Rick Remender got his start in comic books working on a long list of creator-owned projects including writing series like “Blackheart Billy,” “Strange Girl,” “Sea of Red,” “Night Mary,” “Doll and Creature,” “Sorrow,” “The End League,” “The Last Days of American Crime” and illustrating books like “Man with the Screaming Brain” and “The Last Christmas.” Outside of comics, Remender has worked as an artist in animation and video games in addition to designing album covers for different bands. He has also written for video games including “Dead Space” and was the lead writer on “Bulletstorm.”
Remender currently has his plate full writing numerous comic book series for Marvel Comics each month. He’s the writer behind the relaunched series “Uncanny X-Force” and recently completed a 22-issue run on “Venom” as well as the newest scribe to tackle “Secret Avengers.” Starting in October he’ll play a pivotal role in Marvel NOW! initiative when he launches a new volume of “Captain America” with artist John Romita, Jr. and “Uncanny Avengers” with John Cassaday. His previous Marvel work includes “Punisher,” “Doctor Voodoo,” and “Thunderbolts.” CBR News reached out to Remender a few months after moving back to California about why he left Portland, scouting, and life with children.
CBR News: I know that you moved from Portland recently. I don’t think I’ve heard of a cartoonist ever leaving Portland.
Rick Remender: That was definitely one of the reasons I wanted to leave. Your work life and your personal life are so sort of enmeshed, it can make you feel a little inundated with too much comical book-ness. More than anything, we left Portland because of the weather. I grew up in the sun. I grew up in Phoenix and spent the next fifteen years in California and then moved to Portland. We made it for five years, but year-by-year I was spiraling into depression. Ten months of cloud coverage and near constant rain was just too much for me. Works for plenty of other folks, not me.
It’s a great town and there’s a lot of great people, great food, great culture and I definitely miss a lot about it but I sure dig these blue skies. [Laughs] It’s just so easy to fall into that groove as a comic book creator where you end up spending your time indoors in front of a computer and you’re reading and you’re researching and you’re writing. You get wrapped up in it and you spend so much time inside that if it’s gloomy and wet outside, it’s easy to talk yourself out of going for a walk. It’s easy to talk yourself out of taking the kids to the park because it’s raining. In the end, given the career choice, it’s something that’s mandatory for my mental and physical health. I’ve got two young kids and I want to be able to take them out and take them to the beach or go to the park or get outside and do stuff. That’s just not very possible most of the time in Portland.
So where did you end up moving?
We moved to Southern California. My buddy Lee Loughridge lives here. Lee is the guy who colored most of “Fear Agent,” “XXXombies” and some of my “Punisher” stuff. I was coming down here to visit and hang out with Lee, we’re cooking up some projects, and it just occurred to me how much I loved it. We’re sitting talking story on the beach and eating tacos in February. I figured, hey, this is pretty all right. [Laughs]
When my wife and I knew that we just couldn’t do another winter in Portland, we were investigating different places. We’ve got lots of friends all over the country. We weighed a lot of different options, but I came down here again and hung out with Lee for a week and just realized it’s beautiful. It’s temperate and sunny and everybody has a relaxed attitude and is happy. That’s really what I needed to be around after five years rain locked in my house.
That seems like it would be a nice area. It’s between LA and San Diego and not as built up.
It’s slow. The traffic is not as hairy. The air is clean. It’s worked out. It was a terrifying decision to leave Portland. We have a lot of friends there and had grown a lot of roots, but I need Vitamin D and the year round option to go outside.
You mentioned when we spoke before that you were almost an Eagle Scout. I was also one of those people who never quite finished either.
I was in a really unique troop. It’s interesting, you tell people “Boy Scouts” and they mostly assume it’s a Cub Scout meeting with everybody wearing funny outfits and tying knots. I was in a Boy Scout troop 42 in Phoenix from eleven until about fifteen. It was a really unique and terrific group. We went camping all over Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon. Every month there was a trip. The monthly ones were usually fairly local and then every year there’d be a big two or three week trip. We ran a Christmas tree lot to sell trees to make the money then we used that money to buy everybody a bicycle and we spent three weeks biking up the coast from San Diego up into Washington. We would go to Kauai and hiked the Kalalau trail. We would white water raft down the Colorado. Go spelunking. All sorts of craziness.
I can’t imagine where I would be in life without it. It was incredibly valuable to get out there and once a month go on camping trips and go spelunking and white water rafting all over Northern Arizona and Utah and Colorado. I did that for most of my youth. All the guys I was in there with we were all skaters and punkers — this was the mid-’80s — and we all hung out when we weren’t doing these trips. I had a half pipe and so we would all skate together, go to shows and stuff. To have a group of friends you grew up with and once a month got to have these amazing adventures, it was amazing. I think for me the reason that I didn’t finish the Eagle badge — I literally was just an Eagle project away from getting it — can be attributed to girls and marijuana. Hard to choose fixing a trail or whatever it would have taken to get the Eagle badge over girls and parties at that age. It was just right around that age when I started rocking and rolling a little bit and didn’t have the inclination to finish that stuff up.
I think of you as someone who came out of skateboarding and punk culture, which I think shows in your early comics.
For sure. All the guys that were in my scout troop were, too. We’d hike seven miles in to some canyon and set up camp, make a fire, start cooking food and somebody would pull out a tape player and start playing the Dead Kennedys. It was a really unique experience. That sort of built me as a kid, where I found my perspective, punk rock and that do it yourself spirit. Punk culture lead me to seek out entertainment and music that had something to say as opposed to baby baby baby love you love you tonight tonight. I was drawn to the ethical and philosophical side of it. Not being greedy. Working with people to create and sharing, doing it as brothers. That was a big part of what drew me to punk. That there were kids my age who had a perspective and a point of view about things. I really fell in love with it. I fell in love with that there was an entire scene based on young people making music that didn’t have to be whitewashed or cleaned up by a record label executive. It was pure and honest. It was whatever they wanted to say. Whatever music they wanted to make. It was often times very personal and often times philosophical. It spoke to my core and as they say, punk rock changed my life. So my time was spent skateboarding and listening to punk and reading comic books and going off on these life changing trips. That was most of my growing up experience.
Were you a big skateboarder?
Yeah, back then. I still putz around now that I’m back down here in the warm weather. I have an old Schmitt Stix and I take it out and ride around the neighborhood when I need to go grocery grabbing. But I’m inching towards 40 and I’m spent the last twenty years sitting down writing and drawing so the body is not what it once was. [Laughs]
Yeah, the body does not obey necessarily. You mentioned that your life right now is pretty much just work and kids.
There’s not much else these days. And that’s okay. I stayed wild ’til I was about 32, that’s long enough.
If they’re young enough, it’s all consuming.
My boy is one and my daughter is three, so they are still at that age when it’s a real handful when they’re up and around. I was having lunch with Lee and he equated it to being in a room full of gunpowder and two cigarettes running around and you’re trying to make sure they don’t blow up. [Laughs] It’s true. They’re wonderful and they’re beautiful and they give meaning to life in a new way, for sure, but free time is either with them or I try to get out and go for a run when I can. I’d say I work a good twelve hours a day, these days at least. I squeeze in some time with the wife. Maybe have a drink with a friend. [Laughs] When I’m absolutely mentally expended and I can no longer write and what I’m writing is just tripe-y nothing, I end up falling into the xbox. There are better ways I could spend my time, but I’ll turn on “Skyrim” and play that for a couple hours because it’s just so mindless to go out and collect those swords that you can kill a dragon with. Who doesn’t want to go dragon hunting?
Video games have this reputation as the scourge of schedules in comics.
I’ve never missed a deadline by more than a day or two. That’s one thing I pride myself on. I set that as a goal early in my career. I figured if I never missed a deadline then, then I never would. At this point, I don’t want to break the cycle. I like to pride myself on that. I’ve never let the video games get in the way of anything, but they definitely stop me from the time I used to spend reading at this point because I’m writing for twelve hours, juggling kids, doing stuff around the house. When the day is done and I’m not writing anymore, I find it very difficult to pry myself away from a video game to read a book and look at more text if it’s not research material. I just want to do something really mindless. Just turn the brain off for a while because the mental exhaustion can also take a physical toll.
I’ve seen it with my friends where the second kid doesn’t double the work but increases it exponentially.
Yeah, it’s definitely exponential. One kid is hard but two around the same age — they’re beautiful and I have so much fun with them, but it is a crazy exhausting experience.
Have you gotten into a new routine since the move?
Yeah, but as soon as we establish it, it gets broken. We spent all of March really, really sick. We got hit with a stomach flu and then my boy got pneumonia and my daughter got another kind of flu. We spent four weeks just deathly ill in this house. Then every six months I have to go to New York for a Marvel retreat. I made commitments to do Chicago and Seattle this year so [last] month I lost ten days to conventions. [Laughs] And it takes forever to get settled into a new place once you move. It’s definitely been hard to maintain any sort of consistency but I’m not going to do anymore shows for a couple years. I just can’t. I have too much work and with the kids it’s just not fair to my wife to leave her with everything while I take off for five days to sit at a table. Hopefully, I can slowly get back into some kind of regular groove.
The nice thing is that you’re close enough to San Diego that you can just drive down for the day.
I’ll never set up at San Diego again. The last time I did was in 2007, I think. By that point the show had become such a media cesspool that every other person who walked by your table would just grab a trade paperback and walk off thinking that they were there as comps. I was like, “No, that’s a twenty-dollar book. I don’t just sit here and give those away.” [Laughs] I literally popped over my table and had to chase people down all day. All the big film/TV studios were giving away all kinds of things on their tables so everybody just assumed everything was free. It’s not really a comic book show anymore. If you want a comic book show you go to Emerald City or Chicago or New York or Heroes. San Diego is a fun show to just go down and hang out with everybody for a night and then come back home, so that’s probably what I’ll be doing.
As a skateboarder, do you have any aspirations to learn to surf?
I went out for my first day last month. I took a long board, which was a little bit too much, so I may get a smaller board once I get out of the weeds with all the work I’ve got. Lee surfs pretty much every day, so I’m going to start going out with him on a regular basis. I look forward to picking that up. It’s one of the reasons we chose to move down here.
Is there anything else going on in your life right now?
Just a metric ton of comic books. It’s really nice that people are enjoying the work. It’s a juggling act to make sure you don’t overbook yourself. That you can maintain the quality that got people excited in the first place. I’m trying to schedule everything tightly and make sure I’m not going to put myself in a situation where I’ve taken on too much. I’m at my max right now with three books and a creator-owned thing percolating right now. I’ll try to maintain that. I think that’s reasonable. I can write four, four and a half scripts in a month and keep the quality. I have to turn down the enthusiasm because there are so many opportunities to be able to do whatever I want to do now, but that’s also a trap you can fall into — just start saying yes to everything and overbooking yourself. You could very easily end up not producing your best work and then really, what’s the point? So just trying to curb my enthusiasm, as it were, and trying to maintain a reasonable schedule so I can still have time with these babies and my wife and get outside.
It’s the freelancers’ curse. You always say yes for so long, but then you can hit a point where it’s too much.
Yeah, and it’s always been my curse. By 2004 I had cooked up seven or eight creator-owned books that I wanted to do. I pitched all of them to Image and Dark Horse and IDW and each company picked up one or two of them, so next thing I know I’m writing five books. With creator-owned, you’re basically also editing them and planning production and keeping tabs on artists and colorists and bringing in letterers and getting them paid. I was doing that while also working full time at Electronic Arts during the day as a storyboard artist. I don’t want to go back to that. It was also the same in 2010 when I was writing the video game “Bulletstorm” and I was also doing “Last Days of American Crime” and I was also doing “Punisher” and I was also doing “Doctor Voodoo” and I was also getting “X-Force” ready. I was ready to put a shotgun to my mouth. Hopefully the lessons of the past will be learned and I can maintain a reasonable schedule without overbooking myself.
I know it’s been a few years since you drew a comic, but do you still draw much?
I keep little sticky pads next to my computer and when I get really wound up and tired of writing, I’ll doodle for 20-30 minutes. Sometimes that leads to pulling out a brush and pulling out a whiteout pen. I definitely miss it. I feel like I killed a part of me when I stopped drawing on a regular basis. I definitely miss it, but the realities of supporting a family is what it is, and the writing really took off for me, and I love doing it, so it’s where I’m at now. It was around 2007 I was still drawing a few books and writing a few books and drawing full time at EA and the writing offers started coming in regularly. The next thing I knew, I had to start turning down art projects until 2008 when I was exclusively writing and it’s been that way since. I’m really grateful, and got very lucky. It’s a great way to spend your day.
Will we see something drawn by you at some point in the future or is that part of your life behind you?
I keep promising myself that I’m going to write and draw my own book. I would love to. Again it’s that curse/blessing of, I’ve got all this great writing work and that’s all I have time to do now. We all get time specific arcs in this though. I guess right now I’m on the way up and then you get to the top for a while and in a couple years people get tired of you. [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s corresponding with the quality of work or if it’s just that everybody needs to move onto the next hot “new” writer. God only knows. Hopefully I’ll be able to see that arc coming before I fall off the cliff and people go, “Oh, Rick Remender, he sucks now.” Hopefully before I hit that ledge, I’ll start to write and draw my own thing before everybody completely loses interest.
That’s not really the note I was hoping to end with. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Did they not tell you that you were interviewing a neurotic person? You didn’t get the memo.
I assumed that’s why they sent me.
Two neurotics. That either goes really well or it blows up.
Well, then let’s leave while we’re still ahead. Kinda sorta. Rick, thanks so much. It’s been fun.