It is always a pleasure to speak with Jonathan Maberry, one of the hardest working authors on the scene today. He stopped by the closet recently to discuss comic book writing and his other projects...and pay close attention to that brief mention about a novelization in the works for an upcoming movie. It's something to howl with delight about...
I was all set with a bunch of questions regarding your Marvel Comics scripting, but you've answered them already in another interview. There is one thing I'm curious about, though: how did you handle the panel by panel flow of the comic story, and how detailed were your scripts for the artist?
In the gap between Marvel reaching out to ask me if I wanted to write for them (world’s dumbest question) and getting my first assignment, I read a boatload of comics and studied the modern form. Comics have evolved since the days when I first read them. I took a few and practiced writing the scripts for them. Kind of a retro-engineering approach. Then Marvel sent me some sample scripts. Turns out I was pretty close to the mark.
But there’s more to it than that, of course. Like anything there are tricks to the trade that the most experienced comic book writers know. Guys like Garth Ennis, Steve Niles and Alan Moore make it look effortless, but there’s a lot that goes into it.
It’s also a team process. The writer pitches a story to the editor, who usually makes a few changes to more smoothly fit it into the long-range plans for that title and to work it into the overall continuity of Marvel. Then the writer hands in a beat sheet that outlines the story based on where the story points will fall on the pages. When that’s approved, the writer does the script. My first story was a 32-page special (Punisher: Naked Kill), my second was an 8-page Wolverine short (Ghosts, the back-up feature in Wolverine: The Anniversary).
The writer decides on the number of panels per page and gives the artist an idea of what should be in the panels. That sounds simple, but it isn’t. For some panels you can be very simple, like:
Tight on Black Panther as she reacts.
Some panels require much more direction, like:
Inside Deadalus Tower MICKEY FANE is introducing the place to some prospective customers. He’s tall, handsome in an oily way. A Tony Stark on the Dark side of the Force. Nicely dressed, big smile, rings, expensive watch. He’s center stage talking to two Middle Eastern-looking men in dark suits. Behind him we see Frank and Dirtbox coming through the revolving door. The lobby of Deadalus Tower is polished marble, brass, huge windows. Lots of people, a security desk with guards.
But even then, the artist has to read a lot into the description and make those words become fully realized art. That’s extremely difficult. I’ve been fortunate in that the first three artists I’ve worked with have been very intuitive and deeply creative. Tomm Coker’s art on Ghosts, the Wolverine short, was nothing short of awesome. Laurence Campbell brought elements to Punisher: Naked Kill that definitely enhanced my script; and the art I’m seeing from Will Conrad as he interprets my Black Panther scripts shows a real sense of action and movement. Each of them is a different kind of artist, each of them brings a great deal to the mix.
Which comic books did you read growing up and who are your favorite characters?
First comic I bought was Fantastic Four #68 (His Mission: Destroy the Fantastic Four!) 1967. I was nine. From that point on I was hooked, and even though I occasionally grabbed a DC comic, I was a Marvel fan through and through. The F.F. were-–and still are—-my all time favorites. But I was also a huge fan of Thor, the Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Sgt. Fury, SHIELD, Doctor Strange--geez, the list goes on. And some of the odder stuff, like Warlock and Howard the Duck. And I really loved Marvel’s horror comics, particularly the landmark Tomb of Dracula.
As far DC goes, I followed Jack Kirby to Marvel for the Fourth World books: New Gods, Mister Miracle and the Forever People. I also grabbed the Neal Adams/Denny O’Neill run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow.
In a quirky twist of fate, one of my favorite Marvel characters was T’Challa, the Black Panther, who was introduced in F.F. in the 1960s. He was so noble and brilliant that he appealed to me right away. And it was through a Fantastic Four comic (issue #119) that I first learned about Apartheid. I mean…this was 1972! I was a kid from a very white, very racist neighborhood and here was a story about racism that really opened my eyes. And…now I’m writing Black Panther. Fate doesn’t get cooler than that.
Oh…and, yes, I’m going to write the F.F. into a future issue of Black Panther. It’s a moral imperative.
Speaking of newsstand reading, which horror magazines did you read growing up and did you have to hide them from your parents?
Famous Monsters of Filmland was my bible. I had nearly every issue (some of the, admittedly, bought with half-covers from used bookstores). I read and re-read them. Forrest J. Ackerman was kind of a saint in my private cosmology. So sad that he passed. Sad, too, that I never got to meet him. All we had is a couple of phone conversations.
I also collected old Weird Tales magazines. Found a bunch of them from the 30s and 40s in a used bookstore. Owner didn’t know what they were and couldn’t have cared less. Sadly, they were lost in a house fire.
You've written nonfiction, novels, comic books, short stories--have I missed anything?--so what's next?
Yeah, I just closed a juicy two-book deal with Simon & Schuster for a pair of Young Adult post-apocalyptic zombie novels –ROT & RUIN and DUST & DECAY. I put a whole new spin on the way people react to zombies, including industries that develop as a result of having zombies as a part of daily life. Part of that first novel will be published as a novella in THE NEW DEAD, an anthology edited by Christopher Golden for St. Martins Press (for 2010). That antho also includes stories by Max Brooks, Brian Keene, Joe Lansdale, David Wellington, and a bunch of other first rate authors.
Who do YOU read and why?
I’m a book carnivore. I have several books going at once, including an audio book I listen to as I drive. I love thrillers, horror, science fiction, some nonfiction (usually as part of research), mysteries and young adult fiction. My favorite authors are James Lee Burke, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Orson Scott Card, Peter Straub, James Rollins, Doug Preston, David Morrell, MJ Rose, Brian Keene, and a ton of others.
Vampire Hunters and Other Enemies of Evil is your next non-fiction book, co-written with David Kramer. Tell us about it.
My next to come out (August 2009) will be THEY BITE!, also with David Kramer who was my co-author on the Bram Stoker Award-winning CRYPTOPEDIA. David’s a first class writer and researcher. They Bite! is a look at supernatural predators in folklore, fiction and pop culture and includes interviews with John Carpenter, Holly Black, Jack Ketchum, Ray Garton, Max Brooks and a host of other folks from the horror community. Plus a ton of gorgeous artwork from horror and fantasy artists from around the world.
We’re currently writing VAMPIRE HUNTERS and Other Enemies of Evil, scheduled for release in summer 2010. In that one we look at monster hunters of all kind –again tracing them in folklore, fiction and fact. We have chapters on vampires, werewolves, serial killers, super heroes, pulp fiction, and so on. We just wrapped interviews with Doug Jones (Hellboy), Amber Benson (Tara, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Laurell K. Hamilton, and others. And the art we have for this one goes way over the top.
You mentioned this might be your last non-fiction book for a while. Why is that?
Well, I’ve been doing nonfiction for a lot of years. Vampire Hunters will be my 20th nonfic since 1991. Time to take a break. Besides, between comics and novels, my plate is pretty darn full for the foreseeable future. And when I do come up for air I have plenty of new ideas for my agent to pitch.
Knowing you, you've already got your next novel in the works. Can you tell us about it?
That’s a more complicated question than you know! I wrapped the sequel to PATIENT ZERO. The second in that series is THE DRAGON FACTORY, in which Special Ops agent Joe Ledger squares off against scientists who are using cutting-edge genetics and transgenics to complete the Nazi Eugenics program and to create pathogens for ethnic cleansing. That’ll be out in April 2010. I have a movie adaptation (that I can’t really talk about) coming out in October of this year, so expect an announcement from Universal Pictures. I’m currently writing two novels –ROT & RUIN, the first of the Young Adult novels for Simon & Schuster, which is due on my editor’s desk at the end of August; and THE KING OF PLAGUES, the third Joe Ledger novel –about a scientist who has discovered that the Tenth Plague of Egypt (the death of the First Born from the story of Moses) was a pathogen, and he’s recovered it and is weaponizing it for use by terrorists. That’s due to a different editor December first.
And before you ask…no, I don’t sleep.
For those who would like to meet you in person, What's your upcoming convention schedule like, and tell us about the Writers Coffeehouse meetings.
I’ll be at Hypericon in Nashville this weekend; at Dragon*Con in Atlanta over Labor Day Weekend; at ThrillerFest in New York mid-July; Horror Realm in Pittsburgh September 18-20; Bouchercon in Indianapolis, October 15-18. And a bunch of others will probably come up. Probably Chiller Theater, Fangoria, Monster Mania and some comic cons.
As for the Writers Coffeehouse, that meets on the last Sunday of every month at Saxby Coffee in Doylestown, PA., from noon to 3pm. All writers (published or not) are welcome. I also have a blog that deals with writing and publishing. Upcoming interviews include Laurell K. Hamilton, Jack Ketchum, Tom Piccirilli, John Connolly and others. Check it out.
I found that very interesting.
I've written quite a lot of fan fiction (Thor, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer etc) on sites such as fanfiction.net and Alvaroe's comics boards. However I have no experience of writing in the panel by panel comics format. So it was interesting to hear some of Jonathan's comments about writing for Marvel.
Incidentally I was published recently in the US with a collection of science fiction and alternate history short stories.
The link to my author page is:
Posted by: David Scholes | June 04, 2009 at 08:48 PM