Talking Comics with Tim: Paul Cornell
Well before SDCC and last week’s BOOM!/Stan Lee press conference, Paul Cornell. When we did this email interview, details had not been released about Soldier Zero, Cornell’s collaboration with Stan Lee and BOOM! Studios. (For details about Soldier Zero along those lines, please be sure to read CBR’s Shaun Manning’s interview with Cornell from last week). For this interview, I instead focused upon Cornell’s clear respect for Lee’s work and general storytelling approach, as well as the opportunity to work with BOOM. As witty and sharp as Cornell is, it made for an enjoyable interview, despite his busy workload. I appreciate Cornell’s time, as well as BOOM! Studios’ Chip Mosher willingness to arrange the interview. I’m hoping that in addition to creating a great tale for us to read, Cornell garners the Stan Lee nickname he so clearly craves.
Tim O’Shea: Back in 2009, at your blog, you lamented that you entered the industry after Stan’s heyday of giving collaborators nicknames. Now that you’re working with Stan, have you scored a nickname from him yet?
Paul Cornell: I think I’ll try and pluck up the courage to ask him for one. That’d be like being knighted.
O’Shea: In a DowntheTubes 2008 interview, in terms of your own comics writing, you said “…what I try and do is what all the best superhero books do. I try and write modern Greek and Roman myths that actually reflect things that are going on right now. Much as every body of mythology talks about what is happening right now, in terms of when it was created. … And everything that Stan Lee ever did was literally just about looking out of his window. His Marvel comic body of work, which is all about New York, is just extraordinary.”
Are you looking out the proverbial window to write this Stan Lee project? If you are, can you share some of the view?
Cornell: This particular window is looking into the real lives of wheelchair users, and trying to create a superhero that reflects their experiences in the modern world. It’s Stan doing what he always did best, with us acting as Rick Rubin to his Johnny Cash: demonstrating that what Stan does isn’t about pastiche and nostalgia, but is classic and timeless, and can be immediate in today’s world.
O’Shea: In prepping to collaborate with BOOM! on this Stan Lee project, did you have to calm yourself down after the initial thrill of realizing you’re getting to work with Stan? How do you avoid being intimidated at building a story originating from the mind of Stan Lee?
Cornell: I’ve always had the knack of putting the thrill and the excitement in a different box in my head from the creative work. Otherwise I could never have written Doctor Who or Captain Britain. You’re not filling anyone’s shoes, you’re writing as yourself and thus honouring the originators by trying to do your best work, without your hands shaking. But, now you mention it, eeeek!
O’Shea: Growing up in the United Kingdom, do you remember how you were first introduced to the work of Stan Lee?
Cornell: That was the first issue of Avengers Weekly, a black and white reprint of part of Avengers #4, with scary Ditko Dr. Strange in the back. My Dad got it for me because he thought it was time I moved on from the Beano and Dandy. Which means he probably liked the look of it himself. Stan’s writing appealed directly to me, because he talks directly to the reader, and seems to be unfolding these very real, grounded stories to you, guiding you through them like any great children’s storyteller. He advanced my reading level so much. I was the only kid at school who knew what ‘thou base defiler’ meant.
O’Shea: Other than the understandable privilege to collaborate with Stan Lee, for a veteran storyteller like yourself, what’s the core appeal (from the “mechanics of writing” standpoint) of taking a Stan Lee assignment?
Cornell: Veteran? You mean I go from being a callow newbie to being a veteran, without ever getting to enjoy being inbetween? You’re the first to say that, I’ve just crossed some sort of age group rubicon. The core appeal is that Stan still creates structures that immediately resonate as good, modern, storytelling. This is the man that plotted the first half hour of the Spider-Man movie, beat by beat. You see his ideas and think: I see how that’s going to work, it just needs a modern studio to record it, with musicians who don’t feel they have to pretend it’s the Sixties (to continue my Johnny Cash metaphor).
O’Shea: As much as you have clearly excelled in mainstream continuities like Marvel and more recently at DC, what was the most enjoyable aspects of working in the relatively uncharted waters of this BOOM/Stan Lee universe dynamic?
Cornell: I love the fact that we’re creating a whole new world of comics, with the timeless strengths of Stan Lee behind it, and the modern energy of Boom!
O’Shea: A quick scan of tweets between you and EIC Mark Waid reveals an obvious mutual admiration of each other’s work. In addition to getting to work on a Stan Lee project, was part of the appeal to this assignment a chance to work with the BOOM! EIC?
Cornell: You’re just a stalker, you are. And absolutely, having hung out at Doctor Who conventions with Mark for so long (and having seen Colin Baker kick his arse at a panel game), I was always interested in working with Mark. I love his work, and his voice is important in this series too.
O’Shea: Given how busy you are–writing comics, developing projects for TV and living some semblance of a normal life somewhere in between–how do you find time to tweet AND maintain a blog? How important is it for you to use both to stay in contact with your fanbase?
Cornell: I think being a writer is all about communicating with the audience, so it’s all one thing to me. Twitter lets me talk quickly and directly to so many people. I love it.
O’Shea: Is this the last non-DC work you’ll be doing for awhile–did this project get in before the DC exclusive contract took effect?
Cornell: No, it’s the only exception DC allowed me from the Exclusive. I said I was doing it for Stan, and they understood!