Just as the Astro City comic book winds down its run – with creators opting to release Astro City graphic novels instead - fans of the series just found out the concept is is in development for television.
Written by Kurt Busiek, the comic book chapters of Astro City have been most recently released under DC's Vertigo imprint - after stints at Image and WildStorm. With illustrations by Brent Anderson and character contributions and covers from Alex Ross, the series has spent more than 20 years sharing tales of a city where daily life includes superheroes, but even average citizens and their stories are affected by them.
The series wraps up its run at Vertigo next month, but Busiek has promised that the stories of Astro City will continue to be published in graphic novel format.
At the same time, Busiek is writing a pilot for a new television treatment of Astro City for a series through production company FremantleMedia. The script is being co-written with screenwriter Rick Alexander with Gregory Noveck serving as executive producer.
Newsarama talked to Busiek to find out more about the switch to graphic novel, what he thinks of this television deal (after experiencing several movie options that went nowhere), and what it feels like to make these changes after more than 20 years of Astro City.
Newsarama: Kurt, what was behind the decision to switch to graphic novels instead of serial format?
Kurt Busiek: It was our editor Mark Doyle’s suggestion, but it was welcome on our side for a few reasons.
I think what Mark was thinking was, Astro City is a mature series that makes most of its sales in book form (and digital), so why not do it in that format first, and put the prime solicitation and promotion into the form that most people will be reading it in?
For my part, it’s been very difficult handling the monthly schedule, not so much because of the sheer monthly monthliness of it (although I fell off a cliff healthwise these last few issues, which is why they’re coming out slowly), but because I’m always juggling two tracks at once - the issues for Brent and the issues for our guest artists, and as a result I could never manage to get far enough ahead to be able to do a long story with Brent, because of the demands of the monthly grind. The one longish story we did was broken up into single-issue stories that could happen with interruptions. And Brent couldn’t exactly get on top of the schedule either; we’d be scrambling to get the final issue of even short arcs done in order to make the print deadline.
This way, we can do longer stories without the need to get them published 24 pages a month, which is good, because we’ve got a number of them built up we’ve been wanting to get to. And as long as we’re getting enough pages done per month, we don’t have to hit that 24-page finish line every four weeks or so; we can do it at the speed it needs, and if we get a 200-page book done one year and a 180-page book done the next, that’s fine; it’s not like we have to get have to get 288 pages done every year, which we did under the monthly system.
So we’ll be able to tell the stories we want to tell at a reasonable speed and in the format most readers prefer, which all sounds good to me.
Nrama: As the series switches to graphic novels, how will it change the structure of the story? Will it still be told in chapters?
Busiek: We’ll see. We have the freedom to do that - if we want to do a graphic novel with six individual stories, we can do that. If we want to do one big long story, we can do that. We can break them into chapters, but they don’t have to be 24-page chapters. Or we can go back once we hit page 170 and say “You know, the opening act needs a couple more pages,” and we can do that, because it isn’t already out on the stands.
Having an OGN format gives us a new way to play with the stories, so we’re going to see how we like it and what we can do with it.
Nrama: Will the focus of the stories shift at all?
Busiek: Like I said, we’ve got some longer stories to tell. But in the general sense of what Astro City is about, no, we’ll still be doing stories about like is a superhero universe from a lot of different perspectives. We’ll just be doing it with a different canvas.
Nrama: But it sounds like it will feature the same creative team, right?
Busiek: Pretty much, yes. We’ve talked about being able to get Alex Sinclair back as colorist - another thing having a looser schedule will help with, since it’ll be easier for him to fit us in-between the other projects he does for DC, which are usually on a demanding schedule. But it’ll certainly still be me, Brent, Alex, J.G. Roshell (with Jimmy), with Molly cracking the whip and keeping us from stampeding into a ravine.
And we’ll be finding ways to have Alex involved at the same level - the first GN has a character in it who was his suggestion in the first place, in an important role, for instance, and we want to make sure he’ll be doing more than just a cover. In the collections we’ve done so far, there are usually six covers by Alex plus a new cover, and we’ll be looking to have design work and graphics by Alex that’ll still get readers their appropriate dose of Alex Ross Astro City.
Nrama: Do you know when the first graphic novel might hit?
Busiek: The first one’s already under way, but I wouldn’t expect to see it in 2018. But we’ll be doing our best to keep stacking up pages, and get books out regularly.
Nrama; Was this decision about the print format at all linked to the development of a TV show based on the series?
Busiek: Not at all. The publishing deal we have with DC/Vertigo and the TV deal with Fremantle are separate deals, so there’s no cross-development, at least not at this stage.
Nrama: We've spoken before about how film and TV adaptations come and go. This one appears to have stuck - at least long enough for an announcement. I know it's only at the pilot stage right now, but can you say whether you're feeling pretty good about this one?
Busiek: I’m quite happy with it, so far. There are various different kinds of deals, and I think we’ve run into a fair number of approaches over the years, from the producer who loves the series but isn’t that interested in working with the series creators to approaches where they want us to be hands-on with the project. And this one, clearly, they want us hands-on.
Having me co-writing the pilot was a selling point for Fremantle, and they - along with Rick Alexander and Gregory Noveck - have been…I was going to say “welcoming,” but it’s more than that. Every time I’ve come down to Los Angeles, it’s been a terrific experience, and it’s been fun to be in the room to help work things out. I have the advantage of being able to say, “Well, we did this in the comics for this reason, but the main point we’re trying to get at here is this other thing, so if we play it a different way for TV, we’re still serving the spirit and intent of the series.”
And they’re not trying to steer away from what the comics are about - they’re steering into it, trying to bring it to life in a way that makes sense for TV, but which is very strongly rooted in the comics.
It’s also a treat when Rick says something like, “Hey, if we take this piece of the comics and that piece and that other piece over there, and we bring them together, it accomplishes this whole new thing.” And I’m sitting there going, “I made up every piece of that years ago, and they’re still the same pieces but the result is very current, very much a story about today. How’d that happen?”
It’s a lot of fun. It’s always a difficult path, but I like the way it’s shaping up, so I hope we’ll make it to a series so you can see how it all plays out. I think it’d make a great series, so fingers crossed…!
Nrama: It's interesting that just as Astro City switches in print from serial chapters to longer books, the pursuit of an Astro City long film adaptation has moved aside to make way for shorter TV chapters. Do you think one makes more sense than the other, for either format?
Busiek: I think Astro City is a pretty versatile idea and an even more versatile setting. I think you could do a dozen big-budget Astro City movies and not run out of material, and I think you could do seven seasons (or more) of TV and still not run out of ideas. Who knows? Maybe if one is successful, we could do both - Marvel and DC are doing both TV and movies, and there’s no reason there couldn’t be a big Honor Guard movie or Confessor movie or Dark Age movie while the TV series is focusing on a different cast of characters.
As for comics, we’ve done over a hundred issues of regular-format comics - although we’ve done stories ranging from an eight-pager to a 16-issue epic, and even did one story that was just a few paragraphs of a newspaper story. Now we get to play with a larger canvas, and see what we can do with that. I’m up for the challenge and the possibilities, and eager to see what we can do!
Nrama: I'm sure fans are eager to see too. So to finish up, Kurt, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Astro City?
Busiek: I’m continually amazed that we’ve been doing this for over 20 years and the audience has been loyal enough - whatever format they’ve been picking the book up in - to let us keep going. I thought it was an oddball idea when we started, and I was delighted that there were enough readers to keep the book going after that first six issues. But to be still going after all this time is a dream situation I’d never have predicted back then, and I’m thankful readers have been so supportive the whole time.
We’ll keep trying to take you places you’ve never been before, and getting you to care about characters you never would have thought about. It’s a big city, and we’ve got lots more to explore!