To Be Kurt, Not Short: A Three-Part Interview with Kurt Busiek
Kurt speaks with A. David Lewis about his relationship with Marvel Comics, the difference between history and continuity, and what 'truly' matters to the readers.
PopMatters was lucky enough to sit down with Mr. Kurt Busiek during his appearance at Beyond Comics in Washington, DC, this June. What we got from the renowned comic writer was a variety of insights, from his own works to the comic industry overall. In this first part of the interview, Kurt speaks with A. David Lewis about his relationship with Marvel Comics, the difference between history and continuity, and what truly matters to the readers.
PopMatters: First, thanks for doing the interview and being here.
Kurt Busiek: Sure . . . but don't thank me yet.
PM: (Laughs) OK, let's see how it goes . . . I have a number of questions here and probably the best order would be to start with the earliest. A while ago, you were a pretty essential component for Marvel Comics' company-wide reboot, Heroes Return. You were writing the new Iron Man, the new Avengers, and your own Thunderbolts which spun out of the predecessor of Return, Heroes Reborn. Was there any reasoning behind having you be a multi-tasking scribe here?
KB: The only real reasoning was that I had been doing Untold Tales of Spider-Man, and it had been getting a very good response, so they were interested in me doing more for other titles. I was invited out to a summit of sorts, about what to do with the Marvel Universe after Onslaught [another catastrophic company-wide event]. I pitched Thunderbolts. That went over well, so my name was slightly larger when the heroes were all slated to come back; I was calling them up and saying, "Give me Iron Man, I want Iron Man, give me Iron Man!!" They did, and they offered Avengers to [artist] George Perez, and George asked for me to write it. It was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. They wanted to restore the characters to their classic heights, and I was considered to be a guy who knew how to do that.
PM: Since then, you've moved on from each one of those titles, soon wrapping up with Avengers as it moves over to writer Geoff Johns. Thunderbolts is with Fabian [Nicieza] now. And Iron Man is being done by . . . Yikes, I'm blanking momentarily --
KB: Iron Man is being done currently by Mike Grell.
PM: Right, of course.
KB: It went from me to Joe Quesada and Frank Tieri. Then, from Joe and Frank to just Frank. Then from Frank to Grell.
PM: . . . Yup, Frank is going to be annoyed that I blanked on that a moment.
KB (into tape recorder): Hey, I remembered you, Frank!
PM: Do you have a relationship with any of the current titles?
KB: If you mean, do I give them advice? No, I don't. I like talking to each of them, but I turn over the books, and each one becomes their book to do with as they want. If I were still doing Iron Man, for instance, I would never reveal his secret identity to the world [as he did in recent Grell issues]. I think his secret identity is one of the things that's a particularly core element of the character - but, I'm not writing the book and Mike is, so he gets to pursue that vision. (Smiles) Sort of like . . . Freedom!
PM: Has your relationship with Marvel changed since working on these titles?
KB: There hasnt really been too much of a change. The tastes of the people in charge, certainly, have some weight. When I started on Avengers, doing stuff that was strongly connected to the classic Marvel Universe and its history, it was all going over very well. Today, that hasn't changed much - Avengers Forever and Marvels are still strong, consistently selling trade paperbacks - but there's definitely been some change, since the people who don't go for that sort of thing are getting a lot louder. Probably, people are less encouraged at Marvel now to use the history and make those sort of connections; they rather it was "new" and stands alone.
PM: I noticed you used the word "history" instead of "continuity."
KB: Continuity has probably about six different definitions. I prefer the word "history," because that's really the part I like: not a case of "How does it all fit together?" but more "What's the past of these characters? What have they done? What have their experiences been?" I view it a lot more like, if you were doing a book on World War II, you'd get your history right. When you have a novel set in a fictional history, you still should get your history right.
PM: Avengers Forever disentangled a lot of very vague, troublesome Avengers -- let's use your word -- history.
KB: But that wasn't really the point of it. It was more that we were doing a big Kang-and-Immortus story [two identities of time-traveling Avengers foe], and this particular villain's goals were to mess with the Avengers heads by messing up their history. Since he's a sort of scholar who prunes the timelines, we were showing how complex and many-tentacled his plans were. And that involved showing a few areas of Avengers history that he could have messed with, but for the purpose of telling the story.
PM: So, it was really a story-driven approach, and continuity was secondary.
KB: Yeah, the point of Avengers Forever was that Carlos Pancheo wanted to do an Avengers story, and he asked me to write it. We just needed to figure out how to assemble a team. It was Mark Waid who suggested to pull different Avengers from across history, and that really got the ball rolling. But, we were building the story around two major concerns: what Carlos would have the most fun drawing and how to play out Kang-versus-Immortus in the most interesting and involving way. Carlos and I just kind of fed off of each other and had a lot of fun. I'm convinced that -- if it's historical, if it's brand new stuff, if it's in a shared universe, if it's creator-owned -- it doesn't matter. What matters to the readers is if the creators are having fun, doing good work, and putting a lot of energy there on the page.