SAN DIEGO, DAY 1: City of Caped Angels: Busiek Takes Readers Back to 'Astro City'

Thu, August 1st, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Beau Yarbrough, Columnist

width="150" height="56" border="0" align="right" alt="[Astro City]">You can

go home again.

At least, you can if you're one of the readers of "Kurt Busiek's Astro

City," which has weathered two year-long breaks in publishing in its short

history.

Comic-Con

International attendees were the first to hear the good news on

Thursday: The series will be returning to DC/WildStorm this February.

Well, the second to hear. CBR News sat down with Busiek on Tuesday to

talk about the return to one of comicdom's most fabled metropolises -- and

an entire superhero universe informed by the vision of Busiek, along with

co-conspirators Brent Anderson and Alex Ross -- and about whether the

creative team would be relaunching the book or picking up where they left off.

"A little of both, actually," Busiek said. "We've been saying for a

while now that once I had three scripts in the can, we'd get the book back

into production and back on the schedule. We're there now -- I'm working

on the fourth script -- so we're bringing the book back.

"What we're going to do, though, to make sure we don't run into this

kind of problem in the future, is to bring 'Astro City' back as a series of

mini-series. That way, if we need time between arcs, we can take it, but

readers can be confident that we won't solicit anything unless we're sure

it'll come out on time and as solicited.

"So at the moment, we're planning to be back in February, with a

five-issue mini called 'Astro City: Local Heroes.' In some ways, we're

picking up where we left off, since we were two issues into a six-issue arc

of standalone stories when we fell off the map, and 'Local Heroes' will

have the other four, plus one more. We're also sort of starting fresh,

since that one additional issue is a new introductory issue, both to

introduce the main ideas and approaches of the series to new readers, and

to welcome longtime readers back to the fold. So it's a new introduction,

much like the other two debuts we've had ('In Dreams' in vol. 1 #1, and

'Welcome to Astro City' in vol. 2 #1), and then the rest of the stories we

were in the middle of when we were so rudely interrupted.

"What we're hoping to do is at least six issues a year -- it'd be

wonderful to be monthly, but I just don't think that's realistic at this

point. But six a year ought to give us the time we need to do it well, and

have enough material out to please readers. And that way, we should be

able to bring each arc out monthly for the duration of the arc, so readers

aren't left hanging while they wait for the next chapter.

"'Astro City: Local Heroes' will be bi-monthly, though, at least at the

start, in order to accommodate Brent's schedule in finishing up 'Rising

Stars.'"

For those who somehow missed the lengthy saga of Busiek's health

problems, and how they dogged the series, the feeling-better writer recapped:

"The quick version of the story is, I was plagued with recurrent

infections that affected my concentration, making it hard for me to

structure out certain kinds of stories. It slowed me down on some of my

writing, like 'Avengers' and 'Thunderbolts,' and it brought me virtually to

a stand still on 'Astro City.' I simply couldn't get the scripts done -- I

couldn't make the stories work. I'd lose the thread of what I was writing,

and while the plots and the action would work just fine, the more delicate,

internal storytelling just wasn't there.

"Ultimately, I was diagnosed with mercury poisoning, and I've been being

treated for that for a while now. But it took over 15 years for it to get

this bad, and it's taking a while to climb back out of the hole, too. So

I'm still getting sick, but not as often as I used to, and we're working

toward getting me back to complete health, so I don't have to worry about

it any more."

The more-than-year-long gap between issues -- the second the series has

now endured -- may well impact the number or enthusiasm of fans, but Busiek

isn't going to spend time worrying about things beyond his control.

"'Astro City' seems to be a book that depends on word of mouth, and has

been getting good word of mouth right from the start. So when we vanished

from the stands between vol. 1 and vol. 2, sales actually went up -- more

people discovered the book while we were gone, and the demand was higher.

We've been selling a lot of trade paperbacks, even while we've been on this

unplanned hiatus, and I'm regularly hearing from people who are just now

discovering the series. So we've been gone, in terms of new material, but

it doesn't seem like we've been forgotten.

"On the other hand, while we've had publishing gaps before, we never had

one this long. So I don't know what that'll mean. That's why we're

kicking off with a new introductory story -- we don't want to take the

readership for granted, and we want to be as accessible and as welcoming as

possible to both new readers and old readers.

"Beyond that, it's just a matter of keeping our fingers crossed, and

hoping people like what they see ..."

(An "Astro City" story also appeared in the pages of DC Comics' "9/11"

tribute book published in January 2002.)

When "Astro City" first debuted, it surfaced amidst a sea of dark and

angry heroes, replete with spikes, big guns and bad attitudes. A kinder,

gentler and more thoughtful book (and usually in a quite strong Silver Age

vein), the series read like Busiek's reaction to a world of violent

impostor Batmen and cloned Spider-Men. And today, not only is that very

1990s style of superhero comics more or less gone, several waves of books

that likewise read like reactions to the grim, gritty and terse 1980s and

1990s can be found amongst the stables of all the major superhero comics

publishers, providing what ostensibly might be construed as competition for

"Astro City." Not so, says Busiek.

"'Astro City' was never actually a response to the other books out there

-- we've occasionally done stories that comment in some way on other

comics, but that's never been the main point. It's just a series I always

wanted to do, and the success of [Busiek/Ross collaboration] 'Marvels' made

it possible to do it. And to my surprise and delight, it turned out that

readers wanted to read what I wanted to write, so we got to keep going with it.

"As for modern-day competition, there are certainly more books in a

similar vein, from 'Powers' to 'Planetary' to 'Tom Strong' to 'The Factor'

to 'Noble Causes' and more, but each of them seems like its own thing, its

own vision of non-standard superheroes. Some of 'em are dark, some of 'em

are bright and enthusiastic, but I haven't seen anything that I think is

really walking the same path we are. Which is great -- the more different

visions we have going in the comics industry, the better.

"Is there competition? I hope not -- I hope that we're all fighting for

one small slice of the audience, but instead that we're all doing a wide

enough spectrum of stuff that readers can enjoy any or all of it depending

on their tastes. But either way, we're just going to do the best book we

can and see what happens."

As for what happens between the covers, the normally tight-lipped Busiek

was willing to give out a taste of what's in store:

"Well, as noted, 'Astro City: Local Heroes' will be five standalone,

single-issue stories. We'll start off with the story of a doorman at a

prestigious Astro City hotel, who sees newcomers getting their first taste

of Astro City all the time, plus he has his own story to tell of his

introduction to the city. We'll see the stories of a young girl who leaves

Astro City to visit cousins in the country for the summer and the

unexpected things she finds there; the story of a woman determined to

uncover the secret ID of the hero she's involved with; a lawyer who has to

try a case with the 'evil twin' defense; and the tale of a retired

superhero dragged out of retirement for one last battle.

"After that, our next arc/mini will be a longer, multi-part story, but

it's far enough off that we're not ready to pin it down just yet -- I have

dozens of stories I want to tell all at once, and we have to choose between

them. But finding out what happened to the Silver Agent is among them --

although that's not a story in itself, but a piece of something larger."

Finally, if you've looked through this whole story, trying to find some

new Brent Anderson or Alex Ross Astro City art, Busiek has some bad news.

"Alas, not at this point. With my completely undependable schedule,

Brent and Alex have been waiting for me to get enough stuff done to get the

book going again. Now that we have the three scripts in, Brent'll be

starting up on the book again, but he and Wildstorm are working out

schedule details right now. Well, not right now right now, since Brent's

on the way to San Diego at the moment, but you know what I mean. Same with

Alex -- it's not like either of them have been sitting around twiddling

their thumbs waiting for me. They're both pretty busy, so we're going to

have to work around their other projects as we get going again."

CBR News

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