Catching Up With Andy Diggle

Catching Up With Andy Diggle

Writer Andy Diggle popularity has been on an upward climb ever since he first started in 2002. Cutting his teeth in the UK with work in the Judge Dredd universe, he later found his footing at DC's Vertigo imprint with The Losers. Since then he's done a variety of work from Batman, Green Arrow, Adam Strange and Swamp Thing while staying true to his style in all-out action and innovative storytelling.

But for most of his career he has been exclusive to DC, but now in 2008 he's decided to spread his wings and see what's out there. He was recently announced as the new writer of Marvel's Thunderbolts and he's spearheading a webcomic based on the video game Bionic Commando. As arguably one of the highest profile free agents in comics, Diggle is at the top of his game and constantly looking to the horizon to see what's next.

We caught up with Diggle from his home in England, to hold an encompassing chat about the various books of his career, working with longtime collaborator Jock, and what's next.

Newsarama: Thanks for talking with us, Andy. To start out with, can you tell us what you're working on today?

Andy Diggle: This week I'm working on an as-yet-unannounced Vertigo graphic novel. Next week I'll be finishing off my final issue of Hellblazer, then writing more Thunderbolts the week after, and then on to a new creator-owned project. I'm trying to get myself back into an organized weekly routine after a chaotic summer.

NRAMA: You mentioned you were writing your final issue of Hellblazer. How would you describe the big story of your run on that book?

AD: If I had to boil it down to a sound-byte, I guess I'd say I wanted to give John Constantine his balls back. He was originally introduced as this cocky, sarcastic, sharp-dressed, mouthy little spiv kind of character; but over the years he got ground down and became more and more shabby and self-pitying, until eventually he was just a poor shadow of his former self. I wanted to bring the book back to its core premise of supernatural horror with a social conscience, and I thought an interesting way of getting there would be to have Constantine take a long hard look at himself and try to claw back some of his former glory. But as the saying goes, you can never go back, so there's that internal conflict going on. And of course there's the external conflict in there from of his new adversaries Lord Burnham and Mako, who represent two polar extremes of villainy. One represents the establishment, and the other is about as far from the establishment as it's possible to get.

NRAMA: Hellblazer is the longest running title in the Vertigo imprint – how do you think it stands in the broader Vertigo and DC picture?

AD: I think its longevity and the caliber of the creative teams has won Hellblazer much respect over the years, but these days I think it's somewhat taken for granted. It's just sort of a steady hum in the background. Non-one seems to be paying much attention, y'know? Which is a shame, frankly, because I've been working my arse off on it.

NRAMA: Going back, I realize that you've been more or less exclusive to DC and Vertigo for the past six years – since you first started writing full-time. There's a one-shot Punisher story at Marvel some time back, but that's it. So what led you to branching out like this, and does it affect your Vertigo work?

AD: I was coming up on the end of this very dark and oppressive Hellblazer run, and I just felt like I needed a breath of fresh air. I thought it might make a nice change to write some books that people actually read. So I just put some feelers out to Marvel, and they instantly made me feel very welcome.

I wanted to get back to the kind of fun I used to have writing action books like The Losers and Adam Strange. Action doesn't really fit the mold at Vertigo, and I'm still kind of waiting for the DCU continuity to stop exploding. That leaves Marvel.

I originally got a foot in the door at Vertigo thanks in part to guys like Garth Ennis putting in a good word for me, and I figured I should do the same to give the next guy a helping hand. But all the writers I've recommended to my editors over the past few years -- guys like Jonathan Hickman, Si Spurrier and Antony Johnston -- have been picked up by Marvel instead, and they're all telling me how much fun they're having over there. It just seems like a good place to be right now. And I've been really enjoying some of the books Marvel have been putting out just lately, like Iron Fist and Ghost Rider.

NRAMA: You mentioned your apprehension at jumping in further into the DC Universe. You did an arc on Batman Confidential and the well-received Adam Strange miniseries – did you want to do more in DC proper, or were those the sole things that interested you?

AD: I find the DCU and its characters a bit difficult to get my head around, to be honest, so I've tended to gravitate towards projects where I don't have to worry too much about continuity (whatever that means these days). For example, Green Arrow: Year One obviously details the very start of Oliver Queen's heroic career. Batman: Rules Of Engagement was also a flashback story, showing Bruce Wayne's first encounter with Lex Luthor. And while Adam Strange: Planet Heist was a precursor to the Rann/Thanagar War, it wasn't over-encumbered by crossover characters and story-lines. Not at first, anyway.

It was never a conscious decision, but it did occur to me in hindsight that none of the three DCU characters I've tackled to date have superpowers. Bruce Wayne, Oliver Queen and Adam Strange are all ordinary men who render themselves extraordinary through their own efforts. I suspect I may subconsciously have been drawn to them for that reason. There's something grounded and believably human about them; more so than many DCU characters, at least.

The truth is, I'd never actually read a single Green Arrow comic before I pitched the origin revamp. I'd seen him in Grant Morrison's JLA and the like, but that was about it, and once the pitch was greenlit I had to do a ton of research. It paid off, though. I was really chuffed to see how the old-school Ollie fans took that story to their hearts. Jock and I are really proud of that book.

NRAMA: Several years back when Mark Millar finished his first run on Wolverine with the "Enemy of the State" storyarc, there was rumors that he recommended you to follow him up. Is there any truth to that?

AD: Yeah, it's true. Mark and I have similar styles, and he knows how much I love writing hardcore action and black humor. He thought I'd be a good choice to follow his Wolverine run.

I was really flattered that he invited me in and fought my corner, but ultimately he couldn't swing it with the editors. That's fair enough, though -- you can't expect to be given a flagship book for your first ongoing Marvel gig. Still, they seem really pleased with the work I'm doing on Thunderbolts, so never say never...

NRAMA: Let's go back to your inaugural Marvel work, the one shot Punisher: Silent Night. Any chance for you to do more Frank Castle stories?

AD: I've thought about it, yeah -- but Garth Ennis' Punisher Max is an incredible comic, and the thought of trying to follow Garth just gives me the wiggins. That's a tough act to follow.

NRAMA: On another front, you've dipped your feet back into editing with the Bionic Commando webcomic – which you're also writing. What's that been like for you?

AD: Game stuff is always three steps forward, two steps back. I did a little bit of writing on the game prototype itself, but I found that game writing is probably not for me. The story would be bent out of shape by the constantly-evolving demands of gameplay. And that's fine -- gameplay has to come first. But it's tough to build a solid story if the foundations keep shifting.

Writing the web-comic has been a lot of fun though, and it's given me another chance to work with Colin Wilson, one of my all time favorite artists. Nobody draws future war like Colin Wilson, as anyone knows who grew up with his Rogue Trooper work. And Dave Gibbons was kind enough to do the cover for us, which gave me a great excuse to hang out with him during all the Watchmen madness at San Diego Comicon.

NRAMA: Would you ever consider a more permanent editing role somewhere – akin to Mark Waid at BOOM! – or are you sticking to your writing guns?

AD: Bionic Commando was a weird example because I was hired initially just as a writer; and then the Capcom guys realized they had no idea how to put a comic together, so they asked me to become the editor as well. That's okay; I find myself a very reasonable guy to work for! And if I was self-publishing a creator-owned book, then sure, I'd put my editorial hat back on for that. But no, I don't particularly enjoy editing, so I can't see myself going back to it full time.

NRAMA: So it's writing for you. One of your long-time collaborators has been the artist Jock, whom you've worked with on Lenny Zero, The Losers and Green Arrow: Year One. What's the likelihood of a future collaboration between you two?

AD: It's happening. We're going to do a creator-owned mini together. I've got a 10-page outline already written, and we're just waiting for Jock to finish drawing his Hellblazer graphic novel before we get into it for real.

NRAMA: Oooh. Jock + Diggle again. Can you tell about it?

AD: Not yet. We're keeping our powder dry on this one. We haven't even approached any publishers yet. But it'll be short and sweet, just four issues. I have a lot of stories I want to tell, and a lot of artists I want to work with, and I think four issues is a pretty good size for a standalone mini. What can I say, I'm just not a long-form guy.

NRAMA: 2000AD recently released the 3-part Lenny Zero story you did several years back, your first collaboration with Jock. Is there any chance you'd do more stories with that character you created in the Judge Dredd universe?

AD: Yeah, we always planned to do more Lenny Zero stories together; in fact, we've had the next story arc planned out for years. But even with the crappy exchange rate, American comics still pay much better than here in the UK, and we both have kids to feed and mortgages to pay. Hopefully one day we'll come back to finish the story though. It’s something we still talk about. Futuristic crime capers in Mega-City One are a lot of fun to write.

NRAMA: It was recently announced that Dynamite is doing a Judge Dredd series in the U.S. with Garth Ennis and John Wagner. Could you see you participating in that down the road?

AD: Maybe, if they'll have me. But Judge Dredd is a hell of a lot harder to write than it looks, especially if your name's not John Wagner. Maybe Jock and I could do more Lenny Zero for Dynamite? Hmm, maybe I should look into that. And I've always really wanted to write Judge Dredd vs. Superman, but Dan Didio wasn't interested. Shame; it's another story I have all plotted out in my head. Maybe one day...

NRAMA: Well, with nothing definite there… does this new work at Marvel hint to an exclusive down the road, or do you want to be know as the highest-profile non-exclusive comics writer out there?

AD: We haven't discussed exclusives and it's not something I've really thought about, but I have several creator-owned projects that I'd love to publish elsewhere, so it'd have to be a pretty sweet deal to make it worth losing that level of freedom. But that's not something I'm angling for, and it's early days yet. I'm just happy to be playing in the Marvel sandbox for now. All hype aside, I can honestly say that I'm having more fun writing Thunderbolts than I've had in years.

NRAMA: If you had to pick a favorite, which of your comics work do you think is your proudest and one that represents you the most?

AD: I'm never 100% satisfied with my own work, but I think my best stuff has always been done in collaboration with Jock. Overall I'd probably have to say the first issue of The Losers is the single issue I'm most proud of. It's everything I love doing in comics: cool characters, snappy dialogue, crazy action, big twists, plus Jock's amazing gritty artwork. And best of all, you can download it free from the Vertigo website! Shameless plug

NRAMA: Nothing wrong with that. And which book/series do you think should have been more popular than it was?

AD: Same answer. Like I said, action books have always been a weird fit at Vertigo, so The Losers never really found the "mainstream" audience we created it for. It was always meant to be "a comic for people who don't read comics". The regular bloke in the street who's never walked into a comic shop, but likes action movies and thrillers.

But people looking for action comics don't look for them at Vertigo, and Vertigo readers aren't necessarily looking for action comics. So The Losers was pretty much the definition of a "cult" book -- the fanbase was small but passionate. Like Preacher, it's an easy book to recommend to non-comics readers.

NRAMA: As a reader of most all of your comics work, I've always wondered if you've branched out into any other mediums. Have you done anything substantial outside that I don't know about?

AD: I'm currently working on a screenplay, a little something of my own. But it's tough finding the time to write an unpaid script -- and the lure of Call of Duty 4 is strong...

NRAMA: Certainly this can't be your first screenplay you've written. Can you tell us about your work on that front?

AD: There's not much to tell; it's just a spec script for a low-budget, high-concept thriller. I actually taught myself how to write comics by learning to write movies. I took evening classes, read tons of original screenplays, the whole thing -- and it probably shows in the way I write comics, yeah?

I actually wrote my first screenplay before I ever worked in comics. It was crap, so I never showed it to anybody; but the concept was sound, and one day I'm gonna got back and re-write it. It's a huge science fiction blockbuster, and would have been impossibly expensive to film when I wrote it ten years ago. But today, who knows...

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