Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fireside Chat With Jonathan Hickman

Time for another balmy chat by the Weekly Crisis Fireside, as we sip on fresh rain water and calm ourselves to the soothing crackle of the roaring fire and chat to top shelf comic talent in a relaxed, less formal atmosphere than the distinguished competition. We aim to be personal as well as informative. And with aim in mind we now fire away.

Today’s guest is Jonathan Hickman, the nascent superstar of Secret Warriors and the Fantastic Four. He’s also about to launch a bit more of an independent-style series at Marvel, featuring powerhouses of Earth-saving throughout history like Da Vinci and Galileo, S.H.I.E.L.D. We’ll chat about Nick Fury: XXXXXX, Ninja assassin porn, just what is canon, whatever PLUS! is, and the extras that each month of S.H.I.E.L.D. will bring us.

Jonathan Hickman rose to quick fame with his Image hit The Nightly News and other creator owned titles such as Pax Romana. He then settled quickly into Marvel’s top tier of writers taking on the first family for the publisher, as well as getting Secret Warriors off the ground. He’s a writer who adds layers of research and a thorough involvement to all his books.

Ryan K Lindsay: Hey Jonathan, thanks for grabbing a seat and taking a load off. How are things today, mate?

Jonathan Hickman: I'm good, man.

RKL: The first question I want to ask is, what are you working on today, just before you started this lovely discussion here by the fireside?

Hickman: Ha! Bad timing - it's actually an unannounced thing at Marvel, so I can't really say. Here's a hint: It's a comic.

RKL: We here have been very keen for your upcoming new series from Marvel, S.H.I.E.L.D. What one crazy image or line would you use to sell this series to everyone thinking about picking it up?

Hickman: I dunno. I'm really bad at loglines and high concept one-offs... maybe 'the titans of Science in the Marvel Universe'...

Seriously, I'm shit at those.

RKL: You seem to be pitching it as a maxi-series, with a finite ending, are you worried that this title will go the same way the last acronymic title, S.W.O.R.D., went? And if it were to would you have plans to still close it in a satisfying manner? Are there built in end points along the way?

Hickman: Well, we'll go longer than 5 issues, I can promise that. And we've gotten a massive push from the Marvel marketing team, which has to help. I'll actually find out our numbers this week. I'll know then where we are at. But to answer your specific question, yes, I can pinch it off at any number of places... I'm just not sure that I will if I have to. It's really a question of which serves the property better: A mediocre, manufactured ending or a great unfinished work... Hopefully I won't have to worry about that.

RKL: You’ve also stated that this series won’t have such clearly defined arcs, as most readers are used to with trades, but that the entire series will run through a beginning, a middle, and an end? Do you think this will affect the trade waiters, and are you hoping that it inspires more readers to jump on the monthly experience?

Hickman: I dunno... I'm actually struggling with this in everything I'm doing. Before being at Marvel, I hadn't done any long format work and I'm discovering now that I have a really odd rhythm to my work. If writing serialized monthly superhero fiction is conflict, then it seems that most books are either trench warfare or some acrobatic, high-paced dogfight, it feels like I'm doing some sort of asymmetrical battle as both the insurgents and the nation-state. Okay, I'm sure that sounds like gibberish, but that's as clear as it gets in here.

RKL: Will there be any extra additions snuck into the floppy comic that trade waiters won’t be privy to, much like Ed Brubaker does with Criminal and Incognito?

Hickman: We're deciding that now. There will be extra stuff each and every month in S.H.I.E.L.D., the debate is with the trade. We'll see.

RKL: Tell us about what you’ve seen coming from S.H.I.E.L.D. artist, Dustin Weaver. What’s the best image he’s turned out for you so far?

Hickman: He did an Isaac Newton the other day that was absolutely sick and perfectly captured the duality of the man.

RKL: Will you be aiming to stick with the one artist for the entire run?

Hickman: We will. If Dustin's off, I'm off. Pretty simple.

RKL: It’s a bold endeavour, having the men of science throughout history suddenly hold their own against Galactus and Celestials, tell us, how do you think you’ll go turning these nerds into heroes?

Hickman: I think you're baiting me here. Leonardo da Vinci: NERD. Uh-huh, that'll sell.

RKL: Excuse me while I postulate some ideas; Da Vinci used to illegally exhume bodies to study the anatomy, will we get a splash page of him elbows deep in some fallen Brood soldier? Will there be any encounters from outer space that are positive to the human race? Will the Shi’ar attempt contact but be stoned for heresy? Galileo spent the end of his life under house arrest, is it actually an LMD and the real man kicked it off to Bermuda to holiday with some Kree vacationers?

Hickman: Those make me feel confident in my maintaining employment... One of those was fifty percent right.

RKL: Will there be any stand-alone issues within the greater story of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Hickman: Errrr, it's not really that kind of story. I mean, they're all pretty much stand alone issues to a certain extent. This goes back to what I was talking about earlier... it's got a weird rhythm.

RKL: Will you try and sneak in a few references that might retcon future situations or characters, or are you more hoping to create this history completely separately yet still able to lock into the Marvel U we already know and love?

Hickman: I don't do retcons. I might add some history where there was none, but I don't do the other thing. Now, if you're asking me if I believe everything PRINTED at Marvel is canon, then no... I don't agree with that. If a creator was on a book for a short period and did a shit little story that contradicts something I want to do... then no I don't consider that 'relevant.' But you won't ever see me contradict Stan or Jack, or Byrne or Waid (and others) on FF, and on, and on.

Hope that makes sense.

RKL: Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark will feature in this story, somehow and somewhere, does Richards’ time-travelling play anything to do with this story? Will Stark, and his own father, be featured more around the time of the Manhattan Project?

Hickman: This is a perfect example of what we were talking about before. And the quick answer is: Yes, all of that gets wrapped into the book (There is a caveat here and that being that editorial may want to establish something in a modern setting that no longer works in an established one... like Sharon Carter in Captain America).

RKL: If we can move onto Marvel’s first family, the FF hadn’t really been lighting any major fires in fandom in recent years, even with Millar giving his touch to the title, do you feel that Marvel was testing you on the series, seeing if the golden boy could work his magic where no one else could?

Hickman: Brevoort has stated that he's always gone with someone more established, and it was time to try something different. Golden boy, good lord... lucky shit is more like it. My first two books at Marvel were Nick Fury and the Fantastic Four. It's ridiculous.

RKL: So far, it seems like you’re giving each character a little time in the sun to shine, Reed was the first arc, then we had the kids getting some one-shots, Sue was the focus while underwater. Ben and Johnny had some time on Nu-Earth but do you plan to flesh them out a bit more than just wise-crackers in the background?

Hickman: Of course. Both have MAJOR pushes coming up. For everything a season, and we're coming up on Spring and Summer pretty quickly.

RKL: Most comics are told with five issues to an arc, and this is usually because the writer looks for collection, however you’ve included many one-shots and have indicated that this trend will continue, also with some shorter arcs of much less than five issues thrown in, why have you made this decision for this specific title?

Hickman: Again, we've touched on this before, but specifically on the FF, I thought the issues of the X-men (which is what I grew up reading) that really mattered back in the day were the one-offs: Kitty's fairy tales, a Day in the Life. I thought something like that was pivotal for the series. Characters in a moment. We don't do that enough anymore... so I decided to.

RKL: You also have a plan for the next few years, is it all just in one notebook or do you, as I like to imagine, have it scrawled all over your office walls like Reed has in ‘Solve Everything’? I like to imagine you have a room for each title you write and it just looks like one of those Saw trap rooms but with comic words everywhere, especially with your history in design.

Hickman: Uh-huh... that's pretty accurate. Everything is up on the walls and very visual. I try and plan about two years in advance. And I think as people get more used to my work, they'll begin to trust me more. Everything I'm doing is headed somewhere. Everything ends.

RKL: Has editorial ever asked you to tone your plans down, keep it shorter form, for fears you might not last that long, or do they have the ultimate faith most of your fans share?

Hickman: They have faith in me, but, yes, I have been asked to tone things down. But I have more faith, so I don't.

RKL: What’s been your favourite thing, FF-wise, you’ve been able to write so far?

Hickman: Issue 579. Read it. It's obvious after you do why that is.

RKL: Will you be creating anything new for the FF, be it a character, a location, or a toy?

Hickman: Locations? Sure. Obviously. Some new characters... funny you should ask about toys.

RKL: The other series you write for Marvel, Secret Warriors, stemmed out of a massive crossover event and the title includes the word Secret, much like the crossover did, so it seems that this was more of an editorial decision rather than artistic, if you could have named the series anything you wanted what would it have been?

Hickman: I lobbied hard for NICK FURY: XXXXX, where XXXXX would change every arc. So, for example, the first one would have been NICK FURY: Agent of Nothing.

RKL: Upon launching, you said that SW would run for about 60 issues and then end, but you’ve since amended that to say it might only go for about 30, or five trades, roughly. What has influenced this decision?

Hickman: Lots of things. Primarily, I figured out I didn't want the pacing to be that slow. I also pretty quickly came to the conclusion (as more and more projects were offered to me) that I didn't want to work on it for 5 years. And, of course, it's very possible with the market how it is, that we wouldn't have made it. So it all worked out.

RKL: Is the end really that finite, or could Marvel give the reins over to someone else to continue? And would you let them?

Hickman: It's not my choice to let them or not, but the ending is pretty clean. It's a new departure point... it's not my job to endgame Marvel properties. I'd be an idiot if I treated it that way.

RKL: You created the Agent of Nothing website to leak information about the Secret Warriors, how effective do you think that worked as a tool for dissemination? Do you have any ongoing plans for it?

Hickman: It's in the marketing guys' hands now. And we debuted pretty high, so, sure, I think it helped. More than anything else, those kind of things let the bosses see that you'll go the extra mile for a book... that you're invested. They appreciate that.

RKL: You’ve loaded up the bad guys with some serious ideas, The Hive being one that I absolutely love, it’s got a very old school feel to the title, there’s insanity and cosmic energy on each page, did you do this to intentionally juxtapose against the serious espionage style of Nick Fury?

Hickman: Sure. At the end of the day, we're still in the 616, right?

RKL: You’ve also brought back John Garrett, what does a rogue cyborg agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. do on his hiatus during the Dark Reign?

Hickman: Gets an oil change and masturbates to Ninja assassin porn.

RKL: Will Garrett be seeing Elektra any time soon? She’d make a great addition to the wider cast of the title.

Hickman: Again, I have no idea what he does on his downtime. He's probably sending her poetry and Rohypnol.

RKL: If we can cut through the hype and the hyperbole for a moment, let’s look at Jonathan Hickman, the writer, the man. Writing can be one of those ethereal professions that changes to the whims of the person in charge of the words, so what sort of work ethic do you hold on an average work day? Do you have a set place, time, hour limit, or ceiling on words?

Hickman: I try to have a schedule, but I have kids and they are simply the one wildcard that you can't plan for. And I try to write 5 pages a day.

RKL: What foods and drink sustain you through the solitary and sedentary trudge of creation?

Hickman: Coffee. Lots of coffee. I'm dieting right now, so no snacks lately.

RKL: Do you have any handy tips for warming up at the start of writing?

Hickman: Sit down and start typing. Anything else is procrastination, which is bullshit.

RKL: Do you find music helps you write? What would be the soundtrack to each of the titles you write?

Hickman: I usually have to listen to stuff with no lyrics. So alt rock, classical, some electronic, some movie scores. I'm on record as saying I think Fury is a Johnny Cash man. Other than that... nothing.

RKL: You are an artist, which Marvel has neglected to capitalize on, are you still dabbling in anything right now? Do you ever get the urge to toss any scribbles into the internet?

Hickman: Yeah, I've got a book called PLUS! coming out in the next couple of months. It's three 20 page stories, written and drawn by me. Each one in a different art style. I've missed both art and design.

RKL: Would there be an existing Marvel comic that would be perfect to have the Hickman artistic touch placed on it? Do you think Marvel would ever let you draw a stand alone issue of one of your titles?

Hickman: I'd like to do a New Mutants book, but that's not what Marvel is interested in, and to be frank, not where the money is for me.

RKL: You haven’t tackled the Ultimate universe yet, do you feel like you ever might want to?

Hickman: Sure.

RKL: You started creating independent comics at Image, do you think you’ll ever return there to do more creator owned work?

Hickman: I'll never stop creating, working on, and owning new comic properties. I love working at Marvel, but there's resistance there (not in a bad way, just naturally occurring obstacles)... when you're doing your own thing, it's just dancing, or singing, or what ever it is you do in moments of complete freedom.

Think of it like this: Working on books at Marvel is LIFE, and, no doubt, it's a good one, but creator-owned is LIVING. There's a difference.

RKL: Can you remember the first comic that made you impressed by the awesomeness of the four colour world?

Hickman: There was an issue of Legion of Super-Heroes drawn by Pat Broderick where Val Armorr and Projectra were in a cell waiting to be publicly executed and he was punching a stone column, carving out a knife to use on his captors. I was 8 or 9 and thought that was pretty badass.

RKL: What is the first story you can remember creating, either written or drawn?

Hickman: Completely? Nightly News.

RKL: What sort of art and literature do you surround yourself with to stay inspired?

Hickman: Not necessarily fiction, but anything escapist. And that includes TV and movies as well. As soon as something tries to get enlightening outside of the narrative, I just check out.

RKL: Are there any comics you are reading right now that others are fools for not having sampled yet?

Hickman: No idea. I'm pretty far behind right now. I hear Grant Morrison has some game.

RKL: Who is your dream character, the one you have a writer’s crush on, that you haven’t yet gotten the chance to work on?

Hickman: The Legion.

RKL: With the FF, Secret Warriors, and S.H.I.E.L.D., will there be any other titles in your foreseeable future? Anything you can give us the scoop on? Perhaps something like the Herald propaganda pages you did for Strange Tales?

Hickman: No comment, but I've got an interesting year coming up.

RKL: How many more Marvel pitches do you think you’re sitting on right now, just waiting for the current writer to peel away from a good character?

Hickman: Uhhh, I've got some bullets in my gun, but honestly, I'm contractually guaranteed a certain amount of Marvel work. That time is better spent on developing other things.

RKL: If you could helm an adaptation of any major movie or book what would you like to tackle?

Hickman: Unless the check is huge, again, I'd rather do my own thing.

RKL: At the moment, what do you think you are most known for, or as? What gets you the most comments?

Hickman: I have no idea. I've certainly had a good go of it with the fans up to this point, but I honestly don't worry about it. Am I happy? Do I think it was good work? These are the things that concern me. I think that's the best way to make sure you produce good product.

RKL: The next section is our Literary Rorschach Test, we give you a word or concept and you have to tell us what it makes you feel. You may give us a one word response or a paragraph. Here we go:

Kirby – Gratitude.
Wild West – Kung-Fu (you'll get it on down the road)
Trade Waiting – The optimal form of consumption.
Polymath – Ben Franklin.
Lawyers – They do more harm than good, and are the scum of the earth, but completely, utterly necessary. Get a good one.
Noir – Ed.
HYDRA – Gorgon.
History – Lies.
Typewriter – Like having a ninety year-old girl friend. Yeah, it's a girl, but what's the point?
Family – One of the few things in life that matters.

RKL: Jonathan, it’s been an esteemed pleasure, so thank you for taking the time to put down the fantastic toys that you get to write about and answer these many questions. Last one now is, where are you going right now after this interview? And be honest.

Hickman: Home. Always home.

RKL: Toodle pip!

Hickman: Cheers!

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Brandon Whaley said...

Considering Fantastic Four and Secret Warriors are the reason I've stuck around the 616 universe (aside from DnA's stellar cosmic stuff), its easy for me to say the Hickman is the go-to guy for excellent writing in the Marvel bullpen. Can't wait to see what's in store for the rest of this year. Nice interview!

Ivan said...

"If a creator was on a book for a short period and did a shit little story that contradicts something I want to do... then no I don't consider that 'relevant.' "

Is it me, or did that sound kind of arrogant?

Anyway, great interview. I'm just starting Secret Warriors and enjoying it so far.

Sr. Lado Brillante said...

My favorite arc last year was Nick Fury: Agent of Nothing. Awesome interview.

Can't wait for Shield.

Jule said...

Thanks for the interview, Hickman its a writer that I am interested into know more about, and yes Im also waiting for the SHIELD series and curretly enjoying FF and SW.

Eric Rupe said...

I'm thrilled to see that Plus! is still coming out. I've been waiting for this for a while. Hopefully Red Mass for Mars will be finished at some point as well.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Ivan, yeah it is slightly arrogant, but it also helps him disregard a lot of dreck that has been piled onto a lot of characters. He said a similar thing in his Word Balloon interview and it's harsh but it's functional...

Dickey said...

"If a creator was on a book for a short period and did a shit little story that contradicts something I want to do... then no I don't consider that 'relevant.' "

Personally this is the kind of attitude I want to see from my writers. Excessive reference to continuity just bogs down story telling potential in my opinion. Is it a big story that the multitude loves/made a big character change? Respect it. Was the story aiming for a change but hasn't been revisited much or the writer was of poor caliber? Then move past it and do your own take.

I think this perspective is one of the best ways to engender creativity in the static genre of corporate superhero stories. Excessive devotion to continuity is just another hurdle for writers to jump on their way to excellent stories, and the sad fact is that few can make that jump. For someone who can, take a look at Busiek and sometimes Geoff Johns.

Ivan said...

Well, I'm on the fence here. Certainly good stories come before continuity, but some of the little stuff are worth respecting.

If not, you end up with a drunken Wolverine "figuring out" who Spider-Man is via smell, when it has been well stablished that Logan can't get drunk and knew who Spider-Man was for a long time before that.

I agree I'm kind of sounding like the worst kind of comic book nerd, but it's just how I feel on this.

Daryll B. said...

Ivan, I with you on the point 8...It great to have little stories about characters...but at least know a little about the character or ask around about powers/identity before it goes to print.

Hickman's view is quite refreshing but at the same time, he doesn't talk down to the audience like other creators do. I can't wait for SHIELD and the last half of SW

Nicely done Ryan.

Matt Ampersand said...

I can't help but think Hickman's statements might have been a veiled crack at Millar's run before his. Let's not forget that Millar ended up giving Doom some crazy ass powers, pretty much giving him god powers. No other writer has used them or referenced them since then. It's no surprise, really, considering that it would basically break Doom and make him an useless character.

Kirk Warren said...

@Matt - Hickman has said before that he's going to try and use Millar's run in FF with regards to Doom. I doubt it's pointed at him directly. Probably no one in general. Just a principle - don't worry about random fill-ins or crap stories.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Matt & Kirk - I know when Hickman has said it before he's been referencing Fury stories, usually from the 90's. He doesn't agree with a lot of the dreck that's been piled on Fury with constant LMD retcons and such and so he plans on ignoring them.

Considering Secret Warriors is easily the best Fury thing written in years I'd give Hickman carte blanche to do as he wishes as well.

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