Talking Comics with Tim | Chris Roberson on Elric
Regular readers of Talking Comics with Tim, before you ask yourself “Chris Roberson, didn’t you just interview him last month?” Yes and no. This interview focuses solely on Roberson’s plans for the new BOOM! Studios series, Elric: The Balance Lost, which will be previewed for readers this Saturday, May 7, via the company’s Free Comic Book Day offering. As noted by BOOM! Studios: “For 40 years, the exploits of Elric have thrilled comic book fandom, beginning with his introduction to the world of comics in Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian #15 in 1972. Now, Michael Moorcock, the godfather of the Multiverse concept, brings one of the most critically acclaimed and recognizable figures in the history of fantasy fiction back to sequential art! This Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) edition heralds the new ongoing Elric series featuring a crisis across multiple worlds that will involve Moorcock’s other famous fantasy franchise characters: Corum of the Scarlet Robe and Dorian Hawkmoon. Meet the Pale Prince in an epic that could only be called The Balance Lost! And make sure you don’t miss the new ongoing series this summer!” Thanks to BOOM! Studios’ Chip Mosher and Ivan Salazar for helping arrange this email interview, and (of course) thanks to Roberson for indulging another round of questions. Once you’ve read the interview, please be sure to check out CBR’s preview of the FCBD offering. If you find yourself in the Austin area this Saturday, be sure to catch Roberson at Austin Books from 10AM to 5PM.
Tim O’Shea: Ian Brill recently wrote of the Free Comic Book Day Elric issue, “Whether you’re new to the Elric mythos or a longtime fan you will dig it.” A) very brave of Mr. Brill to use a 1970s term like “dig” (I kid) and B) What is the key to writing a story that can equally appeal to new readers and longtime readers?
Chris Roberson: Well, to be fair, he could have used “grok” in the place of “dig,” which might have been a LITTLE braver.
But really, the trick is to give just enough information about the characters and the concepts to get new readers up to speed, without boring all of the longtime readers with stuff they already know. Based on my own experiences coming into long-running comic, TV, and novel series when I was younger, I don’t think new readers need to know EVERYTHING. They just need to know the basics, enough to understand who the characters are in general terms and what the basic conflict is. Reading to find out more is one of the things that keeps it interesting!
O’Shea: Elric: The Balance Lost allows you to build a story that swims throughout the many universes in Michael Moorcock’s fantasy novels. Did that require a great deal of reading or re-reading of his novels to get a good feel for the universes?
Roberson: Well, as someone who has worshipped at the altar of Michael Moorcock for a quarter century now, I have a habit of going back and rereading a bunch of his novels periodically, anyway. And it just so happened that when BOOM! approached me a bit over a year ago about doing this project, it was only a year or two since I finished a gargantuan marathon reread of ALL of Moorcock’s novels and stories.
But even though I had them all still pretty fresh in my head, I figured it was the perfect excuse to read some of my favorites AGAIN, and so took a month or two to reread a big stack of novels once more, this time taking copious notes.
One of the things that readers will quickly realize, I hope, is that this isn’t just an Elric story, though he is the character who is front and center throughout. This is more line a line-wide company crossover that takes in DOZENS of characters, a Secret Wars or Crisis on Infinite Earths, except that many of these characters either haven’t been seen in comics for a LONG time or have NEVER appeared in comics before.
O’Shea: Dabbling in the Moorcock multiverse, as a writer what are some of the qualities (about the make-up of these universes and characters) that you admire and that you are able to capitalize upon in your own story?
Roberson: Well, more than anything, Moorcock’s view of the multiverse is just a fantastic engine for telling stories in any conceivable environment, on the one hand, and for exploring ideas and philosophies, on the other. One of the key aspects of Moorcock’s cosmology is the notion of an eternal struggle between Law and Chaos. In the more fantastical settings, this plays out as a literal war between supernatural powers on either side, with gods, demons, and demiurges directing the movement of human agents like chess pieces moving across the board. But in the more mundane settings, stories set in what is effectively the “real” world, this same tension between Law and Chaos plays out, but more often as philosophical tendencies that push characters one way or the other.
But readers should note that “Law and Chaos” are not simply synonyms for “Good and Evil.” There is not a moral component to that struggle, at least not in any objective sense. Law and Chaos are simply two different ways of approaching the universe, and the heroes in Moorcock’s novels can often find themselves fighting on one side or the other, and sometimes both or neither!
O’Shea: How are the dynamics changed when writing a story if the characters are fighting either on the sides of law or chaos (as opposed to good versus evil) a distinction you recently made in an MTV Geek interview? Does that allow you to explore more shades of gray in the story?
Roberson: It’s all situational, in Moorcock’s cosmology. Either side left unchecked will lead to negative consequences, and the ideal is for the two forces to be held in a tension where neither is too dominant. That’s why the Eternal Champion (of which Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon, et al. are merely incarnations) can fight on the side of Law or Chaos, but doesn’t serve either of them. The Eternal Champion ultimately serves the Balance, which is the embodiment of that tension.
I suppose that “shades of gray” is an apt phrase for it, but I don’t tend to look at it that way. To see complexity and ambiguity as “gray” assumes that there is a black and a white on either side, moral absolutes of “good” and “evil.” In Moorcock’s cosmology, that doesn’t apply. It’s more a question of ethics and pragmatism than it is of morality.
O’Shea: In the FCBD Elric: The Balance Lost prologue, BOOM! has seen fit to do an Elric/Moorcock comics timeline dating back to 1972. Do you ever get intimidated looking at the strong creators who have worked with these characters in the past–or is that a non-issue for you?
Roberson: Well, I’m working with the characters and concepts of MICHAEL MOORCOCK! As much as I admire the work of so many of those comics creators who have worked with his characters before, I don’t think any of them intimidate me more following in HIS footsteps!
O’Shea: What strengths do you think series artist Francesco Biagini brings to the project?
Roberson: I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with Francesco’s work before he was attached to ELRIC: THE BALANCE LOST, but as soon as I saw the character designs he’d submitted I knew he was perfect for the job. And the pages he’s been turning in have been AMAZING. This book is going to look GREAT.
Do you wish all your new projects could get the potential boost gained from having a FCBD presence?
Roberson: It certainly doesn’t hurt!
O’Shea: Will you be making any FBCD in-store appearances this year?
Roberson: I will indeed. I’ll be at Austin Books (in Austin, strangely enough) from 10AM to 5PM, with Sharpie in hand!
O’Shea: Speaking of multiverses, how hard is it to shift gears as a writer when writing the multiple universes and characters you write at present. And on the flip side, does writing different stories/genres sometimes help give you clarity–is there ever a time that a story challenge solution for Story A comes into your head while you are working on Story B?
Roberson: I find that it’s actually EASIER to work on multiple books at the same time, and I have adopted a rule that I won’t do two issues worth of scripts for any given title back-to-back. Spending time working on other, VERY different projects in between issues on any given book means that the back of my brain is able to bubble over with ideas for a month or so, and when I come back to write the next issue I’ve got a head full of new ideas to bring to the table.