Talking Comics with Tim: Jen Van Meter
Today marks the release of the second issue in writer Jen Van Meter and artist Javier Pulido’s four-issue Amazing Spider-Man Presents: Black Cat miniseries. I recently had occasion to email interview Van Meter about the project, the overall collaboration experience and transitions, as well as near-term Hopeless Savages (Oni) plans (plus heist genre recommendations and covert gardening tips). After you read the interview, please be sure to check out the seven-page preview that CBR posted last week.
Tim O’Shea: In prepping for this miniseries, did you go back and read past Black Cat appearances for background? Are there any writers in particular whose approach to the character appealed to you more than others?
Jen Van Meter: I spent the most time with the early Marv Wolfman material, honestly. I like to go back to the beginning whenever I’m asked to take on a character I don’t feel I know well. The things I loved about her, particularly in Amazing Spider-Man 195, were her fierce determination and her strength — the Femme Fatale stuff is there, but it’s really overshadowed by her toughness in his treatment of her. I looked at or revisited many other appearances and caught up on the most recent stuff, but I think I really relied on Wolfman the most to tell me who she is.
O’Shea: Some artists imbue the character with sexiness by giving her exaggerated curves, while Javier Pulido downplays the cleavage aspect (compared to more recent approaches) of the character’s costume. Instead he conveys the character’s attractiveness by emphasizing the athleticism, agility and kineticism of the cat burglar. How important was it to you to capitalize on Pulido’s kinetic tendencies (her first scene with Byron is one of my favorite in that regard)?
Van Meter: To me, people –fictional or non– are always most compelling and attractive when they are doing something they care deeply about or that they are very good at, not when they’re posing with a come-hither stare. I wanted to tell a story that isn’t about how Spider-Man or anyone else sees the Black Cat nearly as much as it is about how she sees herself, so when I found out Javier would be drawing the book, I was over the moon. I knew he’d get what I was after and and so much more, letting the reader see the allure of her competence, wit and daring– the things she values about herself. I’ve loved getting pages and seeing how wonderfully he can capture, for instance, her physical strength, her stealth and her sense of humor all in one panel.
O’Shea: Is Felicia an addict who needs the adrenaline rush from the act of stealing or an artist dedicated to committing a higher quality form of crime (or a little bit of both or neither)?
Van Meter: Both are great insights, and depending on the day she might claim either one, but she’d imagine she was lying to you; secretly she’d loath the idea of being addicted — to her that would sound like a lack of control — and I think the artist comparison would sound to her like an evasion of the fact that what she does is criminal. She’s a thief. And she fully intends to be the best thief, for all the same good and bad reasons an athlete or chef might aspire to be the best: ego, competition, drive, morale, you name it. Not only does she love what she does, I don’t think she can imagine herself doing anything else.
O’Shea: While you took great pains to quickly establish a surrogate family for Felicia in the first issue, you also don’t forget her mother. How hard was it to juggle both aspects in the series?
Van Meter: I wouldn’t say that part is difficult to juggle — if anything, the story is about her reacting to a disruption in her ordered, though unusual, life — and that’s a fairly common kind of storytelling. On this story, the greater challenge for me was to figure out, with Javier’s help, ways that the action would serve the characters best.
O’Shea: While Walter Hardy is dead, do you think, even in death, his influence on his daughter is still prominent to a certain extent?
Van Meter: I certainly wanted his ‘presence’ to be felt; he comes up in #2 in a way that felt very natural and organic to me.
It’s much easier to idealize the dead than the living. That’s something that was on my mind reading the Black Cat material that’s dealt with her dad and her estrangement from her mother; it’s also something that I saw lurking in the Grim Hunt material, and I thought it was a worthwhile motif to touch on, if briefly.
O’Shea: Black Cat does some of her best work in the dark. As much as Pulido is rightfully praised for his work, how pleased have you been with Matt Hollingsworth’s darker tones while in her element (museums after dark)?
Van Meter: I love the museum/night sequences, and I think Matt’s doing a magnificent job. I honestly don’t know how closely in touch he and Javier are, but they seem to be working in beautiful harmony in terms of the ‘noise’ level in each scene, the mood and the tone.
O’Shea: You have a gift for dialogue and pacing–I single out the way you transition the dialogue between Spider-Man and Black Cat’s confrontation in mid-sentence to have it finish in a different POV, different scene outside the Frittz Museum [with Felicia as the only constant]). How did you decide to pull off a scene transition like that (which smacked as almost episodic television in its nature [that's a compliment in my book])?
Van Meter: Well, thank you for the compliments, sir. I fuss over transitions quite a lot, actually; we only have these twenty-two pages and when my transitions are too abrupt, I feel like when you’re in traffic and hitting every red light. If I can figure out some way to ease it, either with that kind of fluidity or with a little humor or some kind of parallel situation, it just feels better to me.
O’Shea: What do you most appreciate about working with editor Steve Wacker?
Van Meter: If I told you the truth, it would destroy his reputation as a brutal and mirthless puppy-kicker.
I can say that he is an excellent reader, has a gift for clear communication about story, and rules us all with a +3 gauntlet of snarky retort.
O’Shea: Given your avowed affinity for the heist genre (as detailed in this April CBR interview), could you single out some of your favorite heist films?
Van Meter: The Sting and The Pink Panther movies probably introduced me to the genre, and A Fish Called Wanda and Sneakers made a huge impression when I was a little older. I love both versions of The Italian Job, and both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair. The Hot Rock is a Redford movie I remember liking a lot but haven’t been able to track down in years. Spike Lee’s Inside Man is a really neat take on some of the traditions of the genre. The Usual Suspects, The Brink’s Job, The Getaway (the first one–didn’t care for the remake), Ronin. John Woo’s first version of Once a Thief stands out for me, too. There are lots of others; those are the ones that spring to mind.
O’Shea: How long has Hopeless Savages: Greatest Hits (the whole series in one book–coming out from Oni in October) been in the works? Getting the whole collection out in one book, is that to prep readers–be they new or long-term fans–for some potential new tales?
Van Meter: Collecting all the existing Hopeless Savages material into one big fat brick of a book has been a plan at Oni for a while. We all knew we wanted to do it, and I think the timing had mostly to do with when to bring it out for a nicely balanced schedule and that sort of thing. They told me it was going on the schedule right around the same time I was gearing up to write a fourth full-length Hopeless Savages story; the timing works out well but was not necessarily causal. In any case, yes, there will be more. Next story doesn’t have a name yet, but it does have two different concert tours, a little violence, a deer not getting hit by a van full of bunnies, several comical flashbacks, cupcakes and revenge.
O’Shea: When did you and J. Torres start trading garden/yard maintenance tips?
Van Meter: See, and this is why I love love love the Twitter. To you it looks like a random interaction between a couple of Oni writers who see each other very infrequently but seem to get along and who share commonplace worries about the household chores. In fact, Torres and I go way back, having met when we were young adventuring botanists tracking a mysterious poison to its source, high in the Amazonian upper canopy. You can ask him. He will try to tell you he saved me from the sap-monster’s deathtrap, but it was the other way around.
O’Shea: What else is on the creative horizon for you?
Van Meter: Many ambitious plans, but sadly, nothing I can confirm at this time.