A Man for All Genres: Stuart Moore

A comics interview article by: Tim O'Shea
Stuart Moore is the comic book writer’s equivalent to an all-terrain vehicle. Name another writer who can switch from the new landscape of the Marvel/IDW miniseries, New Avengers/Transformers, then traverse the familiar roads of Spidey (in the first issue of Marvel Comics Presents) and finally almost in the same month climb the hills of horror featured in the Fox Atomic Comics' The Nightmare Factory(adaptations of stories by Thomas Ligotti) This interview actually started out in July before the start of the New Avengers/Transformers, so my apologies to Stuart for the delay on that part running, but I think it was worth the wait as we more recently got to also discuss his upcoming work on Marvel's Ghost Rider Annual, as well as his editing role for Virgin’s new SciFi Channel line of comics.

Tim O’Shea (TOS): Can you tell folks if there's a Dr. Doom Decepticon at some point in this New Avengers/Transformers miniseries, given that it's partially set in Latveria?

Stuart Moore (SM): A Doctor Doom Decepticon? That's a weird idea. Now, Doctor Doom IN LEAGUE WITH the Decepticons...that's possible.

TOS: The New Avengers/Transformers mini is set pre-Civil War, so you get to work with an Avengers lineup that includes Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Falcon and Ms. Marvel. Granted this is a team book with myriad crossovers, but given Cap's present day situation, does it make it that much more enjoyable to be able to write scenes with Cap and Falcon?

SM: That honestly didn't occur to me consciously, but yes, I did enjoy those scenes. They don't get a lot of "screen time" together to shine, but Falcon's in an interesting position here because his first instinct is to trust Cap. And that's not always the right instinct, in this book.

TOS: I love this gig for getting to ask questions like this. How hard is it to write dialogue for giant talking robots--or do you just treat them the same as any other character?

SM: I treat them like any other gigantic, invading alien presence from a world completely beyond our imagining.

Seriously, though: The Transformers are well-established characters, as much so as Wolverine or Spider-Man. They do exist on another plane, but the trick to any of them is getting inside his head. His big, metal, Cybertronian head.

TOS: As a writer, one automatic given when dealing with Spidey, that's where you get to do some witty banter. Do you get to do some funny lines with Spidey reacting to encountering the Transformers?

SM: I hope the lines are funny -- yes, that was definitely the idea. Spider-Man has a very pivotal role in this series, and he interacts with a lot with the Decepticons early on.

TOS: How did you try to capitalize on New Avengers/Transformers artist Tyler Kirkham's strengths?

SM: I just gave him an insane number of characters to draw and then tried to get out of his way. Tyler's absolutely terrific with robots -- check out the Sentinels in his recent X-Men: Phoenix miniseries. This book is the best work of his career.

TOS: According to Marvel's preview info about the book, the book delves into a potential conflict between neighboring countries, Symkaria and Latveria. Given that Symkaria is the home of Silver Sable, how much of a role does she play in the miniseries. Can you divulge any other Marvel characters that might have a cameo?

SM: Sable has a cameo. Other than that, it's the Avengers -- with special guests the Falcon and Ms. Marvel -- the Autobots and the Decepticons. We do save one particular Avenger for a dramatic entrance midway through the series.

TOS: Over the course of writing the four-issue mini, did you develop an affinity for writing any particular Avenger or Transformer?

SM: I like Ratchet a lot, and we "introduce" a Decepticon who hasn't yet appeared in the IDW continuity -- I don't want to tell you who he is yet, but he was fun to write. On the Avengers' side, I found Luke Cage and Wolverine played off against each other really nicely. One's tall and imposing, the other short, scrappy, and incredibly tough. The whole thing was a lot of fun.

TOS: Given the complicated nature of a crossover like this, how crucial was it to have guidance from an editor--someone to help keep score of all the plot and character balls you are juggling in the air?

SM: It was absolutely crucial. Bill Rosemann at Marvel kept the whole thing moving beautifully, and Chris Ryall at IDW was always there when we desperately needed a last-minute Decepticon to throw a wrench into things.

TOS: On the Ghost Rider annual, set to be released in November, you introduce the character "Mister Eleven"--did Marvel editorial bring this character developed before you took on writing duties--or were you allowed to develop the character yourself to a certain extent?

SM: I created the character. I had a basic idea about a double-agent for Heaven and Hell, a guy who's been on Earth so long, playing both sides against each other, that he can't even remember where it all started. Kind of like a supernatural version of A Scanner Darkly. Axel Alonso liked the idea, and made some suggestions to tee him up as a character they could use later on in Ghost Rider.

TOS: Who came up with the idea to have artist Ben Oliver do the whole annual in graywash?

SM: Axel worked that out with Ben, and it came out really well.

TOS: The Marvel Comics Presents series has relaunched with your name attached to issue 1. Care to divulge details on "Unfriendly Neighborhood" featuring Spider-Man? At your blog you mention the story is in the vein of Romita Sr.'s Spidey (one of my favorite Spidey eras)

SM: What I meant was that Clayton Henry's version of Spider-Man evoked Romita Sr. for me...which was great because (a) I love that period too and (b) it was just funny to take that version of the character and throw him into outer space. It's kind of a jokey story and I don't want to say too much about it, but the art was a crucial part of it...if it'd been drawn in a more caricatured, "funny" way, I don't think it would have worked anywhere near as well.

TOS: How did you land the Fox Atomic Nightmare Factory work?

SM: Heidi Macdonald, the editor, approached me because of my *cough* literary background. (That was crucial for New Avengers/Transformers, too. Joke.)

TOS: Were you familiar with Ligotti's work prior to this assignment?

SM: I'd read a few stories back a ways, and I knew his reputation. It's fascinating stuff, very fluid and evocative.

TOS: What was the greatest challenge in adapting his writing?

SM: Much of the "action" of Ligotti's work is very interior, very psychological. The trick was to make it visual without losing too many of the subtleties in the original prose. Both of my stories were told first-person...in one case, by an unreliable or at least unstable narrator...and I chose to keep a lot of the narration intact. I was afraid that without it, you'd lose the driving force of the character and wind up with a generic, confusing horror story.

The stories themselves are terrific, and I really enjoyed the challenge of adapting them. That kind of work makes you think differently about your own writing, too.

TOS: I was struck by Colleen Doran's comments abut working on The Last
Feast of Harlequin
(in The Nightmare Factory) :
"It's rather intimidating to illustrate the work of someone like this. I twisted myself into nervous knots over this job. My thinking was to keep the earlier pages drawn in a very straightforward style without flash or flourish, and to let the darkness of the story gradually build by reserving extreme angles in my shots for the latter part of the tale." Make no bones about it, Doran is one of the top artists working in the medium. So, for me, to read how intimidated she was about the work, were you nervous about delivering a story worthy of her stress?

SM: No, because I'd already delivered the script by the time she started saying things like that. :)

I tend to concentrate on the work rather than the pressure. As I said, adapting these stories was a challenge...I suggested the periodic closeup/montages that work almost like chapter divisions within the story, and Colleen took the idea and ran with it, brilliantly, in her own way. I love the way the cave sequences at the end work...the skewed angles really add to the unearthliness of it all. And then at the end, you go back to...well, I won't ruin it.

TOS: The other Ligotti story you adapted was for artist Ben Templesmith. How challenging was it to adapt two similar genre works for two vastly different artists?

SM: The stories themselves were very different. Harlequin is a Lovecraft pastiche, and it's told in a very straightforward manner, starting off slow and escalating to a horrific climax. It was the easier one to adapt because of that -- it has more traditional set-pieces and horror scenes.

Dream of a Mannikin, which Ben painted, jumps around a lot more. It's a shorter story, and it hinges on the narrator's particular state of mind, which only gradually becomes clear. It swoops in and out of several levels of dream and dream analysis, very quickly. Ben made it all look very fluid and beautiful. I think the first page, with the psychiatrist and the young woman, is one of the best pages he's ever drawn, and I'm a big fan of his.

TOS: Were you pleased with how your Postcards story turned out? In the realm of unique assignments, was this gig among the more unique writing opportunities?

SM: Tic Tac Bang Bang -- that was a lot of fun. I brought in Michael Gaydos, and then I wound up apologizing to him because I gave him a very strict script with a thumbnail layout. I never do that, but in this case I wanted each page to graphically depict an actual, unfinished tic tac toe game in a nine-panel grid. One of the fun things about a short story, an eight-pager, is that you can play with the form, with the actual unit of a comic book page, the way Eisner used to do and the way Alan Moore and Rick Veitch did with a few of their Greyshirt stories. Michael's greywash technique came out really nicely, and the tic tac toe games are subtle enough that absolutely no one has commented on them. Go back and look.

TOS: Is it too soon to start taking about the Virgin Sci-Fi line you're editing?

SM: I can talk about it in general terms. The first book is called The Stranded; it's created and written by Mike Carey, and it's the story of a group of ordinary people who suddenly discover that they're not from Earth after all -- and something has come to kill them all. Mike has worked out a fascinating cast of characters and a great, sweeping backstory. We're working closely with SciFi -- they really are serious about adapting these books to TV if possible. My job is to make them good comics first.

The Stranded launches in December.

TOS: At your blog you quote David Mamet, when he said:
"Mike Nichols told me long ago that there is no such thing as a career -- that if a person has done five great things over three decades of work she is indeed blessed."
How many decades have you been a pro writer, and how many great things do you think you've done?

SM: That blog is really getting me into trouble...

I've been writing full-time for less than a decade, and I think I'm far too close to answer that question. Great things: I don't know. Ask me again in ten years.

As an editor, I worked on a lot of books I'd consider great: Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Alias, Daredevil, The Invisibles...there are others, too. A big handful, anyway.

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