If there's one thing Kurt Busiek has proven he can do well, it's world-building.
In the Eisner Award-winning series Astro City, the writer has created a stand-alone universe of intriguing superpowered characters, often focusing on the "normal" men and women who populate the city where they congregate.
Now Busiek is taking the same approach to The Witchlands, an urban fantasy comic that will create its own world of characters who encounter the supernatural.
The creator-owned series had been planned as a WildStorm series, but that will change now that the imprint has been absorbed into the main DC line.
After speaking with Busiek about the film and future of Astro City, we spoke with the writer about the new world he's building in The Witchlands.
Newsarama: Kurt, we talked about Astro City's status now that WildStorm is gone, but you have another fantasy-based project that was supposed to be coming out through Wildstorm, right?
Kurt Busiek: Yeah, The Witchlands. It's a WildStorm project, but that now means it will be a DC book.
It's a fantasy series that is, in many ways, like Astro City. We don't have a single lead character or ongoing cast. It's a world that we can explore.
Sometimes I say that if Astro City was about urban fantasy instead of about superheroes, it would be The Witchlands. But we'll see a variety of characters, a variety of stories, that all take place in this shared universe. They all have this shared system of magic and history. Just like Astro City has a shared superhero background.
Nrama: You've written fantasy characters before, but this is the first time you've created a world like this, isn't it?
Busiek: I'm trying to think. Well, I did The Wizard's Tale. And it was very much a classic fantasy/fairy tale world.
Nrama: Is this like that?
Busiek: No. This is very much set in the present day. Some of it is. There's also a history to explore. But this is more... the genre of urban fantasy has sort of split in two ways. The early urban fantasy stuff by writers like Charles de Lint and Emma Bull is about ordinary people living their lives, who start to become aware that there is fantastic stuff in the shadows. And then there is the other strain of urban fantasy, which is what I like to call the ass-kickers of the fantastic, like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files or Kitty Goes to Washington or Anita Blake.
The Witchlands is much more the former kind of thing, with the idea that there's magic all around us, in the shadows, and we don't really see it. But take one step wrong, one step to the side, and you're in the Twilight Zone. So it's more that kind of fantasy.
But there's this whole global history, centuries long, about how magic has worked. And I'll be telling stories, everything from this story of a long-haul trucker whose wife dies while he's away from home and he can't be with her when she dies, but he picks up her ghost as a hitchhiker and is able to see her on to the next stage....
To a story about a young girl living in an economically depressed Rhode Island fishing town, who after a violent storm, comes to realize that the Norse god Thor is living on an island in the harbor, and his activities there cause great change and upheaval in the town, because while they're off trying to make a living, fishing for cod, he's out fishing for the Midguard Serpent.
I've got a story about a guy who hosts a show on a television food channel, who's doing a show called "The 50 Best Burgers in the Southwest United States," or something like that. But our story is called, "The 50 Best Burgers Between Brownsville and Hell," because he is going and finding all these different burgers. He's getting farther and farther away from the real world and getting closer to the borderlands of Hell.
Nrama: It does sound like Astro City, but are these stories at all connected?
Busiek: They're all happening in the same universe. They're not all happening in the same city. Astro City is a tighter focus. But the world we see in "50 Best Burgers" is the same world as we see in the story about Thor, is the same world we see in the story about Baron November, who is kind of a voodoo shaman guy.
You know, it's a world to explore. That's what we do in Astro City. That's what we'll do in Witchlands.
Nrama: Will the characters ever show up again?
Busiek: Yes. There will be characters that recur, but there will not be an ongoing cast. So a character we meet in Issue #1, we see at the beginning of Issue #2, then we don't see her again until #5 and #6. But what she's learned in between, during the time we hadn't seen her, is important to those stories. And then when we won't see her again for six issues, but some of the characters she was involved with in Issue #5 or #6 may be back again.
So there are connections. There is a connection in what's going on. The reason why Thor is living on this island off the coast of Rhode Island is something that will be referred to by other characters. There's a bigger reason going on.
There's a big, sprawling tapestry that fits everything together, but the stories can be taken on their own. You don't have to know all the minutia of it to enjoy what's going on right in front of you.
Nrama: Who's the artist that's working on this with you?
Busiek: For at least the first six issues, the artist will be Connor Willumsen. I think he did stuff for Image's Popgun anthology. And he's done other things like that. He's doing absolutely stunning stuff. It's got a very alt-comics flavor. It's different from superhero, mainstream stuff. And that's good because this story needs something else.And we've got covers by Zachary Baldus, who did an issue of New Mutants. And he did one cover for Jack of Fables. But he does extraordinary stuff. So he's doing our covers.
Nrama: And you're talking about releasing this in spring 2011?
Busiek: Right now, on Astro City and Witchlands, we're building up some inventory. Once DC has its organization all worked out, we'll have stuff in the drawer and will be ready to have the books come out monthly. So it all depends on when that happens.