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Chuck Dixon:
The Interview

by Michael Hutchison

It is appropriate that Chuck should do this interview for the Fanzing #20, as he is certainly "My Hero"! Not only did we get along well at WizardWorld…not only did he readily agree to do an interview for Fanzing…BUT, when our plans for this month's interview fell through a couple days before deadline, he came to our rescue! Chuck bumped his interview up a month and answered all the questions with time to spare. Wow! He IS a fast typist…and with three monthly comics (Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey) plus whatever extra projects he gets tossed his way, he's not exactly a dude with plenty of free time. Chuck is, more than anything, a genuinely nice guy.

Fanzing: What's your take on Kyle Rayner? You've written him more than anyone except Ron Marz himself (Green Arrow, The New Corps) and show a better understanding of him than most of the other writers who have taken a stab at him.

Chuck Dixon Chuck Dixon: I guess he'd be like any of us if we got a magic ring that could do anything we imagine. He's supremely confident in the power of that ring, and after practice, more and more confident in his abilities to control it. The cool thing about Green Lantern is that the ring is actually useless without an intellect to drive it. But Kyle works hard to make, what is actually strenuous mental exercise, look easy.

Fanzing: James Robinson (JSA, Starman) said in an interview that he thinks you are the best writer working at DC right now and that he makes it a point to get Nightwing and Birds of Prey every month. How do you feel about his work, if you can say?

Chuck Dixon: Wow. I never knew that. Have to admit I'm a little blown away by that. I think most of us work in a void and assume that everyone else despises their work. At least that's the way I feel. I effused all over James at Chicago for the great job he and David Goyer did on last year's JSA stunt. It was a real pleasure to work on and those guys had knocked themselves out to make it a solid crossover with no waste. I think James is a great writer whose love of the medium comes out in his work. But it was in reading his scripts that I really got the feeling for his deep affection of the Golden Age characters. There's so much cynicism and "too cool for school" attitude in this business. But James' work bypasses all that crap and works to elevate the books he works on and brings all of us into his vision for each character. I respect that a lot. James brings a lot of heart to his work. He's among a small minority of writers whom I'd rank as top talents in this medium.

Fanzing: What comics do you read on a regular basis?

Chuck Dixon: None. I cherry-pick through the comps and the stuff I buy. I buy a lot more comics than I ever get to read. I enjoy Savage Dragon, Superboy, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers. I read them in chunks. A few times a year I'll go on a reading spree and plow through a whole bunch of them. I also enjoy anything by Larry Hama or Kelly Puckett. Ty Templeton too. His recent Plastic Man special was laugh out loud funny. A real smart piece of work.

Fanzing: What's the very latest on the status of Green Arrow (both Ollie Queen and Connor Hawke)? Aside from what he's doing to delay the launch of a New G.A. book, what do you think of Kevin Smith as a writer?

Chuck Dixon: The delay is all I know about. I've honestly never read a Kevin Smith comic. I was waiting to read Green Arrow. I saw Clerks.

Fanzing: What are some of your favorite books and authors?

Chuck Dixon: I covered some of this above. I also like Daniel Clowes. He's able to do things with a comic page that most others can't. He's one of the few guys who can create mood in static pictures. But when you pull the work apart and really examine it it's difficult to see HOW he achieved that. He's simply a natural talent. My main influences have been Archie Goodwin, Harvey Kurtzman and Frank Robbins. I just realized that you might mean "real" books and authors; the kind without pictures. Well, Joseph Wambaugh, Cornell Woolrich, Charles Willeford, Cormac MacCarthy, Donald Westlake. Some of my favorite books have been I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, Kahawa by Westlake. Woolrich's Rhapsody In Black is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. It's a revenge story that continually defies your expectations. He even has a chapter in there told from the point of view of a blind person. Try THAT one at home! I also love historical fiction. There's a novel called Eagle In The Snow by Wallace Breem. It's about Roman legions along the Danube in the second century AD.

Fanzing: You're definitely one of the most action-oriented writers in comics. Why do you like action so much? Does this hold up in the entertainment you choose for yourself such as TV and movies?

Chuck Dixon: The kind of comics I write should be action-oriented. I feel the readers expect it when they pick up a superhero/masked vigilante book. And it's a challenge to come up with fresh action stuff and put it across in a convincing manner. And it IS a visual medium. In my own choices in movies I'm drawn toward the shoot-em-up. Anything from westerns to Hong Kong actioners. But I also love older movies like Preston Sturges or any of the screwball comedies. I'm a big Buster Keaton fan and an awful lot of his stuff translates to comics. And I'm wild about samurai movies and spaghetti westerns. But I'll watch just about any movie.

Fanzing: The Nightwing of the Titans (back in the 1980's) encountered space aliens, demons and other supernatural or magical beings on a regular basis. The Nightwing of Blüdhaven is much more grounded in reality, almost to the point of forgetting those elements of his life… he remarked that he was "freaked out" by Superman's flight ability, for instance. Do you anticipate any changes in tone to the Nightwing series now that Dick Grayson is part of an active Titans team again?

Chuck Dixon: Nope.

Fanzing: How difficult is it to share characters like Robin and Nightwing with the writers of their respective team books? Is there a conflict when writers have very different takes on the characters' personalities. I'm thinking of the implication in Nightwing that Dick Grayson might be a practicing Christian versus his sexual fling with the Huntress in Devin Grayson's mini series, but I'm sure there are other examples. Do you feel such inconsistencies need to be resolved, or is having a variety of different "takes" on some characters good for the industry in today's market?

Chuck Dixon: You believe what you wish to believe. If someone prefers Peter David's take on Robin over mine then so be it. But the two versions aren't that dissimilar. And, while I wasn't crazy about what Devin did with Nightwing and Huntress (just the sex part, I thought the mini was brilliant) it did give me lots of grist for my series. And she handled it in a very believable way which made it impossible to just ignore.

Fanzing: I haven't caught up on a couple year's worth of "Nightwing", so excuse me if this is an ignorant question…but have you done a story where Nightwing finally put his feelings for Starfire behind him or where the two of them have resolved their relationship?

Chuck Dixon: Starfire's never been mentioned by name in Nightwing.

Fanzing: Birds of Prey #8 was very moving, as Dick Grayson tried to romance Barbara Gordon while she seemed to push him away. Where did you get the inspiration for this?

Chuck Dixon: Real life.

Fanzing: How did you come to work on "Guy Gardner"?

Chuck Dixon: I was promised a long run with Joe Staton, an artist I admire and a guy I like a lot. When Joe left it was kept a secret from me for a few issues. When I found out Joe had been fired from the book I quit.

Fanzing: Here's a question about the portrayal of the sibling relationship between Guy Gardner and his older brother in "Guy Gardner: Year One" (GG # 11 - 14). It was very true-to-life. Did you write this from personal experience, either as an idolized big brother or an idolizing little brother?

Chuck Dixon: I think a writer has to be somewhat of an actor. I put myself into their roles and "acted it out" through the story. I've never had a life experience like either character. I don't have a brother. But I know enough about human nature to fake it.

Fanzing: Exactly HOW do you put out three or more books at a time? How much time per week do you devote to typing a story?

Chuck Dixon: The typing takes no time at all. Thinking of a story can take anywhere from one day to two years. I am CONSTANTLY running story elements through my head. It never stops. Sitting down and scripting is the lesser part of what I do. I can do a whole issue in one day. But it usually works out over three. And sometimes I'm working on two or more stories at the same time, bouncing back and forth.

Fanzing: Can you explain the difference between full scripting and the "Marvel Way" of writing a story? Which do you prefer and why? I

Chuck Dixon: I prefer full scripting because that way I've put the story over to the penciler as I saw it. It also makes me think of every aspect of the story as I have to put down every panel and every line of dialogue. A plot is a very loose and informal recitation of the story and leaves too much room for errors on both my part and the artist's. Plotting seems lazy to me. The Lee and Kirby method worked for Lee and Kirby. But other than that it's a rare team that can make the "Marvel Way" perform well.

Fanzing: How did you come up with the "Birds of Prey" concept? And why do you call it that when Oracle isn't a bird?

Chuck Dixon: Jordan Gorfinkel came up the brainstorm to put Dinah and Babs together. It was up to me to make the team work. But Gorf had great instincts and Babs and Dinah have enough similarities and differences to make a continually interesting pairing. Birds of Prey was thrown out there with a bunch of titles and that's the one everyone liked. I can't explain the sense of it. But the girls never use the term inside the book. It's just a title.

Fanzing: Birds of Prey seems like it would make a great TV show if done in an action/adventure style. Has there been any interest in this?

Chuck Dixon: I'm not free to comment on that at the moment. So you know what the answer is.

Fanzing: How does one write an action scene? Are you very descriptive or do you leave it up to the artist?

Chuck Dixon: Depends on the artist. Graham Nolan or Rodolfo Damaggio don't need to be told much. It also depends on the scene. I sometimes write very complex action scenes in odd locales. That takes some description. I also want the fights to have a flow to them. And many times I need the fight to have a destination in mind. If you visit my website you'll find a complete script there and you can see how it's done.

Fanzing: The inevitable question. How did you get into comics?

Chuck Dixon: I was sick a lot as a kid. My mom and dad (and everyone else) brought me comics. I wanted to get into comics as a career from my earliest memories. I would make runs at the comic companies getting various degrees of rejection or encouragement. Finally I found an editor with faith in me and never looked back.

Fanzing: You stick mostly to the down-to-earth characters these days. Are there any characters beyond the Bat-Universe that you'd care to write?

Chuck Dixon: The Lone Ranger and the Fantastic Four.

Fanzing: You were the one who made the Zero Hour change that Batman never found the murderer of his parents. Is it really so necessary for Batman to not solve that crime? Do you see him on a quest for vengeance or is the murder something which affected his philosophy? Could you really see Batman hanging up the cape if he solved his parents' murder?

Chuck Dixon: I think he would retire as Batman after gaining justice for his parents. There would be little point to continue, he's satisfied his vow to them. You have to remember that the original Joe Chill story came relatively late in Batman's run (more than ten years after his first appearance.) I just hated that that story was canon. It made Batman's whole story too pat.

Fanzing: You've mentioned in the past that you'd like to see DC sell reprint digests again (much like the "Archie" digests which are always in the grocery checkout aisle). That's an idea I'm for, as people could tell from the Fanzing Special Report this month. Have you seriously proposed this to someone at DC? What are the arguments against it?

Chuck Dixon: I've talked about, as have many others, until they're sick of hearing me.

Fanzing: What is your favorite Batman story ever? Of the Batman stories you've written, which one is a favorite?

Chuck Dixon: My favorite Batman story from a nostalgic angle would be "THE STRANGE COSTUMES OF THE BATMAN" recently reprinted in the Batman Annual facsimile. Another one is NIGHT OF THE STALKERS done during Archie Goodwin's stint as editor on DETECTIVE. Of my own stories I'd have to say DETECTIVE 664, "WHO RULES THE NIGHT", the one just after Bane has broken Batman's back. Graham really did an amazing job on that one.

Fanzing: You're a pretty big gun owner. What's your opinion of "Batman: Seduction of the Gun"? (I know we talked about this personally, but others at Fanzing have asked as well!)

Chuck Dixon: I thought it was very political and did not present both sides of the issue. It took a very politically correct line and was pure propaganda. Not an ounce of honest thought in the entire story.

Fanzing: What are some of the big challenges of being a prolific writer and a family man? Are there times when it's hard to balance? Do you write around the clock or do you restrict yourself to so-much-time-per-day?

Chuck Dixon: I spend more time with my kids than anyone I know. I work around their schedules rather than having them live around mine.

Fanzing: Do you see ways in which your upbringing affects the way you write your characters?

Chuck Dixon: Lots of Catholic guilt seems to seep through. Particularly in the case of Robin. My dad's a tough old bird and I've gotten a lot of mileage from things he's said and done. He's possibly the most honest man I've ever met and has more integrity than anyone I've ever known. And I've never seen him back down from a fight. A better grounding for superheroes would be hard to find.

Fanzing: For me, Birds of Prey is notable because the lead characters, both females, are so much more realistic than the usual portrayal of women in comics. How DO you write women so well?

Chuck Dixon: I like women and don't mind putting the time in to observe them. Women are different from men but in no way is that a negative. Women are far tougher than men in all the important ways. Women can use both sides of their brains at once. They can emote and intellectualize at the same time. That's something no man can ever do. I don't believe all the ultra-feminist nonsense but I do believe that women are a civilizing influence on man. And we'd all still be hunting and gathering and living in caves if it weren't for them. They're a fascinating subject and I think my fascination for them shows in my work.

Fanzing: Do you ever get complaints (legitimate, not crank letters) that your writing of female characters is NOT up to snuff?

Chuck Dixon: I've never heard that and I've written a LOT of females. From Evangeline and Valkyrie to the Birds.

Fanzing: What is most rewarding about being a comic book writer?

Chuck Dixon: The thing that really shines about it above all else (and 99% of comic writing is nothing short of rewarding) is seeing my words turned into pictures by some of the greatest talents in the business. If you had told me when I was a kid that Joe Kubert or Russ Heath or John Severin or John Buscema would one day illustrate what I had written I wouldn't have believed it possible. And I work with some of the greatest guys today. Nothing tops that.

Fanzing: Who is your favorite villain and why?

Chuck Dixon: Doctor Doom. There's a lot to feel sympathetic about towards vonDoom. He lost his family and his greatest love and then his face. No wonder the guy's bitter. There's a lot of depth to this character.

Fanzing: What did you like about writing Guy Gardner?

Chuck Dixon: Trying to redeem Guy. Sure he was abrasive and opinionated but he wasn't the moron everyone seemed to be writing him as. I liked him because he wasn't a goody twoshoes but he wasn't a dark and "gritty" character either.

Fanzing: Is there a reason you prefer human characters to superheroes (by which I mean those with superpowers)?

Chuck Dixon: Those are the ones I'm assigned!

Fanzing: Will we be seeing a sequel to "Justice Riders"?

Chuck Dixon: There is a sequel in the works. We're waiting on a particular artist. It would deal with the Teen Titans and would take place in the same western universe as the first one with many cross references.

Fanzing: What can we expect to see from you in the next year (that you can reveal)?

Chuck Dixon: Superman/Aliens 2 by me and Jon Bogdanove with inks by Kevin Nowlan. And more of my regular monthlies.

Fanzing: What would you do if you ever stopped writing comic books?

Chuck Dixon: Die.

Fanzing: And on that pleasant note, we would like to thank Chuck Dixon for this interview!

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Michael Hutchison.