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AICN COMICS SDCC FALLOUT Q&@: Ambush Bug interviews the incomparable Peter David, Writer of Stuff!!!

@@@ What the &#$% is AICN’s SDCC FALLOUT Q&@? @@@

Greetings, folks. Ambush Bug here with another interview I conducted at the San Diego Comic Con. Special thanks to AICN’s unsung hero, Muldoon, for transcribing all of these back and forthings. Expect a ton of interviews to be released daily until my interview well is dry (and believe me, it’s going to be a while after this con). One of the things I look forward to every SDCC is talking with one of my favorite writers, Peter David. Mr. David has written some of my all time favorite comics including his astounding run on THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Peter’s been busy this year. He’s been kicking ass on a monthly basis with X-FACTOR, plus he’s dipped his toe into writing video games as well. On top of that, Peter has released THE CAMELOT PAPERS through Crazy 8 Press, a book I am halfway through and loving every hilarious page of. Always great for a hilarious anecdote, I started recording as Peter was talking about meeting Lieutenant Uhura herself, Nichelle Nichols. Here’s what transpired back stage at the Marvel booth at SDCC. Oh and we stumbled upon some cookies which we chomped on throughout the interview…

PETER DAVID (PD): So at any rate, I was in George Takei’s wedding, right, and there was a reception afterwards and Nichelle was there, whom I had actually met and chatted with at Dragon Con the week before, so I was pretty fresh in her memory. And Nichelle had hurt her ankle in the course of the proceedings, so she needed someone to lean on, right? So she said, “Do you mind if I lean on you?” I’m like “Not at all.” So Nichelle drapes her arm around my waist and is leaning on me and all I can think of at that moment is “Suck it fanboys, I’ve got Lieutenant Uhura on my hip!” Now granted, it was because she was slightly crippled, but still!

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hey, you’ve got to take what you can get.

PD: I’ve got the bragging rights, baby.

BUG: Was there someone there to snap a picture of it?

PD: Tragically, no. My wife was off talking with Daniel Inouye from Hawaii, which gives you the caliber of people who were attending George’s wedding.

BUG: Wow. That’s really cool. Well, I’m backstage at the Marvel booth. I’m here with Peter David. It’s the last day of the Con, so how has it been for you so far?

PD: It’s been incredibly exciting, very entertaining. I’ve had some really great stuff to promote, particularly the SPIDER-MAN: EDGE OF TIME video game, which I was on a panel yesterday with several cast members including Katee Sackhoff and Laura Vandervoort. How do you say her name? My problem is I keep trying to say Laura “Voldermort” which is completely off base. She is such a sweet girl. And Val Kilmer, so I basically said that we have on this one panel three of the most gorgeous blonds in Hollywood in one place.

[Both Laugh]

PD: And it’s just been tremendously entertaining. Yesterday I was coming down in the elevator at the Marriot and who should walk into the elevator but Misha Collins and I ended up spending half an hour walking around the con with Misha Collins (laughs) and he called up my sister at my behest, who is a huge SUPERNATURAL fan and my wife who is a huge Misha Collins fan, very very nice guy. Yeah, so really come to San Diego and you never know who you are going to run into.

BUG: Definitely. I actually interviewed Adam West two days ago, which was just surreal.

PD: Did you, citizen?

BUG: (laughs) Yes, I did.

PD: Did he call you “citizen?”

BUG: No, but we were at a table for lunch and he ordered some clam chowder and I actually got it on tape. That was great for me just to hear him say “clam chowder.”

PD: Okay.

BUG: For some reason. I don’t know, it was just oddly entertaining to me. Let’s talk about the video game. This isn’t your first videogame, is that correct?

PD: No, before this I did a video game called SHADOW COMPLEX that did quite well, but this is certainly my highest profile video game and it has been just an absolute joy to work with, the guys at Beenox, the guys at Marvel, I mean we would put stuff…we would come up with stuff for the script and we would go “Oh my God, there’s no way Marvel will let us do that” and Marvel will come back and go “that sounds tremendously exciting, go for it.” You know, that was really great, and when there was stuff that they did have objections to it was well founded, because it was the bunch of us, myself and Activison and Beenox all in a conference room for a week and when you are jamming that hard on a project sometimes, to use the cliché, you lose the forest for the trees, and we would be coming up with stuff and Marvel comes back and says “yeah, did you consider this?” And we will go “damn it no, we didn’t” and we’d have to drop back ten yards and punt, you know that sort of thing. But that’s what’s going to happen when you are putting these sorts of things together. I’ve also had the opportunity at this convention to do some promotion for a new limited series that I’m doing for Marvel, a prequel to JOHN CARTER.

BUG: Oh cool.

PD: That I’m tremendously excited about, because I’m a huge Edgar Rice Burroughs fan and although of course I’m bound by a confidentiality agreement, I think that I’m not violating any confidence in saying that the script which I have read for the movie is great.

BUG: Is it?

PD: It’s great. I mean, it’s John Carter…I do have to put this in the article, this is for my own background. As I recall didn’t SyFy channel do a movie and it was modern day and it was…okay, so that’s the background. Actually no…all I can tell you is that this is recognizably John Carter. It’s John Carter the way that Edgar Rice Burroughs meant him to be, you know?

BUG: I can’t wait to see that film.

PD: Oh, it’s going to be terrific. We finally have the visual effects that can convey Barsoom, because people have wanted to do a John Carter movie for, God, years and years now, but how to you do a thark? You know?

BUG: That’s true. Well, as far as your other projects, how about X FACTOR?

PD: Well the current story line is bringing to a culmination the pregnancy of Rahne Sinclair which was introduced in X FORCE and then when I got Rahne back, I kind of inherited the baby which is fine, because it’s enabled me to do some really just a totally whacked out storyline that brings in a host of mythical figures that we have never seen before plus some legendary Marvel figures such as Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night. I also wanted to bring in Man Wolf, but unfortunately John Jameson at this point in continuity is up in a space satellite, so he couldn’t be brought in, which disappointed me a little bit, but that’s what happens in a shared universe. It’s just… (laughs) the fur is really flying in this story line.

BUG: That’s great.

PD: Then after that we do a storyline that is…I would say it’s a riff on SUPERNATURAL, but has a lot of very SUPERNATURAL overtones culminating in issue #228 which is going to have, I think, one of the best one two sucker punches I have ever given the fans in terms of how the storyline ends. Just for your reference, when I get home I’m going to double check, because I’m not always great on issue numbers. I think what I just described was #228. If it turns out to be #227, I’ll let you know, but I’m pretty sure it’s #228. You get to the second to last page of #228 and you are going “Oh my God, I didn’t see that.” And then you turn to the last page and I would say that it is quite simple the biggest WTF moment in X FACTOR since the absorption of the baby.

BUG: That’s what I was going to go back to, pregnancy has not been the luckiest thing to happen in there…

PD: No, no it’s not…

BUG: So is this going to be a running theme on pregnancy?

PD: Well, understand that if Rahne had been in X FACTOR the entire time, she wouldn’t have been pregnant. Not because a I inherently object to the idea, but simply because I wasn’t planning to do a story in which she hooks up with a Norse wolf god and gets herself knocked up, but getting the character back…I got her back pregnant. Now there were no particular plans in terms of what to do next with the character. If I had felt like it, I could have had her show up in X FACTOR bleeding and she miscarries, end of story.

BUG: Yeah.

PD: But I feel that that is kind of…number one it’s a waste of opportunity. Number two I think that’s kind of insulting to both the previous creators and to the fans. You get emotionally invested in this storyline and then boom “She had a miscarriage, isn’t that too bad? Well, on to the next thing.” It’s really not the way to go, so since she’s in X FACTOR and since she arrived pregnant “Okay well fine, we are doing it,” but because it’s X FACTOR I think you can safely say that…let me rephrase that. Because it’s X FACTOR everybody remembers the Madrox baby, (laughs) everybody does. I think if Rahne’s pregnancy and the birth were uneventful, people would go “wow, that was a let down after the fate of the Madrox baby,” so I have in the back of my mind a kind of like “okay, you are going to have to top it” type of attitude.

BUG: Is that hard to do? Hard to top yourself every issue?

PD: Well not every issue, but the thing is every issue you always try to churn out a better issue than the one you did before, that’s just the creative impulse, you constantly want to improve. I mean I once, without being explicit as to who, I once read an interview with an artist and he said in the interview “if I never get any better than I am right now, I will be satisfied” and I was appalled. I was appalled. Who says that? Well I could tell you who said that, but I won’t. The moment that you say, “this is as good as I’m going to get,” you are dooming yourself to be in creative spin cycle.

BUG: Yeah, you’re on a plateau.

PD: I’m always trying to improve. Sometimes I will succeed. Sometimes I will fall short. All I can tell you is the storyline that’s coming up, particularly that culminates in #227 with the bam bam events at the end of that issue, I think are just going to have fans going “what the hell is going on?” Then we’ve got #228 which is dealing with the end of #227 and then we have #229 which is an incredibly emotional issue in which the team is virtually falling apart, descending into arguments and fractiousness and unexpected things happen to pull the team together and it’s just an incredibly emotional issue including a scene in which I am rather pleased to say Monet St. Croix winds up getting verbally bitch-slapped by Pip the Troll.

BUG: Oh wow.

PD: It’s one of my favorite arguments where Pip the Troll takes down Monet and leaves her speechless.

BUG: What went into the decision to bring Pip into that comic? It seems just perfect. It hasn’t been dealt with before. He was this obscure Starlin character. Are you just a fan of that character?

PD: Yeah. Number one, I’m a Starlin fan and number two, I just really like Pip the Troll and to me it’s such a demented non sequitur to have this cigar chomping, except he can’t be chomping cigars because nobody smokes in the Marvel Universe, so I have him chomping on pretzel sticks and talking about the annoying non-smoking regulations, which in New York we actually do have, so I mean some people can read as a snark on Marvel or some people can read it for what it is which is an accurate reflection of New York ordinances. I just love the idea of this guy being the receptionist. What the hell.

BUG: (Laughs) It’s the first face you see when you walk into X FACTOR.

PD: Yeah, the face of X FACTOR is just Pip the Troll.

BUG: So is there anything else….as far as what’s been going on, we are actually making a list of the top ten jaw dropping moments ever since we started reading comics, yours showed up twice I think in my list--the Madrox baby was one of them, the second one was the one where Doc Samson kind of psychologically analyzes the entire team way back.

PD: Sometimes I even wonder if I wrote any other issue of X FACTOR, because that’s the one that I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. I think it’s great. What a lot of people have said to me about that issue is that they never liked Quicksilver until they read that issue and suddenly everyone says “I’ve been stuck behind someone who doesn’t know how to operate an ATM,” curiously no one has ever copped to being one of the people who doesn’t know how to operate an ATM, go figure that one, yeah.

BUG: So a lot of times psychology comes up a lot in your work. With the Hulk it was really prevalent through multiple storylines like that issue that I was talking about. Do you do a lot of research with psychology? Is that a passion of yours?

PD: I’ve read books on it, you know, but I don’t proclaim to be any kind of an expert. I just think about things and I interpolate things and you never know what’s going to happen. I mean I remember somebody once was impressed, because they said the Hulk was quoting Nietzsche and I thought “You know what? If the Hulk’s been reading Nietzsche, he’s been doing it on his own time, because he sure didn’t get it from me,” but apparently I was quoting Nietzschean philosophy without even realizing it. I took philosophy courses when I was in college. I took psych courses never with an intention towards becoming a psychiatrist, but simply trying to be a student of the human mind and understanding how people think and why they do the things that they do. I mean although I really think that the whole of human motivation was best summed up by Harlan Ellison who said that “every excuse in the world boils down to ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.” “Sir, why were you going in excess of 90 miles an hour in a parking lot?” “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” That’s what everything boils down to. “Lady, why did you cut off your husband’s penis and toss it into the trash compactor?” “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

BUG: I talked to you and we were trying to plan out this interview you were talking about the CAPTAIN AMERICA movie and you ended up seeing it. Is that correct?

PD: Yes.

BUG: So what are your thoughts on it?

PD: I loved it and I should preface it by saying I do not say that as a Marvel guy. It’s not like “Oh, every Marvel movie that comes out is wonderful…” (laughs) Don’t get me started on the first Hulk movie. At any rate, I thought it was absolutely terrific. I liked X MEN: FIRST CLASS better than I did THOR. I did not think a movie was going to come out in the next few months that, in terms of superheroes, was going to push THOR down to third, but I though CAPTAIN AMERICA was terrific.

BUG: Did you like FIRST CLASS better than CAPTAIN AMERICA?

PD: Yes, I did. I think that X MEN: FIRST CLASS was, and you should pardon the expression, was in a class by itself plus as much as I loved…

BUG: That’s the headline quote right there. (Laughs)

PD: As much as I loved CAPTAIN AMERICA, for me there was no moment that equaled “I’m Eric Lensherr, this is Charles Xavier, go fuck yourselves.” I mean no moment that quite got that, but CAPTAIN AMERICA I thought was terrific, a nice simple linear storyline and an unapologetic hero. Think about how rare that seems to be becoming nowadays. Cap, you know…it’s the purity of Steve Rogers’s vision, the only angst that he suffers is frustration in not being able to do enough to help his country and to help his friends. That’s all he cares about and yet Chris Evans did such a brilliant job with this. That kind of hero to many people seems square and old fashioned and seemingly having no place in today’s world, but now the way Captain America gets around it of course is it’s set in the 1940’s and yet there’s just something that just…this is going to sound unspeakably corny and I’m sorry for it…I say this in advance, but it makes you proud not only to a comic book fan, but proud to be an American. You are sitting there going…(laughs) It’s not quite up there with “America, fuck yeah,” but nevertheless it’s just we live in a time of such a fractured country where the government is so busy jockeying for power and individual priorities that the country is teetering on the brink of economic default. By the time this interview sees print it may have in fact defaulted which I would bet is not going to happen. I think we are going to get to the brink, but I mean it used to be that when we were coming to the brink of something and staring down an enemy it was Castro you know, we were staring down Castro and the Russians and saying “we dare you to fire. We are going to blow the living crap out of you. We are ready to go to WWIII over this.” Now we are going to WWIII with ourselves? What the hell has this country come to? Captain America reminds you of a time when we were united, when we were freaking united as a country and it reminded you of what we can accomplish when we pull together instead of allowing ourselves to be ripped apart.

BUG: Yeah, I’ve been hearing that not only from you, but from a lot of other people I’ve talked to at the con that this was the movie that just made them feel really good. I was looking forward to seeing it, but I’ve been at the con all week, so I haven’t been able to do it yet, but as soon as I get home I can’t wait to see it.

PD: I bought tickets for the 12 noon Thursday show and because of my schedule the convention I got there virtually at the last minute and I’m walking around in the theater and it’s already dark and they are starting to run trailers and everywhere I’m trying to sit people have got “oh, I’m saving this.” There seemed to be no seats. “I’m saving this…” So I thought to myself “screw this.” I walk towards the front of the theater and I stood there and I shouted “Hi, who would like to see CAPTAIN AMERICA with an actual Marvel comic book writer sitting right next to them?” All of a sudden ten hands go shooting into the air.

BUG: (Laughs) All of a sudden, all the hands in the air?.

PD: “Dude, you’re out buying candy, but too bad.” So suddenly magically I found a seat. It’s rare that I pull the Peter David card, but…

BUG: Well if anyone needs to, that was a perfect opportunity for you to do that. So you have a book coming out, THE CAMELOT PAPERS, is that correct?

PD: Yes, I’ll be happy to show you…it’s actually not just a book, it’s basically…

[Peter pulls out the book.]

PD: This is the book. That is my only other copy that I brought with me, but you know what, the convention is almost over, I don’t think I’m going to need it for anything else, if you would like to take it with you…

BUG: I would love to. I will read it.

PD: It’s more than just a single book. This is a…to call it a publisher is not really accurate, it’s more a publishing co-op. Some months ago Michael Jan Friedman, a long time friend, a science fiction author, approached myself and a group of other writers including Bob Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Howie Weinstein, Glenn Hauman, and myself…he said, “look, we are in a situation where the publishing industry is undergoing a massive sea change.” He said, “sales on ebooks are only increasing. Publishers are shrinking, book stores are in trouble,” and this is before Borders went bankrupt. He said, “we need to get ahead of the curve. There is absolutely at this point no reason why we cannot pool our resources and put our own books out there, because when you get down to it why should we have to go through publishers? Why should be have to go through book stores?” Book publishers are becoming increasingly narrow in terms of what they will publish, because since everybody is running scared they always want to just publish stuff that will be a potential to be a best seller. You know not to mention the fact that you try or want to do anything that’s new or original or exciting…I mean, you go to Marvel comics with an idea for a limited series that’s new and original and exciting and Marvel says, “oh my God, I’m there.” Not so with novels. You go to publishers with that and it’s like “what is it just like? It’s not just like anything else? Then we don’t want to do it.” It’s a different mindset, you know, and he said, “what we should do is pool all of our social networking resources and put out our own material, because the ones who really matter are the audience.” I will give you a concrete example: I wrote a book called SIR APROPOS OF NOTHING, a humorous fantasy. It took my agent a year to sell it and he would go to editors and editors would say “yeah, we know Peter David is a New York Times best selling author and has a huge number of STAR TREK readers, but STAR TREK fans only read STAR TREK; they don’t read anything else.” In the meantime I would constantly be getting emails from fans saying, “When are you going to write something original? We love your TREK novels, but we would love to see you do something original.” There’s this disconnect between what the publishers want and what the audience wants. Well, some years ago we couldn’t do anything about it. Now we can. We are able to put out our books and market them the way we want to. When we were developing the pricing structure for the eBook version of this, the printing cost and the production cost pretty much dictated that this had to be $15.99, but we have a good deal of latitude when it comes to eBooks and I was able to go to my audience and say “How much would you pay? This is a description of the book. This is how many pages are in it. How much would you pay for an eBook?” It’s ridiculous that publishers are putting out eBooks for fifteen dollars or twelve dollars, what the hell. My fans came back and said “We would pay up to ten dollars for it.” I put it out at $4.99 and I got JK Woodward, my artist on FALLEN ANGEL, to do the cover.

BUG: That’s a great cover too. So let’s talk about it. I don’t think we have even said the name of it, THE CAMELOT PAPERS.

PD: THE CAMELOT PAPERS is absolutely right.

BUG: I love the cover with all of the different stories and “shocking paintings revealed.” I just started laughing reading that.

PD: And for the Monty Python fans.

BUG: “Merlin turned me into a newt.” Nice.

PD: The concept is this, the notion that the names may change, but the politics and scandals remain the same and when you think about Camelot it was the first sex scandal, right? So what I decided to do was bring a modern day political attitude to ancient Camelot as distinguished from the book KNIGHT LIFE which had King Arthur in modern day New York. This is not a follow up to KNIGHT LIFE--I should underscore that. Imagine if you will that for all intents and purposes George W. Bush is King Arthur, a guy who is in over his head and has major father issues. Imagine that Guinevere is an aggressive woman who likes to wear pants rather than dresses and has a strong and unpopular social agenda. There we’ve got Hillary. Imagine that Lancelot is a formidable soldierwith a great reputation, but is something of a rake who can’t keep his sword in scabbard, now we’ve got Bill, right? Imagine that Galahad is a guy who seems too good to be true and a lot of people are challenging his background and even his very existence, now you’ve got Obama. Imagine that Merlin is a guy who operates behind the scenes and pulls the strings and tries to control the flow of information, you’ve got Karl Rove. You’ve got a whole political cadre written as, in this case something that’s very popular, a political tell all by someone who is a behind the scenes individual--in this case a slave girl who is able to read and write, and that indeed is a major plot point, why it is that the slave girl can read and write and most of the people in Camelot cannot? So we bring that kind of sensationalistic and modern day attitude. It’s also a bit of a meta-commentary on fan fiction, since she is a huge fan of knights and winds up creating her own knight, which she then writes about.

BUG: That sounds like a fascinating novel. I can’t wait to take a look at it. Just from the cover alone…they say “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but this is hilarious.

PD: Several people have said exactly that. They say “They always say don’t judge a book by a cover, but how can you not love this book based on the cover?” JK knocked it out of the park.

BUG: And also it gives major points of the story right here on the cover, just like those tabloids and that’s what gets people to pick up those tabloids.

PD: Yes and the thing that I should emphasize, the thing that I want to make very clear, it’s not a publishing company. We are not a corporation. We are not looking for other publishers. I’m sorry, we are not looking for other people to publish which pissed off some people who said like “great, another publisher, I’m going to start sending them my book.” No…no, that’s not what we are about. We are not incorporated. We don’t have officers. If you look at the actual publisher, it’s Second Age Incorporated, which is my corporation. Crazy 8 is essentially a consortium in which we are pooling our resources and helping to market each other and get word out to as many people as possible. So if my name is going to be higher profile than Aaron Rosenberg, if Aaron puts out a book, he’s going to have a bit of a tougher time getting attention than I am, but on the other hand in the back pages of THE CAMELOT PAPERS what do we have? An excerpt from Aaron’s next book, so people read that and they say “And what’s this? NO SMALL BILLS?” They read “Chapter One: Duck Bob, meet the Universe; Universe, meet Duck Bob” and they read it and they love it, well now they are on the lookout for Aaron’s book in a way that they wouldn’t be. We are just basically trying in what is a consistently hostile book publishing market…remember, as distinguished from comic books, we are just trying to get books to the audience, because it’s really not the book buyers and Barnes and Noble, the guys who place the orders. When I say “book buyers,” I mean the guys who actually decide how many copies of the books are going to be at Barnes and Noble, they are not the important ones, the important ones are the audience which is why we are able to go to the audience and say “we want to make this affordable for you, this is what we are going to be pricing it at, and we want to be able to get it directly to you, so that you can get it at Amazon. You can get it at Barnes and Noble, you can get it via either eReader, or you can get it print on demand.” I will fully admit I’m old fashioned. I like the idea of being able to sit there with an actual trade paperback in my hands; if nothing else they never run out of battery power.

BUG: (laughs) That’s true. I take the train to and from work in Chicago and so I still love books, just because of that. It gives me something to do rather than getting…it makes me look busy, so that I don’t get bothered on the trains.

PD: Absolutely.

BUG: Alright, well I can’t wait to take a look at this and I can’t wait to see those issues of X FACTOR as well.

PD: Oh man, wait until you see it. Here’s the thing and again the fans want to know what’s coming up in X FACTOR, right? They are really anxious to see it. So you guys may think “Well it must be easy for Peter, he knows what’s coming out with X FACTOR.” No, it’s killing me, because I am so excited about what’s coming up in X FACTOR that I can’t wait for people to see it. I am as excited about you guys reading it as you are interested to find out what happens next.

BUG: Can I touch base with you after this and maybe do a follow up interview so we can talk about what happens?

PD: Absolutely. When you read #227, #228, and #229 yes absolutely, because you’re going to have some questions. I mean really the end of issue #227 is like I said, one of the big WTF’s!

BUG: All right, well great. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I know you are busy running around and everything. It’s always a pleasure talking with you. I hope we can make this an annual thing where catch up at the con.

PD: Sure, absolutely.

BUG: Alright, well thanks a lot.

PD: And you know, every year cookies…you can’t go wrong with cookies!

BUG: Yeah.

Be sure to check out THE CAMELOT PAPERS which is available now and I can’t wait to read those upcoming issues of X-FACTOR and see what kind of crazy shit Peter David has in store for us.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in October (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees)! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!

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Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling: Ambush Bug
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Keep an eye out for more interviews and special reports from SDCC 2011!

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