When it comes to gods, deities and other subjects of worship, one’s mileage may vary depending on geographical location, beliefs of preference or, in the case of comic book authors Glen Brunswick and Nathan Edmondson, particular tastes in storytelling.
Brunswick and Edmondson are the respective writers behind Image Comics’ “Jersey Gods” and “Olympus,” two titles that focus on the existence of gods and related mythology, but are vastly different in just about every other facet. Despite the disparities in content, the two writers discovered that they have quite a bit in common during their discussion about mythology, reading, writing, literary influences and more.
The “Jersey Gods” and “Olympus” writers were kind enough to share their conversation with CBR News, which includes musings on the symbiotic nature of reading and writing, their personal histories with gods and mythology, and their particular processes in creating comic books.
Glen Brunswick: I know you are a huge student of classic mythic literature. Did you have to do a lot of research as you were developing “Olympus,” or did you just delve deep into your own knowledge of all things Greek?
Nathan Edmondson: Both, to be sure. I knew about Castor and Pollux from having read and studied the myths, but once I started to think through the story I wanted to write, I had to invest myself more deeply into the literature and history. I continued to read and research, and I still continue to do so. The most challenging part of the research was trying to narrow down what, exactly, I wanted to write about.
That leads me right into a question I’ve wanted to ask you for a while now. Obviously, having “Gods” in the title of the book evokes thoughts of some kind of mythology and/or religion. Does the idea of “myth” or a particular mythology play a part in the creation of the “Jersey Gods” universe?
Brunswick: I was just watching a thing on the History Channel on Zeus, and I was struck by how some of the things I have planned seem like they were inspired by the Greek myths. I never really studied them like you did, so any of the inspiration must have slid in there through the collective consciousness or just my love of superheroes. I’ve also studied Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey a bit. I think there is some truth to the whole “monomyth” idea – that all cultures share a basic form and structure when it comes to their mythology.
I really have been enjoying your collaboration with [“Olympus” artist Christian Ward]. Has his involvement changed your story at all? Did you find yourself writing to his strengths as time went on?
Edmondson: His involvement has and continues to drastically affect the story. When he came on board “Olympus,” I had a more epic endeavor in mind, and he wisely helped me narrow it to a more pure and simple story, one more fit for the length, too. And as we work, he voices many suggestions. If he doesn’t like something I’ve written, he doesn’t hesitate to tell me so. His advice is almost always spot-on.
Christian is a true artist – he’s not capable of being a slave to a script. That means that I have to learn to write for him, true, but it’s like saying you have to learn to shift manually to drive a Porsche – ultimately, you’re driving a better vehicle. The collaboration with Christian has also helped me to enter into other working relationships with artists more open to their ideas, and I’ve heard from more than one that they appreciate a writer who values their input.
I’ll shift gears here a little bit – and if you think I’m getting tired of car metaphors, think again – and ask, what sort of scenes do you find most fun to write? What sort are the most difficult?
Brunswick: I actually find the small emotional moments between characters to be the most fun to write. Of course, at the end of the day, talking heads tend not to be that visually compelling, but that’s [“Jersey Gods” artist Dan McDaid’s] problem to figure out! Good action scenes are tougher for me, but they sure are more satisfying when the art comes in.
Nathan, we both have brother relationships to figure out in our stories. I don’t have a brother, so I use my two sons to model brother behavior. How does having a brother help you to write your own leads?
Edmondson: Honestly, while I have a strong relationship with my brother, those dynamics weren’t on the forefront of my mind when crafting Castor and Pollux. In the novel I’m finishing now, two of the child characters are significantly based on my youngest siblings as I remember them growing up. But in “Olympus,” I wasn’t consciously drawing on specific memories or dynamics in my relationship with my brother. That said, our relationship is undoubtedly written into the book, for to write it convincingly, I had to draw upon what I know. And in the moments I step back, I see my brother in places.
This is something I don’t have a process for myself, but when you’re approaching, say, a miniseries, do you have steps you go through to craft the plot, or does it happen organically?
Brunswick: Before I was a writer, I was a literary agent for screenwriters. When I think about a miniseries, I usually have that three-act structure of a screenplay in mind. The trick for me is making the story compelling over four or five issues and then trying to make sure each issue stands on its own and also functions as part of a larger whole. It also helps if you can create little cliffhangers at the end of each issue to keep readers coming back. Anyway, that’s what I try to do.
Since you claim to not have a process, how are you able to conjure a series out of thin air, anyway?
Edmondson: I suppose what I meant was, I don’t have a single mapped out process to get from point A to point Z. My stories take a very organic route to the printed page, getting ingredients and seasonings at various stages and then getting to a boiling point when I’m not watching them. I have a method I use as a guide, however, and it starts with the pieces stewing in my head, and then at some point I identify the one-line pitch of the story. I then write a one-page synopsis with at least a notion of the acts and issues and character arcs inside. Then I write an issue-by-issue outline, with a paragraph synopsis for the action and development in each issue.
A very important step for me is to allow time for each piece I’ve written to sit. The time is as important as the mortar between bricks, and coming back fresh, I’ll edit and edit and edit some more. I write [the first issue], let it sit, rewrite it, rewrite it, and then, like through a lens, I see more clearly how to craft the subsequent issues.
As a writer, reading is vitally important to developing one’s craft. I once heard Stephen King say a good writer must write four hours a day and read four hours a day. Do you look for anything in particular to read to help you gear up for a project?
Brunswick: Man, I wish Stephen King would come to my house and tell me stuff! You’re a lucky man! I do read things to help me gear up, and they’re always specific to the thing I’m writing. I’ve been researching the 1950s for an upcoming project, so I decided to revisit Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” I’m amazed at how contemporary that book still feels – I guess that’s why it’s a classic.
When I was gearing up for “Jersey Gods,” I read a book called “Rattled” by Debra Galant. It’s a fun romp told from a female perspective that delves into the suburban world of New Jersey. It helped me get a feel for that kind of life style and that setting. But I’m constantly reading anyway. It helps me think about new ideas that I might want to pursue at a future time.
Edmondson: I’m glad to hear that. It seems that more and more often I hear writers say, “I just don’t have time to read.” I feel it’s akin to a presidential candidate saying, “I just don’t have time for the news.”
Brunswick: Have you read any good books lately? Are you making Stephen proud?
Edmondson: I’ve just reread “Hamlet” and “Paradise Lost,” and before that some texts on mythology. I’ve been poring through Caroline Gordon’s “House of Fiction,” a marvelous short-story anthology from 1950 with insightful and constructive commentary; the stories range from Flaubert to Joyce to O’Connor. [I think that] the short story is a lost art, the employment and study of which has been to me a most – the most – beneficial practice in writing.
I also recently finally read Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country For Old Men” and “The Road.” He stands alone among modern authors in his prowess, insight and invention.
Now that we’re on the topic of literature, are there writers or books whose works drove you to write? Did you have an author or a work, for example, that you read and said, “I want to do what they did”?
Brunswick: Not really. I never thought of myself as a writer growing up. I became more interested in writing after representing writers as an agent. The things that influenced me as a youngster were Marvel and DC Comics and “The Hardy Boys.” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby clearly were a huge inspiration. I read the “Dune” trilogy by Frank Herbert in college, which got me into reading more science fiction. More recently, I’ve really enjoyed Raymond Chandler and have become quite a fan of Michael Connelly. But given how much I enjoyed comics as a kid, it’s truly a huge thrill and privilege for me to be able to write and produce comics as an adult.
Did you consider yourself a writer in the womb? I remember that you told me what a huge fan of Michael Crichton you are and how you wanted to meet him before he died. Who are some of the current writers that you follow that you would most like to have a drink with?
Edmondson: That’s a tough question. With Crichton went many of my aspirations for author meeting. I think I’d very much enjoy a beer with Cormac McCarthy. Aaron Sorkin and David Koepp are on the list, and Stephen King, but I’d prefer a wine in that case. The majority of the writers to whom I’m so devoted have passed, some a millennium or three ago. Frustrating!
What about that guy who wrote “Killing Girl”? I hear he’s not a total drag to share a drink with…
Brunswick: If you’re buying, I’m drinking!
“Jersey Gods” #10, written by Glen Brunswick and illustrated by Dan McDaid, goes on sale on December 16, 2009. The “Olympus” trade paperback, written by Nathan Edmondson and illustrated by Christian Ward, goes on sale on December 23, 2009.