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Joe Casey Interview conducted by Chris Ryall
Joe Casey is currently in the running for the title of Busiest Guy in Comics. What else do you call a guy who will soon be writing the highest profile characters for three different companies: Uncanny X-Men for Marvel, Adventures of Superman for DC and Wildcats for Wildstorm? Not to mention his creator-owned title, Codeflesh, that makes up one half of the new Image title, Double Image?
Joe previously made a name for himself writing Cable, a short stint on Hulk following Peter David's run, and X-Men: Children of the Atom for Marvel as well the Superman redux Mr. Majestic. Now, as his work is going to reach a higher profile than ever before with the relaunch of the X-Men line in May, we wanted to take a few minutes with Joe and see what his life's been like. While he still has a few spare minutes, that is.
First, I'll save you a little time in answering and go into your background-born and schooled in Tennessee, moved to LA to play some music and then got back into writing, and soon got a comics gig. Now, when you majored in creative writing, was the goal, or at least partially, to write comics? Or screenplays, novels, advertising copy? WAS there a definite goal or were you just coming out here to play music?
I had three goals in college: Sleeping late, chasing girls and playing music. Not necessarily in that order. I learned quickly that majoring in English/Creartive Writing was the easiest way to have the necessary free time to achieve those goals. I moved to California with the band I was playing with, but soon realized I'd need to find something that would actually pay the rent.
The first published work I've seen mentioned of your was a Wolverine: Days of Future Past. How did you first get noticed, and published, by Marvel?
I was working on some no-money, black & white, creator-owned stuff. When James Robinson -- imho, a great comicbook writer -- saw my initiative, I think he felt confident enough to recommend me to the bigger publishers. Marvel was the first to bite and actually give me work. Getting that initial toehold was the break I needed, and I took full advantage of it. Been working ever since. Honestly, I owe James a debt that I will never be able to repay. It was one of the greatest gifts I've ever received in my life: a bona fide chance to prove myself as a professional writer. Who knew it would actually work out and become my full-time job...?
Let me back up here and say congratulations on landing two of the highest-profile, archetypal titles in comics. How did each come about? First, on Adventures of Superman, J.M. DeMatteis had only recently come aboard, and all industry scuttlebutt was that a closer acquaintance of Morrisson's like Millar or Peyer would take over the other X-title. Did those Polaroids of Quesada and Levitz finally come in handy, or did the stars just align? Is it now your time, like last year was the year for Bendis, Millar and Jenkins?
Both gigs were a "right place, right time" situation. There's really not much more to it than that. I don't think of it as being "my time" (whatever that means). I'm just having fun doing my job, trying to do it well, and I suppose you only truly know what it all means in hindsight.
Do you really feel that things will change that much for you in May, when X-Men relaunches? Of course, writing other company's flagship titles like Wildcats for Wildstorm and Adventures of Superman doesn't seem to garner the same coverage as an X-Men relaunch, but have things been any different for you the past few months, with three high-profile titles out there currently?
I've always had multiple, ongoing gigs going at once, so the workload is nothing new. The names may change, but the work remains the same. But, comicbooks are only part of the work that I do (albeit a large part)... the other things just don't get talked about much in comicbook news outlets.
You DO realize that you taking on these books, and writing half of Double Image, and whatever other creator-owned work you may be planning will accomplish two things, right? First is, you'll get all kinds of fan support from the people who love your work. And then soon after, these same people will proclaim that you're over-worked.
Well, I sincerely doubt if anyone cares all that much whether or not I'm "overworked". I'm sure there are plenty of other reasons for them to be pissed off. That's life...
What about your approach to writing the three titles? Wildcats, I feel has gotten stronger after your initial arc, which saddled you with previous storylines. And I've never been too drawn to Grifter, your typical mercenary, so your past few issues have been really interesting. And anything interpreted by Sean Phillips is going to look great. Anything planned for the book you want to mention? A new trade collecting your second arc, perhaps?
The second Casey-Phillips collection, SERIAL BOXES, will be out in July. This is a lot sooner than we expected, but I'm glad it's happening. It'll coincide with the release of WILDCATS #25, which is a double-sized issue. This is definitely the best gig I've had in comics. Working with Sean has been, without a doubt, the coolest professional experience I've had so far. And, without giving anything, there are HUGE things in store for WILDCATS... a big announcement that will no doubt be revealed at San Diego this summer.
Now, let's look quickly at "the big two" titles separately. I won't ask too many questions that you can't answer about plotlines or characters, since Wizard and everyone else will cover that quite thoroughly; rather, just look at your broad plans for each title: ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN I think I was expecting a flashier debut for you on Adventures. Were you somewhat disappointed that your first issue was spent sharing credit with DeMatteis, wrapping up his Satanus story, and then your first solo issue was part of the Return to Krypton. Would you have preferred a stand-alone story?
Well, my particular approach to writing Superman has always been to de-emphasize the subplots, so month-to-month continuity doesn't always take precedence with me. So, the latest issue out on the stands, ADVENTURES #590, is a stand-alone story after those first few linked issues. That's fine with me. Those first two issues were a good way to get my feet wet on a gig that I plan on doing for a few years, hopefully. In the long run, I don't think anyone will care whether or not I had a "flashy" debut. Besides, I think I'm making up for it with the X-MEN gig...
Also, were you happy about the conclusion of Return to Krypton, which cast much doubt on whether the story was real at all? Would you have rather had a definitive change in continuity, rather than something that can easily be ignored by other writers?
The Krypton/continuity thing wasn't something that weighed particularly heavy on my mind. Who cares if it was "real" or not? As Alan Moore so eloquently said, they're ALL imaginary stories. I think the Silver Age Krypton is a cool, sci-fi setting with a great visual look, and all I wanted to do with it is write a kick-ass, big-sun-on-his-chest-wearin', two-fisted Jor-El, which I did in ADVENTURES #589. I got to scratch my creative itch within the larger story so I was cool with it.
What can you tell us about your plans for the book? From everything I've read by you, Adventures will exist more as an easily-accessible, entry-level book that won't necessarily fall prey to all the crossovers, interconnected stories and inter-company events. Is this fair to say?
I think it's fair to say that ADVENTURES will steer clear of the interconnected stories more than the others, for various reasons. That, in itself, will keep it more accessible, I hope. And when it does hook up with the other books, it'll be for a damn good reason, like OUR WORLDS AT WAR.
You said that your Mr. Majestic was Superman the way you'd like to see him played. How does your approach to the "real thing" change after your experiences on that title?
I got a lot out of my system on the MR. MAJESTIC book -- a lot of my "big hero" ideas -- so I was able to approach Superman with a fresh perspective. Plus, it's been over a year since I was writing Mr. Majestic, and that certainly helps. I can look back on that book with pride while, at the same time, look at the Superman gig as a new type of challenge.
Of course, why DC doesn't collect the first six issues of MR. MAJESTIC in a TPB is beyond me. Now that I'm on Superman, and Ed McGuinness is getting the attention he rightly deserves on the same character, it just makes sense. Oh well...
How involved are you in the upcoming Our Worlds at War storyline? How do you feel about those company-wide events? Burden or necessary evil?
The key to all this -- be it a company-wide event or just a month where the Super-books connect with each other -- is the relationship between the writers and the editor. Joe Kelly, Jeph Loeb, Mark Shultz, Eddie Berganza and I all get along great. We all like to hang out and we like to collaborate on the bigger stories. It's not really a "burden" to come up with the big ideas together and each one of us contributes our part. I wouldn't have predicted this beforehand, but the Krypton story was a lot of fun to do. And Ringo and I have some good riffs within the OUR WORLDS AT WAR story, so it's turned out to be a really enjoyable working environment.
UNCANNY X-MEN: Do you laugh at the irony of going from saying you wouldn't even see the X-Men movie a few months ago to now writing the book you described thusly: "The comics will look and feel very familiar to fans of the movie-small teams, black leather costumes, a simple yet compelling struggle-but will also appeal to the book's most ardent fans"?
Well, that quote ALMOST sounds like a version of what I told the P.R. guys that are handling Marvel's promotion. But, I've said it before and I'll say it again... why waste time squabbling over the 100,000 or so direct market readers when there are potentially MILLIONS of readers out there who dug the movie but, for whatever reason, were never compelled to check out the comics? We're going to try and give them a reason now...
When you say, and I love the sound of these things, "superconsistency", that X-Men is "beyond superheroes", that you're going to deliver the "first true 21st Century comic book", what does all that really mean?
I think, at a very crass, commercial level, Grant and I were hired to put asses in seats. Even though the X-books are the top-selling superhero books in the industry, it's still an industry that's bleeding from the eyes. We can do much better, sales-wise. Grant brings a long track record of commercial and creative successes to the table, and even though I've had my share, I knew that I'd have to light a few fires to hold up my end, until the books actually hit and the work can speak for itself. When I came up with that first cover, I knew it would hit like a thundercrack. I knew it would get people talking. That's part of my job. I think it's perfectly valid to use the top-selling, most high-profile gig in the industry to try and challenge the way even fans think about superheroes. That's where all the new terms come from. X-MEN needs to be ahead of the cultural curve. In comicbooks, that's relatively easy to do, since the majority of them are still so stuck in the past.
How did you, Grant and Chris Claremont settle on the line-ups for each team? Was it like choosing teams in school, where you each grab a player, and so on? Or do you each present your proposal for the book with reasons and storylines of why you need the members you chose? Obviously, from your first cover, having Jean Grey and Wolverine seems pretty integral to your storyline.
I think Claremont had chosen his characters first, so Grant and I basically divided up what was left. A strange situation, in how it turned out, since I wouldn't have chosen the characters Claremont did anyway.
Maybe now we can keep the questions to a minimum and I'll just toss some topics out there, some interview-cheating word association for you, since people are reading this for you, not for me. What comes to mind when I mention:
Krash Buzz Five
Creator-Owned. Coming soon.
Hmm...Not sure I can let you off that easy-can you tell us anything about it, who might publish it, who might illustrate it, the basic premise?
It's something I came up with about two years ago. I've talked to several artists about it, but it's still in the early planning stages. So, there's really nothing definite to report just yet. There are other creator-owned projects that are taking precedence at the moment.
Marvel's Silent December
Obviously, I can't talk about that.
Heh-good one! Marvel's Ultimate Line of Comics
What about it?
What do you think of the thinking behind the line itself? Are new readers really turned off by years of continuity or just by bad stories?
Well, time will tell. The Ultimate books will soon have their own continuity to deal with, so I guess it will absolutely come down to how good the stories are.
Writing Vacancies on Hulk and Cable
Good luck to whoever fills 'em.
I know you've got enough work right now, but is either character something you still have a desire to write?
Nah. Don't look back.
The Music Scene on LA's Sunset Strip
Dead, but still strangely appealing (obviously).
Too cool for school.
A past annoyance.
Now, does Charlie Rose REALLY deserve the enmity of three columns worth of gripes? I mean, it's Charlie Rose! Isn't that sort of like complaining that Liz Smith is a big gossip? That's just what he does. It was pretty amusing, actually, in a Conan O'Brien sort of way, but...
Yes, Charlie Rose deserves the gripes I dished out.
Going away from the easy word-association,...[get ready to groan--I'm approaching my online fandom questions]...let's talk about your column in general if we can, since it seems to be the thing that fractures more people 's opinions. Do you feel that it's accomplishing what you want it to? What DO you want to accomplish with it?
Michael Doran and I kind of came up through the ranks together. He asked me to do a column, I accepted, and off I went. Each week, I think of something, I write it down, and then I get back to work. It's really as simple as that. Readers can either take what I say seriously, or not. Either reaction doesn't have much of an effect on what I write. The column is essentially two things... an OP/ED piece and a piece of entertainment. As an opinion, it holds just as much -- or as little -- value as anyone else's opinion. And just because I write comicbooks for a living doesn't mean that anyone should take what I say any more seriously than they do anyone else who posts on the Net. As a piece of entertainment... well, it entertains me from time to time...
If the column is just a fun little distraction from writing fiction, and kind of your "glorified message board post", why does it seem to anger so many people? Is your intent to really stir things up and get people talking, or do you just throw these things out there and see what happens from there? I realize large parts of the on-line community get upset about anything, but your column really does arouse some ire in people.
Personally, I'd rather hear comicbook readers talking about some of the things I talk about in the column -- sex, format, different genres, approach, graphic design, perception of the artform, perception of comicbook culture in general -- than the normal crap they tend to moan about, like ridiculous rumors about creators or some goofball continuity detail. So, if the column does spur conversation in those areas, then I guess that's something of an accomplishment. I think that -- in the long run -- it's much healthier for X-Men readers to be talking about the implications of sex in comicbooks, good or bad, than which hairstyle Storm is sporting this month.
Do you worry about it affecting people's opinions of your comics? I have to say, I went to Fandom's message boards before this, and most of the posts there really scared me. How do you know when to pay attention to anyone on-line? Never?
Most people tend to place themselves -- and their own opinions -- above the masses. A lot of people think their shit don't stink. It's human nature. I certainly stand behind MY opinions. Hey, it's a free country. Let them all talk. But I'm really too busy writing to pay attention to that stuff. Like I said, if people are talking about some of the things I bring up in the column, great. But the message boards are the absolute LAST thing that'll influence me or my work. That's not meant to devalue anyone who chooses to participate in the message board lifestyle... it simply doesn't factor into MY work. And if they can't separate how I conduct myself in an Internet column (which has an audience of, at best, a few thousand) with the works of creative fiction that I put out for mass consumption, then that's not my problem. There's a lot more people who don't buy the books I write that have no idea I have a weekly column, so it's really a matter of perspective...
It's also a question of scale. Stephen King sells millions of books. Are there a few thousand "fans" that probably go online and trash him, his work, and every little thing he says in public? Sure. Goes with the gig. But, then again, King sells MILLIONS of books. So, a few thousand (or even a few ten thousand) gripers aren't going to make that much of a difference. Certainly not to King himself.
Now, comics don't sell in the millions (anymore... or at the moment, depending on the state of my optimism), but I refuse to treat the medium like it doesn't have any cultural significance... like it doesn't deserve to be selling in the millions. To me, that means not catering to the vocal minority that seem to get more of a rush in expressing themselves online than they do from the books themselves.
If message board comments are simply, for the most part, trifle that shouldn't be taken seriously, how do you view something like the recent post from David Choe about Joe Quesada? Is it the same, just an angry rant that shouldn't be taken any more seriously than any of these other posts?
I really don't take anything I see on the Net 100% seriously. Things move so fast... something's online today that will cause a stir, and by next week it'll be old, irrelevant news. How can you take anything seriously in that kind of environment? Talk about a disposable culture...!
Like I said in my column, I enjoy it when I find intelligent discussion on the Net. But, let's face it, branding something as "intelligent discussion" is just as subjective as calling someone an asshole on the basis of their particular opinions, isn't it?
For me, even the columns of yours that make me wonder why you would possibly say what you said, they did two things: one, made me come back next week and read it again, and two, seek out more of your work to compare the fiction with this public persona. On a week I was particularly rubbed wrong by something you said, I went out and bought your Wildcats trade. So I can't argue with your approach, just wonder if you think people avoid your work because of it. It is rather refreshing if you're not so worried about that.
Keith Richards once said in an interview, "An image is like a shadow... it's always a few steps behind you." That's how I look at the column (and the "persona" it seems to project to some people). And if a particular column I wrote influenced you to purchase the first WILDCATS trade, then it's done its job far beyond what I ever expected it would. I never thought the column would affect the comics I write one way or another.
Speaking of which, it's looking like our first WILDCATS trade is doing extremely good business in the major bookstore chains, and this obviously has nothing whatsoever to do with the column or anything else that I might say "in public". So in my own way, I feel like I'm doing the job I set out to do, regardless of the opinions of the hardcore, direct market audience.
I'm happy to see these books in the bookstore chains, but still think more could be done with them than lumping them all in under the "Humor" section in bookstores. Still, one step at a time. Any time a "comic book" like Jimmy Corrigan is sharing space on the NY Times Bestseller's List with real novels, strides are being made.
I agree. Material that can compete in the bookstores is the future of the medium.
Okay, not to harp on this any longer, but I have to address one more thing. "The circles you travel in", Joe? If you were touring with Motorhead, or hanging with Ed Brubaker, I might accept this line at face value. As it is, it was an impressive bit of trash-talking.
I never thought I'd see "Motorhead" and "Ed Brubaker" in the same sentence...
With Codeflesh in Double Image, and with Wildcats, you've talked before about the editorial freedom on those two books. Compare that with the editorial approach to two of the biggest titles that "The Big Two" put out.
Well, for instance, just compare Charlie's Codeflesh covers on DOUBLE IMAGE and Sean's upcoming WILDCATS covers to the cover designs on ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN and the X-MEN, not to mention the rest of the Big Two's superhero lines. It's not really an editorial thing, because right now I think I have a pretty good relationship with both Eddie Berganza at DC and Mark Powers at Marvel. It just comes down to more individualistic statement... the freedom to express ourselves in every area of the books' designs. On the big franchise books, you have less of that. But you know that going in. I think I've got a pretty good balance going right now between high-profile gigs and more personal work. And, besides that, I think those lines are beginning to blur a bit. We ARE getting a say in how the X-books look, graphic design-wise. And, editorially speaking, we are getting truckloads of creative freedom to steer the books in the direction we think they need to go.
Who REALLY gets all the chicks? You said in the past that it was Wildstorm freelancers, but which title do you refer to first now, if you're trying to impress someone? Or do you play it more aloof, go with the music angle, and then in your spare time admit that, "Oh, yeah, I write Superman and X-Men, too"?
At some point, you need to stop worrying about impressing people and just do your job as best you can. I think -- or, at least, it feels like -- I passed that point a few years ago. The things I have left to prove are only things I'm out to prove to myself.
Oh, sure, that's the correct answer and the right way to look at things. But for indulgence's sake, come on...which title carries the most clout with the ladies?
Here's the truth of the matter: the only "sex appeal" of creating comicbooks professionally is the fact that it's a fairly interesting profession in an otherwise boring world. So, the job itself carries a certain amount of clout in a room full of accountants and secretaries, but that's about it. But specific titles? No way. Sling on a guitar, though...
Moving on, not that you're not busy enough, but any other upcoming work, comics or otherwise, you want to mention?
Naahhh... nothing that I want to take up space here with.
Hey, the space is yours. Love to hear anything you might have working.
Well, shit, I guess I might as well throw out another plug for DOUBLE IMAGE. Sometimes something as simple as an anthology series can be a little confusing in today's retail market...
Seriously, we're all really proud of the work we're doing in this book. Between Charlie and me on CODEFLESH and Larry and John's THE BOD... I'm just not sure how many people actually know it's out there, monthly, as we speak. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive on both series, and it only gets better from here...!
I share a deep admiration for many of your influences, from the too-absent Mike Baron to Miller, Moore and Chaykin, as well as people you've also cited such as Elmore Leonard, Roy Orbison and Bruce Springsteen. Unfortunately, many of these same names aren't as active as they once were, for a number of reasons. What comics by current talent do you personally enjoy?
Well, you have to keep in mind, I'm hip-deep in the business. The books themselves are only a segment of what I find interesting about this industry. Knowing Jeph Loeb or Joe Kelly or Steve Seagle personally allows me to enjoy their work on a much more personal level, probably a significantly different level than most readers experience. "Current talent"? I'm not sure what you mean by that. I try to keep an eye out on everything (getting that big box of DC stuff each month makes that task much easier), just because it's just smart business to have a sense of what else is out there... but at the same time, part of the reason I'm doing this is to satisfy my own need to see certain kinds of comicbooks out there. I'm writing UNCANNY X-MEN the way I'VE always wanted to see an X-book done. Same with ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN and WILDCATS.
What about music? I got to go to The Grammy's this year and was really disheartened by the shape of what passes for popular music. Remember when people used to play their own instruments?
I try to keep my attitudes toward music as simple as possible. Pop is fleeting. Rock is forever.
Do you really want to see David Lee Roth back with Van Halen? I mean, what they did in the early 80s was amazing, but can they do it again? Should they try? Is this anything like Frank Miller revisiting Dark Knight Returns, or are these simply the incoherent musings of a rambling interviewer?
The original Roth-era Van Halen was one of the greatest American rock n' roll bands of all time. Over-the-top bombast at its best. Of course, their short-lived reunion a few years ago was a complete embarrassment of bald-spotted, replacement-hipped egos clashing, crashing and burning. Me, personally... I'm not one to revisit things that were already great the first time around. Having said that, I'd go see a Van Halen reunion show in a second, just like I'll be buying Miller's Batman sequel. But, would I do it if I were in their shoes? I'd have to say probably not. But that's just me.
What do you like to listen to when you write, if anything? What style of music do you play? And what position do you hold in your band? Do you write lyrics, too?
The position I hold in the band is "chief instigator". We play big, dumb rock. Loud guitars in your face. We're out to give people a reason to jump around. Songs to get drunk and scream to.
When I'm writing, I generally just pop on the TV for a little white noise in the background. Find me a DVD with a commentary track, and I'm a happy guy. I generally hate silence.
What aspirations outside of comics do you have, if any?
It would be kinda' sad if I didn't have any aspirations outside of comics. As it stands, I've got plenty. The band is going strong, we're making a movie, recording in the studio. All the typical things bands do. I'm writing for other media, as most freelancers should. But this is the secret to life, y'know... not being completely dependent on any one thing to sustain you creatively (or financially, for that matter).
I have to dig a little deeper here-what you just said is what bands aspire to do, but a lot never get that far. How'd you get to a point where you're working on a soundtrack? That's big-that can really break a band or at least expose people to someone they might never have heard. I know Robert Rodriguez made a big Tito and Tarantula fan out of me.
What we're doing isn't exactly a soundtrack. We're living in a new era... where bands with the drive, the knowledge, and the equipment can do just about anything on their own. Computers are wonderful tools in this regard. We're more like the ultimate DIY band... a true Renaissance outfit. Bands who pat themselves on the back for getting an MP3 on the Net are already behind the curve when it comes to the possibilities that exist now. I know I'm speaking in vague terms here, but we're still in the middle of this process, and I'm not sure if I've got the proper perspective yet. I was cutting a trailer for the movie last night, just for shits and giggles. Non-linear editing... it's the coolest toy I've ever had.
Well, Joe, I think that covers a lot of the "other" areas that hopefully upcoming pubs won't touch on. Any plugs for your band? Or does your schedule preclude any band appearances for a while?
We took some time off from performing so we could finish recording and finish the movie, but we've gotten that wild hair to play again, so we've just started gigging around Hollywood again. This time last year, we were playing constantly and I miss it.
On top of everything, do you do the convention tour all summer, as well? Will we see you in San Diego?
This year is more of a world tour. Spain in a few weeks to speak at a University. San Diego and Chicago this summer. France in the early winter.
I think is quite enough, don't you? Thank you very much for your time on this Joe, and I really hope you enjoy everything that this year's gonna bring ya! Peace.
No problem. Glad to do it.