Tim Seeley has been working in comic books before he could legally drink. In that time, he's created several successful creator-owned titles while becoming an in-demand "Big Two" writer as well. Now having recently signed a DC 'exclusive' contract for two years, Seeley finds himself re-acquianted with Dick Grayson and Gotham in Nightwing - with more "in the wings" (pun intended).
But the long-time freelance writer/artist has negotiated with DC a key caveat in his "exclusive" contract: keeping him free to do creator-owned titles like Hack/Slash and Revival even with outside publishers.
Seeley spoke to Newsarama about becoming one of DC's inner circle of creators, as well as charting his early days from finding comic books via Masters of the Universe, his career start at the early days of once-premiere Chicago publisher Devil's Due, and how he survived that company's major setbacks and came out the other side as what he calls a "stronger" creator.
Newsarama: So Tim, you recently signed a DC "exclusive" contract, but you have creator-owned projects in the works. Does this deal affect any of those?
Tim Seeley: Yeah so with the DC exclusive I work for them as a writer or artist for the next two years but they gave me a route to do Revival, Hack/Slash, and potentially something else from Image and they’ve been really cool about it. It does forbid the Marvel stuff and everything else.
Nrama: Alright. Congratulations on the deal - you've been at DC for some time.
Seeley: Four years as a writer and it’s flown by. I’ve got two more years so here’s to that.
Nrama: What was it that made you want to sign this particular deal? What makes them a good fit for you?
Seeley: It’s definitely weird how good it’s been. When I started at DC, I worked on Batman Eternal, the first one, as far as the writing goes. So I was under the tutelage of Scott Snyder, and editor Mike Marts was there at the time and that particular group has changed editorially as Mark Doyle is there now, Rebecca Taylor is my editor, but I like those people. James Tynion IV, Tom King, Scott... just having worked with those guys for so long, it’s just feels natural to work with the best now. To get to work on Dick Grayson, even though they switched the title and scenario, it was a more natural accumulation. I didn’t have to go through a lot of crazy research and figuring stuff out that a lot of "Rebirth" writers had to to get that classic feel. I felt like we were doing all of that in Grayson.
Nrama: Speaking of Grayson, you helped Tom King find his niche over at DC as well.
Seeley: [Laughs] That’s true! He owes me, but now he’s the big superstar guy and he’s going to totally forget his old friend Tim who taught him how to be a comic book writer. Though, that’s not true because I think putting us together was a good call. We both wanted so much from each other that it’s almost ridiculous that they managed to get something like us together out of a complete and utter chance. We didn’t know each other, we had never worked together so that really could have gone so wrong, but it was a major dice roll and it worked out well for both of us.
Nrama: What was it like working with Tom when you guys were starting out with Grayson? Did he actually need a lot of time to learn the ropes?
Seeley: He came in with a specific idea. He wasn’t just a prose writer who didn’t know how to write comics. He came to it with more of an understanding with how comics work than most actual comic writers do that I’ve seen. He was interested in challenging the more formal way comics are made. I remember conversations we had he would want to pitch something crazy like doing the story backwards or somehow the story escalates in panel count and I think I was sort of jaded to a degree for having to work in the trenches for so many years so I would go "Yeah, I don’t recommend that, but I think you should do it."
So if anything, if there was something I was there for early it was that despite being a jaded veteran I guess it was that you should do that. I definitely supported his choice. Our method of working was to support each other’s ideas and to be a united front in the things we wanted to tell and that’s why the collaboration on Grayson worked so well. "Let’s defend each other’s ideas." So it was definitely an education for me as it was for him with it being his first ongoing comic.
Nrama: I think so and I’m sure Tom think so, too.
So before you had started working at DC, you were one of the original Devil’s Due guys. How did you get started with that crew?
Seeley: Oh man, so when I was college I would go to the Chicago Comic Con and I would rent a table. I was like 18 or 19 at the time, no idea what I was doing, and Josh Blaylock, he was the other guy doing that at the time. No idea what he was doing but deciding he’s a professional and going to Kinkos and putting books together. I had interned at Marvel, I had worked for a children’s book company and so when he started Devil’s Due it was an immediate success with G.I. Joe and quickly realized he needed help.
So at first, I was there as a sort of editor. Keeping things on track and somehow keeping things running and on schedule. That led to me writing comics for them and it’s been a long strange trip that led to me writing Nightwing.
Nrama: What were the first years at Devil’s Due like? It sounds like a bunch of kids just running the place.
Seeley: Oh for sure! You hear stories from Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee when they were starting out making comics, but they had more money than we did. So the things that they did and failed at were the same things we did and failed at, but because we didn’t have the money. It was fun, though. It was a great learning experience and I got to meet all my studio mates from there. I met Mike Norton because he was working at Devil’s Due. The job brought me to Chicago and so it was a great time, but definitely weird.
We were figuring out how to compete in the comics market, which is so much different than it is now. Doing a creator-owned book when we started, or an Image book, would debut at 5,000 copies. That’s when we decided that if we got licenses we can use them to build up our own name. We would work on stuff we were fans of and put our best work into it and looking back at it, it totally makes sense.
Looking back, it’s crazy to see it worked as long as it did. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Working at Devil’s Due was sort of like getting my Master’s Degree in comics. I went to college, but it felt like I went back to school for five years after an advanced master’s in comic book making with keeping a schedule and all the responsibilities that came with working in comics. Everything I know now came from those five years.
Nrama: Speaking of studio mates, you mentioned Mike Norton. So let’s talk about how Four Star Studios came about.
Seeley: So that was in the aftermath of Devil’s Due and Josh had to shut things down. For a while, I was working in Josh’s house or wherever Blaylock was set up because I didn’t want to work by myself at home. Then one day at the Chicago Drink and Draw I was throwing out the idea that I didn’t like working by myself so what if we all got together. So it was me, Mike Norton, Josh Emmons, Sean Dove and it was interesting because Mike was like “No, I can’t work with you guys every day of the week” but he felt bad for me so he did it out of a duty and pity. He’s always been like an older brother figure. We’ve been doing that for six years, I can’t believe it’s been that long either.
We eventually created stuff together like Mike and I's Revival, and then Jenny Frisson worked with us, and Ryan Browne came to work with us, and now we have Jim Terry who I did Sundowners with, so it’s been pretty great. It’s been an extension of what we learned at Devil’s Due, but not so much the risk of publishing in our hands but centralizing our creative energy and surrounding ourselves with the people we want to work with. Also providing a storage space for all of our action figures.
Nrama: That’s definitely an important part. Every studio I’ve visited it’s just a bombardment of toys on the shelves.
Seeley: Yeah, all our wives and girlfriends don’t want this stuff around so we just put it in the studio. It counts as research and inspiration so we can write it off on our taxes.
Nrama: Before we really dive into your Big Two stuff, let’s talk about your first really big hit. Hack/Slash. Do you think this is still what you’re known most for or has your DC work surpassed it yet?
Seeley: It’s weird because the audience, at least for monthly sales for Hack/Slash, never really got above 7,000 copies. With the omnibus and trades though, I’ll never beat the audience that that book found. It’s kinda fascinating and you never get to choose what characters people know you for, so it’s interesting to sort of watch this evolve. It’s still surprising to me as I’ve done a lot of Batman and Nightwing and do a lot of sketches, but I just got back from Boston Comic Con and a quarter of the signings and sketches were Hack/Slash and Cassie.
This is the thing that people have tattooed on them and have their wedding as a Hack/Slash theme and the cosplay is the most of anything I’ve done. It started out as my love for B-movies, and I’d just do one issue and get it out of my system, but here it is 12-13 years later.
Nrama: Is that always surreal or weird when people show you photos of their wedding or tattoos with your creation on them?
Seeley: Well yeah, considering that the mainstream comic book press doesn’t really cover the book often or mentioned, but how it exists in this cult status, yeah it’s very surreal. It’s the fans and readers who took it upon themselves to spread the word and I couldn’t be more grateful to them.
Nrama: When you were trying to get Hack/Slash off the ground, what were you working on as part of your “day job”?
Seeley: Well I did a long run of Exiles at Marvel and working as a penciler on a few books and in the meantime, I would be putting out Hack/Slash. That sort of investment of my own ended up being a good choice because Exiles got cancelled and Wildcats was brought into the DC fold with Flashpoint, it was Hack/Slash that helped keep paying me and kept getting me invited to conventions. It was one of the smarter choices I ever made career-wise or even life-wise. It was about six years where I would draw for Marvel or DC during the day, and write Hack/Slash at night.
Nrama: Okay so then you were working at Marvel and DC, and doing Hack/Slash in your spare time, when did you get the idea for Loaded Bible?
Seeley: Loaded Bible was sort of an idea that came about from doing Hack/Slash and I realized “shit, I can get weird with it." Loaded Bible was an idea that me and my brother came up with in high school. One of those sacrilegious jokes that teenagers come up with and laugh about. The idea kept growing and we realized it’s not just a joke there’s actually a good story in it. The idea was to have it parallel Hack/Slash with a weird plot but a strong story behind it. It was fairly successful, but it was one of those things that I realized as I was doing these one-shots that this is an ongoing big-planned series. I think at the time I wasn’t prepared to write something like that. There’s like a book two of Loaded Bible waiting for me to do it, I just have to get around to do it.
Nrama: You have all these creator-owned book included Revival with Mike Norton, and your DC contract still lets you work on that, so what’s the status on that right now?
Seeley: Well so Revival ends at #47 and I’m working on #45 right now, but it was always intended to be a finite series. We had plotted it out that it would be about 48 issues, and it came in just shy of that, but I think we’ve hit all the right emotional beats with it. It’s been a four-year long commitment to have this book out each month and it’s been this big pain in the ass baby, but as we’ve winded it down we figured out what we wanted from it. It really helped us with this really epic landing.
Nrama: You mentioned that the DC exclusive contract disallows working for Marvel, but we talked last year about the relaunched Blade series. What all happened there?
Seeley: The short story is I quit. The long story is when Marvel hired me, I had just written ten years of a horror comic starring a female lead so I seemed like a good fit. So we threw around ideas of doing Blade’s daughter and when they announced it, Marvel was in a weird place because they had announced the hip-hop covers and a lot of people saw “here’s another black lead with an all-white creative team” and you know it’s valid and definitely the case. Once the announcement hit, it was just one bad week. I kinda felt that it was completely fair and never something we hadn’t considered, but everybody at Marvel was totally cool about it and wanted to find a way to make it work. After a while, I felt like it was me screwing this up. I couldn’t help but feel like a black woman might write this stuff better than me and saved them from me. In the wake of Black Panther launching so well, maybe Blade is the book they find new talent on.
Nrama: Would you ever consider going back to Marvel?
Seeley: I mean, yeah, I love the people there. Katie Kubert was one of my editors at DC and I loved working with her. She was one of the people that suggested me for Grayson. I liked working with those characters and people.
Nrama: Okay so this is something we’ve talked about hanging out, but we’re both huge Masters of the Universe fans. You know it was coming!
Seeley: A favorite subject of mine!
Nrama: You’ve worked with Dark Horse in the past on a few Masters of the Universe projects, so how did you first get you and your brother as well involved with that?
Seeley: Years ago via Hack/Slash I met Scott Allie and we ran a horror panel together and we became pretty quick friends, but he never understood the Masters of the Universe thing. So when that stuff came around Dark Horse, he told me that he knew I loved it and wanted me to work on it. For the art of book it was such a big project and my brother and I grew up loving it. So getting to work with my brother on this was sort of an adult recreation of our childhood. It was an awesome project to work on. It was actually the minicomics that came with the figures that got me into comics. From there, I found Spider-Man and the Hulk, but it started with He-Man.
Nrama: You’ve got the Minicomic Collection, right?
Seeley: Oh yeah! I’m in it!
Nrama: It’s huge! I didn’t realize you were in it. I mean taking a look at the artists and writers involved with these is huge, too.
Seeley: When I grew up, it wasn’t a time where comics were really accessible, but there was a K-Mart with those minicomics and action figures. They were so well-made and different from the cartoons that actually presented a real danger. Those things set me on a path that I have failed to get off on. I mean, I’m on my couch right now and right across from me on my bookshelf I have the original minicomics on the bottom shelf.
Nrama: Yeah between those and the comics that came with the Super Powers Team collection, I was set for the time being.
Seeley: Yeah, those were great too! It was a quick abridged DC Universe and it was so cool for them to take all those Jack Kirby characters and set them up against the DCU which is what they’re using as a template for the modern DCU as well as the films.
Nrama: Okay so now that you’re DC exclusive and Masters of the Universe is at DC... would you ever want to work on those comic books?
Seeley: Yeah, I mean if they ask me I would have a hard time turning it down. I’ve never pursued it though.
Nrama: Why not?
Seeley: Well because I’m such a huge fan and I use it for escapist entertainment, so turning something like that into work wouldn’t be fun. Something personal like the art book is totally a small enough pleasure to do. I’ve been happy doing that.
Nrama: Let’s talk about Nightwing for a minute because you’re back on it as part of DC's "Rebirth." You have a history with this character, so who is Dick Grayson to you?
Seeley: Dick Grayson was the first action figure I ever got. He came with my Spider-Mobile instead of Spider-Man when I was four years old. That character has represented to me the sort of leveling up, but still maintains his cheery and bright outlook. That’s something that I relate to a lot as everybody goes through a dark time in the lives at some point but being able to always keep your chin up and never lose your moral ground is something I strive to do. I think it’s therapeutic and something I think the world needs. The other thing I love about him is that he transcends genre. You can put Dick in any sort of story is that you can put him in any sort of story and he fits in well.
Every generation has grown up with Dick. If you grew up in a different time, you’ve seen him around but he’s always in a different style. From the Boy Wonder to the leader of the Teen Titans to him finally becoming Batman, it’s always new and changing for him.
Nrama: You have two years with DC now, and Revival wrapping up, what do the next five years in your career look like to you?
Seeley: So I have Lost Boys at DC which I’m excited about and I would love to do more potential things that come with working with Warner Bros. where I pick the characters I love and get to work on them.
For me, I want to stay in comics, but there’s always a push to work in animation, film, or novels. My goal is to make more comics and good comics. Maybe sell the properties so I can make more comics.
I’m getting to do the things where I wanted to do and working with DC will allow me to keep doing that. Maybe I’ll surprise myself later on with something completely new.