Robert Venditti earned a B.A. in Political Science and English from the University of Florida and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida. In other words, like me, Venditti has lived in the shadow of Mickey Mouse while having to daily fight off alligators with our only weapons being canes we steal from retirees. His first big break in the comic book industry as a creator was The Surrogates, published by Top Shelf Productions. Since then, he has gone on to write for Marvel Comics and worked on the graphic novel adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lighting Thief. His next big project has him writing Valiant’s relaunch of X-O Manowar.
You can learn more about Robert Venditti from his homepage here, and you can learn everything you need to know about Valiant Entertainment here. Also, Venditti loves to tweet, so follow him at @robertvenditti and follow Valiant @ValiantComics
Nicholas Yanes: I’m always fascinated by why and how people enter the comic book industry. When did you know that you wanted to write for comic books?
Robert Venditti: When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a cartoonist. To me, there was no higher calling than to draw Bugs Bunny cartoons. But even at that age, I recognized I didn’t have the talent for it. I think I turned to writing as a way of describing in words what I couldn’t draw with my hand.
When I was in grad school for Creative Writing, a friend of mine convinced me to give reading comics a try. I’m not sure why, but I’d never really read them up to that point. I started out with Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, and it struck me how complex and character-driven the stories were. It occurred to me that if I were to write comics, an artist could draw the script, and it would probably be as close to that original childhood ambition as I was ever likely to get.
That’s still the best part of the job for me. I’ve been fortunate to work with amazingly talented artists, and I have a tremendous amount of admiration for all of them.
Yanes: In regards to getting established in the industry, what advice do you have for people who want to become comic book creators? Additionally, given that you started working at Top Shelf Productions by packing boxes, would you suggest getting any job at a comic book publisher and using that as a means to pitch ideas?
Venditti: There are so many ways to break into the industry, whether it’s self-publishing, or meeting editors on the convention circuit, or volunteering to pack a thousand boxes in a publisher’s warehouse. I guess my advice would be to not limit yourself or lessen your chances by turning down what might be an opportunity in disguise. When I started working at Top Shelf, I didn’t know it would lead to a career as a comic book writer. I certainly didn’t think of the job solely as a platform for pitching stories. But ten years later, here I am. If I had looked at that warehouse job as somehow being beneath me, who knows what kind of writing career I’d have, or if I’d have one at all.
Yanes: You have a B.A. in Political Science and English and an M.A. in Creative Writing, how do you think these educational experiences shaped your writing style? Given your background, do you think having a formal education could help someone become a better writer?
Venditti: There are those who would say that formal arts education stifles creativity, but from my perspective, that just hasn’t been the case. My time spent in college has helped me immensely, not only by giving me insight into the basic craft of writing, but also by teaching me how to think critically about my work. When you’re sitting in a writing workshop listening to a dozen of your peers tell you what’s wrong with your story, you can’t help but think about the ways you can avoid repeating your mistakes. Of course, you’re always going to make mistakes – writing is a constant learning process – but at least they’ll be different ones.
Yanes: The State of Florida has been making massive cuts to public universities. Often times these cuts are made to programs in the Humanities and Social Sciences because people don’t understand their worth. Could you take a moment and share why you feel Political Science and Creative Writing Programs are worth keeping around?
Venditti: I think the perception sometimes is that arts degrees don’t give students as many career opportunities as a degree in business or engineering. Maybe that’s true. I’ve never tried to get a job in business or engineering, so I don’t know. What I do know is a lot of people who have jobs in business and engineering spend their money on entertainment, and entertainment – whether it be books, music, film, video games, or whatever – is created by people who have careers in the arts. It seems to me like a pretty symbiotic arrangement.
Yanes: Now for the fun stuff. Valiant is making its big comeback this summer. What’s it like to be part of a comic book company that still has so many loyal fans hungry for the Valiant Universe?
Venditti: I’m always trying to challenge myself with new things. I’ve done creator-owned work, and I’ve written established characters, but I’ve never written a story as part of a shared universe. When Warren Simons, Valiant’s Executive Editor, reached out to me and told me about the company’s plans to relaunch their line, I was immediately onboard. It isn’t every day that you get the chance to not only reimagine a character, but shape an entire universe.
Yanes: The title that you will be writing for Valiant is X-O Manowar. How does it feel to be able to write a title that not only has such a strong fanbase, but is also just a cool concept?
Venditti: It’s a lot of fun. The enthusiasm the fans have shown ever since Valiant announced the title has been really positive. It doesn’t hurt when an announcement is accompanied by pages of Roman legions and alien soldiers drawn by Cary Nord.
Yanes: There are two distinct versions of X-O Manowar. The original centered on Aric, a man from the 5th Century who is abducted by aliens and steals the X-O Manowar from these aliens. The other version is from when Acclaim Comics owned the title and the series focused on a modern-day scientist who gains possession of the armor. Are you going to be able to touch upon both versions of the character or just one?
Venditti: We’ll be sticking with the original version. It’s a concept open to so many possibilities, not just in terms of telling epic, action-oriented stories, but also in the extent to which those stories can be layered with themes and subtext. Aric of Dacia is such a great character. He’s what drew me to this project.
Yanes: X-O Manowar was first published in 1992. In the past 20 years, the way people interact with technology has changed tremendously. It has changed so much that many things presented in science fiction in the late 80s and early 90s are now science fact. What are some of the challenges in making an alien piece of technology seem advanced when the average reader has been normalized to futuristic technology?
Venditti: Technology grows at such an exponential rate, and the world is vastly different than it was twenty years ago, but the X-O Manowar armor is far from being something readers would be familiar with. It’s a sentient piece of military hardware with capabilities that Aric will have to discover on his own. And if fans of the original series think they’ve seen everything the armor has to offer, they’d better think again. We have some surprises in store, including one new ability that will be the key to the first year of the series.
Yanes: Your book, The Surrogates, was adapted into a movie. And you worked on the graphic novel adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lighting Thief – a book series that also became a movie franchise. When you sit down to write X-O Manowar, are you solely thinking about a story for the comic book medium, or a narrative that can be adapted into movies and videogames?
Venditti: The adaptation stuff is nice, but it certainly isn’t anything that you can count on. When you consider the enormous volume of stories that are produced every year – comics, novels, screenplays, and so on – the chances of any particular one getting made into a film are pretty remote. When I wrote The Surrogates, I didn’t know if it would get published, much less end up in theatres. And I started The Homeland Directive long before The Surrogates was even optioned.
Seeing an artist turn one of my scripts into finished art is such a thrill. It never gets old. Everything after that is gravy.
Yanes: In addition to plans for X-O Manowar, what are some other projects that you are working on that your fans can look forward to?
Venditti: I’m continuing to adapt the Percy Jackson novels, and The Sea of Monsters and The Titan’s Curse will both be out in 2013. I have two other adaptations I’m writing for Disney/Hyperion – one with Alina Urusov and the other with Nate Powell – but they haven’t been announced yet. This summer, Brett Weldele and I are returning to the world of The Surrogates with The Surrogates: Case Files, a series of self-contained, single-issue stories, each one dealing with a different surrogate-related crime. I have a few new creator-owned projects in the works, too. This year is shaping up to be my busiest year so far, by far. And that’s a good thing.
Remember, you can learn more about Robert Venditti from his homepage here, and you can learn everything you need to know about Valiant Entertainment here. And remember, Venditti loves to tweet, so follow him at @robertvenditti