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

[Astro City]You can go home again.

At least, you can if you're one of the readers of "Kurt Busiek's AstroCity," which has weathered two year-long breaks in publishing in its shorthistory.

Comic-ConInternational attendees were the first to hear the good news onThursday: The series will be returning to DC/WildStorm this February.

Well, the second to hear. CBR News sat down with Busiek on Tuesday totalk about the return to one of comicdom's most fabled metropolises -- andan entire superhero universe informed by the vision of Busiek, along withco-conspirators Brent Anderson and Alex Ross -- and about whether thecreative 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 awhile now that once I had three scripts in the can, we'd get the book backinto production and back on the schedule. We're there now -- I'm workingon 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 thiskind of problem in the future, is to bring 'Astro City' back as a series ofmini-series. That way, if we need time between arcs, we can take it, butreaders can be confident that we won't solicit anything unless we're sureit'll come out on time and as solicited.

"So at the moment, we're planning to be back in February, with afive-issue mini called 'Astro City: Local Heroes.' In some ways, we'repicking up where we left off, since we were two issues into a six-issue arcof standalone stories when we fell off the map, and 'Local Heroes' willhave the other four, plus one more. We're also sort of starting fresh,since that one additional issue is a new introductory issue, both tointroduce the main ideas and approaches of the series to new readers, andto 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 wewere 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 bewonderful to be monthly, but I just don't think that's realistic at thispoint. But six a year ought to give us the time we need to do it well, andhave enough material out to please readers. And that way, we should beable to bring each arc out monthly for the duration of the arc, so readersaren't left hanging while they wait for the next chapter.

"'Astro City: Local Heroes' will be bi-monthly, though, at least at thestart, in order to accommodate Brent's schedule in finishing up 'RisingStars.'"

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

"The quick version of the story is, I was plagued with recurrentinfections that affected my concentration, making it hard for me tostructure out certain kinds of stories. It slowed me down on some of mywriting, like 'Avengers' and 'Thunderbolts,' and it brought me virtually toa stand still on 'Astro City.' I simply couldn't get the scripts done -- Icouldn'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 beingtreated for that for a while now. But it took over 15 years for it to getthis bad, and it's taking a while to climb back out of the hole, too. SoI'm still getting sick, but not as often as I used to, and we're workingtoward getting me back to complete health, so I don't have to worry aboutit any more."

The more-than-year-long gap between issues -- the second the series hasnow endured -- may well impact the number or enthusiasm of fans, but Busiekisn'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 hasbeen getting good word of mouth right from the start. So when we vanishedfrom the stands between vol. 1 and vol. 2, sales actually went up -- morepeople 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 thisunplanned hiatus, and I'm regularly hearing from people who are just nowdiscovering the series. So we've been gone, in terms of new material, butit doesn't seem like we've been forgotten.

"On the other hand, while we've had publishing gaps before, we never hadone this long. So I don't know what that'll mean. That's why we'rekicking off with a new introductory story -- we don't want to take thereadership for granted, and we want to be as accessible and as welcoming aspossible to both new readers and old readers.

"Beyond that, it's just a matter of keeping our fingers crossed, andhoping 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 andangry heroes, replete with spikes, big guns and bad attitudes. A kinder,gentler and more thoughtful book (and usually in a quite strong Silver Agevein), the series read like Busiek's reaction to a world of violentimpostor Batmen and cloned Spider-Men. And today, not only is that very1990s style of superhero comics more or less gone, several waves of booksthat likewise read like reactions to the grim, gritty and terse 1980s and1990s can be found amongst the stables of all the major superhero comicspublishers, 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 othercomics, but that's never been the main point. It's just a series I alwayswanted to do, and the success of [Busiek/Ross collaboration] 'Marvels' madeit possible to do it. And to my surprise and delight, it turned out thatreaders 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 asimilar 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, itsown vision of non-standard superheroes. Some of 'em are dark, some of 'emare bright and enthusiastic, but I haven't seen anything that I think isreally walking the same path we are. Which is great -- the more differentvisions we have going in the comics industry, the better.

"Is there competition? I hope not -- I hope that we're all fighting forone small slice of the audience, but instead that we're all doing a wideenough spectrum of stuff that readers can enjoy any or all of it dependingon their tastes. But either way, we're just going to do the best book wecan and see what happens."

As for what happens between the covers, the normally tight-lipped Busiekwas 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 aprestigious Astro City hotel, who sees newcomers getting their first tasteof Astro City all the time, plus he has his own story to tell of hisintroduction to the city. We'll see the stories of a young girl who leavesAstro City to visit cousins in the country for the summer and theunexpected things she finds there; the story of a woman determined touncover the secret ID of the hero she's involved with; a lawyer who has totry a case with the 'evil twin' defense; and the tale of a retiredsuperhero dragged out of retirement for one last battle.

"After that, our next arc/mini will be a longer, multi-part story, butit's far enough off that we're not ready to pin it down just yet -- I havedozens of stories I want to tell all at once, and we have to choose betweenthem. 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 somenew 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 thebook going again. Now that we have the three scripts in, Brent'll bestarting up on the book again, but he and Wildstorm are working outschedule details right now. Well, not right now right now, since Brent'son the way to San Diego at the moment, but you know what I mean. Same withAlex -- it's not like either of them have been sitting around twiddlingtheir thumbs waiting for me. They're both pretty busy, so we're going tohave to work around their other projects as we get going again."

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