The Place To Be: Chuck Dixon talks CrossGen, 'El Cazador' #1

If you're a comic book fan today, you know the name Chuck Dixon. And you know he isn't doing those same things you knew him for… well, not exactly.

Dixon's migrated to CrossGen studios, where he's writing more comics than most people would think one person could write successfully at a time and he's having a lot of fun doing so. CBR News caught up with Dixon to talk about those comics, but to more specifically understand the appeal of working at CrossGen, a company seemingly unfairly dismissed by some fans.

"CrossGen offers so many opportunities that are unique to this company," says Dixon of his decision to move to the Tampa, Florida based company. "I get to do straight genre fiction without superheroics or masked crimefighters. Every story I do is evergreen and re-published and re-packaged in a half dozen different formats. The company is committed to regaining the casual comic reader and to finding new marketing tools like our educational program and our aggressive sales in libraries. I also have a level of creative freedom that I've only ever dreamed of. I'm allowed total contact with our licensers. And this is just scratching the surface.

"For readers, we offer counter-programming to DC and Marvel. We offer material unlike anything that they're doing. We're committed to an earnest approach to genre stories. You want a serous samurai story instead of a shallow pastiche? We've got that.

And no Dixon tenure at a company is complete without his own "Dixonverse" of comics, which he briefly introduces to readers and notes that every CrossGen comic comes with a complete recap of past events and an introduction to the cast, so any interested fans should be able to jump right in. "I'm currently writing 'Sigil' and 'Crux' which are shared-universe books with a science fiction theme.

"And then there's 'Way Of The Rat' a martial arts fantasy about the mis-adventures of a thief and his partner; a talking monkey.

"'Brath' is a historical adventure based on the conquest of Britain by the Roman Empire in the First Century AD. It's rip-roaring barbarian action.

"My latest is 'El Cazador,' a pirate adventure of the swashbuckling variety and is my most ambitious effort yet."

Speaking of "El Cazador," it seems that both Dixon and Disney are both betting that with the paucity of pirate fiction in forefront of popular media in recent times, people will respond well to a "swashbuckling adventure." "There's an enormous interest in any kind of nautical fiction these days," explains Dixon. "It approaches the level of interest in horror or fantasy. We're looking to find a place with that audience.

"Why pirates for me? They're fascinating in the way that stories of the mafia are. They run the gamut of morality from purely evil to driven by revenge to officially sanctioned privateer. Heroes and villains can be pirates. John Paul Jones is an American hero but he did the same kind of high-seas robbery that Blackbeard did. When you have a playing field like that it's liberating."

The series is one that Dixon describes as "a long range ongoing" and explains that the cast will feature a variety of diverse characters, as one might expect from a series of this nature. "A Spanish donessa's family is kidnapped by pirates and presses her own pirate crew to rescue her loved ones. She renames her ship El Cazador; The Hunter. By becoming a buccaneer and 'going on the account' she runs afoul of Redhand Harry Newcomb who has a Letter Of Marque, a sort of license to kill pirates, from the English crown. Blackjack Tom is our main pirate baddie. We also have a traitorous French pirate and a crew of scalawags and cutthroats."

But the nautical genre, one that many might think tired, isn't the only genre Dixon's tackling as evidenced above. Sci-fi is decried by some as a genre that needs to be left alone and Dixon says the key to making any genre work, like the sci-fi series "Crux" and "Sigil," is simple. "We go back to character on titles like that. In science fiction in fantasy anything can happen. So you have to struggle to create characters that the reader gives a rat's ass about."

And if you're curious as to how Dixon balances his work, he says he concentrates on working hard and not being distracted by other things. "Stay WAY ahead of schedule. That way, if I run into a dry spell I can take a break and not mess up the process. My pencillers generally have a minimum of three scripts waiting for them. I tend to write on a roll. When it works I just keep writing. Two weeks ago I didn't set down Word One. Last week I wrote three entire scripts."

The other difficulty he faces is keeping each book feeling different and not simply weaving the same tale with different characters. "I hope [it doesn't seem like that]" says Dixon. "That's probably my greatest fear; that my work will begin to melt together and I won't be aware that it's all becoming a goulash. But I have artists and writers and the rest of the folks here to keep me honest. I'm also working on books that are very dissimilar in tone and theme."

One reason that many people stay away from CrossGen comics- or at least the reason given- is because of the use of the "sigils of power" to imbue characters with the ability to achieve magnificent feats. It can range from flying to healing to releasing energy blasts from one's hands, but the sigil tattoo that appears on these characters is considered "too corporate" for some fans and seen as an unnecessary plot element. "Three of my books are sigil-free," says Dixon to those who avoid CrossGen because of sigils. "'El Cazador has no connection to the CG Big Story. No sigil in 'Way of The Rat' and 'Brath' has his taken away. You can read the majority of our books without even knowing about sigils and the rest."

Dixon's Web site features his famous rules for writing and through those, and his work at DC, many assume him to be an action writer. While he loves a good fisticuff, he maintains that character is the key to making any comic work and he incorporates that theory into all his CrossGen work. "My work has always been character driven. The typecasting of me as strictly an action guy isn't accurate. Sure, I put lots of punch-ups and shootouts in a story. But I figure that's comics' main attraction; extraordinary people doing extraordinary stuff. My work at CrossGen differs from anything else I've ever done in pacing. My work at CG is more deliberately paced, more like the way a novel is paced. Many readers say that our strength lies in our trade paperbacks and Traveler editions, so that's what I aim at."

Whether you're a fan of CrossGen's comics or not, there's no denying their aggressive forays into getting comics into the hands of people and Dixon highlights some of his favorite initiatives from the company. "The educational program and our strong library sales are bringing us new readers every month, the majority of these readers are brand new to comics as well as CrossGen. Our sales will grow with these readers. 'Comics On The Web' is also a great intro to our line. The Travelers are finding their way into places where comics aren't usually found. All of this combined with CG properties slated to appear in feature films and TV will bring us level with the majors within the five years."

If you're a Dixon fan and foaming at the mouth for yet another series… you've got it. "I'm in the talking phase on another title set in a genre I've written in before," teases Dixon. "Not superheroes. But mostly I'm holding with my current titles."

Dixon has only a few parting words for all readers when he says simply, "If you're hungry for an alternative to spandex -- like pirates, sci-fi or kung fu -- come on over to CrossGen"

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