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SAN DIEGO, DAY 1: City of Caped Angels: Busiek Takes Readers Back to ‘Astro City’

by  in Comic News Comment
SAN DIEGO, DAY 1: City of Caped Angels: Busiek Takes Readers Back to ‘Astro City’

You can
go home again.

At least, you can if you’re one of the readers of “Kurt Busiek’s Astro
City,” which has weathered two year-long breaks in publishing in its short
history.

Comic-Con
International
attendees were the first to hear the good news on
Thursday: The series will be returning to DC/WildStorm this February.

Well, the second to hear. CBR News sat down with Busiek on Tuesday to
talk about the return to one of comicdom’s most fabled metropolises — and
an entire superhero universe informed by the vision of Busiek, along with
co-conspirators Brent Anderson and Alex Ross — and about whether the
creative team would be relaunching the book or picking up where they left off.

“A little of both, actually,” Busiek said. “We’ve been saying for a
while now that once I had three scripts in the can, we’d get the book back
into production and back on the schedule. We’re there now — I’m working
on the fourth script — so we’re bringing the book back.

“What we’re going to do, though, to make sure we don’t run into this
kind of problem in the future, is to bring ‘Astro City’ back as a series of
mini-series. That way, if we need time between arcs, we can take it, but
readers can be confident that we won’t solicit anything unless we’re sure
it’ll come out on time and as solicited.

“So at the moment, we’re planning to be back in February, with a
five-issue mini called ‘Astro City: Local Heroes.’ In some ways, we’re
picking up where we left off, since we were two issues into a six-issue arc
of standalone stories when we fell off the map, and ‘Local Heroes’ will
have the other four, plus one more. We’re also sort of starting fresh,
since that one additional issue is a new introductory issue, both to
introduce the main ideas and approaches of the series to new readers, and
to welcome longtime readers back to the fold. So it’s a new introduction,
much like the other two debuts we’ve had (‘In Dreams’ in vol. 1 #1, and
‘Welcome to Astro City’ in vol. 2 #1), and then the rest of the stories we
were in the middle of when we were so rudely interrupted.

“What we’re hoping to do is at least six issues a year — it’d be
wonderful to be monthly, but I just don’t think that’s realistic at this
point. But six a year ought to give us the time we need to do it well, and
have enough material out to please readers. And that way, we should be
able to bring each arc out monthly for the duration of the arc, so readers
aren’t left hanging while they wait for the next chapter.

“‘Astro City: Local Heroes’ will be bi-monthly, though, at least at the
start, in order to accommodate Brent’s schedule in finishing up ‘Rising
Stars.'”

For those who somehow missed the lengthy saga of Busiek’s health
problems, and how they dogged the series, the feeling-better writer recapped:

“The quick version of the story is, I was plagued with recurrent
infections that affected my concentration, making it hard for me to
structure out certain kinds of stories. It slowed me down on some of my
writing, like ‘Avengers’ and ‘Thunderbolts,’ and it brought me virtually to
a stand still on ‘Astro City.’ I simply couldn’t get the scripts done — I
couldn’t make the stories work. I’d lose the thread of what I was writing,
and while the plots and the action would work just fine, the more delicate,
internal storytelling just wasn’t there.

“Ultimately, I was diagnosed with mercury poisoning, and I’ve been being
treated for that for a while now. But it took over 15 years for it to get
this bad, and it’s taking a while to climb back out of the hole, too. So
I’m still getting sick, but not as often as I used to, and we’re working
toward getting me back to complete health, so I don’t have to worry about
it any more.”

The more-than-year-long gap between issues — the second the series has
now endured — may well impact the number or enthusiasm of fans, but Busiek
isn’t going to spend time worrying about things beyond his control.

“‘Astro City’ seems to be a book that depends on word of mouth, and has
been getting good word of mouth right from the start. So when we vanished
from the stands between vol. 1 and vol. 2, sales actually went up — more
people discovered the book while we were gone, and the demand was higher.
We’ve been selling a lot of trade paperbacks, even while we’ve been on this
unplanned hiatus, and I’m regularly hearing from people who are just now
discovering the series. So we’ve been gone, in terms of new material, but
it doesn’t seem like we’ve been forgotten.

“On the other hand, while we’ve had publishing gaps before, we never had
one this long. So I don’t know what that’ll mean. That’s why we’re
kicking off with a new introductory story — we don’t want to take the
readership for granted, and we want to be as accessible and as welcoming as
possible to both new readers and old readers.

“Beyond that, it’s just a matter of keeping our fingers crossed, and
hoping people like what they see …”

(An “Astro City” story also appeared in the pages of DC Comics’ “9/11”
tribute book published in January 2002.)

When “Astro City” first debuted, it surfaced amidst a sea of dark and
angry heroes, replete with spikes, big guns and bad attitudes. A kinder,
gentler and more thoughtful book (and usually in a quite strong Silver Age
vein), the series read like Busiek’s reaction to a world of violent
impostor Batmen and cloned Spider-Men. And today, not only is that very
1990s style of superhero comics more or less gone, several waves of books
that likewise read like reactions to the grim, gritty and terse 1980s and
1990s can be found amongst the stables of all the major superhero comics
publishers, providing what ostensibly might be construed as competition for
“Astro City.” Not so, says Busiek.

“‘Astro City’ was never actually a response to the other books out there
— we’ve occasionally done stories that comment in some way on other
comics, but that’s never been the main point. It’s just a series I always
wanted to do, and the success of [Busiek/Ross collaboration] ‘Marvels’ made
it possible to do it. And to my surprise and delight, it turned out that
readers wanted to read what I wanted to write, so we got to keep going with it.

“As for modern-day competition, there are certainly more books in a
similar vein, from ‘Powers’ to ‘Planetary’ to ‘Tom Strong’ to ‘The Factor’
to ‘Noble Causes’ and more, but each of them seems like its own thing, its
own vision of non-standard superheroes. Some of ’em are dark, some of ’em
are bright and enthusiastic, but I haven’t seen anything that I think is
really walking the same path we are. Which is great — the more different
visions we have going in the comics industry, the better.

“Is there competition? I hope not — I hope that we’re all fighting for
one small slice of the audience, but instead that we’re all doing a wide
enough spectrum of stuff that readers can enjoy any or all of it depending
on their tastes. But either way, we’re just going to do the best book we
can and see what happens.”

As for what happens between the covers, the normally tight-lipped Busiek
was willing to give out a taste of what’s in store:

“Well, as noted, ‘Astro City: Local Heroes’ will be five standalone,
single-issue stories. We’ll start off with the story of a doorman at a
prestigious Astro City hotel, who sees newcomers getting their first taste
of Astro City all the time, plus he has his own story to tell of his
introduction to the city. We’ll see the stories of a young girl who leaves
Astro City to visit cousins in the country for the summer and the
unexpected things she finds there; the story of a woman determined to
uncover the secret ID of the hero she’s involved with; a lawyer who has to
try a case with the ‘evil twin’ defense; and the tale of a retired
superhero dragged out of retirement for one last battle.

“After that, our next arc/mini will be a longer, multi-part story, but
it’s far enough off that we’re not ready to pin it down just yet — I have
dozens of stories I want to tell all at once, and we have to choose between
them. But finding out what happened to the Silver Agent is among them —
although that’s not a story in itself, but a piece of something larger.”

Finally, if you’ve looked through this whole story, trying to find some
new Brent Anderson or Alex Ross Astro City art, Busiek has some bad news.

“Alas, not at this point. With my completely undependable schedule,
Brent and Alex have been waiting for me to get enough stuff done to get the
book going again. Now that we have the three scripts in, Brent’ll be
starting up on the book again, but he and Wildstorm are working out
schedule details right now. Well, not right now right now, since Brent’s
on the way to San Diego at the moment, but you know what I mean. Same with
Alex — it’s not like either of them have been sitting around twiddling
their thumbs waiting for me. They’re both pretty busy, so we’re going to
have to work around their other projects as we get going again.”

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