[NOTE: Over a decade ago, in the wake of my leaving the poetry slam scene behind for the second time, I rediscovered comics, started blogging about them sporadically, and eventually become a contributor and then editor for a comics site called Buzzscope which later relaunched as PopCultureShock before shutting down a few years later. During one of their site migrations, they lost a ton of content, including everything I’d written for them over 3+ years, and most of it wasn’t preserved by the Wayback Machine. Fortunately, Gmail remembers everything and I randomly found the interview below the other day in an attachment and was thrilled. I did a lot of interviews during that time, but this was my all-time favorite, conducted in person over beers in a great dive bar.]
In the Scope: On The Bottom With Charlie Huston
Conducted: Tuesday, August 2, 2005 | Published: August 18, 2005
When Joe Quesada announced at Comic-Con last month that Charlie Huston was the writer of the Moon Knight project he’d been dropping hints about over the previous few months, comics fandom let out a collective, “Who?” While most were excited, or at least had something to say about the other half of the creative team – fan favorite David Finch (New Avengers) will be handling the artwork – Huston was a virtual unknown that had some fans questioning, “Why…?”
As in, “Why not Bendis?” Or Slott? Or Brubaker?
As an old school fan of the original Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz Moon Knight series, I was a bit curious myself, so I hit Google to find out who Huston was, and came across his web site where, at the time, he was teasing the announcement of a comic book project but had not yet updated with any specifics. Poking around, a couple of things jumped out at me, though.
First, was his home page introduction:
I write pulp. I write noir. Open one of my books and you’ll see I’m not lying. I write about people killing each other and suffering or not suffering the consequences. I write about the halt and the lame and the addicted. So it should come as no surprise that this site is for fucking grownups.
Sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, violence, politics, sports, and other adult themed topics may be discussed here in graphic detail. And if you know anything about my writing, you know I’m incapable of expressing myself without cursing. If you don’t care for it, go fucking Yahoo.
Second, was this little bit from his bio:
I haven’t had to bartend or wait tables since winter 2004, and it’s been a little longer than that for my wife. The wolf is never far from the door, but we’re supporting ourselves doing stuff we like to do. One night when I bitched about going to another writer’s release party to schmooze, she said to me, “Charlie, if that’s work, sign me up.” I shut my fucking mouth and went to the party. Had a good time.
I don’t get to act anymore, but my wife does. And I get to write the kind of stories my cousin started turning me on to when I was a brat. Life is good.
Sign me up.
If nothing else, I thought, this guy sounds like someone I’d want to have a beer with, so I dropped him an email requesting an interview and got routed into Marvel’s “big project” PR process, to be put on a waiting list where my interview would have to be cleared first, and then, once approved, given an embargo date for its release so they could manage Moon Knight’s promotion and honor exclusive commitments and such. It suggested they were really serious about giving the mini-series a sustained and high-profile push, which as a fan, was exciting, and as someone interviewing Huston, even more curious. I ended up catching him a few days later at a reading for his latest novel, SIX BAD THINGS, at Coliseum Books here in New York City, and was impressed by his casual, unpretentious demeanor and his eagerness to talk about Moon Knight.
“Moon Knight? Fuck yeah, I can talk Moon Knight!”
A week later, after receiving my approved interview via email, he writes back saying he’s burnt out on email interviews and would I be interested in doing it via phone. I counter, suggesting we do it in person over beers, figuring that would give us a better interview than the standard email ones he’s been doing, and he agrees. We met at my new favorite dive bar, Billymark’s West –coincidentally, it could pass as a cleaner, better-lit version of Paul’s Bar, one of the central locations of Huston’s first novel, CAUGHT STEALING – and we spent two hours over cold beers talking about Moon Knight and the pressure of living up to Joe Quesada’s hype; what “decompression” and “9-out-of-10 of those single issues sucked!” have in common; and what Doug Moench and Steve Gerber don’t have in common.
[NOTE: A two-hour interview equals approx. 17 typed pages, way too much to read online! With that in mind, Buzzscope presents the meatier portions of the interview, the stuff you can’t get via email.]
Why Moon Knight?
[After the initial contact and a couple of meetings, Marvel’s Director of Development, Publishing] Ruwan Jayatilleke said, “I’m going to mention this really obscure character, just as a flyer, have you ever heard of a guy named Moon Knight?” And I was like, “Dude! Yeah, totally! Moon Knight!” I collected all the Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz, I totally knew the character. At that point, I was gunning for Moon Knight once I knew he was an option.
How did it all play out?
The first pitch went well, and they really liked it, and the only thing they were kind of hedgy on – and it was more Joe than anybody else, although I’m really glad in the end that he did it – was that he felt that the bad guys, I was working with the government as the bad guy, and he said that Marvel’s trying to get back more to its superhero roots and get away from all the government intrigue and the weird government institutions and get back to the capes and tights. He wanted to know it there were any super-villains somewhere in Moon Knight’s past, or not, that could work in more of a classic superhero kind of bad guy background. I thought about that, had an idea, so I re-pitched with that, and that was virtually the only thing that changed, which is where the threat is coming from. The shape of the threat changed a bit, but not that much. And that was it, they bought the second pitch and then I went to work. It was a very compressed process, and they really wanted to do something with Moon Knight but they’d been trying to find the right pitch, the right story that they wanted to do. Their whole thing was they want to get Moon Knight back into the Marvel Universe, get him back there in the mix.
Right now he’s got a really vague outline. He’s popped up now in the past…you’ve got the Marvel Team-Up that he showed up in; you’ve got the Ultimate version. I heard their was a brief appearance in the Great Lakes Avengers. He’s basically a cool costume that’s floating around out there, but the last person that really tried to—Doug Moench, when he brought him back to life after they killed him in Marc Spector: Moon Knight, when he did the mini-series that resurrected him again, he very, very aggressively steered him back to the roots. They went all over the board with the Marc Spector: Moon Knight series, and when Moench brought him back in the first of the two minis he did, it’s clear that he wasn’t happy with what had been done with the character, and he basically ignored all of that continuity, except for the fact that Marc Spector had died. He took a hard left turn, moved him back into the mansion, gave him his alternate identities back, brought the whole team back together again, which I thought was great. I love all those old trappings, and I love all those old characters, but he really didn’t make any effort to look at what the other people had done and try and embrace it in some form. That’s not a knock on the guy; mind you, he created the character, and if I were him and I had seen what had been done with the character in West Coast Avengers and Marc Spector: Moon Knight I’d probably be sitting there going, “fuck this shit!”
Since then, he hasn’t had an identity, and the quick run he did as a member of the Marvel Knights ** deep sigh ** that is one of the periods where the “Moon Knight is Marvel’s Batman accusation,” more than any other time, it was during that run where it was true. It was kind of weak.
What Marvel wanted from me, or from anybody who took on the project, was that at the end of it, there be a clearly constructed, viable Moon Knight who could participate in the Marvel Universe, and that other writers, no matter what they did with him afterwards, that there’d be a template they could work from; that the character has an identity again. They were very open beyond that. This could have been a reboot, a brand new Moon Knight with a brand new continuity. It could have been Marc Spector training a new Moon Knight to take over for him. It could have been pretty much anything. They wanted a clearly constructed Moon Knight, and Joe Quesada said, “I wouldn’t fuck with that costume.” And I was like, “Joe, I’m not going to fuck with that costume.” That is far and away one of the best costumes ever. Even when he’s been lame, he’s always just looked like a badass. That’s a credit to Don Perlin, and Doug Moench, with the original costume.
Had you been reading comics at this point, or did you have to jump back in cold and do some research?
I just started back reading comics not too long ago. What got me back in the store was when I heard that Frank Miller was doing the Dark Knight Returns sequel. While I was there, I picked up a few other things, and then it took like 12 years for the third issue to come out – all due respect to Mr. Miller; for obvious reasons, he changed a lot of his thoughts about that third issue once Manhattan was blown up. After that, once every few months I’d stop in and pick a few things up, and right around that time I heard that Joss Whedon was going to do Astonishing X-Men and I loved the first three or four seasons of Buffy, before it turned to crap, and I was excited to see what he would do. I hadn’t looked at X-Men in ages, since the original Brood plotlines back in the Claremont days. I had no fucking clue what was going on in the X-universe. When I was a kid, there was the Uncanny X-Men, and when I stopped reading, there was Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and, I think, X-Factor, and that’s when I bailed. So later, whenever I’d get to the X end of the shelves, it was like white noise, static, little stars would pop up, tweety birds. And I still don’t know how Emma Frost became a hero. I picked up the first issue of Astonishing – which was fucking badass, the best big action, superhero comic book; the traditional beat ‘em up, blow it up, tell a story about heroes! – and I was like “What the fuck is Emma Frost doing running the X-Men?” And I have no energy to find out.
So I started back with the Dark Knight, then Astonishing, and then a couple of things dropped that were really exciting to me. Just randomly, I picked up the second issue of Grant Morrison’s We3, and that blew me away! So I had to go back and find the first one, and then I had to wait 12-fucking-years for the third one to come out! Which seems to be a theme… I started picking up The Ultimates, which is wicked good, and I kind of got hooked. When I got the first call from Ruwan, I had been hanging out regularly – like once every two weeks I was going to the comic book store for the first time in forever – for about a year at that point. There were only, and still are, like 3-4 titles that I’m picking up every month, but I’ll try anything, except for the X-titles; I’ll pick up the first 2-3 issues of anything. I have a one-issue attention span, though; if I pick up an issue and it doesn’t get me, it’s going right out the door.
Speaking of a one-issue attention span, what’s your approach to the mini-series? What’s your take on decompression?
Well, it is a mini-series. It’s a six-issue, self-contained arc. I tried to make it so that there is a story being told in every issue. Since it’s an effort to rebuild the character, and to do so based on original continuity without completely ignoring Marc Spector: Moon Knight, et al, the primary job is to establish where he is now, where he’s come from, and where he’s going. To a certain extent, that’s part of the mandate I was given, and part of it is storytelling 101. Because I have to deal with that, I can’t really tell an individual story in each issue that has a beginning/middle/end, however, I think that each script has its own tone; each takes a different aspect of Marc Spector’s life and deals with it, whether it’s taking on something new, or taking on his past and bringing you up-to-date on where that particular page from his past is now.
The whole decompression/compression thing confuses me anyway. I just stumbled across those terms in the last couple of weeks or so, when Bendis covered for Quesada’s Friday thing on Newsarama. That was my first exposure to the terms.
For better or worse, Bendis is the poster boy for decompression.
That confuses the fuck out of me! I tell you what, to me, his storytelling is so dense, and so rich in a single issue. I think that those terms are really confusing. Beyond just the fact that he’s got high panel counts – which is something I just became aware of writing these scripts, you know, more panels means more drawing… yeah! Okay! Good point! Aside from the panel counts, the amount of story that gets on a single page, even if the whole page is devoted to a single brief interaction between two characters, a conversation or something, and half the panels have no dialogue, he tells a ton of story on that one page. So when I look at Bendis, and I hear he’s the poster boy for decompression, my first thought is “What the fuck are you talking about, people?” To me, it’s extremely compressed.
There’s more story in one of his comic books, more character, more development, more complexity, than the average story. I understand the idea of wanting to get, for your $3, which is a lot of money for a comic book, wanting to get a bang-o story right there, not necessarily having to invest $18 in a six-issue story arc and have a story dribble out to you that back in the old days you’d have gotten in a single issue… My response to that is, “Well, yeah, but 9-out-of-10 of those single issues sucked!” You’re just going to end up with another big superhero fight, maybe some wisecracks while they’re fighting, but no character, no real plot, no richness of story. I’m not down with that! For anyone who’s counting, on the record, yes, I’m kind of decompressed. I apologize. But I really think that ultimately it’s nonsense. But I’m such the new fish, so who knows?
I know that my first instinct leaned towards, what I was thinking at the time, was a very dense style. I had a high panel count. When I turned in my first script to Axel, he was very complimentary and very supportive of the script, but one of the things he said was “panel count.” Think about this: six is your baseline. If you’re going to go beyond that, you need to think about what is in every single panel. How much detail are you trying to squeeze into a smaller panel? So that was an issue, and I worked to keep it down, but it’s still pretty dense; I’d say above average. I’m not trying to cram big panoramic images onto pages with high panel counts. I like to deal in fragments of action. I like to see the hand picking something up; I like to see the crescent dart fly; I like to see an expression on the face; I like to see the fist making contact. At the same time, I also like the big pullback to Moon Knight soaring across the sky!
Like I mentioned earlier, about trying to adapt the earlier scripts once I knew that David Finch was the artist, he does big splash, big superhero badassness, and if you don’t take advantage of that, you’re just a moron! You have to play to those strengths. Embrace what he does, take advantage of the fact that he liked those first scripts and wanted to draw them, and give him some cool stuff to draw.
In the last issue of Wizard, Bendis and Finch did a “Director’s Cut Commentary” on the first six issues of New Avengers, and Finch says, in reference to a scene between Captain America and Iron Man, “I’m actually not very good at drawing scenes like this, just two people talking.” With your Moon Knight story, it’s called “The Bottom,” you’ve made a lot inferences that it’s going to be dark, “It will get worse before it gets better.” Nothing about it sounds like the big action story Finch is known for, and seems to prefer.
I would not describe it as an action-driven story. I would say that it pops out the gate with plenty of action, and then it finds a different…I’m playing with a different tone and pace, and a little bit of a different style, in each issue. There’s some talking-head action in this, and there’s just no way to get around that. It’s in there. There’s also two-fisted hero action, guys in tights kicking each other’s asses! Is it Astonishing X-Men, which I think averages 5 panels/page, where the dialogue is so incredibly lean and yet so effective, and the fights are so incredibly badass and well-choreographed, and he does such a great job advancing the story and telling about character through those fights? Well, no! I’m not fucking Joss Whedon! This is my first fucking comic book, motherfucker!
So, no, as I say, I’m trying to play to David Finch’s strengths. I mean the fact that he signed on to this having read the first bunch of unedited scripts, knowing that I wasn’t necessarily going to be doing a lot of two-page dinosaur battle kind of things, he knew what the deal was. The first email exchange David and I had was very much about, “I want this to be something where we’re both happy, so we’re going to talk about what we need.” I want him to be happy and do his best work, and I think it’s going to sell the story and it’s going to make everybody happy. It’s a comic book; it’s a visual medium. I like using dialogue, but I like having a frame with no dialogue, using a facial expression or a detail of physical movement to advance the story. I was a big Love and Rockets fan when I was a kid, but this ain’t Love and Rockets! That’s not the comic book I want to write. If I want to explore personal relationships, I’ll do it in my novels. Both David and I are into the big heroic themes. I think the word he used was he wanted to draw pictures of heroes that are “mythic,” and I’m down with that. There will be places where I sacrifice something to accommodate what David does really well, and there’s going to be places where David is going to accommodate me, and it’s going to be cool.
Having read CAUGHT STEALING, I’d say your two biggest strengths are your ability to write naturalistic dialogue, and the unflinching way you depict violence, and its effects. How much of that Charlie Huston are you able to put into a comic book? I’m assuming this is under the Marvel Knights banner, right?
Yes, it’s Marvel Knights. So it’s 13-and-up. I would not, if I had a 12-year old, I would not want them to read this book. I think it’s a pretty mature book for a lot of reasons; in terms of the kind of story that’s being told. The structure of it, and the storytelling style, is pretty mature for comic book storytelling. And I don’t mean that in any kind of an arrogant or cocky way. Anything I’m doing with it in terms of structure and style, I’ve stolen from somebody. The styles I tend to be drawn to, I think, are more mature styles.
The truth is, you can have a MAX title, with all the T&A and all the cursing and all the blood and guts in the world, and it can still be infantile. In fact, I think that quite often the T&A and the cursing and the blood and guts contribute to the lack of maturity.
“Moon Knight: The Bottom” is violent. Period. It’s a Moon Knight story based in the Doug Moench continuity and while Marc Spector as Moon Knight didn’t really kill people, it seemed like everybody died. Until they started getting resurrected in Marc Spector: Moon Knight, every bad guy that he faced off with ended up getting blown up or killing themselves or being killed by somebody else. Usually, it was tragically, or in a very dark and ironic manner; it was grim stuff. And Marc Spector is a killer. Period. End of story. He was a man who was paid money to kill people. And all of the rationalization he may have had about having always fought on the good side and not killing innocent people, he went into foreign countries and accepted cash money payments to go out and kill people. So, you know, yeah, it’s dark and it’s violent, but I would not have wanted to do a MAX title.
The dialogue is the dialogue. There’s a lot of cursing, but obviously, it’s bleeped. The descriptions of the some of the violence is graphic, but I don’t know how it will be executed. I look at the last issue of The Ultimates, #7, that’s a dark book – morally, ethically, philosophically – talk about a mature title. It deals with some very high-level moral questions, and I love it. At the end of that issue, Hawkeye gets machine-gunned. He throws a fistful of cutlery into a bunch of guys’ faces, and his son is murdered in his arms. And we’re told that off-stage, his wife and his baby are murdered as well. There’s very little blood depicted, and when his son is killed, they do an extreme close-up on Hawkeye’s eyes and you just see the blood spraying…so it’s very low on gore, but my jaw dropped! I was like, “Holy sh—!” I was smoked!
Besides the fact that they were killing Hawkeye – again! – there was the thing with his kids, and it seemed extremely violent to me. Totally appropriate to the world that they have going in there, but if you can do that there, I don’t think that anything I’ve got going on in Moon Knight is more violent than that. Certainly there’s nothing more mature than they do in The Ultimates, thematically or story-wise. The acts of violence that I have described that could be potentially depicted in extremely gory fashion, I would assume that they would not be. I would hope…I would prefer that they not be. I think it would be more effective if something is left to the imagination. But there is some horror movie shit in there! There is at least one, two incidents of violence that are every bit as graphic as anything in CAUGHT STEALING. I didn’t set out to do that, I didn’t have an agenda to do that, and actually it was one of the first questions I asked Axel. I said, “I want to do THIS.” And I told him exactly what it was and he said, “You can do anything to that character you want to.” And when I turned it in, they were like, “That plays. Go ahead.”
Did you run into anything where they were like, “Okay, too much!”
No. Not really. I think that if it were just there, there would have been a problem. I feel that the violence in my books is graphic, but I do not feel it is gratuitous. I can take any scene of violence in my books – and mind you, the vampire books haven’t even started publishing yet; there’s some shit nobody’s ready for! – and I can explain it in terms of character and story. My feeling is if it’s serving development of character and story, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s not gratuitous. If it’s there just because it’s cool or disturbing, then you’re moving into the realm of horror, which I’m down with, I love me a good horror movie, all that stuff, but it’s a different beast and is by nature, a gratuitous medium.
Without getting into details, there were his two appearances in Marvel Team-Up, which were ill-defined in terms of continuity. When does The Bottom take place? And where does the MTU appearance fit in, since there’s probably many readers for whom that was their first time seeing him and they’ll think back to it when your first issue comes out?
When I got the job, that appearance wasn’t out, and I didn’t know it was going to come out, and the continuity that I have created would not allow for it. As for readers not knowing when that story happened, well, neither do I! For the real continuity heads out there, it’s going to be a boil on their butt. It absolutely does not fit with what I’ve done. I’ll just go and say that flat out. You could maybe say that it could conceivably happen after The Bottom. There’s nothing in there, I think, that would violently contradict anything that I’m doing, except for the fact that he didn’t beat anybody, utterly crippling them, or something like that. Once The Bottom is out there, then I can argue continuity with people about where it fits.
I think the more distressing question is where his appearance in the two-page splash in Avengers: Disassembled is going to fit in, because that’s much more difficult to try and accommodate.
Okay, two things on that. MTU, I think most people look at it, or should look at it anyway, as kind of the way it used to be. An out of continuity book; fun stories with random characters.
Yeah, I mean they even have a completely non-Marvel character, Invincible, coming in soon. That book is a lot like “What If…?” to me.
But you mentioned Disassembled, and there he is, in the group shot.
Front and center, in the Khonshu costume! Yeah.
Okay, so by the time The Bottom comes out, House of M will be done.
So, when you started writing, did you know anything about House of M?
I still know nothing about House of M! Nothing more than the average comic book fan knows about it. I’m not on the inside of anything. I’m totally a hired gun that was brought in to do one title. I’m not huddled up with Millar and Bendis, you know, at the feet of the masters getting all the secrets about what’s going on. I have no clue! I’ve been reading it, but none of the spin-offs, just because I’m curious about what they’re going to do. And it ain’t bad. You know, it’s “big event comic book,” but it’s big event comic book done well.
Well, it’s definitely not Contest of Champions!
See, I missed that. My only previous big event was the original Secret Wars, so that’s the standard by which I judge. And the bar was set pretty low, with all due apologies to Mr. Stan Lee.
Different times. And also, when you’re blazing trails, they’re a little rough. So I know nothing about House of M. I don’t know how Moon Knight fits into the post-House of M universe, because I don’t know what that universe is. I know that Marc Spector’s name is mentioned as part of the Human Resistance—
Which in itself implies some kind of—
—some presence, yeah. Right. So, I don’t know. The nice thing is, you don’t really have to worry about House of M continuity, because it’s all created by Wanda anyway, so it doesn’t really affect my shit! As far as the Disassembled appearance, I’m working on it. I’m trying to figure out a way, because I know at some point in my life, when I’m like 50 years old and this is the only comic book that I’ve ever written and my entire writing career has disappeared, and I’m tending bar again, somebody’s going to sit down across the bar from me and say, “You’re the guy who wrote that Moon Knight thing. Where does that fit in with the two-page splash where he’s wearing all the Khonshu stuff in Avengers Disassembled?”
Let’s talk about the first issue. Say I’ve never heard of Moon Knight. I pick it up. Do I need to have heard of him?
No, you don’t need to have ever heard of him. I think that if you know him, particularly if you’re a fan and you really know your continuity, there are going to be little bits dropped along the way that are going to be a lot of fun and add an extra layer. If you haven’t read it before, I don’t think those references will jump out and disrupt the story. They may be things that you might want to find out more about, but they won’t disrupt the story as it is.
I didn’t totally start from scratch. It’s a Marvel Knights title, and it’s a little bit more mature, but part of that maturity is not necessarily assuming Moon Knight knowledge, but it is assuming that the reader is a little bit older, that they read a little bit beyond the surface, and that they know a little something about the way a superhero universe works. Any comic book fan, certainly, could pick this up and have no problem getting their bearings with this character, and know where he’s coming from very quickly. I will say the first issue ends with the biggest cliffhanger of the series, because it’s very much where you get to see him at the bottom, with no real indication of exactly what it was that put him there, or without any indication of how he’s going to get out. And rightfully so, that’s what you want with your first issue, you want people to say, “What happens next? I can’t wait a month, let alone 12 years!”
What would you pick as a couple of the most definitive moments, either from Moench’s original run, or any others? Moments that, even if they aren’t directly referenced in The Bottom, stand out the most for you in your approach to the character?
In terms of definitive Moon Knight moments, because I’m working from Moench continuity, they all come from that first run. There’s a point where Midnight steals the Khonshu statue, and he feels like he’s lost his power – not that he had any powers at that point; because god knows he has and hasn’t! – Marlene provides him with a fake statue, and then she tells him it’s a fake and he makes a conscious decision that it doesn’t matter anymore, Khonshu may be real or may not be real, but it doesn’t change who he is or what he’s doing. That’s a real key moment.
I don’t know if these are key to the character, but they’re key to my conception of the character. The issue, I want to say #23, the one about child abuse. For a couple of reasons. Sienkiewicz’ art goes absolutely haywire in that issue, and he actually said one of the reasons that he eventually left the title is that he felt he’d gone as far as he could with the character in that issue. That was a great story and had a real impact on me. And then, the Black Spectre double-issue, with the Vietnam vet who comes back and can’t get a job and is influenced by Moon Knight to create this alter ego, who becomes his muscle while he moves himself up the political ladder, and the fact that Moon Knight, at the end of that, because he gets beaten in that, and his response to being beaten is to go kick the shit out of this guy. He’s done, he’s been taken out, everybody thinks he’s the bad guy and the bad guy’s a hero, and he’s going to be elected mayor of New York City. So Moon Knight goes and gets his cestus gloves that he had when he fought the Werewolf by Night, and Sienkewicz draws them as four-inch spikes on his hands, and he goes and beats this guy bloody in front of his crowd of admirers…that had an impact on my idea of who Moon Knight is!
Quesada’s been alluding to your pitch for at least the past six months, randomly dropping hints, even saying at one point to say it’s one of the best pitches he’s read in a while and that the Marvel offices were all abuzz. For such a relatively low-profile character, it’s being given a lot of attention, and being managed in a way to maximize it. I mean, it’s not coming out until February but they announced it in San Diego, put Finch on it, the next Wizard’s going to have some exclusive pin-ups. So they’re giving it a serious push. How does that make you feel in terms of—
Yeah, are you feeling any pressure?
Absolutely! Absolutely! Because I like the story that I’ve told, and I have 100% confidence that Finch’s art is going to complement the story, and vice versa, that we’re going to work really well together. I feel really good about what it is, and I feel very confident that when the book is actually in people’s hands that it’s going to be a good book, and that if it were just dropped into the marketplace like that, I feel pretty confident that people would go, “Damn! This is a really good book.”
But hype, promotion, creates expectations, and it creates its own kind of pressure, and I know from my own personal experience, that when something is hyped, and it’s promoted heavily, the expectations are increased, so I know that it’s put some pressure on the book. But I think that more than that, I feel really lucky. As a first-timer, would you rather your title slip unnoticed onto the shelves, and be forced to fight an uphill battle to be picked up and read, or would you rather Joe Quesada stand up at Comic-Con and say, “Moon Knight! Kick ass! Rah-rah-rah!” And have a Wizard pinup coming out, and have David Finch, and have people in the company saying nice things whenever they’re asked about it…? Well, yes, duh! That’s what you want. Because if it’s good, it’s still going to be good. And if nobody knows it exists, then they’re not going to read it in the first place, and you’re never going to know if they liked it or not. It appears that Marvel’s trying to get this thing out there in a big way, and that is tremendously flattering, and of course, it’s a great opportunity. But yeah, it definitely puts pressure, and I don’t want it to suffer from hype whiplash.
Are you familiar with the controversy around Jonathan Lethem’s upcoming revival of Omega the Unknown? Steve Gerber, the original creator, has spoken out against it, saying Lethem should have at least contacted him before agreeing to it, and is effectively asking fans to boycott it.
What are your thoughts around that? Did it cross your mind at all with Doug Moench? Have you had any contact with him?
I have not had any contact with him at all. I read a Gerber quote where he basically laid out what he thinks the moral, the ethical line is. I’m paraphrasing, but it was essentially, “If you have an opportunity to write a character, and that character’s creator is still alive and still active in the comic book profession, it is unethical to do this, to take that job.”
I’m a Gerber fan; I was a Gerber fan when I was young, and I loved Howard the Duck and the Defenders. I was a Gerber guy. I mean talk about maturity in a comic book. And I think that he’s fought the good fight, and I think that’s great. But, he’s not me, and I’m not him. I did think about it, because I don’t know…is Doug Moench working in comic books any more?
I can’t find him anywhere online.
Yeah, so I don’t even know if I’ve crossed the line, frankly, because I don’t even know if he’s still in the business. My feeling about it is that the business was what it was, and it is what is now, and creators – I mean real creators, people who work in this business full-time; not dilettantes like me – they obviously owe a huge debt to Gerber for putting himself through hell for years and years, and for basically enduring exile for standing up for his principles. And that was the battle that he fought, and that was the battle to be fought at that point. And anyone could have fought that battle, and had the right to fight that battle at the time. And likewise now. But it’s not my job as a writer to fight that battle for creators that came before me, necessarily. And I reserve the right to change my mind about any of this.
I’m also spoiled by working in more traditional publishing where I own every word that I write, every character that I create, and there’s no dispute about it. To me, part of the beauty of mainstream comics, specifically Marvel and DC, is these rich universes of characters, where you not only have the interaction between all these different characters living in the same world, but all these different writers and artists who’ve taken them on over time, and the different spins that they’ve put on them, and the idea that there is a communal storytelling happening here. That writers who care about continuity come in and try to embrace what previous writers have done, and be respectful of their art and their work and extend it. And I may make flip comments about the some of the choices that have been made in the past with Moon Knight, but as I say, I take that stuff seriously. I don’t think you just shrug it off and pretend like somebody didn’t write it, or that it didn’t happen to the character, because it did, and it’s important to someone. It’s important to the person who wrote it or drew it, and it’s important to some fan, so you try to take it seriously.
At this point, I’m really more devoted to the character, and being true to what’s come before, and the apex of that is being respectful of the work that Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz did. So, no, I wasn’t really distressed by that stuff. But like I said, I may be standing behind that bar when I’m 50 and Doug Moench comes up and says to me, “What the fuck were you thinking?” And I may find out that he had twenty Moon Knight pitches out and they were about to accept one and I came in there and I snaked him with mine. Or, if I ever create a comic book character, some punk could end up writing it and I could be like, “Oh fuck! That’s what it feels like!”
Let’s say everything goes well, and Moon Knight’s a big hit, and Marvel comes back to you and says, “Hey, Charlie, pitch us some new stuff.” They’ve made a big push lately to introduce new characters, Gravity, Araña, Runaways…would you be comfortable pitching an original idea to them, or would you—
Uh, I…no! And this is nothing against Marvel. This is just that my agent would take me into a field and beat me bloody!
I’ve got an original super-powered character in Moon Knight: The Bottom. I don’t expect that this is a character that would be heavily used, and it certainly isn’t a character that I could ever use outside of a superhero universe. But I would never… like in the Bottom, I would not have created a character that I might want to use in one of my novels. If you’re a full-time comic book writer, there’s less danger involved. Now, as a creator, you do benefit from future uses, you do get paid for future appearances of your character in other publications that you haven’t written. That has changed. I don’t know how fair that compensation is because I don’t know the finances of the business, beyond what I get. But I write novels, and I do own everything that happens in my novels, and I don’t want to create a character that I might be able to use in my novels and not have access to it because Marvel owns it. In fact, at one point, very briefly, I was asked if I had any interest in Blade, but I’m already writing a series of vampire books and I only have so much vampire in me! If I start trying to write two vampire stories, I’m going to start using stuff in Blade that I could use for my own stuff, so that was just a no-no.
Like I say, I’m a bit spoiled by where I started my writing career, and it’s also my primary source of income and I need to be protective of it. It’s so not a question right now, but I would only pursue an original title in a creator-owned environment.
What about Moon Knight? If it does great and they came back to you, not for another mini-series, but an ongoing?
There were a lot of story ideas I had that I couldn’t fit into this; I do have a lot of Moon Knight in my brain right now. It makes it a little hard to concentrate on other stuff I need to be writing, and my job right now is as a novelist. That’s how I make my bones, and any decisions I make about other projects are secondary to whatever my obligations are there. This came at a really perfect time for me to be able to do it, and having done it on a mini-series basis, and I was working on a novel while I was doing it, writing the scripts and finishing them up, I know I can do that. I’d have to really think long and hard about it, have a long conversation with Axel about it. It’s different. I have had, so far, a fair amount of freedom with this because while it’s within Marvel continuity, because it’s a mini-series, it doesn’t really touch on what’s happening. If you’re doing a real ongoing, it has to fit within the MU, and then the job becomes harder. If you take it seriously, it becomes harder, and I don’t really know any other way to do it. I’m one of those guys that would want to stay really in touch with what was going on. I can talk about it in different contingencies, but I absolutely do not have a yes or no.
If anything, it’s more likely that you’d do another mini-series, kind of like Richard K. Morgan is doing with Black Widow?
Yeah! Who, by the way, is a fucking great guy! I met him at Comic-Con, we both publish through Del Rey and we were on a panel together. Nice guy.
I loved the first mini. Made me want to pick up his novels.
Do. You could probably jump right in with ALTERED CARBON. He’s got another one that’s about to come out, but ALTERED CARBON was the one that came out first. Highly praised and rightly so!
You mentioned earlier a few comics you were reading that had delayed third issues. With Moon Knight, you have a six-issue series, and you have an artist who’s not known for being one of the fastest in the industry. Are you looking at a consistent monthly schedule?
I hope so!
Are you that far enough ahead?
I mean, I hope so! I don’t know. Yeah!
From the writing end, at least, you’ve said you’re ahead of schedule.
Oh yeah, we’re fine. Unless something bizarre happens, this thing will be in the bag long, long, long before the first issue ever publishes. With the head start that we have, I have no reason to think that Finch will do anything but flourish, succeed and deliver, as I say, badassness, on a consistent basis.
To close, give our Buzzscope readers the 30-second Hank Thompson plug.
It’s a very quick, fast, mean, violent, vulgar, booze-drenched ride through Manhattan with a mutilated cat.
Also published on Medium.