The GeeksverseInterview with Michael Alan Nelson

Interview with Michael Alan Nelson
Published on Monday, February 21, 2011 by

We got to talk with the prolific writer of Dingo and lots of other titles from Boom!


Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.

My pleasure.

Starting off, how did you come to work in the comics industry? Did you always want to be a comic book writer?

Actually, I always wanted to be a fantasy prose writer. Ever since I was 11, writing epic speculative fiction was what I wanted to do. I would spend all my spare time writing horrible short stories or fleshing out these sprawling story ideas for D&D campaigns (something I still love to do). But I didn’t have access to a whole lot of comics when I was younger so I never had a chance to develop that love affair with them. In fact, comics didn’t come into the picture until after I had already written the novel DINGO. It was my first novel and I decided to publish it online, one chapter a week just to see what people would think. As it happened, Ross Richie read the novel and really liked it. He was in the process of starting BOOM! and asked me if I had ever thought about writing comics. So, he gave me a chance to write an eight page story for the very first issue of Zombie Tales and I just simply fell in love with the medium. Not just as a writer, but as a reader. I never even knew about any of the great comics, writers, and artists the medium had to offer so I was having just a field day immersing myself. But as much fun as that was, it still took a while to figure out the transition of writing prose to writing comics. I eventually got the hang of it and, thankfully, Ross likes what I do and has been asking me to write for him ever since.

I saw Dingo, and that was my first experience with your work, as the comic first and the blog site second. How was the project conceived?

DINGO actually started as a writing exercise. My dear friend and fantastic writer Johanna Stokes was helping me with a fantasy novel I was struggling with. She suggested I try writing something completely different, something that would help me find my own voice instead of me trying to sound like all of the writers I loved to read. I wrote the first chapter and just followed it from there. And I wrote the whole novel before putting it online. I never thought about getting it to readers that way. It was just something that happened.

And then a little over a year ago, Ross suggested we adapt it as a graphic novel, and I have to say, I think it reads even better as a comic. I just love it. I love what Francesco did with the characters and the story and how he made everything just come alive.

Your relationship with Boom must be excellant because you do an awful lot of work for them. Have you ever, or do you see yourself ever, doing work for another publisher?

I do have a good relationship with the folks at BOOM!, but that relationship is based on one single tenet: write well. It doesn’t matter how well we all get along or how much we see eye to eye when it comes to story telling. If I sucked, they’d never give me the time of day. They would say, “Love you, mean it, but you gotta go.” And that’s as it should be. Their goal is to make great comics and they work really hard to reach that goal. They expect nothing less of me.

As for writing for other publishers, I absolutely see myself doing so. I’ve been fortunate enough that BOOM! has kept me busy all these years and it’s my sincerest hope that they’ll keep me busy for many more years to come, but I’m always looking for work. I haven’t written comics for anyone else yet, but I’m certainly amenable to it. I’m at a point in my career where I can start branching out and developing relationships with other publishers. So, we’ll see.

How are the artists picked for your work? Do you seek them out or does Boom! give you a list of artists that are available to work with?

BOOM! Takes care of finding the artists. Which is a good thing since I wouldn’t know what the hell to look for. Yes, I can say that I like this person’s work or that person’s covers, whatever, but my ability to see an artist’s potential at storytelling is limited. It’s just not within my skill set.

Your work covers a wide range. Dingo, Hexed, Swordsmith Assassin, Pale Horse. Where do your ideas come from? What is your favorite type of story to tell? What is your process for creating a story?

My ideas come from everywhere. My brain is always on, trying to think of cool scenes, neat plotlines, fascinating characters. Sometimes I’ll be at the coffee shop and see something or someone that triggers an idea. You never can tell when the ideas will come, you just have to make sure that your mind is open to them all the time.

As for favorite kind of story, I’m not really sure. I do tend to favor fantasy, horror, and science fiction, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t write a romance or a period piece. As long as the story has compelling characters, the genre doesn’t much matter. That being said, I really do have a tendency to inject the speculative into all of my stories. The fantastical was what fascinated me as a reader all those years ago so it tends to be my go to.

My writing process differs from project to project. Some projects I might have a fully fleshed-out synopsis while others have just a sentence fragment of an idea. But most of the time I like to have a destination, something that I’m writing toward. Even if that destination is going to be three story arcs away, it gives me a goal for my characters. That allows me a basic framework on which to build my story. And as I being to build that story, I’ll find new and interesting places to go along the way.

Of course, I have had success on the rare occasion when I didn’t know where I was going. When I started DINGO, I had no idea what lay in store for him. All I had was a man named DINGO tied to a bed, having an argument with his brother about a box while his girlfriend tried to get her freak on. I didn’t know why he was called Dingo, that there would be a dog, or even what was in the box. The fun for me was uncovering that mystery and watching as it all fell into place.

Whats next for you? Are you going to revisit any of your previous work? Any sequals for Dingo, Hexed?

I would love nothing more than to do more Hexed and DINGO. Of everything that I’ve written, those two are my favorites. I have so many more stories to tell with both titles that I almost wouldn’t know where to start. If I’m lucky and I can get enough people to buy the books, we might be able to bring them back. But that’s the nature of the market. The people that have read the books, love them. We just need more people reading the books in order to justify telling more stories. So, if you’re a fan and want to read more Hexed or DINGO, spread the word far and wide.

Any words of advice for writings trying to break into the industry?

Everyone’s path into the industry is different, so it’s impossible for me to say what the best way to break in would be. I really don’t know. I can’t recommend my own path because that would sound like, “Write a novel, put it online for free, have the publisher of an upstart comic book company read it, love it, give you a gig, and hope the company stays afloat long enough to give you a second.” But what I will say is this: have a working grasp of the English language and its usage, work hard, and be resilient. Cliched, I know, but it’s true. You have to put in the work. A lot of work. Because I’m going to be honest. Your first story is going to suck. Hard. Your second story is going to suck. Hard. Unless your name is Truman Capote, you’ll need to spend hours and hours in the woodshed developing story craft before you’ll come up with something worth reading. And that’s fine. Put in the time and effort and you’ll get better. Having great ideas is one thing, but you still have to turn those ideas into readable, engaging stories. Basically, if you want to be a writer, you have to write. I know what you may be thinking; “Well, duh!” But you’d be surprised how many people I’ve met that want to tell me about this great story idea they have, but never seem to find the time to actually sit down and write the damn thing. My friend and outstanding writer John Rogers said it best when he said that being a writer was like always having homework. That is the most crystalline definition of a working writer I’ve ever heard. So if the idea of having homework for the rest of your life doesn’t appeal to you, find another passion. You have to work to produce, you have to work to improve. Otherwise you’ll just be a wannabe, always on the outside looking in.

(Editor’s Note: After this interview was first conducted the press release for Malignant Man came out so we asked Michael some follow-up questions on the new book)

Where did the idea for Malignant Man come from? What made you decide on a cancer patient as the main character?

This is actually all James Wan. It was his idea to have the main character be a cancer patient as well as the concept of the “malignant” (which will make sense when you read it, I promise).

How different is it, having a co-writer, from your other work? What is the process of the colloboration on Malignant Man?

Usually what happens in situations like these, someone will have a fun idea with potential, be it just a high-concept or, on rare occasions, a fully fleshed-out synopsis (most often it falls somewhere in between). It’s my job to take their ideas, flesh them out, craft a story that we all like, then write the script. They will then read the script and give me any notes they have. We discuss those notes, make changes, and write a few more drafts until we have a script that works.

Writing with someone else is always fun, but it presents its own set of challenges, especially when the genesis of the story originated with my writing partner. The bottom line is that I have to write a great script, but I have to make sure that I do it in a way that respects my partner’s vision. Whereas with my own work, I only have to please myself.

What can you tell us about the book? Is it an ongoing or a mini-series?

Malignant Man is a mini-series about a young man named Alan Gates who has just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. On his way home from the doctor, something happens that leads him to discover that everything he thinks he knows is wrong. And part of that discovery is slowly recovering lost memories of his childhood.

You’ve done both your own creations, liscensed stuff and other people’s creations. Do you approach each differently? Which do you find easier to write and what draws you to a project that isn’t your own creation?

Every project is different, as is every writing partner. It’s much like everyone’s personal relationships with other people. No two relationships are the same. So it’s finding a way to make that relationship work within its own unique parameters. And I don’t find working on my own creations any more or less difficult than a collaboration. It’s just a different experience. There are pros and cons to both endeavors, but the goal is the same. Just tell the best story that I can.

What characters would you love a chance to write? Who would you love to work with for creators?

There really aren’t any existing characters that I pine for (other than my own). Though I would have a hell of a lot of fun writing a Batman story or a Wolverine story, I would much rather find a third, fourth, even fifth tier character that hardly anyone remembers. Characters that have been neglected for whatever reason and try to find their story and a way to make them relevant.

As for creators, there are so many. Put all the big names of the industry in a hat, pull one out and I’d be ecstatic. But I would really love a chance to work with Emma Rios again (artist for Hexed). There’s something about her style that I just absolutely love. Whenever I see her work I always think to myself, “Damn, I wish I could draw like that.”

Besides Malignant Man, what else is coming down the road for you?

I have another collaborative story coming out called Insurrection 3.6 that I’m writing with Blake Masters. I also have a couple of projects that it’s too soon to talk about (I know, there’s nothing more annoying than hearing about projects you’re not allowed to talk about). But if all goes well, I’ll be able to talk about them very soon (and, in all likelihood, never shut up about them).

We’d like to thank Michael for taking the time to chat with us and be sure to check out the upcoming ‘Malignant Man’ as well as the other work from Michael Alan Nelson and Boom! Studios.

Follow the link to read the Dingo novel online.

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