In 2012, writer Steve Horton introduced readers to Amala, with a story in the anthology series “Dark Horse Presents.” This week, the young bounty hunter haunted by the ghosts of the past returns in “Amala’s Blade,” written by Horton and featuring art by Michael Dialynas. In the four-issue Dark Horse Comics miniseries, Amala is caught in the middle of a war between the low-tech Purifiers and the high-tech, cyborg-ian Modifiers, putting her sword-skills to the test.
Leading up to the books release, fellow comic book writer Brian Wood engaged Horton in a back and forth interview, touching on each of their respective projects. Wood discussed balancing his multiple ongoing titles, including “Marvel’s “Ultimate X-Men,” and Dark Horse’s “Conan,” “Star Wars” and “The Massive,” which also sees its latest issues hit stores this week.
Below, Horton and Wood divulge some of their thoughts on the writing process, managing different publishers’ editorial styles, Wood’s takeaway from his time at Vertigo, writing short stories versus full issues and hints of possible projects on the horizon. Even as Horton’s “Amala” prepares to leap into war and Wood takes the crew of The Kapital into shark-infested waters with “The Massive” #11, there’s still time for some casual conversation.
Brian Wood: Steve, I’m going to ask you a question that I always hate getting myself, since it feels like such a stock question: what is your book about? Actually, I’ll ask a different version of that question, because one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from Brian Azzarello, and he told me that if you yourself can’t describe your book in a three-second, one sentence blurb, you have problems with your concept that need fixing. So let’s hear it.
You work on several books, more than many mainstream comics writers. You also work for three different publishers at the same time. How do you balance that constant, heavy workload with the rest of your life?
The short answer is: I don’t know. It gets done, though, somehow, maybe a few days late at times. One saving grace is Dark Horse works so insanely far ahead of schedule that there is zero risk of anything shipping late, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off. But yeah, it’s hard with a wife and kids, and the fact I work at home and have Mr. Mom duties to fulfill. The one thing I do try and do is to keep my work life absolutely separate from anything else. I have an office and when I’m done for the day I shut the door and that’s that. No comics, nothing related to my job exists anywhere else in the house, and that divide keeps me sane. I need to be able to walk away from it from time to time.
You have an office job (I think?) and kids. Do you practice this same separation of church and state like I do?
I don’t quite have the discipline you do! I’m always checking e-mail and stuff, even when I shouldn’t, and e-mails related to my comic are the best of all. As for actual writing, lettering and other process stuff — it varies. I have to leave the house completely to get solid writing done, so I tend to get a lot of work done at late night diners and coffeehouses after the kids are in bed. Revisions and lettering I can do on the PC upstairs, and again I usually wait until the kids are asleep — otherwise, it’s just too loud. And yep, I have a day job in an office — and no time to work on comics during it!
You’ve been pretty vocal on how soured you’ve been with your Vertigo experience regarding your “creator-owned” or “creator-participation” books there, “DMZ” and “Northlanders.” Do you have any advice about what new creators should do with their projects and what they should be aware of going in?
Have I been? I have no regrets about the publishing deal over there. Both those books pay out handsomely in royalties, and if I had it to do all over again I’d still sign them. I do have beefs with the fact that DC does everything it can to turn down perfectly valid — at times very favorable — media deals, and that’s the downside to these contracts. I would sum up any advice like this: if you don’t have to sign a deal like that, don’t. At the time, I felt like I needed the stability, the exposure, and the marketing ooomph DC could give me, and I was able to build a career. So, totally worth it. But we’d all be watching “DMZ” and “Northlanders” and “New York Four” on TV right now if it weren’t for DC’s baffling decisions (or lack thereof).
I had an old editor who described media deals, or even the desire for one, as “a distraction.” Suggesting, as I guess an editor might, that anything that gets in the way of producing the comics is a bad thing. But obviously comics is a freelance career with not a lot of stability, and most creators seem to eventually find an expiration date. I have my own feelings, obviously, on media deals. How are you thinking about them right now?
They’re definitely not as prevalent as they used to be, it seems. Hollywood seems to have taken a huge step back from producing anything that came from an independent comic first, despite the massive success of the “Walking Dead” TV show. What has there been since? “Oblivion” is based on concepts for a nonexistent comic. Isn’t there a “Sixth Gun” show in the works from Oni and a “2 Guns” movie about to come out from BOOM! Studios? Is that it? That being said, if you as a creator can grab one, hold on to it with both hands. Take the money and run. The more stuff gets made from our creations, the better — because we’ll always own the comics, no matter what happens.
Tell me about your newest book, “Mara,” with Ming Doyle. My good friend and comics writer Russell Lissau and I were guests of A-Kon last year along with Ming, and we got to spend a lot of time with her and her boyfriend Neil Cicierega. Our impression was that Ming was one of the nicest people in comics and possessed with a really original art style.
Ming’s great. I feel like I’ve been a bit quiet on “Mara” in terms of shouting about it from the rooftops, but as is often the case with my miniseries, the full picture doesn’t emerge until the end, or at least almost the end. We’re nearly there, and I can tell it’s starting to click with readers, to make sense. Very satisfying. I consider “Mara” to be of the “Demo family” of stories. When I describe it as a “Demo” story, people get it. But, yeah — Ming. I’ve already offered her another project for after “Mara,” and I hope it works out.
Do you have a queue of future projects ready to go?