Interview: Al Ewing Talks Writing, ComicsMarch 16, 2020
Recently we had the chance to talk to Al Ewing about his career in writing, including what attracted him to the world of comics.
Was writing something you were always interested in or did that interest come later, like a happy accident?
Al: Yeah, I had an interest in writing ever since I was a kid. I liked writing and just sort of creating things, and the interest was there even before I knew you could do it for a living. We were kind of lucky growing up because it was in a time where there were a lot of credits in comics, so there was that understanding that this was done by real actual people. I think when I was first starting to get into comics it was mostly 2000 AD and on every strip, I had credit so it least gave you the sense of who was doing it. Yeah, from quite an early age I did understand that this was a job but in terms of me doing it, I really didn’t know where to begin, so 2000 AD published some submission guidelines, which they still have today on their website, six months out of the year you can send in unsolicited scripts if you want to try and get a start in writing.
What was it about writing for comics that interested you?
Al: I think because I got so much pleasure out of comics growing up but I also just really like the medium. Whenever I did creative writing and stories, I always found the descriptive part kind of difficult and with a panel description you just sort of write down what’s there. The visuals, the word combinations, kind of making the visual images flow, it’s nice to work with artists whose job is to kind of visual the theme so to speak.
How have things changed in the comic industry, from when you began to where we are now?
Al: Yeah, the industry has changed, certainly a lot more people have come in, different people have come in. We have been through some turns of the wheel, we’re getting a bit of a story renaissance right now, trying new things. I’m thinking, in particular, the new stuff that’s being done with the X-Men at the moment, it’s kind of mind-blowing, and DC is responding by making some big moves in the world of Superman. I feel like when I started working in comics, it would have been the early movies, so there would have been big things happening in terms of the Civil War 2 thing, so it’s sort of nice that the wheel has come around to that, in different ways and different directions. I don’t know, I almost feel like we’re too close to when I started, I started in 2002, I think we need a bit more distance before I can properly judge the era I started in and the era we’re in now. The obvious big change is the movies, something we always knew had great potential and then finally reached that potential when it exploded in 2010 but the rest yeah, I’m probably too close to it still. Give me another ten years and I will be able to give you a better, more complete, answer.
As a writer, do you like tackling different subjects, different characters or would you rather stay with something for an extended period of time?
Al: I think there’s an advantage to both. I think the advantage to playing with Hulk for as long as I have, which I think is longer than I’ve worked on any character, is that I am able to tell a longer story, to dive a little deeper, to get much more into the intricacies of the character. On the other hand, I do like different tones, taking on different topics, I love research too, but yeah, it’s also nice to have a long stretch with a character too.
Do you have a particular routine you stick to when it comes to writing?
Al: I’m a night owl, which works out for me because most of the stuff I do is on American office hours. I get up mid-morning typically, I get some breakfast and start working, usually three hours or so ideally, working during business hours. When the office closes, I’ll have dinner in the middle of all this, and if I haven’t had a drink with dinner, which I don’t often do, I’ll generally work in the night a little bit and end up going to bed around one or two in the morning. I try to have the occasional day to myself where I don’t write, I just do the thinking part, and that’s basically because I found out you have to take days off every so often or the day off will take you. I think the write everyday thing, there are certain definitions of write, for sure. There are days where you need to think about nothing, just let your mind where it will, and usually, that’s where a lot of the best ideas come from, you just have to give yourself permission to not think about anything you’re working on, just wander around, do some chores, that sort of thing.
Have you ever encountered the dreaded writer’s block and if so, how did you get past it?
Al: All the time, actually. (laughs) Writer’s block is a real thing but also isn’t. I think it’s like mythologized as a special condition and I think that kind of gives it power when what it really is the ideas just aren’t happening. There are a few ways of that, you can go make a coffee, have a shower, take some time off and get away from the screen. Another thing that can get you out if it is if you have a pressure deadline and if you don’t get something done that day it won’t get done. Honestly, I find the cure for writer’s block for me generally is just that deadline. There comes a point where you can no longer afford the luxury of writer’s block and it’s like at the start of that time you realize you’re right up against it and all seems lost, but I find the adrenaline shakes something loose that’s been percolating. You can also be in a situation where you work and work and work but you’re working on the wrong idea, you end up working on something that has no legs. The moment you realize you’ve gone down the wrong path and you wipe that away is very freeing and usually the work gets done very quickly after that. So I guess the other possible cure for writer’s block is take a really good look at what you’re doing and decide whether you need to scrap it. You might not actually be blocked, just facing a dead end and wondering how to push yourself through this wall that you really don’t have to be up against.
So what projects are you working on now and what do you have coming up in the future?
Al: Let’s see, obviously there’s Immortal Hulk, there’s a way to go yet on that. There’s Empyre, I’m just in the middle of, getting to the big finale of that in terms of the writing side, there’s something eventually coming out called We Only Find Them When They’re Dead, I’m just mentioning the title, for now, I want to save some of the good stuff for a little down the road. I’m in the 2000 AD free comic book special in May, and that is basically I’m doing a six-page Judge Dredd story with Erica Anderson and it’s the first 2000 AD work I’ve done in a very long time, so that’s quite exciting.
I want to thank Al for taking the time to talk with us