A noted comic book writer and novelist, Robert Venditti is an unstoppable force when it comes to storytelling. After several creator-owned books and novels, Venditti helped launch the Valiant Comics reboot in 2012 with his ongoing X-O Manowar run, and was later tapped by DC to take over for Green Lantern in 2013. And if that wasn’t enough, he and co-writer Van Jensen took over for The Flash in 2014.
Given that it’s not every day I get to talk with a writer of Venditti’s magnitude, I made sure to grill him for advice, which he did graciously offer. I had the pleasure of meeting him last August when he and artist Robert Gill came for the opening of the Ultimate Comics in Raleigh, just as their Valiant series Book of Death was arriving in stores. Now over seven months later, Venditti took time out of his busy schedule for a Skype interview, in which we discussed everything from his career history to plans for the future. The following is a slightly condensed version of our conversation.
Kevin Schaefer: You’ve written a good mix of prose fiction and comics. Are you able to jump back and forth between these mediums pretty easily?
Robert Venditti: I don’t want to say easily, writing doesn’t come easily to me. It’s something I have to work at and I’m not a super fast writer. If you look at my career I’ve certainly done my fair share of stuff, but haven’t been as hyper-productive the way some writers have been. Because for me to do three books a month, at the most four, is really stretching it. So I don’t tend to do a lot of switching around the way I operate. I tend to like to start something and then finish it. For example, unless something comes up, which in monthly comics stuff does come up and you have to adapt to whatever the schedule is, but I try not to even juggle different comic book issues. Working on Green Lantern this week, I’ll finish that issue and then I’ll start Wrath of the Eternal Warrior. So for the novel it’s a little harder because a novel is obviously something that takes a lot more time than a single issue of a comic book. So what I would do is usually work on whatever comics I was doing during the day, have dinner and those kinds of things and then stay up late at night and work on the novel.
KS: Were there any writers in particular who really influenced you as you were growing up?
RV: I didn’t read comics growing up, didn’t start reading them until I was in my late 20s. For me when I was younger, all throughout like 6th, 7th and 8th grade I read a ton of Stephen King. I think I had read about everything he had written up until that point. But it’s weird because I’ve never done a horror story, and I can’t even watch horror movies now. That’s also when I read the Lord of the Rings books. Watership Down was the first sort of adult novel I had ever read. For me I guess most of my storytelling things that I really enjoyed was more film related at that age, until I got to like high school and college and graduate school when I started diving into a lot of literature.
KS: Were there any space fantasy stories that really captured you? Based on your work with Green Lantern and X-O Manowar?
RV: The other day someone asked on Twitter just a general question to everyone on there- What property would you work on if you had the chance to?- and my answer was SilverHawks. I love SilverHawks. It was very short-lived obviously, and I haven’t even seen it since I was younger when it was on tv. Just something about it. Obviously Star Wars, Blade Runner- which isn’t in space but still sci-fi. So a lot of sci-fi stuff. I wasn’t looking for a kind of cosmic project or anything like that. When Valiant approached me about X-O Manowar I just really liked the historical fiction aspect of it. Just kind of worked out that I did that, and then DC asked me about taking on Green Lantern. And if you look at my career and the different things I’ve done they’re all unique from each other, and that’s by design. I don’t want to be working in just one style of story, I want to challenge myself with something different each time and hopefully get better and grow as a writer. I won’t always succeed and that’s the challenge, but at least I’m always getting outside my comfort zone and pushing myself.
KS: On that note, when you took over for Green Lantern, you were coming on after one of the most iconic runs on the character with Geoff Johns’. What was the pressure like trying to fill his shoes after his near-decade run?
RV: Yeah obviously it was there and I knew that going in so it wasn’t a surprise, and that was part of the challenge I took on. You know I’m never going to outdo Geoff Johns, I’m just doing what I know how to do the best I can and hope people like the result. And it’s been a bit of a tough run in some aspects because a lot of things have happened that are beyond my control. You know I did my first issue of Green Lantern, and I think it was about two months later DC announced they were moving out to Burbank. Not to fault anyone for it because that’s a huge situation. But that was a process for about two years, you had editors coming in and going out, a lot of things going on there. The thing about monthly comics is, at no point can you ever say “let’s just take a pause.” Every 28 days a book has to be ready. It’s definitely been a learning experience for me, but I’m happy to be on the book, and if you had told anyone when I took the book over that I would be here three years later they would’ve said you’re nuts. Cause even after X-O Manowar DC fans didn’t really know who I was.
KS: And did DC give you a fair amount of creative liberty or were you given pretty tight constraints?
RV: I wouldn’t say constraints. I mean I knew there were certain things going in, they wanted to have a lot of crossovers, so I did that. And then when DCU and things like that come up, it’s not really a constraint as it is a publishing plan that is what it is and you have to adapt to those kinds of things. There are definitely some things I’ve done with Green Lantern that I’m super proud of. The villains issue for Relic is probably one of my favorite issues I’ve written. Green Lantern #40 with the Hal/Kilowog fight, where you get to see what their relationship really means to them, is another issue of mine that I’m really proud of. To go ahead and add all this to the mythology has been a lot of fun.
KS: Shifting to your Valiant work, how did Book of Death and Wrath of the Eternal Warrior come about?
RV: Yeah I mean I started with Valiant from the very beginning. X-O Manowar #1 was the first issue they published when they started up again, it was also the first issue of a monthly comic book series I had ever done as well. That’s another instance where the fans had no idea who I was, cause all I had done at that point were a couple creator-owned books. I hoped I would stay on the book for 12 months, high in the sky of 24 issues, and here I am coming up on 50 which when you add in the zeroes and tie-ins it will be about 56 issues. Nobody ever thought that was going to happen, especially in today’s marketplace. So I was at Valiant from the beginning, and from X-O Manowar Valiant wanted its first crossover to be X-O Manowar based, so that’s how Armor Hunters came about. And that went pretty well and we were happy with the finished result. And when they wanted to do Book of Death they asked me if I wanted to do that, and also if I’d be interested in launching a new Eternal Warrior series sort of out of the wreckage of Book of Death. And I was very interested because from the very beginning when Warren Simons approached me about Valiant and I started reading up on the characters, the two that I really liked were X-O Manowar and Eternal Warrior. I was only able to choose one and went with X-O, because I was trying to do something different with every project, and you’re never going to get more different than a 5th century Visigoth in alien armor. But Eternal Warrior was always a character I wanted to come back to, so I was very excited to do Book of Death and also try this concept for Eternal Warrior that I’m super happy with the result. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve done, not just in terms of the story but also the collaboration I have. It’s a book I’m really proud of.
KS: Out of the characters you’re writing now, is there any you enjoy the most or is it pretty equal?
RV: Yeah I enjoy them all for different reasons. I enjoy X-O, I feel like I just know him so well and have been able to build his continuity from day one. And I’ve added so much not just to the characters but stuff that’s been put into the Valiant universe in other places. You know the idea that Ginger, this robot I made in Armor Hunters with Clayton Crain doing the design and Doug Braithwaite drawing it in the story, that robot is over in Unity. Then I love the grandeur and the cosmic grand scale of things in Green Lantern. I love that mashup of historical fiction and science fiction in X-O Manowar. And I love the way that Valiant has allowed me to be not as huge and bombastic with Eternal Warrior and really get into some deep character stuff. A hero who’s a father and a husband, which is something you tend not to see in comics.
KS: You mentioned some of your creator-owned work. Do you have any plans to do more creator-owned comics in the future?
RV: Yeah very much so. For a long time my creator-owned were sort of focused on my novels which of course were very time-consuming. But I’ve got pitches written for half a dozen miniseries sitting in a file ready to go, and I’ve never shown them to anybody because it’s just a matter of making sure I have time in my schedule to do them. And it is definitely something I want to swing back around to. Can’t say for sure when that’s going to be but I hope not too long.
KS: Do you have any advice for aspiring comic book writers or just writers in general?
RV: One: don’t ever limit your opportunities. For me I got my start working in a warehouse at a publisher packing boxes, that was how I sort of got into the door. And I would also say you only need one kind of smarts, not even in writing but in life in general: you only need to be smart enough to know what you don’t know. Writing, or any kind of art as I see it, is something you’re never going to know. There are no answers, it’s not solving for X or anything like that. It’s just a constant learning process and you’re never going to have it all figured out, ever. And if there’s ever a moment where you think you have it figured out that’s when you really don’t have it figured out. And that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have moments where you’re really proud of what you did. Those highs you get when you write a scene and you know you just nailed it, those things are going to happen. But as far as art, it’s not solvable. It’s a constant learning process, a constant exploration, it’s always going to be that way. So be aware of that and know that there are always things to learn.
-KEVIN SCHAEFER for Ultimate Comics