Writer Chuck Dixon, a 30-year veteran of the comic book industry, sat down with Jonah Weiland on the CBR Yacht at Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss the last three decades, his recent “Wall Street Journal” piece about the troubles facing conservative creators as well as his current projects. He delivered an update on the planned “Winterworld” adaptation from the now-defunct Xbox Studios, why he keeps returning to “Alien Legion” and how “Alien Legion: Uncivil War” artist Larry Stroman took a unique route to comic books. He also discusses what his legacy will be when people look back on his storied career, how Bane has become a household name and how much hate mail he got for replacing Bruce Wayne as Batman. Things wrap up with a discussion of the difference between his conservative beliefs and his ability to tell stories as well as why his new graphic novel “The Forgotten Man” is both a literate, conservative work and one that can challenge the beliefs of anyone who reads it.
On Larry Stroman’s unlikely journey to drawing comics for a living: He’s the only comic book guy I’ve ever met who didn’t grow up with comics. He came to comics as an adult. He was doing portrait artwork in Boston. He was a street artist selling it on the street and doing very well at that, and Jim Shooter happened to be passing by and said, “Here’s my card. I think you could do comics.” And Larry basically learned storytelling and everything as an adult which, probably, is why his style is so unique. He’s really not like anybody else and he takes so many storytelling chances but they always succeed.
On how he’d like fans to remember his 30 years in comics: Well, you don’t get to choose. [Laughs] First of all, I mean I don’t really ever plan on retiring, but they’ll find me dead at the keyboard someday, hopefully not soon. But Bane I guess is my lasting legacy because he’s a Batman iconic villain who stuck. he’s part of the rogues gallery forever now. They come along once in a decade and luckily Graham [Nolan] and I were there to birth him and raise him. [Laughs]
On the vocal reaction to replacing Bruce Wayne with Jean-Paul Valley as Batman during “Knightfall”: The plan was — and this is one of the things I brought up — was to create a violent Batman who was killing the bad guys. The Punisher in a Batman cowl. We risked running the danger that the fans might really prefer that Batman. We said, ‘We really have to make this guy an a-hole. They have to hate him.’ Well, we succeeded far too well because he was actually supposed to be Batman for quite a bit longer because we wanted it to have legs. We really wanted to have the readers thinking, “Maybe Bruce Wayne won’t be back.” Without the Internet, we still got it loud and clear. Letters came in, they just they hated him. And the more of that darn costume he put on the more they hated him. We sort of cut his career short. Shorter than we would have. … He was just an awful character and we succeeded too far in our plans.
On Bane becoming a household name: He’s the punchline of a joke and people get it. You don’t have to say Batman, you don’t have to say anything — everybody knows who Bane is now. He’s become a household word. I no longer have to explain who the character is and that’s stunning to me. I still really can’t get my head around it that he’s on “The Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” and it’s just instantly recognizable as soon as somebody covers the lower half of their face.
On whether conservative writers are unfairly criticized when writing liberal characters and how it can often be tough for them to find work: There are a lot of closet conservatives in comics and I’m not about to out them here now. I got so many ‘attaboys on that “Wall Street Journal” [article], but the ‘attaboys were followed by “Don’t mention me or my name” because you’ve gotta protect your career. I mean, it’s real. And they may say it’s not, but it is. It goes beyond politics. A lot of comic book editors are so easily butthurt. If you don’t like the same music act that they like they’ll put you on a list. … I criticized a guy’s favorite movie, and I liked the movie, but I had a slight criticism of it and he didn’t like that, and I never worked with him again. But of course they never say, “You can’t work with me anymore because you didn’t like this movie a much as I do,” but…
I was on a panel today with Denny O’Neil and he pointed out, “You are seeing two political extremes sitting right next to each other.” We couldn’t be better friends, we couldn’t have worked closer together, we couldn’t have had a better personal and professional relationship — we don’t agree on a damn thing outside of comics but it didn’t matter because it was about the comics and it was about the story. Even when we did “issue” kind of comics, we came to a common ground because I didn’t want to have an agenda in my comic work. My personally held beliefs are my personally held beliefs. They don’t affect my work. They may inform my work on some gut level but I’m not gonna push a party line agenda in a “Batman” comics. That’s silly. Nobody wants to read that.
On whether there are any good examples of comics with conservative ideals that would challenge the beliefs of all sorts of readers: What sparked the “Wall Street Journal” article was my collaboration with Paul Rivoche and Amity Shlaes on the book “The Forgotten Man.” “The Forgotten Man” is probably the most literate comic project I’ve ever been involved with. It is conservative in tone. It challenges FDR and the New Deal. It’s real history and it’s an awesome graphic novel and Paul did an awesome job on it — worked forever on it — and I would point to that as that’s a good one. It doesn’t have super heroes or zombies or witches in it because it’s not escapist fiction. [Laughs] It’s a historically-based graphic novel. There’s suspense and there’s bad guys and there’s good guys, but it’s all from a conservative point of view — but it’s not right wing militia nut job stuff.