When the news broke that DC would no longer have a WildStorm line of comics, one of the first titles that fans were voicing concern about was Astro City.
Created by writer Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Brent Anderson, Astro City tells close-up character stories in the setting of a fictional city filled with superpowered heroes and villains. While the series debuted in 1995 as an Image title, it was soon published as part of WildStorm.
Earlier this year, Working Title Films acquired the rights for a live action adaptation of the series, with Busiek announced as one of the executive producers.
As Busiek sat at his table this past weekend during Mid-Ohio Con, Newsarama asked him for more details about the future of the former WildStorm comic and its film adaptation.
Newsarama: Kurt, let's start with Astro City. Is its status with DC after WildStorm's demise still up in the air, or have you been assured there will be a home for it?
Kurt Busiek: There was always a home for it. The question was, how are things going to be organized at DC? And would it be a home where we wanted to stay?
The answer is, yes, absolutely.
The trouble at the beginning was that they couldn't give us any details right away. As soon as they announced that WildStorm was closing, it's not like my editor could have told me ahead of time, because he heard about it that day, when they made the announcement. And then the focus was them talking about internal matters: editors and support staff and all these people, who were wondering if they were going to have a job in the future, and whether they'd have to relocate and how things were going to work. That's more important stuff.
So at the time, I was being contacted by other publishers who were asking if Astro City is available. And the answer is, "I don't know. Maybe?" I talked to them, and made it clear that DC is busy with internal stuff right now, but they're going to give me some information, and after that, we'll be able to make a decision.
Nrama: What did you hear from DC?
Busiek: The information they gave me is that it's going to come out under the DC imprint, but largely, everything we'd planned remains the same.
They've been supportive and helpful to us for 14 years, ever since we brought the book back after its first six-issue run at Image. It would take a lot for us to say, "Nah, we want to go." And they're still being very, very supportive, so we're happy to stay as part of the mighty DC empire.
Nrama: Was there any stop in producing the title? Will we see it soon?
Busiek: We've just kept working on it, putting pages into a drawer and continuing to work on it, and as soon as everything's in place, we'll be able to start releasing it monthly again.
Nrama: What's the status of the Astro City movie?
Busiek: I'm working on the screen treatment now.
Nrama: So it's very early in the process?
Busiek: Yes. But Working Title films, who did Four Weddings and a Funeral, Nanny McPhee, Mr. Bean, The Boat the Rocks, Billy Elliot...
Nrama: I just saw something they did. Oh, I know, Frost/Nixon, which was a critical hit...
Busiek: Yeah. They were interested in Astro City because, although they've never done anything like it, everything they do focuses on character. And everything they'd seen that in the superhero arena was about spectacle, about action or about fighting. So they it didn't seem like their kind of thing until seeing Astro City.
Nrama: Do you know how they found out about it?
Busiek: They actually saw it because the Coen Brothers sent it to them.
So they read it and said, "This is big and sprawling and enormous, and we don't know what the road in is, but it all comes out of character. We get that. We understand these characters."
And that was where we started working together on it.
They've optioned the rights and they've hired me to do the screen treatment. And we'll see what goes on from there.
Nrama: Did you have to change much? Obviously, you have to take this enormous world and trim it down to a two-hour movie that's digestible to a mainstream audience. But it sounds like it's still character focused?
Busiek: Well, I can't tell you any details. I also can't promise anything, because just the fact that I outlined it doesn't mean it won't get changed.
There are certainly changes that I made. There are changes to establish characters, because this is a different medium. We're telling a story in a different way. Where I could have a character flying around for a couple pages with narrative captions explaining everything I want to explain, you can't do that in a movie. The character flying around would bump into all those captions.
So we're adjusting things. But I know how to write an Astro City story, so if I have to change a character's origin, or if I have to put somebody in a different job than we saw them in in the comic, it's in the service of telling that story.
The outline that I've turned in has changes. It's clearly not exactly what's in the comics, but it's very much the spirit of what's in the comics. It's the characters that are in the comics. And it feels very, very much like an Astro City story. Things may change along the way, but right now, the changes are the sort of changes you have to make for an adaptation if you're telling a character's story in two hours instead of 10 issues.
Nrama: Then to finish up, just to ask about one of your fan-favorite characters is there a certain character in the Astro City film treatment that has a noose around his neck?
Busiek: I can't tell you. But on the other hand, I can't tell you that he isn't in there either.
Check back later this week as we talk more with Busiek about his other projects.