Nick Spencer's Thriving "Existence"

Nick Spencer is having a good year. His first comic book miniseries, "Existence 2.0," debuted through Image Comics in July of last year with endorsements from critics, fans and - apparently - Hollywood, as it was announced last month that "Smallville" co-creators Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, alongside Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes, would be adapting "Existence" for the big screen. On the print side of the equation, Spencer's "Existence 3.0" and "Forgetless" pass their midway points this week, while the second installment of his just released "Shuddertown" arrives later this month.

Indeed, Spencer is having a good year, albeit a busy one - and according to the writer, it's going to get even busier.

CBR News caught up with Spencer to discuss the "Existence 2.0" movie deal, the midway points of "Existence 3.0" and "Forgetless," the next issue of "Shuddertown," his future comic book plans and much more.

CBR News: Nick, big things are afoot! Last month, we found out that an "Existence 2.0" film is in development through Platinum Dunes. How did that come about?

Nick Spencer: Well, the deal took a long time, and then it happened really fast, if that makes sense. Al Gough and Miles Millar had been really interested in adapting the story pretty much since the first issue dropped. It was just about finding the right time to do it, when to shop it around to studios, stuff like that, so there were a lot of months in there of playing the waiting game. But once they'd done the treatment, things really moved quickly from there and we had the deal done pretty fast. Then it was only like a week before the whole thing was public and in The Hollywood Reporter and all that - which, I gotta say, was pretty cool!

You mentioned Al Gough and Miles Millar, two of the guys involved in bringing "Existence 2.0" to theaters. Can you talk a bit about working with them?

Miles and Al have been absolutely terrific, and I was definitely [already] a fan. I think people most closely associate them with "Smallville," but they also contributed to the "Spider-Man 2" and "Iron Man" screenplays. These are guys who really understand how to get to the core of comic book stories, find what makes them work, and translate that to film.

Then you have the Platinum Dunes guys, such as Michael Bay...

Yeah, it's definitely a bit crazy, but in all the right ways! I think Platinum Dunes is the perfect place for a story like this. "Existence" the comic has gotten compared to a Michael Bay action flick in more than one review, actually, so to end up here is pretty cool. He's a name that's synonymous with keeping huge audiences entertained and on the edge of their seats, and that's exactly what kind of film this should be. Exciting stuff.

How about yourself and Ron Salas - what level of involvement will you guys have in developing the movie?

I have total faith in Al and Miles and the team at Platinum Dunes. I've read the treatment and trust me, it's very, very good. Everyone is so excited about it. So while they know we're always here and happy to help in any way, I doubt they'll need it. These guys definitely know what they're doing.

In your opinion, is there something about "Existence" that makes it more conducive to film than some of your other comics like "Forgetless" or "Shuddertown?"

Well, hopefully it's not so much more conducive as it is first in line! I know there's someone very, very special sort of circling "Forgetless" right now for the film adaptation, and while I can't say more about that at the moment, I will tell you this person is far and away the perfect fit to take the project on. I can't wait to get started on that.

As for what makes "Existence" works as a film, I think it was always easy to see how the translation would work. It's a story with a premise that really resonates with people, both on an emotional level and a high-concept level. Blair Butler called it the "Wanted" of 2009 and I really think that's probably the fairest comparison - just a fast paced, entertaining story with a lot of action and intrigue. I think stories about identity changes or body transfers always connect with audiences, too, because there's just something naturally intriguing about the idea of becoming someone else. It's fun exploring that within the framework of an action story.

Do you see any potential difficulties about translating "Existence" to a live-action medium? The consciousness transfers, for instance - is that going to make casting the movie particularly hard?

I think this movie will be a thrill for the actors involved, whoever they end up being. The consciousness transfers make it so that an actor can really show off some versatility and in a really entertaining way. The differences between someone like Sly and someone like Marko - the right actor can have a lot of fun with that, so I'm excited to see how it's handled myself.

As much as you can reveal, how closely will the movie stick to what you've written? Is the plan to adapt both "Existence 2.0" and "3.0" into one film, or just the first miniseries?

This is based on the first mini. What we're doing on "3.0" and hopefully beyond is very much it's own thing. I always think of "3.0" as being a completely different story as opposed to a straight up sequel. I like doing stories that are markedly unique despite being set in the same world - I do that on "Forgetless," too, with the backup story. It's just a reminder that perspective is everything.

As for how closely it will stick to the story - having read the treatment, I think there's a lot there that fans of the book will love. At the same time, they did an incredible job taking that foundation and turning it into something that works as a film. I'm not one of those writers who thinks every change someone else makes is a bad one. On the contrary, I'd much rather see the best possible film get made, rather than something that just slavishly follows my original scripts. And like I said, I think the story they've put together here is a great one, and a highly entertaining one, for moviegoers and fans of the book alike.

Moving onto your comic book work - because, well, you've got a lot going on! - "Existence 3.0" continues this week with issue #3, and I know that Ron Salas has had to leave the miniseries. Can you talk a bit about the reasons behind that, what level of involvement Ron might continue to have going forward, and the artist that's picking up the torch?

Well, recently, Ron and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child, which is obviously way more important than this funny book stuff! On top of that, he's got a very demanding day job. The reality is, there just wasn't enough time in the day for him to do the pages and keep the book on schedule. At the same time, everyone on the team and everyone at Image/Shadowline really believes in this book, and we need it to come out on time and get collected and all that good stuff, especially with the movie news driving up interest now. So we all decided it would be for the best to find someone new to handle the art duties - and that's where the amazing Joe Eisma comes in.

Joe is someone I've known for a while now and he is, quite simply, the best I've ever worked with. He's the complete package: insanely fast, more reliable than Lassie when you're trapped in a well and easy to work with. But on top of that, his pages are just so damn good. They have so much energy, the storytelling is incredible, the layouts are dynamic. I'm not kidding when I say I want to work with this guy for the rest of my life. He's like part Garney, part Bagley, part Immonen, part McNiven, and part JRJR. People are going to go nuts for him. He is a superstar in the making, and in bad news to comic book writers everywhere, I am going to keep him busy forever. He's wrapping up "Existence 3.0" beginning at the halfway point of #3, and then we're on to something positively huge. 

We're halfway through "Existence 3.0" at this point. In the last issue, we met a new character, Lotse, who has an apparent ability to walk around undetected and convince highly trained soldiers to blow their own brains out. Elsewhere, Marko, Jenny and the others have just been in a bad car crash. Clearly, things are coming to a boil - what can you tease about where we're headed for the final two issues?

"Existence 3.0" is the beginning of a very big, very grand story that fully explores the idea of consciousness transfer and what it means to the world. And the introduction of Lotse, who, as you noted, can do some pretty extraordinary things, is an important part of that story. But there are some other villains hiding in the shadows here that you have yet to see, and they'll play a major role in the next two issues. Nothing is quite what it seems to be here. The pace picks up and the twists start to come fast and furious the rest of the way out.

"Forgetless" #4 comes out this week, but I wanted to look back at "Forgetless" #3, which you've described as your personal favorite issue of anything you've ever done before. What is it about that issue that you're particularly proud of?

Sometimes you get to that place with a character where they're just a living, breathing person for you, and that's where we got with Sara on "Forgetless" #3. She's been, by far, my favorite character to write in any series I've been a part of, so to have her story finally get told was a real treat. I think we really stuck the landing there - I don't think I'd change a single thing about that issue. Also, I thought the issue really showed off [W. Scott Forbes'] freakishly rapid growth as an artist. The guy is getting better by the day; it's a real joy to watch. This upcoming issue tells the tale of Larry Howard and his bizarre koala suit, while the fifth issue promises to wrap everything up. Meanwhile, Darla and her friends have just arrived in New York City and are on their way to the club. Where are things headed as we rush towards the finish line?

"Forgetless" #4 is by far the most profane, disturbing, and disgusting thing I've ever written. Seriously, it's subhuman. People's jaws are going to drop. I can't wait to see the reaction to it. At the next con I attend, people will look at me differently. I'll see a bit of shame and pity in their eyes, and hey, I am cool with that.

Then, yeah, we bring everything to a close in "Forgetless" #5. I'm really happy with how it all came together. More than anything, I'm proud of the fact that we managed to put together a book that's wholly unique - a book that looks, reads and feels different from anything else on the shelves. I love the audience this thing has found, I love how many women seem to be reading, how many non-regular comic book readers we have.

I was just at Emerald City ComiCon a few weeks ago and I couldn't believe how many people came up asking me to sign it with "I'm Gonna Fuck It," or bringing their girlfriends and telling me it was the first book they'd been able to get them to check out. That's a very cool thing, knowing you brought a few new readers into the medium. Quite an honor! 

You debuted "Shuddertown" last month, but I understand there were a few difficulties getting it out of the gate on the printing side of things - what happened there?

Yeah, a little bit of unfortunateness there. Basically, the book printed without a UPC code, and there was some confusion as to whether it would go out or have to be re-printed. Then, sure enough, retailers got it and away we went. It all happened in the course of like 24 hours, so I doubt it had much of an impact either way. I'm just happy the book is out and that so many people seem to be digging the first issue. The response from reviewers and fans has been pretty unreal. In the first issue, we learned that the discovery of a body seemingly killed by an already dead person is just the latest in a string of similar cases that Isaac has uncovered. What can you tell us about this man, his history and his way of life, that's attracting this inexplicable and unwanted trouble? How will we see this playing out going forward?

Well, obviously, Isaac started the first issue in a pretty bad place and by the end of it, he was even worse off - and things are not going to get easier from there by any means, even if he begins to thinks otherwise. Isaac is about to make a mistake that a lot of men with problems they can't deal with make, and the ramifications of that will play out through the rest of the series.

For the people who are embracing the strangeness, the confusion, the frustration that is this book, all I can say is, keep digging. Seeing the responses to this book has been absolutely amazing. People are really paying attention and trying to make sense of exactly what is and isn't going on. Trust me, the mystery is only going to deepen and things are only going to get more intense from here.  

"Existence 3.0" and "Forgetless" are two issues away from wrapping up. "Shuddertown" just launched, but right now, it's slated for four issues. Where do you see these properties going once the current stories you have planned are finished?

Well, I certainly hope we can keep going - a lot just depends on the numbers. With "Shuddertown," I'm pushing hard to go longer. We have a very special story there, one that really seems to be going somewhere great, and more issues would really help with that. And if people want that, the best thing they can do right now is pre-order, pre-order, pre-order. It makes a huge difference and helps your retailer know what's hooking readers.

On "Existence," I think a lot is just going to depend on the upcoming trade in August and this movie news. I will say I love that a book about escaping death seems to keep doing just that. As for "Forgetless," I really, really want to do more stories in that vein because I think we need more stuff like that on the shelves. We have a trade coming in October, and I have high hopes that a book like that can find a sizable audience in the collected format. If it does, I have one story in particular that seems like the perfect "successor" to it, if you will.

What else can we expect from you coming down the pipeline?

The second half of 2010 is shaping up to be an exciting stretch, for sure. It'll be a year of published work come June, and I want to make sure that year two is even bigger and better. Some of the stuff that's just about to get announced, I've been working on since before "Existence 2.0" even came out. I couldn't be more excited about it finally getting out there.

I have a project getting announced next month that I believe is, dare I say, kind of a career make-or-break moment. You worry about setting expectations too high, but I really think this could be our "Powers" or "Invincible" or "Chew" moment - that book that strikes a chord with the mainstream audience and becomes a lasting hit. We have an all-star team on that, and some big plans in terms of getting the word out. So pretty soon, I'll be back talking about that one. I really think it's this summer's big release. How's that for hyperbole?

Beyond that, I'm just about to start working on something with one of my favorite artists in the world. Most of the time, I collaborate with artists who haven't done much published work before, and I love that, but this is a cool experience because he's already made quite a name for himself, and people are gonna lose their minds when they hear we're doing something together.

Then in the later part of the year, if all goes well, we've got even more on the way. I'm sort of itching to do some stuff on the digital front, since I've been a big proponent of that. At Image/Shadowline, Kris Simon and Jim Valentino know I've got a bunch of stuff just sitting here waiting; it's just always a question of the right timing and knowing there'll be the numbers to support it. But thankfully, the audience seems to keep growing, the books seem to be getting a great response, and as long as that can continue - and God knows how grateful I am when it does - it's full steam ahead.

"Existence 3.0" #3 and "Forgetless" #4 hit comic book stores on April 14, 2010, while "Shuddertown" #2 arrives in stores later in the month.

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