Out of the Shadows: First-Time Comic Writer Debuts with Marvel's 'Nightcrawler'

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If you want to break into comics, the advice is always to aim low, to break in at the bottom and, with an established track record of work, slowly move your way up to the major publishers.

Someone forgot to give that advice to Chris Kipiniak.

Sure, you may not know his name now, but this November, his debut comic will almost certainly be one of the most-read books of the month.

Kipiniak, you see, is breaking in to comics by writing Marvel Comics X-Men solo miniseries, "Nightcrawler."

"Well, I'm collaborating with my editor, Pete Franco, and the X-men line editor Mark Powers, really," Kipiniak told CBR News on Friday. "This is my first job doing comics and, as many as I've read and as much as I have written for other media, they've had to help me get used to the form. Both of them have been really supportive. They helped me winnow some broad directional ideas down to some more specific formats until we finally got the story that we've gone with.

"As far as the art element of the collaboration goes, it's an artist named Matt Smith. I've seen all of the art for issue 1 and it looks fantastic. He's taken my scripts and added his own perspective - it makes for a great looking book. I haven't met him, though.

"Now, to the format ... well, it's a four issue mini-series. It's one of the X-Men Icons projects, which is designed as a way of trying to get new readers interested in the characters individually which would then get them interested in the X-Men universe as a whole. So, it has to be open and accessible to new readers and at the same time showcase Nightcrawler as a fascinating character in his own right and as a representative of this intricate and compelling world of the X-Men. He has to be, effectively, sold. It seemed like a delicate task at first until I realized ... it isn't. Nightcrawler is really compelling; he has real motivations, a personality which differentiates him from his teammates, a unique perspective on life, and heroism -- I don't have to sell him. I just had to use him as a character -- to let the story grow out of who he is instead of trying to shoehorn him into something.

"Around the time that I was starting the project, there happened to be a lot of stories in the news about illegal immigrant smuggling, human trafficking and slavery. There also seemed to be a lot of overlap in these stories. I was really unsettled by these stories, especially the more I read and learned about how widespread this was and how inadequate the applicable laws are. The more I thought about it, the more appropriate this seemed for Nightcrawler -- he's always been the bleeding heart of the team. He's an immigrant himself. He's studying to be a Catholic priest in Brooklyn, a section of New York which has always been a home to new and recent immigrants ... this is the sort of thing that would be part of his world. And he wouldn't stand idly by -- he would want to deal with it, fight it. And yet, it isn't something that would be dealt with by the X-Men.

"The storyline of the series as a whole is about Nightcrawler dealing with modern slavery -- from his discovery through his descent into its very dark and cruel world of human trafficking. For Nightcrawler, it brings up a lot of questions about his responsibilities as both a superhero and a future priest. Hell, it makes him think about his responsibilities as a human being. It makes him question his abilities and his faith. Each issue is a chapter in this journey. And each chapter is a separate story which, when taken together, help define who Nightcrawler is."

Although Kipiniak is new to comics, he's got a history as a writer.

"I'm an actor and a playwright - that's my background. I tried to bring some of that to the comic in terms of how I did the dialogue ... I don't know if it'll show or not, but I tried. Anyway, I had just moved to New York and was doing a production of one of my plays, 'Stalled.' I was inviting agents, casting directors, literary agents and anyone else I thought could give me a job, and that included comic book editors. Mark Powers responded. He came to the show, liked it, knew that I wanted to work in comics and offered me the 'Nightcrawler' gig. They were just at the point where they were assigning creative teams to the Icons projects and Mark thought that the themes and questions dealt with in 'Stalled' seemed most similar to Nightcrawler's sensibilities. So, I got lucky. That's how I broke in.

"I'm actually doing a play right now, too. It's here in New York at the Second Stage Theatre ... it's called 'Metamorphoses.' I didn't write this one, though. Just acting."

Those sensibilities, and the appeal of the character Kipiniak mentioned, are fairly easily summed up, the writer said:

"Well, I don't know how Marvel chose which X-Men would get solos in these projects, but as far as I'm concerned, I think that Nightcrawler is a great character. He's really different from the rest of the X-men - he's the most consciously optimistic, and the biggest bleeding heart on the team. He's not stupid, though, and I think that too often people try to equate optimism and faith with naiveté. He has always been strong enough to forgive, and to retain his faith in humanity. Not to say that it hasn't been difficult for him to do, however. It's very hard for all of us. It's even tougher when you're a mutant.

"He's the only superhero I know whose motivation comes from something that good and pure. And he's been able to retain that. That is very interesting to me."

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