Talking Comics with Tim | Chris Roberson
Writer Chris Roberson is one of those folks that deserves to get more than one Eisner nomination, but alas he–oh wait yes he did. In all seriousness, this interview occurred before the Eisner nominations were announced last week. So while I congratulate Roberson for his nominations in the categories of Best Limited Series (along with Shawn McManus) for Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love and Best New Series (along with Mike Allred) for iZombie, the focus of the interview is mainly on Superman, while iZombie and the new Cinderella miniseries (Fables Are Forever) are discussed briefly. This Wednesday, April 13, marks the release of both Superman 710 and Cinderella: Fables Are Forever 3 (of 6), so we discuss his upcoming Superman and Cinderella issues (plus gaining a bit of insight into last month’s Lex Luthor’s 40 Cakes homage in Superman 709). To get greater context on Roberson’s upcoming work, be sure to also read CBR News’ recent Roberson coverage from late February and early March.
Tim O’Shea: The comics reading audience can prove to be a fickle lot, some readers thrive on minutiae, others do not. But there’s no doubt a lot of people recently got a kick (myself included) out of the Lex Luthor/40 cakes retcon in Superman 709. How did that idea come to pass (I know it was partially inspired by a tweet)?
Chris Roberson: It was really simple, actually. I’m a huge fan of the Super Dictionary, and have a copy of it on my shelf, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I might include anything from it until it was suggested to me. Once someone on Twitter first mentioned the idea (@loganjames, in fact), it seemed intuitively obvious in retrospect.
O’Shea: When I’ve talked to you in the past, I get the impression that you get a great deal more (or at least more immediate) satisfaction from your comics writing efforts, as compared with your prose novel work. Would that be a correct assessment on my part, and why do you think that is?
Roberson: I think it’s because comics were my first language, in a lot of ways, and I only became a novelist because I couldn’t manage to break into the comics field. I think I was always thinking in “comic” and translating it into “novel,” though, so now that I’m able to stick in “comic” throughout, it just makes the process that much smoother.
O’Shea: Collaborating with the likes of artists Mike & Laura Allred (as well as recent guest artist Gilbert Hernandez) [all on iZombie] what kind of storytelling experience (which you can utilize in future efforts) have you earned from such team-ups?
Roberson: Well, working with heavyweights like the Allreds and Hernandez REALLY forces you to bring your A game, and to push yourself past what you already thought you could do. So the immediate benefit is getting to work with such amazing artists and seeing the scripts brought to such beautiful life, but the longterm benefit is that I’ve raised the bar for myself and have to stay at that level.
O’Shea: In discussing your work on iZombie recently with CBR (http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=31109), you made no bones how much you enjoy writing strong female characters. In an industry trying to maintain, if not grow its base audience, how important do you think it is for there to be more writers like you to please consumers seeking stories with female leads stories like iZombie?
Roberson: It would certainly be nice if there were more stories that appeal to female readers, and not just in terms of there being female characters available. But to be honest, I don’t set out to write a story calculating that it will appeal to this segment of the audience or that. I’m just writing stories that I would like to read. I just hope that there’s enough people that share my tastes, both male AND female, that I can keep doing it for a while!
O’Shea: In Superman 710, you get to feature Vandal Savage and the adventures of teenage Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, there’s just so much material to explore–how do you fight the urge not to throw everything but the kitchen sink into such a rich story–and fit it all into one issue?
Roberson: Who says I DO resist the urge to throw in everything?! I’m sure there’s a kitchen sink in there somewhere…
But it has to serve the story, or it doesn’t get used. The trick is to take all these great ideas from the characters’ respective histories, and treat them like building blocks or Lego bricks, and then figure out what you can build out of them. When you’ve finished building that cool thing, there will probably be a few Legos left over that you couldn’t find a place to use. And that’s okay, because you’ve still got them lying on the floor for the NEXT cool thing you try to build.
O’Shea: What can you tell folks about Sharif, the new character being introduced in issue 712: is this a character that JMS outlined in the initial Grounded plans–or is this a character you suggested? (Feel free to tweak or ignore this question if I have structured it poorly)
Roberson: Sharif was one of my additions to the Grounded storyline, but he isn’t some one that I created so much as an existing character that I “salvaged.” He was lurking there in the back issues boxes the whole time, albeit under a different name, waiting for his chance to come back from comic book limbo.
O’Shea: How much of a kick was it to recently see your young daughter working on her own mini-comic? Granted you’re not writing an all ages Superman, but on some level does it register that her dad is writing Superman?
Roberson: Well, in my head I AM writing an all ages Superman! There won’t be anything in the issues I’m writing that a seven year old couldn’t read and hopefully enjoy. When I started reading Superman back in the 70s, I was reading the regular Superman title, and I want kids today to have the same opportunity.
And do I enjoy seeing my daughter making her own comics? Um, YES! She’s also making her own board games now, though, so comics might miss out if she ends up going into game design, instead. But is she impressed that I’m writing Superman? Not in the least. Most days she just wishes I had a “real job,” since in her eyes all I do is sit around the house all day reading comics and making up stories. And what kind of life is THAT for a grown-up, I ask you?
O’Shea: Describe the level of elation you felt when you started work on the second Cinderella miniseries. How early in the development did you realize you wanted to utilize Dorothy Gale for this new mini?
Roberson: The idea that Dorothy Gale was a possible nemesis for Cinderella is actually where the second miniseries started out. I was watching The Wiz with my wife last year, and right about the last act it occurred to me that Dorothy Gale was an ASSASSIN. She kills witches and gets rewarded for it. The first witch she killed by accident, but when the Wizard tells her that he’ll only send her back to Kansas if she kills another witch, Dorothy takes the job. That’s a HITJOB! I figured that maybe Dorothy had developed a taste for it, and imaged this whole life for her after the events of Baum’s stories, going around and knocking off witches in exchange for pay. I mentioned it to Bill Willingham, saying if he ever did another Cinderella story that he should use Dorothy as her nemesis. And the next thing I knew, *I* was doing another Cinderella story.
O’Shea: Am I right in assuming that as many ideas as you have typically have rolling around in your head, the opportunities explored with the Shadow Fabletown in the Soviet Union is only a sampling of what you’d like to delve into, if given a chance down the road?
Roberson: Oh, definitely. The storytelling possibilities in the world that Bill has built for Fables are literally endless. And I’ll keep playing around in that world as long as Bill lets me!
O’Shea: How many bikinis does Cinderella own–is it part of her spy contract (“assignment must include period of time where I get a new bikini”)?
Roberson: Cinderella probably owns as many bikinis as she does pairs of high-heeled shoes–in other words, a LOT.
O’Shea: I’m fairly certain that Cinderella has the most frequent flier miles of any Fabletown’s residents–and in this miniseries you have her trailing her nemesis through many countries. Can you talk about what motivated you to pick some of the places where Cinderella goes in this mini?
Roberson: I tried to pick locales that we don’t see too often in comics, and that were different enough from each other to make it visually interesting and offer some grist for the storytelling mill.
O’Shea: Earlier this month, you noted “Just realized that my first comics work hit stands 20 months ago.” Take a moment and consider if you would, in what ways have you’ve improved as a comics writer in those 20 months?
Roberson: I certainly hoped that I’ve improved! I think that’s really up to the readers to judge, though. I’m just trying to do the best I can with every issue I write, and to always do the next issue a little bit better than the last one.