David Quinn is typically described as one of the quintessential rebels of comics. He burst upon the scene in the late-eighties with FAUST, a searing exploration of those gray areas where sex and violence intersect, presented as part of the natural consequence of making a deal with the devil. FAUST demanded the attention of both fans and critics alike. The heady combination of Quinn’s highly textured, multi-layered approach to storytelling and co-creator Tim Vigil’s realistic rendering of in-your-face sex and violence served notice to anyone who thought that “comics are just for kids.” All the previously accepted rules were not just being broken, they’d been gleefully shattered, and their remains scattered to the four winds.
However, work with that kind of raw power can do much more than make you [in]famous, and establish your place in the professional world, overnight; it can also prove to be limiting, and a bit of a burden, in a number of surprising ways. It is this fact that has lead Quinn – who will never be anything but proud of his and Vigil’s ongoing tale of FAUST, both for comics and for film, or any of his other, adult-oriented work – to occasionally voice a wish that others could put aside their preconceptions about his flexibility as a script writer and give him a chance on an all ages series.
Quinn says, “In ’88, I had to scream till my lungs bled, ‘Hey comics aren’t just for kids!’ But the post-Dark Knight/Watchmen/Grendel/Crow/Faust creative wave, and the direct market debacle made our point too well, didn’t it? So now I guess I’m politely joining Grant Morrison and Mark Waid to modestly suggest ‘Comics can be for young people without having to suck.'”
In the last decade, Quinn’s quietly balanced creator-owned comics for mature readers with a wide variety of general audience books [including Top Cow’s ASCENSION and TALES OF THE DARKNESS, Disney’s GARGOYLES and Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE, GHOST RIDER, and CARNAGE, EXILES, NIGHTMAN, and GAMBIT] in the past. It will be ironic, however, if his work for the forthcoming COSMIC SLAM from Ultimate Sports, featuring the likes of Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa finallys shatter that “Taboo Quinn” mindset. As Quinn recently observed, “I had really harbored a small amount of resentment that many people, usually editors and artists, not writers [in the comics industry] didn’t understand that I could write all-ages books. The people at Ultimate Sports Entertainment have not only taken comics to true American mainstream culture, packaging comic book entertainment for distribution in sports stadiums and superhero shops alike, but they’ve also called old Spooky Quinn’s bluff, you could say, hiring me to write a ton of their stories. Industry professionals, you think would have the imagination to see I write a diversity of things. They’re the ones who have the blinders on, it turns out. Of course I am not talking about the three or four editors I am working with at Marvel, DC, and Vertigo,” Quinn adds with a sardonic laugh.
Quinn’s voice expressed more than a little enthusiasm when pressed for details concerning the new series. In fact, he sounded like a kid set loose in his favorite candy store. “COSMIC SLAM is the first of what will probably be … something like twelve issues of all-ages adventures starring sports celebrities. [The] heavy hitters of baseball, like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire. Here’s the secret. These books are pure fun.” However, no one should be looking for the scribe’s patented multi-layered plots in these books. “These are far, far away from the extreme complexity and intensity of FAUST. They’re simple even compared to my run on DOCTOR STRANGE.
“We’re talking the mythic American sport, here, so I try to look at these stories like Tom Clancy adventures. These guys are heroic in their day job, entertaining us by playing world class ball. I throw them into action adventures that are impossibly removed from their realm of their expertise. Then they get to be real heroes. Clancy might not be the perfect model, actually, because of course we are talking more ‘cartoon’ action, conflict, and intrigue, here. The wars are practically bloodless. I’m not interested in inspiring a massive reactionary comic-book burning at some stadium.”
Quinn went on to reveal that his work on the book actually represents a relaunch of the series. “Ultimate Sports put [the first wave of] these books out in the summer of ’99, and the ones I’m writing are gonna come out in the summer of 2000. The original team took a ‘Power Rangers’ approach, and with hindsight, I think it’s better to represent the human aspects of the stories a little more realistically.”
The writer began by making an effort to justify the book’s basic premise, that a group of major league baseball players are working as peace keepers for a secret government program which presented them with armored suits that are powered by alien technology, in as realistic manner as possible. “We’ve kept the armor from the first year, but I’m trying to come up with a more dangerous, exciting and realistic reason why these guys would be in it,” explained Quinn. “So the first [story] is the Cosmic Slam players setting up a proactive relationship with the world governments to use these alien tools. What was fun was that I get to dramatize this in a way where they get offered this and they say, ‘You’re crazy! We play baseball. You want me to hit a grand slam home run, that’s fine! But you want a fighter pilot!’
“Then the government contact shows them the fighter pilots that tried to ‘fly’ the alien armor were mentally traumatized–their fighter pilot training worked against, not for them! What’s required to use the suits and survive is a more patient, Zen-like state, outside ego, outside control, outside the self. You know, like a batter at the plate, waiting for his pitch. Okay, that’s a combination of realistic questions beneath the surface of things, realistic philosophy, and pure silliness, I know, but now we have a reason for these guys to be wearing these suits. Not any more believable than Gamma Bombs, Radioactive Spiders, and Cosmic Rays, I guess, but at least I am respecting the reader.”
Quinn continued by noting that “You’ve seen the pattern before. The recent movie THE MATRIX follows it. It’s Kung Fu, the gunslinger, the journey of learning. You not only have to understand who the bad guys are, you also have to master your own use of your own self and your own tools to do it.” So, after establishing the reason these sports figures are wearing the suits, what kinds of situations is he planning on putting the heroes into in the future? Quinn responded, “Conspiracies. Aliens. Time Travel Good cops and bad cops. Other titles will be (using football celebrities) TWO MINUTE WARNING, GRIDIRON GIANTS, and, of course, THE AMAZIN’ METS. I try to write something I would have wanted to read as an adolescent, and try to also throw in something that might provoke interest or sheer sentimental pleasure in an older reader. I try to get the facts right, so sports fans reading the book feel respected and give the modern American comic book a try.”
How about those touches of realistic characterization that Quinn is known for, has he tried to inject some of these players’ public personas into the characters and their actions? “I try to. I don’t know these guys [personally], but I can read about them, and read between the lines, and pick something up. I try to [create] little action sequences where, ya know, Mark McGuire can help some kids defend themselves from things exploding around them, so there’s a little touch of real risk. It’s really gonna be a fun book. THE AMAZIN’ METS was scripted with the color and the flavor of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, places I have spent a lot of time. I used to go to Mets games, back when I was [living] in New York. Hate me if you must, but I was always more of a Mets fan than a Yankees fan. They say that says a lot about a guy. Anyway, we’ll see if my quirkiness gets washed out in the editorial approval process or not, won’t we? I don’t own these characters.”
And now for the big question: has he parlayed this job into an excuse to meet the players personally, or get a chance to sit in the dugout with them during a game? Quinn only laughed, and said, “Not yet. We’ll see. I NEED to get Sammy’s autograph for my grandma, next to Faust, she digs Sammy.”
Quinn isn’t ignoring his creator owned projects, or giving up the pursuit of other, mainstream “superhero shop” work. Quite the opposite is true. Though it’s still too early to talk about some work in development for DC and Marvel, he’s begun to talk in general terms about a major Dark Horse and Top Cow cross-over tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2000.
When asked if he could provide details, Quinn said that, “Matt Hawkins, the editor at Top Cow, is starting to talk about it, so I guess I can. Top Cow asked me for some TALES OF THE WITCHBLADE and TALES OF THE DARKNESS tales, but the quarterly schedule of these titles will keep them from seeing the light of day for a long time. What else could I do? I pitched a story where the ALIEN VERSUS PREDATOR franchise crosses over with THE DARKNESS/WITCHBLADE. The trick was making certain that the day-to-day soap opera drama is there, so the cosmic horror stuff really screams. I recently boiled the story down to it’s basic structure and put it in the hands of editorial at both companies, as well as offering my friends Scott Lobdell and Paul Jenkins a chance to play. Scott generously pointed to some continuity holes and suggested clever fixes-just what you would expect from Scott. When the basic story pleases all the heads in charge, I’ll script. It’ll be a extra-length, done-in-one story, and I want it to feel like the comic-inspired movie you wish Hollywood would make, but they rarely do.”
After a brief laugh, he continued by noting that, “There are a lot of things I’m working on now, I can’t even tell ya when they’re coming out, they’re all pretty far down the road. Except for the creator-owned stuff, mostly through Avatar.”
Like the recent reappearance of his and Hannibal King’s NIGHTVISION? “Did you like the two-parter we just did in THRESHOLD? We’re reprinting it, with some additional material. We’re putting out a NIGHTVISION SPECIAL. It’ll have that, and some more stuff. I think Tim [Vigil] is doing an alternate cover … So, NIGHTVISION survives.”
After a short pause, Quinn added that, “NIGHTVISION, the graphic novel, the collection [of all the previously published stories and mini-series] was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for horror writing in comics in ’98, as was Quinn’s work on LADY DEATH for Chaos! This year, Quinn’s FAUST: BOOK OF M, illustrated by co-creator Tim Vigil, got the nod from the Horror Writers Association.
“When the trade paperback collection came out,” Quinn explained, “Hannibal seemed ready to do comics, again. NIGHTVISION has always been very personal to me; I think it’s personal to Hannibal. In some ways it sings head over heels of some of the other stuff I’ve seen him do, and it’s one of my most personal stuff, too. But Hannibal paints cards for Wizards of the Coast. Cards are MUCH more lucrative. I think he WANTS to do more comics work, but he’s just unable to commit to the loss of income for the sake of love. Well, of course we all are, or we wouldn’t be in comics. But we all have our breaking point where we want to keep a roof over our family’s heads.”
Which, Quinn was quick to note, brings us back to the sad fact that, “There’s a lot less money at doing your own, creator owned, black and white comic now than there was when we first started [in 1988]. So it’s a little harder to get the artist to [commit] the length of time, the block of time, to complete the issues. Perversely, though, there’s never been a better time to do comics for the love of telling stories that matter in the medium that we love-even if you quote-unquote sell out, you’ll never get rich. So do what feeds your head, heart, and soul. If that’s writing Faust or if that’s writing the Flash or if that’s writing Veronica in Greece, go for it!”
Yet another one of the many ironies that haunt the creative life of David Quinn. As for the future of his other projects – such as the various incarnations of FAUST, including the long-awaited finale of FAUST: LOVE OF THE DAMNED, the resurrection of FAUST: SINGHA’S TALONS story arc, as well as the film version that just its finished principle photography, and his work with the protean horror punk outfit THE MISFITS.