Writer Kurt Busiek And Artist Brent Anderson On The Return Of ‘Astro City’

When you speak to Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson, the one thing that pops out about them the most is what great friends they are. Over the course of a long, freewheeling chat, Busiek and Anderson teased each other, made each other laugh, and communicated, above all, a real sense of friendship and genuine pleasure in their work. And you can tell they’re glad to get Astro City back in front of readers. We asked them about the process, and why the book went so suddenly on hiatus.

Gamma Squad: We last saw an Astro City story in 2010, when you finished the last arc and went on hiatus. What made you decide now was the time to pick the series up again?

Kurt Busiek: We didn’t actually decide so much to pick the series up again because we never put it down. What happened was, I got sick. There was the shuttering of Wildstorm and some business crap around that, but really what happened is that I started to have more and more pain, symptoms of this and that. I slowed down, and slowed down, and slowed down. We were working on Astro City material, but I wasn’t producing on any kind of rate that would result in monthly publication. We were working at the speed we could and waiting for me to get better, to the point where we could put the book on schedule.

And I got worse and worse and eventually had my gall bladder taken out. Now we’re at the point where I’ve been recovering enough so that I’m productive enough again and enough stuff done and in the drawer that we can pull the trigger and get back into publication. We just slowed to crawl.

Brent Anderson: Oh, it was never put away. It was always on my desk! (laughs)

Busiek: (laughs) Yes, there was a period of about six months where I stopped writing completely because I was on pain medication everyday, and Brent was doing things like drawing The Phantom Stranger, because he needs to make a living too. But he always had some Astro City material there to work on between jobs.

Gamma Squad: What are some of the technical challenges involved in a mix of different art styles, especially when you feature a character like Looney Leo?

Busiek: I just ask Brent to do the impossible, and Brent just does it! But to say “Here’s a cartoon lion in a tux hosting a theme restaurant”, There! I’ve just done my part! (laughs)

Anderson: For visuals that’s true, but we do come back to Kurt to ask him if he had any visual ideas. Which Kurt, he has tons of visual ideas when he writes something like that. It becomes a great collaboration. You mentioned Looney Leo and that’s one collaboration I very much enjoyed. Looney Leo was patterned on Rick from Casablanca, and working that back and forth with Alex and me and Kurt is a lot of fun.

Busiek: To give a specific example on Looney Leo, we were going back and forth, sketching various ideas, and I think it was Alex who stepped in and said, “Well, you’re treating him like Bogart in Casablanca, so let’s give him Bogart’s eyes.” And he designed eyes for Looney Leo that had that heavy-lidded tired look to them, and it was like “BANG! The character’s there!” It wasn’t enough for him to be a cartoon, he had to be a cartoon that projected the right personality: “I’ve seen it all, I’ve suffered a lot, but I’m still in there slugging because there’s nothing else to do.” That’s at the core of Looney Leo and it came through in the design.

Anderson: Looney Leo was one of the most tragic bigfoot characters ever. He was so sad! Scott Shaw came up to me at a convention one year and said “Hey, I just saw your Looney Leo comic! I didn’t know you could draw bigfoots!”

Busiek: And in the new series I made Brent draw an anime character! Who knows where we’ll go next.

Anderson: She was fun!

Gamma Squad: How much research do you have to do for “period accuracy” or just inspiration?

Busiek: Want to start that one, Brent?

Anderson: No. (laughter) As far as dovetailing the fantasy elements into the rest of the world? It’s funny you asked, because I was asking Kurt right before we started talking about Winged Victory visiting the Louvre at one point in the story. But it’s in her past and I didn’t when that was, because that pyramid that I.M. Pei designed was built in 1983. I didn’t want her walking into the real world, and have it be out of that context.

Busiek: So we go back and forth figuring out the timeline. But the stories all start from character, theme or emotion. Once I write the script, we’ll figure out the period stuff or the real-world stuff. Period stuff is the same, in research, is the same as if we do a story set in Ecuador. Brent’s got to make it look like Ecuador! Doing a panel from 1940s California farm country versus doing a panel in Ecuador today, you’ve got to go find out what it looked like.

But the research generally comes second, we decide what kind of story we’re telling first.

Anderson: I just want to say, I desperately want to draw Ecuador. (Laughter)

Busiek: Honestly, if Brent ever does decide “I want to draw…”, pick a setting, pick a mood, something like that, I’d say “Well, I can figure out how to get a few pages of that in there.”

Anderson: I have a great white sequence planned, between polar bears in a snowstorm!

Busiek: Now you know he’s just trying to make his job easier! (laughter) There was actually a sequence where we needed to identify the passage of time in a number of visual ways. And I had mentioned various organizations, and we needed to have names, logos, banners, so the readers would know “Hey, this is a League of Women Voters meeting”. And Brent did the research, but he couldn’t find the right logos. I saw that in the art and said “Wait a minute, this is set in maybe 1969!” I went online and found a League of Women Voters pamphlet from 1970.

Anderson: Yeah, I do that when I get lazy and want Kurt to do the research (laughter). I just pick a modern thing knowing he’s going to want to research it. (laughter)

Astro City returns this June.