In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT!. We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.
Most readers have come to expect good, nuanced and emotionally resonant writing from Eisner award nominated writer and artist Chip Zdarsky. This is because, despite his upbeat nature and killer social media game, Zdarsky’s style is one that shines a light on moral grey areas, and the heart-wrenching realities of the human experience — all elevated for heroism across stories like those told in Invaders, Daredevil, and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. Zdarsky’s newest Spidey title, Spider-Man: Life Story, predicated on the surprisingly simple premise of “what if Spider-Man aged in real-time?” has blossomed into something much bigger, more unexpected and enthralling than one might expect, too (to say nothing of how staggeringly beautiful the covers are).
This is no beat-by-beat remake of Spidey’s bests from each decade, nor is it just watching Peter age into obscurity “old man yells at cloud” style. No, joined by artist Mark Bagley — as all the best web-slinger writers are — Zdarsky has crafted a stunning tale that is equal parts reference and remix with all the heart and existential dread to boot. How does one approach a longitudinal story like this? Which story elements have to be hit and which can be skipped over? Lucky for you, AiPT! recently spoke with Zdarsky to find those very things out. Check it out below!
AiPT!: First off, an easy question: What drew you, or continues to draw you, to write Spider-Man?
Chip Zdarsky: He was the first superhero that I loved as a kid, and that love has followed me through to now, as an old, old man. He’s always been the relatable one, the superhero that never fully fits in with the rest of them, despite his deep superhero friendships. He gets angry, he gets sad, he messes up, and he does his best to do right. Plus, he’s got the best roster of villains and supporting characters in the history of comics. Like, seriously, J. Jonah Jameson is one of the greats!
AiPT!: What are your favorite Spider-Man stories?
Zdarsky: Man, that’s a tough one. The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man is the best single Spidey story all time, no doubt. But I also really loved The Last Hunt and the Superior Spider-Man storyline. I have a lot of fondness for JMS [Ed.: J Michael Straczynski] and JRJR [Ed.: John Romita Jr.] on the title as that brought me back into comics. Great heart and humor and that first Morlun storyline was my favourite kind of Spidey story where he’s wildly outmatched.
AiPT!: With a couple of opportunities to write Spidey over the years, including Spectacular and most recently Life Story, do you see various iterations of Peter Parker as different characters — kind of off in their own timelines or worlds — or all one in the same? How does writing for a different arc or book inform your take on the character?
Zdarsky: I mean, when you have a character who’s been written by so many writers over the years, there’s a certain malleability to them. There’s a core, for sure, but you can play with tone a lot and that can create some interesting variations of the character. I tried to span a bunch while on Spectacular while keeping him very much Spider-Man.
AiPT!: More narrowly for Life Story, what did the pitch process look like for the book? Did you have a full arc plotted out or just the central premise?
Zdarsky: Well, the original pitch was for a full Marvel Universe maxi-series! Which … was not the best pitch. The editor, Tom Brevoort, wisely convinced me to put the focus on one character. Which helped the whole project immensely, especially once I realized how much ground we’d need to cover in every issue!
After we figured that part out, I had to make timelines of how old everyone would be through the decades, based on their original publication appearance. I re-read all of Amazing Spider-Man and charted events and bits I wanted to work with in each issue. So before I started scripting issue one I knew everything that had to happen in each issue.
AiPT!: Obviously, the narrative is chunked into decades that are effective for the passage of time in-fiction and in reference to the different periods of Spidey’s publications in Life Story, but you’re also remixing villains, Peter’s family, his emotional development and more. How did you decide what you would leave mostly the same and what you would change drastically?
Zdarsky: I wanted the major events to still happen, because part of the fun was seeing how the real-time would affect those. But, the farther away from the ’60s you go, the trickier it gets to make that work. It really took a lot of planning and logic puzzling to figure out how to get the story from point to point and what the characters would look like throughout.
So, a lot of character choices are based on where we needed to go and if the changes felt like natural progressions based on the real-time aspect.
AiPT!: One big change is the notable lack of Eddie Brock in the ’80s issue, instead focusing on Peter’s inner turmoil and kind of letting him take that Venom mantel. Was it an easy choice to go that route or did you toy with the idea of including the core Symbiote storylines?
Zdarsky: I feel like Venom is its own LIFE STORY, y’know? The 80s issue was the hardest for me, because that’s the period that got me into Spider-Man and making those choices was super tough. I wanted Hobgoblin in there as well since that mystery was so big during that period, but introducing the symbiote with Secret Wars took up too much space, sadly. It was definitely fun weaving the symbiote storyline with Kraven’s though!
AiPT!: Speaking of villains, you’ve got a great knack for taking a nuanced, almost sympathetic approach to them across the Spider-verse. Sandman in Spectacular and Kraven in Life Story really stand out. What’s your approach to writing multi-dimensional baddies like that?
Zdarsky: I mean, it seems cliche to say it, but the best villains are the sympathetic ones. So you just have to work with their humanity as much as possible without making them too good, y’know?
AiPT!: With Daredevil showing up in Spectacular is there any chance we might see Peter web-swing his way over to that title in the future or will Life Story be your final word on the character?
Zdarsky: He showed up in issue five! It was something I pushed for with Marvel as I really feel like he’s the moral centre for the Marvel Universe and I needed him to give Daredevil a talking to. Beyond that he’s back in issue 11 for one of my favourite Spidey scenes that I’ve been able to write.
AiPT!: Lastly, congratulations on your much-deserved Eisner nominations! Peter Parker: Spectacular Spider-Man #310 was my favorite single issue of the last year (in my review I noted that it made me cry “spider-tears”) How does it feel? I would imagine it’s hard to ever want to give the character up, now.
Zdarsky: Oh, thanks! The funny thing is, I wrote and drew it as my way of saying goodbye to the character, but here I am on yet another Spidey project AND inserting him into my Daredevil book. Can’t shake the guy.
That’s a wrap! Much thanks to Chip for his spectacular contributions to a character we all love, and thanks to you dear reader for joining AiPT! during Spectacular Spider-Month! Be sure to check back in every day for more Spider-Man content including interviews, features, opinions, and more!