Jesse James talked to Brian Augustyn for Bleeding Cool;
In January, I was at a Drink and Draw for the Amazing Arizona Con. I was hanging out with John Layman talking about what ever we talk about. For those of you that know Layman, you could be talking Lego one minute and then the next about the Titantic movie. Sometime into the conversation, my friend Cara Nicole brought over this tall gentleman who had a look of Comics in his blood. You know the kind. All comic world knowledge and ready to tell you about why Ambush Bug was so important to comic book lore. As I was introduced, my mind starting to spiral in titles of books from the past that this man had done. When I got to my senses there stood Brian Augustyn. Yes Mr Troll Lords himself, the Gotham By Gaslight creator. Though that moment was short. I knew as he was walking away I just had to sit down and talk to him.
Months later Brian came over to the store and we talked about comics for hours and hours. Brian is someone that you can trust and you start to realize that he could help so many creators in the Arizona Community. He continues to go to events and conventions. I asked him to sit down and talk to the Bleeding Cool fans about The begging of such a long and still ongoing career.
What part of the country are you from?
I was born and raised in Chicago, IL, a great city!
Did you always want to be a writer?
I actually started out wanting to be an artist, even went to college-level art school, but didn’t quite have the spark of originality to break through. On the other hand, since I was 11, making my own comics, I was also writing all the stories I drew–and that skill blossomed where the art did not. Somehow, I found my right path.
In the very early 80s I started looking for work as a writer in comics, and found that to break in it was sometimes good to go through training steps first. I learned to proofread, and copy edit (working in non-comics newsletters and such) and expanded my skill-set. Later I unofficially interned at Chicago’s First Comics and began to focus on editing by observing Mike Gold (the EIC of First) at work. When I met Paul Fricke and Scott Beaderstadt, the creators of Trollords, it all fell into place–and I became their editor as we launched the book to great success.
At what point during Troll Lords did it start to sink in that you felt you might have a very bright future to come?
I certainly believed that Trollords was something special right from the beginning. But as the book was published to some acclaim, and our audience grew, and we started to be taken seriously by the industry, we knew we were on our way. When DC invited me to interview for an editorial job in 1986, the bright future was straight ahead.
As far as treatment in general, I don’t know that there’s a great deal of difference. Back in the 80s, during the so-called black and white comics boom, you had books like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles getting orders in the 150,000 copy area–often out-selling Batman and X-Men. Trollords, at our highest, sold over 75,000, which was better than many big 2 books at the time. In a lot of ways, then and now are apples and oranges, but there were tons of independent comics back then and many sold very well–and provided proving ground for many, many now-popular creators in the years that followed.
How did DC come about? How surprised where when you were notified that you would be a co-editor?
I was interviewed in 1986 for the editorship of DC’s foray into indy-style comics, then potentially called “National Comics.” It eventually became Piranha Press, and I didn’t get that job, but did well enough to be remembered when the editorial staff of the DC mainstream expanded a year later. It helps that First Comics’ Mike Gold had moved to DC by then and was instrumental to my getting the job in late 1987. My first title was “Associate Editor,” and I was a full editor by 1990. I knew things had been working toward that job for a while, so it wasn’t a surprise, but it was a very happy day for me.
How cool was it be in the eighties with DC?
It was awesome. I got to meet and work with many of the truly foundational creators who I’d idolized from my youth, starting with Dick Giordano the Editor in Chief and my boss–but including legends like Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Julius Schwartz, Curt Swan, Gill Kane, Steve Ditko, Alex Toth and on and on. Thanks to DC, I also met Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison–and Bob Kane and Adam West! I also met many future-stars in the making; Mark Waid was an associate editor as well back then and I gave him some of his first writing work. Artists and writers such as Mike Mignola, Todd McFarlaine, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrison, Kurt Busiek and many more, were taking their first steps toward comic god-hood around DC at the time. Add to that the fact that I was busy producing fun comics such as Flash, Justice League, Justice Society, Wonder Woman, Bugs Bunny, The Shadow, El Diablo, Plastic Man, The Fly, The Phantom…but enough name-dropping, it was an amazing ten years and I was a star-struck kid from Chicago who got to play with all those wonderful toys!
Well, it was a book that no one saw coming, including those of us involved in it. It was also a genre that didn’t really exist until then either. It started as a casual idea for a Secret Origins – Alternate Origins special (annual), edited then by my pal Mark Waid–and it spontaneously exploded from there. Before anyone saw it coming the enormously talented Mike Mignola was drawing it, the equally stellar P. Craig Russell was inking it and we were a stand-alone graphic novel in “Prestige Format!” It was a super-thrill, and led to no end of fabulous opportunities. GbyG is probably my single most remembered work, and that’s great by me–I remain very proud of it. That first book went on to sell more than 500,000 copies and its sequel (Batman: Master of the Future) sold close to 200,000–so the impact of GbyG is pretty huge overall, I’d say. It led to many similar alternate looks at many DC characters and became it’s own long-running genre–quickly known as “Elseworlds.” But, we never saw any of that coming–we were just having fun and lots of it. And since we accidentally invented “Elseworlds,” much of which directly informed of the revival of the DC multiverse in the 2000s, I think I can take some credit for the New 52. :o)
As both a Writer and a Editor your name has been involved with over 150+ titles throughout your career? Any titles you look back at and say “What was I thinking?”
More often I look back and wish I had done more or better, but I’ve never spent any time regretting my choices.
Now, how do you feel about DC’s new direction? Their new Logo?
Lots of the new direction I like–some titles, such as Morrison’s Action Comics I actually love. The logo….well…
Are the young creators going to be able to uphold the Culture and History of comics? Or has new technology just made it so much easier. That they are creating their own new Culture and a new historical path into the Digital world? Does it even matter?
The future of everything is always in the hands of the next generations. I have every faith in today’s creators to keep the medium we all love alive and evolving. Comics should have died many times in the last 80 years (and maybe shouldn’t have got off the ground in the first place from a commercial point of view)-and yet, it thrives and grows. There’s no end to comics in sight.
As conventions become more common (almost on a weekly basis) does it help the industry or does it water it down some?
It doesn’t seem so. Every con still seems to generate tons of excitement and buzz–and the upcoming Phoenix Comic Con is no exception; everyone is panting for it! Cons definitely continue to spread the word on comics.
Was Mark Waid a chance for you or was he just the right guy for Flash?
Mark was a semi-unknown at the time, and as a recently former staffer, he was underestimated by many. Still, there was no real resistance to my putting him on Flash, and very quickly we were applauded for his work on the title as sales climbed and the critical appreciation began. Mark was the right choice–and he and Flash became great together. Mark continues to be the right choice on pretty much everything he does, from Kingdom Come, JLA, and Captain America to Irredeemable, Daredevil, Thrillbent and Insufferable. There’s no doubt in my mind that Waid is among the very best comics writers of all time.
What are you doing now? Future plans?
Working a few comics assignments and developing several new characters and concepts–all TBA. And to those interested, I’m always open for more work!
Is it even possible to leave the comic book world to do something else?
I think you can stop doing it, but you can’t really leave comics. And once they’re in your blood, comics never leave you. Which is a good thing I think.
Any words of advice for any new Writers or Editors out there?
Practice, keep learning, pay attention to the bigger world, take criticism gracefully and don’t give up.
Where can fans/creators find you?
I’m on Facebook. Plus I do a live (recorded) podcast every Monday from Gotham City Comics and Coffee in Mesa, AZ. Come down and join our “studio” audience. And, if you’re going to Phoenix Comic Con, look me up!
I would like to thank Brian for taking time to share some cool moments with Bleeding Cool. We also look forward in breaking the news first on his new projects. Hint Hint.