An Interview With the King of Cosmic: Dan Abnett

Jun 19, 2015

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Over the course of my life where I finally got into comics (found out a bit late that the next issue continued the story), I have been mostly enamored by Marvel’s cosmic universe of heroes. I’ve read every issue that my favorite character Nova (Rider and Alexander) has appeared in, and was also a huge fan of Guardians of the Galaxy before the major motion picture was in anyone’s mind. Over the years these space adventures have  captured my imagination more than any other comic could, and that’s mostly due to the incredible writing of one man (plus some help from his like minded friends who got credit as a co-author). This man is Dan Abnett, who I have aptly dubbed the King of Cosmic. Dan has almost single handedly taken Marvel’s most obscure line of intergalactic characters that people had half forgotten about, and turned them into storytelling gold. You know the comic event Civil War that the upcoming Captain America movie is based on? Well forget that because while that comic event was going on, Dan had created an event even more exciting event called Annihilation. While the heroes of Earth were bickering with each other about their small matters, the heroes of the cosmic universe were struggling to save the universe. Nova, Ronan, The Guardians, Adam Warlock and more all became extremely popular after this event and have since spun off to become fan favorites and even the stars of summer blockbusters (more to come as well). This is all thanks to the mind and storytelling of Dan Abnett. Dan has also written books set in the Warhammer (40k), Aliens, Doctor Who, Masters of the Universe and many other universes. After months of bugging my Editor-in-Chief to get us an interview with Dan Abnett, it finally happened and I got to ask him a lot of fun questions I’ve had rattling around in my head for years. Here I’ve transcribed some of the interview but for the full interview including how Dan got started in his writing career check out the video or audio podcast. We talked about too much to even transcribe half of it and it was an absolute blast.

Everett:  “[Jon] is actually a big gamer and we couldn’t find concrete details…if you did write Shadow of Mordor [but you did] right?”

Dan: “Specifically on Shadow of Mordor I didn’t write the story- With Alien: Isolation which is the biggest thing I’ve worked on, I actually was sort of the lead writer of the story. I ended up writing the script for the game which is the equivalent of five screenplays and two endings… Shadow of Mordor was a very different experience, the director of the game there is a guy I’ve worked with before and he came to me and [they’ve got their story] built this thing called the Nemesis System-which makes memorable villains remember you-and he asked me to.. create sixty orc characters who were distinctive and memorable, and write dialog for all the different sort of circumstances in which you would meet them and what they’d remember.”

Jon: “With Alien: Isolation, what was the process going into that? How much input did you have into the story and what is it like jumping into a world like Alien that is so beloved?”

Dan: “That was a real treat with Aliens… I had more sort of story control. It wasn’t just about character and dialog it was about overall story, and it was an enormously complex to try and work out something that was something that [felt] like it was a proper sequel to the original, dealt with the characters responsibly, that didn’t try and break the mold and was aware of everything else that existed in the Alien/Aliens universe in the movies and games and other interpretations without being repetitive and that kind of stuff.

Everett: “To move into comics (or really movies). [You’re] pretty much solely responsible for the Guardians of the Galaxy that [people] love on the cinema screen, because [you’re] version of Guardians of the Galaxy is the version they took. How involved were you in the movie? Did you meet with the screenwriters or James Gunn or anyone?”

Dan: “I did. It was a very, very weird thing. When I started working on the Marvel cosmic, it was working on characters that I’ve loved for ages and they were tertiary at best Marvel Heroes. They were not, I mean they were really… They were the broken toys at the bottom of the box that people were playing with compared to the Marvel headliners. Cosmic was one of those things that you either loved or didn’t get at all… we were told secretly that against all odds Marvel Studios had decided that they were going to make a film of it! And I was going WHAT? Of all the things! What?! … But because… James Gunn had come to England to film it… and he just sort of got in touch and said “Would you like to come and visit the set and see what we’re doing” and I of course went uh… let me think… YES! I had two set visits.”

Jon:  “How closely did you get to work with James Gun and Nicole Perlman?”

Dan: “Their script was already produced. They sort of quizzed me… about if there was anything that I thought was not right in terms of the way the comic worked. And some subsequent Guardians comics which needed to be funneled past them to make sure it matched the film comfortably and didn’t do horrible contradictions. We were getting good feedback both ways.”

Everett: “So what do you think of Peter Quills attitude now in his current form compared to how you wrote him? Because now he’s kind of like a playboy, Indiana Jones type characters versus how you wrote him.”

Dan: “I think… Yes it’s not the quite same way. I think characters can go through evolutions very sucessfully… Peter as I inherited him was heroic, very, very, very principled but also roguish and I think those characteristics have extended through to what is happening now. I think it is impossible/hard to think about Star Lord now without seeing Chris Pratt because he’s got that twinkle in his eye, and therefore that sort of playboy thing works very well in the way that he’s done. I think that’s just the natural extension and it may well be that the next writer or next creative team on the book steers the character in yet another direction and a good charater should be able to do that. I don’t think it’s contradictory, I think it worked perfectly well. If a character stays the same too long doesn’t it become one note and old? As long as they don’t literally contradict who they used to be I think they should grow.”

Everett: “Well here’s the question I’ve been wanting to ask you all night… is Richard Rider dead?”

Dan: “Ah! Well.. Yes! I very much killed him. I’m sorry about that! There was an expectation that… there was a plan to do more and basically circumstances overtook us and that’s when the creative teams changed around, and there’s all sorts of very good reasons for that happening. If I had still been writing the core books there, I would have done a story that… would have at least explained the fate of Peter and Richard at the end of the story, and it wouldn’t necessarily have brought them back from the dead, but it would explain the fate and take them into a new realm.”

Everett: “Real quick who’s your favorite doctor in Doctor Who? Because I know that’s a question that everyone wants to know.”

Dan: ” Oh god, you ask me a question like and it’s not an easy one. My favorite doctors tend to be the ones that I’ve written stories for. But my all-time favorite is Jon Pertwee the third Doctor, who was the serving Doctor Who when I was just old enough to watch Doctor Who. So that dates me some what, but he had just become the Doctor Who when I started watching it as a very small child being scared witless by this, but he was my Doctor Who.

Jon: “Of all the things you’ve done in your career to this point, is there something that you’ve worked on that may not be your favorite, but kind of surprised you that you were working on it… that doesn’t make you feel right, but then you send it out and you get all these compliments and everyone’s saying this is amazing and you’re just like I though it was a bunch of crap?”

Dan: “I have for different reasons at different times. To be perfectly fair I don’t think I’ve ever written something and thought Oh that’s a bunch of crap but submitted it anyway because.. there is a kind of level of professional decorum that I will not cross. I have to be at least pleased with the competence of something before I submit it, but there are jobs that I’ve loved and there are jobs that are hard work and there are jobs where I think Oh that’s a great script and there are jobs where I’ve gone Well I did what I had to do and that’s perfectly good but… The surprise level often comes when people respond almost as if it was disproportionate to something I’ve done.

This wasn’t even half of the interview transcribed so check the interview out now!