Writing of heroes and outcasts: interview with Matthew Rosenberg

Writing of heroes and outcasts: interview with Matthew Rosenberg

Unexpected, last minute guest of Lucca Comics and Games 2019, Matthew Rosenberg found some time to talk with us about his love for comics, his stories and his relationship with the X-Men.

When Donny Cates announced that he was getting married in Lucca during Lucca Comics and Games 2019, the entire comic book community was pleasantly surprised. Even more surprising was the presence of Matthew Rosenberg as the wingman of the Texan writer, an announcement that was made during a joke-tweet-exchange between the two. And once in Lucca during Lucca Comics, and Games, you cannot escape a good dose of comic books events, book signing and interviews as well. We talked we Matthew Rosenberg about his works, his experience writing the X-Men and his new projects.

Hi Matthew, thank you very much for this interview, it was very nice that you could find some time for us. As a first question, I would like to ask how did you decide to start writing comics and which were your biggest influences?
I worked in the music business for a long time, like ten years, and I got kind of sick of it, it’s a terrible business to work in. I was trying to think of other stuff that I would want to do. I’ve loved comics my whole life, and I thought maybe I could write comics. I didn’t know anything about it, I’ve always been a fan but I didn’t know anyone who made comics, and so I just decided to try and figure it out how to do it. Some of my biggest influences are Brian Bendis, Chris Claremont, Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan and other mainstream writes, but also a lot of more “indie” authors like the Hernandez brothers, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, I really loved a lot of that stuff. So I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly in comics, but I was a big Marvel comics fan, so I thought I’d like to do superhero stuff. On the other hand, I also wanted to do my own independent stuff, so I was like trying to figure it out as I went.

It was more like starting ad a fan and then, all of a sudden, becoming an author.
Yes, exactly. You know, I grew up around writing, both my parents were writers and my brothers are writers, but didn’t know anything about comics. So I knew I wanted to write comics, because I can’t draw at all, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write or how to do it exactly.

Then you started with Black Mask, first with We can never go home and then with 4 kids walk into a bank. How was your experience with this publisher and these first comics?
Actually my first book was 12 reasons to die, still at Black Mask. It’s the first book Black Mask ever published, not very good now that I looked at it, but I did that with members of the Wu-Tang Clan, the rap group, and that was my first comic. After that I had a relationship with them, so I had We can never go home and I brought it to them, they loved it and wanted to publish it as well. People at Black Mask are just great, they’re a great company and they were exactly what I needed at the time.

4 kids walk into a bank was a big success, both fans and critics praised it. It’s an interesting mixture of adolescence adventure from the 80s and a heist movie. What was the idea behind this story?
At that time I was working in a comics book store together Tyler Boss, and I used to come up to him with ideas for comics, and I was just like “this is a good idea for a story” and usually he was like “ no, I don’t like that”. At one point I came up to him and said “what about if children rob a bank?” and he asked “how old are they?” “Twelve” and he was like “that sound really funny”. And then Tyler kept coming back to me and saying “I keep thinking about those children robbing a bank “. And so we started talking about it for a long time. He really wanted to draw it and so we spent a really long time planning it. We wanted to include a lot of things we love in comics and storytelling, like crime stories and heist stories, and comedy and eighties book and movies, and a weird bizarre ending comic and action. We were basically trying to do as much of the stuff we love as we can and we were pretty transparent in our influences. I think a lot of people, when they create things, they try to obscure who their influences are; I wanted it to be like a love letter to those things: we named streets after artists we love, there are references to tons of movies, the covers of each issue are after movies that we loved, so it’s just like us trying to throw as much as we could into the book as we can. It was a big thing for us and a lot of fun.

So you and Tyler Boss really worked closely together. I was really fascinated by the many experiments you did in the storytelling; you can clearly see that you were trying to put as many things that you like as possible also from this point of you.
Me and Tyler have been friends for so long, and the nice thing is that we challenge each other, we push each other: I would write some very difficult script, he would come back at me and make it even more difficult, and then it would be me trying to figure out how to change it and adapt it. We were constantly sort of changing each other’s work and trying to challenge each other. In some way, it could have gone horribly wrong, especially if all this didn’t serve the story, but for that book I think this funny experimentation worked really well.

And then the comic was optioned for a movie production. First of all, what’s the feeling of seeing your comic books, your ideas, being transformed in something new, in a completely different medium? And are you involved in this adaptation process?
There’s supposed to be news on this project very soon, so I cannot talk about it that much. You know, it’s obviously very flattering when anyone likes the book and wants to turn it into something else, but it’s also strange. I love film, I love television, but my passion is comics, so even if the movie is a cool project we have a lot of distance from it: the comic is meant to be the comic, that’s the most important thing. Everything else is really new to me, so both Tyler and me are trying to figure out what to feel, how to balance between being excited and being professional. We did our job, now it’s someone else’s job and what are they gonna do it’s mainly on them. What I do is making comics, so what I am looking forward is always the next comic book. Anyway, me and Tyler have been both involved creatively in the movie production, although I cannot say more than that, and the people who are making it have been amazing, so we’re excited, hopefully it comes out.

Since some years you’re working for Marvel: I did you get to work for this company?
The first story I did at Marvel was a short one included Secret Wars Journal, it was an X-men story. When I did 12 reasons to die at Black Mask, one of the editors at Marvel that I knew read it. He called me back and directly told me “You can have ten pages at Marvel, you can do whatever you want to do, what would you like to do?” and I said “X-men, that’s my favorite book”, and I did that ten page story. After that, a different editor called me and asked me to do a one-shot for SHIELD and I did that too. And after these two stories, nothing, I had a year when I didn’t get any work from Marvel. I thought they simply didn’t like what I wrote, and then all of a sudden, shortly before 4 kids was out, they started calling at me. I wrote a first script for a Kingpin story which went around in the Marvel office and form then, within a week, I was doing Rocket Raccoon, then Secret Warriors, and then another Kingpin book. From that point on, I’ve just sort of been doing three or four books consistently for Marvel.

So then you landed on the X-Men, and you really wanted to write about those characters. What do they represent for you as a group and which is your favorite character?
The X-Men has been my favorite comic my whole life. The X-Men were sort of the characters you didn’t fit in, they were outcast, some misfits, really odd-look like, and I was very much one of those, I was like a young punk rock kid in New York. I had friends, sure, but I was kind of quiet, reserved, spending time on my own, that’s why I liked these strange characters. As I got older I understood more of the metaphors of the X-Men, the fight for equality, integration civil right, and all the different group can represent a different aspect. But deep at the heart, the X-Men are more the any other superhero group, the fight to save the world, but they also fighting to find their place in the world, they were fighting to survive, that’s a powerful message and you, as a reader, can really mirror yourself in the characters.  The other beautiful thing is that there’s always an X-Men you can always identify strongly with: for me it’s always been Havok and Magik, but I didn’t realize why until I was much older; I have an older brother who have been the captain in the baseball team, the good student, sort of an example, so the X-Men that I liked were the little siblings of more powerful, more respected X-Men. So I guess that’s say a lot about me and the story I have written so far on them.

Your solo run on Uncanny was mixed received, so there were some people that really loved it and some others were more critic, mostly because of the many deaths. What was your experience on the title, what do you think that you brought to the title, what you’re more proud of?
I’m proud of the run and proud of the book, it was an honor to write it. It was a strange book because when I was hired to do it, Jonathan Hickman was already working on House of X and Powers of X, he’d already started, so we knew what we had to do. Orders from Marvel were to take them to a really dark place, to bring them to their lowest point so that Johnathan could rise them. So we knew it was going to be dark and people don’t always love seeing that. I and lot of other X-men writers grew up reading the Chris Claremont era, the John Byrne era: these were very dark, brutal stories, if you think at Mutant Massacre, Extinction Agenda were people are dying and losing their powers. Even Grant Morrison opens his book with sixteen million mutants being killed, it’s a very intense brutal book; but there’s generations that grew up on the cartoon, and the cartoons are a lot lighter. And that’s a funny generational divide, I can see it when I do conventions: I did a lot of X-Men books, New Mutants, Multiple Man and so on; some people come and bring a lot of stuff, but no Uncanny, so those are the one who grew up watching the cartoons, while the one that come with stacks of Uncanny tell me they grew up with the Chris Claremont books. So there’s an interesting divide in what the book means for different people,
Anyway, Uncanny was a great experience, I got to write a lot of my favorite characters and I got to be part of this big thing I love so much. There are a lot of people at convention or in private messages that tell me that the book was important to them, and that’s something that means a lot to me. And obviously there were people who didn’t like it but that’s comes with the territory, when you’re killing a bunch of characters that people love. But I couldn’t just tell them to wait, that they were going to come back, you have to let people experience the story. A lot of people now come back, after reading Jonathan’s stuff, and they’re like “oh, now I understand the big picture and where it was going”.

Coming to Jonathan Hickman project completely changing rules of the mutant world, you have been already involved with the X-men, are you going to be involved somehow in the future?
When Jonathan was planning Dawn of X he reached out to me and asked me what I would like to do. It was really nice and it meant a lot to me, but I sort of felt like I’ve done what I needed to do and it was time for me to move on. I love what he is doing on the book and I am a big fan of his work, I would love to do X-men stories in the future but not for a while, I want to take some time off.

So you could not find something in this bigger project that could be right for you in this moment.
We talked about it, there’s a lot of stuff going on that I’m sure excited about, but I ran the show for a little bit , and Jonathan is running it now and doing an amazing job. I didn’t want to go back and be below him. If there’s anyone to be below in comics, it’s Jonathan, he’s one of the all-time greats, but I just thought that I’ve done that, and there’s stuff I haven’t done yet. Now I am doing Hawkeye and Annihilation, there’s a much more things that I haven’t had the chance to do, which is really exciting for me.

You already introduced my next quest. The first one is about Annihilation, which was one of the most important cosmic saga of the last years in Marvel. What’s your perspective on this story, what are you going to tell, what’s coming back from those stories?
The original Annihilation and the sequel are two of my favorite Marvel books of all time, I just love them. We spent a long time discussing why they work so well, why they’re so good, and I think that the reasons behind are first of all the scale, cause it’s cosmic, it’s huge; then the stakes, which are pretty high: anyone could die, it’s dangerous, it’s a war, and it feels like a real war story. Marvel doesn’t do a lot of war stories, but in this case you have really that classic war story feeling, there are fronts and battles and whatever it means. Another thing that really mattered to us was elevating characters who hadn’t been in the spot recently, and doing so we wanted to change the landscape of Marvel cosmos. We built the stories with those ideas in mind, trying to acknowledge the good elements from the original story but also doing something new. I think when people read what it, they’re going to see it’s very different but very familiar in a lot of ways. And the original of Nova, Richard Rider, will be a big part of it, after being away from the spotlight for a while.

And I am really happy to hear that!
Yeah, I’m too, I love Rich Rider, I wanted him to be the driving focus of the book. But then there are many other characters, th Fantastic Four, Beta-Ray Bill, Silver Surfer and a bunch of other characters who are awesome, Annihilus plays a big role of course, Blastaar as well. And then some secret characters I cannot tell you right now, obviously…

Is it going to connect also to what is happening in in the rest Marvel cosmos, for example the new series of Al Ewing’s Guardians of the Galaxy?
Annihilation spins out from what Donny Cates has been doing in Silver Surfer and in his Guardians of Galaxy, when Al’s going to be doing Guardians this all connects. Donny, Al and I have all worked together to figure out how to fit this in and make it important and connected, and much more stories are going to come out from it.

The last question is about you Hawkeye’s series. Where are you bringing Hawkeye in your story?
Hawkeye is a very difficult book. Matt Fraction and David Aja did such a great Hawkeye, but it’s so unique, and you can’t go and do what they did, you don’t want to copy, no one wants that. And then we’ve had great runs from Jeff Lemire and Kelly Thompson too. So the big challenge about Hawkeye was trying to figure out doing your own thing and making it feeling different from other stories. Our book is a little bit of a darker, still funny book. Hawkeye is a great character because he’s a regular guy, he has no superpowers, still he fight with the Avengers against villains that could easily kill him Hawkeye before Thor would even notice them, so that’s tell a lot about him.

Yeah, I mean, shooting arrows against Celestials is quite bold…
Exactly! My take is that Hawkeye is a guy who has a good sense of right and wrong, and a sense of responsibility for that; at the same time, he does not always know what’s his fight, he’s not good at planning, he rushes into things, thinks he’ll figure it out later. Our book is basically about that, him getting in over his head. There’s a new, very violent Ronin, everyone thinks it’s Clint, but it’s not, and he’s running around trying to figure out who the new Ronin is and stop him. There is a mystery element and the Hood is going to be involved It’s really fun, it’s the most fun I’ve had in a book in a long time, and even if you don’t like my writing Otto Schmidt’s art is worth for that, it’s so gorgeous, he is doing an amazing job.

The return of Otto Schmidt in Marvel was a big news for sure.
Me and the editors we kept going over lot of great artists. I’ve been working on it for a while, but I was not convinced from any of them, I couldn’t see them fitting in our story. Then someone said that Otto Schimdt was coming back to Marvel and wanted to do something, so me and Alanna (Smith NdR), my editor, were just like “can we get him?”. Everyone agreed, you couldn’t imagine an Hawkeye without him, and fortunately he said yes! It is a great pleasure to work with him, he is simply awesome!

Thank you very much Matthew and enjoy Lucca!

Interview realized on October the 31st during Lucca Comics and Games 2019.

Matthew Rosenberg

Matthew Rosenberg started his comic book career with 12 reasons to die for Black Mask in 2013. For the same publisher he wrote When can never go home (together with Patrick Kindlon) and 4 kids walk into a bank (with Tyler Boss), which was highly praised by both fans and critics. After that he started working for Marvel on many different titles, from Rocket Raccoon to the New Mutants, from Multiple Man to Secret Warriors and Kingpin. In 2016, together with Ed Brisson and Kelly Thompson, he started writing the new incarnation of Uncanny X-Men, becoming the only writer from issue 12 until issue 22. At the same time he became the regular writer of the Punisher.

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