WC14: Venditti on "The Flash," "X-O Manowar" & Comics Origin

From the humble beginnings of packing books in a mailroom at Top Shelf Productions to seeing Bruce Willis bring his ideas to life in the movie "The Surrogates," writer Robert Venditti has already had an enviable creative career. Now, aside from helming the flagship title for valiant, "X-O Manowar," he's got DC's "Green Lantern" and "The Flash" under his watch. Moderated by Christian Calero, he was the focus of a WonderCon panel that touched topics new and old.

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"A little background on V-Ditti, here," Calero began, noting that the writer explained the pronunciation of his name as rhyming with the pop group Scritti Politti. He originally wanted to be an artist and when he was younger, "there was no higher ambition. I knew I was just terrible at it. I started writing stories because it was a way to describe with words what I couldn't draw with my hands. I read my first comic at [age] 27, I realized I could write with words and someone else could draw it. The collaborative part of it is what I enjoy the most."

Venditti described his entry into comics, which started in graduate school. "I was gonna be a prose writer. I'd published my first short story. This guy I worked with at Borders was always trying to get me to read comics, I was like 'comics are juvenile,' typical stuff." Then he found "Astro City" and the Confessor's character arc convinced him otherwise.

"I spent a couple of weeks getting the whole 'Astro City' run, it wasn't that much, and that was it. I went into the comic book shop and it was 'X-Men' #742 and 'Superman' #3000 and I didn't know where to start." Then he found "Tom Strong" due to Alex Ross cover, an artist who'd gotten Venditti's attention from the 'Astro City' covers. "I pick it up, I buy it, I like it, I bought a few more, I bought 'Promethea,' I thought, 'This Alan Moore guy is pretty good, what else has he written? He wrote 'Watchmen?' I'll buy that.'" Venditti admitted that number one issues helped draw him in as a lower investment of time getting his footing.

Aside from the success of "Surrogates," Venditti's relationship with the Wednesday crowd is still relatively new. "When [Valiant] asked me to pitch for ['X-O Manowar'], I read the 'Retribution' collection," he said. "That was all I read for my pitch. Once my pitch was approved, I read the whole VH1 run, which was like 72 issues. In terms of what we kept and what we jettisoned, Valiant was really good about letting me bring my own creativity to it. The spider aliens were just mustache twirlers, I tried to create a villain in the Vine, at least they're somewhat sympathetic. Some of them, I would even say, are good guys. That's the first monthly book I've ever written, I try to do Easter eggs in there. The Valiant fans were so supportive from day one, they were always open minded. They seem to be very open about it and excited about it. I try to get to know those fans and get to put some stuff in the book for you."

He had some apprehension coming into "Green Lantern," a well known DC character, after Geoff Johns made such a mark. "My familiarity with all characters is what most people know in pop culture. When they called me for 'X-O Manowar,' I said not only have I never heard of your character, I've never heard of your company," Venditti said. "Geoff, he's one of the most successful writers of his generation, commercially and creatively. I'd rather take a shot at it and fail than ten years from now wonder. It was another way to get out of my comfort zone and push myself as a writer. I'm pleased with the story. Making Hal the leader, making him grow into this leadership role and make mistakes."

Venditti was responsible for the character Relic and much of what happened to the Corps after Johns' run on "Green Lantern." "[Reilc] was part of my pitch that won me the job for 'Green Lantern,'" he said. "'Lights Out' was my initial pitch to get that. They wanted a unifying concept that would unite all the books out the gate. It ended up being an issue that was all splash pages because they wanted all the pages to run as variant covers for months. I had to tell the origin of Relic. I made an entire universe and blew it up in twenty pages.

"It was my idea to blow up Oa and make Mogo the new base," he continued. "I got to that point in the story and I thought, logically, if he comes to Oa and blows up the central power battery, the planet would probably explode, and then what would happen? They would be on Mogo. Why wouldn't they be on Mogo, he's a mobile planet? He's one of the very unique characters in the DCU."

He went in thinking he would "not just write Green Lantern but think about the entire franchise." "I wanted to have a story where Kyle is the hero, have one where John is the hero, have one where Guy takes over sector 2814," Venditti said. "There's a big long form story behind Kyle, I don't think what happened to him at the end is entirely clear to the reader. Kyle is going to be a character to watch."

However, people seeing parallels to the energy crisis in his work are barking up the wrong tree. "One thing I try to never do with my writing is make a statement," Venditti said. "I try to write stories that people can relate to. When is it okay to use energy? It was just to try to look at that from this universe wide perspective. Is it okay to do that because they're doing things that are heroic? The universe has decided, are they still worthy of being this group for justice and law enforcement."

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Blue Lantern fans can take heart to something the writer said -- Saint Walker will be getting his own arc. "He's one of my favorite characters in the entire Green Lantern mythos," the writer said. "I thought it would be interesting for him and Mogo to be friends."

Of his newest creative challenge -- taking over "The Flash" -- Venditti said, "Flash is a great character, he's really simple in terms of his high concept. 'X-O Manowar' is complicated. 'Green Lantern' has the emotional spectrum. Flash, he runs fast and there's a lightning bolt on his chest. He never loses sight of how cool it is. We're excited to be working on the book."

"The speed force is going to be a big part of the initial story. I'm working through a lot of the Mark Waid run, and a lot of stuff he did dealt with the speed force." Venditti praised Waid's "Terminal Velocity" in particular.

Venditti does have an unresolved ambition at DC: Superman. "When I was younger what I knew was what you know from movies and cartoons," he said. "'Superman 2,' I was exactly the right age, my parents took me to see it. Christopher Reeve's Superman, that's as cool as it gets. The moment where he goes into the molecular machine that takes away his powers at the end, he comes out at the end I'm like 'Superman lost his powers, what is the world going to do?' I was the right age, it absolutely connected with me, I would love to take him on one day.

"I pitched for 'Superman' once," Venditti continued. 'It was rejected. It was quite a while ago. I didn't think I was gonna get it, I didn't have a lot of monthly comic book work. The publisher is gonna see what kind of thought you put together, they put you on something smaller, which was 'Demon Knights.' Geoff Johns is getting ready to take it over, if he puts together another eight year run, we'll see ..."

Venditti's tastes run towards the villainous as well. "Villains are the best part about the story. What I tried to do with Relic is to try to create villains. I try to make villains into anti-villains. His methods might be bad, but he's got some points. The Rogues, they just wanna rob banks and drink a beer on Friday, I'm having a lot of fun working with them. Gorilla Grodd is a lot of fun. Joker is great, Lex Luthor's great, there's a lot of villains I'd like to work with some day."

The writer also mentioned some creative talent in comics that he would like to work with. "Nathan Fox," he said. "I would love to work with Mike Huddleston again, I worked on 'Homeland Directive' with him. There's a lot of guys. It wasn't until the second 'Surrogates' book, I never knew who the artist was going to be when I wrote it. On 'X-O Manowar,' I was on the third issue when they told me it would be Cary Nord. As you work with someone, over time, you write to their style. It's nice to know who's going to draw going in."

"I'm a very process oriented individual," he said, discussing the mechanics of writing. "I do a lot of note taking, a lot of research, I write all my scripts in the order of the pages. That's not to say I don't leave room for things to be organic and develop on their own. Those are the moments that keep you going. It's art and it's different for everybody, and there are no answers. That's why I push myself to do different things. Try to find the process that works for you. You're probably not going to like it, but that's what you'll be stuck with."

In terms of dealing with pressure, Venditti said that any creative person -- whether it's a writer or artist -- is "riddled with self doubt all the time." "I don't say that to make it seem like my work is that hard," he continued. "It's all made up from your influences, you're putting that all out on the page, you don't know how it's going to come out on the other end. You have to have that fear, that's what strives you to improve. You hope people like it but you can't try to anticipate what they will like."

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Venditti has another big challenge on his horizon, bringing back Wally West in 'Flash Annual' #3. "For the first time in the new 52, there's a lot of pressure with that," he said. "You keep swinging for the fences."

When asked what would he put in the hands of a new reader, Venditti said, "Depends on who the person is. For me, it'd be Eddie Campbell. It's just the most literary stuff I've ever read. He's far and away my favorite writer. The stuff he writes and draws on his own is my favorite."

Well, what does he read for fun? "I read a lot of non fiction stuff right now. It's whatever kind of topic I see it and it sounds interesting. I read a book about the comanche indians. I read 'Mind MGMT,' 'Sixth Gun,' a lot of stuff I get in trades. I don't have a shop in rural Georgia." Venditti also praised "Gotham Central" ("If Gotham Central can't find a place in the marketplace, what are we doing?"), James Robinson's "Starman," "Astro City," "Watchmen," "V for Vendetta," and "From Hell." "One thing I don't do well is I'm very funny. I'm so organized about what I do, it's so whimsical and crazy. I know I would never do that." He then explained a Jim Mahfood comic about a cat who makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the mob trying to muscle him out of the business. "I would ask too many questions. 'Why is this cat making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Why does he have a katana?'"

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