Yesterday we asked 2 Guns creator Steven Grant to tell us what hidden influences lurked underneath his fun crime romp. Today we’re picking his knowledgeable brain about how to be a writer, and what comics need to change to survive.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about being a good writer?
That no one knows what a good writer is. Seriously, there’s no consensus. All it takes for something to be considered good writing is someone claiming loudly enough that it is and no one claiming loudly enough that it isn’t. Really good writing is frequently brushed aside for reasons unrelated to writing quality. Not that I’m making any implications about my own work, mind you.
What’s the worst piece of common advice for writers?
“Write what you know.” What you know is boring. Write what you can imagine, and research it well enough to get it right.
You stopped reading comics for a while, and came back because of the advantages of digital comics on a tablet. Are you entertaining any notions of writing a digitally exclusive comic and playing with the new format, a la Thrillbent?
I’m not. What I like is reading print comics on a 10″ tablet. But it comes down to content, not format. The new format hasn’t generated a lot of content that interests me yet, and probably won’t until people get over the new toy aspect.
Comics tend to go through very heavy genre periods in terms of sales, but seem to have diversified and flourished this century. You’ve mentioned “All-Star Western” as DC’s best book currently. Do you feel any genres are currently absent from the comic landscape?
Most genres are represented in comics, just not especially well. Reinventing the wheel is the default mode for comics. I was talking with someone the other day about what passes for noir crime in comics, how people regale in the trappings and completely miss the core spirit. That sort of thing is commonplace, and dull as dirt.
What’s a project you’ve never gotten around to, but still want to do?
Too many to mention, and I’ve generally found that ideas are of their time, and often not worth returning to after the fact. There are always new ideas.
You’re reviving Gil Kane’s His Name Is…Savage!, arguably the first original graphic novel (and if not that, then Blackmark, another Gil Kane creation). How did that come about?
At San Diego one year a producer — who I’ve since become very good friends with — asked if I’d be interested in consulting on existing comics properties for development into films, like say if a studio decides it wants to make a western, what good western properties in comics might be worth going after? And anything that ended up going into production, I’d get tiny piece of. I figured what the hell. The first thing he asked about was spy comics, and I suggested His Name Is… Savage. They went through a long negotiating process, and when that was complete decided they wanted a comic book, so they asked me to write one.
You worked with Kane near the end of his life and are an outspoken admirer his work. What’s guiding you in handling one of your hero’s creations? How do you pay due to the work without falling into the mistakes of a Poodle Springs?
It’s a bit tricky, but Gil and I had discussed reviving Savage many times, and I know he felt the concept needed updating, so I don’t feel any guilt about doing that. The concept is simple enough to cross time but the story Gil did is very much rooted in the era of its birth. Replicating it would be a waste of time. As I mentioned above, it’s a matter of honoring the spirit of the original but not getting too hung up on the trappings. But it’s the same character, and plays off his original situation. Poodle Springs, I don’t know. I could fall that way. You never know until you’re done. But I think getting art that evokes Gil’s vision of the character will be much more difficult. The story and character I’m not that worried about.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re a bit of an iconoclast. What institutions do you think comics most needs to tear down to grow and thrive?
All of them.
You often discuss comics in comparison (and contrast to) music, film, and politics. What lessons do you think the comics industry most needs to learn from the state of those other fields?
Perspective, mainly. When I started working with Marvel in 1978, for instance, I’d just come out of a relatively small Midwestern town, Madison WI, and moved to New York City, which to me was a hub of all great pop culture in America. I’d written film and music criticism in Madison. Suddenly I’m surrounded by people who grew up in NYC and not one of them has a clue about any music that’s not getting lots of airplay, or independent or European film, and they’re all raving about how great Lynda Carter is as Wonder Woman, that sort of thing. I was far more awash in “edge culture” in Madison than they were in NYC where tons of it was happening. It was quite a shock to realize how provincial New Yorkers were, and how sequestered people in the comics business at the time resolutely kept themselves. Considering how offended they were at constantly being culturally marginalized, they were very ready to marginalize anything else they could. So I always thought, and I realize this sounds very condescending, more perspective would be useful. When I got the chance, I decided to make that a signature idea.
The last time Brendan asked a writer some weird questions, he ended up hearing Christine Lakin’s tale of hotboxing before prom and then filming a PSA for prom sobriety hungover. He also did some comics iconoclasm of his own when he indicted the Supervillains Too Lame to Be in a Man of Steel Movie.