Ambidextrous Q&A: Joe Casey - The Works

Ambidextrous: Joe Casey - The Works

Godland #28

Joe Casey holds the dubious honor of being the most interviewed creator in Ambidextrous history…

If you’re at all familiar with this column, it’ll be no surprise that this tradition continues, as the acclaimed writer stops by this week to discuss all manners of interesting things about current, upcoming, and past works, the industry at large and its obsession with President Obama, and a bunch of other great bits. Breaking the word count this week, so let’s get it going…

Brandon Thomas: So you’re usually working on quite a few projects simultaneously. What specifically are you working on this morning/afternoon and are there any work habits or techniques that you’ve developed over the years to keep all your respective projects straight?

Joe Casey: Writing Zodiac #3, Dance #4, Gødland #30, some one-shots for Dynamite, consulting on a new Man Of Action-created Cartoon Network show, and developing two new Image series. And of course, there’s the numerous projects in various mediums that are on the bubble. I guess, over the years, I’ve just figured out how to multi-task like the amphetamine-fueled freak that everyone seems to think I am. It’s the ultimate freelancer lifestyle.

BT: And what's a typical day like in the life of the amphetamine-fueled Joe Casey…minus the amphetamines of course…

JC: I try not to have any real set hours. That would make it feel too much like a real job. If I’m awake, just assume I’m working in some capacity…even if it’s just thinking about whatever I’m writing at the time. Maybe I’m a hopeless workaholic, for better or worse, but I didn’t get into this to NOT do this stuff all the time, balls-to-the-fucking-wall for every waking moment that I’m capable of. I’m too damn lucky to even be able to do this for a living to ever pretend like it’s something I’m anxious to take a break from. I love this shit, every part of it. And, at this point, I’m just hard-wired to do it.

BT: What kind of project attracts you now, and is it the same kind of project that did maybe ten, even five years ago?

Dark Reign: Zodiac #1

JC: If I had to break it down, it’s really just a combination of subject matter and collaborators. For instance, DC came to me with the Dance. They laid it out like this: “It’s six issues starring cool Grant Morrison-created characters and CrissCross is drawing it.” It wasn’t difficult to say yes to that. I pitched the Zodiac series to Tom Brevoort at Marvel, probably my favorite editor there, because I thought it would work in the current landscape of the Marvel Universe and working with Tom is always a pleasure. The added benefit of being able to get Nathan Fox to draw it made it even better. The Dynamite stuff, I work on mainly due to my friendship with Alex Ross, combined with a fondness for those dusty old superhero characters.

BT: Were your potential collaborators always as heavy an influence in you taking on a new gig, or is that becoming more important at this stage of your career? What I'm getting at is that obviously you've written some of everything---so how do you make sure there continues to be a certain level of challenge to the work?

JC: The company you keep is always important, I think. You’ll see plenty of writers take the “safe” route and try to pair themselves up with so-called A-list artists on high-profile characters. In most cases, that’s an easy way to ensure success, so I get it. I mean, it looks good on paper (or, in this case, in the solicitation copy), but it’s also not much of a challenge, is it? For me, I like taking an artist like Nathan and--in some ways--forcing him onto the typical Marvel reader. I’ve done it before, with Chris Weston on the FF: First Family mini. I did it with Frazier Irving on Iron Man: The Inevitable and with Eric Canete on Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin. Not to pat myself on the back, but these are great artists, and some of whom had never been seen on a mainstream Marvel Comic, for whatever reason.

BT: Well said man, and good to know that Nathan will be getting a really nice platform to showcase his work. Digging into that a little more---who are the Zodiac and how are they right at home in this Norman Osborn controlled Dark Reign Marvel Universe?

JC: Well, first of all, it’s not “the” Zodiac. It’s just Zodiac. That goofy, unwieldy team of astrological villains… as of our first issue, they are no more. This is a brand new character that’s going to tear readers’ heads off. And part of the gist of the series is that he doesn’t feel right at home in Norman’s world. Quite the opposite, actually. To Zodiac, this whole Dark Reign scenario just feels wrong. The other part of this series is that he actually does something about it. Watch for the third issue, where Zodiac performs a brutal and invasive sex act on Norman’s backside right on the bridge of the H.A.M.M.E.R. Helicarrier.

BT: The first thing that came to my mind when this got announced was you and Charlie Adlard's Codeflesh series. Are there any thematic ties between the two?

JC: Not really. Zodiac is actually much more brutal, maybe more so than anything I’ve written in quite a while. Although, maybe it just feels that way to me because it’s set in the mainstream Marvel Universe and we’re actually getting away with a lot more than I thought we’d be able to.

BT: Does that kind of thing naturally come with the professional rep you've developed over the years? I'm assuming that Joe Casey can get away with a few more things than your average creator, and knowing this, do you consciously try to push certain boundaries with certain projects?

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1

JC: I really have no idea what my “rep” is. I know that, in the case of something like Zodiac, I just figure it comes down to what I hope is a degree of trust I’ve earned with Tom Brevoort over the years. And I guess there are editors who know I like to fuck with things if and when I get the chance. Whether or not they always want me to…well, that’s another story. Besides, whether or not I try to take things in an unorthodox direction depends entirely on the project itself, whether or not a controversial approach fits the material in question. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to do something off the beaten path just for the sake of doing it. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself…

BT: Moving on to another anticipated collaboration (w/ ChrisCross), who are the Super Young Team really, and why’s it so important that they dance?

JC: Well, if I could sum that up here, you wouldn’t have to read the mini-series…which is something I suggest that everyone and their mother should do.

BT: I’m assuming most of them will anyway, but how connected is your particular series to the actual events of Final Crisis? Will this be something you can pick up and read even if you weren't following the original mini-series, and do you think you have the makings of a possible monthly title?

JC: Based on what we’re doing, I really can’t imagine this as an ongoing title. And it does pick up on a few of the events that occurred in FC. But we all see these characters as having a life and a meaning far beyond what happened to them in that particular series. I think, just in Grant’s original conception of them, they’ve got more legs to ‘em than that. So those events were really just the beginning of their sordid story…

BT: Is there anything liberating about that kind of situation…just being able to sit down, tell a decent story, and get off the stage without having to set up years' worth of storylines and character threads? Lot of your work-for-hire projects in recent years have been self-contained minis, and is this something you're doing intentionally or just the way things are shaping up of late?

JC: I could go either way on those. I suppose I could’ve written Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for the rest of my life and been pretty happy. Even Zodiac is something that has the potential to go on for years, if there was a demand for it. On the other hand, it’s nice to have the closure on some of these projects, to know that you’re in complete control of when and how you’re ultimately going to type THE END. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind tackling another open-ended monthly for either Marvel or DC, if the right opportunity presented itself and if the climate were right. Although these days, those are pretty big “if’s”…

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #2

BT: How so? What’s wrong with the climate now?

JC: Well, there’s nothing wrong with it, per se. But my career has diversified a lot, as we’ve gotten into animation and television and film, so I’m not quite in the belly of the mainstream beast in the way that I was, maybe seven or eight years ago. When I feel like doing something at Marvel, for instance, I usually pitch it. I don’t wait around for the phone to ring. Actually, Dance was the first pre-existing gig I’ve been outright offered in quite a while. To be the one to generate the material--even in a work-for-hire situation --means you have a bit more control over the execution, and I’ve generally done better work in those instances. After all, Zodiac wouldn’t even exist if I hadn’t gone to Tom Brevoort with the initial idea.

BT: Any upcoming plans to return to Youngblood later on this year, and are you going to be re-scripting any more of the older material for hardcover collections?

JC: I think the moment has passed on both of those endeavors. I did what I could and the story we were telling was building to something appropriately climactic and apocalyptic, but you can’t fool Mother Nature…

BT: Yeah, I feel you---was just thinking that with Obama now a prominent player in that book and that election themed pitch you turned in at Marvel last year I think, that you would've had a decent take on it. Is there any possibility of revisiting that now that anything with the President's face on it is a guaranteed hit?

JC: No way. That move is so played out. Let the guy be the President now, for chrissakes. I think he’s all through being a cheap marketing ploy, a shortcut to making a quick blast of cash in the Direct Market, don’t you?

BT: Are you still planning to end Gødland, and what type of things will people see before the series is all concluded?

JC: Gødland always had a planned ending in my mind, and we’re steadily closing in on it. It’s certainly not what readers are expecting. As for what readers will see in these upcoming issues…it just gets bigger and better. As it always has in this series.

Godland #29

BT: Are you and Tom still doing this from Marvel-style plots and not full scripts? That's something that I'm always thinking about while I'm reading it. Is it more difficult working in that format or have you both gotten used to it?

JC: It’s not difficult at all. It’s part of the fun of doing the book. It allows both of us to be as creative as possible right there on the page. Literally creating comics at the speed of thought. I may not be the most impartial judge here, but I think the improvisational nature of the book is what gives it its voice.

BT: Okay, I have to admit that was a largely personal question, cause I recently finished a new Miranda script and there's a sequence that I wrote in a looser “plot-style" that I'm really interested/nervous to see when it comes back. Is this the only one of your projects you've created like this, and if not, would you consider doing another down the road? Maybe one of the new Image books?

JC: I wrote Charlatan Ball like that for Andy Suriano as well as Nixon’s Pals for Chris Burnham. For anything new that I’m writing, I’m sticking to full scripts exclusively. It’s fun to switch up your approach sometimes, but for these upcoming projects, they’re a little too detailed and too meticulous for me to give up that much control as a writer.

BT: Anything else you can say about the two new Image series, or is it a little too early?

JC: It’s pretty early to get into a lot of detail right now. I can tell you this much…one of them is titled Sex. Make what you will of that…

BT: Okay, so you’ve been in the business a long time and have opinions on everything---how do you think the advent and prevalence of digital comics is going to affect the overall landscape of the comics industry, and is this concern as important to comics as the internet has been suggesting recently?

JC: Honestly, I couldn’t give a fuck about digital comics or whatever controversy it’s causing. Comics are a medium, not a delivery system. Whether it’s on paper, or on a computer screen, or on a Kindle, my job remains pretty much the same.

BT: So you're not subscribing to this "the sky is falling" mentality that's creeping into some of our conversations about rising cover prices, recession-related madness, and other nervous type behaviors?

JC: Nah, the art form is a lot stronger than any of that nonsense.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #3

BT: What’s your favorite book (or books) to read every month?

JC: Right now, I’m buying and reading Seaguy, LOEG Century: 1910, James Robinson’s Superman book, and Fantastic Four. All for different reasons. I wish there were other books that really put a rise in my Levis (if I wore Levis, that is)…and I’m sure I’m missing out on some good stuff. Maybe I’ve been too busy making comics to really see what’s out there.

BT: What three projects that you’ve done so far do you think really define yourself as a comicbook writer?

JC: I’d hate to narrow it down to just three. Just seems too limiting, considering all the work I’ve done over the years. But, considering my current mood, if I had to choose today, I guess I’d say Wildcats (both volumes), Avengers: EMH (both series) and Gødland.

BT: Okay, so why those three, and what other books would you include if that qualifier was removed? What things have you stepped back from and really said---you know what, no one else would've done that book but me. Or is that too bold and un-polite a claim to make?

JC: Well, I can make those kinds of claims without even referring to quality (which is completely subjective, no matter how you slice it). I know there are books that no one else would’ve dared to attempt in the manner that I did. Automatic Kafka. The Intimates. My last year on Adventures of Superman. Deathlok. X-Men: Children of the Atom. My last issue of The Incredible Hulk. Rock Bottom. The last three issues of Mr. Majestic. Charlatan Ball. It’s a decent-sized list. I think Zodiac and Dance might fall into that category, but let’s wait until they’re out on the stands…

Those three that I picked covers the three main areas of long-term interest for me: Wildcats was taking a moribund property and trying to turn it into something worthwhile, which I’d wanted to do ever since Frank Miller saved Daredevil. The two Avengers: EMH series was me reveling in pure childhood nostalgia and trying to give my favorite book all the gravitas I was capable of. And Gødland is simply my most potent shot so far at contributing something Brand New.

BT: I’d like to thank Joe for once again dropping by for a chat, and encourage everyone to keep their eye out for his upcoming projects Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance, debuting next Wednesday, and Dark Reign: Zodiac, launching in June. Until then, the guy has plenty of other comics out there for you to read, but you should definitely catch up with Godland first, and then work from there.

And now we conclude this week with Priced to Move…

Priced to Move-

I Kill Giants TP (Image Comics)

184 pgs for 15.99

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 3: Century #1 (Top Shelf Productions/Knockabout Comics)

80 pgs for 7.95

The Unwritten #1

40 pgs for 1.00

Obviously, nothing beats Vertigo’s latest launch, but the return of the League makes a good go of it and is something a lot of us have been patiently waiting for. I Kill Giants is a nicely priced trade of a series that I think was one of the real sleeper hits of last year. Great story, great art, great characters. But yeah, a pretty good week for the bargain conscious, I’d say.

Likely another interview next week and the week after that as I save up for the strength to construct Ambidextrous #300…

The Fiction House

Catch up:

Ambidextrous #296: This is Why: Grant Morrison's JLA

Ambidextrous #295: Priced to Move

Ambidextrous 294: Colorist Wanted

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