I recently had the opportunity to interview Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson who are currently working on X-Man in The Age of X-Man Alpha (2019) and The Marvelous X-Men at Marvel (2019.) Previously, they'd worked on titles such as The Dregs (2016), Come Into Me (2018) for Black Mask Studios, and Cable (2018) for Marvel. A unique writing duo, these two have gone from indie to the Big Two, while now juggling both. I've been a fan of Lonnie, and met him back at New York Comic Con in 2017 which then led me to this interview. Note: Zac was only able to get to some of the questions, but Lonnie was able to answer all.
Michael Austerlitz (MA): I’ve been a huge fan since The Dregs (2016.) Lonnie, we met at NYCC in 2017 and I remember putting two and two together, that you were the co-writer. It was at the Black Mask Studios table. Naturally I picked up whatever else you and Zac were putting out. I think after that came Cable (2017), right? That must have been exciting.
(Lonnie Nadler) LN: Yeah, that’s right. It was a very surreal year for Zac and I. The Dregs was only the second pitch we ever put together, it got greenlit by our number one choice for a publisher. That alone was enough to make our year. We worked on The Dregs with the idea that this very well might be the only book we ever get to do so we threw all we had at that thing, and I think our passion comes through in the work. We’re also lucky to have gotten a veteran artist like Eric [Zawadzki] on our first book. And then one day we just kind of got a call from Marvel because Axel Alonso, Editor in Chief at the time, read The Dregs thanks to Matthew Rosenberg, and liked it. So after only having written four published issues, our next book was Cable. We still don’t really know how it all happened, but we feel very fortunate to be in the positions we’re in this early in our careers.
(Zac Thompson) ZT: It’s all a little surreal, we were (and continue to be) flying by the seat of our pants. There’s no real way to make this up, we had one issue of our next creator owned series, Come Into Me, at Black Mask coming out a week before our Big Two debut. Every single day feels like we’re the luckiest dudes alive. Working with incredible collaborators to tell challenging stories is what we live for.
MA: So I kind of want to delve into your work, how you work together, what got you into comics, the connection between your love of horror movies and comics, and the switch back and forth between creator-owned and Marvel. Sound good?
LN: Let’s do it.
ZT: Sounds good!
MA: So, Lonnie, what got you into comics?
LN: I don’t remember exactly what got me into comics initially. I think it was because as a kid I was hugely into the X-Men and Spider-Man animated series. I loved the characters and something about their aesthetics appealed to my impressionable mind. The corner store near my house sold comics, and this dollar store nearby sold mystery packs of back issues for a buck so I would just buy those without really knowing what was happening in the comics, because I was reading them all out of order. But I liked the medium, the art, the characters, the interplay of it all. It was my older cousin who was a huge comic book collector who finally set me on the right path and gave me certain runs and series. From there I never really looked back. There was a period in high school where I stopped reading comics for a bit, because I thought it would make me “uncool” but I missed it and just said “[expletive] it,” so by the last two years of high school I was a regular Wednesday shop-goer and while I always wanted to be a writer, those couple years were when I really thought, “This. This is the job I want”.
MA: And Zac, what led you to the medium?
ZT: My older brother would always put comics in my hands. I would leaf through old issues of Age of Apocalypse and obsessively watch Batman: The Animated Series. I was an action figure kid, through and through. I loved the design of the characters and wanted to collect everything. Eventually my room was littered with superheroes and I started constructing my storylines with them as I did all the voices and acting for everything. That later lead to me writing weird little fanfics, that eventually blossomed into my own stories and my own character when I was ten. I used to write and draw my own zines when I was like fourteen. Then, when I was in university I became disillusioned with a career in academia and decided to pursue writing full time. So far it wasn’t a mistake.
MA: From what I know about writing, doing it by yourself is tough enough, how do you both manage to work so well together?
LN: We’ve developed a symbiotic process so that it’s not really co-writing so much as it is two people becoming one to develop a combined vision. We write everything physically together. We sit in the same room, in the same Google Doc, and talk about everything in excruciating detail and then write and re-write each other’s sentences. When you write alone, you’re having these internal conversations with yourself constantly, but the way we do it, we just have those with each other. It keeps things on rails and it’s become a very natural affair at this point. With all this said, co-writing is not easy and I wouldn’t recommend it for the vast majority of people. To do it the way we do, it must be done with someone you trust implicitly.
ZT: It’s a lot about that safety you create with a collaborator. Co-writing is the admission that no idea is a bad idea. So we spend most of the day talking things out, bouncing ideas off one another, and challenging each other to do better. It seems to work really well for us, but I believe part of that is because we do it in person, and the other part is that we’re just naturally suited to work with one another. I think we both have different writing styles as individuals, but as a hivemind you’d never be able to know. It’s about getting that perfect mix down on paper, so you can’t tell where the ideas came from or even that there’s two writers behind the wheel.
MA: So, more descriptively, is it a thing where one of you plots and one writes dialogue? Or is it joint? Can you describe the process?
LN: I pretty much covered it, I think. Like I said, we don’t split the work at all. We do it all together. I think Zac and I both have personalities where if we split it up, we’d just want to change what the other person did, so we do it all together to ensure we both agree with what’s being put on the page. It’s a lot of back and forth. We start with a scene, say, “Okay, what’s the goal here? What needs to happen? How does this communicate theme or character or mood?” and we just talk it out until we’ve come to some agreement on how things should play out. Lots of idea vomiting, essentially, and building off each other’s verbal puking.
ZT: Lonnie pretty much nailed it. Everything we do, we do together. There’s no separation of duties. It would prove impossible to pick out our specific contributions to anything because we’re both so involved in every part of the process.
MA: Now I notice your creator owned work (The Dregs, Come Into Me (2018), Her Infernal Descent (2018) is very horror inspired. Lonnie, you and I have talked about horror movies, so I definitely see this in your work. How do you use this influence to create these worlds and characters we see in these books?
LN: I grew up on horror and genre in general so it colors almost everything I do. It’s like I can’t escape it at this point, even when I want to. But I also love mixing horror and drama, or comedy, or science fiction. I think genre appeals so much to me because it comes with a set of expectations for the reader, and a big part of what I try to do in writing is to subvert expectation, to deliver new imagery, and to be transgressive. I want readers to be uncomfortable and to be guessing, to confront something inside themselves. And since genre comes with all these expectations and tropes, it makes it easier to not do those things and thus to surprise the reader. So for me it’s about challenging the reader through genre and stretching the bounds of what horror means. I’m not interested in doing what’s been done in horror, I want to use what’s been done as a map so that I know what to stray from in order to deliver something novel, whether that be related to character, theme, or just plot points.
MA: When you made the leap to Marvel you worked on Cable first. Have to admit, wasn’t the biggest X-Men fan. But seeing your names on it, I added it to my pulls and was wildly impressed.
LN: Thank you! That really means a lot. I’m a lifelong X-Men fan so having Cable as our first Marvel book was so fulfilling it was almost too good to be true. We’ve heard from a few people that our Cable run got them back into X-Men comics, and I’m not saying this to be arrogant, but I think it’s because we tried to take a different approach to the character and treat him more seriously and sombre than some writers in the past, and that seemed to resonate with readers for one reason or another. Hearing people have that kind of reaction is incredibly rewarding for us.
MA: Can you talk about making the leap from creator-owned to one of the Big Two? For example, can you describe how it is writing for Black Mask Studios vs. writing a non-creator-owned property?
LN: It was extraordinarily tough for me at first, to be honest. At Black Mask we had complete creative freedom to do whatever we wanted, and then transitioning into Marvel work is a completely different game. Zac and I were used to writing very long scripts with high panel counts and we had to learn rather quickly that it simply doesn’t work that way at Marvel. I tried to fight it a bit at first, but then our editor explained things to me in a way that it all clicked. Doing superhero work, for the most part, is almost a completely different type of writing than creator-owned work. Neither is better or worse than the other, but they each come with their own benefits and drawbacks. I’m still learning, but once I embraced the shift in writing style I was able to have a lot more fun.
MA: Back to Cable. What inspired you on that run. I know one issue you said you were heavily inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)?
LN: I think our initial pitch was that we wanted to do Memento meets Frankenstein but with a superhero at the helm or something of that ilk. It was crazy and ambitious, but I still feel like that holds true to how the series turned out. Memento was inspiring in the sense that the story is basically told backward chronologically, going from end to beginning. So we tried to do something a bit less complex, but theoretically you could read the run in either direction and still understand it all. Frankenstein was a big reference point for the villain of the series we created, Metus. Other than that, The Thing hugely inspired one issue in particular, and The Road inspired another one. And, evidently, we were also very much inspired by previous runs on Cable and X-Force and other X-books, and wanted to pay homage to those in the various time periods we visited.
MA: You’re now writing the saga of X-Man in The Age Of X-Man (2019) titles (Alpha and The Marvelous X-Men), as well having written X-Men: The Exterminated (2018.) I feel like you both get these characters so well. What’s your affinity towards the Mutants of Marvel?
LN: Thank you! They’re a tough bunch to get right because everyone has their own vision of what the X-Men should be or what they are at their core. But I think so many people love them and relate to them because they stand for a fight against oppression of any sort. Almost everyone has experience with this theme to varying degrees, so there is universal appeal built into their DNA. On top of that, I love the melodrama of it all and how their history is basically one long soap opera. And this isn’t to demean, but rather what I’m saying is that the X-Men narrative and aesthetic is extremely elevated and appeals to us on an emotional level rather than on a logical one. This bled into our approach for Age of X-Man. Aside from being lifelong fans, Zac and I did a lot of research and tried to strip the books down to what they were at the most essential level. What came out of it was fairly simple: relationships, family, oppression, and constant fighting. So with Age of X-Man we basically wanted to strip all of that away and see who these mutants become when unhindered by their past. Obviously that doesn’t last long.
MA: What projects are in the future? If you can talk about it.
LN: We’ve got a whole lot of stuff in the works, some together, some individually. Right now we’re working on a neo-Western that [is] incredibly exciting, and we’re working on something with Piotr Kowalski again who did Come Into Me with us. We have a few things in the works at Marvel as well, but we can’t say much about those yet. And then I have a weird historical cosmic horror comic that I’m doing with Jenna Cha and that will be out in the tail end of 2019.
MA: Anything else you want to say?
LN: I think that pretty much covers it. Just want to say thank you so much for the support you’ve shown us, and for taking the time to interview us. It truly means a hell of a lot.
Follow Zac on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ZacBeThompson