Fabian Nicieza is a prominent comics writer. He has written many titles, including X-men and Cable and Deadpool for Marvel. Currently he has an exclusive contract with DC and is writing the last issues of Robin and co-writing the year long maxiseries Trinity with Kurt Busiek. He will also be authoring the upcoming Azreal miniseries, as well as the Gotham Gazette and Commissioner Gordon one shots, all starting in March of 2009. Big Shiny Robot! managed to snag an exclusive interview with him.
(Editors Note: This is the first interview done by Big Shiny Robot’s Underage Fan Grrl Correspondent, our very own CyberNev. Let’s give her a round of applause.)
Big Shiny Robot!: What made you want to write for comics?
Fabian Nicieza: I grew up reading comics, always writing and drawing. I knew I wanted to be a writer or some kind of storyteller since I was about 10 years old.
BSR!: What was the first comic you ever read?
FN: When I was very little, in Argentina, I remember a comic magazine named Antiojito y Antifas, then when we moved to the U.S. when I was 4, we initially bought Superman and Batman, plus I got younger reader stuff like Richie Rich and Hot Stuff, too. Then by `67 or so we “discovered” Marvel Comics like Fantastic Four, The Avengers and Spider-Man.
BSR!: Who’s your favorite superhero?
FN: Dick Grayson-Robin/Nightwing. Followed by Superman and Silver Age Spider-Man. I loved Conan when I was around 10-11. Then Legion of Superheroes when I was 12. Master of Kung Fu when I was 14 or so.
I bounced around a lot, but my favorite book and only completely consistent run for many years was always The Avengers, since I could get a whole bunch of characters for the same price as a solo book!
BSR!: Who’s your favorite artist? And who is your favorite to work with?
Of all time? Since childhood, definitely Jack Kirby, though I didn’t appreciate him as much when I was younger as I do now. If Barry Smith had done more work after Conan, he might’ve topped that list. John Romita Sr. John Buscema. Jim Starlin. Paul Gulacy. Dave Cockrum. Marshall Rogers. George Perez. John Byrne. Too many to really rank.
As for favorite to work with, it’s almost unfair to say, because it’s hard to get everything perfect in one package: storytelling skills, simpatico tastes, ability to meet deadlines. Plus, I don’t want to forget someone off the list. Guys I’ve worked with a lot, like Kevin Maguire, Mark Bagley, Patrick Zircher, they’re all certainly at the top of my list, but other guys I didn’t work with long enough are up there too, like Darick Robertson and Greg Capullo. See, I know I’m forgetting someone important now…
I do know I’m going to miss working with Freddie Williams II a LOT once we’re done on Robin. I hope we get to hook up on a project again real soon.
BSR!: Did you find your plots got derailed by huge events a lot at Marvel?
FN: Writers get their plots derailed by huge events at both Marvel AND DC, and that’s not controversy, that’s just a plain reality of publishing. I mean, how naïve do you have to be to cry wolf when you agree to do work-for-hire material on company-owned characters only to find line-wide events might affect your story plans?
It’s like complaining that you choose to eat chili and then you get gas. Sometimes the changes required are more egregious than others and sometimes it really benefits your book both from a story and sales standpoint. Sometimes editorial handles such situations well, other times they’re awful. It varies. You been around long enough, very little is new.
For example, I don’t know that Cable & Deadpool would have survived as long as it did if it weren’t for the sales bumps from crossover involvement healing increase our overall percentage in the six month “renewals” we were getting. Then again, a crossover led to having Cable removed from a comic book called Cable & Deadpool, so there you go! ☺
BSR!: What was your favorite thing about working at Marvel?
FN: As a freelancer or as a staff employee? Two totally different questions.
As a staff employee from `85 to `94, it was a great office environment at a pretty exciting time in terms of energy and sales success. I miss the people I worked with on a daily basis all the time, and I don’t think ANY of us have ever had jobs or workplaces that can match Marvel between those years.
As a freelancer, you go through your ups and downs. I’ve been lucky enough to work on both the highest selling titles and the lower selling ones, as both a writer and an editor, which helps give you a very balanced perspective. I’ve sold more comics and made more money than any 10 professionals combined, and that’s the result of hard work, discipline and a lot of luck.
BSR!: How and why did you come to work for DC?
FN: I’d done some work for them over the last 10 years, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. Since Marvel never offered me any kind of contract, it was important for me to try and work for various companies, like Dark Horse as well.
As for DC, I just couldn’t crack the nut. I couldn’t find the right pitch to the right editor at the right time. It was frustrating, but since I get how things work, I just kept a positive attitude about it. I honestly felt it was my fault, not “theirs.” I knew if I could just weasel my way through the door, I’d cling to them like a barnacle and they’d notice how spiffy I am.
Then, Kurt Busiek called asking if I could help him plot out some issues of Action Comics about the same time as Kevin and I had sold and started the Batgirl/Catwoman Batman Confidential arc. That combination got the ball rolling.
Kurt and I worked on several issues for the Superman titles, then Mike Marts called if I could help out with the Nightwing issues of the Resurrection of Ra’s crossover.
And when Trinity came together, they offered me an exclusive contract, which meant a lot to me. I’ve always said, the hardest thing for me to deal with as a freelancer was that I have always been a “company guy” with a teamwork/offie mentality, but as a freelancer, I was “a company guy without a company.” I think having a contract makes most freelancers, to varying degrees, feel like they “have a home.”
BSR!: I want to ask you some questions about a DC Elseworlds you once did, called “Created Equal“. It has resurfaced in Internet discussion lately and been met with some criticism. How did it come about that a story where female superheroes were dominant and only two men were alive on earth (Luthor and Superman) managed to have a climax about a fight between those two men while the women stood by helplessly?
FN: Geez, I don’t know that I could answer that in any way that would make the critics happy. I will say that I don’t think the story turned out in any way that Kevin, editor Andy Helfer or myself were totally satisfied with. There were three cooks making that stew and it just didn’t click between the different things we all wanted. If I recall (and my memory on these things is usually very poor), in my original plans, I don’t think ANY males were going to survive, women were going to make the world a paradise, then start cloning males to repopulate the species. The legitimate problem was that story lacked enough drama, so we decided Superman would survive. But that lacked conflict, so we decided Luthor would survive. Then it became a Superman/Luthor story instead of a “women run the world” story and… the lack of coherent focus gets you what you get.
But, it did still have some great art by Kevin and Barbara Gordon becoming a Green Lantern, so I take that out of it! ☺
BSR!: The story has been accused of switching between feminist and anti-feminist at breakneck speed. (For example, apparently if all you guys died, women would end war and all that. Man, have you been holding us back. Yet Lois is killed gruesomely off panel when her son hugs her, which is kind of icky.) Care to comment?
FN: I do believe that if women ran the world, we’d likely see far less war, if not a complete elimination of it. I also think icky and gruesome deaths are a lot of fun, so killing Lois that way worked just fine from a dramatic standpoint. How does that fall into a feminist/anti-feminist category? Superkid with little control of his superpowers hugs a human too tight. Ouch. You’d have to drive several times around the block before I could see an anti-feminist parking space in that story bit. You might see it, but it certainly wasn’t in my head when I was writing it. Often, people see an agenda where none exists, where a character direction or story point is simply a logical progression in a writer’s mind, without any kind of underlying “statement” or intent other than to create entertaining drama.
BSR!: Wonder Woman and Superman had some flirting going on in the story. Do you support a romantic relationship between those two?
FN: No, I don’t. I don’t know, honestly, that either could ever have a truly stable romantic relationship and still do their jobs.
I also think Clark and Lois being married, though as logical story a story progression in its own way as the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane was, hasn’t worked for either Clark or Lois as characters (just like it made things harder for Spider-Man writers).
I think the character loses more than he gains by being married. We’re actually bringing that up as a story element of Trinity in the upcoming issues, just from the standpoint of “metacommentary,” not that we’re changing the status quo or anything.
BSR!: How was working with Kevin Maguire on Batman Confidential?
Working with Kevin is always an enjoyable, rollercoaster love it/hate it proposition. He is probably the best storyteller in comics, NO ONE can define a character through art as well as he can and that makes scripting from his penciled pages a sheer joy. On the other hand, he’s painfully slow, a bit too rigid in his perceptions of story structure and he makes lots of changes to the story (usually for the better – I did say “usually,” Kev ☺) that often require extra work to reconcile.
And since we’ve been friends for more than 20 years (yes, it has been that long) and will always be friends, agreeing to disagree on some things is a great part of our relationship. I can’t wait to work with him again… in a couple of years.
BSR!: You took up the reigns of Robin for it’s final stretch. What do you like about Tim Drake?
FN: Everything. Honestly. Simple as that. I think he is a GREAT character and has been since first introduced and developed by Marv, Alan and then Chuck. Having a chance to chronicle his adventures, however brief, though ultimately during a very important time for the character, has made me a very happy puppy.
BSR!: What was it like taking the heat for replacing Chuck Dixon?
FN: Heat? What heat? I honestly don’t think that 2 people stating an opinion on the Internet can generate enough heat so that I’d notice. If anything, the general tone of opinion on the Internet (a 1% sampling of the overall readership that simply must be listened to, right?) — though rightfully upset that Chuck would be no longer writing the book — were universally positive about the fact that if someone had to be taking over, it would be someone like me.
I have seen generally overwhelmingly positive reviews of my issues and of our approach to the character, and certainly of our respect to what Chuck built over so many years. I should hope so, considering that respect is genuine.
Besides, you’re talking to the guy who took over for Claremont on X-MEN after his 17 year run on the title, so obviously, I’m either a masochist or I don’t scare easily.
BSR!: On the DC message boards, back when the fanbase was not aware Robin was ending, you acted like you would be on the book a while, hinting at things like wanting to fit in a Batgirl and Spoiler reunion. Was that just to throw us off the scent because you were told to keep the cancellation confidential, or is there more for Tim to do post Battle for the Cowl?
FN: Yes and no. The truth is the final issue was coming, but which issue would be was not yet set in stone. There were discussions that varied from ending it with #182 and the conclusion of Search for a Hero or as high as #185 or #186. Within THAT context, I would have had a Batgirl/Spoiler meeting. As it stands, that didn’t work out, though I will continue to develop Spoiler’s story in Gotham Gazette a series of two one-shot issues that comes out during “attle for the Cowl.
BSR!: What’s with Spoiler’s random invisibility powers in Gotham Underground and Batman and the Outsiders? It’s really bothering me.
It’s not bothering me at all. I have to be honest, I read GU and I read OUTSIDERS as I get them in my DC comp copies, but I hadn’t noticed where Spoiler turns invisible. Beats the heck out of me.
BSR!: What was your favorite arc in Robin (that you haven’t written?)
FN: Probably his first mini-series, since that did such a great job of setting the tone for who the character would be and how he would think. Chuck and Tom Lyle did a fantastic job setting the foundation down for the character that remains to this day.
BSR!: What was your favorite part of writing Robin?
FN: The leisurely deadlines.
That was a joke there, son. If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.
Seriously, just getting to tell what I feel is an important story for Tim has been a lot of fun. Trying to craft a stronger rogue’s gallery for him has also been enjoyable. I certainly wish we’d had a much longer run on the book. I could’ve written this title for years and been a very happy pup, but I still feel in the 9 issues I’ll have scripted, we accomplished a lot in preparing Tim for an exciting future.
BSR!: What has been your favorite back up story you’ve written on Trinity?
FN: I love #6 because I got to write Hawkman for the first time. I really enjoyed the Riddler story in #12. I also liked the “Bigger Melvin” story riffing on an old Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Batman issue.
Having said that, I think our best back-up story to date is coming out in #34.
BSR!: How is working at DC different from working at Marvel?
FN: It’s not different at all in terms of your basic nuts and bolts. The job remains the same. The editorial personalities are not all that different, I mean, I’m working with Mike Carlin, Matt Idelson and Mike Marts, all of whom I’ve known since our Marvel days in the `80′s and early `90′s.
Both companies understandably operate with a “Big Guns” get to shoot the loudest mentality. So a select few writers and fewer editors get to decide continuity events that could affect the whole of the respective universes. Whether it’s Bendis and Millar at Marvel or Johns and Morrison at DC, it’s still basically two sides of the same coin. I had my time in the sun doing that and it’s a heavy responsibility, so let those guys suffer the hair loss like I did (or is it too late for a couple of them? ☺).
I’m quite content being a has-been who, between comic and non-comic work, is busier than he’s been for the last 15 years!