I learned that Aaron was, among the many things that Aaron was, a Chicago Bulls fan (yeah!), a former film student, and a comic book writer. Among his credits are an as-yet-unreleased PHANTOM DETECTIVE story, some prose pieces for THE PHANTOM CHRONICLES, and ZEROIDS: THE RETURN, all for Moonstone.
So when I found out that Aaron had been hired to write the Nick Fury story, "Ol' Saint Nick," drawn by Sebastian Piriz, that is coming out in the MARVEL HOLIDAY SPECIAL on December 14th and will be available on the Marvel App anytime within the next two days, I was legitimately excited, as it felt like we were seeing a big break happening before our very eyes. So I asked Aaron if I could conduct an interview with him — I think this is my first interview with a comics pro — and talked with him about his big breaks, the Phantom, Nick Fury, Jim Steranko, and several other things related to comics (but alas, not The Bulls) for a good hour and a half. Much of what was said in that hour and a half was just us shooting the breeze, so below is the official (meaning all the parts that actually have to do with the MARVEL HOLIDAY SPECIAL) Comics Cube! interview with Aaron Shaps.
Take it away, Aaron.
COMICS CUBE: So we're here to talk about your Marvel Comics debut, coming up in the Marvel Holiday Special, so before we get into that, can we start with how you got into comics to begin with?
AARON SHAPS: Sure, okay. Long story short — or at least I'll try not to make it long or boring — basically, I finished up with school in 2001. I went to school for film. But I've always been interested in comics. Literally, as long as I can remember, I've been in love with two things, and that's movies and comics. And I say literally, because I honestly cannot — I don't have memories from before I was interested in either of those things, which basically, for all intents and purposes, is my whole life. But I ended up going to film school instead of what I was maybe considering at the time also in high school, which was going to somewhere like an art school where I could major in something like illustration or maybe graphic design, or maybe possibly illustrate comics as well as write them. I chose film instead. So I finished up with school in 2001, and I was trying to get a couple of different things off the ground. I was working on a novel, and I was sort of a couple chapters in, and I was already starting to get bored with that, which is never a good sign. I was trying to get a couple of screenplays rolling — nothing was going on there. So around 2004, I kinda said to myself, you know, I just really want to write. It didn't really matter what medium. I'd kinda been hoping for film for a couple of years now, but I'd love to write comics. It's always been a dream of mine and I've always loved them. So maybe I needed to start getting serious about that and see what I needed to do to get that rolling, and at least that way, you know, if I'm trying to do a book and trying to do a screenplay and trying to do comics, then hopefully, something is going to happen for me as long as I keep pushing for all of them.
Let's see, what was the first thing I did? Well, the first thing I did was I wrote some sample scripts. I wrote these just to show that I had a grasp of the format and could write comics. I didn't expect anything to happen with any of these. I just wanted a sample in my portfolio of something that had to do with comics. So the Batman script was called "Spider's First Night," set early in Batman's career, a little bit after the YEAR ONE time. It's about a Spider-Man-type criminal who's brought to Gotham City by a mob boss to try to eliminate Batman, who's the new pain in every criminal's ass in Gotham City. So that was a pretty dark, straightforward Batman story. And you know, I kinda thought it might be fun to somewhat poke fun at Marvel's flagship character with what I always viewed as DC's flagship character. So basically, he beats the sh*t out of the Spider-Man guy, gives him a fistful of money, and puts him on a bus out of Gotham City. He says, "Never come back," and as the guy is leaving, he looks around the bus and there's all these other rough-looking guys who've all had the sh*t beaten out of them also. So he realizes that it's a bus full of people Batman beat up and sent out of Gotham City.
The other story I wrote, I cannot remember for the life of me what I called it. It starred the Justice League International Giffen, DeMatteis, Maguire crew...
The story is that Booster Gold finally convinces Fire to go out on a date with him, and they go to this nice restaurant. He's trying very hard to not act like Booster Gold. (General chuckling) And one of the waiters in this restaurant is this loser DC villain. His villain career has not worked out for him 'cause he's a waiter.
He's not from the Injustice League, is he?
I don't think so, no! I remember some of the villains that I used. I don't remember which one was the main one, but I wanna say The Cavalier — is that a guy? He's kind of a Three Musketeers kind of a guy. A lot of the guys, I'm not gonna lie, I looked through the DC Encyclopedia and said, "This guy's a loser, I'll use this guy." (General laughter) So he gets on the horn and calls some other loser guys, and he says, "You're never gonna believe who's in this restaurant. Booster Gold and Fire. Get down here and let's kick their ass." So these guys suit up and come down, and Booster Gold and Fire have to fight off these loser villains, and Booster doesn't have his suit or any of his stuff. All he has is his Legion flight ring, so he really has to rely on his wits and his fighting ability, and Fire of course has her powers and everything. They fight them off, and by the end of it, he walks her home, and they're all beat up and their clothes are all torn, and she's like, "You know, I actually had a really good time." And she gives him a kiss on the cheek and it ends on this hopeful note that maybe there's gonna be something there.
So I wrote those two scripts and I went to Chicago Comic Con that year, and I started to talk to editors at smaller companies. I knew I wasn't gonna jump right into Marvel or DC, obviously, but I did meet Bob Schreck, who was at DC at the time, a legendary editor, who'd been in the business for 30 years or more already.
He's not around anymore, is he?
He's not with DC. Actually, Bob Schreck is heading up Legendary Pictures. They decided to create a publishing arm to develop original graphic novels as possible development for either TV or film. And they're the people who put out Frank Miller's HOLY TERROR. That was their first publication. But anyway, Bob was there with DC Comics, and he spent about 10, 15 minutes talking to me. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it is when there's a big line of people waiting for you. We kind of hit it off right away; we like a lot of the same movies and whatnot, and he gave me a really good piece of advice. He said, "You know, you seem like a smart guy. These are probably decent scripts. But I'm not gonna lie. I don't have time to read scripts, unless it's something I'm actually editing and I have to read the script. If you want to break into comics, get somebody to draw it for you. Even if it doesn't look great, remember, I'm not gonna be reading it to look at the art. I'm gonna be reading it to see if you understand how to tell stories in the comic book medium. So find yourself an artist." He recommended a couple of sites where people chat and meet up. "Get yourself illustrated, and then you'll have an ashcan that you can show to editors that they can read on the flight home and they'll see what they think."
So I said, "Awesome. Thank you." And I went on sites like PencilJack and Digital Webbing and a couple of other forums. I was just looking at the classifieds, trying to meeting up with people, and I ended up hooking up with an artist. I was trying at the time to develop a creator-owned series that could maybe go to Image or something like that. So I scraped together some of my own money and I paid this guy to draw about 10 pages of that, just so I had something to show people. I got it colored and lettered and all that. But in the meantime, I ended up meeting up with these guys from a group called Second Wave Studios. This is 2005 already at this point. They were getting ready to launch a really ambitious line of books through their studio, and they needed some extra writers, basically. It was three guys and they had six or seven books that they wanted to put out on a bimonthly basis and they knew they needed help. And I hooked up with them, and nothing really came of that. I was with them for about a year. They had various roadblocks that a lot of indie people face — mostly financial, but Diamond was also giving them a hard time. But I really valued my time with them, because I wrote several scripts for them, and it just gave me an excuse to be more comfortable with the comic book format. I learned a lot of really valuable things about what it takes to really put a comic together from start to finish, in terms of digital prepress for the printer and all that sort of thing. So in 2006, when I kind of saw that nothing was happening with Second Wave Studios and that they were having a lot of problems, I got together with a couple of friends who were artists, and I said, "Let's try to put together a portfolio piece for ourselves, but let's do it as a comic book, and we could use this to try to get work."
"Let's put together an anthology. I'll write all the stories, we'll split you guys into teams, and you guys illustrate them. And we'll publish it as a comic and we'll sell it at conventions, and we'll put all our contact info at the back, and then we'll have an awesome portfolio piece that is also hopefully a fun comic book." And that's how General Jack Cosmo Productions started, which is my studio that I have with two other guys. And we put together a fifty-six-page full-color anthology called GENERAL JACK COSMO PRESENTS #1, which is — the art is fantastic in it. The writing is horrible. (General laughter) It's cringeworthy; I hoped it would go away. The craziest thing about it is, we printed out a bunch of them to take to the convention with us. And Diamond saw it and said, "Hey, okay, we want to put this out." Then we did a national release with Diamond — I wanna say in May of 2007 — and it sold almost 3,000 copies and I thought, "Oh man, this is awesome!" And now, four years later, I want to track down all 3,000 of them and just kill them with fire. (General laughter)
|General Jack Cosmo, Aaron's creator-owned baby|
But that was all right. It made us a little money, and we made money back. And from there, I thought, hey, I'm a self-publisher now, so I started to do a couple more things with one of the characters that I created for that and also tried using that stuff to get some indie work, and that's how I got into Moonstone. I was good friends with an artist named Doug Klauba, who was doing all THE PHANTOM covers for Moonstone. And he and I were working on a science fiction story called STELLA 7, which is something that's probably now gonna be a young adult illustrated novel. That's what we're talking about now for that.
Instead of a comic book?
Yeah, so we had some stuff for that, and Doug knew Joe Genteel, who's the editor-in-chief at Moonstone, and showed him that stuff and asked me if it was all right to let Joe read script for the first issue. Joe read it, and we were at Mid-Ohio Con in Columbus, Ohio, and I think it was in 2007 or 2008, and the next day at the show, he was just like, "You know, I read a lot of comic book scripts, and this is better than around 90 percent of them. Now this is not something Moonstone is interested in, so if you'd like to write something for us, just let me know." So maybe six months later, I get an email from them out of the blue that's "Well, it's not comic books, but we have an opening in this PHANTOM prose anthology if you want to write like a 7500 word story for that, that would be awesome. You've got two weeks."
Yeah, thankfully, the Phantom was a character I was already familiar with, so I didn't have to do a lot of research. I came up with some ideas and sent it to him in the next day or two, he picked one, he said "Do this one." I wrote the story, and that ended up coming out in THE PHANTOM CHRONICLES VOLUME 2., which isn't actually the first Moonstone thing that came out, but it was the first work I did for them. That was really delayed because there was a Harlan Ellison story that they were waiting for that was supposed to anchor the whole anthology, and that was like two years late.
|"A Jungle Night" by Aaron Shaps is collected here.|
But I guess when it's Harlan Ellison, you know that name's gonna sell books, so you kind of just grin and bear it, I suppose.
And also, he's not gonna be like "Well, you know, I really really need the money that Moonstone's gonna pay me.
Yeah, of course. He just really wanted to do a Phantom story, really. I guess he's always been a fan of the character. But Moonstone was like "Well, we really need this Harlan Ellison story to be in there, we've told everyone it's gonna be in there."
Well, I'm glad you mentioned that, because I was gonna ask you where it was. I was looking through Comics.org today, and I was looking for the Phantom stuff that Moonstone put out, and I was trying to look for your name, but I couldn't find it. I didn't realize it was prose.
Yeah, the two Phantom stories I did for Moonstone that made the cut before Moonstone lost the Moonstone license — I was working on an OGN for them with the Phantom, but it never happened. They lost the license to Dynamite. Even though there was a window after they'd lost the license, when they were still allowed to publish stuff, it was so far from completion that they knew would never get done before the deadline, and it kind of just died. But the two that ended up getting published was that story in THE PHANTOM CHRONICLES VOLUME 2, which is called "A Jungle Night." Then I had a story called "Ghost Drum," which is in PHANTOM GENERATIONS SPECIAL number 1, and I think is also in the PHANTOM GENERATIONS trade paperback, which is the story of the sixteenth Phantom, who was the Phantom during the Wild West era, so it's like a Western Phantom adventure.
Yeah, that was an awesome character, and I was really depressed that right when I got in Moonstone, and they had the Phantom — who is legitimately a character I've been a fan of for a long time — right when I got in with them, they lost the license. So it was racing against the clock to get stuff done for that character, and of course they had other Phantom writers who were also doing the same thing.
What made you a Phantom fan? It wasn't the Defenders of the Earth cartoon, was it?
No, but I liked the cartoon.
I love that cartoon.
But I'd already dug the Phantom at that point. I also already dug Flash Gordon at that point. I like human heroes. I think that's why I like the pulp era so much. I really like heroes that are either human or close to human. I guess for me, it resonates more. I like that there's more for them to overcome because they don't have all these powers to fall back on. I guess that's kind of basic, but looking at my favorite heroic characters — John Carter of Mars is just a guy, Batman is just a guy, Daredevil is just a guy, the Phantom is just a guy, Iron Man is just a guy, Tarzan is just a guy — they're all exceptional guys, but they're just people. Flash Gordon's another one of my favorites, so I really just like human heroes. Even someone like Captain America, who's just a human being turned up to eleven, it still to me falls into that range of human heroes, which is why I like Cap so much. And of course, Nick Fury.
Speaking of which! So, Nick Fury — how did you get the job?
I'm friends with a guy named Michael D'Alessio for about five years now. I met him at a convention way back, when we were still starting the General Jack Cosmo stuff. He owns a company called PromoGuys Marketing, which is a New Jersey–based company. It's not really an advertising firm, but their main thing is they design convention booths for big companies. Then he runs them and sets them all up. Bacardi's one of his clients, I think Fila's one of his clients, but Marvel is one of his clients, and has been since about '08 or '09. So he was a fan of my work and said, "You gotta get into Marvel and DC." And I said, "Well, it's not like I don't want to," you know what I mean? So at C2E2 this year, back in March, he was running Marvel's booth, and said, "Dude, the guy you need to talk to is here. I've been trying to get you to talk to this guy for an hour and a half. C.B. Cebulski (Marvel editor) is here, I'm gonna get you a sit-down with him. Show him your stuff. Bring him a couple of your best things." So I met and talked to C.B. Cebulski, and I gave him three things. I gave him the second GENERAL JACK COSMO book, and I gave him the first ZEROIDS comic that I did for Moonstone because I think the first one is much better than the second one, and I gave him the preview edition of this thing called NEW DREAMING MEN, which is the thing I'm working on with Doug Klauba, who had gotten me into Moonstone. I gave him those, and I talked to him for a bit. Super nice guy — seemed like we kinda hit it off. So he was "All right, I'm gonna read this on the plane and get back to you." About two months later, I get an email from him out of the blue, and I was already starting to think, "Ah, I bet he forgot about me" or whatever. So he emailed me out of the blue and said, "Hey, I read your stuff, I really liked it, and we need people to do some holiday stories for us. Do you want to pitch us some stories? It could be Christmas, it could be Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, whatever. We're doing a holiday special and we need some stories." I said "That'd be great. Any parameters on the characters?" And he said, "No, just send us some ideas, and I'll forward them to the editor." So I sent him a Captain America idea, a Nick Fury idea, and Dr. Strange was the third one. Then, again, nothing, for about four months. So now I'm even more depressed. I'm all "Well, they gave me a chance and I sent them three ideas and they were like, 'This is shit'! Who is this idiot?'" (General laughter)
"Why is he using Dr. Strange?!?"
So I'm waiting and waiting and all of a sudden, out of the blue, I get an email from Sebastian Garner, an editor at Marvel, and he's just like, "Hey! I read your pitches," — this is a Friday in October — "I really like one of them, so I'm gonna call you on Monday so we can talk about it. I'll need the script in a couple of weeks." I had no idea, the whole time, which one it is. I was kinda hoping for Captain America, just because this is kind of Cap's year with the movie and everything. So I was just hoping it was Captain America, and it turned out to be Nick Fury, and —
I would have hoped for the Dr. Strange one! How would you have pulled that off?
Well, you know, the Dr. Strange idea... I liked all three ideas, or else I wouldn't have sent it to him, but I was hoping for Dr. Strange actually in the sense that they're doing so much with Captain America, and they're doing, I guess, a lot with Nick Fury in other books, not that he has his own series, but in books like SECRET WARRIORS and stuff like that. They're not really doing much with Dr. Strange, so I thought, well, maybe if I kinda blow them away with a Dr. Strange story, if they're thinking about doing a Dr. Strange series, they'll be like "Whoa! Let's let this guy try it," you know what I mean? "The Christmas thing he did was so cool." So I thought that was a character where maybe there would be room for a breath of fresh air in terms of a solo series with him. But ultimately, he liked aspects of the Captain America story and he liked the overall vibe of the retro Nick Fury story, so what we ended up doing was actually taking plot elements of the Captain America pitch and incorporating them into the Nick Fury story, so the story that's coming out on December 14 is actually a combination of the two pitches for Captain America and Nick Fury. But to give him credit as an editor, he was right. I think the story actually works better as a Nick Fury story, because it's more surprising as a Nick Fury story than it would have been as a Captain America story, so my hat's off to Sebastian, definitely, because he realized that he liked the twist ending of the Cap story but the setting of the Nick Fury thing, and that it was sort of paying homage to that era of STRANGE TALES and Steranko and all that. And that's how it happened.
The only thing I know thus far about the story is that it takes place before the events of SECRET WARRIORS, and you're using it as an homage to the sixties stuff. So am I correct in assuming that it means an homage to Steranko?
The first draft of the story I did was more of a direct Steranko homage. The year was directly named. I think it was 1968. And there were certain panels where I referred the artist to specific Steranko panels from STRANGE TALES where I said, "I want you to do this effect. I want you to do this effect."
I changed the context of the effects that Steranko was using, but really it was exactly what Steranko did in a few key places, so it was really obviously a tip of the hat to Steranko. And Sebastian read that and said the story was great, the dialogue was great, but he was worried that it was too much of an inside thing. He was worried that it read too much like it was written by someone who worshipped Steranko for other people who worshipped Steranko. And he's like "I love Steranko, which is why I wanted to do this one out of the three you sent me, but it may be too Steranko," so we decided that what I should do is more of an overall approach where I tried to emulate the vibe of those stories as opposed to specific things. He told me to think about WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW? or ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. Definitely a nod to a certain era, but it could have taken place at any time. So I got it and I would say now, there's a few things in there — they're not exactly what Steranko did, but you're gonna look at them and go "Oh, well, there's the Steranko influence right there." But really more now, it's an homage to that era and it's just supposed to capture the colorful fun vibe of those stories and be timeless. There's no date in the story, there's no pop culture references that link it to a certain era. So really, it could have happened in the seventies or the eighties or the nineties or the 2000s before SECRET WAR and SECRET WARRIORS, and in my mind, it's definitely meant to be the late sixties.
This is the part where I ask you what's up with the Steranko love. I mean, I love Steranko (I do), but why do you love Steranko?
You know, I was probably in college when I really started to appreciate him. I don't know, man. I mean, first of all, he himself is such a character, and I love that. I love when a creator in any medium is himself entertaining, but — I don't know. To me, I think he's the best artist ever in comics. Obviously, that's subjective. But he has the sort of classic Kirby storytelling style, but he tried so many things in an era before computers and digital printing and made it easy to do those things. He took some of the collage stuff that Kirby was doing and really take that to the next level and really incorporate photography and things like that.
I thought he was better at it.
Yeah, I definitely think so. I love all the psychedelic imagery that he started to incorporate, and he also did some of the best noir stuff I've ever seen. Some of the illustrated detective novels that he did, some of the two-fisted stuff that he put out. I just think he's a killer artist who can do a variety of different styles. And the thing that I think is most genius about him is just all the crazy innovations. I have a book called Graphic Prince of Darkness, which is in comic book format but is sort of an autobiographical chunk of Steranko's life and career.
|Graphic Prince of Darkness|
He shows crazy stuff in there that I didn't even know he did, like a foldout board game that he'd done for Marvel. That in itself was so genius, because it was a comic book story, but it was also a board game, and it made sense if you read it left to right or up and down. It's just things like — years later, people would be doing stuff like that in PROMETHEA, and readers think, "Oh my God! This is brilliant! And incredible! And genius!" And it is, but he was doing it thirty years earlier.
And he was, if I'm right, back then.
Back then, absolutely. He was just so inventive and innovative and sophisticated. I really think he was the Alan Moore of his day. He really pushed people to test the boundaries of what was possible in terms of telling a story visually in comic books. I think he really saw that you could do more than just panel-to-panel sequential storytelling, that you could do more with the format. And also, the dude was an escape artist and a rock star and a bare knuckle boxer and everything. He's just a legend that actually lives up to the hype. And I met him in 2008 and he's an awesome dude.
You mention Kirby, but I always kinda thought Steranko kind of looked like a mix of Kirby and Eisner, which is really, really cool, if you think about it.
Yeah, I would say his individual panel compositions, I think, especially the early STRANGE TALES stuff when he first took over from Kirby, that composition is very Kirby-esque. But the panel flow, I never really thought about that, but I think you're right on the money actually, I think his panel-to-panel flow is very Eisneresque in the way he uses caption boxes and dialogue balloons and stuff like that. I never really made that connection, but I think you're absolutely right.
I just remember this one page where it's just a phone hanging off its cord and it took up the whole page and I remember looking at it thinking, "That's something Eisner would do."
I'm sure all those guys of that generation, as well as many artists now, were heavily influenced by Eisner, and rightfully so. But yeah, I think Steranko was the guy who was doing all those storytelling innovations in an era when it wasn't really being done, and he was really cool with all the psychedelic stuff.
And one thing about Steranko too is that he was the perfect artist for the era in which he worked. If a guy like Steranko came onto the scene in the fifties or in the mid-seventies, I don't know if he would have caught on the way he did in the late sixties, when, you know--
It was trippy.
Yeah, exactly. There was that drug culture. People were doing that and they looked at the Steranko stuff and I think they probably looked at the Dr. Strange stuff of the same era and thought, "This is far out, man."
Which is really ironic, if you think about it.
Yeah. But Steranko was the man for his time, and that's why he rose to the heights that he did.
I agree. I don't think anybody's had as much impact with as little amount of work as Steranko did. Everyone else has a gigantic amount of work, and then there's Steranko.
Well, certainly his peers — the people you mention him with in the same breath — definitely have much larger bodies of work than him for sure. I think when you talk about Steranko, you talk about Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams--
Yeah, and those guys were great, but they did a thousand times more than he ever did.
And you know, he did it and then he got out. And he's still remembered today.
I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he himself is such a character; he's such a personality, too. You can get Steranko to come to your convention, and he's gonna cause a scene in the best possible way, you know what I mean?
And how many people can say that they have at least two superheroes modeled after him?
Well, I know Mister Miracle, who's the other one?
I'm thinking of The Escapist, from Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Clay. He's not technically a comic book character, really. I thought he was just based on the Spirit, but it turns out he's based on Steranko! Are you kidding me? That's like the second one!
That's so cool.
|Both these superheroes were based on Jim Steranko. That should tell you something.|
Can you give me a blurb about "Old St. Nick," your Fury Christmas story? Just a solicit.
On the night before Christmas, Nick Fury infiltrates a top secret Hydra outpost on a mission of extreme importance. And that's really all I can say without beginning to give too much away.
This next question was asked by London Elliott. You previously mentioned that you crafted a new villain for Nick Fury. Since all great villains are a reflection of the protagonist, what characteristics did you see in Nick Fury that led you to create your villain, and how does the villain reflect those characteristics?
You know, that's a really great, thoughtful question, and I wish I could give a better answer than what I'm about to give you, and the reason I can't is because it's such a short story, so the more I talk about the villain, the more inevitable that spoilers come out.
We get that.
What I can say is that he's a Hydra agent. He's a saboteur, and his code name is The Scar. And even more than London meant, he's kind of a mirror image of Nick Fury. He's basically a younger Nick Fury who works for Hydra. He's sort of this hotshot Hydra agent, and he even sort of looks like Nick Fury a bit. Nick Fury obviously has an eyepatch; The Scar has a scar going over one eye. They wear sort of a similar outfit. And I know these are all superficial things, and that's not what London meant, but I can't give you too much more, but he wears the Hydra version of the classic SHIELD jumpsuit. He has a lot in common with Nick Fury, actually. And that's really all I can say, and I apologize. I'd be happy to talk much more about it after, but if I say much more, people are going to start to figure out what's going on.
You know, I'm gonna get the comic anyway, but you just completely sold it to me. I have this unbelievable attraction to evil twins, that whole motif. You give me the evil version of a guy, and that's it. I'm buying the comic.
That's funny, because I honestly find reverse-hero villains to be really boring. That was my big complaint with the second Iron Man movie. I understand that they used Obadiah Stane in the first movie. That way, they don't have to explain the villain's powers; they've explained Iron Man's powers and boom, here's a bad guy who does the same thing and he's bigger and stronger. But in Iron Man 2, I'm sitting there, and thought, "Well, in the first one, he fought one dude in an armored suit, and now he's fighting a bunch of evil armored suits. Really? Where's the Mandarin?" But for this one, it really made sense for the story. Normally, I'm not the one who's all "Oh, this time we're gonna have Batman fight an evil Batman." I mean, I know there's the Wrath--
Yeah, I forgot about him. But for this story, it made perfect sense. And maybe this is why it was the right choice for the first Iron Man movie. Like I say, if you understand the hero, then you can understand the evil version of the hero. And for a story like this, where it's a new villain, I wanted people to immediately understand things about him, so by making him an evil Nick Fury, people are already making connections in their mind about what he's supposed to be like.
How many pages is it?
It's only eight pages.
So it establishes it quickly.
Yeah, it's a concise way of saying, "This is who this guy is." It's just eight pages, but I gotta tell you, I feel like I tell a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end with a nice resolution. Three years ago, it'd've scared the hell out of me, if I'd gotten a call from Marvel that's "We want you to do something, and it'll only be eight pages." I would've been "Oh my God, what the hell can I do in eight pages?" because I wasn't as confident with my pacing or anything like that. I wasn't confident at the speed with which I could present exposition and not have it seem forced or anything. But over the last couple of years, I've done three eleven-page stories and three six-page stories for Moonstone, and that's really helped me to sharpen those particular tools in my toolbox, basically. So when they said eight pages, I thought, "I could do anything in eight pages, no problem." So it came at a good time. A couple of years ago, it'd've scared the hell out of me and I don't think the story I would have produced would have made me as happy as I am with this.
I think compression is a skill that a lot of writers today can, if not learn, use.
For sure. My early stuff is definitely very modern, in a cinematic, decompressed style. The anthology book that I put out in 2006, the first GENERAL JACK COSMO — I could do that in a lower page count now, no problem. Now. And still have the same story and the same impact, I think.
Your artist for "Old St. Nick" is Sebastian Piriz. Looking at his bibliography, he's done CAPED, WAR OF THE ELEMENTALS, GAUZE. What can you tell us about him so far?
|CAPED, one of Sebastian Piriz's works|
First of all, he did a great job on the story. I cannot be happier with the way the story actually looks. The colorist did a fantastic job also. I feel so bad now, I don't remember the guy's name. I never personally interacted with him. I just saw his work, but he did a fantastic job also. But when the editor Sebastian sent me some of the artist Sebastian's samples and said, "This is the guy I think I'm gonna put on your story," immediately I thought, "Oh, this guy's a fantastic artist." But. It was not what I envisioned for the story. I envisioned someone who had, if not a Steranko-type style, maybe a Paul Dini or a Darwyn Cooke. Something more classic. And Sebastian's stuff looked very modern and influenced by a lot of the European artists. He's from Argentina, and I think with the Central American and South American artists, you can see that European influence in their styles. So immediately, I thought he was an amazing artist, and that he could draw anything, but it's not what I pictured. But when he started turning in pages, immediately I realized I had nothing to worry about. The guy's storytelling was so great, and as far as his actual line art was concerned, he really streamlined his style. So it actually looks more like something like The Venture Brothers now, which is perfect, because that's the visual tone I wanted. The Venture Brothers has a very retro feel to it. So I started to see thumbnails from him, and I thought, "Oh my God, this guy's f*cking jackpot." He's a really nice guy, I think he's younger than me, based on his Facebook pictures--
How old are you?
I'm 33. I'll be 34 in about three weeks, not long after the story comes out.
Happy birthday in advance!
Thank you! Thank you very much! So yeah, super-nice guy. Could not be happier with the work he did on this story. We really enjoyed working together. I'm super, super happy with that story. And he actually had some pretty complimentary things to say about my story, which meant a lot to me. He said that when he got the email from Sebastian at Marvel, he said his first thought was "Oh my God, yes! This is what I've been dreaming of for however many years! It's a Marvel story, I can't wait!" His second thought was, "Oh my God, it's a Christmas story. Those are always so lame." (Lotsa laughter) "But I don't care, because it's Marvel!" But then he got my script, and he said "This isn't lame at all. It is a Christmas story, but it doesn't feel like it. It's really just an awesome Nick Fury story." And to me, that was absolutely what I wanted to do. If I had any Christmas story that I really wanted to use as a model for this, it was the LOBO PARAMILITARY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL.
To me, that's the greatest Christmas comic of all time, and I just thought, it's gotta be so awesome like that, where the awesomeness of the story transcends the feel-good Christmas atmosphere of the whole thing. And I was just happy that he had that reaction, and I hope fans do as well.
One more Nick Fury question, and it's really a two-part question. Since you're a film guy as well, Nick Fury: black or white?
Well, in my story, he's white. It's classic Nick Fury. But I don't mind either way. I think it'd be weird in the mainstream Marvel Universe if they decided he was just gonna look like Samuel L. Jackson or something, but in the Ultimate universe, I have absolutely no problem with it, and I'd love to write either one. The only difference to me is that Ultimate Nick Fury is more serious and less of a sh*t-talker, but to me, they're pretty close. I'd love to write either one. But if I had to choose, definitely white Nick Fury, only because that's classic Nick Fury. I really don't have a lot of interest in doing modern Nick Fury story, unless they got to the point where they say, "All right, post-SECRET WARRIORS, we don't know what to do with him, can you craft his place in the Marvel Universe?" Something like that, some huge thing, I'd love to. But other than that, any Nick Fury story that I wanna tell, it'd have to have that timeless vibe like the Christmas story does. So I guess if I were to write modern Nick Fury, I'd rather do Ultimate Nick Fury. But I like them both.
Now part two of that question: Samuel L. Jackson or the Hoff?
You know, that's the kind of decision that you hope you never have to make your whole life. Hoping it never comes down to that — you know, obviously, Samuel L. Jackson has a lot more street cred when it comes to being an actor, but by the same token... The Hoff is Knight Rider, man! That was a huge part of my childhood!
He's also Mitch from Baywatch.
He is. I mean, I wasn't watching Baywatch for the Hoff, but I was watching Baywatch. Look, with the right script, the right movie, and the right director — the Nick Fury movie that the Hoff did was not any of those things, but with the right script, the right director, and the right project, I think Hasselhoff could have been — well, not now, but back when he made the Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD movie — I think he could have been an awesome Nick Fury. I really do. He would have never been my first choice, but there's no reason he couldn't have been if the actual production itself had been quality. I think Sam Jackson has an unfair advantage because he's in really awesome Marvel adaptations and Hasselhoff was in a terrible one. But if you put that David Hasselhoff, if, in some alternate reality, Hassselhoff was cast in those Marvel movies doing all the same things that Sam Jackson does, I think he'd be perfect. And you put him in a more classic Nick Fury costume, I think he'd be awesome.
What are you reading now that you would recommend to anyone reading this?
Well, right now, I'm trying very hard to get up to date with the happenings in the main Marvel Universe, because I'm hoping to get an opportunity to play in that sandbox a little bit more, so right now I think the thing I would recommend the most in that regard — I really like X-MEN: SCHISM. I'm only three issues into it so far, but it's pretty good. I really dig it. I also tried catching up on some of the new 52 stuff. BATWOMAN is phenomenal.
BATWOMAN is amazing.
Every time I turn the page, I'm just blown away again by J.H. Williams' art. So if I could recommend one DC book, it'd be BATWOMAN. If I could recommend on Marvel book, it'd be X-MEN: SCHISM. I know that's already over, but for me, it's new right now. UNCANNY X-FORCE — it's really dark, much darker than stuff I usually like. Every time I read it, I think it's so heavy and so dark, but at the same time I keep wanting to read the next issue, because it is very compelling. And the characters are all great — I love the entire team roster. I'm super-stoked that Deathlok is now involved. He's just one of those third-tier characters I've always loved. So yeah, UNCANNY X-FORCE I'd recommend.
MARVEL HOLIDAY SPECIAL 2011 is out next week, December 14, but Aaron Shaps and Sebastian Piriz's Nick Fury Christmas story, "Old St. Nick," will be available on the Marvel app later today and will be available until the comic itself comes out on the 14th!