Originally published in June of 2001. I read some of Steven Grant’s comics when I was young but not very many. In particular I enjoyed his run on the Punisher. I became more familiar with him through his Master of the Obvious column on ComicBookResources website. I discovered he was a very intelligent man and we had some of the same interests. Grant had just started getting work at Marvel again and I asked him for an interview to talk about that, his non-Marvel work, his columns and other ventures.
An Interview With Steven Grant
Steven Grant is today best known for his Master of the Obvious (MOTO) column on ComicbookResources.com and his recent run on Marvel’s X- MAN. His past comic book credits include Punisher, The Pope John Paul XXIII biography and Whisper. In this interview he reveals some info about his MOTO column, his thoughts on writing comics and more.
Jamie: For a while you seemed to have disappeared from the comic industry’s radar. Then one day you’re on CBR and then X-Men, thanks in part to Warren Ellis. How important has Warren been to your recent career?
Steven Grant: Oh, projects come and go. I’ll go for blocks of time without seeing print but I’m generally working. I’m friends with Warren and he puts in the good word for me now and then, but in terms of my recent work… Warren was completely responsible for my association with X-MAN. He asked me to do it. I was more than happy to and I liked his concept a lot. I could have gone another two or three years on it easily. But Warren had nothing at all to do with MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS. That was Gail Simone who put me forward for that. As a matter of fact, I put Warren together with CBR for his column. He’d been talking with someone else about doing one and that fell through due to the insanely stupid terms he was being offered. I mentioned it to Jonah (who runs CBR) and he asked me to put him in touch with Warren.
Jamie: You’ve done a large amount of work outside the comic industry. How has that helped you as a fiction writer?
Steven Grant: I don’t know that it’s helped me at all. Everything’s its own discipline. If nothing else, it has given me points of comparison that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m maybe more familiar with non-comics structures and dialogue constructions, but you could say that about any number of comics writers.
Jamie: Do you get more satisfaction writing comics than your work outside the industry?
Steven Grant: It depends on the particular project. You get your satisfaction where you find it. It can be money, it can be one little character bit or dialogue exchange you get in there, or the pleasure of developing a particular storyline a particular way. But you should only look for enough satisfaction to keep you going. I don’t think writers should ever be very satisfied. Satisfied writers don’t write. It’s really the flaws in work that keep writers writing, that mar they see they didn’t see while they were doing it, and the desire to try it one more time to get it right. People who are satisfied with their work don’t try to do better work.
Jamie: Are there jobs you take strictly for money satisfaction?
Steven Grant: The money’s never the satisfying part. Staying alive another week, that’s the satisfying part.
Jamie: Reading through your bibliography, I noticed you worked for a wide variety of publishers. If you had the money, would you self publish comics?
Steven Grant: Absolutely, though I’d probably mask it so it wouldn’t look that way to booksellers. And I’d find a partner who knew something about business and marketing. But it would be lovely to have a situation where I didn’t have to flog ideas to death before I could produce them, just up and go and get the material out while it was still fresh to me. That’s a big drawback with comics these days, it takes way too long to get anything in the pipeline. There are moments of inspiration, but that burns out fairly quickly, and there you are, two years down the line finally pumping out material you thought of two years earlier instead of what’s burning you up inside at the time. There’s really no reason it should take more than three months from conception to presentation. A self-publishing gig would give me the ability to do that.
Jamie: I know you’re doing something through Platinum Studios. What is it and how does that work? I know Platinum isn’t a ‘normal’ publisher.
Steven Grant: I’m not entirely sure, actually. You should really talk to Lee Nordling or Scott Mitchell Rosenberg about it. Basically, Platinum is a “broker.” They put projects together, largely to secure film rights to them so they have material to pitch around Hollywood, then find publishers for it. But until they actually start publication somewhere, it’s still just speculation. Things could change as they adapt to conditions. We’ll see.
Jamie: I noticed you’re doing a crime comic called CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES for Fantagraphics/Eros, which is different as Eros is known mainly for porn. I’m assuming there will be some sex in it or it wouldn’t be published there. Still many established comic writers don’t go near porn comics. Why are you doing it and why do you think other writers don’t?
Steven Grant: I’m doing it for fun, because Gary asked me to, and because a lot of other writers won’t. There’s still a lot of stigma attached to porn in our society, so that doesn’t surprise me. I don’t have any particular affection for porn, but I’d never done porn so I was curious to see what I could do, and it’s as much a crime comic as a porn comic and I want to do crime comics. Gary’s giving me the chance to do a crime comic. I actually go way past most porn in CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES because, unlike most porn, sex and violence are intimately connected in it; virtually synonymous, and they’re both way over the top. I don’t think porn fans are going to be very comfortable with the sexual content in the book. Men don’t fare very well in it.
Jamie: What can you tell us about your new Whisper: Day X Graphic Novel?
Steven Grant: The last WHISPER story came out in 1991. This story takes place in 2000, and concerns her being leveraged out of retirement by an FBI agent who wants her to help him investigate a terrorist movement. It re-immerses her in the “shadow politics” milieu she spent most of her series in, as she unravels a plot tracing back half a century. All the supporting characters are there in very changed situations, but no one will have to be familiar with WHISPER to get it. I don’t think she’ll appear in costume in the novel.
Jamie: Do you think you’ll be able to get your old Whisper work back in print?
Steven Grant: Not likely. I have no idea where the film is. Ideally, I’d hire one artist to redraw all the scripts, but I don’t see that happening either. I don’t have the money and I don’t know a publisher who has the interest.
Jamie: You are one of the few writers that goes into politics with your writing. Why do you think creators and the industry stay away from political stories?
Steven Grant: I’m not sure many of them have any real interest in politics, but you’d have to ask them. I’m fascinated by politics, but my background’s very political. Campus radicals and all that.
Jamie: Okay this interests me. How did you become a radical, what were you protesting?
Steven Grant: I grew up in Madison WI, the Berkeley of the Midwest, in the late 60s and early 70s. Trying to stop the Vietnam War and social injustice, know what I mean? It wasn’t something you became, it was just in the air then. Antiwar marches, underground newspapers, that sort of thing. Never bombed anything.
Jamie: In doing WWF Wrestling Comics for Chaos, the stories seem to go into fantasy. You ever wonder how a comic about behind the scenes involving Wrestlers would do?
Steven Grant: Knowing quite a bit about wrestling behind the scenes, I think it’d be pretty much like doing a comic about plumbing behind the scenes. There are occasionally scenarios such as those documented in films like BEYOND THE MAT and WRESTLING WITH SHADOWS, but for the most part wrestlers lead fairly ordinary lives. They have wives and kids, they have mortgages, etc. But the WWF Comics I wrote for Chaos were fiction but pretty much steered clear of what most people consider fantasy. But those were based on the ring personae of wrestlers, not on their real selves.
Jamie: I know it’s cliche, but do you want to create the great American novel?
Steven Grant: Oh, sure. But there are so many great American novels out there it makes my eyes bleed, and there’s no money in it. If I could go a year or two without having to worry about money, I’d be happy to write a Great American Novel, but I make my living at this, so I can’t afford to take a year or two off. Novels are a lot of work, particularly if they’re done well.
Jamie: You created @venture as an outlet for prose writing for comic writers. Are you at all worried about getting stories and ideas stolen by giving your work away for free online?
Steven Grant: No. Once they’re published, regardless of venue, they’re published and entitled to the protections accorded any form of publication. There’s no more concern about theft and plagiarism than if they’re published in PLAYBOY. Web publication doesn’t warranty anyone against getting sued for plagiarism, either way.
Jamie: @venture now has a number of stories by a variety of comic writers. Do you consider this a success or do you still have a bigger vision of what the site should be doing?
Steven Grant: Unfortunately, @VENTURE’s been in limbo for the past several months as my time has been completely eaten up by personal things. I’ve never been able to promote the site to my satisfaction, and I want to promote not to make money off the site but so the writers can benefit from publication of their work.
Jamie: You’ve written/writing two stories for @venture, do you want them both turned into comics?
Steven Grant: No. If I’d wanted to do them as comics, I’d have done them as comics.
Jamie: You’ve mentioned on @venture that you have a fetish for the name Elvis. Why?
Steven Grant: No, no, I said I DON’T have a fetish for the name Elvis. It just works well with other words, and, due to Presley, has cultural connotations that work as jokes. So I use the name periodically.
Jamie: Were you surprised by some submissions to @venture?
Steven Grant: Not really. Most writers have something unexpected percolating in them that they have no venue for.
Jamie: You’ve been doing Master of the Obvious since August 1999, which is a pretty good run. Do you see yourself stopping anytime soon?
Steven Grant: I know when it’s stopping, if that’s what you mean. I’ve had it planned from the start. But I’m not saying when.
Jamie: Do you think MOTO helped or hurt you in getting you work in the industry?
Steven Grant: I don’t think it’s had any effect on that one way or the other. I know quite a few highly placed people read it regularly.
Jamie: What MOTO columns did you get the biggest backlash from?
Steven Grant: Probably the column where I compared the Bush Presidency to the Luthor Presidency. A lot of conservatives got very upset with that one, pretty much doubling my hit rate. I wish I had a column like that in me every week. There have been some columns specifically to do with comics that raised a ruckus, but I don’t recall which ones they were offhand.
Jamie: I can’t believe you devoted a whole MOTO column to something as fanboyish as Thor vs. Hulk. Why on earth did you do it?!?
Steven Grant: Fanboys read the column too! The reason you can’t believe I did it is because I didn’t. Maybe a quarter of the column involved whether Thor or The Hulk was stronger, and I used it for an anchor for other points. Besides, there’s nothing that isn’t worth talking about, if you’ve got an angle on it.
Jamie: Recently in MOTO you’ve been trying to get people to accept Zines as a replacement term for indy & progressive comics. Why use the word Zines?
Steven Grant: It sounds vaguely familiar to most people, yet vaguely unfamiliar at the same time. It’s a word whose meaning can be easily molded to our purposes, it’s simple to say and remember (which is important to redefining associations) and it doesn’t sound like comics or comic book or graphic entertainment or any number of other terms. And it does have some connection to us.
Jamie: This was tried before using Comix, do you think you’ll be more successful than they were?
Steven Grant: Oh, I don’t expect to be successful with it. But anything’s worth a try; what do we have to lose? Actually, “comix” as a term for undergrounds was pretty successful, it only faded because Supreme Court rulings on obscenity put underground comix out of business. “Comix” referred to a specific type of product and it didn’t take long for the association to form. Some of them, like FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS, were outselling Marvels at the time. It was attempts to apply “comix” to things like AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and BATMAN that didn’t catch on.
Jamie: Do you think zine should replace the term Graphic Novel?
Steven Grant: No, graphic novel sums itself up pretty well. But you can’t call periodical publications graphic novels.
Jamie: Warren Ellis is putting his Come in Alone in print, do you see that happening with MOTO?
Steven Grant: Larry Young and I are sorting that out right now. There will probably be two MOTO collections.
Jamie: What is Paper Movies website going to be about?
Steven Grant: It’s going to launch a reinterpretation of the comics medium.
Jamie: Where did you come up with the name Paper Movies?
Steven Grant: I thought about how most people would best respond to comic books and decided the best way to pitch them was to tie them into something people were already familiar with and understood: movies. Everyone watches movies. It’s my guess that designing comics that approximate that experience is the best way to draw a new audience to the medium. Hence Paper Movies: movies you can read anywhere.
Jamie: Isn’t Paper Movies as a term for comics an oxymoron? Movies are called that because they are moving pictures. Comic pictures don’t actually move.
Steven Grant: Neither do movies. Movement in movies is an illusion, a trick of perception. Comics require a more conscious conspiracy between creator and reader to generate an illusion of movement, but the basic principle isn’t all that different. It’s the story that moves the movie and the comic book along, not the mechanicals.
Jamie: How will your Delphi forum called Graphic Violence be different than Warren Ellis’s forum?
Steven Grant: That’s something only time will tell. Our focus will be a little different, though.