Ann Nocenti began writing Daredevil with issue #236 and had a long run on the series. Here she answers questions from myself and many other DD fans who submitted questions through my site. Thanks to Keith DeCandido, editor of the Marvel Novels at Byron Preiss Multimedia for his help with the interview.
From Kuljit Mithra (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Kuljit Mithra: You started out as an assistant editor at Marvel and eventually you became the editor of two of the most popular series - Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants. Was this the role you wanted, or did you really intend to become a writer?
Ann Nocenti: I painted oils and did zinc plate etching back then, i.e.: I was poor. Answering a help wanted Village Voice ad, I sincerely lied my way past the shooter at the door, pretending I knew what a comic was. Once inside the citadel I was stunned by the incendiary energy of words and pics shoved into little box grids, printed on toilet paper, to be rolled up and stuck in a back pocket like a rag. The whole thing seemed subversive. Why was all this psychedelic power crammed into such tiny, badly-printed packages? Were they peddling some new drug here? I knew right away I wanted a crack at making the things. As for editing, I enjoyed it back when it was a gentle job of inspiring and caretaking talented humans. Now, because of the cutthroat way the biz is, I don't imagine it's much fun anymore.
Kuljit Mithra: Your work (as a writer) includes Spider-Woman, Longshot, Star Wars, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Typhoid, Kid Eternity and the canceled Marvel Annual with Ka-Zar and DD. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of your writing?
Ann Nocenti: Strengths and weaknesses are sometimes the same thing. The crazy paths my brain heads down made for some fun-twisted and not-so-fun-twisted moments. Having a political spine gave my stories meaning and too much meaning. The shadowy places dark work slips into can be rich at times, oppressive at others. Beyond that, we are all somewhat mercifully blind to ourselves, so it's a tuff question to answer.
Kuljit Mithra: Issue 236, your first issue on Daredevil, was with artist Barry Windsor-Smith. Here we were introduced to Jack Hazzard, a victim of the 'American Dream'. How was your collaboration with Mr. Windsor-Smith? Also, the theme of the 'American Dream' runs through many of your issues of Daredevil, and I was wondering what the 'Dream' means to you?
Ann Nocenti: Barry Windsor-Smith is an awesome talent. He added dignity, pathos, and tenderness to my story. He's one of the best I've ever worked with. As for the phrase "american dream," I meant it ironically, and it has to do with my love/hate relationship with living in this liberating/oppressive, humanitarian/imperialistic, sweet/rotten apple pie country.
Kuljit Mithra: Your fill-in issue led to you writing the series full time after writer Steve Englehart decided not to write the series (because he wanted to use the Black Widow in a way that conflicted with your fill-in issue). How do you even begin to prepare stories for a character that had just been overhauled during the 'Born Again' saga? Was it a daunting task? Were you trying to move away from the Miller stories?
Ann Nocenti: Miller's work on Daredevil was delicious and captivating and so yes, it was daunting to take over after him. I just assumed everyone would hate everything I did and they'd throw my ass right off the book, so that mindset actually liberated me to do whatever I wanted and have fun for the short party I thought it would be. I wrote with a "last meal on death row" mentality. Beyond that, DD's character is so interesting, he himself suggested the paths I would take. And beyond that, I imagine my brain is very different from Miller's, so the stories just naturally veered off on a different path than his.
Kuljit Mithra: Louis Williams was one of the artists you worked with on DD. How did you feel about his work on the comic and whatever happened to him?
Ann Nocenti: Louis Williams had a fluid emotionalism to his work that I adored. I don't know what happened to him. Hopefully he's happily drawing somewhere.
Kuljit Mithra: I remember reading in an issue of DD that you were planning on making a graphic novel with Klaus Janson. What ever happened to that project and what was it going to be about?
Ann Nocenti: I don't remember. I think we wanted to do a down-and-dirty tuff guy saga. I think we both got busy on other stuff, and I regret that. Working with Klaus would have been fun.
Kuljit Mithra: Earlier this year you were going to write the Ka-Zar/DD Annual. Can you explain what happened to that project and what it was going to be about?
Ann Nocenti: A Marvel editor called me and said pleaz pleaz pleaz, I beg you, I need a story and I need it fast, I need it yesterday, if you do this for me I promise you lots of work. He seemed sweet and I can't resist someone in need so I skipped sleep and rushed out a whacky fun tale about a lascivious sick chick who got so turned-on by Ka-Zar she almost ruined him with a rusty old virus she was carrying around. It was a boomerang revenge plot that originated with Ka-zar's brother. Anyway, one day down the road I got an abrupt, not-so-nice message on my phone machine from the "nice" editor saying that the project was killed and I never heard from him again. That's the way the business is today. Not so nice but still pretending to be.
Kuljit Mithra: Before I turn the questions over to the others, how do you feel about the recent rewriting of Typhoid Mary's origin, where she is the woman DD accidently pushed out the window in the DD:The Man Without Fear limited series? Can you give some background on how you created the character?
Ann Nocenti: Re-writes always stay in the realm of maybe-it's-true, maybe-it-ain't. There's something impure and mean and ego-driven about them, and you don't have to believe them if you don't want to. When you write work-for-hire, your little creations aren't really yours-- any kid in the playground can play with your toys, any kid can hurl your toys against a cement wall. You just have to get used to it. As for where Typhoid came from, you'll have to ask the shrink I've as yet never gone to. I think I wanted to shatter the female stereotypes--virgin, whore, bitch, ditz, feminist, girl scout, all-suffering mother, et al.--into tiny fragments and yet keep all the pieces in the same little female bundle. I guess there's a bit of Typhoid in me, which I imagine always keeps my boyfriends happy in a maddening sort of way. I love writing her, she's a blast to play with, and I hope I can write her again some day.
From Bill Koenig (Wmkoenig@aol.com):
Bill Koenig: To what degree should comics be used as a vehicle to express a point of view? Your stories included animal rights (personally I think in a heavy handed way) and other issues.
Ann Nocenti: Comics are great because they're all things. Sometimes just plain fun, sometimes they have deadly intent. Anything goes. Yes, I've been known to rant like a boozyheaded drunk in a bar about something I believe in too passionately. And as the drunk says in the morning, I did that? I said that? I'm really sorry... And then the drunk lies: I'll never do it again. But on the other hand, I got a score of "I'll never eat meat again" letters after those animal rights stories. I did a story about alcoholism once and got a "My family sat down and read your comic together and my dad has promised to stop drinking" letter. Those letters made me feel delusionally good for a few seconds. But... on the other hand, life is tuff and where can you escape from this all this shit if you can't escape in a comic? So I agree and disagree with my own ranting comics. I probably should have written more that were just wild roller coaster rides.
Bill Koenig: What was your thinking on the "Daredevil Goes to Hell" storyline. I personally liked it but it's also controversial among fans.
Ann Nocenti: I wanted to test DD's purity in a mythic realm. And New York is ever a short step away from Hell, so it was a natural stretch of DD's usual noir urban terrain. And I knew Romita would draw a wicked good demon.
From Gerry Alanguilan (email@example.com):
Gerry Alanguilan: In your DD story with Wolverine and Bushwacker, did it ever occur to you that the movie "Crash" might have been inspired a bit by your story?
Ann Nocenti: When Crash came out I remember thinking it was a nasty little idea that I'd had myself once. It was comforting to know my more twisted ideas have been had by others. I think ideas are all out there in the nethers, people simultaneously have the same ideas if they are like-minded, so I doubt the writer was inspired by my story, I doubt they ever saw it. They just had the same idea, I guess. Wasn't the movie based on a book, anyway?
From Tigerbill (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Tigerbill: Do you plan on doing more DD work?
Ann Nocenti: No plans, but one never knows.
Tigerbill: Do you WANT to do more DD work?
Ann Nocenti: DD, because of his inherent contradictions, is a wonderful character, always fun to write.
Tigerbill: What are you planning on doing next? Anything with Marvel?
Ann Nocenti: I edit and write for a film magazine now, called Scenario, and I'm in the middle of a mystery novel, so I'm pretty busy with that. Next on my plate as a writer is maybe some tv work, maybe another X-Men prose novel. I had a lot of fun writing the Prisoner X novel. I'd love to write comics again, if the right project crossed my path, with a company and/or editor I trusted. The business has been kind of ugly and traumatic for the past handful of years. Projects I loved, stories that are probably my best work, were dumped and never saw print when the industry sales collapsed, companies went bankrupt, and scores of comics were cancelled. A few years ago I was hired to write a treatment and first issue for a comic called "The Darkness" for the cats at Top Cow. They used my work, but never paid me, never credited me. That experience turned me off to comics quite a bit, and I'm afraid stories like that are typical of the business these days. But hopefully comics are on the rise again, and I'll be able to be part of that.
Tigerbill: What did you think of working with John Romita Jr?
Ann Nocenti: John Romita Jr. makes every story he touches better. He has an irrepressible grace and lyrical beauty to his drawing that makes working with him pure joy.
From Pat Williams (Patwill9@AOL.COM):
Pat Williams: Do you consider yourself a better plotter or dialoguer? Which skill was harder to master?
Ann Nocenti: Tuff question. Plotting and dialogue are too intertwined to separate. I don't think I ever mastered either skill, but I'm still trying.
Pat Williams: What do you feel was your most satifying issue or story on DD? Which was the least satisfying?
Ann Nocenti: I have many favorite DD stories. The Typhoid stories, the Jack Hazzard story, Bushwacker, the Bullet storylines, the hell stories, the mutant inferno story... But there's one special story out there that I wrote but no longer have a copy of, so I can't remember what it was called or what number it was, (anyone have a copy they can send me?) but it was a simple, single-issue story where DD puts a noose on someone's neck and whacks the chair legs to scare the shit out of him. I always liked that story. I'd like to read it again and see if it holds up to my memory of it. As for my least satisfying stories? Ingrid Bergman once said the key to happiness is a bad memory. I've mercifully forgotten the ones I wasn't happy with. Most people are kind enough not to remind me.
Pat Williams: As a writer, do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman? Why?
Ann Nocenti: A little of both, depending on which day you ask.
Pat Williams: How has your writing changed since your DD days? What one thing did scripting DD teach you about how to be a better writer?
Ann Nocenti: These questions are getting too hard to answer.
From Jack Rockley Jr. (JRockleyjr@aol.com):
Jack Rockley, Jr.: How do you feel about being one of those writers that the fans either love or hate?
Ann Nocenti: Someone out there hates me? I wish you hadn't told me that.
Jack Rockley, Jr.: Why do you think some readers of DD think you didn't handle the characters correctly?
Ann Nocenti: Don't know. The only thing you can do is write from your heart, your experience, give it your best shot.
Jack Rockley, Jr.: After reading the Mephisto storyline... I'm confused... wondering where this fits into the DD story? Were you trying to put DD into the mystic books instead of the hero books?
Ann Nocenti: See my answer from before.
From Richard Meyer (email@example.com):
Richard Meyer: I'd like to know the reasons you left the comic?
Ann Nocenti: The book needed new blood, I needed new challenges. Think of it as a mercy killing.
Richard Meyer: What do you think of D.G. Chichester's work (for the record, I hated it)?
Ann Nocenti: I'm embarrassed to admit I never read the book after I left, so I don't know Chichester's writing well enough to answer. Change is usually a good thing, so I'm sure it all worked out.
Richard Meyer: Did you ever get in trouble for being such a liberal (again for the record, I'm pretty conservative but I still loved your stuff)?
Ann Nocenti: I remember after a Captain America story we got a letter that said, "Get the commie off the book." We had a big laugh about that one. Luckily, I had an enlightened editor, Ralph Macchio, so while we had lots of fun conversation about the issues, and he often disagreed with my politics, he let me do what I wanted. He was an extremely supportive and intelligent editor. I also remember once I wrote a New Mutants story about media conglomerates, and the higher powers at Marvel got wind of it before it went to press and cut the print run (uncomfortable with the fact that they were the very thing I was critiquing). So the story was suppressed and not seen by many, but I did get a wonderful letter from Noam Chomsky, the great writer and guru of media analysis, so I was thrilled.
Richard Meyer: I often sensed you "cringing" while writing the fight/action scenes- did you feel comfortable writing them or felt they were expected because of the genre?
Ann Nocenti: I don't like the tendency in super-hero comics for all conflict to be resolved thru fisticuffs... Yet it's an action/adventure medium, so you have to... But fisticuffs gets redundant, and that's hard to deal with... But great action sequences are a blast, so you try your best... But do we always have to pound ourselves out of every disagreement? In other words: yes, I was conflicted about writing fight scenes. I saw them as tumors on the storyline, so it wasn't a strong point in my work. In hindsight I can see that the better the reasons leading up to the fight, the better the fight, the more the fight makes sense, so it's a challenge I'd like to take on again someday.
Richard Meyer: I agree that a lot of your stories seemed less like DD stories than like cool stories with DD in them- what do you think of this?
Ann Nocenti: I always tried to have the stories come out of DD's essential conflicts: court justice versus vigilante justice. The religious purity of his spirit versus his demonic visage and methods. The play on blind justice. His dual impulses toward both mercy and vengance. His attraction to troubled women. His zen qualities versus his messianic ones. The stories were always supposed to be illuminations of one of those ideas, no matter how abstract. Does that answer your question?
Richard Meyer: When people like Wolverine, Captain America, and Spidey guested in the book, were they there because you wanted them to be or was it forced on you to increase sales?
Ann Nocenti: Guest stars are great fun, and no one forced me to do anything. So although we were aware the stars helped our sales, and that was part of the reason to do it, it was also done because it was fun. Also, the methods of other heroes often helps illuminate the title hero, so guest stars are also used to explore character.
And some final questions from me again:
Kuljit Mithra: What was the one thing you found the most intriguing about the Daredevil character? What didn't you like about the character?
Ann Nocenti: a) See answer above [about DD's essential
conflicts]. All those conflicted states of mind.
b)What's not to like?
(c) Kuljit Mithra 1998
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