Nick Spencer has performed diligently on a number of titles over the past few years. He has shown a broad spectrum of skills that have borne a variety of comic tropes. Whether these were the horror of Bedlam, the amiable villains of Superior Foes, the deep intricate webs of Secret Avengers or the devious school kids of Morning Glories, he has shown an aptitude for sophisticated plotlines and intense characterisation. Recently he has joined Hickman’s Avengers crew and his profile in the Marvel universe is slowly escalating, and deservedly so. I had an opportunity to interview Mr Spencer at Leeds Thought Bubble last year and discuss his recent success and new goals. What I really was interested in was the approach to Morning Glories, which is the title he is probably most known for.
Recently issue thirty-eight was released and it started to bring about a return to recent events, given that the beginning of season two has left many a fan bewildered and confused. This is certainly the case myself but I am also aware that if I re-read the series then it would all make more sense. However there is a dedicated man writing a study hall column at Multiversity, who is already producing fantastic lesson plans. This does bring me to a broader discussion point, that the book has disappeared so far from a coherent storyline that it has let fans disappear too. Take this latest issue where we see Ike and Abraham reflect on “recent” occurrences that happened, well to be honest, I actually have no idea. They seem like current times but that bears no resemblance to present or a past that we have a relationship with. However the characters are people we are familiar with and the end twist is great because we recognise the long, assumed gone student. This is where the book has been suffering as the prior issues often took the backstories of school kids we had only a mild familiarity with. This resulted in event that bore no impact on the reader and emotions that were difficult to empathise with. I will say this though; Nick Spencer is masterful at his attention to detail, even if it is the study hall column that picks up on it. The book is still enjoyable as we are able to engross ourselves in Eisma’s art and Esquejo’s gorgeous covers. Let us see what Nick Spencer had to say on the matter:
“Well, they’ve been doing Study Hall on the site for a while now. I always really loved it. There is nothing more flattering and rewarding as a writer than seeing somebody going in-depth on your work like that. Especially on a story like this, obviously a long haul mystery with a lot of moving parts. It was a situation where I was using myself as a resource; that it was interesting for me to just get that feedback on the various mysteries in the book, and to see where the intense part of the readership and audience were. At the same time, as the story has gotten more complex and dense, we were hearing from a lot of readers who were sort of asking for a hand with things. Just asking us to help them make a little sense of what’s going on around them, so it seemed to me like the best thing that to do would be to bring in Matt’s column. We added in Study Hall into the book as sort of back matter, give a little extra value to the single issues to encourage some monthly readership, and to help the reader along a bit and reconnect the dots. Sometimes we’re following up on seeds that we planted 10, 15, 20 issues prior, and if you’re reading month-to-month, that’s a fairly distant memory.”
I can only imagine how rewarding that must be for a blogger to be included into a book that they write about so passionately. It is flattering to know that this relationship can fulfil in both directions. However it evades the most important problem that exists with the story being so convoluted, as I asked Nick if he feels he has lost readers because of it:
“Oh sure, sure. I mean I think right now I’d describe the book as definitely being in the long, murky middle and it’s a very challenging read. I’m more than aware of the puzzle structure of the book and everything. That’s by design. But one of the unfortunate realities of that in the book is it’s difficult to jump in; it’s difficult if you’ve lost track. It’s a book that encourages you to reread it, to read it in depth, to read it carefully, to use all these various resources. I certainly recognise that it’s one of the more challenging books on the market, and at the same time I do think it’s very rewarding if you’re involved in that deeply.”
I have found these rewards in many a book and most recently on Infinity. Hickman’s work was so detailed and immense that I was convinced that a thorough retrospective was worthwhile. If you would like to read it then check http://wp.me/p2DUQc-HY as it is by far my most read post. I re-iterated the joy I received in doing that post and relayed that you must have faith in the writer to be able to do that, otherwise it is a wasted venture. My next question was focused on how Image publishers handled his comic and whether they pressured him at all to change his direction or rush his story.
“No not at all, look in 2014 we will be at issue 50 and in this day and age there are not many books that reach numbers like that. We’ve got a long way to go; this is a very ambitious idea from day one. We knew that by the time we got to this point, you’re very much in the marathon rather than the sprint. It’s an interesting situation to find yourself in, because on the one hand we don’t have as much casual readership as we did when we started, but now we have this very dedicated fan community. They are active and doing things like Study Hall, fan chats, the things that you see on the Tumblr tag and the fan fiction crowd. There is just so much more than you’d ever expect from a monthly comic in terms of community and infrastructure around it. It’s a funny situation where overall, you might have a few less readers, but the ones that you do have are very invested. It’s nice, and I expect that, as we get through these next few years and we get deeper and draw closer towards the end, we’ll get a lot of these casual readers back. Like you saw with some television shows and I compare it a lot to things like Lost and Battlestar Galactica. If you look at shows like that, the art of the fandom worked exactly that way; they had a huge initial verse, and then you just slump over time as it gets more and more complicated, and then as you get towards the end it rises back up as people come back for the pay-off. Right now, we’re sort of in the thick of it, but at the same time I’m as proud of the book right now as ever and I think we’re doing some of our best work yet.”
It is impressive that a title like this has stuck out the distance and is determined to march on to completion, instead of being cancelled due to poor sales. This is the ethos of Image and is very commendable especially given the loyalty demonstrated by the fan base it has steadily created. There is no better example of this that MGA Study Hall which can be found at the end of each issue or at this site: http://multiversitycomics.com/tag/mga-study-hall/
As the conversation moved onto Superior Foes of Spider-Man I asked Nick about his thoughts moving into a comic focusing on villains. I have often said that the bad guys have the more compelling stories as there are almost always tragedies that lead to nefarious personalities. As we saw we villains month, this is very difficult to actually write well but with the success of Superior Foes, Spencer seems to have taken to it like a duck to water. What is more surprising is that as a B title it has sold incredibly well, showing that no matter how many tie-ins you can throw at a story, quality will always prevail:
“Yes, I’ve always wanted to do this. It was just a question of when it was the right time, and getting the pitch approved and all that stuff. But working with Steve Lieber has been amazing, and the response to the book has been incredible. You know, when you’re doing a book about Boomerang and everything, you’re not expecting it to catch. Certainly to be doing as well as we are now is something else. Everything is kind of hit the boiling point on this one, so it’s nice to see it all come together and take it to that point.”
As we progressed to the end of the interview I was quite intrigued at his relationship with Jonathan Hickman. Not so much their friendship but their writing styles are similar when approaching the huge multifactorial story arcs:
“Yes, I am currently working with Jon Hickman on Avengers World, which is sort of the third leg of the Four Avengers book franchise. We are telling a great story about how the Avengers made this bold statement that the world is theirs: that it is under their protection, and that they’re the representatives of it to the greater universe. This book is about exploring the reaction to that on the ground, and exploring the changing landscape of the Marvel Earth, and at the same time going very in-depth and spending some individual time with a lot of these cast members that we haven’t gotten to know all that well yet. Yes, it’s always great working with Jonathon and with Stefano Caselli.”
Given the high profile Hickman has developed, this is obviously a great move for Spencer. I subsequently asked how they met and do they have a convergence of styles:
“We’ve been friends for years and Jon came up at Image just before me, a year or two before. He was somebody that when I was starting out, doing pictures and everything, was always great about giving advice and he’s still somebody that I go to for advice on things. I think we think about stories very similarly, and approach our careers in somewhat of a similar manner, so yes, we see eye-to-eye a lot. He’s a good friend.”
As time grew short I had no further time to delve deeper into his creative processes. Nick Spencer is a very engaging writer and has a lot of time to talk to fans. It is clear that he has an intellectual thoughtful approach to writing with respect to plot and character. Whether this means losing readers with complexity, he has faith that the rewards will justify the time spent reading. This confidence is inspiring especially when a publishing company affords you the opportunity to do so. Marvel seem to be latching onto his delayed gratification ideology because both Secret Avengers and Superior Foes have complex builds. They represent a merger of character and story because Nick builds the cast of the Sinister Six slowly but with a devious and treacherous plotline. There is a delicate balance between the two and with respect to Secret Avengers, he used established characters to push a difficult plotline to fruition. The revelations of How to MA.I.M. a Mockingbird were difficult to appreciate and understand. It relied upon reading from the very first issues but if you recalled them, then you were not disappointed. However this method of comic reading is not for everyone but it is Nick Spencer’s artistic temperament and he is damn good at it. I am just exceptionally pleased the platform from which he works has become taller and wider.