By Marc Strom
Gregg Hurwitz' gritty writing style has made him a success in the world of crime fiction and now the renowned author looks to carry that acclaim over to the Marvel Universe proper as a newly-exclusive talent signed to the House of Ideas.
With several Wolverine one-shots as well as a PUNISHER MAX arc and two FOOLKILLER limited series under his belt, Hurwitz will be launching a major new ongoing series later this year, but first he took time out to speak with Marvel.com about signing exclusive, his history with comics and what his experience transitioning genres has been like so far.
Marvel.com: To begin with, I just wanted to say congrats on signing exclusive with Marvel.
Thank you very much.
Marvel.com: I know you've written a few things for Marvel in the past year or so, but what made you decide to go exclusive?
What happened [was] we hooked into enough projects that had a length and a body of work for me to go [exclusive]. Once I got my arms around [my next project], it was really clear that I'd need a couple arcs to accomplish what I wanted. Then it just made sense to fold in house, because I'm not going to have time to do a ton of writing on the comic book front aside from [my] Marvel [work]. There's another project that we have coming up as well that we haven't announced yet, and that's going to be a lot of fun.
Marvel.com: Did you read comics, and specifically Marvel comics, growing up at all?
Yes. I was, [in] sixth, seventh, eighth grade, comic book obsessed. I remember when that first PUNISHER [ongoing series] started, do you remember that one?
Marvel.com: Yeah yeah; the Mike Baron and Klaus Janson one?
Yeah. [It was] just terrific. I had the limited [series] of course, but I was just all over the Punisher from a young age. And it's funny, because when you're younger you don't look at—or at least I didn't, when I was in sixth and seventh grade—I knew the characters, [but] I didn't look as much at the writers, or Marvel vs DC. But when I went back after I started doing more writing for Marvel and pulled out all my comics, I mean, 90 percent of them were Marvel. I was just very Marvel-geared as a kid. I had a lot of Hulk, I had a ton of Spider-Man, all that stuff. So it's really funny, because the two parts of it sort of knit my life together. I started out in novels, and I had a lot of influence from the comics that I read as a kid, and then you can see that effect through my books a lot. Then as I got on in my career and started writing comics, I sort of returned to the form from a creator's perspective.
Marvel.com: Yeah, and I can definitely see the Punisher's influence in something like your novel "The Kill Clause," but do you think some of the more traditional, spandex-clad super hero comics influenced your style as well?
I think so in terms of scope. I mean, you're right: the Tim Rackley series [of novels] is sort of this meditation on vigilantism, so there's a really strong influence there. But my book that's coming out in a few weeks, it's coming out June 23, it's called "Trust No One," and there's a couple Punisher references. I have a comic book contest that I'm running through my web site about that book. But if you look at that book, it has this really big thriller opening, and I think that part of my draw into bigger thrillers rather than more conventional or smaller mysteries came from reading those bigger scope super hero comics, because the spectacle of them is so magnificent. I think that's part of how they informed a lot of my reading and a lot of my writing, is that the thrillers that I write tend to be bigger books, they tend to be these big thrillers with a lot at stake, a ferocious pacing, a lot of those things that have come into my awareness through comics and a lifetime of reading comics.
Marvel.com: Do you read many comics currently?
I read a good number, yeah. I find I'm reading more and more.
Marvel.com: What was the last Marvel book that you read and really enjoyed?
Well, my all time favorite series, far and away, is Garth Ennis' PUNISHER run. That for me was sort of like a gateway drug, since that's the first thing that I read that I could see how the writing of it worked, if that makes sense. Basically, I loved the way Garth Ennis worked with the Punisher. I loved his whole aesthetic, his recreation of it to a gritty, real world. One [other] thing that I read, I started really
getting into the ULTIMATES lately. That was the first big book that I read and had the same reaction that I had to Ennis' PUNISHER, of going, "Well, I can do this, I can cross over from the grittier crime angle [to super heroes]." With ULTIMATES, I was just so impressed with how that was imagined. That was one where I said, "I want to do this on a bigger scale, I want to play around on that side of the spandex divide." When I read ULTIMATES, I was just so impressed with the way that [writer Mark Millar] plays with that bigger scope, in that big, blockbuster way. That was one of the books that I read that might have been a little out of my roundhouse five years ago, that I thought, "I got it." I was incredibly impressed with his pacing; I was incredibly impressed with his imagination and the way that that functioned, the way [the series] was structured, the whole nine yards with that. So that had a pretty big impact on me. Different books have different effects on you as a creator, so for me, I think with Ennis it's the sophistication, with Millar it's the scope and the pacing of it.
Marvel.com: What characters in the Marvel Universe would you most like to one day get your hands on that you haven't yet?
Well, I will say this as a slight tease: The one [character] I'd most want to get my hands on, I'm getting my hands on, and we can't announce it yet. It's the main guy I wanted to write, and we have one of the top artists in the world, so I can not wait for that.
Marvel.com: One thing I've noticed is that it seems like a lot of crime authors also wind up writing comics. I mean, we've got you, Duane Swierczynski, Greg Rucka, Denise Mina—I was curious why you thought that was?
I think that those of us who love comics—I mean, you look at Swierczynski, you look at Rucka, and there's no question that these guys just love comics. I think the current writers who came up with [comic books], who read them, who loved them, it's just another thing that you get to do as a professional writer. Here I started off writing novels, and that was a lot of my focus, but it's pretty hard to turn down a phone call from Marvel saying, "Hey, let's take a look at some characters in the vault, who do you want to play with?" That's a pretty terrific call to get. It's as much a misnomer to think that crime fiction writers or novelists can cross over to comics any better than you can take for granted they can to screenplays. These are different muscles, they're different mediums. I think the ones who have tended to be successful are the ones who really respect and understand how comics function and why they're different. It's not one of these things where any one who writes a crime novel can jump across the divide. I have to be very conscious to switch hats and use different muscles when I'm writing a comic. So the guys you just listed: Swierczynski and Rucka, and [Brad] Meltzer is one who comes to mind for me. Brad does a tremendous job. He's a wonderful comic book writer, and he digs into that medium with a full understanding of how that medium functions and why it should be different from his novels. And that's why Meltzer's so good.
Marvel.com: Speaking of Meltzer, I know the he doesn't like to work in the two mediums simultaneously, so that he'll write a book and then write some comics and then write a book. How do you handle that division of labor on a daily or weekly basis?
I'm the same way. I work on books, [and] the other side of my writing that I do is I do some screenplays and TV pilots, and I can only work on one of those at a time. I'm not a guy who can do novels in the morning and comics in the afternoon. I tend to be all absorbed. When I dig into an arc, I tend to run the whole arc in a row. So I work on it very intensely and focused in that period. I have to dig in and really figure the story out, drop all the way into that story, and I'll tend to write all five [issues]
back-to-back. Editing is easier to come in and out of, tweaking and making sure everything matches up, doing a lot of the proofing, those things I can do a little more in-and-out. But with that first hatching of the rough draft—if I'm writing a book, I need to be in that book 24/7, and if I'm writing a comic I need to do the same.
Marvel.com: Speaking of your work as a screenwriter, since that's also a very visual medium do you think that helped you at all when it came time to write your first comic script?
Yes, without question. But I'll tell you, there's a very different muscle—I keep using that term, and that's what it feels like—in [use], because you need to direct more when you're writing a comic. In a screenplay, you almost never want to draw attention to the direction, because the director will come along and direct how he wants to direct. With art direction [in a comic script], you can give a little bit more. Of course, I have had the enormous advantage of working with such tremendous artists. I'm working with these guys who, I tell them what I'm thinking, I put more of that on the page than I would in a screenplay, but that's what they do. So they then interpret it, they make me look better, they take everything that I'm thinking and just make it work in an even better capacity. Laurence Campbell did that on PUNISHER quite brilliantly. But yes, having already crossed that bridge from novels to screenplays, of thinking, "How do I tell this all visually," well now it's, "How do I tell all this on four to six snapshots on a page? How do I convey it?" So on the one hand there's similarities, and on the other hand there are some things that function real differently.
Marvel.com: What would you say were the easiest and hardest aspects of transitioning into writing comics?
I'd say that the easiest was the genuine interest and the amount of fun. And I don't use that term lightly. The thing that's so great with the comics industry, and the readers and the fans and everyone, is that the amount of business and
deal-making and pitching to actual writing and fun and production, it's such a wonderful creative ratio. If you compare it to television for instance, it's completely reversed. People are in comics because they love comics, people read comics because they love comics. You don't talk to a lot of people and say, "I went in to be an editor at Marvel because I wanted to be rich." It's not the primary motivation. So there's so much enthusiasm and energy, and that's a really terrific part of it. That's probably my favorite, [the fact that] the readers are impassioned, the fans are adamant, so when you're working on something there's a lot of energy, and there's a lot of potential in everything that you're writing, because it feels like you're so close to the creative vein.
I'd say the hardest thing for me, especially on the first [series I wrote]—and this is where having a good editor is exceedingly helpful, and [Executive Editor] Axel [Alonso] was enormously beneficial to me—when I was starting that first FOOLKILLER arc, it was figuring out how much art direction can fit on a page. For me, it's boiling it down—to use that screenplay example—how do I get this down to four to eight pictures on a page? And when there are eight, how much can we fit? And when I'm playing with point of view, how much can an artist embody? My first two books were with Lan Medina and Marcello Frusin, and so once again, you kind of can't go wrong there. But I really learned from seeing what I wrote and then how they took that and did their thing with it. That was part of my learning curve, was saying, "Cool, I gave him A, B, C and D, and he fit A, B and C and referred to D." The feedback and the collaborative part of it when you're working with talented artists is a constant learning curve. How do you give them what they need, where it's enough for what they need [while leaving] them all the room to do everything better, and [knowing] when you ask too much. That's something that took me at least a couple issues to figure out.
Marvel.com: Now that you have written a few comics at this point, what do you feel you've learned about the medium and how it ticks in that time? Was there anything that particularly surprised you about what a comic could do that any other form couldn't?
I think the thing that surprises me that [comics] can do that nothing else can do is [the] unlimited budget. That's what's cool. Here I have this screenplay hat on, and it's like, "Oh, you want me blow up Manhattan? Sure, he can draw that." I mean, there's no consideration for budget [in comics]. You want to design an insane type of fighter jet, you want to put somebody upside down in a volcano, there's no practical consideration. And I think that's really what I credit ULTIMATES with, for kind of hammering it through my thick skull. And I think that's one of the reasons I bridged in through FOOLKILLER and PUNISHER, [because they're] a little closer to the stuff I was working on. And this [next project] that I'm working on is a big Marvel Universe [story where] I can do whatever I want, I can invent anything I want, I can create anything that I want as long as I can make it plausible and interesting and sell it.
For more on Gregg's upcoming projects, keep your eye right here on Marvel.com!
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