Chatting to Chuck Dixon has been eye opening. Not only is he a remarkably prolific writer but he also happens to have some great stories from his colourful comics career......
Paul: When did you first discover comics? Were there any specific comics that really had an impact upon you? How old would you have been and where might they have been from?
Paul: You've had an incredibly profilic career, and written a great number of comics, but what was your absolute very first paid published work? Who was your first editor?
Chuck: I can't remember his name. He worked for his uncle, Myron Fass, who had been a comic artist in the 1950's. He ran a line of cheap, exploitation magazines and decided to produce a really second rate imitation of Heavy Metal. I heard they were looking for material and went with my portfolio. They bought a ten page story from me that I wrote, drew and lettered for forty dollars a page. This was 1978, I believe.
Paul: It would be impossible to ask you about every comic you've written, so I won't attempt such a thing. I would like to start by asking about about your extensive experience on the Batman family of titles. Your prolific output over the years has been astonishing. I am curious if amongst all of them you'd be able to pick a particular favourite issue or story you have written for the character that you are especially proud of, and why?
Chuck: It's hard to pick one out of my eleven years on Batman and the Batman-related titles. I'm very fond of Detective Annual #7, a reimagining of Batman as a pirate captain drawn by Quique Alcatena. And a later Detective Annual that featured an origin of the Riddler drawn by Kieron Dwyer. Also, of course my work with Graham Nolan, the highlight of which was The Joker: Devil's Advocate graphic novel. And Batman/Predator III with art by Rodolfo Damaggio.
Paul: One of the characters you are most famous for creating is the Batman villain Bane. Arguably it could be said he is to Batman what Doomsday was to Superman. What are your thoughts regarding the character's two big screen appearances? I'm guessing you might prefer The Dark Knight Rises to the rather less well received portrayal of him in Batman and Robin. Would that be true?
Chuck: I liked the visual appearance of Bane in Batman and Robin and the dramatic presentation of Bane in DKR. If only the two could be combined someday. Bane's best, and most accurate representation so far is in the Arkham Asylum Playstation games. In those he's cunning, articulate and frightening.
Paul: Being from the UK and rather into comics, I am a passionate 2000AD fan. I admired Alan Grant's writing on Judge Dredd and Batman a great deal. As I am sure you are aware he sadly passed away in 2022. Did you have many opportunities to work with Alan during any of the many Batman crossovers, perhaps No Man's Land for example?
Chuck: I saw Alan quite a bit at the regular Batman summits that Denny O'Neil would hold. I always enjoyed seeing him and spending time with him. I was a huge fan of his work in the UK as well as what he was doing with Batman (along with Norm Breyfogle) in the years before Doug Moench and I were brought on board. He was very much keeping the character and franchise in fine form. So much of what I would come to write was built off the foundation Alan laid down. Particularly his portrayal of Tim Drake.
Paul: Do you have any memories of the gentleman you could share?
Chuck: There is one funny story. He knew I was a big fan of Judge Dredd and asked me what I thought of the Stallone movie. When I said I liked it, he actually gave me a shove that made me stumble back a few paces. He then apologised and was quite sincerely horrified at his visceral reaction. I told him it was just a natural fan-rage reaction. Then we laughed about it.
Paul: During the 1990's the number of comics you wrote was especially impessive. Aspiring writers may be intrigued to know how on some occasions you managed to have five or six comics come out month after month. Would you describe yourself as an especially fast writer? For example how long on average at the time did it take you to write one issue of the various titles you were writing?
Chuck: The secret was to stay WAY ahead of schedule. Yes, I am fast at comic scripting. Once the idea comes and I have my opening scene, I'm off to the races. Back in the 80s and 90s my daily goal was eight pages a day. That's forty pages a week and nearly two comics every five days. I would usually eke out the four remaining pages to have two complete scripts done each week. That way I didn't have an unfinished story in my head all weekend. This was the that pace that allowed me to write eight monthlies during the three month period when I was also closing out The Punisher's three monthlies in their final issues.
Chuck: Then I just continued at that pace, sometimes completing entire issues in one sitting. This allowed me to be so far ahead of my artists that DC Comics stopped sending me deadline schedules as they were irrelevant by the time they reached me. At Marvel, it wasn't unusual for one of my editors to turn in completed issues I'd written (art and lettering) 90 days ahead of deadline. By writing so far ahead, it allowed me to accept special assignments like mini-series, graphic novels, annuals, specials and such. I was the go-to guy for emergency jobs and even filling in for other writers when they fell behind on their regular books.
Chuck: Now, all of this might sound to someone reading this as the signs of a true hack, but I don't think hacks enjoy their work! It's drudgery turning out soulless crap simply for a paycheck. When I sit down to write I go to a happy place, particularly when I write comics. I think the medium is in my DNA. It's my singular talent, my party trick. Not to say that I don't sweat it. I take the work very seriously. My mortal fear of actually boring the reader drives me to write the most engaging escapist fiction I can create.
Paul: You wrote reasonably extensively for Marvel as well as DC Comics. I am thinking of the Punisher titles War Journal and War Zone. Did you find it difficult to find Frank Castle's specific voice? He could be described as a slightly one dimensional character. How did you approach your time writing such a nihilistic or vengeful character? Do you see any significant similarities between Frank and Batman?
Chuck: Both of them are male icons. They're both strong but silent, but Frank Castle has ALL the negative male stereotypes. What is called toxic masculinity now. He's narrow-minded, singularly focused on only his goals and needs, and is often abusive even to those close to him. In a lot of ways he's the wish fulfillment character for the asshole in all of us. That's what makes him, hands down, my favourite character to write!! He is a force of nature who doesn't care what anyone thinks of him or his actions, but to say he's one-dimensional is to not understand Frank at all. He's a tortured soul and his pain is all the more acute because he can never reveal it to anyone, not even himself. He will act on the pain caused by the death of his family but he can never articulate it.
Chuck: As much fun as it is to write the Punisher in action, it was his dialogue I enjoyed writing most. I particularly enjoyed his journal entries. I would work hard to get a laugh out of the reader by juxtaposing Frank's dry reportage with the insane things going on in each panel. Frank never makes jokes or witty remarks. The humour arises out of how deeply dark his worldview is. It's kind of classic Addams Family in a way.
Paul: Some fans have described Moon Knight as Marvel's effort to rip off the imagery of Batman. You have however written Marc Spector on a few occasions? He is a surprisingly complex character. How did you approach dealing with the muliple personality disorder that is synonymous with him?
Chuck: Actually, I never did deal with his tri-furcated identity. My editor, Carl Potts, dictated that the series would concentrate entirely on Marc Spector. Moon Knight is conventionally seen as Marvel's Batman, but he's nowhere near that! His origin is inelegant and confused. His motivations are unclear. He is a great costume in search of a character. I suggested a way to clean up his origin (while staying with the basics of it) and give him a reason for being. My second editor on the book, Danny Fingeroth, wasn't interested.
Paul: There is another famous franchise you have scripted a few fun stories for that oddly many comic fans may be unaware you created. The Simpsons seems like a departure from the type of comics you are known for writing. Can I ask how did that opportunity with Bongo Comics come about? Do you have to get in the correct frame of mind to write for those characters? It sounds like an enjoyable comic to work upon.
Chuck: I was invited to write a story for their annual Treehouse of Horror special. I had so much fun so I asked if they were open to further pitches from me. They were into it so I began submitting plotlines that they picked up, with a few exceptions. The comic was fun to write, though comedy is truly harder than drama. I was helped out immensely by my wife who came up with maybe half of the plots I used. The funny thing is, she is not a fan of the show but saw it as a challenge to come up with new stories. It usually started with her saying, "Have they ever...?"
Paul: That is amazing.
Paul: You provided a number of scripts for a rather different Marvel series. In this case I'm referring to the highly acclaimed series The 'Nam. It was the publisher's bold effort to chronicle, within the duration of title that matched the duration of the war itself, some of truth within the Vietnam war. Do you believe it succeeded in its ambition, and how did you approach writing for the series? It must surely have been a different prospect to writing the average comic book.
Chuck: I took that assignment very seriously. I've never been in the military and was reluctant to take on the book initially. But Larry Hama, a Vietnam combat vet himself, told me that he knew I would do the homework and there simply wasn't anyone else in the Marvel stable at the time capable of writing a comic like that. My regular artist was Wayne VanSant who served in the Navy in 'Nam. He introduced me to dozens of vets who were great at answering my questions and telling stories. It made me feel more comfortable to know that guys who'd actually been there were contributing.
Paul: You ventured into the long storied world of GI Joe for IDW. Were you a long term fan of the title? You spent a reasonable time concentrating upon Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. What is it about those two characters that makes them so enduring?
Chuck: I was a huge fan of what Larry Hama did with that title. He spent more time, and went so far beyond the expectations of what a toy tie-in book should be. That was true dedication and it's paid off with a huge fanbase and some excellent stories. Snake Eyes is the most fascinating character in the franchise. I think I was tagged because I had an affinity for him and also was willing to work out just how to present a character who never talks. It's not enough for him to be silent, you have to come up with gags and bits that would only work with a mute character. It was challenging and fun. He and Storm Shadow have the most well-rounded past life prior to their involvement with the Joes' and Cobra.
Paul: You said earlier scripting comics was in your DNA. Would you say writing prose is more of a challenge? You have written several novels now. Can you say anything about them please? Is there one you are especially pleased to have written?
Chuck: Prose was a big challenge for me and it remains so. At first it was the intimidation factor. Who am I to work in the milieu of Jack London and Herman Melville. I got over that by the time I'd finished my first novel. I wasn't writing timeless classics and no one would be making any comparisons between my work and that of literary giants, but, still, prose is harder for me than comics. Comics aren't hard for me at all.
Chuck: In prose I have to be more of a wordsmith than when writing comic scripts. There has to be more artfulness in the descriptive language, a more evocative way of describing stuff than I do in panel descriptions meant for an artist. It takes longer. A novel is sometimes months in the works whereas I can turn out a finished comic script in a couple of days.
Paul: I'm well aware that it is wise not to believe everything written online, but I recently read you were approached to rewrite the screenplay for The Expendables 2 movie by Sylvester Stallone and declined the offer. Is this a true story? If so how did that come about? Have you had many experiences dealing with the film industry?
Chuck: I've had lots of unfruitful run-ins with the film industry. At least three times I was involved with big "A" picture projects that were cancelled in pre-production. Also numerous times I've had offers to turn creations of mine into features or series. I have a bunch of directors and screenwriters and producers who are fans but none of them have ever had the juice to bring anything to market. I learned early on to turn my heart to stone when it comes to Hollywood. My association with Sly (he insists I call him that) began when I wrote a comic book prequel to The Expendables. He liked it very much and called me to invite me to help him with re-writes on the script for Expendables 2.
Note: Below is a link to copy and paste to one of the projects Chuck mentioned:
Paul: You received an Inkpot award for your writing in 2014. Was there a nice ceremony when you were presented with this presitigious recognition of your talents? Do you have an opinion about awards within the industry?
Chuck: I think awards are a joke for the most part. The same people win them over and over. They're like the Grammys (and increasingly the Oscars) the winners are soon forgotten. When's the last time anyone watched Chariots of Fire or listened to Christopher Cross? The Inkpot came as a total surprise. Graham Nolan, Kelley Jones and I were invited out to San Diego with all expenses paid. We just thought it was to be guests. We showed up for a panel that was supposed to be all about Batman and moderated by Denny O'Neil. That's when the convention committee and Denny dropped the Inkpots on us. Honestly, we were not expecting it.... It was nice to get the recognition, but I'm still not a fan of industry awards. The best moment of recognition I remember was a long standing ovation for Jim Aparo at a Knightfall panel in 1994.
Paul: Over the last twenty to thirty years computers and technology have impacted the way comics are produced. This would be especially true for artists, but have those changes altered your approach to writing a great deal? Also has it changed your reading habits? Do you occasionally use a tablet or a laptop to read digital comics?
Chuck: When I started in comics I wrote my scripts out in longhand and hired a typist to type them up. She quit on me as my output increased. I had to run out that day and buy a word processor. PCs were not common then. I taught myself to use it and was working away that day. I don't type and have never learned to type. I'm a "hunt and peck" typist. The PC and word processing programs improved my life enormously. Today I can include photo reference right in my scripts. That's a huge boon. I can't bring myself to read comics on a tablet. I've tried and it's just not the same experience. Same for reading prose. I think I need that tactile portion of the reading experience, turning pages and holding a physical copy.
Paul: A part of the job for most comic creators is attending conventions. Apart from COVID rather throwing enormous spanners in the works, are conventions something you enjoy? Have you ever been slightly "starstruck" meeting any of your own artistic heroes?
Chuck: I still have not gotten back into the habit of attending shows and conventions. Even before COVID, I only went to events within driving distance of my house. I hate flying and it's all a hassle. I like meeting fans and catching up with friends in the business but getting there and back is increasingly a pain.
Chuck: Oh, I've been starstruck, for sure. I met Harvey Kurtzman and babbled like a fool. I managed to hold it together while meeting Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. The first time I worked with Russ Heath it took me days to work up the nerve to call him when he had some questions on a script of mine.
Paul: Do you have any amusing or fun convention stories or anecdotes that you are allowed to share?
Cut to the next convention I attended. One of the crossover editors brought someone to me and said, "Chuck, this is Grant Morrison, the pain in your ass from Scotland."
Paul: It may sound daft but there is a fun question I try to ask anyone that has worked creating superhero comics. If there was one superpower, or the abilities of any superhero, what or whose abilities would you chose to enjoy and why?
Chuck: There isn't a day that goes by that I don't imagine what it would be like to have Wolverine's claws. Usually when the mail comes or I need to open a bag of pretzels.
Paul: My final question is simple. What does the future hold for Chuck Dixon? What might you be working on in the next five years? Is there anything you would like to promote?
Chuck: That's hard to say with the ground shifting under us every day. My fantasy is that I move to a cabin in the woods and spend my days writing western novels. But that's not gonna happen with all of the interesting projects that keep coming my way. There'll be more comics, more Levon Cade novels, more Conan and who knows what else?
Paul: Chuck, thank you for the interview and your time.