“Astro City,” the long running comic by writer Kurt Busiek and artists Alex Ross and Brent Anderson saw new life last year when the creative team brought their decades-spanning creator-owned series to DC Comics‘ Vertigo imprint.
Now the series is in for another first as “Detective Comics” and “X-Men Forever” artist Graham Nolan picks up the artistic reins for an entire issue, replacing Anderson on “Astro City” #12 in order to join Busiek for a tale of Astro City’s dapper villain, the Gentleman Bandit.
Combining forces off the page to discuss the issue’s developments, Busiek and Nolan spoke with CBR about their upcoming May one-shot, the reason behind Anderson’s absence from the issue for the first time in nearly twenty years and the artistic future of “Astro City.”
CBR News: Kurt, Brent Anderson has been working with you (along with Alex Ross) for the entirety of “Astro City.” What impacted the decision to bring in a different artist for an entire issue?
Kurt Busiek: We’re serious about making sure that, now that we’ve gotten “Astro City” coming out regularly again, it’ll be an ongoing monthly book for as long as we can manage it.
In the past, part of the problem has been my health — a big part — and I haven’t always been able to get an issue written every month. As my health improves and we get back into the groove, the other half of that is that Brent simply hasn’t been able to do 24 pages every month either. He’s doing a wonderful job, but a book where you constantly have to design new characters, new settings, entire new pantheons of superhero history — it can take a while.
He’s working at that, too, trying to find ways to move things along faster. And nothing would make us happier than if we were able to have Brent on every issue, as we have before. But we talked it through, over a long period, and decided that we needed to be able to bring in another artist, to step in on issues that Brent can’t do.
Naturally, finding the right artist was key, and I think Graham’s an ideal choice. I was thrilled he was able to do it.
What was it about Graham Nolan’s style that the team thought perfectly fit “Astro City” and this story?
Busiek: I’ve been a fan of Graham’s work going back to when he was working on series like “Airboy” and “The Prowler” for Eclipse Comics, back in the late 1980s. And his work on “Detective Comics” and “Hawkman” was great, too. When I saw his “Monster Island,” and a Superman one-shot he did, called “The Odyssey,” I was all, “Man, I gotta work with this guy someday!”
But it was actually his work on “X-Men Forever” that made me think he’d be a good fit for “Astro City.” There were a lot of different settings, from secret bases to quiet suburban neighborhoods, and a lot of character drama mixed in with the action, and he nailed all of it beautifully. Much like Brent, he can draw anything, and bring to it a sense of enhanced realism, a feeling that if you were there, if you could be a part of it, this is what it’d look like — and more importantly, this is what it’d feel like. But he does it his own way, brings his own sensibility to it.
That was the work I showed to Brent, to Alex, to Kristy [Quinn] (our editor), and said, “Hey, how about this guy?” And everyone agreed he’d be ideal.
Graham, how did you feel when you found out you were going to jump onboard and be the first new artist to draw an entire issue for the series?
Graham Nolan: To be honest, I didn’t realize I was the first artist to step in for Brent until recently!
Busiek: I think the closest we’ve come before this to having someone other than Brent on the book is the “Visitor’s Guide” special, where Brent did layouts, and Brent Oliver did full-color art from there. Plus, of course, we had pin-ups in that issue from a host of terrific artists. But this is the first time someone other than Brent got to tell a story starting from the blank page. So it was a big step for us, and we wanted just the right guy.
“Astro City” has such a well-established visual style and language already. With this in mind, Graham, how did you approach drawing the issue? Were you looking to embrace Brent’s style or really take the issue in a different direction?
Nolan: I think one of the biggest mistakes an artist can make is to try and emulate what came before. Fans of the book love Brent’s take on things so I felt no reason to disappoint them with a watered down version. I have a different style so I went with my own sensibilities.
Busiek: I agree. We wanted someone whose work had the strengths we needed for this series, but someone who delivered on them in his own way. Brent does that, and anyone else who’d do a good job would have to do that too.
Then what was it like to collaborate on the issue for both for you — Kurt as the long-time writer creator and Graham as the new guy to the City?
Nolan: I’ve been a big fan of Kurt’s writing since I first read his “Marvels” series and had always wanted to collaborate on something together.
Busiek: On the one hand, I was a little nervous, because Brent and I are so familiar with each other from working together over the years, and this was the first time I’d worked with Graham. But like I said before, I’ve wanted to work with Graham for years, so I was excited about that, too.
It’s funny — when I originally conceived “Astro City,” we didn’t intend for it to have one regular artist. I thought we’d be bringing in lots of different people — I even had an idea for one issue to have different pieces of the same story done by Paul Smith, Howard Chaykin and Dan Brereton, and Howard at least was up for it. But then Brent more or less fell into our laps, and he was an ideal guy for every kind of story we wanted to tell. So we changed our plans, and I’m glad we did.
So all of that was kind of going around in my brain, and then pages started to come in from Graham, and they were gorgeous. So I relaxed, and just enjoyed what I was seeing. He did a terrific job.
Did Brent and Alex weigh in and give feedback on the art and story for this issue?
Nolan: Not as far as I know.
Busiek: Brent and Alex saw each page as they came in, but the only feedback we got from them was “Nice!” and “Hey, sweet page!” and like that.
And Brent did have one finger in the pot, as it were, in that we meet a new Astro City “hero” in this story, for a few panels, and Brent did design sketches for her, that Graham worked from.
On the most basic level, what can the two of you tell us about your issue? The solicits state it’s a look at the life of the Gentleman Bandit. Will this issue jump around in time and his history?
Nolan: We follow his history through flashbacks and move forward to today in a linear timeline.
Busiek: That’s about right. The Gentleman Bandit has appeared before (though not under that name), and this is a character story about him — how he came to be who he is, and how he’s dealt with the ups and downs of being a costumed criminal in what is, let’s face it, not a victory-oriented world for such guys. So we see his history, his family life, his clashes with heroes, and through all that, get a portrait of him. His inner drives, his needs, his wishes. Everybody’s got a human story, even a guy in a wolf mask and a tuxedo with a machine gun. That’s what we do in “Astro City”: We take a look at the human stories in a superhuman context.
Along those lines, what interested you both in putting a villain in the spotlight for this one-shot?
Busiek: I love villain stories. Heroes are fun, but villains — particularly those who struggle with being villains, as the Bandit does — are fascinating to me. And since we’re trying to explore all kinds of perspectives in “Astro City,” we come back to criminal perspectives time and time again, whether it’s “Eyes” Eisenstein, the Junkman, Royal Williams, the Mock Turtle or someone else.
I suppose I could also say that with Graham’s experience drawing crime and action-adventure, it made sense to hand him a story about a masked criminal who tangles with heroes like Jack-In-The-Box and the Confessor. But honestly, I didn’t think of that. I just had this story I wanted to tell and I knew Graham would tell it with a lot of energy and humanity. I could have just as easily picked a story about Honor Guard dealing with an interdimensional conqueror in a sub-atomic universe, but the Bandit’s story was more fully formed in my mind at the time.
Are the two of you looking to collaborate on more issues, or other projects, down the road? Should readers get used to seeing other artists stepping in for issues of “Astro City” from time to time after Graham?
Nolan: Absolutely! I have finished my 14 year run on “Rex Morgan, M.D.” for King Features and I’m back to devoting my full time to comic book work again so I’m actively looking for projects. I would love to do a creator-owned project with Kurt down the road.
Busiek: My interest in working with Graham was pretty high to start with, and it’s only grown, now that I’ve had a taste of it. I can guarantee that if and when we next need someone to step in for Brent, my first call is to Graham, and I hope he’ll be available to join us for another go-round. Maybe that Honor Guard story, even.
And a new series that the two of us do together? That’d be great, too.
As for other artists drawing “Astro City” — it’s certainly an option. Brent is going to do as many of them as he can, and I’d be happy to do more with Graham as well. If we need to bring in others, we’re open to it, but we’ll have to see what the future brings.
“Astro City” #12 hits shelves May 2014.