Kurt Busiek Returns To Astro City

Astro City is not new to comic fans, but the announcement of the title back at DC as an ongoing series is the latest buzz around the water cooler. Kurt Busiek, after a long absence from working on the title, is back to spin more tales of life in the big city, and the usual gang of suspects have come along to make sure that the joy ride is complete with cool drinks and loud music. In this interview, Kurt talks about keeping Astro City fine-tuned, and which new roads he might hit first with Brent Anderson and Alex Ross.

Astro City #1 is set to hit stores June 5th.


PREVIEWSworld: Once again you're working with Brent Anderson on interiors and Alex Ross on character designs and covers. The old guard returns! For this re-launched series, though, you've said that the first issue and a few others after that are single-issue stories. Was this a calculated decision? Although Astro City has a long history behind it, do you think that such an approach to "done-in-one" stories is ideal for a property that's just coming out with a #1 issue, and trying to reach a new audience? Especially now since one-shots are easy to digest when reading digital comics over a hot latte?

Kurt Busiek: Well, to be fair, we started out Astro City back in 1995 with six single-issue stories, back before digital comics were the market force they are now. But yes, it was a calculated decision -- Astro City is a big place with a lot of different kinds of things going on, so when you're introducing it (or reintroducing it, as we are now), it helps to be able to hop around and show a bunch of different things. That's why we started out with single-issue stories way back when, and it's why we've done so many over the years. We've done -- let me think -- one 16-parter, one 7-parter, one 6-parter, five two-parters and all the rest single-issue stories, if I'm remembering correctly. I like single issue stories. We don't see all that many of them in comics these days, but hey, if other people don't want to go there, I'm happy to take up the slack.

Also, the readers seem to like them -- we get lots of requests for single-issue stories. And after wrapping up the 16-part (plus prologue!) Dark Age epic, Brent and I both want to stick with shorter stories for a while, if only to cover more ground faster. So in the new series, I've written one two-parter and am finishing up a four-parter, but everything else has been a single-issue story. There are some more two-parters coming, but it'll be a while before I want to jump into something even as long as six parts. Too many things to see, too many fun short stories to tell.

PREVIEWSworld: "Bruised hope" were the words you chose to best convey a theme from this new round of stories for Astro City. Better to go on trying than deal with the alternative. What would be the "alternative" for these characters in your story? Giving up on their dreams? Giving up on trying to change the world? Which characters, past or present, could you point to in order to illustrate this philosophy?


I suppose it varies from character to character. Samaritan sees no end to his mission, but he finds the strength to keep going. Jack-In-The-Box is caught in a dilemma — can he be a hero and a responsible father? — and he finds a way. Ben Pullam is frightened of the city at first, scared of what'll happen to his kids — but he finds something positive in it, and decides to stay. But, say, Eyes Eisenstein despairs — he gives up on figuring out a way to use Jack-In-The-Box's secret to his own advantage, and in fact becomes convinced it's going to ruin him. And so he winds up on a bus out of town.

This comes up in various forms throughout the series:  the characters who can best hang onto hope seem to wind up rewarded for it, more often than not, while the characters who despair seem to leave town a lot. Astro City isn't the place for them. The Williams brothers, from the Dark Age, lose their way and fall into darkness, and don't make it back out until they find a way to hope again, find a reason to turn away from the abyss.

I'm not writing the stories with this as a mantra, I'm just telling the stories as honestly as I can, and it's a pattern I see recurring as we go. So if there's an overall theme to Astro City, which is what I'd been asked about, that's what I see. Not just in the new material, but in the series as a whole. As far as the new stuff goes, I wouldn't want to walk readers through the themes before they've even seen the stories — indeed, even after they've seen the stories, I kind of think what they get out of them is their business, so I'd be hesitant to point to a particular interpretation I want them to embrace. So when I talk about bruised hope, I'm more observing what I see in the stories looking back.

What each reader will see, looking forward — let's find out as we go!

PREVIEWSworld:  You  go on at length about which old and new characters readers can expect to see in the first dozen or so issues, but you've only alluded to the "teen-sidekick road trip," and the "resurrection quest." I looked at these two plots because they seem to best demonstrate the breathof this series: far-reaching. One minute, we're looking at the POTUS schedule, and the next were seeing a bunch of young kids piling into a car with beer. If you could summarize in your own words how you'd want people to think of this new Astro City series, what would you want to hear people say?

Kurt Busiek: I've only alluded to those two stories sketchily because I haven't actually written them yet. They're ideas I'm planning to get to (and Alex was bugging me recently to get to the road trip story sooner rather than later), but I can't go into much detail because I haven't worked out the detail. But it might interest you, since you break them out as very different kinds of story, that they may be part of the same sequence, they may happen to two different generations of the same super-team, and be entangled together. If I can make it work -- I'd like to.

As for what I hope readers will think of this new series, I hope they'll have much the same reaction we've been able to get from readers before: That it's a big, sprawling world with all kinds of unexpected, fascinating stuff going on, and it doesn't matter whether it's cosmic and universe-shaking, or mundane and personal, it's all very, very human. Astro City's about finding the human amid the superhuman, and I think there's plenty more to find.

PREVIEWSworld: Previously you've commented that if you had to do an Astro City crossover, the "Astro City crew can always make up both sides of it." So let's have some fun. What would that crossover look like?

Kurt Busiek: Beats me. I've played around with doing a "crossover" story about two heroes encountering each other in their secret identities in an airport, waiting for connecting flights, so they have a beer and a snack together and talk over their lives and adventures between planes. And we've shown a traditional cross-universe crossover in The Dark Age, when we saw Honor Guard battle an extra-dimensional hero team called the Olympians, but that wasn't even a full page. Astro City tends to put the big splashy stuff in the background and let the human stuff take center stage.

So whatever it was, it'd be about the human side of things, whether it was a normal person from one universe getting stranded in the other during this big crossover, and seeing how the two worlds were so very different, or some other thing. Most of the big crossover stories are about a big fight; what I look for in an Astro City story is what else is going on, what's happening around the corner and down the street? If I come up with a good way to use a superhero crossover-type story to illuminate that, it's certainly a story we could tell. If I don't, no big deal -- we've got a ton of other stories waiting their turn.

But I don't see much point in having Superman and Samaritan fight and then team up. If it's going to be an Astro City story worth telling, it has to be about something other than that kind of thing.

PREVIEWSworld: If you wanted to direct people to some particular web sites or address so that they could learn more about the history of Astro City, could you please point us in the direction of the yellow brick road? Where should we look for breaking news?

Kurt Busiek: Sadly, I don't have something to suggest right now. We had sites going at astrocity.us and at herocopia.com, both of which had a lot of information, but there were server problems beyond my understanding, and right now both of those sites are waiting to be rebuilt and relaunched as part of busiek.com. I hope we'll be able to get that going before the new series debuts, because it'd be nice to have it all shiny and spiffed up and waiting, but we'll have to see. After being sick for years, my online profile is kind of a mess.

There's a very nice (but partial) set of annotations here.

And hopefully there'll be more to find once we're up and running. But right this second I'd say the best way to find out about Astro City is to grab some of the comics or book collections and wade right in. We'll be glad to see you.

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