DF Interview: Kurt Busiek talks about the return of ‘Arrowsmith’ at Image Comics, more
By Byron Brewer
It's World War I – but a war of wizards and dragons as much as bullets and barbed wire. Young airman Fletcher Arrowsmith plunges back into the heat of war – and finds himself behind enemy lines, facing a threat that could doom the Allied Powers.
The new Kurt Busiek Era at Image Comics begins here, as he and superstar artist Carlos Pacheco (Fantastic Four, Avengers Forever, Final Crisis, X-Men, Superman) bring you the much-anticipated return of Arrowsmith… the first issue in a new Arrowsmith-universe miniseries! I caught up to Kurt and we discussed new life for Arrowsmith and much more.
Byron Brewer: Kurt, before we begin a deep dive into Arrowsmith, tell readers about the “Kurt Busiek shared universe” coming to Image Comics. What does that mean for comics buyers and what can we expect from this universe (aside, I assume, Arrowsmith)?
Kurt Busiek: When Image described it as the “Kurt Busiek Universe,” I don’t think they meant it as a shared universe, so much as a group of varied and interesting books, all written by me. There aren’t going to be crossovers between, say, Arrowsmith and Astro City, or Autumnlands. They’re just all books written by me, so they’re associated with each other in the same way as we think of Saga and Paper Girls together because they’re both Brian K.Vaughn books, or The Old Guard, Lazarus and Black Magick are all Greg Rucka-written books.
That’s not to say that there won’t be some connections – when we launch Free Agents, for instance, it’ll be connected to other Image superhero books like Savage Dragon and Radiant Black, and we’ll be seeing Superstar, from Superstar: As Seen on TV, in the Free Agents world as well.
That said, the first two books we’re doing at Image under this deal are Arrowsmith: Behind Enemy Lines, the return of the Arrowsmith series by me, Carlos Pacheco, José Rafael Fonteriz and José Villarrubia (and we’ll be doing a remastered, oversized hardcover of the first series, as well) and Astro City: That Was Then…, the first new story in our award-winning series about what it’s like to live in a superhero world, by me, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and Alex Sinclair, with Comicraft lettering both books, of course. And we’re starting a series of reprint collections, the Astro City MetroBooks, to get the whole series in print in great-looking new editions.
After that, Brent, Alex and I have an original graphic novel in the works, The Gods on Sunday Morning, that we’ve been working on for a while. It’s not an Astro City story, but I think Astro City fans will like it — it’s kind of like the approach we take to Astro City, but applied to mythology instead. And as soon as we’re done with that, we’ll be moving on to a new ongoing Astro City series.
We’re also gearing up for the return of the epic fantasy Autumnlands by me, Benjamin Dewey and Jordie Bellaire, and the launch of Free Agents, a new super-team series by me, Fabian Nicieza, Stephen Mooney and Tamra Bonvillain. And we’ll be doing new editions of Superstar: As Seen on TV, Shockrockets and The Wizard’s Tale as well, covering superheroes, science fiction and fairy-tale fantasy.
And there are plans afoot for more stuff, too, but let’s get this up and running before I add more to the pile!
Byron: Wow!… If memory serves, Arrowsmith as created by artist Carlos Pacheco and yourself first reared its head among those books in Wildstorm’s Cliffhanger imprint as a miniseries in 2003. Talk a little about that beginning, and why it’s a good time now for the return of this series.
Kurt Busiek: Carlos and I started talking about doing our own book together back when we were working on Avengers Forever, and that became Arrowsmith — a series about a young man going off to war in a world where magic and the creatures of folklore have been a part of ordinary life since the time of Charlemagne, so World War One is being fought with wizards, trolls and dragons as well as bullets, barbed wire and trenches.
We were very happy working with Wildstorm/Cliffhanger on it, but what with one thing and another, we weren’t able to get the sequel rolling. We wanted to, but other stuff kept getting in the way. So finally, we decided we had to make the time to do it, and this is the result. In the intervening time, Windstorm and Cliffhanger have both gone away, but Image has just gotten stronger and more varied in what it publishes, and we’re very happy to be bringing the series back with them.
Byron: What is the overall storyline for Arrowsmith: Behind Enemy Lines? Can you give us a kind of expanded elevator pitch?
Kurt Busiek: It’s a pretty epic story — when we last saw Fletcher Arrowsmith, he’d become an aviator, which in this world means a low-level wizard who uses magic to fly and fight in the skies over the front lines, and he’d gotten a taste of how brutal and dangerous war can really be. And now, he’s chosen to be part of a secret mission within the Prussian Empire itself, one that could potentially bring a swift end to the war. Or, if he fails in the mission, could wind up devastating Europe, because the Prussians are messing with some very dangerous, very powerful magic, and if it backfires on them it’ll backfire on everyone, the Central Powers and the Allied forces both.
Fletcher will find himself doing things he never dreamed of — aside from the espionage mission, he’ll be learning more about magic, he’ll be making new allies, going up against dangerous and deadly foes…and learning what’s really going on behind the war itself. It’s a big, eventful adventure that involves not just going into enemy territory, but also outside of what we humans think of as reality entirely, into the Evening Lands, the realms of magic itself. So he’s going to go through much bigger changes than he did in the first series, and will be up against much darker forces.
Byron: What will longtime readers find different in the coming new miniseries than they might have discovered in the 2003 iteration? New characters, any retcons, etc.?
Kurt Busiek: Well, in the first series, Fletcher was very much a newcomer to the war, and his head was full of illusions about being a dashing hero, and he had to find out that war is a lot uglier than his naive dreams. Now, he’s more experienced, he knows what he’s in for at the front — but there’s a lot about what’s behind the war than he ever suspected, and there’s a lot about magic that he doesn’t know. He was basically taught a couple of simple spells and thrown into battle to live or die. Now he’s going to learn more, and he’s going to see more of the world — and the worlds beyond the world.
There are new characters, of course, but I don’t want to tell you too much about them. Fletcher’s mysterious ally from Albionese (British) Intelligence, powerful villains like the Black Baron and the Blood Emperor, allies in undermountain trollhomes and a princess of the world beyond.
And we’ll even find out just what, exactly, Charlemagne did to bring together humans and the magical races, way back when. Lots to discover.
Byron: Talk about your re-teaming, as it were, with artist Carlos Pacheco and what he brings to the table here.
Kurt Busiek: I love working with Carlos, any chance I get. Luckily, Carlos seems to like working with me too. So that’s nice.
But one of the reasons we cooked up the world of Arrowsmith in the first place is because Carlos is amazing at creating compelling visual settings — whether you ask him to design an ocean liner that sails above the ocean, or a prison camp for wizards, or a rock-troll temple or Faerieland itself, he’ll create something astounding, convincing and beautiful. And of course he’s a great adventure artist, drawing terrific action and excitement, designing exotic and chilling villains…everything you could want in an artist.
And I should mention that we have a couple of new additions to the creative team as well. We have me, Carlos and Comicraft, of course, but we’ve brought in José Rafael Fonteriz, who’s been inking Carlos’s work at Marvel in recent years, to join the Arrowsmith team, and he’s been doing stunning, moody, textured work over Carlos’s pencils. And the award-winning José Villarrubia is doing beautifully nuanced color work that makes every page a wonder.
We really have a terrific team on this, and I can’t wait for readers to see the results.
Byron: By the way, tell readers about the remastered hardcover of the original series coming from Image in February! Exciting!
Kurt Busiek: I keep wanting to describe it as the book we wanted to do in the first place, but it’s actually better than that. It’s the whole first series, in the kind of hardcover edition we’d wanted to do back then, but it’s an oversized hardcover, so you can see the art better, and we’ve remastered it from head to toe — back when we did it the first time around, Carlos brought a European sensibility to the art, and DC/Wildstorm was a little nervous about it, so they had various bits of it covered up by shadow and a little careful editing. But here at Image, we can do the book the way Carlos intended it, so there’s some nudity and horror that was covered up before. And there were some, ah, well, writing mistakes that I always wished I could fix, so this time I get to do that. So it’s entirely spruced up from art and color to script and lettering, and it’ll be just a beautiful book. It’s being redesigned from tip to toe, and has some exciting ancillary material I think readers are really going to enjoy as well.
Byron: Er uh… Kurt, I know what you’ve already mentioned is a lot. But as customary in these interviews, this wrap spot allows me to ask you (laughs) what OTHER projects in which you are involved can you tell readers about?
Kurt Busiek: What, that’s not enough?!!
In addition to all the books I’m working on at Image, I’m still writing The Marvels at Marvel, and I’ve done a few other stories on the side — short Wonder Woman and Red Sonja stories with Ben Dewey, for instance — and I’m writing a couple of short pieces for Karl Kesel and David Hahn’s Impossible Jones Kickstarter projects. There’s another Spider-Man story in the works too, though I don’t know when it’ll see the light of day. And there’s always stuff bubbling about TV or film adaptations of Arrowsmith, Astro City and other projects, though you never know whether those will become reality or collapse, only to have the rights snapped up by someone else who wants to take a run at it.
But mostly, I’m concentrating on the Image books — I’d like to make my own co-creations the centerpiece of my career, and having them all in one place is a great start toward doing that. It all kicks off in January!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Kurt Busiek for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Arrowsmith: Behind Enemy Lines #1 from Image Comics is slated to be on sale January 19th!
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