What follows is a complete transcription of the interview I had with Tom King on Friday July 22nd at the 2016 San Diego Comic Convention. Tom King was a delight to speak with. Funny, sincere, and exuberant. Before I even had a chance to speak, the man thanked ME for interviewing HIM. It usually goes the other way around. But that just goes to show you what kind of guy King is. There is a very comfortable and welcoming air about him that puts one at ease. And he’s super quick on the rebound. Always ready with an answer or witty remark. If you’ve never heard him in an interview before, hopefully I’ve set the stage enough for you to be able to pick up on his demeanor.
Tom King: Thank you so much for doing this. It means a ton to me.
Brandon Mulholand: No problem. So, I’ve been told I only have 10 minutes with you.
TK: Only ten minutes?
BM: That’s what I was told.
TK: They don’t know what they are talking about, we can do…
Kelly (DC PR): You have ten minutes.
BM: With that in mind, the first couple of questions won’t be in-depth.
TK: So, it’s rapid fire?
TK: Ok. The answer is Batman, Batman, Batman, Batman.
BM: Haha. So, Batman Rebirth #1. You and Scott worked on it together. Calendar Man. The whole thing with the cocoon. Who was that?
TK: Both of us. He says it’s me and I think it’s him. I was in the hall talking to him on the phone, and I proposed that Calendar Man is the scariest villain of all time because there is nothing scarier than a calendar. It’s a sign that time is passing and that death is coming. And he said we should do something with that where he is trying to escape it or be reborn. He said, what if he is constantly being reborn. And then Mikel drew it in this creepy horrible way. And it organically came up that way. I would give Scott credit and I think he would give it to me.
BM: The pull-ups on the helipad?
TK: That’s ME! If it’s Mikel drawing a half naked man, it’s usually me writing.
BM: Is there going to be more of that Calendar Man story or was that just a quick snippet to get people excited and throw them into the deep end?
TK: Calendar Man does appear in issue 9. So he does come back. But, that was the beginning of something. We wanted to do an issue that was thematically about what it was to turn things over from Scott to me. Trying to be a little meta about it. How stories end and continue. And that’s what a calendar is. Every year you get a new calendar. It ends and it begins. So that was the idea with bringing Calendar Man into it.
BM: In the Batman #1 that just came out, you included the Hugo Strange lines from the 1940 Batman #1.
TK: Ah, you caught it! Observe the clock Batman. It’s a great line.
BM: I was wondering, how much research did you do into Hugo Strange’s past stories? Is it just the Monster Men story from #1 or did you read a couple of other stories?
TK: Oh, no. I went and read the Matt Wagner stuff. I read the Englehart/Roger stuff. And of course, I started with that first issue. That is where I first went for inspiration. I wanted to do a tribute to Batman #1. I wanted to find something in there that I could say, it’s 75 years later but we are still telling the same amazing stories.
BM: I really liked that. You were paying homage but doing something new. Showing new readers what existed before but in a new story.
TK: It was also the moment that Batman was going between the two buildings. One building is Kane and the other is Finger. So, Batman is flying through his two creators as his villain from #1 is commenting on watching the clock. As if time is going to end.
BM: So, you were CIA?
TK: I was.
BM: How exactly does one transition from that to writing comics?
TK: It’s actually the other way around. I wanted to be a comic writer. I interned at DC and Marvel when I was in college. Then the comic industry collapsed and I was thinking about being a lawyer or something. And when 9-11 happened, I joined the CIA. Then I left the CIA…cause I had kids and didn’t want to be in war zones…cause I was doing counter terrorism work over seas. I went back to my first… I mean, I was CIA. I couldn’t just become a lawyer or something. I had no skills. My only skill was in stopping people from blowing stuff up. You don’t need that in the suburbs. So, I liked to write, and I could always write. So, I wrote a book and tried to publish it.
BM: I heard that you were at Comic Con and gave a book to Scott Snyder.
TK: I did. Yeah. Haha.
BM: What book did you give him?
TK: I wrote a book called, A Once Crowded Sky. That’s my novel and it’s about superheroes. Heroes Con 2012 I waited in line. It was a hardcover copy. Before it had even come out. They give you preview copies. And I waited in line. And I gave him the book and I said, (puts on geeky/squeaky/nasally voice)Hey Mister Snyder. I just wanted to give you a free… (drops voice and looks as if he had a moment of realization) I don’t know. I thought somehow that it would create publicity.
BM: Well, it got you a job at DC, right?
TK: Eventually, yeah! Eventually it did. And he was insanely gracious. Said thank you. And that’s the way he is in person. So, if you talk with him…
BM: I’m supposed to talk with him tomorrow. (FYI: It got cancelled)
TK: Ah. You’ll find out that I’m lying through my teeth right now. That guy. Woooooo! They invented the word diva for Scott Snyder.
BM: Tell me, do you prefer working in a vaccum where you don’t have to conform to someone else’s rules and can come up with whatever you want to do or do you prefer the challenge of writing for an established character?
TK: I prefer the established character. When I was a kid. When I was a young little nerd. I loved comics. I’m going to write comics. It was the Avengers…it was Batman…it was Flash that I gravitated to. These are the characters who…..they literally saved my life. Like, when I didn’t have anything, I had them. And then, the honor of writing them and trying to do something amazing with them….I don’t know. It’s the best job in the world. I feel like I’m paying back the creators. I’m trying to be noble. It feels noble.
BM: I love Grayson.
TK: I love Grayson too. What was your favorite issue?
TK: I wrote 12!!! Cause Tim and I write every other one.
BM: I loved the 4 pages that had quotes from decade after decade of material.
TK: I invented that!!! You know…they wanted to take that out!?! I had to fight that.
BM: What!? That’s the best part.
TK: It was this close. And then Chris, the editor, saved it at the last second. I was screaming, please leave it in. And I think it worked, right?
BM: Uh, yeah. The thing I really loved about Grayson was… Well, a lot of people I know were upset because he wasn’t in the Nightwing costume anymore, but a lot of times I see a writer who has the character in costume but doesn’t write them correctly. With Grayson, you wrote the character so right that it didn’t matter that he wasn’t in costume. He was still portrayed as who he’s supposed to be. Regardless of what he was wearing. To me, that was one of the best things in the New52.
TK: Thank you.
BM: And that Agent 37 theme song…
TK: That was awesome.
BM: That was all awesome.
TK: Did you see in Batman #1, the degree of the car when he is jumping at the bridge is 37.
TK: So, I put a little Grayson nod there. Yeah, I always thought Dick Grayson was one of my favorite characters in comics. And to me, it was always meant to be Nightwing undercover. It was a Nightwing book. 100%. I never thought of it as being…well…he’s just wearing a different costume. Temporarily. And eventually he will go back to the blue or red. Which he did. And I love the new series. My partner, who co-wrote Grayson, is writing it.
BM: I could tell that you had more to write for Grayson. Is it frustrating that you didn’t get to tell it because things moved on with Rebirth?
TK:….(At this point, King took a 5 second pause. Which doesn’t sound like much, but all his other answers were so instantaneous, it really seemed he was debating what to say.)…No. Because, #1. The guys who took it over did a great job. And I respect them. And they worked from a plot that we worked with. #2. I get to write Batman. That’s a nice consolation prize. And #3, when I wrote Grayson 16, which is the one with the song in it. I was on the way back from a funeral. And I was in a really terrible place. And I wanted to just…I was like…everything seemed black and dingy. And I sat down to write that issue and I was like, I’m going to write just a fun spy thing. Something that will make me laugh. And really…like…once again, comics came and lifted me when I was down. And I was in a good place then. This character was sort of saying, thank you and goodbye. That’s why the last line is, “I’m Grayson. Dick Grayson.” Instead of James Bond. I wanted it to be like, I’m Grayson. That’s why I did it that way and it was my last line going out.
BM: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
TK: Thank you man. Great questions. And I loved that you loved Grayson. And that you asked me about that.
BM: I actually bought something for you today.
TK: You bought something for ME!
BM: This is for you (as I slide Batman #566 across the table).
BM: It’s Batman #566. I don’t know if you’ve read it.
BM: It’s during No Man’s Land, and the city had fallen apart. Superman shows up to Gotham and tells Batman he can help him. And Batman’s like, “No you can’t. You don’t understand this city.”
BM: I figured it might be interesting for you to read since it’s about…well…you know how your thing right now is about super powered people trying to help Batman.
TK: Of course. And The Visitor is a great title too. I just bought a page yesterday from…(he had started to tell me about something he had bought on the floor but the PR person told HIM to wrap it up. He went back to the comic I had given him.) Hey man. This makes my day. I’m going to read this tonight. Thanks man.
So, that wraps up my Tom King interview. Hopefully the level of enthusiasm that King exudes came through and you had as much fun reading my interview as I had while talking with Mr. King.
I’m sure I’ll be chatting with you all in the comment section, but I wanted to take a moment to elaborate on one thing King said. He says that getting to write Batman was a nice consolation prize. I think that’s a very telling statement. After all, consolation prizes are given to people who don’t win 1st place. In this context, it could very well mean that King definitely wanted to finish writing Grayson, but since he can’t, Batman is the next best thing.
I’ll have three more SDCC articles up hopefully by the end of the week. So keep an eye out for my interview with James Tynion IV, an excerpt from the Rebirth Panel, and a synopsis of my own personal highlights from SDCC. Later.