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#332492 - 06/16/04 11:59 AM CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
Jennifer M. Contino Offline
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Registered: 08/01/02
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BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
In part one of our interview series with Chuck Austen we talked all about his plans for Superman and Action Comics. Now we head to the competition and get some details about his work on X-Men with Salvador Larroca. Although he still won't tell us if the Xorn here is the one from New X-Men Annual 2001 or not ... we think there's enough mutant goodness here to keep PULSE readers interested.

THE PULSE: Before you ever even penned one issue of X-Men, it seemed as if people were jumping up and down calling for an "off wif 'is 'ead" sort of Alice in Wonderland thing. Have a lot of people changed their tunes and given you some different feedback once the issues got going?

CHUCK AUSTEN:
Yes and no. More have than haven't. Writing other things has helped. People see that I have a broader voice as a writer, and might actually find something I do that they like, or realize the way I handle X-Men isn't my one and only voice. And a lot of people have realized, "Hey. It's the X-Men. If I wanted high art, I could read actual literature. Let it be what it is." And they've gone away, or let up on me. But there are still a few polemics out there.

THE PULSE: I guess one of the biggest questions anyone will have after reading issue 157, the first part of Day of the Atom, is which Xorn is this? The one Scott Summers found in New X-Men Annual 2001 ... or something different?

AUSTEN:
Time will tell [smiles].

THE PULSE: What made you want to utilize Xorn and how do you regard this character?

AUSTEN:
Marvel liked him and wanted him back. I liked him, and came up with a way that works. It was being discussed way back when Grant first began. His plan to make Xorn Magneto, contrary to what I hear some people are saying, was set in motion since before I came on. They told me I couldn't use Magneto for exactly that reason. But the editors always liked "Xorn" and were hoping Grant would decide to keep him a separate character. He didn't, and so Marvel asked me to find a way to bring him back. That's work-for-hire.

THE PULSE: So many people are skeptical about the X-Men Reload. How do you feel being a part of this event?

AUSTEN:
I liked the idea, initially, and felt proud to be included. They were talking about re-launching all the series with new number ones, and they expected to have me on one, Grant [Morrison] on another, and Chris [Claremont] on the third. Then things changed, obviously, Grant left, and they got Joss [Whedon], although they kept that a secret for a very long time, even from the other writers. I think Joss is brilliant, I'm a big fan of his movie scripts, so I'm sure he'll do great things.

Reload evolved into less of an event than I expected, at least for me. I think it's been very successful for Marvel. I wound up losing some characters I really wanted to keep, including Xavier, who I loved, and I had serious mixed feelings about undoing so much of Grant's stuff so quickly, what with Xorn in my first issue, and Magneto in Excalibur's first issue.

But at the same time, these are Marvel's characters. Work-for-hire. Marvel saw value in Magneto not being a mass-murderer of New Yorkers, and in keeping Xorn and other characters and ideas Grant had created during his run, so they made that choice. Grant was such a fountain of creativity that they wanted to keep a lot of what he originated. It'll happen when I leave, too. They'll undo a lot of what I did, or the next writer will, depending on what the company considers valuable at the time. As I said, it's work-for-hire, and you have to accept that aspect of it, or go nuts. They're not my characters. They're not Grant's. The toys belong to others.

THE PULSE: What's coming up for the X-Men? Why is now - this storyline - a good jumping on point?

AUSTEN:
Because it's all new for everyone. New teams, new relationships beginning and old ones ending, mysteries and action that don't rely heavily on old continuity. You just dive in and go. There's going to be lots of violence, mayhem, and bloodshed, mass destruction and chaos. People will live, people will die, the Brotherhood returns, Xorn's secrets are revealed, a new super team arrives to do battle with the X-Men, and then there's an enormous surprise coming with Juggernaut that will amaze everyone. Oh, and one shocking secret that will stun and polarize fandom, once again, by the end of the year.

THE PULSE: Which of the X-Men are you finding the toughest to find a voice for? You told us before you liked working with the characters you created of course (Annie and Sammy) and ones you fleshed out (Josh Guthrie) and you named a good chunk of the X-Men. But, we never really talked about the ones that were not so high up on your likes list ....

AUSTEN:
But to write them well, they have to climb your likes list, or you should let them go. When I first took over Uncanny, I had no ideas for Archangel. There was talk of killing him. Then I found my hook, and boom, he became one of my favorites. The same with Iceman. Initially, Bobby was the toughest for me, largely because so much of what he was, was the same as Kurt--or what I wanted to get Kurt back to, anyway. Funny guy, with an upbeat personality and jokes while fighting. But how did that go with his powers? Ice? Warm and funny?

None of it clicked for me.

Then I found some old issues where Bobby was withdrawn, cold, acerbic and funny with racist and/or isolationist tendencies left over from his family, and suddenly he clicked for me. He became one of my favorites. He added much needed chemistry to the team with a unique point of view. The scene where he teases Warren about Paige's age and does the handcuff motion--I loved that. Iceman became a character for me, and one of my faves. If I hadn't found that hook, I probably would have written him out, which I'm sure some fans wish had happened. But interestingly, he's an enormous favorite with new readers, so ...

If a character is not high on someone's list, they tend to fall into the background, and out of the series. My biggest problem was: I wanted them all in the foreground. Even Stacy X became a blast for me. But there just wasn't enough space, and someone had to go. I had my top loves, but they changed after I wrote an issue with someone else. It was an interesting phenomenon. You learn to love them all. They're like your children. You like one more one day, and then another the next, but all as much as the others, really, for different reasons.

THE PULSE: How do you take a character you could care less about and make him/her someone you come to care for and are vested in?

AUSTEN:
You have to find the hook. The thing that makes him/her different, and appealing to you. Then, hopefully, he/she will appeal to others, as well. Juggernaut was a nothing villain for me, and suggested for my first arc when I started the book. I couldn't think of a way to make him interesting to me as a villain, because he just got his ass kicked over and over and over to the point that it was ridiculous. He was a moron, at that point because he's incapable of learning and getting a clue that these people are better than he is and always will be. Then I thought, what if he realizes that, to a degree? And what if he moves into the mansion? With his stepbrother? Who he hates? Suddenly the dynamic changes and the character becomes more interesting, with a lot more potential. Someone with some depth and dimension and chemistry by being in the mix. Just as I said earlier, with Archangel and Iceman. Same thing.

What makes Archangel interesting? A guy with wings, and ...? Then I thought about what the word "Archangel" means, what our ideas of an angel are, how he might play into all that, and suddenly he became fascinating. I had big plans for him. He began to grow into something bigger than he's been in a long time, with many facets and turns and potential for lots of interesting stories. Play that off of the idea that he's on a team with a demon, and you've got some fun. At least for me.

Other times you have to let the characters tell you what works and what doesn't. I wrote a scene early on where Paige is fawning over Warren, and Stacy gets mad, and I wanted that to be the beginning of a relationship with Warren and Stacy. Where Stacy is the street girl, and Warren the rich kid, and what fun conflict that would be. But suddenly I had Warren and Paige together, and sparks flew. Things just took off in another direction, and I let it happen. I still think that worked terrifically. I certainly enjoyed it.

And that's what it comes down to. If you enjoy it, you can only hope the reader will, as well. Someone will be mad because of preconceived expectations for their personal favorite character, but that can't be helped. No matter what you do, someone won't like it. Even Maggott had his fans. You just have to hope more like it than don't.

THE PULSE: With such a big cast how do you balance page/screen time so each gets a fair amount of the spotlight each issue?

AUSTEN:
It's tough, and I never really found that balance, on Uncanny. I had too many characters running around, and some got short-shifted. On a series, you always think, "Well, I'll get to them next issue." And then five issues along, you still haven't, and their fans are getting upset, and you're losing the feel for them. It's tough. We've solved that problem by paring down my cast, now. I'm forbidden to have more than six characters [laughs].

THE PULSE: What's it been like working with Salvador Larroca? How well are you two getting along?

AUSTEN:
Fantastically. He's the best. I love working with him. Every time I get a shipment of pages, I just gasp at how stunning they are. We spent a lot of time talking about what we wanted to do with the series, and I try to give him those things to draw. I want to keep him happy. He's brilliant. As brilliant as Ron Garney. Did I mention Ron and our JLA arc?

THE PULSE: Only about a half dozen times in our last interview. [grins] How far ahead are you working on this series? How many issues/plans are in place for the characters?

AUSTEN:
I've finished issue #164. Salva's on issue #163, I think. He's right on my heels. Marvel's working out plans beyond that, right now, so we're coordinating.

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#332493 - 06/16/04 12:04 PM Re: CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
Bagheera Offline
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Registered: 06/20/01
Posts: 1175
This seems a bizarre interview in light of Rich Johnston's report that Austen's soon to be kicked off X-Men...

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#332494 - 06/16/04 12:13 PM Re: CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
Jedimaster123 Offline
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Registered: 01/07/04
Posts: 1544
Loc: Delaware
I was about to say the same thing.

Woo Hoo!!
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#332495 - 06/16/04 12:21 PM Re: CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
Conor E Offline
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Registered: 07/14/01
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Quote:
Originally posted by Bagheera:
This seems a bizarre interview in light of Rich Johnston's report that Austen's soon to be kicked off X-Men...


Uh, if I recall, that report said he would be leaving around #170. I don't think it's that unusual to interview a creator who still has 12 issues left.
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#332496 - 06/16/04 12:36 PM Re: CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
Jennifer M. Contino Offline
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Registered: 08/01/02
Posts: 22928
Loc: PA
Exactly. Marvel wouldn't comment on if Austen were leaving X-Men or not. smile So, since I just did this interview with Austen last week or so, I ran it. smile

Jen

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#332497 - 06/16/04 12:39 PM Re: CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
Jason Carpenter Offline
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Registered: 02/01/03
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OOOOH and Rich Johnston also writes a RUMOUR COLUMN... how about his green lit reports that John Byrne was doing the Green Lanter Corps based on artwork from Doom Patrol featuring Larry Trainor?
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#332498 - 06/16/04 12:41 PM Re: CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
Jason Carpenter Offline
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Registered: 02/01/03
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and how about Johnston's rumours that it was Pacheco and Johns and wound up being Van Sciver and Johns????

Jason
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#332499 - 06/16/04 12:45 PM Re: CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
Jennifer M. Contino Offline
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Registered: 08/01/02
Posts: 22928
Loc: PA
OK I don't think anyone needs to be defensive here or not. smile The interview talked about X-Men kind of in the * now * sense, not future tense. Austen has issues coming out * now * if he doesn't in the future, we can talk about that when its confirmed.

Jen

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#332500 - 06/16/04 01:03 PM Re: CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
rcheli Offline
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Registered: 11/15/01
Posts: 338
Loc: Chicago
It seems from this interview (and what little I've read of his work), that Austen wants to focus more on little character nuances than on the big picture, and as such is usually a miss rather than a hit. I recently sat down and read his first Avengers story (the one with the new Captain Britain), and every character seemed to want to tell us for several pages what their personality is like -- Cap says/feels this, Hawkeye says that, She-Hulk, etc. -- and when the story was done (all 6 issues of it) nothing happened. Nothing. Sure, there's now a new Captain Britain, but I found nothing compelling about her, and I found that I actually am caring less about other Avengers who I did like.

So, in this he talks about giving Iceman a new personality, focusing on how he was years ago, and I can just see issue after issue of this, played out too long, at the expense of plot and story.
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#332501 - 06/16/04 01:18 PM Re: CHUCK AUSTEN X-MEN WRITER
kcekada Offline
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Registered: 06/29/01
Posts: 213
Loc: Johnstown, PA, USA
Austen is a mixed bag for me. Disliked most of his work on Uncanny, and found his Avengers to start off okay before going in the toilet.

His Jan Pym/Hawkeye pseudo relationship came too far out of left field--and made me quit the book cold.

However, his first issue of adjectiveless X-Men was solid. His Superman has been pretty fun--even though Superman is much more reckless under his writing. Having Ivan Reiss on art certainly helps.

I know that comics aren't classic literature, but I think Austen too often writes characters how he wants instead of the way they've been portrayed for years (especially if he can work it into his over-the-top soap opera moments). Some of his plots are just ludicrous. That's probably why he gets so much flack.

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