As I have mentioned many times, one of the great perks I get from this wonderful job is to have an opportunity to talk to a wide variety of talented creators that I would otherwise never have. Such is the case with our next guest. He is a multi-talented writer, artist and animator who has worked for a myriad of comic companies. These include Marvel, DC, and various independent companies as both artist and writer. These days, after stepping away from comics, he is collaborating with friend and fellow artist Patrick Olliffe on the ComiXology Original, EdgeWorld. We welcome writer, artist, Chuck Austen to Geek Vibes Interview.
GVL:Thanks for giving us some of your time Chuck.
CA: Really nice of you to have me. Thank you.
The Early Years
GVL: So let’s talk a little about your beginnings. When did you take an interest in writing and art and what were your early inspirations?
CA: Oh, well I’ve been writing since infancy, I guess. Not well, of course, but even back then it was always a passion. Art, photography… anything creative, really. But writing is something I always come back to as my greatest passion.
Writers and Artists
GVL: Whose work did you admire in those early years?
CA: Pretty much everyone and everything I saw. Even work I didn’t care for spun my mind out indifferent directions, and spurred creativity. But as to people I loved… PG Wodehouse. Dick Francis. Douglas Adams. Hitchhiker’s Guide got me through high school with my sanity intact. Ray Bradbury is a perennial favorite. Larry Niven’s books were a thrill to me, especially his Known Space books, and shorts, especially the Belter stuff. Heinlein. Aurthur C. Clarke had a huge impact on me, particularly Childhood’s End. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World nailed me to the wall, as did Island. Stephen King, obviously. It, especially, but a lot of his shorts. Dean Koontz.
As to comics and art… Kirby, as a kid. Then I got to hate him and the square fingers, and now I love him again. Kamandi was my favorite. Neal Adams as a teen/adult. Frazetta. Claremont/Byrne on X-Men. Gil Kane. I mean, was there someone out there who didn’t love Gil Kane in those years? One leg straight, one leg bent, some guy in the foreground looking out at the reader, as if inviting them into the scene? Loved that. Especially when it was inked by Romita. Conan the Barbarian was a favorite series of mine, and he did a lot of those covers. John Buscema. Sal Buscema. Ross Andru on Spiderman. I don’t know. The list is endless. I could go on and on.
GVL: You are speaking my language, especially with the artists. Every single one. Especially the Buscema’s. I thought John and Sal were as close to perfect artists as there could be. Did you prefer writing or drawing during that time and who encouraged your aspirations?
CA: I was enthralled with both, equally. Which is probably why I gravitated toward comics. Story is still paramount to me, though, even in drawing. I’ve never been an illustrator, per se. It’s always about some kind of story.
Chuck’s Big Breaks
GVL: Who gave you your first professional opportunity and how many times did you have to knock on that door before it opened?
CA: Depends on in which field we’re talking. I’ve had multiple careers. My first animation job came from meeting a man named Steve Snyder at Mediagenic, the corporate name of Activision for a while. He was the art director, and needed artists who understood the computer, which was rare, at the time. I didn’t know computers when he and I met, but he gave me one to learn on, and after a couple weeks, I’d learned enough that he offered me a job. Took me from starving artist to employed in a decent tax bracket within one year, and I will be forever grateful to Steve for that.
For comics, it was Joe Quesada who took a chance on a storyboard artist on hiatus. For writing, it was Mark Powers, then editor of the X-Men line at Marvel. He saw something I’d done called US War Machine, an alternate dimension spinoff of the Iron Man franchise long before the movies, and liked what he was reading. He asked if I wanted to write X-Men, and my comics infamy was born!
The Way Chuck and Patrick Work
GVL: I’ve read a little bit about that. Fan’s are so passionate about their favorites they sometime become intolerant when changes are made. Not that I need to tell you that, you have lived it. So, as a writer and an artist, do you ever contemplate how you yourself might draw a story you have written, and does that influence how you structure your work?
CA: Always. In fact, I write full scripts for the artists I work with in comics. Or, nowadays, the artist—singular—I work with, because I only work with Pat. Since I already think visually, and am essentially storyboarding in my head, I give Pat very specific visual instructions, which he then uses as a springboard for his pages. He didn’t like working from full scripts until we started working together but he appreciates my visual sense. It helps him ‘see’ what the story could be. It doesn’t mean he follows my ideas slavishly. He has room to interpret. But it’s certainly a good shorthand.
GVL: That is something I find so interesting when I talk to different creators. They all have their preferences how they work whether it is full script or just outline. It just comes down which works best on that particular project. You are working with your good friend Patrick Olliffe on your new title EdgeWorld. Was this something you and he have wanted to do for awhile?
CA: Oh, yeah. He and I have tried to work together for many years, even after I left comics. We’ve thrown around a half-dozen ideas, and even done scripts and designs for some of them. But as to Edgeworld, that’s been about two years. Maybe a little more. We had wanted to work on something that was ours, and we’d gone through several ideas before we got to Edgeworld.
The Inspiration for EdgeWorld
GVL: What was your inspiration for EdgeWorld? Was this something you had already started writing before bringing in Patrick?–
CA: It was an idea that had been floating around in my head for quite a few years, but hadn’t solidified. I have a love of history, and how it repeats itself, and the speculative fun of science fiction allows you to deal with the past, and the future, as tools for commenting on today. Specifically for Edgeworld, I had this idea for taking something like the East India Company, putting them in outer space, and blending in my love of old westerns, Star Wars, and Star Trek and the idea was kind of taking over my personal creative life.
I kept thinking about it when I should have been working on something else. The world got interesting, and deep, but not terribly specific as to what Edgeworld became. All these ideas were sort of melting, and running together in my brain when Pat came calling, looking to revive a different old project that he and I had attempted years earlier called “I Am Vengeance.” Instead we wound up doing this, and we’re having a blast.
Outworld becomes EdgeWorld
First, of course, we tried that older idea… but it went nowhere, and one day we were on the phone, trying to think of what we COULD do together, when I said. “Well, I’ve got this one idea floating around my head…” and I told him about Edgeworld. It was called Outworld, then. He got really excited—we have a lot of the same childhood influences—he did a sketch, I wrote a script, and within a few months the thing had taken on a life of its own.
It started getting very specific in my conversations with Pat, so he and I are truly fifty-fifty collaborators on this thing. We wound up with a dozen sketches, I’d written five or six scripts, outlined some ideas for the series, and written character descriptions. We had no one to pitch to—hadn’t even discussed whom to pitch it to—and yet we had the makings of a pitch package without even really trying. So it’s entirely collaborative, between me and Pat. I really had nothing but a few germs of some slivers of some ideas until he got interested.
GVL: I always love to learn the background information that goes into project creation. When you see the final result, you never realize all that went into it. Speaking of the final result, the color work of Lee Loughridge is very distinct. A nice variation between past events (seen through a yellowish hue) and the current one. Was Lee someone Patrick and you have worked with in the past?
CA: I’d never worked with Lee, no. I don’t even know if he was working in comics back when I was fifteen years ago. He was recommended by Chip Mosher, my friend, and contact with comiXology. When Lee began Edgeworld I think we might have had an email exchange about our thoughts on color—and I know Pat got very specific with Lee on what he wanted, and I let Pat drive the look. I did mention that I wanted to see the past though an idyllic lens, and the present as a grimy ‘now’. But Lee really pulled it together on his own, and with Pat, and gave Pat something he and I both loved. For Lee’s part, he took every note Pat had, and even gave it a kind of subtle painterly look that surprised us both—in a good way.
GVL: I have always been a fan of both westerns and Science Fiction and you have managed to merge them very nicely.
CA: Thank you. Yeah, I’m a huge fan of both genres, too. I think it works when you think of space as a frontier, and for Pat and me it’s foremost about the science fiction, with the western second.Original Trek was pitched as Wagon Train in Space for the same reason. They’re two genres that mix together well.
GVL: At this point, if your book is well received, can you see future stories in this world?
CA: Oh, I’ve already written about fifteen scripts. We had about ten when we finally pitched it. I overwhelmed my editor, Bis. All we’re doing at this point is figuring out which order is best to put them in. I’ve had no shortage of ideas for this series, so I definitely see a future, if people want more. Maybe even if they don’t, because I love this universe Pat and I have created, and I want to find a way to keep doing it. I even have an idea for a spinoff based on an issue from a script that isn’t finished. I have thoughts about the present Edgeworld, the past UA soldiers, and their many wars, and the future of Pala with the Historian and the Old Woman psychic. Pat and I both want to do more. Yeah, our problem isn’t a shortage of ideas. It’s that Pat only has one drawing arm.
GVL: That sound so great. I can’t imagine some if not all of that coming to fruition. Are there any future projects you have on the horizon you can share with our readers?
CA: I have ideas, and scripts. But nothing sold, or in the offing. No real plans to make anything, either. Edgeworld is enough, what with having a day job, and all. I mean, I write occasional novels, both under my name and a pseudonym. But when I got out of comics, I got out. I’ve made no serious attempt to get back in for over fifteen years. I wouldn’t have done a comic this time, but I’ve always wanted to work with Pat, again, and Pat has always wanted to work with me. So here we are.
The Famous Hypothetical
GVL: We thank you so much for your time, Chuck. I have one last question for you of the hypothetical kind. It’s kind of my gig. So, here is yours. You have been given an opportunity to contribute to an exhibition of the best that comic book’s represent: diversity, originality, and creativity. They are asking for three submissions from you from your work as either a writer, artist, or both. Which would you choose?
CA: “FALL DOWN, GO BOOM” – Uncanny X-Men
“Can They Suffer?” – Unlimited X-Men #44 (The only comic to have ever won a Genesis award, I believe)
“A Bird in The Hand” – Edgeworld #3
“I Will Always Hate You”, parts 1, and 2 – Edgeworld #4, and #5.
“Metropolis” the entire series.
GVL: I can’t help but notice you picked a number of upcoming EdgeWorld stories. Clever Marketing, my friend. Clever. 🖖🏻 Thanks again, Chuck. We will be following your EdgeWorld series with great interest. From what I’ve seen, it looks like a great book.
CA: Thank you very much. Thanks so much for making the time for me.
If you haven’t had the opportunity, you really should check out the ComiXology Original, EdgeWorld. It’s a brilliant mix of western, and sci-fi, with great art and color that makes for great looking book and series. Issue 2 comes out on October 20th. Tell us what you think here at Geek Vibes Nation.
Senior Writer at GeekVibesNation – I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 17 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.