Please explain what just happened.
Everything? Nothing? It’s hard to say—I’m a planner, probably due to my compulsive nature, so I’m always looking more to the future than the past. But, I did just send out a pitch packet for my (hopefully) forthcoming graphic novel Terminus. I’ve also been playing a lot of Mass Effect 2. A lot.
What is your earliest memory?
Running around outside my house on the South Side of Chicago, wearing Superman sandals.
If you weren’t a writer, what other profession would you choose?
I’m fascinated with how cities work, especially the manner in which space is allocated and utilized. If I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I’d probably work in city planning.
Describe a typical work day.
I like to get to writing the moment I wake up. I find that if I try to dig into the creative process after a day of all the things life throws at you, my mind is much too cluttered. So I get up and head straight to my computer and have at it. My goals are always different, especially these days where I have a few different projects on my plate in various stages of development. For instance, lately I’ve had to allocate more of my time to administrative work. With Quarantined nearing release, there’s a lot for me to attend to: sending out review copies, trying to get interviews, ordering prints, etc. It’s not my favorite part of the job, but as a creator-owned writer, it’s definitely part of it.
When I’m strictly writing, I take my time with the process. Generally, I already have a clear idea of what I’m going to put down to type before I approach the keyboard. I’m an obsessive note-taker and researcher, so you’ll find my desk cluttered with scraps of paper with dialogue, plot points, ideas, things of that nature. I keep a file cabinet full of these various notes; some get used, some don’t. There’s also my stored bookmarks on my computer, bits of research organized by project. That’s all part of my process. So when I sit down to actually write, I’m not necessarily thinking of many new ideas; it’s more like I’m transcribing what I’ve already figured out through long consideration and research. My work is always, always on my mind.
Is there a time you wish you’d lied?
No, not really. There are times I have lied, don’t get me wrong, but I’m someone who prefers honesty, no matter how difficult it is to deliver or hear.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at age thirteen?
Stay the course. When I was thirteen, all I wanted to do was make comics and movies. So I knew myself better at thirteen than I did at twenty-three. Probably because I didn’t allow thoughts of failure and acceptance to interfere with doing what I enjoyed.
If you could have only one album to get you through a breakup, what would it be?
Seeing that I’ve been in about one really real, substantive relationship and its been going on for over a decade, if that fell apart, times would be pretty dark. So I’d need something either terribly and genuinely sad like Elliot Smith, or silly, happy pop like Phoenix.
What are three websites—other than your email—that you check on a daily basis?
From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?
Other artists who are obsessed with the details and put the kitchen sink into their work—Alan Moore, Stanley Kubrick. They may or may not have achieved greatness—that’s not for me to decide, though I think it’s pretty to safe to say they have—but in their work, they at least tried. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I think we exist in a culture that expects people not to be good at what they do, just good enough. Who knows if I’ll ever produce something that even I think is great—but I am going to try.
Name three books that have impacted your life.
Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man; Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men; Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan.
If you could relive one moment over and over again, what would it be?
My wedding day. It was a day of pure joy where everything went as planned (and marked one of the best decisions of my life).
How are you six degrees from Kevin Bacon?
I was an extra in the movie Road to Perdition and I met Tom Hanks, who costarred with Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13. So that’s two degrees!
What makes you feel most guilty?
Feeling that I’m not doing enough. I’m very, very hard on myself, for a number of reasons. And I think that’s a good thing. I highly doubt that there will ever be a time, professionally and creatively, where I’ll think, “I’ve made it.” There are a lot of stories that I want to tell, and I never want to stop challenging myself to find new ways to tell them.
How do you incorporate the work of other artists into your own?
I’m not sure that I do, at least consciously. If I sit down and think, ‘I want to write something like Aronofsky, or like Hickman,’ that’s when I struggle the most. Creating art, I think, is a process (partly) of absorption and release. We all have a particular way of understanding and relating to world around us; for me, I’ve always communicated best with the world through comics, movies, and books. The artists who communicate with me are, in a way, shaping my sensibilities. So when it’s time for me to do my own work, those artists who I’ve gravitated toward are ingrained in me and helping me make my creative decisions.
Please explain the motivation/inspiration behind Quarantined.
I’ve always had an affinity for the zombie genre. George Romero is an icon to me, and I can’t deny that his work has been influential in the writing of Quarantined. There’s an ongoing trend lately, that the TV show Lost (which I adore) is somewhat responsible for starting: the “character-driven” story. Everything that comes out now, it’s character driven, that’s the catch-all for affirming its quality. I wanted to write something that had strong characters, but was idea driven—that’s what Romero accomplished. His original zombie trilogy films were about racism, consumerism, and military corruption. He put society under a lens, and what he saw he told through the zombie genre. That’s what drove me to write Quarantined. Political, but with zombies.
What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?
This occurred just recently, on Twitter of all places. There was a particular comics writer who was doling out all this writing advice, and while I think his intentions were in the right place, his message was very discouraging. The only thing he had to say was “editors don’t have patience for this and that,” “be professional,” “make sure you collaborate with a great artists,” and so on. Basically, he was setting all these parameters for writers that had nothing to do with the actual process—it was just the grumblings of a seasoned vet who, unfortunately, has probably read one too many bad submissions from the slush pile.
What I had to say was this: if you want to write, then write. True, you need to hone your writing tools and you can’t expect to become a writer overnight. You should also be polite when interacting with people—and do that anyway, not just for professional gain. But you shouldn’t put yourself in a position to need outside validation to pursue your art. Editors aren’t always right, neither are other artists. You have to believe in your work, and sometimes that means drawing a line in the sand and saying “no, you’re wrong about this, and I’m going to prove it.”
List your favorite in the following categories: Comedian, Musician, Author, Actor .
Comedian: George Carlin.
Musician: Pearl Jam, always has been, always will be.
Author: I’ll go with prose, and that’s a tie between Kurt Vonnegut and Vladimir Nabakov. Maybe Raymond Chandler.
Actor: I’m going to cheat on this one, because I really just don’t know. So I’ll go with director, and that’s Stanley Kubrick. No question.
If you had complete creative license and an unlimited budget, what would your next project be?
What interests me most with that scenario may not be the project itself, but the opportunity it would allow. Here’s the thing: Being a working comics creator is like working on the Twinkies assembly line; you have to just keep cranking those monthly issues out, without pause or break. What I’d love to do is operate a comic series in a television format, like something you’d see on AMC or F/X. An artist and I would have the freedom to focus on a compact, well-developed story arc, and when the arc is done, we break. We’d take some time away, reflect on what we accomplished—what worked and what didn’t—and then start developing, in detail, the next season.
What do you want to know?
That I made the right choices.
What would you like your last words to be?
It’s been a great 130 years.
Please explain what will happen.
Man, I wish I knew. I’m just going to keep making my art the best I can. Hopefully I can look back on things and know that I accomplished what I set out to, and I didn’t compromise too much in the process. Also, I hope that our forthcoming cyber overlords know that I’m here to help.