WonderCon 2019: Spotlight on Tom King
Tom King, one of the most popular and celebrated comic book writers working, made an appearance at WonderCon 2019 in Anaheim, California. His panel was an open-ended Q & A format, so it covered a great deal of topics, including how he got into comics, his background in the CIA, overspending on comic art, his failed Aquaman pitch and his series like Mister Miracle
, Heroes in Crisis
, and Batman
Moving from the CIA to being a writer
When asked how King went from being an undercover CIA Intelligence officer to writing comic books, he joked, “Just like everybody else, dude!” King said that he had always wanted to write, ever since he was a little kid. He always wanted to write comics, but his father was a failed screenplay writer and his mother was a movie studio executive, and they discouraged King from being a writer and pushed him towards a solid career prospect like being a doctor or lawyer. He initially gave up that hope. Later, he was an intern for both DC and Marvel. While at Marvel, he sold the company an idea, but this was in the early 2000s and the company went into bankruptcy, so King figured that was the end of that dream.
King eventually went into the CIA and was a Counter-Terrorist Expert, which required him to work overseas in dangerous situations. However, after six years in the CIA, he had a child. King thought it was important to be in his kid’s life, so he figured he had to leave the CIA. He applied to a bunch of graduate schools and was turned down from all of them. So he became a house-dad, taking care of his child while also trying to write. King said that the CIA was actually the unusual part because he always wanted to be a writer.
How he got into comics
King discussed the specifics of how he got into comics. He discussed John Siuntres’ interviews with comic book creators, where they often talk about how they got into comics. “I literally picked an origin story I wanted to follow and it was Brad Meltzer’s. He was in the government, he wrote a novel, he turned the novel into comic book companies and he got comic book work. I followed that exact path.”
Sheriff of Babylon
King was asked about the Vertigo series Sheriff of Babylon
, his first team-up with Mitch Gerards (with whom he later made Mister Mircale,
which won them both Eisner Awards). The characters Christopher, Sofia, and Nassir. He said that Christopher was the closest one to his experience, which actually made it difficult because he wanted the character to be different from him. He wanted one of the characters to be a Sunni Muslim who had fled Iraq because while in Iraq with the CIA, he had met a lot of ex-patriot Sunnis. Nassir was based on a number super tough Shiite Muslims he met in the Middle East, including one who “100% saved my life just by being badass. We were going down some back alley and it was super dark at night, and we were definitely in a place where we shouldn’t be. A bunch of guys came out with guns and we got out our guns… and this guy gets out of our car and was just like ‘let me talk to you…’ and he just talked these guys down. I wanted to do something that type of dude, and that became Nassir.”
When asked about his relationships with artists who draw his comics, King was very complimentary. He said that of the 7 artists with whom he’s currently working, he wants to work with all of them for the rest of his life. He admitted that his favorite was Mitch Gerards. He said that he is very good friends with all of them. King said what he loves about Gerard’s work was that he can always picture how Gerards will draw it. He also takes the large ideas King writes about and grounds them on Earth.
Writing about depression
King was asked if he wanted to say about thing about depression, which is a major theme in Mister Miracle
. King said that he didn’t view depression as a thing to be ashamed about. He said it was like “a scar that’s part of the adventure of your life and becomes part of you.” King admitted that he had dealt with depression since he was a kid, when he was – like a fair amount of comic book readers – did not have a lot of friends and didn’t feel like he fit into the world. He said that this informed the end of Mister Miracle
because depression you never really know what caused it, you just know that it’s there and have to live your life. King said that’s essentially the idea at the end of the Mister Miracle
What His Writing Is About
When asked he felt that PTSD was a part of his work, King agreed. He discussed the evolution of his stories. “My first trilogy of books – which I called the “Good Intentions Trilogy,” which didn’t catch on but fuck it I’m sticking with it – was The Vision
, Sheriff of Babylon
and Omega Men
… These were three different stories for three different companies in three different genres… Half-way through I realized I was writing the same exact story for all three of them. I was writing a guy who goes into a situation with incredibly good intentions and thinks it’s going to be super easy. Then it’s much more complicated than he thought and he learns about that life is fucking weird. Then I realized, ‘Oh, that’s just Iraq. That’s just Afghanistan. That’s all it is.’”
“Right now I’m writing Heroes in Crisis
and Mister Miracle
. Those three things are about post all of that… I was crazy and I had anxiety issues, which I still fucking have… You’re dealing with your lizard brain and you never understand your lizard brain… No one knows how the lizard brain works and you try to take different avenues towards getting at that anxiety that’s hidden up there. That’s what those three [recent] books are about. They’re about learning to deal with that... Hopefully, the next book will be about something else.
King teased a new upcoming series for DC Comics, but said that he could reveal which character he would be writing, but that it would be good. When asked if there was a character DC wouldn’t let him write, King relayed a funny story about a discussion with DC Comics head Dan DiDio. King said that after the success of Mister Miracle
and writing Batman
, he thought he could do anything with DC. With the Aqua-Man movie due in theaters, he came up with a wild pitch related to the character. “It’s Aquaman, and he’s got a convertible and he’s doing a road trip across America. And he’s got a goldfish in a fish bowl… He talks to the goldfish. It’s like a buddy comedy. Aquaman and the goldfish go on American adventures. It’s called ‘American Aquarium.’ …I was like, ‘green light, right? I’ll start tomorrow’ …And he was like ‘no, that’s a reject right there. You’re done.’” Someday I’ll do my AquaMan and a goldfish traveling across America, but not tomorrow.
New Gods movie
King was asked he was involved in the New Gods film (to be directed by Ava DuVernay) or if it was based on his Mister Miracle
series. King said that he has signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, so he could not really discuss the project. He did say, however, that “the people who are making that movie, both the executives at Warner Brothers and down to Ava are hugely passionate about [Jack] Kirby and the New Gods, and they know the characters and they’ve read Mister Miracle
back and forth, and left to right…. I can’t talk about anything, but I can say that I was genuinely impressed… They want to create something beautiful and Kirby-tastic.”