It might be a bit early for a career retrospective on Nick Spencer, but the busy comic book writer has racked up an impressive bunch of credits in the past few years, including a movie deal for his first series, Existence 2.0, and ongoing series at Marvel, DC, and Image – a hat trick any writer would kill for. On the evening of the release of his latest Image series, The Infinite Vacation, we chatted with Spencer (who is on a vacation of his own, though we assume not an Infinite one) about years of rejection, the series that got away, and why 2011 might be his best year yet.
Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti had just taken over at Marvel Knights, and I was a regular on the Event Comics site. So they let me throw some ideas past them… I pitched to Oni some really awful stuff… So horrible, that I wish I had copies of them, but I threw them in the garbage. They were really derivative, Kevin Smith stuff: guys getting dumped by their girlfriends, with no jobs. Bob Schreck told me, “The good news is, you’re writing what you know. The bad news is, you don’t know shit.”
So I worked in music, worked in politics, and about four years ago, I decided to go back to writing.
I got to a point where I realized I wasn’t good at anything else. In all seriousness, most of the things I had been doing in my twenties – everything that I’d done before that were, “A fun thing to do for a couple of years,” but it was nothing I’d want to do for ten, twenty, thirty years.
The inspiration for that – I had owned a bar, and it had failed miserably, like a lot of people with small businesses fail. I did a lot of soul searching, and one of the things I did was move to New York to Ohio. All of it gave me the feel of a new life, a change in environment or direction. That’s really what Existence 2.0 is all about. It’s a fun story about someone who makes mistakes, and then finds themselves in a completely different life, and gets pulled back into their old one by the people they love.
I knew that we were leaving Existence 2.0 at a point in the story that had a lot of intriguing potential – and for those avoiding spoilers, don’t read this... At the end of 2.0, Jenny has herself transferred into the body of an assassin. I was intrigued about what would happen to her, and how her life would play out. I saw a chance to tell a story about stepparents, and how people relate to their stepfathers. I’m always kind of intrigued by those non-traditional family dynamics. Also, I was inspired by the history of invention, and how they snowball from small labs, and go from there. It happens in real life, and it happened with the experiment in 2.0. What would happen next, now that the genie was out of the bottle?
As for the movie, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar turned in the first script, and it seems like Platinum Dunes will make it happen. I’m not involved, but if they need me… They’ll call.
Like I said, I had moved to New York, and I had been there for a year or two when I started writing Forgetless. I was very much fascinated by the place, wanted to tell a story about what I was seeing here. It’s a story all about people moving to New York with dreams, and ideas, and how the city changes and shapes them. It’s all about people who aspire to be famous, aspire to be loved, and the sacrifices they make in order to attain it – how they realize over time maybe it’s not worthwhile… But maybe it is.
Shuddertown remains the frustration so far. Both Shuddertown and Existence are uncompleted stories. I can live with where Existence is right now, but Shuddertown, I’m frustrated about. It’s a story about regret, about guilt, and about the people who decide who is guilty on a lot of different levels. I’m honestly proud of it; it gets criminally overlooked when people talk about my work, but that’s because people only have seen a third of it. The question is, do you find a new artist, will it affect the story negatively? So its not something I’ve had a whole lot of time to spend on. Again, fingers crossed, we’ll get back to it at some point.
It always felt like a long form story for me. I never really had much question about that. It’s hard to say why that is… I had a feeling pretty much from the first tent of inspiration that it was a much bigger story that I wanted to tell, and these were characters I’d want to spend time with. I wrote Morning Glories number one before I wrote Forgetless or Shuddertown... Maybe even before Existence 2.0? Morning Glories predates almost everything. I knew I didn’t want to come out with it first, I knew I wanted to have other work out there first, build up my profile as a writer. And after the other series seemed to be getting a nice response, and getting noticed, it was time for Morning Glories.
It certainly wasn’t overnight. We had pitched the book to Image a year before it got released, so we had held onto it for a good long while. For me, I can remember the week Morning Glories #1 came out. It was mostly relief, because that had been the hope, that had been the expectation, that my work would strike a chord with a wider audience. We got lucky, the stars aligned, and the rest came into place. For me, it had always been the hope that Existence, Shuddertown, and Forgetless were all that foundation we could set the house. It’s good to see a plan come together. [Laughs]
Will Moss at DC had e-mailed me out of the blue, and had been enjoying Forgetless, and asked if I’d be interested in pitching some stuff to DC. I sent them some short pitches. None of them caught on, but a few weeks later he called and said, “I’ve had this chance to relaunch T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.” It was an intriguing opportunity to work on something a bit on the periphery, but to also work in that environment. So I was all over it. I was very excited to take a shot at it. Everybody at DC was very open to new ideas on the characters, and seemed to really like the take we had.
Will Moss at DC had already approached me about T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and we had been working on that. They sent me an e-mail, and said, we’re looking for a new co-feature on Action Comics. And one of the characters on the list was Jimmy Olsen. And I immediately wrote back, because I’m a huge Jimmy Olsen fan, and always harbored dreams of working on that character. And we were off to the races there. I had thought about what I wanted to do with that character for a long time... It was one of those rare instances when a project is offered that you wanted to suggest for yourself anyway.
I think sadly, this will be it but I’m very satisfied with what we were able to do. We told a story that I hope gets Jimmy back to the core of what he is, and what he means to the DC Universe. It’s one of those things where I could do another, but I’ve put the character at the frame I think he should be on, and I’d just be as happy to see other writers take it from here.
The Infinite Vacation:
It’s finally out! This is really about getting to work with Christian Ward, who I’m a fan of, but also a friend of, and I have so much respect for his talent, and it’s been so much fun working with him. It’s great to see the work out there, and clicking with the audience. It’s a love story, it’s a fun book about mass consumerism and materialism in society, finding the things that really matter to us, learning to make those big choices, and live with them.
I don’t know if it’s bigger [than Morning Glories] or not, because it’s just… What I would say is that it’s nice that the books are off the shelves, but I’d rather everybody gets the books that they wanted. Because you feel like at the end of the night, you did your job, and sold those books for the retailers. But you still want everybody to read your book. Pre-order, pre-order, pre-order. It’s nice to be underestimated.
Iron Man 2.0:
It’s fun to get to – when you’re dealing with these characters that have a long history, it’s fun when you’re leaving your imprint right out of the gate. That’s what’s fun about these costume changes, you’ve added something to the history of the character.
It’s a story about the changing face of war, it’s a story about Rhodey, who is very much a symbol for the way that the U.S. Military fights, learning to change and adapt. It’s about learning to fight smarter, and faster, and with more precision and care. It’s a story that works on a lot of different levels. We’re looking at broad issues of how we fight and why we fight.
On His Secret Project With Robert Kirkman:
It’s a blast! Robert’s a great guy. He’s somebody that I really look up to in the industry, and somebody whose opinion I really value. This book has been a long time coming, because obviously because my schedule is pretty intense, his schedule is ten times as intense, so it’s taken a while to get off the ground, and we’re rolling now. It’s a fun book, and it’s really different than anything that’s out there. I think people are really going to go crazy for it.
…And The Rest of 2011:
There’s a whole bunch of other things, but I’m sworn to confidentially. Thankfully Spring is right around the corner, and convention season… Once that gets going, everybody will make their making announcements. It’s gonna be a great year, a bunch of new toys to play with, and a bunch of new challenges. This is gonna be a big one.
Check out this video interview with Spencer MTV Geek shot at New York Comic Con last year!