Dylan Butcher talks with Christos Gage…
I had the privilege of talking with Christos Gage, about his life in comics, Marvel, Spider-man, Joss Whedon and writing Buffy!
Christos Gage is a renowned comic-book and screen-writer. He has written for some of the greatest comic-heroes, including Spider-man and The Avengers; and has written tie-in books for the “Civil War” and “World War Hulk” story-lines, among many, many others for Marvel and other top publishers. As well as writing for TV series Law and Order, Gage is known for his work on films, such as, The Breed.
Gage is currently writing the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, alongside Nicholas Brendon (AKA, Xander)…
Since you began writing for film, TV, computer-games and comics, what would you say is your preferred field to work in and why?
Comics, because it’s collaborative, but the collaborators are few enough that your vision still gets across…and, ideally, is made better by your creative partners, rather than diluted and diffused, which can sometimes happen when there are too many cooks in the kitchen. It’s a small team of people working together to tell the best possible story, with no limitations on budget or what you can do. I love that. There’s nothing else like it.
You have worked on such a diverse range of material over the years. What is it about the super-hero genre and comic-book medium, that –so noticeably!– inspires you?
I honestly don’t know, it just does. It was my first love, really. I’ve been reading comics, and specifically superhero comics, as long as I can remember. They sparked my imagination, and they still do. I read other genres as well, of course, and love them, but I still adore my superhero comics. I think they can appeal to the best in us. Comics are the perfect marriage of words and pictures. They’re just in my blood, I guess.
We all know what a huge comic-buff you are! So when did your interest in comics begin?
I am told I learned to read at age 3. So I reckon I started reading comics around then, probably Disney comics. I was a massive dinosaur buff as well. When Marvel’s Godzilla comic came out, that was everything I could possibly want in life in one package. It was the first comic I collected and saved. A few years later, I discovered the Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-Men (I had already worn out their Star-Lord story), and that was it for me. No going back.
You have written for some of the greatest heroes ever known. How did you establish yourself as a writer in order to work at Marvel originally?
Well, before working at Marvel, I wrote a Deadshot miniseries at DC. I saw Tom Brevoort at one of my first conventions as a pro, and introduced myself, and luckily he’d read and liked it. He invited me to do a try-out short story in Spider-Man Unlimited – serendipitously, with my future Avengers Academy co-creator, Mike McKone – and that started a relationship that’s lasted ten years and is still going. But the way I got the DC gig is that I had previously gone to film school, earned a Master’s Degree in screenwriting, and become a working writer in film and TV (with my wife and co-writer, Ruth). I got to know Jimmy Palmiotti in 2003, and he very kindly introduced me to Dan Didio at DC when I was in New York for the filming of an episode of Law & Order SVU that Ruth and I wrote. So I was an established writer in other media already. That’s kind of a prerequisite to getting in the door at Marvel or DC; you have to have other credits somewhere else, whether it’s in comics or another medium.
Which characters have you had the most fun in writing for over the years, and what was it about them that made it such a rewarding experience?
I almost always most enjoy whoever I’m writing at the moment. That said, there’s a special kind of thrill in writing characters you co-created, which is one of the many reasons Avengers Academy means so much to me. But there’s also nothing like writing a character you grew up loving, which is probably why I put Devil Dinosaur in everything I can. I also really dig villain books, or anything with a morally compromised character, like Superior Spider-Man, or G.I. Joe Cobra.
Who are your all-time favourite super-heroes and villains and why?
Heroes, Captain America, Spider-Man, the Flash…the ones that inspire me. They take a beating but get up and keep fighting the good fight without making a fuss about it. Villains, Stegron the Dinosaur Man, Absorbing Man, Blob, Juggernaut…mostly guys I think are really cool, both in look and powers.
Who are your role-models, the people and/or characters that really inspire and give you strength in your writing career?
My wife, Ruth; and the amazing talents who came before me, from the Golden Age to today. Gil Kane, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Perez, too many to list.
And what was the best advice you ever got, and from whom, that helped you to become so successful?
Best advice I got was from my film school teacher who provided several words to live by…like, “if you don’t love what you’re writing, nobody else will”. And “if five people tell you you’re drunk, you might wanna lie down” (i.e. if several people raise the same concern it’s probably valid).
The Superior Spider-man was truly superior, in both its originality and its highly unusual yet mesmerizing plot! Can you tell us about your partnership with Dan Slott?
Thanks! Dan and I met when Tom Brevoort suggested me to do a fill-in issue of Avengers The Initiative (which ended up being #13, the Butterball story). In running stuff by Dan, we realized we had similar sensibilities and approaches to telling stories…we were both unabashed fans of superhero comics and Marvel continuity, but we both felt it was crucial not to let continuity be an obstacle to telling a clear story. We tried collaborating, as Dan’s workload was increasing and he was having trouble meeting deadlines, and we further discovered that what he found difficult I found easier and vice versa. He is really good and fast at plotting, while scripting takes him forever. I’m the opposite; there’s nothing I hate more than outlining, but I can script all day. So we’re like Jack Sprat and his wife. Between us, we form a smoothly running comic book writing machine that hits deadlines on time. And we have fun doing it.
How much of the Superior Spider-man stories came directly from you (which ideas were your own)?
The plots are all Dan, with the exception of the two Annuals, where I came up with story ideas and ran them by Dan and editorial. It’s really, in my opinion, the best thing he’s ever done, and an instant classic Spider-Man story. I didn’t feel it was my job to interject my own ideas, but rather help Dan realize his. I do have certain lines and bits I’m really proud of, like the real Spidey’s “man-purse” line in the last issue of Superior which lets Green Goblin know the original is back, and the bit in Superior #33 where Otto asks the Anna Maria hologram to call him “Otto” when they’re alone, so he can pretend that the woman he loves actually knows who he really is and loves him for himself.
You clearly have a bond with both Peter Parker and his alter ego. Who, in your humble opinion, were you able to relate with more on screen, out of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfields performances? And what made their interpretation of Web-Head more believable to you as an official Spider-‘man’?
I think both actors were very good. For me, the second Raimi Spider-Man movie is the best one, but that’s a lot to do with Alfred Molina as Doc Ock as opposed to Maguire vs Garfield. I think both actors suit the part very well, and I’d be hard pressed to say one was better.
Did you approach Dark Horse in regards to writing for Buffy or did they specifically ask to have you on board?
I was at the first C2E2 convention and Scott Allie approached me in the bathroom. He had read my Vertigo OGN with Chris Samnee, “Area 10”, and loved it, and thought I might be a good fit for their upcoming Angel & Faith comic. Based on that – and the artwork of Rebekah Isaacs and colorist Dan Jackson, who make me look competent – they offered me Buffy in Season 10.
What is it about the Vampire Slayer that attracted you to write the scripts in the first place?
The incredibly compelling world and characters Joss Whedon and his collaborators created. When Scott approached me, I had never seen one of Joss’ shows. I’d loved his Astonishing X-Men, but that was it. So I watched 12 years of Buffy and Angel and adored them, just as much as I’d adored the Marvel Universe when I discovered it decades earlier. It was a huge honour to be asked to be a part of it.
What are your aims for Buffy and where would you like to take the characters before your time at Dark Horse comes to an end?
End? What have you heard? (Joke…I hope!) Well, first, not to mess it up. Beyond that, I don’t so much have specific places I want to take them as much as I want to continue to be true to what Joss established with them, that made them resonate with so many people. Specifically, their adventures battling the supernatural so beautifully reflecting the real-world life experiences we all have in the process of growing up. I want to continue that – at different points in the characters’ lives, of course – so that people who watched the show and saw their own challenges in high school evoked, also see their efforts to find careers, become adults and establish their grown-up lives reflected now in the comics.
How many issues/series are you actually due to write?
Season 10 is thirty issues. After that, we’ll see…it’s too early to think beyond that yet!
Do you have a hard time trying to preserve the continuity of each character, as they are already so treasured for their individual personalities since the show? And did you find yourself having to study each of them before approaching the stories?
“Study” is the wrong word. It was really more just watching all the shows and letting their individual voices soak into my brain. Due to the brilliance of Joss, his writers and the actors, that happened pretty naturally. With well-realized characters, once you become familiar with them, it’s almost like they tell you what they’d do and say.
Beyond the relationships of the characters which are so important in the show and the comics, is the supernatural stuff a new and exciting venture for you?
Exciting, yes, but not really new. Ruth and I wrote supernatural themed movies like The Breed, and I wrote supernatural flavored comics like Area 10. I do love writing a superhero comic one week and Buffy the next. It’s a fun change of pace.
Working with Joss Whedon is, of course, a huge deal! But I’m guessing you’re not easily overwhelmed since working with the likes of Marvel for so long, right?
Growing up, my father knew a fair number of celebrities like Telly Savalas (Kojak!), and when I met my wife she was friends with Dennis Hopper and other famous people, so I’ve never really gotten star-struck in that regard. But I turn into a babbling mess around comic book creators I admire, and Joss is most definitely that. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to work. You find your common frames of reference and go to it. Every now and then it seems surreal for a minute, though.
I guess Xander is a pretty easy and fun character to work with, being that Nicholas Brendon is so much like him in real life anyway?
Nicky often says that Xander is basically him, except that Nicky is into baseball whereas Xander is more into nerdy stuff like comics and D&D. So yeah, it’s great to have that voice readily accessible…and from the perspective of an experienced actor, which is different from that of a writer. I often say that co-writing only makes sense if each participant brings something different to the table that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts, and I think that’s the case with us.
Nicholas Brendon aka ‘Xander’, is absolutely hilarious (both on and off the show!). Tell us a bit about your partnership with him?
He’s so much fun to work with. We live nearby each other so we get together in person, and we get along great. We have similar senses of humour, but approach storytelling from different angles. As in working with Dan, we bring different things to the table, which I think makes for a fruitful outcome. He’s a great guy, and just fun to hang out with.
Do you and Nic ever get together with (any) of the Buffy cast to socialise, or to just talk about Buffy?
I’m sure Nicky does on his own…I know he and Emma Caulfield just spent some time together at a convention in Australia. But no, Nicky and I are both morning people so usually when we get together it’s for an early bite or coffee.
Is writing TV and movie scripts for super-heroes something you would like to do in the future?
Where do you see yourself in say, ten years from now? And what would you like to have achieved?
I’d really just like to still be working. This is not a business that is kind to people of a certain age. The truth is, I’ve been lucky enough to already have achieved so much more than I ever would have dreamed, so at this point everything else is gravy…I figure I’ll just take it as it comes!
Thank you, Christos, for taking the time to talk with me. I am truly honoured to have had this opportunity!
Interview by Dylan Butcher 😀
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