, at that time, there were different folks in charge... and even though I respect those people, it wasn't until Erik Larsen took over as Publisher that I really felt I could have a home at Image, that it really felt right to me. Both Larsen and now current publisher Eric Stephenson are much more sympatico to the types of comic books I want to create. I try to give them material that they get a kick out of and I use their interest as a barometer for how the readers might feel about it. Overall, it's become a nice, long-term relationship between Image and Man Of Action that I hope will continue long into the future.
Nrama: You have a unique perspective going on with all the changes in the Big Two, especially those at DC. You’ve read them for years and written them as well, so what are your thoughts on the shifts going on there?Casey: Well, for one thing, nothing surprises me anymore. And there's a big difference between what a general fan sees on the stands or in the press and what's actually going on behind the scenes. I'm more inclined to pay attention to that stuff, since it's what affects me most as a working professional. My thoughts about DC right now are pretty minimal, mainly because I don't think DC could handle a creator like me right now, since they're more about having their talent pool tow a party line. We're a long way from the days of Dick Giordano, y'know what I'm saying? I wish them all the luck in the world, though... because a successful DC Comics is probably good for the industry overall.
Nrama: What do you think are the big obstacles standing in the way of progress for comics now?Casey: The only thing that ever impedes progress is when things become mired in old ways of thinking. Outmoded thinking, I guess is the better way to describe it. Comic books are a futurist medium. We should always be ahead of the cultural curve and when we're not, it's quite obvious to everyone and sales absolutely reflect it. Marvel was way behind the cultural curve in the late 90's, and Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas blew in and did some cool shit that changed the game. Aside from a few things here and there (most of them written by Grant Morrison), DC has been behind the cultural curve for years and now they're trying to do something about it. And just because I've seen it all doesn't mean the general readership has. So we'll see what happens.
Nrama: Of the new comics coming out on shelves today, what excites you as a reader?Casey: I don't know if there's a lot out there that "excites" me right now. I'm reading a few cool things at the moment. Y'know, at DC, there's Action Comics. At Marvel, there's Heinberg's Avengers book and Ellis doing his stint on Secret Avengers. I'm on board for Chaykin's Avengers book, too. Image has some good stuff coming. On the indie side, there's the usual suspects. Paying For It, I liked. X'ed Out was great. The new Love & Rockets is sitting next to my desk, waiting to be read when I can carve out the time to really enjoy it. The thing is, just recently we've also seen a lot of high-profile releases from some big, respected names that have ended up being kinda disappointing. I'm a little ashamed to say that I kinda' love that. I love it when the heavily-hyped lands with a big ol' thud. It means there's a restlessness in the air, from creators and readers alike. We're getting bored with the same old shit that gets shoved at us from the big companies, and some of us are trying to do something about it. Y'know, I'm a big cheerleader for the comic book medium in general, but I have very specific tastes as to what I'll actually spend my time reading. I'd much rather spend my time creating.
Nrama: Where do you see the comic industry at five years from now?
Casey: The beauty of the industry is its unpredictability. All I can tell you for sure is that in five years, I'll still be making comic books.