The following interview was originally submitted to www.crossroadswriters.org.
Interview with Robert Venditti
by Rachel Helie
Robert Venditti is the New York Times bestselling author of The Homeland Directive and the sci-fi graphic novel series The Surrogates, the first installment of which was adapted into a feature film starring Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames. He also writes the graphic novel adaptations of Rick Riordan's bestselling Percy Jackson and the Olympians novels. His most recent project is the ongoing monthly comic book series X-O Manowar for Valiant Entertainment.
Rachel: Robert, your participation at Crossroads, along with other comic book industry talents, has really made a difference in encouraging access to writers of all shapes and sizes. I just read X-O MANOWAR #2 the other day and hear great things about it from others…namely that #1 sold out several times and that Valiant is producing some really great work these days! Congratulations! Your work with X-O has made my list, along with other Valiant titles. The blend of history and sci-fi was right up my alley! How does working in digital, something you did for the first time in THE SURROGATES: CASE FILES, change the collaboration of a writer and artist? Is it essentially the same process or are there some aspects that alter? How does it improve upon the traditional methods?
ROBERT VENDITTI: Brett Weldele and I have a done two graphic novels with each other, so our process is pretty established. It also helps that Brett handles all of the art himself—even the lettering—so it’s really just the two of us working with Chris Staros at Top Shelf (publisher of THE SURROGATES). I will say that the content of THE SURROGATES: CASE FILES lends itself well to the digital format, and Brett’s style, particularly his unique color palette, really shines on a screen. There’s this one page in the first issue where he draws a dusting of fall leaves, and the colors really pop. It’s one of my favorite moments.
|Gail Simone, Venditti, and Nathan Edmondson|
at the 2011 Crossroad Writers Conference.
Photo by Gerald R. Lucas
VENDITTI: Writing for a monthly book is a big change from the graphic novel writing I’m accustomed to doing. There are always multiple issues in various stages of production, which took getting used to, since I tend to be a linear writer. With a monthly book, there’s also a need to reorient the reader every issue—without making it read like you’re reorienting them—and I’m still learning how to do that as effectively as I can. On the plus side, you have a new book on the shelf every month instead of a graphic novel every other year, so that’s nice.
On the research side, since X-O MANOWAR has a heavy historical element, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to get the details right, particularly in the opening half of the first issue, where we see the main character as a Visigoth in the 5th Century. I won’t claim that everything is accurate, but if I got something wrong, it wasn’t for lack of effort. I spent almost a whole day trying to find out whether or not Visigoth saddles would’ve had stirrups at the Battle of Pollentia. Historians seem to differ on that point, so I went with no stirrups, since that would look different than every other saddle that’s been drawn in a comic.
Rachel: You have, like a lot of comic writers, a handful of projects going simultaneously. How do you keep your feet on the ground functioning as a writer in so many worlds? What is something that you do to keep yourself present for the stories as individual worlds?
VENDITTI: I divide my days up into even chunks, working on a separate project for a couple of hours at a time, so I’m always moving ahead on everything at once. At least that’s my plan. Inevitably, something of the this-needs-to-be-done-right-now variety comes up, and the day gets blown apart. The alternative method would be to not have a plan and let each day decide for itself what you’re going to work on, but of course when you do that, nothing happens and you end up wasting a day. So I start each day with a plan, and even though I know going in the plan isn’t going to be followed, I allow myself to hope that it will. I’m an eternal optimist.
Rachel: X-O MANOWAR has been described as “the cornerstone of the Valiant brand”(Simons, CBR). With the challenge of producing a month by month for the first time while this precedent exists… how’s that pressure treating you? What’s something you do to wind down in the midst of such a wild schedule?
VENDITTI: Honestly, I try not to think about things like that. If I considered it my responsibility to make X-O MANOWAR the “cornerstone of the Valiant brand,” I’d probably freeze up at the keyboard. I just try to write the best comics I can the way I write them, and hope the audience will respond positively. Thankfully, things have gone well so far, but with a monthly book you’re only as good as the latest issue, so there’s no time to rest on your laurels.
As for winding down . . . I do anything that has nothing to do with writing. But it all makes its way back to the page in one way or another. All writing is autobiographical in the sense that it’s made from the writer’s influences and experiences, so on days—and there’s plenty of them—when the words just don’t seem to come, I go out and make some of those experiences.
Rachel: It’s been said that THE SURROGATES “reads like Philip K. Dick writing an episode for The Wire” (i09). In my book, that is some damn fine praise! How do you continue to push yourself to kick it up to the next level or is it a “slow and steady wins the race” game? Do you pay much attention to your reviews (I mean other than when an interviewer forces you too) or do you find it distracting?
VENDITTI: I’d like to say I don’t read reviews, but it’s hard to ignore them. Especially in the digital age, when reviews are posted online in advance of the book’s release, so for a week or so, they’re the only response that’s out there in the world. I try not to get too wrapped up in them, though. I just keep my head down and do what I think a story needs. Whether I’m successful in the end is up to each individual reader to decide for themself.
Rachel: Your work seems to push toward the “new”. How do you find your challenges and adapt to a changing marketplace? What would you say has been your most valuable learning experience over the years and what is one challenge you have on your mental list that remains unchecked?
VENDITTI: I make a conscious effort to do something different with each new project. So far in my career, I’ve written cyberpunk sci-fi (THE SURROGATES), political/medical thriller (THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE), middle-grade fantasy (the adaptations of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), young-adult vampire romance (the adaptation of the Blue Bloods novel), and now with X-O MANOWAR, mainstream superhero comics. A lot of people will say you should brand yourself with a particular genre and build your career from there, but if I did that, I think I’d feel like I was in a rut. Changing things up keeps me engaged with the story.
As for challenges I’d still like to tackle, writing a prose novel is definitely at the top of the list.