For Marjorie M. Liu, writing is not just a passion – it’s also a day job. The scribe penned the story for the new Blu-ray & DVD release Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher, and although her previous work with Marvel included runs on X-23 and the Astonishing X-Men, this is her first foray into cinema.
Liu, whose latest Hunter Kiss novel Labyrinth was released this month, talked about her continuing collaboration with Marvel and her successful (and busy) writing career. She also gave an insightful take on how a story can develop from the power of a single image. Check out the interview below:
Working in the film medium as a writer, did you find any distinct creative differences as opposed to working in the graphic novel/comic & novel formats? How did you find the process, as well as seeing your vision turned into a script by Mitsutaka Hirota?
Writing comics books is really great training for writing a film story. I still had some things to learn, but for the most part, the process wasn’t all that different. Writing a novel, of course, is radically different from either of those things — mostly because it’s just a lot longer, with way more room to meander and play. As for the rest, I haven’t seen the whole film yet — just some extended clips. I think it’s wonderful, though, that the story continued to be developed and brought to life by Mitsutaka Hirota, who I believe was also responsible for the previous Marvel anime film to come out of Madhouse.
The movie has a visual design that immediately pulls the viewer in. What are your thoughts on the anime format interpretation of the Punisher/Black Widow universe? Were you also impressed with the film’s high level of execution?
You must understand that I’m a huge anime fan, so when I realized the movie would be developed in line with that visual design, I was very happy. There’s nothing better than seeing that particular style of sleek fluidity applied to your favorite characters.
Many directors get inspired to tell a story, at first, from a visual concept, whether it’s a single image, a dream, or even the pictures that are conveyed by a writer’s narrative aesthetic. As a scribe and a traveler, does imagery hold an important place in your writing?
Absolutely. I’ve been inspired to create a novel from nothing more than a photograph in National Geographic. The same happened the other day in a Tokyo museum, from a picture taken in 1930. The image was so distinct, so absolutely perfect, that an entire story unfolded inside my head — right there on the spot. Of course, executing that story will be another matter entirely, but the visual does play a powerful role in the creation of my work. It also doesn’t hurt that when I write novels, it’s like watching a movie inside my head. The same is true when I’m scripting comic books. It all plays out in my mind, scene by scene. I’m a very visual writer.
Comic book fans are truly adept at pop culture and, more importantly, the nuances of storytelling. What is it like for you to receive a consistent dialogue or input from your readers?
I love my readers. They are passionate, smart, and know what’s up. It doesn’t bother me to receive input, because ultimately these books aren’t for me — they’re for the readers. Once I write something, it’s gone from me. I send it out into the world and readers take possession of it, to make it live or die inside their minds.
The Punisher and The Black Widow have always held a special place in the Marvel Universe. How would you explain their consistent popularity? Is it their willingness to buck authority? Maybe it’s also the way they handle the more ambiguous lines of what good and evil really mean?
There’s a lot of power in being the only person in a room who wears no mask. And I don’t mean the literal mask of a superhero, but instead the existential mask. People hide their true selves — to fit in, to pretend to be someone they’re not. Superheroes do it, too. But Frank Castle doesn’t hide anything at all. He is a cold blooded vigilante with a mean streak, and he makes no apologies for it. He has his own sense of right and wrong — an implacable moral compass — and yes, it rests in a gray zone. And yes, he doesn’t care about authority. He IS the authority when it comes to justice — and that is really, really, fun to read.
Black Widow isn’t all that different. How many times has she gone against her friends, the guys in charge, because she knows something isn’t right? Because she trusts her instincts more than the system? She is another wild card, a fully independent, fully confident and capable and dangerous individual — and like Frank, she’ll go through anyone who stands between her and what she needs to do.
Working with Marvel – can you talk about what that collaboration has meant to you? Are you offered relatively free reign as a writer or is it an entirely different equation?
I’m a novelist, and never imagined that I’d be comfortable in a collaborative environment. Except, I was completely wrong. Not only was I comfortable, I came to crave it. There’s something delightful about working with others in a creative partnership. The artists I’ve had the privilege of telling stories with? Amazing. My editors? Wonderful.
Can you also fill our readers in on current projects that you’ve finished and/or are working on?
It’s been a busy year. My latest novel, Labyrinth of Stars, just came out. It’s the fifth in my Hunter Kiss series, about a woman covered in living tattoos that peel off her body at night to form her own demonic army — part of a legacy passed down from mother to daughter for the last ten thousand years. I’m also revising a mystery novel about an elderly dominatrix who solves crime with her war veteran granddaughter, and on the side I’m working on fleshing out a new comic book that I hope to talk about later this summer.
Lastly, for people who want to pursue writing as a career, what kind of advice do you give? Is it to just write and then worry about everything else? Also..do you love mentoring other writers as they start or continue their writing path?
What I tell people is that reading is the best preparation for becoming a writer. I mean, read a lot. Read constantly, read everything, read to learn, read for pleasure, read to be inspired. Almost everything I learned about writing, I learned from reading — and I’m still learning. That will never stop. We don’t write a book, get it published, and tell ourselves that we know it all. That’s crazy. This is a process of improvement that goes on and on. But yes, writing a lot is essential, too. Giving yourself permission to write badly is also important. I know a lot of people who freeze up because they’re afraid that what they’re writing sucks. Well, that’s okay. First drafts are supposed to suck. The point is to get it down on the page.
And yes, I do enjoy mentoring other writers. It’s why I’ve begun to teach, here and there.
To further examine Marjorie M. Liu’s work, check out her website.
Here’s a snippet of “The Vigilante vs. The Spy,” a featurette from Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher.