Remix - Joe Casey On Everything Under The Sun: The Big Ass Interview, Part 2

Wed, March 2nd, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jonathan Ellis, Contributing Writer

Welcome to part two of the two-part remixed, remastered, funkified and sexified big freakin Joe Casey Interview. In part one we focused our attention towards the ongoing "Intimates" series as well as various issues and now we focus on even more various issues as well as news on "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes," "Infantry," "Full Moon Fever," "Warhead," "Krash Bastards" and more.

THE AVENGERS:
EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES

"Avengers: EMH" #7,
Page 1
"A look into the early, pivotal period of the Marvel Universe, when five fledgling heroes - Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, The Wasp and The Hulk - banded together to fight the foes no single hero could overcome!

"But how did the public react? How did the U.S. government react? Previously untold secrets surrounding the formation of the Avengers are revealed in this all-new series, just in time to sate fans whipped into a frenzy by the 'Avengers Disassembled' event. Here, for the first time, don't miss a beat as five individuals must learn to work as a team, and forge a legend!"

"Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes" is an eight-issue limited series written by Joe and featuring artwork by Scott Kolins. Issue 1 hit stands November 3rd, 2004.

When you originally contacted Marvel with the desire to work on the Avengers what did you have in mind? Tom Brevoort suggested the Year One angle, but was there another idea you wanted to take a go at?

Sure. The monthly book. But that slot was filled, so Tom and I got together and figured out that the time was right for this particular project. I knew I didn't want to go for a strict "Year One"-angle. Certainly, I wouldn't be able to top something seminal like "Batman: Year One." I just knew I wanted to spend time with these characters that had meant so much to me as a kid.

"Avengers: EMH" #7,
Page 2
Creating a "Behind The Scenes" series, how far reaching do you plan to go into the Avengers mythos? I know you have a fondness for George Perez's first run on the book, could writing a story behind the story be a continuing theme with certain books?

I have an intense love for all things "Avengers." When it comes to superhero comic books, it's where I get my geek on most of all. Some of my favourite writers did phenomenal work on the book, and to be able to contribute to that body of work, to contribute to that continuity even in the most miniscule of ways, is really an honor. Hopefully, I've dug deeply into the characters involved, exploring their relationships in ways that the original comics were rarely afforded. In the Sixties, characterization was presented in broad strokes. Stan Lee pioneered the idea that superheroes didn't have to be depicted as one-dimensional, cardboard cut out characters. He gave them an added dimension of realism, although still very stylized. With EMH, I'm trying to take it a step further. I wanted to write these characters - Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Giant-Man, Hawkeye, Jarvis, etc. - as well as any diehard fan who feels like they know these characters so well.

Actually, the exploration behind the early events of the Marvel Universe is nothing new. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross did it back with "Marvels." There was also that great Fabian Nicieza/Kevin Maguire mini-series, "The Adventures of Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty" from 1991. Very cool book. I think these kind of stories - when done right - are really love letters to the characters. And I don't think we can have too many of those.

"Avengers: EMH" #7,
Page 3
Yes, but "Marvels" was an outsiders view at a variety of events over a long period of time whereas you're putting the reader inside this circle of action which takes effect based on the old Avengers stories themselves.

Right, but that was always the best thing about "Avengers" when I was a kid. It was like a window into the fraternity of superheroes to see how they really acted and interacted with each other "behind closed doors," so to speak. Here I am repeating myself, but the way I wrote EMH was in a style that I call the "David Michelinie-meets-Aaron Sorkin"-style, which suits the Avengers quite nicely.

Speaking of which, retelling old stories has been retried over and over again, were there any rules or restrictions you set for yourself so as not to interfere with the 'classic' stories?

We weren't trying to reinvent the wheel with EMH. If anything, it's a celebration of those classic stories in the sense that we're hoping to contribute an added dimension to the early events of the Marvel Universe, and enhancing what's already been established. It's all a question of context. Obviously, the ideas given to us by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck will forever stand the test of time. But there's a reason why the "Spider-Man" films are set in the present day and not set back in the early Sixties. To connect with a wide audience, the context has to be right. The world you present has to be the world that's right outside their window. That was always the appeal of Marvel Comics... the realism. We're just respecting that ideal.

"Avengers: EMH" #7,
Page 15
You actually began this project before "Avengers Disassembled," one character that takes a role in both lines, a favourite of yours, was featured rather prominently in the "Disassembled" line. How did you feel about seeing that? Did you want to go back and try and feature him more in the pages of "Earths Mightiest Heroes?"

Well, practically the entire series was written before I knew anything about this "Disassembled" stuff or that Hawkeye was going to be served up as an offering to the Gods of Shock Sales. Of course, I'm not sure if the fact that it was such a pathetically staged death is supposed to piss me off or simply reassure me that he'll be back in no time. Obviously, I'm still reeling from the deep, personal loss... and this is just from browsing a shelf copy.

With Tony Stark as leader, is there an ulterior method behind wanting to create the team? A sense of fear? Trying to control such powerful weapons under the banner of a name, or more specifically, an organization?

Actually, it wasn't clear exactly who was leading the Avengers at the beginning. That's part of the character conflict in EMH. And the way I see it, it's not about fear or control. It's about simple, pure heroism. The desire to protect the weak without expecting reward. I'm all for the occasional hero deconstruction, but these are characters that I believe in. And I wanted to write them as characters that inspire belief, but without sacrificing their humanity. Iron Man/Tony Stark is certainly using his executive talents to help organize this thing... they are the tools at his disposal. And his whole motivation is creating the circumstances for the Avengers to operate openly as heroes, without interference.

"Avengers: EMH" #7,
Page 18
Before the Avengers, Captain America's experiences were those of a secret soldier who, for the most part. operated in a lone wolf capacity, and then Bucky showed up. Was taking leadership of the Avengers partly a way for Cap to atone for the guilt he felt over Bucky's death?

Well, that might be true to a certain extent, but a bigger element of EMH is when Captain America discovers that the man responsible for Bucky's death is still alive and kicking. I don't think we've ever seen a Captain America like this before, obsessed with revenge to the point of distraction. We actually played it as Batman-level obsession and it really gives an arc to the character, a circumstance that he has to rise above.

Although you're main focus in writing this series is to appeal to hardcore fans, what can new readers look foreword to?

That's a good question. And I really don't know what the answer is. I'm such a diehard fan that I probably wear blinders when it comes to the Avengers. And this was a case where I wasn't afraid to play to the strictly continuity-minded out there. It's an audience that I've never really tried to speak to before. That Kurt Busiek-Mark Waid kind of crowd that feels a strong kinship with those writers, not just for the high level of quality of their work, but for their fan-level connection to the material. I guess I feel like I've just been able to get back in touch with that side of myself, getting to work on the more "classic" Marvel heroes.

"Avengers: EMH" #7,
Page 21
Based on the reaction to the series so far do you see any chance of a follow-up series to "Earth's Mightiest Heroes?" Maybe get a chance to play around with some of the characters that came later on?

Anything's possible. Having a hardcover collection of EMH in April, I think, certainly helps solidify the brand that I'm striving to create here. I've talked to Tom a bit on what a sequel would actually be, and we're pretty much on the same page. I'm definitely hoping it'll happen. Hey, any chance to write "The Avengers," I'm up for it…

When you kept referring to this book as really set towards the fans I wasn't sure how well I'd get into it. I even thought the first issue was uneven the way the timeline of events was carried out, but the issues that followed, especially with the focus on Captain America were just phenomenal. Do you see Cap as partially a symbol of what the Avengers are meant to be?

Absolutely. Without Cap showing up in the manner he did, my contention is that the Avengers wouldn't have survived, period. They would've broken up in a haze of egos clashing and government interference. But Cap was - and is - the key to solidifying everything.

INFANTRY

"Infantry" #4
"Who is Infantry? What is his agenda? Is he a new hero of the people... or merely a pawn in a larger game? The hordes of NEMESIS are America's greatest enemy, attacking it from within at its highest levels of power. What does this have to do with a mysterious super-agent, the lone survivor of a doomed experiment in human performance enhancement? Written by Joe Casey and drawn by star-in-the making Clement Sauve, 'Infantry' is a political thriller wrapped in an over-the-top action tale."

From first glance Infantry seems to be taking the idea of a Captain America-esque character but rather created in a modern setting, could you describe the inspiration behind the series for our readers?

I think "Infantry" fits into the Captain America mould in the same way something like "Give Me Liberty" does. The idea of "What is American?" is a powerful one, and one that's definitely worth exploring. But, like the great Steve Englehart did with Cap in the 70's, you have to weave those ideas within stories that capture the imagination and provide a heaping helping of thrills. You can't be too heavy-handed with it or you end up turning a lot of people off. So, hopefully, there are elements within the series that allow the reader to ask themselves some interesting questions... but mainly it's a rip-roarin', action-packed comic book series.

Infantry's role in the series will be partly hero, but also partly target, right, though I suspect what drives the character is that he knows something he's not supposed to?

"Infantry" #4,
Page 3
It's not exactly what he knows... but more of what he is. And you're right, he is being hunted during the first batch of stories. But that's all part of the mystery of the series...

The Aftermath line seems to imply that there's an underlying foundation tying the new titles together, are you working with the other creators in fleshing out the tone of this new publishing line?

We were all given a general set of background notes on the "shared universe" these books are occupying, but I think the mistake in the past has been when things are held down too tightly. Sometimes spontaneity can breed inspiration. I know I'm trying to bring my A-game and I can only assume that the other writers involved are doing the same. That's an energy that's much more important to a successful line than how closely things are tied together.

Comics are starting to become vehicles for movie pitches more so than actually being about telling good stories. As a creator does this affect your approach to new projects? Or do you have enough close ties by now that you don't need to create a comic to sell an idea, and instead just sell the idea itself?

"Infantry" #4,
Page 4
Yeah, I'd prefer to go that route. Or just write a spec script. If you look at my creator-owned projects, I think it's pretty obvious that I create things for comic books that -- for the most part -- could pretty much only exist as comic books. I don't think a book like "Automatic Kafka," for example, could be anything else but a comic book. And that's pretty fucking cool to me. I suppose some of the stuff I've got coming up could be translated into films or games, but I love comics too much to use them as some sort of stepping stone to "bigger and better" things. Personally, there is nothing better than comics. There are things that are certainly more lucrative, but that doesn't make them better...

Clement Sauve is one of those artists that I wholeheartedly hope success for though I suppose it's time to let people know that artist Clement Sauve is no longer attached to the title, which leaves it where exactly right now?

Well, I've written the first six so I'm leaving it in DDP's capable hands to make sure the series follows through as strongly as we debuted it. Although I know one of the guys pinch-hitting, Jim Muniz, and he's amazing, so I think I can say with some certainty that the quality of the book will actually go up.

I don't think I realized till the book came out that they were colouring straight from the artists pencils, how do you feel about this creative decision and the look it creates?

"Infantry" #4,
Page 6
Well, in this particular case, the creative decision was based on budget. DDP is truly an independent publisher; they have limited resources, so I suppose this is a way to try to turn a negative into a positive. I'm not 100% convinced it's something that the majority of fans want to see, but it all depends on the style of the penciller. I think it worked fine on Clement.

But it also demands more time and attention from the artist because pencils need to be tighter so you tend to juggle speed and quality when taking that route.

I agree completely. Personally, I like what a good inker brings to the look of a book. A great penciller-inker team is a specific symbiosis that you only get in comic books, so I doubt I'd want to see this kind of thing become the norm.

MUSIC, GRAPHIC NOVELS AND WHAT LIES AHEAD

Let's talk about your music for a minute, with so much to do, how does that factor in and do you see it more as a side project or something you'd like to pursue to the point of touring and a contract?

Those things would be cool but it's not the reason for doing it. For me, it's always been about just enjoying those experiences for what they are. I personally think fame kills, so if that's a given, then obviously I'm in it for something more. It's not a "side project". I don't marginalize it at all, because it's just part of who I am. I've been doing it most of my life. To write songs, to be able to play them and perform in front of an audience... these are hard-won skills for me and with Best Of Seven, I feel like I'm reaping the rewards of years of hard work. These are all just experiences to me. And, on a good day, these experiences can be transcendent in some way. Better than sitting around at home, watching your ass spread...

You've also returned to column writing with Matt Fraction for "The Basement Tapes" here on CBR, which seemed to stem out of your interview with Tom Spurgeon for "The Comics Journal." What do you view as the purpose behind "The Basement Tapes," what drove you to get involved as a columnist?

Christ, I have no idea. What would possess anyone to think that their opinions are worth sharing with the world? Seems pretty pretentious to me. But Fraction's a really smart guy, the kind of writer we need in this business, and when he and I start talking about the industry, it's some of the more interesting conversations I've had in years. And, I think with something like the comics blogosphere evolving every week on the non-pro level, I guess we figured we could at least add to the discourse from our side of the fence. I've always loved to read about comics as much as I've loved reading them. Things like "Amazing Heroes," "Comics Interview" and "The Comics Journal" were required reading for me as a kid. Y'know, I can be as engrossed by a good documentary as I can by a fiction film.

Exclusive images from "Full Moon Fever."
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Those of us who do it may be the only ones who care, but I'm going to ask anyway, how do you feel about the current state of comics journalism?

I guess I don't think about it too much since the only ones I pay attention to are the ones I think are doing a good job and I generally don't expect anything less. I actually love reading well-written criticism and there's usually just enough of it out there to keep me satisfied. I rarely find myself wanting in that regard. The thing about the blogs is that now legitimate print journalists are seeing their value as a medium of expression and have been stepping up to do their own blogs. That should be interesting to see...

Especially recently, are comics catering more towards readers... or consumers?

The Direct Market is a system that is designed to sell to the retailers first. That's where all the variants and order incentive programs come into play. It's a real hat trick sometimes... you have to successfully swim those waters to get to what I see as the real audience: the readers. That's what's most encouraging about the bookstore chains carrying graphic novels. I think it's a system that's less dependent on personal bias and more on practical business application. But in the Direct Market, the good retailers - and there are a ton of 'em out there - are a healthy mix of passionate fan and dedicated, professional businessman, which I think is a virtue.

As someone who looks more to the art of comics than the business of comics, regarding it as a business at all sometimes makes me cringe. When it comes to variants I can see why companies like Marvel are doing those again and what it quite simply comes down to is that people are buying them. So while I may not like the return to variants I understand that that the money made goes to things like keeping afloat other titles which may not be making as much in sales but also, putting food into the mouths of the numerous people involved in the business of whoring art.

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I'm not going to expend energy on keeping whores well-fed. They can fend for themselves and besides, they're not worried about whether or not I starve. Plus, unfortunately, publishers don't look at blockbuster series in the same way movie studios do. No one at DC thinks of "Identity Crisis" or Jim's "Superman" as a "tentpole" in order to keep things like the "Focus" line afloat. They just don't tend to think that far and wide. I wish they did. We've clumsily tried to adopt Hollywood-like behaviour in so many other ways, why not a smart way...?

Which is odd because it is a practice that many creators adopt, doing Superhero Book A is sometimes the only way to keep Personal Book B afloat. It's the "do one for them, do one for me" approach.

Yeah, I gave up that approach a while ago. At this point, they're all for me. Something like EMH is definitely for me as much as it is for other Avengers fans. For me, working in the mainstream - in a strictly work-for-hire situation - has to be about either making a dream come true (like in the case of EMH) or fulfilling some specific creative urge.

While you're primarily concerned with your own creations now, are their any golden child comics out there you'd like to take a crack at, any other childhood or even current franchise loves you'd care to turn your laptop to?

Sure, but I don't like to tip my hand. I'd rather put that effort into actually getting to write those characters. I do love the superheroes I grew up on and if I'm lucky, I'll always have an opportunity to write them. Believe me, there are worse ways to make a living...!

When we did this interview the first time around we focused on those three works that were just coming out, now let's look ahead to some of your other works. We'll start with the recently optioned for film graphic novel "Full Moon Fever" from AiT/PlanetLar. Start talking, you were already familiar with the producers?

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Yeah, I was the one who knew the producer already, and gave him first crack at this project. I wrote the screenplay at the end of last year, doing a rewrite as we speak. It's still the honeymoon period… y'know, the "Variety" article, the creative back-and-forth, etc. What comes next is always the headache period. The negotiations, the contracts, the money talk, trying to convince total strangers (to me, anyway) to spend millions of dollars. Hopefully, it'll all work out, but you never know… by the time this interview goes live, it might've all fallen apart already.

Another new series we already mentioned, a new series ala "Earth's Mightiest Heroes," but this time starring The Fantastic Four. I'm curious to know the starting point, most people know the basic plot so you could begin things with their return, though perhaps the film will influence the direction of the comics. As has been the trend for the most part.

I think the film simply influences the existence of the comic book. There'll be more than enough FF product this year. Beyond that, I was pretty much on my own to construct the story we'd be telling in "Fantastic Four: First Family." I had my parameters, as far as the early continuity is concerned, but I'm pretty good at finding significant wiggle room between the panels of the existing comic books. Hell, it's what I spent a lot of my childhood thinking about anyway. Beyond that, this series is going to look amazing. I'm talking jaw-droppingly good in the art department. Not to be too much of a tease, but it's one of my greatest, most personally satisfying secrets that this particular artist agreed to draw this book.

Not coinciding with the film may actually be a better move than if it did.

That's completely a judgment call. I mean, the film's not out yet, so none of us have any idea how it'll do. My fingers are crossed, but honestly, its success or failure as a movie isn't going to harm the concept of the FF in any way, shape or form. I mean, c'mon, "Elektra: Assassin" is still brilliant, no matter how bad the "Elektra" film was. These characters and concepts are too good and too enduring to let a potentially shitty movie bring them down. They're much more resilient than that.

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"Warhead" with Ian Richardson, a sci-fi war epic also from Ait/PlanetLar. Is this your "space opera?"

It's more of an outer space war comic (as the title suggests). Ian's a mad bastard and one hell of an artist. He's going to blow up any day now (in a good way, I mean). Both Larry and I have been blown away by the pages we've seen so far.

Will this be a man vs. alien, good vs. evil type battle or something more influenced by current events?

I think, as I was writing it, it became a story about one man's reactions to the machinations of modern warfare, and the politics behind it. Originally, I just wanted to create a Patton-type character and pit him against a ruthless alien race locked in an intergalactic war. But, as these things often do, it morphed into something that became much more relevant to what's going on geo-politically in the world today. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy it did, because I think good sci-fi does reflect the current culture and make some commentary on it.

"Krash Bastards," your futura-samurai manga for Ait/PlanetLar will be printed in the traditional right to left reading format. Has this affected your scripting with the page layout flipped to the other side?

No. On the writing side, it's really no different. And luckily, the artist had no problem wrapping his head around the format, either. And this guy's not a manga-style artist (in the way most people would immediately think of manga art). I think it's going to be a kick ass little book with some really cool characters. God knows when the damn thing'll be out, but when it is… watch out, bay-bee!

So are you more focused on the manga format or the artform? Have you paid attention to adding manga sound effects?

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I'm not going that far with it, mainly because I don't use sound effects in any of my comic book writing. The whole manga thing is related to "The Intimates" to me, and how we've constructed that series. Again, it's working with a new language. I've always said that I think a primary appeal of authentic manga with American kids is the fact that you have to figure out how to read them. It's a new narrative language that has to be grasped. Give the average adult - especially a non-comics reader in general - a manga book and they won't be able to make heads or tails of it. I think kids like that exclusivity of comprehension.

Usually by now companies are preparing their next big thing, something to announce at the forthcoming convention season. Quite a few large projects have been announced already, do you see yourself getting involved in any of these big projects? "Event" or "high concept" series?

Well, it doesn't really work that way. I would have to be asked. I don't know if any creator in their right mind independently pitches an event project out of the goodness of their heart or out of some spontaneous creative urge. I've been involved in my fair share, believe me. From DC's "Our Worlds At War" to the '01 "X-Men" relaunch to last year's "Coup D'Etat" at Wildstorm, I've seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go. Maybe, from the publisher's end of things, Events are the promise of creator-proof projects. I think "Identity Crisis" proved that, to a certain degree. Brad's a fine writer and one helluva guy, and Rags Morales brought his A-game to the party, but there are a lot of creators who could've worked on that and it would've probably gotten the same amount of attention in the marketplace. To me, that's what makes it an Event. I guess it's a smart move on the publisher's part, to have projects like this to hang their year on. Viva la Comix!

We're nearing the end of this interview and you know what we haven't discussed? How you broke into the comics scene, care to take a jog down memory lane and share that story with your oh so luscious fans?

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Hell, I have no history at this point. When you've been so entrenched in this industry, consistently and so deeply for almost ten years, you tend to forget how you got here. It's nice, because you start living in the moment, which is how life should be. In other words, my personal "memory lane" is now many miles long and I'm much too busy writing to consider that kind of a run...

Where do you see things headed for 2005? I'm thinking this will be the year of the young - creatively and literally.

I don't know if I'm in the mood to predict much of anything for 2005, since I'm still planning my own year, both in comic books and outside of them. It's fun to muse about this shit with Fraction in "The Basement Tapes," but those discussions can end up a bit divorced from how I move forward with my own career. But if there are any trends to be had in 2005, you can almost guarantee that I'll be the furthest distance from any of them. It's how I retain my valued cult writer status, y'know…

With that we conclude our big electric boogaloo of a Joe Casey Interview, thanks to Joe for taking the time to answer our questions and thanks to all of you for reading this far. Be sure to pre-order the titles we've mentioned here to ensure your retailer gets them in stock and at the end of the day, when it's all said and done, Cheers.

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