Asmus Plans His "Thief of Thieves" Heist

For "Thief of Thieves," Robert Kirkman brought together an elite crew to stage the heist of a century -- and not just in the pages of the comic.

The "Walking Dead" creator not only turned his efforts towards the crime genre with Skybound book, he also took a whole new approach to actually writing the Image Comics title. Enlisting a writer's room approach to the comic, a technique he became aware of while working on "The Walking Dead" for AMC, Kirkman assembled a group of writers including James Asmus ("Gambit") and more as-yet-unrevealed names in one place. Everyone present bounced ideas off one another, and then the writers went off to work on their own arcs.

Once Nick Spencer ended his initial arc with "Thief of Thieves" #7, Asmus stepped up to the plate to tell a tale that takes the spotlight a bit off the first arc's star Redmond, shining it on his son Augustus, who follows in his father's illegal footsteps and has a desire to make a name for himself. Asmus brings a unique sensibility to the series due to his experience as a playwright ("Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical," "Amelia Earhart Jungle Princess"), sketch comedy actor and comic writer ("Captain America & Bucky," "Generation Hope").

CBR News spoke with Asmus about how his past informs this project, what the arc says about Augustus and how he was brought into the inner circle of "Thief of Thieves" in the first place.

CBR News: What did you think of Robert Kirkman's initial pitch for "Thief of Thieves" when you first heard it? How did he initially approach you with the idea?

Asmus was among a number of currently unknown writers brought on by Robert Kirkman to follow Nick Spencer's debut arc on "Thief of Thieves"

James Asmus: I thought it was brilliant! I heard about it initially like everyone else, when the book was announced. It was a few months later when I got a message from Robert on Twitter, out of the blue, asking for my phone number. We had only met, I think, twice in passing. So when we did talk, and he offered me a stint on the book, I was very pleasantly surprised. 
What has the actual process been like working with Robert and the other writers? Did you all meet together and pitch ideas, then bounce things off of Robert?

It was great! We did a true writers room. Robert sent a couple of us writers his initial notes for the series and the scripts Nick Spencer had written so far. We spent a day at the Skybound offices teasing out and kicking around concepts that roughly shaped the next three arcs of the book. It was a genuinely great experience and one of my favorite days of work, ever. 
You've worked with co-writers before -- how did this writer's room approach differ from that?

The biggest difference between this and the comics or theater work I've done with co-writers is that my issues need to read as part of a continuing story. Those other projects were self-contained stories. On "Thieves," I'm sure my scripts sound different from Nick's, and I didn't try to imitate his voice, exactly, but there was the very real obligation to try and capture a similar style and voice for everything. 

In that sense, this really does work more like a TV writer's room than a comic. When creative teams switch on comics, you have much more freedom to change things up as you'd like, generally. Whereas in TV, when the next guy-or-lady writes the next episode, it has to fit comfortably in between the others. 
This new arc features Conrad's son Augustus pretty heavily. How does he differ from his father?

He's still trying to prove something, to himself and his father. Conrad knows who he is, and that offers a strength and clarity that Augustus just doesn't have. There are plenty more differences, but I think that one drives things the most. This arc also focuses on Augustus' childhood, how much of that was developed in the room?

A lot was discussed emotionally, in terms of the relationships over time. Robert had very clear ideas for what kinds of shifts had taken place in the family and why. Audrey's brother James dying, as depicted in Nick's arc, was a big turning point. But I had to create the specifics of most of these other breaking points that we'll be flashing back to.
How has working on "Thief of Thieves" differed from your work for Marvel?

The degree of autonomy -- even on this book, which has editors, other writers, etc. -- is a major culture shift. It's also been strange to be back in a place where I can push at the edges again. I'm not a fan of swearing, sex or violence just for its own sake. At least not in my own writing. But the guys there had to remind me that I can actually go deeper into some of those places than I was in my initial drafts. Only working for Marvel had created an automatic set of boundaries in my mind when it came to comics. 

But I've been happy to have this chance to step beyond those boundaries with "Thieves." I did have to warn my parents, who buy all my comics at Carol & Johns in Cleveland, that my writing is back to being R-rated again.
Having come from from a comedy background, do you try to bring comedic elements to your stories? Is that the case with "Thief of Thieves?"

I worked a little more into my first issue, for sure. I try to inject a little, or sometimes a lot of humor into everything I write. Frankly, stories that are purely bleak with no warmth or humor anywhere just strike me as false. And really, every story benefits from little surprises and shifts in tone. I thought Nick Spencer's finale for the first arc was so tight, so massively gratifying, that I knew there was no way to do an immediate follow-up. So I thought it would be good to do an almost one-off issue with a little levity, while also setting up the pieces we'd use going forward.

What's it been working with Shawn Martinbrough?

Shawn is such a dynamite collaborator. It's difficult to put into words. First off -- I think we all need to take a moment to appreciate that this is a guy doing every single issue of a monthly comic. There are probably fewer than ten guys in the industry doing that now, and he's one of them. Plus, as much as anything a book like this lives and dies on the -- for lack of a better word -- performances of the characters. He absolutely nails the emotions and the tension between the characters, and then wraps it all in fantastic modern-noir aesthetic that really creates the flavor of the book. And he's an incredibly nice guy, too!

Obviously, it's been a while since you initially spoke with Robert and the rest of the writers. Was it hard keeping quiet about your involvement with the book?

That was killing me! It was something like six months between when Robert first approached me and when it was actually announced. Of course I told a few people. My wife actually had a harder time not saying something when everyone she worked with started talking about how much they love "The Walking Dead" TV show! He hates when I say this, but my wife and I had been buying all of "Invincible" and "Walking Dead." Plus, "Morning Glories" is probably her favorite comic. So she really couldn't believe I was working with these guys. 

"Thief of Thieves" #10, Asmus' next issue with Robert Kirkman and Shawn Martinbrough, drops on November 7.

Tags: image comics, robert kirkman, nick spencer, skybound, james asmus, thief of thieves, shawn martinbrough

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