Jason Aaron is the Eisner Award-nominated writer of Scalped, The Other Side, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Punisher MAX. I got a chance to sit down with the man this past weekend at the Baltimore Comic-Con and ask him a few questions about his process, his background and breaking into the industry. Unfortunately, I left my recorder at home and had to do the interview 1920s-style, with a notebook, a pen and a good ear. If it's any consolation, it did inspire this rap;
I'm a bonafide classic, don't call me Jurassic,
I'm bringing comic greatness to the expectant masses.
You know you want to hire me. You know it.
Without further ado or rapping, the Surfing the Bleed Interview: Jason Aaron.
Surfing the Bleed: Thanks for taking the time today Jason. I'll get right to it so you can get back to signing some books. So, when you were younger, did you always think, I want to write comics someday? Was that always your goal?
JASON AARON: No, not at all. Early on, maybe it was. I mean, I was always a fan. I think my mom was buying me comics before I could even read. But it was never something I really considered as a career. I had no idea how you could even break into comics. I guess I thought you had to live in New York City to do it, and at the time I suppose you probably did. So I went to college, majored in journalism, and spent time writing some short stories, reviewing movies, that sort of thing. My first introduction to comics was the Marvel Talent Search, which I won with my pitch for a Wolverine story. But even then, it was a while before I really broke in. My first work after that eight page Wolverine story (which resulted from winning the Talent Search) was The Other Side for Vertigo. But that didn't come right after Wolverine. I mean, I won that talent search in 2002 and I didn't get The Other Side published until 2006.
STB: But were you trying to get published again during that time period? Were you actively pitching The Other Side?
JA: Yeah. I pitched The Other Side to a few publishers and kept getting turned down. But I was encouraged to stick with it and eventually Vertigo got interested in the project and made it happen.
STB: Now you're writing an ongoing series for Vertigo, Scalped. I'm a big fan of the book. You've created this very intriguing crime epic that is equal parts Raymond Chandler and Robert Rodriguez. Considering the success of Scalped, have you ever considered taking a break from the medium to write crime fiction?
JA: Sure, I've thought about it. But right now, you know, I've only been writing comics for three years. I still feel really new at this and there is still a lot I want to do. I wouldn't want to jeopardize that by trying to break away from it for any period of time. I do love the genre and I think, maybe sometime down the road I might try my hand at that, or at screenwriting, but right now I'll stick to comics.
STB: Scalped was originally pitched as a retelling of the Scalphunter character created by Sergio Aragones and Joe Orlando in Weird Western Tales. How much of an influence were those DC Western titles on you as a writer? Were you a big fan of them growing up?
JA: I read Jonah Hex quite a bit, but I wasn't a huge fan of those books as a whole.
STB: So did the Scalphunter pitch come along more because you were trying to find an obscure character that nobody else was working on at the time? I've always heard that one way to get your pitch noticed is to come up with some fresh take on a nearly forgotten character.
JA: Yeah, definitely. That is a good way to get your pitch some attention and that is what was happening with Scalped.
STB: So what was Scalphunter like before it morphed into Scalped, and how did that transformation take place?
JA: Originally it was going to take place in the modern day. The story was going to follow the main character in the modern day and flash back to the 19th century. It was all sort of spur of the moment. My editor Will Dennis encouraged the change. We determined that naming it Scalphunter didn't really buy us much. Sure, maybe five guys who were huge fans of that character would pick up the book, but it might have diffused the overall impact of the book. So Scalphunter became Scalped.
STB: I know you're a big fan of 70s cinema. On that subject, I feel like I can recognize a big Sam Peckinpah influence in your work, especially on Scalped. Were his films a big influence on you as a storyteller?
JA: I'm definitely a big fan of Peckinpah, but that's just sort of a happy accident. I suppose subconsciously I probably do try to get that sort of mood out of my stories, but it's not something I do actively. Maybe Guera does that a bit more consciously.
STB: Do you have a favorite Peckinpah film? You know, other than The Wild Bunch?
JA: Yeah, it's easy to say The Wild Bunch. I'm a really big fan of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, those movies.
STB: The 70s was a great time for that sort of gritty, bare knuckle style of storytelling. As far as comics are concerned, it was a time period when the storytelling took a big leap forward. Guys like Chris Claremont, Denny O'Neil, et al really took the kitsch and the cheese out of comics and introduced a more realistic approach to the characters. Is that time period a big influence on your work today?
JA: I read a lot of that stuff and definitely filed it all away. Denny O'Neil's Batman was a favorite, as were the Thor stories by Walter Simonson, Swamp Thing by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, and then later Alan Moore's stuff with the character. So yeah, that stuff was all a favorite of mine.
STB: So far in your time at Marvel you've written Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Punisher. You're starting to get a reputation as the go-to guy for those darker, more conflicted heroes. Is there something about those type of characters that appeal to you more than, say, something like Captain America or Spider-Man, or have you just had enough success with anti-hero stories that editorial has sort of pushed you in that direction?
JA: A little bit of both. You know, I came into Marvel through Axel Alonso and those were the books he worked on, so that's what I got. There is a lot of freedom to writing characters like Logan, Frank Castle, Johnny Blaze. It is really liberating, really fun to write those kind of stories. But that's not to say that I wouldn't love to write a character like Captain America or that I don't have ideas in mind for those type of characters. I would like to write that kind of stuff and you will see me do that in the future. I don't want to just be the guy who writes the characters who stab people to death on every page.
STB: The real focus of this site is breaking into comics. I try to get different perspectives on the ups and downs of making it into the industry. You're the first interview I've had with a creator who just handles the writing side of the story. The perception among aspiring comic writers is that it's often easier for artists to get a break since their work has that immediate impact. It's a piece of visual artwork you can hold in your hand and instantly critique. Do you have any advice geared specifically toward writers who maybe sometimes feel like it's hard to break in?
JA: You just have to be able to put in the work necessary to make something really worthwhile. When I was pitching The Other Side I was writing all the time. Going over the script again and again, researching constantly, just making sure that what I put out there was the best possible story I could pitch. And you have to have a story that you can really stand behind, something that you really want to tell. For instance, The Other Side was a story that felt different to me, a story that was personal enough that I felt like I was the only person who could tell it.
STB: In my experience, the comics industry seems to be very inclusive. Personally, I've had no trouble approaching creators about their work, getting feedback and advice from various editors, etc. Did you find that to be the truth when you were trying to break in? And now that you are writing comics fulltime, is that your impression of the industry?
JA: Oh yeah. You know, three years ago I was just a fanboy like anybody else, then almost overnight I was creating comic books. And I was at cons, on trips with all these guys that I respected and they were totally inclusive, totally helpful. I was the new guy and you never know how people are going to react, how they're going to feel about you, but everyone was really gracious. And now, I live in Kansas City and we've got such a great community of creators and fans there. I feel great about being in the industry.
STB: Alright! That's going to do it for now. I'll let you get back to the convention. Thanks again for taking the time out of your day to do this, Jason.
JA: Not a problem! Thanks a lot!