Chuck Dixon is one of the most respected veterans of the Comic Book world. Right now he’s writing quality stories for both Marvel and DC on some of the industries best-selling titles like Birds Of Prey, Nightwing, Marvel Knights, Robin and even finds time to pen big crossover specials and a mini-series or two for DC when the mood strikes him.
For Chuck Dixon, it seems that too much just isn’t enough. Doesn’t he ever run out of ideas? “Other writers ask me that,” says Dixon, “And not in nice way! I just work hard to stay ahead of schedule. It’s no real labor to me because I love writing. I was recently told by DC’s accounting department to stop writing because I’d written past their payment schedule!”
So, besides the regular monthly titles Chuck is churning out, what else does he find to do with his spare time? “For this summer (I’m writing) SUPERMAN/ALIENS 2 with Bogdanove and Kevin Nowlan, BATMAN:THE ANHK with John Van Fleet, NIGHTWING: THE TARGET with Scott McDaniel, and a truckload of other stuff coming up,” says Dixon. On top of that, he’s got a great crossover special planned across the DC Universe this summer called Last Laugh. “In a nutshell, for nearly a year now the Joker has been cooling his heels in the Slab, DC’s ultra-security meta-villain prison, thanks to Barbara Gordon. When a routine medical check reveals a “bright spot” on his brain, the Joker finds out that he’s dying. And, of course, he’s not one to go down without a fight…so he hatches a plan to “Jokerize” the villains of the DCU to spread the fun around. The fun goes global in a hurry and threatens all of the DCU. That’s the basic premise behind THE JOKER: LAST LAUGH.”
But, fans have sometimes complained that crossover events are nothing more than marketing gimmicks to get readers to buy more titles each month. Dixon is quick to dismiss the notion that the Last Laugh special is anything but a great story that had to be told. “This is no here today, gone tomorrow stunt,” he cautions. “The events in Last Laugh will have lasting effect on the Batman crowd. Something Batman and company have long feared becomes a reality and they all have a hard time dealing with it. Also, this baby is TIGHT. Scott Beatty and I combed over this thing making sure it works from every angle. The ante is uppped with every new threat and the Joker’s gags are actually funny. It’s high concept enough that every DCU book can play with it. I think, taken together, it’s one wild theme park ride.”
When it comes to writing strong characters, Dixon is at his best. Especially if he’s given characters that others may have underestimated. “There’s less written about (these characters) and more room to tinker. Coming up with a surprise for Superman or Batman is tough, they’re entrenched in decades-long continuities. But with second tier characters less is established and that’s more fun. I’m very fortunate that I work with characters I love,” says Dixon.
Another strong point to Dixon’s writing is his female characters. With the exception of Chris Claremont, almost no other male comic writer has been able to capture the female voice and character so masterfully. Chuck explains, “I grew up with two older sisters. They were as different as night and day. But I guess I had that writer’s eye even as a kid because I remember things they said and what they went through and how they reacted. I’m no feminist as the term is understood today, but I respect women. They have strengths men can only dream of having. Heck, I married a woman,” he exclaims. “Can’t keep away from them.”
So, with all these characters running around in his brain, how does Chuck Dixon keep them all separate? Doesn’t it ever get difficult to switch gears from Batman to Black Canary and then over to Daredevil or The Punisher? “Never has been,” says Dixon. “Like flipping the channel on a TV for me.” Yet, somehow, Dixon manages not only to keep the characters and the plotlines juggling, but he also manages to write books with totally different styles and atmosphere. Where Birds Of Prey and Marvel Knights are team books and Nightwing is a solo book, other titles, like Robin demand a different angle of attack. “The book (Robin) is ‘Batman Lite’ and always has been. I tell entry-level adventure stories. There’s no grand scheme but there are Big Themes running through the book about betrayal and trust. I think that the book is unpredictable. Of all the books I do Robin always seems to defy the fans expectations and throw them curves,” he says.
Believe it or not, it’s Dixon’s deeply textured plotlines and grand themes that have continued to spawn great stories by other writers who have picked up where Chuck has left off. Take, for instance, the current Kevin Smith story on the new Green Arrow title. Without the clues and stories penned first by Dixon, such a title wouldn’t have been possible. “I never talked to (Kevin Smith) about any of it. In my last issue of Green Arrow all those years ago I purposely set up (Kevin’s) current plotline. It was actually set up back in GREEN ARROW 101,” says Dixon. “All the hints are there.”
Dixon’s writing style is so solid he’s even coined his own Ten Commandments of writing. “Whether they’ll admit it or not every writer has rules they created for themselves. I know a writer who hates flashbacks and won’t use them. I just spelled my rules out for anyone who might find them helpful,” he says. Dixon’s passion for writing has even inspired him to generate his very own website,(www.dixonverse.com ) which features some of his sample scripts and acts as a sounding board and online resource for others who love to write and who love great writing. Still, Chuck is quick to admit he’s no teacher. “Usually those that can write can’t teach writing,” he says. “I know I fold up into an inarticulate ball when I try to describe the nuts and bolts of what I do.”
Of course, Dixon wasn’t always so celebrated as a writer. In the early days it was hard to get work as a writer. In fact, it was only through persistence that Dixon finally got his big break in comics. “I hung around and hung around so long they had to let me (write),” he remarks. “I worked in fanzines in the ’70s. My first professional work was for a miserable imitation of HEAVY METAL called GASM. It was 1978 and I was paid forty dollars a page to write, pencil, ink and letter a story. I was in absolute heaven!”
Along the way Dixon also had to learn to let the characters go and allow other writers to explore stories with them. “They don’t belong to me, I realize I’m only borrowing them, and,” he adds, “I usually get very long runs.” Still, there have been times when he’s glad to see others get it right. “It used to hurt to see others doing the Punisher but only because they always got him totally wrong. I got over it in time for Garth Ennis’ run. Man, he gets the Punisher 110%. I love those stories, and I love the fact that the character is back where he should be; the villain of his own book.”
Another strong character that Dixon has had to share with many other great writers over the years is Batman. Not everyone can say they’ve had the chance to put words in the Dark Knight’s mouth, but dozens of writers out there would kill for such an opportunity. Dixon agrees, “He’s like a pizza with the works. He’s a touch of Zorro, a dash of Dracula, a helping of the Shadow and a bunch of Sherlock Holmes all mixed together. Plus the cars and gadgets and that great hideout. You can’t miss with a combination like that. But you can’t recreate that same magic in a new character either. There’s only one Batman,” he says. And when other writers mess with a good thing, Dixon isn’t very happy about it. “I don’t think origins like Batman’s or Punisher’s should be visited over and over again with everyone adding their two cents until the sum of all added details don’t fit any more. I remember one writer re-telling the Batman origin and actually changing the movie the Waynes took Bruce to see. It has to be Zorro! That’s what makes sense. On top of that Bruce leaves the movie in the middle to hang out with some kid who turns out to be Kirk Langstrom who’ll later become the Man-Bat. To compound this nonsense further, the bat that flies through Bruce Wayne’s window that fateful night was being chased by Man-Bat,” he complains. “Punisher’s origin has been similarly screwed up, changing in the identities of his family’s killers, making it a purposeful rather than random act.” Sometimes you just have to step in and clean the mess up. “There are definite plans to have me write the final, no-nonsense, authoritative Punisher origin. We’re waiting on a very special artist for this one,” teases Dixon.
Dixon is the first to admit, “I’ve been the luckiest guy in comics,” he says. ” I’ve worked with some great guys who continue to be good friends. Flint Henry, Graham Nolan, “Scary” Gary Kwapisz, Gordon Purcell, Scott McDaniel and a ton of others. And I’ve worked with some childhood idols (like) Russ Heath, Joe Kubert,and John Buscema.” Dixon’s solid writing and easy-going personality have helped to make his partnerships with some of the industry’s greatest talent very successful. “I’m in no way a dictatorial writer. I feel a comic writer’s task is to be invisible. If you notice the writing then I’ve failed. The artist tells the story. I leave them all the room they need,” says Dixon. Placing his characters and his work into the hands of the artist can sometimes be frightening, but Dixon thoroughly enjoys the process. “One guy who’s been on my list for years was Rick Leonardi, and (now) we’re doing some Nightwing stuff together! I’d also love to write something for Jordi Bernet,” he says.
However, one artist in particular stands out in Dixon’s memory. “Of everyone I’ve worked with, though, I think I’m most simpatico with Rodolfo Damaggio. We were just in the same place mentally when we worked together. He’s moved on to Hollywood to do production art and storyboards and still sends me copies of what he’s doing. I love looking at them but they also break my heart because I know we’ll never do another comic together.”
Still, even with all the great names he’s worked with, there have been some regrets. “I’ll always regret never getting to work with Wally Wood,” says Dixon. “I think we shared a lot of the same ideas about comics. I could’ve written an ass-kicker for him!”