Monday, February 20, 2012

Fireside Chat with Robert Venditti

Robert Venditti was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us at The Weekly Crisis and be the latest participant in one of our Fireside Chats.  He's here to discuss his newest project, X-O Manowar, which will be (re)launching as the flagship title from the reborn Valiant Entertainment this May 2nd.  Hit the jump to see how he's been making out working on a monthly book for the first time, get an early idea for what the series will be all about, hear about some of his other projects for 2012, and more!

Robert Venditti's bibliography is the kind of thing any self-respecting comic book writer would be thrilled to have.  His initial foray into the comic book industry was the best-selling (and completely amazing), The Surrogates, which has been adapted into a Bruce Willis starring film and followed by a sequel, The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone.  He also did the stunning and terribly topical, The Homeland Directive, and is in the process of adapting the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books into graphic novels.  If you somehow haven't heard of the man, you're clearly missing out and should head over to your local comic book shop to pick up some of his previous work.  But, first, you should check out our interview below.

Grant McLaughlin: I'd just like to thank you for taking the time to sit down and chat with us at The Weekly Crisis, Robert. Let's kick things off with a simple one: how are you doing today?

Robert Venditti: I’m good, thanks. It’s 8:18 p.m., the family is all upstairs, and it’s just me typing with the dishwasher gurgling in the background. Where did the day go?

GM: I often find myself asking the same thing.  How did you end up at Valiant Entertainment? You've done a lot of creator-owned work, what was the appeal of spending some time with a company-owned property?

Venditti: Warren Simons, Executive Editor at Valiant, reached out to me. He told me about the Valiant relaunch, and asked me if I’d like to pitch on any of their characters. It was exactly the kind of project I’ve been looking for. How often do you get a chance to not only relaunch a character, but help shape an entire universe?

GM: Did they have X-O Manowar in mind for you when you first arrived?

Venditti: Not specifically, but Warren mentioned the character to me as one of a handful he wanted me to take a look at. He thought my style would be a good fit for the book.

GM: What appeals to you about the series?

Venditti: So many things. The opportunity to work on my first monthly book really appeals to me. Beyond that, X-O Manowar as a character resonates with me on several levels. He has such a strong core conflict, and the blend of historical fiction and sci-fi is something that you don’t often find in comics. It’s a rich storytelling landscape.

GM: What kind of preparation did you do before sitting down to write? Did you read over any of the original run?

Venditti: There’s no way I’d take on a project like this without doing my homework first. I’ve read the original run, and I’ve also done a fair amount of reading about the history of Valiant and the other characters in the universe. When I wrote my initial pitch for the series, I included plotlines where I thought X-O could cross paths with other Valiant heroes and villains.

GM: How close will your version of X-O Manowar be to the original? Will you be retreading some aspects or going in a completely different direction? Will you be keeping Aric of Dacia or is it a looser interpretation than that?

Venditti: We’re building on the foundation that was laid with the original run, so X-O Manowar is still Aric of Dacia, a 5th century Visigoth who is captured by aliens, escapes with their most powerful weapon, and then finds himself back on Earth in the modern day. We’ll be introducing plenty of new elements into the series, though, most importantly the alien race known as The Vine.

GM: Tell us a bit more about Aric.  Who is he?  What are his hopes and dreams?  Most importantly, what would you say is his favourite meal?

Venditti: Aric is a warrior, but more than that, he was heir to the throne of the Visigoth people. He spent his life living under the threat of Roman aggression, in part because, as we’ll see early in the first issue, the Roman war machine was something the Visigoth people were at times ill-equipped to deal with. When Aric returns to Earth with the X-O Manowar armor, he’s in possession of the universe’s most advanced weapon, a weapon so powerful it could singlehandedly annihilate an entire army. His personal journey will be learning how to wield the armor responsibly and grow into the leader he was born to be, all while trying to adapt to a culture that in some ways is just as alien to him as The Vine.

As for his favourite food, right now I’d have to say it’s the cherimoya fruit. The reason for that will become clear in issue five.

GM: And with that, I'm terribly excited to get my paws on said issue.  Beyond fruit, your previous works have had a strong element of social commentary. Will we be seeing some of that coming out in X-O Manowar?

Venditti: Definitely. The character is already set up for that, so I feel like I’d have to make a concerted effort not to do it.

GM: Fair enough.  Switching to the art side of things, how has the collaboration with Cary Nord been going?

Venditti: Cary is a true talent. I originally discovered his work through his Conan run, which was written by Kurt Busiek. It was Kurt Busiek’s Astro City that inspired me to try writing my own comics, so to be collaborating with an artist that Kurt himself worked with, and to have it be someone of Cary’s caliber, it’s just an enormous thrill.

GM: I don't think many of your previous works were written with any particular artist in mind. Seeing as you may have had some more time to get to know Cary, has that changed the way you pen the scripts?

Venditti: In some ways. I knew going in that X-O Manowar needed to have a lot of epic action in the pages, but having Cary on art made me doubly conscious of that fact. I’m opening things up a bit, too. Whereas most of my books to date have between six and seven panels per page, this project averages more in the four to five range.

GM: While The Surrogates was originally published as a five-issue limited series, you had actually finished the script over two years before the first issue hit the stands. Now that you're writing a monthly, ongoing title, have you found that it has impacted your writing at all?

Venditti: I still try to stay far in advance of where I need to be on the schedule. I had the first five issues written within two months of getting the job. Holding up the rest of the team or having a book ship late just isn’t an option.

GM: Has the fact that X-O Manowar will exist in the shared universe that Valiant is building had any impact?

Venditti: That’s one of the things I’m having the most fun with. I’ve never really written within a universe before, so to approach a story from that perspective opens up a ton of possibilities. I’m always looking for ways I can tie in what I’m doing with the rest of the Valiant Universe. I have big plans for several of their characters.

GM: We are just past the ten year mark since you first showed your script for The Surrogates to Chris Staros at Top Shelf Productions. What would you say is the most important thing you've learned in all that time?

Venditti: To be humble, especially when it comes to taking criticism about your work. Whether it’s an editor, a fellow creator, or even a friend, listen to what they have to say. If you want your story to say something, but it isn’t coming across to a reader, the fault isn’t theirs; it’s yours.

GM: I've heard say that something you like about the comic book industry is how accessible creators and publishers can be through things like conventions and the like. What would you say is one of the most memorable things you've experienced while participating in the convention circuit?

Venditti: I was at the Lucca Comics Festival in Italy, and I had a beer with Eddie Campbell at one of the local bars. That’s something I’ll always remember. Oh, and I almost got run down while lugging a hand truck piled with books across the street at Dragon*Con. I dove out of the way, and the car pinned the hand truck up against a lamppost. That was pretty memorable.

GM: I could see how that might stick with you.  It's also my understanding that you can be rather meticulous in the planning for your projects, taking the time to plot out a lot of the details of a story before you sit down to start scripting. Have you found that your process has remained constant over your career or has it evolved over time? If so, how?

Venditti: I don’t see that aspect of my writing changing, mostly because it’s a part of my tormented, over-organized psyche as a whole. Every writer has to plan their story out to some degree, though, even if they do it one beat at a time. Since I do all of my planning up front, the actual scripting process doesn’t take much time at all.

GM: What (if anything) would you say is your biggest challenge when it comes to tackling a new project?

Venditti: Getting inside the characters’ heads and figuring out what their wants and motivations are. I try to ground all of my stories in strong characters, so I can’t start writing until I have a firm idea of who they are.

GM: Do you have any habits that you do while you write? Music that you listen to? Food you like to have around? Anything like that?

Venditti: I don’t usually listen to music when I write, but I keep the TV on in the other room, so I can listen to the news. It’s nice to have a little noise in the house, so I don’t feel so isolated. There are days when the phone rings at noon, and I have to clear my voice when I answer it because it’s the first time I’ve spoken all day. It’s a solitary job sometimes.

GM: I imagine you must be rather busy with work, but when you do have any spare time, what are you reading these days (comics or otherwise)?

Venditti: I don’t get to read as much as I’d like to, but Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu was outstanding. I’m also catching up on the reprints of Gotham Central and Starman, both of which are really solid examples of comics storytelling. 

GM: In all the things you've done, is there a character that you've particularly enjoyed writing? If so, why?

Venditti: Oh, sure, I have a few favourites. One I really enjoy writing is The Prophet from The Surrogates, probably because I still haven’t figured out what makes him tick. I like him so much, I keep finding more ways to write him into new Surrogates stories, even though I killed him off in the first book.

GM: I must admit to being a pretty big fan of The Surrogates (though The Homeland Directive was aces as well), so I have to ask, is there more Surrogatey goodness for readers to look forward to in the nearish future? Would you have any details you can share about that?

Venditti: So glad you asked! This year, Brett Weldele and I are doing a series of self-contained stories set in the world of The Surrogates. They’ll pick up where Flesh and Bone left off, with Greer having just earned his detective’s badge, and now he’s tasked with investigating different surrogate-related crimes. Top Shelf will be releasing them digitally at first, so look for those this summer.

GM: I'll have to keep that in mind.  From here, all that's left is the Literary Rorschach Test. I'll give you ten words and you have to respond with the first thing that pops into your head for each one – it can be a word or a full blown paragraph. Ready?

Science Fiction – Orwell
Artificial Intelligence - WOPR
Ideas – book
History – my grandfather
America – [censored] yeah!
Politics - Obama
Editor – stet
Deadline – panic
Artist – sketch
Finished – Next!

GM: That's great!  Thanks a lot for taking the time, Robert. It's much appreciated.

What about you, dear reader?  Are your calendars marked for May 2nd, the day that X-O Manowar will be unleashed upon the unsuspecting public?  Are you just as excited to have more Surrogates in your life?  Let us know in the comments below!

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Anonymous said...

Great interview. Really excited for X-O Manowar! Those pages look amazing

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