Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fireside Chat with Christopher Yost

Our first Fireside Chat, with artist Steven Sanders, was a great success for Weekly Crisis that fulfilled a longtime goal of adding interviews to our site.  I was lucky enough to conduct our second chat with one of my favorite writers, Christopher Yost.  Our relaxed chat covered a wide gamut of topics from his writing processes to Marvel Animation to the runaway success of his creation, X-23.  Hit the jump to check it out!

Christopher Yost is one of the hottest writers in the comic book industry today.  Having already made a name for himself for his work with Marvel's animated projects, Chris made a splash with co-writer Craig Kyle on New X-Men.  Since then he has had a string of successes with titles like X-Force for Marvel and Red Robin for DC. 

Ryan Schrodt: Chris, thank you for joining us here at Weekly Crisis. As a huge fan of your work, it’s a real pleasure to have this chat.

Most readers know you from your work with co-writer Craig Kyle on a wide array of projects. What is that collaborative process like? How do the two of you approach a project?

Christopher Yost: Craig and I have been working together now for about eight years, and it's been a fantastic partnership. We each have our own 'day job,' so to speak... he started out as an executive in animation, and now is working on the 'Thor' feature film, while I've been heading up the writing on several of Marvel's animated series, like the 'Avengers' animated series I'm working on now.

Craig and I have incredibly similar sensibilities, and more importantly, we have a ton of fun working on stuff. About once a week we get together for sushi and hammer out stories, and then one of us starts the ball rolling with a document, usually an outline. We go back and forth on it until we're both happy with things, and then go to script.

Writing is a very solitary thing, but we've got a good process going and we each bring particular strengths to the table. Craig has a way of stepping back and looking at the big picture, I love the continuity and action, he brings a ton of emotion to whatever he does, I bring jokes, etc. We each can do everything, but together, the best stuff usually makes it through.

RS: One of the most significant creations that you’ve had with Kyle is X-23, who was initially created for an episode of X-Men: Evolution. How does it feel to see the character being so ingrained in the Marvel Comics Universe?

Yost: It's insane. It's all insane, actually, even to see my name on a Marvel comic. But regarding X-23, it's so hard to introduce a new character into the tapestry, it's a joy to see her out there. She's in action figures, statues... it's nuts.

RS: Do you ever feel protective of how other writers portray the character?

Yost: Sure. But we both knew that at a certain point, we'd just have to let it go. Someone's going to come in and do something horrible with her, someone's going to come in and do something genius with her. That's the way it goes. But we felt that after writing her for what, four years? That there was enough material out there portraying X-23 as we envisioned, that someone could pick up any X-23 story that we wrote and 'get it.'
Of course, that assumes the writer reads those books. As opposed to just getting the 'Wolverine clone girl' description. :)

RS: While we are on the subject, I’d like to ask a few questions about your work with Marvel’s animated projects. Since you first started working on X-Men: Evolution, you’ve had your hand in nearly every animated project that Marvel has produced. Looking back at the wide array of shows that you’ve worked on, is there anything that you’d do differently now that you have 10 years of experience with Marvel animation under your belt?

Yost: Oh, Lord. I'm sure every episode has a rough scene, a bad joke, clunky dialogue, etc... but the biggest sin I probably committed early on was just letting characters stand there and talk. Talking is fine, but in animation, it just sits there. And when you've got characters that are amazing to look at, with incredible powers... you want to see them DOING. So, walk and talk.

I'm proud of every series I've worked on. Some of them take a little longer to find their legs, their voice... but we get there. I like to think that everything I've learned is going into 'Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes' right now. We'll see what the fans think.

RS: The styles of the Marvel animated projects cover a very wide range in terms of design, animation, and tone, from the very traditional X-Men shows to the wildly unique style of Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes. Does your approach to writing these shows differ depending on the style?

Yost: Yes and no. First and foremost, I try and fulfill the promise of animation. I want to see the stuff you're never going to see in the feature films. I want the spirit and feel of the comics to jump out of the screen. I like big action, and heroes overcoming impossible odds to save the world from threats so horrible and huge, they make you cry. That's what I like.

Now, sometimes you get into situations where that little philosophy needs some tweaking. With shows like Fantastic Four: WGH and Iron Man: Armored Adventures, they were co-productions between Marvel and other entities. So the network might see FF as a sit-com, or Iron Man as a teen romance. So in these cases, I try and put the Marvel feel and stories and characters in there, and make it work for what the networks are looking for.

Once Craig and I figured out that the network was looking for something much more comedic with FF, we adjusted. We still got some big FF stories in there, but there was more comedy throughout. With Iron Man, we took the character of Tony Stark and tried to make it work in a different environment.

Wolverine and the X-Men was a situation where the serial nature and drama of the comic went right to the screen. Avengers will be that way as well. Well, with less angst than the X-Men. But Avengers is huge. HUGE.

RS: How different are your approaches when writing for animation and writing for comics?

Yost: Not as different as you might think. With animation, you're looking at a season which can be 13 or 26 episodes. Sometimes you've got a mandate of all stand alone episode with no ongoing threads (yuck!) or something more like the X-Files, with 'mythology' arcs and stand-alones (yay!) So there's a lot of planning that goes into the season, coming up with the big threads, the individual stories, etc.

When Craig and I came up with our pitches for New X-Men and X-Force, it wasn't that different. More serial, stories leading into stories, more reference to history, that kind of thing. And of course, in the comics we can be more violent. :)

Specifically? The format I use for comics is different, animation is more screenplay standardized. Comics by nature are finding the snapshots to get across action, and finding those can be a little more work than animation, where you've got the freedom of describing motion, or even small actions.

RS: Before we get back to talking about comics, what can you tell our readers about the upcoming Avengers animated series? We’ve all seen the teaser images and cannot wait to check this one out.

Yost: There's going to be announcements soon, more images, trailers, the whole nine yards. It's incredibly exciting. This (and Super Hero Squad) are the first animated series that Marvel itself is producing. Marvel has been so incredibly supportive of this show, and everything we've put forward. This is the show you guys have been waiting for. Stepping back and looking at it as a fan, which I am, I go nuts. We've done things in this series that still make me tingle.

Everything that immediately comes into your mind when you hear the word 'Avengers,' that's what this show is. I wish I could say more, but trust me... once it's out there, I won't be able to shut up about it.

RS: The majority of comics work is deeply rooted in the X-Men franchise, though you’ve recently branched out with some really great work at DC, including one of my favorite comics, Red Robin. Are there any characters in any company that you haven’t written, but would like to tackle?

Yost: I've never written Superman or Wonder Woman, but honestly, I'd probably be more at home writing Superboy and Wonder Girl. I've written Spider-Man a couple of times, that was a big deal for me. Spider-Man is my guy.

For whatever reason, I like the kids. I'm still so incredibly proud of New X-Men. I'm proud of the bits of work I've done with Runaways and Young Avengers. And I'm proud of Red Robin, who started off in a rough spot. I love the X-Men, the Avengers, all of them... but I love seeing the Marvel Universe through a new character's eyes. Whereas the FF will see Annihilus and say, oh, hey, it's Annihilus again, the kids will say, 'Oh, $@#%!! What the hell is that?! Where the F am I?! What the hell is a 'negative zone?!'

There's a feeling of been there done that that's fun sometimes... the character that's unfazed, that's seen it all... but you lose a lot with that, too. Take the New X-Men. Never been to space, the Negative Zone, the Savage Land, never travelled through time, never dealt with so much that those new characters could take new readers through, and put their own unique spin on.

RS: Your adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s seminal novel, Ender’s Game, recently wrapped up (and is something that I highly recommend). Your adaptation stuck very close to the original novel, which really resonated with fans. Was this a decision that you made or was there pressure to keep it tight to the original?

Yost: It was completely intentional. I had no desire to see it re-envisioned, to put my own spin on it, to do much of anything other than to make it work for the medium. The book is a classic for a reason. It works. I didn't want to change anything I didn't have to. And I had the space to do it in, so why not? Are there things I wish I would have done better or made clearer? Sure. The battles were tricky, trying to get across what Ender was doing and feeling without narration or voice-over was tricky. But overall, I was pleased with how it came out.

RS: How much contact did you have with Card on the project?

Yost: We talked a few times at the outset, and I actually met him at a convention early on. But I think once he saw I wasn't going to stray, and that what I was doing was working, I think he had a comfort factor with me. I hope, anyway. I think there was a lot more work for him and the utterly amazing Pasqual Ferry to do... they had to design a whole universe, the look for each and every thing in it.

RS: Were you a fan of the novels before you started writing the adaptation?

Yost: Of course. My older brother was a huge fan, and I read his.

RS: Let’s get to the last leg of the interview with some more general questions. First up, let’s say you are trapped on a desert island and you can only have one comic. What is it? To make things easier for you, it can be a single issue, a story arc, or a full creative run.

Yost: Morrison's INVISIBLES. I feel like I could read it a hundred times and see new things every time. I'm in awe of it.

RS: If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you would be doing?

Yost: I actually used to be in advertising, I produced TV and radio commercials. So that, I imagine. Of course when I did that, I wanted to be writing the commercials.

RS: Do you have any writing rituals? (Listening to music, free writing first, etc)

Yost: I listen to music, sure. But everything else is just procrastination. Which I do, trust me, brother. The internet is the worst thing in the world.

RS: What advice can you give to aspiring writers that want to break into the industry?

Yost: If you've got time to write a Spider-Man story on spec to show an editor, then you've got time to write your own story, with your own characters. Do that. I think it'll do you more good in the long run. Have the Spider-Man story, but have your own stuff, too. I think editors want to hear your voice, first and foremost. Can you then write a Wolverine story?

I don't know. That's not news. None of it is. Your first draft isn't perfect. There's no one way to do it. Marvel and DC are the TOP, and people don't start there. It's not personal. If your story would work for Spider-Man, Nova, or Wiccan, then there may be a problem. You've heard it all before.
Editors have access to dozens of well known, proven, working writers that they have relationships with. Making them take notice is really freaking hard.

Webcomics might be the way. Find an aspiring artist. Make it happen. Give the editor something. I mean, for real, I'm probably competing for jobs now with the kid who wrote AxeCop. Seriously, a trade of AxeCop would outsell Killer of Demons.

If you've got a story to tell, tell it. Make it happen. But if your story really truly depends on Spider-Man being in it, well, save it for later. Get a story out there that doesn't.

RS: Looking back at your career thus far, what are you most proud of?

Yost: New X-Men 42-43. I think, at the end, I got New X-Men right where it needed to be in my mind. And Skottie Young ruled those issues. His cover to 43 is the only piece of original art I've ever bought.

RS: Finally, let’s close it out with the lightning round. What is the first thing that pops into your head with these words and phrases?

2010: The Year We Make Contact. Every single time I hear it, that's the first thing I think of.
Digital Comics: iPad.
Better X-Men, Late 70s or Early 90s?: 70's.
Favorite Comic Movie: X-Men 2
X-Men – Second Coming: finale.
Red Robin: The Big Win.
Trade Waiting: Can't do it. Too excited. Can't wait.
DC Animation: I hope they do Rock of Ages.
Deadpool: Hulk Vs.
Twitter: stan lee loves twitter.

Thanks again to our guest for today's interview, Chris Yost!  Be sure to check out his current ongoing titles, X-Force and Red Robin, as well his creator-owned miniseries, Killer of Demons, now available in trade paperback!

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Ivan said...

Pretty cool. I'm not too familiar with his work, but I've only heard good things.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Man, Yost rarely gets the attention he deserves. The man is killing it in the animation sections of Marvel, he needs more hype for that.

Interesting chat, always good to see a creator let their hair down a little.

Anonymous said...

Really cool interview. Didnt no Yost did so much animation work. thought he moved exclusive to comics after evolution.

Matt Ampersand said...

@Anon: I didn't know either, I knew he was involved in X-Men Evolution and Wolverine and the X-Men, but not all that other stuff.

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