@’s by Writer of Stuff
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): So I guess this is officially day one of the San Diego Comic Con 2013. I’m sitting here with Peter David. You are my first interview for the Con this year, and it’s an honor to once again sit and talk with you. So how’s it going for you? How was the trip in? How is everything here?
PETER DAVID (PD): Well, let’s see. We had to get up at 3:30 in the morning Eastern Time to get to our seven o’clock plane out of JFK, flew on the new Delta seven sixty seven that has at the seat entertainment things where you can watch any one of a hundred movies for which there’s no charge. So that was pretty spiffy.
BUG: So I’ve got to ask, what did watch on the way over?
PD: I watched THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE film and THE HOBBIT. I fell asleep during THE HOBBIT, but I had seen it before. Although, frankly enough, I fell asleep during the first time I saw it, too.
BUG: I actually did too. I think that’s common. (all laugh) So you’re here at the Con this year. What are you promoting at the Con?
PD: Well, first off I’m here to promote myself, as I pretty much figured everybody knows by this point, because it was on Bleeding Cool fifty minutes after I put it up on my website. I did have a stroke back at the end of December and that crippled me for a few weeks and I wanted to, if nothing else, get out here just to let people see that I’m whole, that I’m hearty. I’m not talking out one side of my face. Everyone seems so surprised by that. They see me and I can see that they are looking at my mouth, you know? They think I don’t know, but I can tell. I wanted to show people that my mental faculties are sharp as they ever were. I just want to let people know that I’m healthy, that I’m capable of working, because I’ve picked up some incredible jobs at San Diego in past years and I figured this is just as good an opportunity as ever to continue to do that, and the bottom line is I am a working writer and I’m here to remind people that I’m available for whatever they have in mind and whatever they are interested in using me for.
BUG: Like you said, it was well documented. It was all over the internet.
PD: Rich Johnston told me that when I put it up on my website he got thirty emails in about fifteen minutes about it. And once he put it up on Bleeding Cool it was all over the internet.
BUG: Sure. I actually followed both of your reports all the way through, and it was really touching just to read reports from both of you about talking to your daughters about all of this as well as your own road to recovery. What was it like to have that all documented on the internet, just out there for everybody to read?
PD: Nothing new. I mean, I’ve been documenting my life for the edification of the public since 1991. I mean, someone once came up to me at a convention and asked me about something that was going on in my personal life and I said “How did you know about that?” They said “I read your column.” I went “Oh yeah.” But I’ll digress…pretty much the details of what’s going on in my life. The birth of my third daughter, the breakup of my first marriage, my proposing to Kathleen, my second marriage…all of this has been detailed for the public’s edification ever since pretty much 1991, so as far as I was concerned I was just simply continuing the tradition of letting people know about major turning points in my life. The posting on my website was actually done by Kathleen, the very first one in which I said that I had a stroke and “right after my body is mobile and functional…” One person on the internet was bright enough to put “Well, he’s obviously okay, because he’s putting stuff on his website” which got him trashed by a lot of people going “You idiot.”
KATHLEEN DAVID (KD): The reason I did it was to get my phone to stop ringing. I figured if I put it out there, people would know what was happening, because about seventeen minutes after…no, it was less than that…about ten minutes after we put that thing up on the website, my cell phone started ringing and his cell phone started ringing. So I had all of these calls I had to deal with, and finally I started saying to people “Look, I put it up on the website. If you have any questions, call me.” I talked to him about it before I started doing it and he agreed that was probably the best way to get information to people.
PD: Really? I don’t remember that conversation. I don’t remember most of my being in the hospital. I mean in the recovery center, yes, but my stay in the hospital is more or less blank to me. Kathleen tells me that they were constantly taking me out for tests. I don’t remember it. I remember sleeping and I remember being in my bed and I remember New Year’s Eve, being there with my family and friends, but that’s about it. The rest of it is just this massive blur. I don’t know whether that’s happening…
BUG: So as a writer, I know that writers rely on all of their experiences, so having had a stroke and survived it, are you using this in some way? Has this gained you some new type of insight on anything as far as your writing is concerned?
PD: The easy answer is no. It’s odd, because I was actually thinking years ago of doing this story involving a stroke. I was going to have Quicksilver get a stroke. I was even hinting at it in early issues of X FACTOR back in my first run with him having headaches and that sort of thing, and I didn’t really give an explanation for it, but that was something that I was leaning towards, that Quicksilver was going to have a stroke, because I thought that would be interesting to have the fastest man alive deal with being unable to move and it wasn’t a villain’s plan. It wasn’t some plot by anti-mutant forces, it was simply something that happened to him that could absolutely happen to anybody, and I never got to do that story, because I left the book after less than about a year. If I ever write an autobiography, which people have suggested that I do...
KD: Do you know the title? Remember George Takei?
PD: “MR. SULU IS GRABBING MY ASS AND OTHER STORIES.”
BUG: Oh myyy! You have to write it now!
PD: But if I ever write an autobiography, obviously it will feature very prominently, because something like that is kind of a life-changing event. I mean, I’ve gone through therapy. I’m able to walk again, which is something I could not do for a while.
KD: And we have the video to prove it.
PD: But I’m still weak. My right arm is much weaker than my left arm. My right leg still tires faster than my left leg. I mean, if nothing else, San Diego is going to be a good test for building up my endurance just for the sheer brutality of having to maneuver the convention the whole weekend.
BUG: How many Cons have you been to in San Diego?
PD: Oh lord, I have no clue.
BUG: Have you missed any Cons over the years?
PD: A few here and there, but I’ve been to at least twenty. Honestly, I don’t know, if I were me if I would still be going…if I were not me, I should say. If I were not me, I would not be going, because the lines are too much. If I were not a pro, I would not be in a situation where I could go. I wouldn’t be able to get a room. I probably wouldn’t be able to get a badge anyway, so it would be kind of moot. I mean fortunately since I’m who I am I have contacts who can help me if I want to go and all that kind of thing, but I have nothing but admiration for the people who are just normal fans who come here year in year out, are willing to stand in line for days for various panels to see one panel.
BUG: I walked by one of those lines just last night. It was crazy. They are all camped out.
PD: Yeah, it’s insane. I can’t do that. I mean I look at the program book and I see all of the things that are going to be happening that are of interest to me, none of which I’m going to be able to get to see. Oh god…it’s insane. Last year I did a panel for AFTER EARTH, a film that people are so busy making fun of and lampooning and just sneering at, that nobody seems to be paying attention to the fact that it’s actually making money. It was a one hundred and thirty million dollar film that’s made two hundred and fourteen million dollars worldwide. It’s earned out. I mean, is it a blockbuster? No, but it’s earned out and no one is losing money over it. But I was on an AFTER EARTH panel, the first panel of the day and virtually the entire audience was there to see the next panel for ADVENTURE TIME. So we were there promoting this new film with Jaden and Will Smith, and our audience is a sea of people wearing white hats with bunny ears. It was completely insane.
KD: But they were the right demographic for that.
BUG: And you introduced them to something brand new and maybe they interested in that, too.
KD: And they gave really good questions.
BUG: As you said, you are finishing up X-FACTOR and I, just being the cynic that I am, was like “Oh no, Marvel just fired Peter because of the stroke.”
PD: No, no--the plan to terminate X-FACTOR was something that the editor and I had agreed on after the “Hell on Earth War” months before the stroke.
KD: We knew what was going to be happening.
PD: That was absolutely not a surprise, although I have to say that I adore the fact that the fans were so raised in ire on my behalf and they were condemning Marvel, which broke me up, because it was planned ahead of time and Marvel has been nothing but a hundred and ten percent supportive after I had my stroke. I mean, Dave Bogard…one of the first calls that Kathleen got was from Dave Bogard of Marvel Comics. Dave, for people who don’t know, which is probably most people, is the talent coordinator essentially for Marvel Comics and he’s my direct contact for matters of business and having to do with my exclusivity contract, and he called Kathleen and basically said “We are here for you. We are here for Peter. We are here for anything he needs.” And Marvel was, with our healthcare provider, absolutely there. They advocated for me. They covered over a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of medical bills easily. I got disability leave and payments for a good long while, so it really did help. Marvel has been nothing but supportive for me in terms of everything that I needed and everything that I went through while I was discommoded.
BUG: That’s great to know. So why now? Why was this a good time to end X-FACTOR for you?
PD: Well number one, sales have been solid, but they haven’t been going up, which is unbelievably frustrating to me, because I think we have some really good stories. We’ve been doing stories that people have wanted to see. We’ve been doing stories that people have wanted to see for years, and yet no matter what I’ve done sales have just remained at one particular point. From a sales point of view, it’s a time where you are reaching the point of diminishing returns. You’re just saying, it’s not going to get any better and that’s frustrating. You want the sales figures to be going up, so it’s frustrating, but there’s a certain inevitability to it. We’ve been going for ten years. If we were a TV show that was going off the air after ten years it’d be an unmitigated issue.
BUG: It’d be in syndication.
KD: If you think about it, trade paperbacks are syndication.
PD: Yeah, so as far as I am concerned the series has been, by any measure, a tremendous success, so why not go out when you’re still rock solid rather than as sales start to drop? The “Hell on Earth War” was the culmination of a whole bunch of different storylines that I had been doing over the years and the editor and I basically got together and said “Look, maybe it’s time to shut down the book and this is the ideal time to do it, after the ‘Hell on Earth War’.” I decided that I would do a series of six issues that wrapped up individual members of X-FACTOR or left them in interesting places or at the very least whoever follows me to do something interesting with those characters.
BUG: You are notorious for being a long-form storywriter on these books. With THE HULK you were there so long, same thing with X-FACTOR. Even CAPTAIN MARVEL, you were there for quite a long time.
PD: Well I was there for the entire run of the series; that’s basically four years.
BUG: So what’s that like in a market right now that seems to be needing new number ones every twelve months or so?
PD: It’s very difficult. The market has changed tremendously from when I first started out. It is very, very difficult to get sales to go up. People are all about embracing whoever is new. I can be many things. I can do many things. The one thing that I cannot be is new, you know? The only way that I could be new is if I left the industry and came back in ten to fifteen years and everyone would have forgotten who the hell I was. Is that possible to do? Sure, Bruce Jones did it. Bruce Jones came on HULK and all of a sudden he’s this big hot newcomer and there were even people who thought that “Bruce Jones” was a fake name. They said, “No, that’s just a fake name. It’s an obvious combination of Bruce Banner and Rick Jones.” You found yourself saying to people “This guy was writing KA-ZAR,” which is being read by nine people and nobody gave a damn about him back then. He left the industry, everyone forgot who he was. He came back. He’s writing The HULK, who by the way was not in the book, and suddenly he’s hot shit. Okay? Well, that’s the way the industry goes. If I left the industry and came back in fifteen years, I could probably be hot shit again, but I tend to stick with things. I have been continuously working in the industry since the mid nineteen eighties. There’s not a ton of people who can say that. A lot of them came up into the industry and actually came to me and said they want to do what I had done, coming in from the sales department or whatever and worked their way into editorial and all of these people managed to do that and then wound up leaving and going off to do other things. I have stuck with comic books for over thirty years.
BUG: So what keeps you coming back to comics?
PD: Well, the medium itself. There is just something incredibly interesting about writing comic books--nothing that I can really put into words per se, but he entire experience of sitting there and writing the script and watching the pencils come back and adjusting the word balloons. The entire creative process of being a part of something that to a certain degree is bigger than me is tremendously exhilarating. Writing novels, for example, is very solo. That’s not to say that I don’t like doing it. I love writing novels, but it’s a solo act. When you are writing a comic book, you are part of a team and if you have an artist who’s a good artist, he can elevate the story beyond something that you yourself couldn’t have written. By the same token, if you wind up with an artist who sucks, he can wind up dragging down the story to the point where you yourself could not even read it, because it’s just that painful to look at. It is just such an ongoing and entertaining endeavor to be a part of. I’m happy to do it for as long as people are interesting in hiring me.
BUG: So what is next for you after you are finishing up X-FACTOR? Can you say?
PD: I can’t tell you. I know--it is tremendously frustrating. All I can tell you is that it’s part of the Marvel Now movements, part of the second wave of books that they are going to be doing, but that’s really the reason I can’t go much more into detail about that, because Marvel…I checked with Marvel last night and they said “No, you can’t tell people.”
BUG: Are you doing a panel this week announcing that?
BUG: So some time in the next few months?
PD: I’m going to be doing the X-MEN panel on Sunday, and a lot of people seem to be under the impression that I will be announcing my new project there, and I’m not, which is going to frustrate a lot of people I know, but I’m going to really be spending my time on the X-MEN panel basically celebrating my run on X-FACTOR and talking about the end of that book rather than focusing on the new project that I am doing. Fans just have to trust me that I am going to be doing something new, and I certainly hope that they will be along for the ride when it shows up. The current run of X-FACTOR seems to be dividing people. For example, the issue that just came out one person posted on a chat board that was pointed out to me “This is a fail. This is an epic fail” to which another person immediately replied “Yes, it’s an epic fail, if fail = awesome.” So you really don’t get much more divided than that.
BUG: You can’t please everybody.
PD: That I’ve learned.
BUG: So how many more issues do you have coming out?
PD: Number 262.
BUG: Okay. September?
PD: I believe that 262 comes out in September. We are now actually back to once a month for the first time. We put out, my god, I don’t know how many issues a year. I mean, it used to be real easy where we’d put out twelve issues a year and you’re done. Twelve months, twelve issues. Now, I don’t know, we put out 20 issues or something like that. I’m not sure why we are putting out so many issues. I’ve been given a variety of reasons, none of which make a lot of sense to me, but I kind of go “Okay, whatever.”
BUG: Maybe they snuck in a couple of new months in between there somewhere along the line.
PD: All I know is you would turn out a script and they’d say “Good, now we need the next one.” “I just turned this one in.’ “Yes, but we’re getting that from one artist. In the meantime this one artist is ready to go.” It really gets kind of insane.
KD: Do you remember the three script week for X-FACTOR?
KD: Three different people were working on different parts, so he had to get three scripts for X FACTOR done in one week.
PD: One week. Usually I have to turn out a script a week. I had to turn out three issues that time and it was just absolutely insane. On the other hand, it’s part of my job. It’s something that I have to do, so “okay.” Issue 260 focuses on Polaris. Issue 261 focuses on Monet and Darwin and 262 is back to Layla Miller and Madrox.
BUG: Yeah, you’ve got to wrap it up with those guys. (laughs)
PD: Absolutely. I mean, I absolutely have to.
BUG: Well, I can’t wait to read how you’re going to wrap this whole saga up. I know that you have a lot of…you also do a lot of novels. What else is coming out with that?
PD: That’s a good question.
BUG: I read THE CAMELOT PAPERS last time and that was fantastic. I loved that.
PD: Have you ever heard of a book of mine called TIGERHEART?
BUG: Yes, I’ve read that too.
PD: Excellent. I’ve written a sequel along with my daughter, Caroline. Basically, I read that book to her and she wanted to know what’s next. I said “Well, I haven’t written that yet” and then a couple of days later Caroline is in the living room and she’s sobbing and we are going “Caroline, what’s the matter?” She was what, seven at the time?
KD: Between six and seven.
PD: And she said “My imagination ran away.” We went “What?” “I have no imagination. It’s gone. It was there and then it’s gone and I can’t play with dolls and I can’t make anything talk. I have no imagination anymore.” To her, this was a genuine problem, the notion that she had no imagination at all. By the next day, her imagination had come back and I said to Caroline “You know, this would be an interesting sequel to TIGERHEART. What if a little girl’s imagination ran away? I mean really ran away?” The story just kind of developed from that and she said “That sounds really exciting. I want to see that.” I said, “Well, what would you want to see?” She proceeded to tell me every story element that had to be in it. She said “First off it’s got to star the little girl” and by little girl she meant the younger sister of Mary, the lead character from the first one. And she talks about the land that she’s got to go to and she said, “They’ve got to be accompanied by a plush flying lion.” I went “What?” She says “Yes, she has to have a plush flying lion with her and a princess.” I said, “She has to be accompanied by a princess?” I thought “That’s kind of strange, because usually when there’s a princess in a book, the princess is the focal character, not someone who accompanies the other ones.” She was absolutely firm that the princess had to be a companion, a side character.
BUG: It sounds like she really did get her imagination back, big time.
PD: I wound up writing it chapter by chapter and after I finished a chapter I would sit down and read it to her and she would give her thoughts and her analytic abilities were actually formidable and I wound up writing the book to the interests of her and now we are publishing it via Crazy Eight Press, which is the publishing endeavor that I do along with a number of other writer friends of mine. Mike Friedman, Bob Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Glen Howman.
BUG: THE CAMELOT PAPERS came out of that as well, right?
BUG: So when is that going to be available?
PD: It could be available pretty much any time right after San Diego, probably by the time this interview sees print. I have no idea when you’re going to have it up there.
BUG: Most likely next week sometime, yeah.
PD: Probably sometime around there. It will be available as an e-book first and then available after that as a trade paperback you’ll be able to get on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com and the cover even says “Written by Peter David and his daughter Caroline.” Caroline is so on top of this that I showed her the cover page that had already been looked at by half a dozen people, including my wife. She took one look at it and said “There’s a mistake” and she was right. On the cover, the little girl “Mary” is shown on the cover and you see that she’s got two hands and Caroline took one look at her and said, “She should have one hand” and she was right, Mary only has one hand. It was “Oh my god.” I immediately contacted JK Woodward, who did a terrific job with the cover, and said “You’ve got to get the hand off here” and he went “Oh my god! You’re right. Thank god you spotted it.” I said “I didn’t spot it. My ten year old noticed it.”
BUG: She’s going to be a fantastic editor someday.
PD: She was holding that with two hands, and Caroline took one look. She couldn’t have been looking at it for more than five seconds. I thought she would look at it and say “Oh, it’s wonderful.” Five seconds it took her to find a mistake that went past all the adults.
BUG: It sounds like you have a future writer on your hands.
PD: I think so. If you would like, we can send you a copy of it.
BUG: That would be fantastic. I would love to run that alongside the interview as well.
PD: That would be nice.
BUG: Well thank you so much for taking the time out. I know that you are really busy. Are you getting ready to head over there now?
PD: Yeah, I’m going there straight after this. I have a signing at eleven o’clock.
BUG: Well, I will definitely send you a message. Is there anything else you would like to tell anybody at Ain’t It Cool?
KD: Thanks for all the help.
PD: Yeah, pretty much. When word got out about my stroke, everybody was saying “How can we help?” and Kathleen did a posting that said, “You really want to help? Buy his books.” First off, straight off donations flooded into The Hero Initiative.
KD: And that helped with so many medical bills.
PD: It really did. Cygna accounted for a lot, but we still have lots of bills to pay. The amount of support they put towards my books, I mean it was unbelievable. I sold in one month ten times what I sold in the previous month. It was absolutely unbelievable. It’s kind of like “Hey, if you’re an up and coming writer, have a stroke.”
BUG: That’s your advice? (laughs)
PD: There was a movie made back in the 1960s with Dick Van Dyke in which he plays an aspiring artist and he winds up faking his own death in order to drive up the sales on his paintings, and I think it actually works and all of a sudden he’s this gravely celebrated artist all through France because he is now dead. I really felt like that for a while, because the amount of attention I was suddenly getting was phenomenal and it was really also kind of amazing, because I think to a certain degree we always wonder what people are going to say about us after we die. How will people react? I got a view of that and it was kind of astounding, because to be perfectly honest I didn’t think people cared that much, you know? I just think of myself as this journeyman everyday writer. I mean yes, I have been on The New York Times list and everything, but I don’t think of myself as a “New York Times Best Selling Author,” I just think of myself as this guy who sits in front of a computer who writes stuff and sometimes people read it. The amount of support and love that flowed from the fan community was absolutely astounding to me. I was even surprised that a lot of usual suspects who never have anything good to say about me simply kept their mouths shut. They didn’t feel the need to hypocritically say, “Gee, I hope he gets better” nor did they feel the need to crow over my brush with demise, and it was a genuine brush with demise, because they were telling Kathleen out of my earshot while I was in the hospital that eighty percent of the people who have this sort of stroke die. I mean, I’m lying there sleeping and they are telling Kathleen, you’re going to have to prepare yourself to make some tough decisions like pulling plugs and things like this. This shit is serious. I was in the center where they were working to teach me how to walk, and while I was there I found out that a longtime friend of mine, Gordon Lee, comic book dealer out of Georgia, died of a stroke. He suddenly had a massive stroke and he was in the hospital and while he was in the hospital he had two more and he died within a week’s time. One Saturday he’s walking around minding his own business, the following Saturday they are preparing a funeral. It happens that quickly and it’s that serious. I didn’t really understand that. I had no idea that they were fighting to bring my blood pressure down, because when I got to the hospital they checked my blood pressure and their eyes almost exploded out of their head, because my blood pressure was 242 over 140.
KD: No, it was 242 over 172, which is basically “he’s having a heart attack,” but what we found out is there was no heart attack. They did every test they could think of to look for clots and his cardiologist came back and said, “Your heart is normal. You don’t have any obstructions. You don’t have anything there… You’re hearts better off right now than most of you is.” He was amazed.
PD: A lot of people in the hospital thought I was not going to be leaving, and the fan outpour of support…they were praying for me in China. In freaking China. Buddhist monks were praying for me. That is not an exaggeration. A group of Buddhist monks were praying for me, because the head of the monastery was a big fan of my work on HULK. Holy crap. So it’s been something of an education, learning where I stand. It was humbling learning where I stand in the viewpoint of many of the people out there. It was humbling, and I won’t say I’m grateful for the experience of having the stroke, but I’m grateful for what I’ve learned as a result of it.
BUG: Well, best of luck to you. It’s great to see you in such good health. I wish you the best of luck at Comic Con.
PD: Thank you very much.
BUG: All right, thank you so much. Look for the final issues of X-FACTOR in the coming months, and Peter’s mysterious Marvel project to be announced soon as well. Also keep your eyes peeled for FEARLESS, his prose sequel to his fantastic take on Peter Pan entitled TIGERHEART available very soon from Crazy 8 Press!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel through Hermes Press). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G