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AN INTERVIEW WITH KURT BUSIEK

ORIGNALLY FEATURED IN 1997- by Erich Schoeneweiss

Few people could get away with the work load that Kurt Busiek carries. He not only writes four comic books, but he does them so well that fans are becoming spoiled, making other books pale in comparison. We had an opportunity to interview Kurt about not only his work, but his feelings about the industry today.

ES: People seem to regard Untold Tales of Spider-Man as the best Spider-Man book in the line, if not the best book Marvel is publishing. Did you expect this kind of positive reaction?
KB: I didnít expect it at all. I thought weíd be able to do a fun book and maybe hook enough readers to keep going, but I never expected the kind of critical reaction that weíve gotten. I just wanted to write it, because I thought it would be a fun project and interesting technical challenge, weaving the stories in and out among the original stuff without making it dependent on the reader being familiar with the original stuff. And of course, the teen-age Spideyís a great character, so that partís a blast, too.

ES: What does the reaction tell you about the fans?

KB: That theyíre highly perceptive people with a fine taste for quality comics, of course! Well, except for those fans who donít think that Untold Tales is the bestÖ.Seriously, while Iím flattered by those fans, the fact remains that the other Spider-Man books, which cost more, sell better than Untold Tales by a substantial margin. So Iím glad the folks who like my book best are so vocal, but theyíre not the majority, sadly enough.

ES: What do you think about the turns that Peter Parker has taken over the last few years?
KB: Not that much. A lot of it is stuff that I wouldnít have done myself (heck, I wouldnít have brought the clone back in the first place) but thatís how it goes. I think the core team is doing their best to get the books back on track and make them something the audience can get really excited about (as opposed to really angry about), and I think they have a good shot at it. Iíd rather they hadnít brought Norman back, but Iíd got to admit that having him back opens up all kinds of dramatic possibilities for the books. So Iíll wait and see what happens. The Untold fans certainly want Peter back the way he used to be, but theyíre still outnumbered.

ES: What about the Spider-Baby?

KB: Donít look at me. I didnít take her!

ES: What goes into your plotting of Untold Tales? How do you decide what will fit into where in the Spider-Man continuity?

KB: I read through the run of Amazing Spider-Man, looking for gaps and opportunities, or character or plot points that make a good springboard for an Ďuntold taleí. It depends on what fits where, and what the characters are doing, and itís a great excuse to re-read and study some terrific comics.

ES: Whatís Thunderbolts about?
KB: It deals with a group of heroes who arise post-Onslaught, to take up the standard that the FF and Avengers set. That puts them in the media spotlight, and makes them the focus of a lot of hopes and fears, a lot of expectations and such, as a bunch of new faces are expected to be the equal of Earthís Mightiest Heroes right out of the box. Thereís more to it than that, but Iím not going to reveal everything ahead of time. Suffice it to say that there are secrets to be revealed, and youíll have to read the book to find out what they are.

ES: Are these all new characters or have they been hiding in the Marvel Universe?

KB: There are back stories there, some mysteries to be solved. The secrets will be revealed in the book itself.

ES: Is there pressure involved in writing the book thatís supposed to fill the void left by Avengers and Fantastic Four?

KB: So far, only by me. But the characters are under tremendous pressure.

ES: What does writing Thunderbolts allow you to do that maybe an Astro City doesnít?

KB: Astro City is a book where I explore the super-hero genre, where I do the kind of stories that donít get done in most comics. With Thunderbolts, I can do the kind of straightforward, roller-coaster adventure/character drama that I avoid in Astro City, and do it the best I possibly can. Iíve always wanted to write a book as exciting and involving as Steve Englehartís run on Avengers and Thunderbolts gives me a shot at doing that.

ES: Did Marvels plant the seed to do Astro City, or was Astro City a concept that you tested out with Marvels?

KB: Itís a mixture of both. Iíve always liked thinking about what itís like for other people in super-hero stories, the people we donít get to see much of. And before Marvels, I did a couple of stories along those lines- a story about a mechanic at the Stark Enterprises motor pool who keeps applying for the Iron Man job. I was already pursuing that kind of idea before Marvels came along, but it gave me the chance to do some of those stories on a big, splashy canvas, and its success gave me the chance to do more of them on a regular basis.

ES: What is your vision and view of Astro City?

KB: I think the world is the main character. Iím exploring the genre and so I need a genre context. Weíre not following any one set of characters linear through time; weíre wandering around in the world and Iím looking at whatever interesting stories it affords. As for my Ďvisioní, well, Iím finding out as I go along. I think that the superhero genre is as rich in possibility as any other, so I intentionally created Astro City as a vehicle for exploration. If I knew exactly what was coming, Iíd have to do something else. The sense of discover with the book is a big part of itís appeal.

ES: Who would you consider the quintessential comic book character and why?

KB: I donít really think there is a quintessential character. I think comics are capable of so many different and various things that to pick one would be like picking a quintessential prose fiction character. Is Dracula more quintessential than Billy Budd? Itís a question that only works if there is an ideal out there that can be approached, but in any art form, there are so many ideals that no one example can be better than the others.

That said, though, I think Mickey Mouse makes a good candidate. Instantly recognizable, highly sympathetic- he can serve as a reader-identification character in all kinds of stories: from mystery to adventure to romance. My favorites are Iron Man, Hawkeye and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), but I donít know that theyíre terribly quintessential.

ES: What do you think about the state of the comics industry now?
KB: Jeeze, ask a simple question, why donít you? I think that there are more good, enjoyable comics out now than at any time in the industryís history. However, I donít think that the mainstream books that get the most attention and that are the most widely distributed, are attracting new readers. They arenít accessible enough. As a result, weíre losing readers faster than we are gaining new ones and thatís a recipe for disaster. Iíd rather go back to the way things were 50 years ago, when comics were a real mass market- sold everywhere, read by millions, and aimed at lots of different kinds of reader, not just one narrow (and shrinking) audience.

ES: Do you think writers and artists are on an equal plain?
KB: I donít think itís a case or writers or artists but of individuals. Garth Ennis has a lot more clout than a lot of artists, but Travis Charest has a lot more clout than a lot of writers.

ES: Your voice is heard on-line in message boards and forumsÖwhy? Is it curiosity on your part, or something that you do for fun?

KB: The main reason is that I enjoy it. But I think itís a good idea to stay aware of what readers are talking about, and to stay in communication with retailers, other pros, fans and all sorts of people connected to comics.

Copyright©2000 Erich Schoeneweiss