Thursday, October 4, 2012

STGCC 2012: Andy Diggle On Writing Tips, The Losers, Dr Who and CW's "Arrow"

Thanks to STGCC, local fans have been lucky to meet their share of British comics guests for the last three years.

In 2010, veteran artist of "V for Vendetta" fame David Lloyd was invited as a special guest. The following year, games/ music journalist turned comic book writer Kieron Gillen flew into Red Dot Island and showed us how to rock the convention in a nifty white suit.

This year, Red Dot Diva was glad that STGCC kept up with the Union Jack trend by having writer and former 2000 AD editor, Andy Diggle as a guest. Besides his creative talents in works like "The Losers" (Vertigo), "Green Arrow: Year One" (DC), "Shadowland" (Marvel), "Silent Dragon" with Leinil Yu and Gerry Alanguilan and the latest "Dr Who" (IDW), he also sports a sexy goatee. And Goddess be known that Red Dot Diva sure loves a sexy goatee.

Red Dot Diva got to meet Andy Diggle (and his goatee) up close at the STGCC Media Preview, together with a few other invited journalists and bloggers. In the short span of 20 minutes, he happily and very eloquently fielded several questions about the comics industry, about writing, his various  works, and his thoughts on "The Losers" movie.

Here are some of the extracts from the interview:

His thoughts on Singapore
While waiting for the rest to warm up, Red Dot Diva kicked off the session with an easy question regarding if he had any perceptions about Red Dot Island before he arrived here and if there was anything that surprised him when he touched down.  

With a wry smile, Andy said in that clear (*swoon*) British accent, "I'm ashamed to admit that I knew very little about Singapore. I had to do some Googling around. So, I didn't have any preconceptions. And one thing that's great about that, is coming here, it's a completely new experience for me. I was amazed by the architecture and the vibrancy. Obviously, the economy must be doing pretty well over here. Well, much better than the UK at least. While driving in, there's so much amazing architecture, all these tall skyscrapers and futuristic buildings.... it's like stepping into a William Gibson movie. Of course, all I've seen so far, is this very high-end expo centre and the financial district. After I've finished my time here, I'd like to explore a bit more of the real Singapore."

Andy also commented that he gets inspired when he visits new places and he thought that a tale on modern-day piracy would be an interesting story to tell, considering that there were hundreds of ships docked at the Red Dot Island harbour. "And also, the fact that I'm here during the month of the Hungry Ghosts. That's a title waiting for a story!"

"The Losers" movie
A fellow blogger was curious about the depth of Andy's involvement in "The Losers" movie, and Andy mentioned that most people assumed that the title was creator-owned. But in fact, the property belonged to DC Comics, and was a revamp of an old war comic. Andy had never read that older version and both he and Jock and rebooted it.

Because of that, they were not really involved in the production of the movie but did become friends with the film's screenwriter, Jamie Vanderbilt

"We did get to visit the set and met the cast, which was amazing," Andy said, recounting his exciting experience. "We invented these characters and Jock had designed how they looked. And when we actually walked onto the set, they were all in costume and in character. And they were referring to each other by their character names. 

So we were talking to Zoe Saldana and she turned around and said, 'Jensen, over here!'. And we looked around and Jensen walked up to us, but of course it was Chris Evans. But he had those little red glasses and sideburns and Jock just did a double-take. He had invented this character, and then suddenly found himself talking to him in real life. It was a very strange feeling."

And in that respect, Andy said that they were glad that the right actors were cast to suit the characters depicted in the graphic novel, rather than the other way around.

Upcoming Projects
Naturally, one of the key questions fans and media have been curious about are Andy's upcoming projects, especially after he had recently concluded his exclusive deal with Marvel. Andy was definitely aware that there have been rumours going around about a certain title, but he said that he was not able to divulge anything because nothing has been announced yet and there were strict non-disclosure agreements regarding this. 

What he could tell the group however, were the 3 new titles he will be working on with 3 new publishers. "I am still working on 'Snapshot' with Jock, our first creator-owned book, which is a kind of Hitchcock-ian thriller. It's currently in the Judge Dredd magazine in the UK, but we will be issuing it under Image as a mini-series.... probably around next year."

For those who haven't heard about it yet, "Snapshot" is based on an intriguing premise about Jake, an employee of a San Francisco comic shop who happens to find a smartphone filled with photos which were visual evidence of an assassin's successful targets. A chase then begins when the killer comes a-hunting to get his phone back.

"And obviously, I'm doing 'Dr Who' for IDW at the moment, which should be coming out shortly," Andy added.

Writing the latest "Dr Who" comic
Regarding the  "Dr Who" comic, Andy affirmed that he is the lead writer but not the only writer in the series. "What I'm doing is I'm writing the first two issues and then another writer steps in for the next two. And then I'm back for two more and then another writer. And then I'll do another four issues to wrap the whole thing up.

They are separate stories from the TV series but have over-arching themes that help to unify the whole thing. The idea is that they run parallel season with the BBC show."

And to all the "Dr Who" fans out there, yes, it is based on the Eleventh Doctor played by Matt Smith. "It has been a real pleasure writing for his character. One of the challenges of writing comics is that you don't have an actor to bring it to life, and his mannerisms and his delivery is so unique. It has been an interesting challenge to deliver that on a comic page. Because you have to imply his delivery."

Andy also mentioned that he enjoyed being partnered with Mark Buckingham for this project because of the artist's special talent of being able to draw a very good likeness of an actor coupled with the ability to do good story-telling. Plus, meet the deadlines.

"It has been fun," Andy said with a smile on his face.

However, he did admit that it was quite intimidating writing "Dr Who" because of how globally popular the TV series has become.

"They have done the reboot so smartly that it has become an international hit. The quality of the writing is so high. There are people like Neil Gaiman writing episodes and Steven Moffat is a genius. So for me, that is actually quite scary. Because I always find myself comparing myself to those guys. And that kind of self-consciousness can be quite harmful to a writer. Basically, I need to keep telling myself, it's not a competition. I just need to write my version of the Doctor. Some people would like my version, some people would like their version. So I'm trying to find the balance between and keeping it true to the spirit of the TV show and making it feel like that it's the Doctor but at the same time, it's my version."

CW's new series "Arrow"
Of course, all this talk about nerdtastic TV shows had to lead to the much talked-about "Arrow", the new CW series based on the popular DC comic character Green Arrow aka Oliver Queen.

Red Dot Diva, who saw the pilot episode at Comic-Con 2012 Preview Night, had to ask what Andy thought about the series. Check out his answer on this video clip:

Will Be There A "Rat Catcher" Sequel?
"Probably not," Andy replied to that question, with a tinge of regret. "They are not doing the Vertigo Crime line anymore, so that window of opportunity is closed.

It's a shame. I'd love to do more. Not a sequel to 'Rat Catcher' necessarily, but I'd like to do more Vertigo Crime books and telling stories that fit that format. But 'Rat Catcher" has been really well-received. It's opened a lot of doors for me in Hollywood.

Originally, I was going to write it as a screenplay. And then DC asked if I had any crime stories and I said, yes, I have one that was prepared earlier. A lot of Hollywood studios were interested in making a movie on 'Rat Catcher' but Warner Brothers owns the rights to it and have the first option on it.'

Tips for Wannabe Scribes
When posed with the question regarding tips on writing for comics, Andy offered some very good and very practical advice. Are you ready aspiring comic writers? Here's what Andy said. 

"The best advice I can give to people who want to learn how to write comics is to read as many comic strips as they can. There is a good website called The Comic Books Script Archive that has a lot of professional scripts by guys like me, Mike Carey, Brian Bendis, Matt Fraction.. and that's a very good way of seeing how the professionals do it.

And the other thing is to keep making comics. An artist will always be drawing because they love drawing. But with writers, they are always thinking of ideas and making notes, but they don't actually go into comics. It is very important to create lots of short, self-contained stories. "2000 AD" has a thing called Futureshock, which are 5-page short stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. I think that's a very good way of learning the craft of comics. So I recommend that people do like 5 to 10-page stories with an ending. And how to compress their big ideas into a small space because comic writing is about compression. And hook up artist on the internet. I created a hashtag on Twitter called #createcomics, just for the idea that writer and artists to connect with each other, and perhaps, they could put their work online for free. You have to keep making comics, keep creating work and keep moving forward."

Andy's answered spurred Red Dot Diva to ask if he thought web-comics helped aspiring writers start out in the industry. "Yeah, the fact that the web allows people to put their work out for free really open things up," Andy replied. "The question that people keep asking me is not how do I get into the industry. The question they ask is how to do I get good at it. And you get it by doing the work. And if you get good at it, the industry will come looking for you. And if you put your work on the web, it'll get you out there. Also, the important thing is to stay humble and to listen to criticism. You have to get used to a lot of rejections, to listen to the professionals and their advice and to keep plugging away and you'll get better."

Toughest Aspect of Story-telling
Red Dot Diva was also curious as to which aspect of story-telling posed the most demanding part of writing for Andy.

"Interesting question," he said, thoughtfully. "They all can be tough in different ways. It depends on the project, I think. If it was a question of me coming up completely from a whole cloth, then that can be very easy. But when someone gives you something with a specific character or specific situation, then there are more constraining parameters around it.

My best work that I am most proud of are those that I had more leeway, like 'The Losers' and 'Green Arrow - Year One' or 'Rat Catcher', where I wasn't inheriting another storyline. Maybe sometimes I was too worried about parameters that weren't there, like fan expectations or continuity or history and these by themselves are not exactly difficult aspects, but it kinda stifles my imagination a little bit. Or sometimes I worry a bit too much about what fans expect." 

"So maybe that's my fault, nobody else's," he surmised.

Still curious about what specific projects Andy will be doing? This is the hint that Andy tossed on Twitter recently:

Even if you are not heading to NYCC next weekend, look out for the news buzz that will inevitably emerge online during that weekend.

And if you can't wait to devour more of Andy's books, go grab the latest IDW "Dr Who" Vol. 3 #1 issue which is already out in North America, or available digitally online at Comixology!


A very special Geekmatic hi-five to Mark Cerbo for some of the photos featured above! :D

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