Hickman's USA Today interview

From http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2013/08/11/jonathan-hickman-comic-books-sunday-conversation/2636309/


If he's penning the continuing adventures of "Earth's mightiest heroes," does that make Avengers scribe Jonathan Hickman Earth's mightiest comic-book writer?

At the very least he's South Carolina's.

Since his Image Comics debut The Nightly News in 2006, Hickman has spent the past seven years creating works known for their thought-provoking nature and big ideas such as the dystopian quasi-Western East of West and The Manhattan Projects, which features very different alternate versions of Oppenheimer, Einstein and others from history textbooks. (The first collected volume of East of West is out Sept. 11, while two are now available for Manhattan Projects.)

He's brought similarly grand themes to his Marvel Comics superhero fare. A gig on Secret Warriors led to a dazzling run on Fantastic Four, and earlier this year he was handed the keys to two key Avengers books: Avengers, which boasts a cast of 20-plus characters plus illustrator Leinil Yu, and New Avengers, about the secret Illuminati group of heroes — drawn by Mike Deodato — who work to keep the world safe by any means necessary.

A 41-year-old father of two, Hickman takes his next big step in the industry this week as the primary architect of the six-part Marvel event series Infinity, launching on Wednesday and featuring art by Jim Cheung, Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver.

The Avengers head to space to stop an ancient race called The Builder from razing our world, while back on Earth the cosmic villain Thanos — whom movie fans will recognize from his memorable cameo in last year's The Avengers film — arrives with his minions and a secret agenda in hand. They're met by various superheroes as well as by the enigmatic Black Bolt and the Inhumans, and the conflict will lead directly into the next all-out Marvel extravaganza, Matt Fraction's Inhumanity.

Hickman's worklife has been pretty inhuman itself lately, but he talks with USA TODAY about the appeal of Thanos, who's at the center of his new Avatar Press book God is Dead (debuting in September), and being a teenage sci-fi nerd back in the day.

Q. What's going to be most surprising about Infinity for comic fans?

A. The structure's really going to catch their attention. It's very different than what we've seen in the past four or five Marvel events where you cold open on a big thing and then that big thing spirals into the story and it's a single track.

This is a dual-track event — it's big, Brian. You can read the six issues of Infinity and get a comprehensive story, but to get the whole thing you need to read Avengers and New Avengers as well, and it's like 400 pages.

Q. You've been seeding a lot of important threads in recent issues. Before we knew what Infinity was, you were seemingly setting the table for a sizable feast.

A. With the other books that I do, I come into this knowing how it's going to end. I've always been building toward a story called "Avengers Universe" that was going to be a big space thing — it's one half of what the event is, the stuff going on in Avengers. That's the first big chunk of a three-chunk plan in 2013, 2014 and 2015, building toward something.

But when I got asked to do the event, the Earth side, New Avengers side, the Illuminati side, the Thanos of it all, that all perfectly meshed together with what I was doing in Avengers. It just became this big thing. And because I have no self-restraint or self-control, we have what we have. (Laughs)


Q. Thanos has been a mainstay in comics since 1973, but mainstream audiences were introduced to him more recently. What do you most enjoy about a guy like that?

A. This is one of those instances where Thanos was up for two minutes in a movie, and (sales of) Infinity Gauntlet books go through the roof. To no one's surprise, we all get together and say, "Hey! So we're thinking about doing a bunch of stuff with this Thanos character." (Laughs)

Jason Aaron just finished a Thanos Rising miniseries that reintroduces him to the Marvel Universe in a new and fresh way, and this is just an extension of that. Thanos is a universal nihilist and genocidal space terrorist — the baddest of bad dudes. This is a story about him coming to earth to do a thing, and at the same time he is planning on doing that thing, there also happens to be a story that has taken some of the Marvel Universe's best heroes off the planet. Calamity ensues.

Q. Are we going to learn something about Thanos that we've never known before?

A. Yes, we absolutely will. No, I cannot tell you what it is. (Laughs)

Q. Dang it! So who can you talk about playing important roles in Infinity?

Infinity is a big Thor comic book in a lot of ways. There's a lot of Thor in there having big Thor moments and dispensing wisdom to the younger Avengers.

It's a big Captain America story, surprising no one, showing that while he is not the most powerful guy, he remains arguably the most important figure in the Marvel Universe.

On the Earth side, this is a big Black Bolt story. This is a big thing for the Inhumans, which is another thing we're really pushing at Marvel and we're super excited about. There's a lot of Black Bolt and Inhumans in Infinity for a very good reason.

Q. What do you dig most about the Inhumans?

A. My personal taste only, aesthetically they're the coolest-looking heroes in the Marvel Universe. The original designs from back in the day were so well done and so iconic that even though the books have never done very well, everybody loves those characters because they're so well-designed. Basically they're a perfect platform waiting for a great modern story.

We think we're going to be able to deliver that story coming out of Infinity, and I'm super excited that I've got a big part to play in positioning all that stuff. I love those guys.

Q. Since being handed the reins for the Avengers books and being the guiding force of Marvel's A-list characters, are they all that they're cracked up to be?

A. Yes. This year's been very difficult for me because I'm doing an event on top of the 36 issues of Avengers and New Avengers I've been writing. I'm not out of the other side of it yet to appreciate whether or not it's super-rewarding. But I love where I'm headed and the direction of both of those books, and like other stuff I've written, you're not going to get the full sense of where I'm going to until after we hit this first third of the story point. During and right after Infinity, you'll be like, "Oh, now I see why he was making certain choices."


Q. With most of the stuff that you do, you do have to see it on the whole to a certain degree to really appreciate it but there's always something meaty to chew on. Has that always been a hallmark of your writing?

A. I don't know. I still haven't been doing this that long. The first thing I ever wrote was in 2006. I haven't had enough at-bats.

I'm sure that I have things that I return to thematically or structurally, but I'd never done a long story before I did Secret Warriors and Fantastic Four. And I'm doing it on Avengers because it's the smart way to work on the bigger properties.

Will I keep doing it forever? I don't think so. I have a lot of shorter-story stuff or very finite stories that I just haven't had time to get to because I've been so busy. In the back of my head, all the other stuff that's percolating isn't structurally like this.

As far as personal philosophies go, I think you should know your ending. I know that's radically different from a lot of other writers who just organically like to find the story. Other than that, I try different things and mess around. I'm still just playing a good bit.

Q. How much do you feel growing up in the South affected you?

A. A great deal. My family was very big on certain things that I take for granted about how you behave and what kind of manners you have. Just a certain sense of propriety that you're supposed to carry yourself with that I find fascinating and other people do not. I've learned that's a big Southern cultural thing — growing up, of course you say, "Yes, ma'am' and 'No, ma'am' and you hold the door for people. (Laughs)

Q. Of the younger writers and artists starting to make their mark, do you see a breakout star?

A. I'm not sure what falls into that. It doesn't feel like Jeff Lemire is behind me because he's doing a bunch of big books over at DC, even though he came in a little bit after me. I think Jeff is amazing.

I don't have as much time to read stuff because I've been so busy. Anything interesting that's happened in comics in the past year with new books, I've missed it. But we're at a weird place in the business now because we're producing so many books — we're double-shipping (two issues a month) and that means we're burning more talent. You're having guys come in and immediately on what should be their first or second gig, they're having to write for three artists at the same time, and that's just not conducive (to good work).

Unless you've done it enough that you know where you're going and you can trust your mechanism enough that it will work out, that's a very dangerous place to put new talent in and we're probably doing a little bit of a disservice there.

There will always be new people coming in that are very good, and unfortunately people will fail. I'm sure when I get my head out of my own stuff, I'll be blown away by a lot.

Q. When you do things like East of West with artists Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin or Manhattan Projects with Nick Pitarra and Jordie Bellaire, are those sorts of indie projects more of a place of sanity compared to Infinity where there are so many moving pieces — not only what you're writing but just in general?

A. The minus is you lack the professional infrastructure to make sure the book is a well-oiled machine. You don't have editors making sure the colorist is getting stuff done or the lettering is getting done in conjunction with the book being drawn. That's just not how it's happening on the indie side for the most part.

But the get is much greater in that. Unlike at Marvel and DC right now, you're able to do a run with a single artist and together you're able to create this thing and it's yours and theirs, and because you both are invested professionally and financially and because you're doing something you own and working on something that is a real sense of pride, you get a better product a lot of times.

In my case, because I'm working on Avengers, I have the privilege of working with some of the best artists in the industry. I'm afforded a good bit of leeway so that the books really sound like me as well. I'm proud of what we're doing, but it's a different experience than creating something with a collaborator.

Q. What makes you happiest other than writing comics?

A. I'm a very miserable person right now. I don't know whether you're picking up on that. (Laughs) Look, beyond the very true but obvious answer of getting time to spend with my family — and I'm so lucky to have a great family — it's fall, it's the South, it's time for football and I've got 16 or 17 days until the first game kicks off.

I gotta tell you, I'm going to crack open a beer and sit down and watch some football, and I'm probably going to be happier than I've been in a good six months.

Q. Dang it! So who can you talk about playing important roles in Infinity?

Infinity is a big Thor comic book in a lot of ways. There's a lot of Thor in there having big Thor moments and dispensing wisdom to the younger Avengers.