Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interview Time--David Liss

A picture of David Liss because I find it helps to imagine the person talking when reading an interview with them.
 In early April I read Black Panther #516 and wrote about how amazing I thought it was seeing as how before that issue I had been pretty hard on the series. Every issue after has been great, and I was such a big fan I contacted the writer, David Liss, and asked him to do an interview, he was kind enough to agree to discuss Black Panther and his other projects such as Mystery Men. He was of course tight-lipped about certain subjects (I couldn't get a peep about all this "American Panther" business) but he was eager to discuss a bunch of stuff so I encourage you to enjoy the interview.

1. First off, I loved your humorous FAQ on your website (free plug for you, there) and will start with some warm-up questions based off of that. On the FAQ you mention you have lived in Florida. With my having relatives there I've visited numerous times and wanted to ask how you could stand it in the summer when it is so hot and humid?

Well, I did move away the first chance I got, and visit as infrequently as I can.  I think that tells you something about me and Florida. 

2. I love how you mention ideas are cheap and that many people have written stories. Lord knows I've had my fair share of good ideas I've not yet followed through on that might yet make decent stories but I'm too lazy and poor to get an agent (and I promise not to pitch you anything or ask you to pitch something to yours). That, and I prefer criticizing other people's writing as opposed to making my own. I suppose the question I am trying to get to in all of this is, how do you deal with the constant negative criticism and pressure author's face?

Actually, you don't need money to get an agent.  Agents are paid based on your income as a writer, so if they don't work, they don't make money.  My agent more than earns her 15%.
Trying to sell a first novel can be dispiriting because many more people will say no than say yes.  You just have to believe in your project and understand that you don't need every agent and editor to like your manuscript, just the right agent and editor.  Once a project goes out into the world, then of course you have to have a tough skin.  Anyone can be a public critic on the internet, and there are plenty of people who think their opinion ought to have the weight of holy law.  Authors need to learn quickly that there is no accounting for taste -- good or bad.  I have disliked plenty of books the world seems to adore, and I've loved books that the critics have trashed.  I don't expect everyone to love what I do, but as long as enough people buy my books for me to keep making a living doing this, I'm happy. 

3. How did you become involved in comics? It seems sudden to go from historical fiction to modern-day super-heroics.

I was recruited by my current editor at Marvel, Bill Rosemann, who read one of my novels and decided he wanted to see me writing comics.  It took a little while to get things going, but eventually he offered me a chance to do a one-shot for the pulp-era character, the Phantom Reporter.  I'd always loved comics, and I genuinely loved working in the medium and having a chance to tell stories in a new way, so I made it clear I was open to more work, and that led to Mystery Men and Black Panther. 

4. I was thinking, other than some of the hero characters, everyone we are seeing is new in Black Panther, from Vlad to the supporting cast at the restaurant. How did you come up with these interesting characters? For example, I was surprised by the social worker who was the murderer!

Bringing T'Challa to Hell's Kitchen was a tricky undertaking, and I had to decide how to put things together.  I could bring Black Panther supporting characters to New York, keep the Daredevil supporting characters in play, or create my own supporting cast and villain.  The last seemed the best way to go because it felt the least forced.  By this point, you've seen some supporting characters from Daredevil in our pages, and you'll see more -- and more characters from the larger Marvel U -- as we go on.  But in the beginning it was all about the fresh start. 

5. It occurred to me you are a white, Jewish man (like myself), writing an African-king protagonist, Romanian mob-boss, and Balkan waitress among a wide variety of other characters. Was it difficult to take on such a wide-range of individuals and did you do research before tackling such a task?

At the risk of sounding self-important, the writer's business is to imagine life from the perspective of other characters.  If we only wrote what we had experienced ourselves, our range would be limited (and it might be hard to find a former African monarch who is willing to write comics).  So, no, it isn't difficult to imagine other perspectives, but it is important to think these things through and try to know your characters. 

6. What can you tell us about what comes next for T'Challa? I've seen solicits involving Storm joining him in Hells Kitchen to take on Kraven, of all people. I've not been following Spider-Man so I was under the impression he died in the 1980s but apparently his daughter brought him back. What can you tell us about this story?

Kraven is now alive once more, and much more dangerous than when he was dead.  Our Kraven arc is going to come right out of the story with Vlad, but it will also be organic and self-contained.  I don't want to give too much away except to say that after a first story that was, quite intentionally, dark and brooding and noirish, we wanted to do something that was a bit more of a popcorn muncher.  Also, those people who have been clamoring for fish/human hybrids in Black Panther will finally get their wish. 

7. This is probably a really secret subject, but Marvel released an image of an, "American Panther." Can you make any comment about that and whether you are involved? Or are your lips completely sealed?

Not.  Saying.  Anything.  This is top secret stuff, and very cool.

8. You'll be writing the upcoming Marvel mini-series "Mystery Men", which is sort of a prequel to the earliest days of the Marvel universe, before even some of the earliest canonical heroes such as the Human Torch, Captain America, Angel, etc. I read this will be sort of a pulp-hero series, as if it were an actual comic in the 1920s? Other than that I haven't heard too many details. How much can you share?

You've got the basic idea.  It's a five-part story with all new pulpy heroes, in-continuity that I hope melds the golden-age spirit with a contemporary Marvel sensibility.  It's an adventure story with political overtones, humor, girt, inter-group rivalries.  The works.  I tried pack in as much goodness as I could.  Patrick Zircher's art is nothing short of breath-taking, so this book is real pretty to look at.  Mystery Men  was an incredible amount of fun to put together, and while I know a story like this can be a tough sell on limited budgets, I hope readers will check it out.

9. What other projects are you currently working on in comics that you can talk about?

I am doing an illustrated novel (basically a short novel with tons of very cool art) called Sword of the Apocalypse for Radical.  That should be out later this year.  I also have a limited series coming out with another indie, but it hasn't been announced yet, so I'm not saying anything esle
10. Would you care to talk about your prose writing? You are well-known for your historical fiction.

Most of my novels are about some major event in economic history, which sounds dry, so I usually spice them up with lots of violence, wise-cracking, and booze.  My next novel, The Twelfth Enchantment, is out in August, and it is my first book to incorporate supernatural elements.  I'm calling it historical urban fantasy.  It is kind of a mash-up of Jane Austin, the magic, and 19th century revolutionary sentiments, and while I may be biased, I'm inclined to believe it's lots of fun. 

11. Let's end with a fun and silly question. I'm sick of the "Who would win in a fight?" ones so let's switch it up; Who would win in a battle of the wits, Reed Richards or Batman?

If it's wits in the sense of figuring out interdimensional handwavium, then I'd go with Reed Richards.  If it's an actual physical fight, then my money is on Batman.  Given that he's beat the crap out of Superman, I think Mr. Fantastic should be no problem. 

Thanks again to David Liss for taking time to do this interview!

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