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A veteran of comic books, TV and movies, J. Michael Straczynski made his first trip out to the CBR Speakeasy to sit down with Jonah Weiland and CBR TV for a lengthy and varied conversation about the many projects keep him busy. They begin with a chat about Straczynski’s nomadic upbringing and how he always knew he was destined to be a writer. The conversation then moves into the secret origin of his Joe’s Comics imprint at Image Comics, his plans for flagship title “Ten Grand” in the wake of artist Ben Templesmith’s departure and why the subject matter gets back to his origins as a novelist.
Things wrap up with some words about why he took on “Terminator: The Final Battle” at Dark Horse and “Twilight Zone” for Dynamite, as well his ambitious new Netflix TV series, “Sense8,” which he created along with The Wachowskis, and whether or not his confidence as a writer extends to his directing skills.
On the secret origin of Joe’s Comics: I collected comics really early on. I had a pristine collection. I had some of the best Silver Age collections you will ever see. I had a full run of “Thor” and “Spider-Man” and “Journey Into Mystery” — the very first Thor — on and on and on. And my grades fell, because we were moving all the time. And my dad thought it was because of the comics that I was reading. I had this little box that said “Joe’s Comics” on the outside of the box, and he brought me in and tore them all up in front of me. All I had left was an empty box with “Joe’s Comics” on the outside. Which is why I formed the company and ironically called it that, because now I’m refilling the box.
On the future of “Ten Grand” following original artist Ben Templesmith’s departure: We’re going with C.P. Smith, who did “Wolverine Noir” and has this incredibly strong visual style, which is something the book needs. I need someone who can go right to the very edge and come back again. It was a huge loss, not having Ben for the book, but he went off the radar for over a month, almost two months. And you can do that if you can adjust your publishing schedules accordingly, if you get some information, but we didn’t ever hear a word back from him for almost two months. “Are we gonna get it tomorrow or two months from now?” So he understands and he completely took full responsibility, which was a really mentschy thing to do. C.P.’s dived in and he’ll start picking up the book with issue #5 and we’re gonna work to catch up back on schedule.
On where the idea for “Ten Grand” came from: I’ve actually always had an interest in the dark side of the supernatural and I have a huge collection on ceremonial magic back home. … I actually began in fiction as a novelist. I wrote four novels that are published in the supernatural horror genre. I like that area a lot and really haven’t had a chance to get into it much so I kind of felt that need to feed that beast for a while. So “Ten Grand,” on the one hand, came out of “I want to do horror again.” And second, horror lets you ask the really large questions, which for me is “How far would you go for love?” If you were offered the opportunity to see the person you love more than anyone else for a few minutes at a time after you die and had just cause to come back, would you take that deal knowing the pain you would have to endure, as you would in almost any relationship — would you do it? That question informed the rest of it. It’s a big, huge supernatural story, but also a very person story at the center of it.
On making comics as comics first, not just storyboards for film and TV: There’s short term and there’s long term. There are a lot of guys out there who write comics as storyboards for movies and television shows. If we want to go out and sell a TV show, we just go out and sell a TV show. A comic needs to be a comic, itself, on its own terms, first and foremost. If, down the road, someone wants to adapt it or option it that’s fine, but you don’t do it for the purpose of making it a TV show or making it a movie. Form follows function, so it needs to be a comic first. We think in those terms, what is the best lot for something to be in. Like “Ten Grand” is a perfect idea for a comic book — after issue #1 came out were getting calls from people who wanted to option it but I said, “No, not yet. We’re not ready yet. Let’s tell this story, let the comic be the comic for a while, let it air out, and then we’ll talk about it.”