Profiles in Comics: CHRIS YOST, Marvel, DC, Animation

Profiles in Comics: CHRIS YOST

Writer Christopher Yost has quickly become one of the new young turks in the comics industry, writing for both Marvel and DC while doing creator-owned books and moonlighting as an award-winning animation writer. How does he do it?

For a majority of Yost's comic career, he's worked with friend and co-writer Craig Kyle. Their friendship and collaborative team was formed while working in the world of animation, and they brought that – and the character of X-23 – to the comics medium in what would become the first of many comics collaborations. They followed that with an extended run on New X-Men with X-23 as a character, and also to the currently running series X-Force. Yost has also branched out on his own with miniseries such as Emperor Vulcan, Kingbreaker and two Ender's Game miniseries and also across the street at DC with the ongoing series Red Robin and fill-ins elsewhere in the DCU. While his comics career blossoms, he also continues in animation with next year's Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes television series, after having launched Wolverine and the X-Men.

As Yost continues to branch out – and branch up – into the comics medium, Newsarama caught up with the busy writer to talk about his career so far.

Newsrama: One of the titles at the forefront for you has been X-Force with co-writer Craig Kyle, which is a really dark take on the familiar face of the X-men books. Even Marvel editor Tom Brevoort expressed some concern over the dark wetworks nature of the book… so my question is this, Chris – how have you balanced it all while still creating something so original?

Christopher Yost:  When the first book was coming out, there was a house ad with the tagline, 'X-Men Don't Kill.  These are Not the X-Men.'  I thought it was pretty great.  The thing with X-Force, something we try to keep alive throughout the title, is that this is a horrible thing Cyclops and Wolverine are doing.  It isn't the super-heroic ideal.  It's a last ditch effort to save their species.  On occasion, in defense of innocent lives, Iron Man has taken a life.  Captain America has taken a life, so has Storm.  But this is going after the enemy before they come after you.  This is pre-emptive, and many would say it's murder.

So what we've tried to do is show the toll it's taking on the good people who have found themselves in this no-win situation.  Cyclops will go to jail with a smile on his face at the end of the day.  If his actions sustain mutantkind, he's done his job.  And the bottom line is, the X-Men's enemies will never stop.  These people hate them for just EXISTING.  They're never going to stop.

So, X-Force.  It's a grim damn book, we've never said otherwise.  Although Domino and Vanisher are kind of fun.

Nrama: You’re over one year into X-force now, spinning out of the Messiah War and coming into the Necrosha storyarc. Putting yourself as the co-captain of this ship with Craig Kyle, how do you steer it in and out of crossovers and storyarcs without losing the identity of the title on it’s own?

Yost: Even within a crossover, I think X-Force maintains it's identity, because we're the book that's willing to go to the extremely dark places.  Every single time a comic book reader says, 'Geez, why don't they just kill ?,' well, we're there for you.  Because X-Force is so outside the X-Men/super-hero norm, it can't not maintain its identity.

X-Men protect a world that fears and hates them.  X-Force goes and kills people that hate them.  X-Force is all secrets, lies and murder.  Our crossover with Amazing Spider-Man would be radically different than New Mutants or Uncanny.  Necrosha's an easy one, because the seeds of it are X-Force-centric.  Plus, Selene is going to deserve what's coming to her.

Nrama: You're also doing some of the Ender's Game adaptations, finishing up the Command School mini just now. How’s that experience been, compared to your other comics work?

Yost: It's pretty hugely different, adapting versus original material.  Ender's Game is more about structure and condensing, while still trying to get the spirit of the novel across.  I've been fortunate in that I've been given 10 issues to do it in.  I can't honestly imagine doing it in less.  But it's been a great experience, from top to bottom.  And hey, Pasqual Ferry.  That's enough right there.  The art on this book is insane.  My job has been easy compared to his, he's had to visually create this entire universe.  

Nrama: You’ve written many miniseries for Marvel, and coming up you have a Psylocke miniseries. Can you tell us about your thoughts on the character, and the place you see for her in the X-titles and the Marvel U?

Yost: Psylocke was one of the X-Men that I was there for, on the ground floor.  I saw her join the team, fight Sabretooth, get her edge to her, the whole Siege Perilous thing... and then, transform into the Betsy we have today.  I like Psylocke because she's got that edge, you're never quite sure if you can trust her to a certain extent... she bends a lot of the rules.

And poor Betsy has had a lot dumped on her.  She's had to deal with so much insanity... Mojo, Crimson Dawn, being killed, rebuilt by her mad brother, being pulled into Exiles... and the whole body switch thing.  Editor Daniel Ketchum and I really took our time deciding how to proceed on this, because her bio is so complicated.  

And it has an affect on her.  She's gone all surface, and doesn't want to deal with any of it.  Is she real, fake, alive, dead... she doesn't know.  But being an X-Man, that's something she knows.  That's her rock.

Nrama: After establishing yourself in comics at Marvel, you branched out to begin working at DC last year– writing the new series Red Robin, and some one-shot and guest arcs in other books. What led to you branching out?

Yost: They asked.  It's honestly that simple.  I think because of the animation work I do, a lot of people assume I'm Marvel exclusive.  I grew up a Marvel guy, but DC has the legendary pantheon of superheroes.  I was flattered when editor Mike Marts approached me.  And Red Robin is my first solo ongoing book, so that was kind of cool, too.

Nrama: Red Robin – you’ve been swamped with work and we’ve been wanting to talk to you about this for awhile. You’ve really carved a spot for Tim Drake in the DCU post-Batman R.I.P.. What came first, the idea of Red Robin or Tim going out on his own?

Yost: That was, in fact, the only thing that DC really knew they wanted - Tim out on his own, as Red Robin.  The hows, whys and whats of it all was up to me.  So I wrote up a pitch, and by and large they liked it.  I did a ton of reading, just to be up to speed with not only Robin/Tim but the whole DC universe as well.  

Nrama: This book debuted with a big mystery – who was Red Robin. Ultimately revealed to be Tim, do you have more surprises in store in future issues?

Yost: Issue 4, for me, was the big one, where we see that... SPOILERS!!  Tim was right.  He knew, for reasons that will one day be revealed, that Batman was alive.  And despite no one else believing in him, he went out and found the evidence that Bruce was out there, lost in time.  

And then of course he got run through by a sword.  The first 12 issues are all interconnected, and there's a pretty cool twist at the end.  I hope, anyway.  It should keep Tim busy and his life complicated for a long time to come.

Nrama: Although Tim’s taken a sabbatical from Gotham, you’re vacationing there with a stint on Batman: Streets of Gotham. How’d you land this gig, and how did it fit in with Dini’s work previously?

Yost: Again, Mike Marts asked.  They were looking for a story to feature some of the characters in Battle for the Cowl that didn't have a home (at least not yet) and two names that came up were Huntress and Man-Bat.  It's not necessarily an extension of what Dini's doing, but more the flavor of Gotham.  

And for me, it's a chance to play with more pieces of the Bat-universe.  And have Huntress and Man-Bat beat the crap out of each other for 40 odd pages.  Which is pretty fun.

Nrama: How many issues of Batman: Streets of Gotham will you be writing?

Yost: Two!

Nrama: In addition to that, you also recently released creator-owned work – Killer of Demons. How did that go for you?

Yost: It went pretty well.  Reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and it got a lot of good attention.  It didn't set the world on fire sales-wise, but I didn't have any illusions that it would.  Well, one or two.  But I was very happy with the book and the reaction to it.  Artist Scott Wegener did an amazing job, and it was just stunning to see how he grew artistically from issue 1 to 2.

Nrama: With that 3-issue mini recently concluded, do you plan to do more?

Yost: Well, if the trade does well, absolutely.  I've got two more 3-issue arcs planned, and possibly a one-shot.

Nrama: You’ve done both ongoing series as well as miniseries and guest arcs – for the latter especially, how do you jump in and properly plot a story-arc to fit in?

Yost: I love continuity, I always try to respect the history of the characters, the stories, everything other writers and artists have brought to them.  There's always a way to jump in without stepping on any toes, for the most part.  With Batman: Streets of Gotham, it's a story that takes place over the course of 12 hours, and doesn't directly impact Batman or anything Paul Dini has set up.  And I leave everything more or less as I found them.  A little more beat up, maybe.  

It's more action-movie than ongoing serial.  But if another writer wants to pick up on it, great - the story in Batman: Streets of Gotham certainly can lead to both Man-Bat and Huntress moving forward with their lives.

Nrama: You’ve currently got a lot on your plate. If I got this right, you’re currently doing X-Force, Red Robin, Ender’s Game: Command School, Psylocke, and guesting on >B?Batman: Streets of Gotham. That’s a busy workload – how to you balance it with your animation work?

Yost: I have no idea.  It actually worked pretty well, up until Necrosha went into full swing.  With X-Force, it's not one issue a month, it's two-- we're providing script for both Choi/Oback and Clayton Crain.  And there's the X-Force: Sex and Violence mini, but that's a bit more forgiving, schedule-wise.  Then a Necrosha one-shot, a Necrosha backup story, another X-Men one-shot... there's a lot going on, but for the majority of it, I work with Craig Kyle, and we share a lot of the burden.  And editors like Jeanine Schaefer (at Marvel) and Mike Marts (at DC) help with sussing out the schedule, prioritizing, and making sure nothing falls through the cracks.

Nrama: You split your time between comics and animation – I hear your big project right now is the animated series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. How’s that been, and when do you think the first episode will air?

Yost: Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been a complete freaking JOY to work on.  This is one of the first shows that's been produced and financed directly by Marvel.  The only notes given are by Marvel.  And those notes, for the most part, were 'YES.'  Every single thing I wanted to do on this show, they've said yes to.  There have been no compromises.  This is the comic brought to life.  This is the one you've been waiting for.  The animatic for the pilot nearly made me cry, I'm not afraid to admit it.  

Nrama: Avengers are bigger now than ever, both in comics and animation, and there’s that live-action movie on the horizon. How do you see this series fitting in with this groundswell of Avengers-mania?

Director Heuck On AVENGERS Animated
Director Heuck On AVENGERS Animated
Yost: This series is the Avengers primer.  Hopefully people will see this and get a taste of the bigger Avengers universe that's out there.

Nrama: Seeing the recent proposed acquisition of Marvel by Disney and you working in two facets of Marvel & Disney’s playground, how do you think the acquisition will affect the fields you work in?

Yost: So far, so good.  Honestly, it's been business as usual.  And keep in mind, I work on one of the darkest, most violent books Marvel puts out. [laughs]

Nrama: This all began for you as an intern at Marvel Comics’ west coast office back in 2001. Paint a picture for us – what was going on when you first signed up, and how did it develop into this?

Yost: Yeah, that was nuts.  Summer of 2001, actually, I interned for Marvel's west coast office, under Kevin Feige and Avi Arad.  They were in the midst of Spider-Man production, and things were about to explode.  So of course I left.  I finished up my degree (an MFA in Film Producing), but kept in touch with another executive there, a guy by the name of Craig Kyle.  He had been kind enough to read my stuff, and he invited me to work with him on X-Men: Evolution.  That was May, 2002.  That led to me working on The Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as the X-23 comic with Craig.  And THEN, I came back to Marvel Animation to head up the writing on the Fantastic Four series.

And it just kept going from there.

Nrama: You were bumped from intern to writer after Marvel caught wind of some spec film scripts you wrote. Can you tell us about those scripts?

Yost: Both were these massively huge sci-fi action scripts.  'Godstone' was kind of a chase film in space, with some 'Akira' influence in there.  The other was called 'Interdimensional,' and was pretty fun, honestly.  Well, I enjoyed it.

Nrama: Through many of your works both in comics and animation, you’ve collaborated with writer Craig Kyle. Can you describe this partnership, both personal and business?

Yost: Craig and I, we just work well together.  Craig's extremely passionate, I'm devoid of emotion.  He thinks about things like 'character' and... well, he just thinks about things period.  I usually focus on action and jokes.  In all honesty, it's a great relationship.  We have fun, and we're both constantly swamped.  So the 'fun' part is crucial.  That, and Left 4 Dead.

Nrama: [laughs] I would leave you on that one, but we had one last question for you… One of your biggest lasting contributions to comics and animation has been the creation of X-23 with Craig Kyle. Debuted in animation, and then rushed to comics where the character has been a constant in a variety of titles you’ve written there.  Now several years later, what’s your appraisal of the character and her success?

Yost: Craig created X-23.  They'd been looking for a way to 'young up' Wolverine in X-Men: Evolution, and X-23 was his solution.  I worked on her debut in animation and the comics, and a ton of everything else afterwards, but she's Craig's baby.  My appraisal of the character and her success?  

I pretty much owe my career to her.  So I think she's pretty fantastic.

Chris Arrant is a contributing writer for Newsarama, and can be reached through his website.

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