Nick Spencer: The Exact Career He Wanted

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks


If I have to introduce you to Nick Spencer, you're obviously not paying attention to some of the best comics being released these days. Spencer is the highly-acclaimed writer of such comics as Morning GloriesTHUNDER AgentsIron Man 2.0and many other exciting series. I think you'll find that Nick is a writer who's tremendously excited to be working a job he really loves. His enthusiasm for his work came through with every word that he said in our interview. This interview was conducted on the last day of Emerald City Comicon 2011, shortly before the formal announcement of his exclusive contract with Marvel.

Jason Sacks: You've had a really great 2010 and 2011. Your books have done very well. Morning Glories is the first thing I think of when I think of your work, and that series has gone great. Why do you think it's captured peoples' imaginations?

Nick Spencer: It's been amazing. Last year when I was here in Seattle, we had pitched the book to Image but it wasn't on the calendar yet. So it's great to come back here and meet so many fans who are as deeply involved in the mystery and asking me questions… it's been a blast. To come here right after the trade just came out last month. It's a real thrill. It's a real thrill. All through the winter we don't do shows, so it's been great to reconnect with fans after a long winter. 

Sacks: Something about that book really captures peoples' imaginations. How did you come up with some of the themes you wanted to explore in that comic?

Spencer: Everybody likes a good mystery. The best comics end at a point of confusion, a point of surprise and shock. We work very hard with Morning Glories to make every issue as exciting as it can be, and to make sure that by the end of it you can't wait for the next issue. There are a lot of books now that think as six-issue stories or twelve-issue stories, or two-year-plans. There's an art to making a very compelling, exciting and enjoyable twenty-something page story. I think Morning Glories is the book we've done the best job on so far in terms of making sure that each issue has a story that's worth the cover price and worth putting in the marketplace. 

Sacks: Is there an end to the story? 

Spencer: There's a defined end to the story. We're on a 100-issue plan, though. It's a big story. It's a defining story for me. It's going to make many years to tell the story of this comic. But if all goes well, though, and fans stick with it, we'd like to go 100 issues.

Sacks: Jim Valentino of Image Comics talks about how he likes comics where the first five pages of the comic grab you immediately, and Morning Glories really did that.

Spencer: I'm big on that. I feel really strongly that you have to grab readers with the first page – the first panel if you can. My first book ever was a book called Existence 2.0. I can remember the best compliment I got from the first editor of that particular book was that you knew what the book was about from the first page, and I wanted to know more by the end of the second page. The five page pitch plan is a very good thing. It's one of the things I really like about what Jim's approach and what Shadowline does.

Especially for starting writers, we can get so caught up on “this is what I'm going to do over the course of x number of arcs over x number of years”, and what you really need to do is think in terms of panels and think in terms of pages. If you can do that, the rest will come easier. It's a great starting point, especially with the kinds of writers Jim usually works with. It's a really, really smart program.

SacksTHUNDER Agents has been surprisingly successful, with its long and checkered history.

Spencer: It's been really nice because it's had a number of really tortured relaunches and what-could-have-been. It's been really rewarding as a fan of those characters to have a book that seems to be making most of the old school fans of those characters happy. That means a lot to me. Just as exciting is seeing all these new readers, who maybe came over to the title because they liked my Image book, now getting really excited about characters like Dynamo and Lighting and NoMan. That is enormously gratifying. I always said on that book I was trying to adhere to the Geoff Johns school of renewal and that skill of honoring what's come before while adding something new and making sure that it's exciting and rewarding for a modern audience. Nobody does that better than Geoff, in my opinion. 

So I would look at the way he would approach this, and I tried to that apply those principles here. It's been a really rewarding experience.

Sacks: The Doctor Who approach rather than the Battlestar Galactica approach. 

Spencer: Absolutely.

Sacks: It seems like they tried to revive that title for years…

Spencer: I think that people can tell that I'm not disrespectful for what came before. People can tell I have a genuine affection for those characters and a sincere desire to make them work, to get them back into the spotlight, and to care about them again.

I think if you start from that, it will show in the pages. It's been really nice.

Sacks: You seem to love the old stuff, but you love to bring a modern take to them. Morning Glories has classic themes. Iron Man 2.0 is not dissimilar from that.

Spencer: I like taking these characters that I feel like haven't f gotten fair shakes in the past. With Iron Man 2.0, I felt like it was really time for Jim Rhodes to get his own time in the spotlight, to really have his own big, defining story – a classic War Machine story. There have been some really nice runs on the character, but I wanted to do a story that people would always associate with that character. 

With Iron Man 2.0, it's really all about finding the core of the character. The symbol for war, the symbol for military combat. This is a story that challenges the way that he's been fighting, in much the same way that our military is challenged in the way that they fight now. It's the changing face of war – the introduction of asymmetrical combat, the struggles we have with these huge military structures combatting these tiny insurgents.

It's a challenging story. It's a small story. It's a slow burning story in some ways. I think that as it continues to go forward, people are really going to get a lot out of it.

Sacks: You seem to be one of those writers who really likes to mold his writing to the story he's telling. I mean, Forgetless is this crazy bizarre madcap adventure. Existence is a whole different thing. Is that a challenge you set for yourself?

Spencer: I like to work on different kinds of stories and different kinds of characters. It's really rewarding to me to balance strong genre to genre and issue to issue stories, and different dramatic styles. That's a very rewarding thing. You never get bored.

Sacks: Obviously you want to keep writing your existing titles. You have huge momentum with your series. You have something like four ongoings…

Spencer: I write a lot of books because I like working in a lot of different kinds of stories. I like being prolific. I enjoy what I do. It's not hard for me to wake up in the morning and write. I think what today's announcement is really about is me figuring out exactly what I wanted to be writing for the next however many years, and where I was really really excited about before and what I was excited about – what the next step was, what the next challenge was, it's a great part of what I want to do.

Sacks: Is this the career hoped you'd end up having?

Spencer: Yes, exactly. This is exactly what I wanted. By the end of today, I'll have the exact career I wanted. It's nice when it works out, right? It's a lot of fun, so you enjoy it while you can. Nothing lasts forever, so you enjoy it while you can and you keep hoping that people enjoy your work.

It's nice right now. I just keep my fingers crossed and hope it keeps going.

Sacks: Are you going to do any more books aside from the four you're doing now?

Spencer: Yeah, but nothing I can talk about yet. There's a lot more on my plate right now.

Sacks: You're like the ‘70s writers, doing six books a month.

Spencer: That's how it should be!

Sacks: I have a theory about that – because they were writing so much, those writers were kind of telling their autobiography through comics.

Spencer: I think there's a lot to that. You're writing about yourself to an extent, writing about the things that you know, the things that you're feeling. The writers who approach things from that perspective maybe do get to write a little quicker. They're not pulling from far away. They're pulling from nearby.

Again, I enjoy what I do. I don't get blocked very often. As time goes on, you get past a lot of the insecurities a lot of writers suffer from. It's in a nicer place right now. 

I love the characters that I write about all the time. As long as you're enjoying that, it's not work.


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