Christopher Golden is a New York Times bestselling author who has put words into the mouths of iconic characters such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the X-Men. Recently, he’s been crafting the comic book exploits of Lord Baltimore, the character who first appeared in the novel Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and The Vampire, co-written by Golden and Mike Mignola. You can read our review for that classic book here. Christopher was kind enough to chat with me via email about the latest Baltimore mini-series from Dark Horse, Dr. Leskovar’s Remedy, his collaboration with Mike Mignola and artist Ben Stenbeck, he’s writing method, and much more.
Andy Burns: As someone who thought the original Baltimore novel was a wonderful and thoroughly engaging story, I’m wondering if the plan that you and Mike Mignola always had involved bringing the character to the comic book world? Or was there even a plan for him?
Christopher Golden: The only thing planned from the beginning was the novel. We had some very vague conversations about writing a sequel to the novel, even while I was writing the original, but nothing concrete. Once in a while, during the process of developing the initial Hollywood version that ended up not happening, we did sort of acknowledge to each other that one day it would be nice to fill in those missing years from the novel…that there were a lot of adventures to be told in that space. At some point, one of those conversations just turned into, “let’s do it,” though I can’t honestly remember when or how that happened.
Andy Burns: Looking a little bigger, whats the story behind Lord Baltimore’s creation? How did you and Mike collaborate on the character?
Christopher Golden: Well, let’s be clear about this. The Baltimore in the novel is exactly how Mike first envisioned him, even before he asked me to collaborate with him on it. Or, at least, he’s as close as I could get him. It’s all filtered through my writing and the way I have to connect emotionally with the characters I’m writing, to understand them, but I’d like to think the novel Baltimore is the realization of what Mike hoped for with him. The Baltimore in the comics is becoming a little more equal in terms of who he is. The other characters developed differently, but Baltimore is just Baltimore.
Andy Burns: Your work here obviously complements classic vampire mythos that I’ve always thought, perhaps wrongly, that Baltimore (the character, the original novel and now the various comics) was a reaction to what I consider to be the watered down version of vampires in mainstream culture. Is there anything to my interpretation or is that my Twilight bias poking through?
Christopher Golden: I haven’t read Twilight. I’ve seen forty minutes of the first movie, on a plane, but then my screen died and I couldn’t finish watching. What I saw of it I thought was interesting. So I have nothing against Twilight in particular, or the way that vampires have been co-opted by other, often times softer genres. But my preference is always going to be for the dark heart of the folklore related to vampires. So, for me, Baltimore isn’t a reaction or answer or antidote to Twilight…it’s just a reminder that there’s another way to go, a dark oasis for those of us who prefer our vampires without angst.
Andy Burns: In the latest mini-series, Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar’s Remedy, the character’s world continues to get bigger. Is there a particular influence or inspiration that led to this particular story?
Christopher Golden: As is so often the case with these things, I can’t remember the exact sequence that led to this story being cooked up. In the Baltimore novel, there’s a scene with these terrified homeless people who are living beneath overturned boats on the side of a river, and Mike and I both liked that a lot. I’m sure that was his. There are also elements to Dr. Leskovar’s Remedy that exist for no other reason than that Ben Stenbeck wanted to draw them and we wanted to give him an opportunity to play a little. I could tell you what some of those things are, but it would spoil the second issue. Thematically, I wanted to play with a little mad scientist/Dr. Moreau idea and see how that fit in with the crisis going on in Europe in this series, and with the kinds of goals that desperate people might develop under those harrowing circumstances.
Andy Burns: I’m wondering, how does your approach to writing change when you’re working in the comics medium as opposed to prose?
Christopher Golden: I’m not sure my approach changes much, but the medium is totally different. It’s a different discipline. It’s strange in that I started writing comics around the same time that I started writing prose professionally, but I don’t think that I was ever that good at writing comics. There are exceptions–things I think turned out very well–but it was only around the time that Tom Sniegoski and I did TALENT that I think I sort of figured the comics medium out. BALTIMORE is certainly the best thing I’ve ever done in the medium.
Andy Burns: I love Ben Stenbeck’s artwork in Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar’s Remedy- he’s got such a great feel for this world. How much of what we see is contained in the script versus what Ben ultimately draws?
Christopher Golden: The greatest thing about working with Ben is this: many comic book artists will only give you what you specifically ask for…little detail, sparse backgrounds. Ben understands that when I write about Baltimore walking through a small village that I mean for us to SEE the village. So, everything important to telling the story is in the script when he gets it, but everything that has to do with the texture and the atmosphere of the story, with the weight and feel of it, comes from the wonderful work that he and Dave Stewart do with every issue. Sometimes the little panels with ravens or crabs or weird closeups are in the script–I put them there to give that unsettling pause or the bit of atmosphere–but sometimes they’re not in the script and Ben adds them in because that’s what feels right. He works closely with Mike and with Scott Allie, of course, but he totally gets this world that otherwise exists only in my brain and in Mike’s brain. Now it’s in his brain, too, poor guy.
Andy Burns: Sticking along the lines of writing, you’ve done so much work in both comics and novels. Do you have a preference for either of the two?
Christopher Golden: If you put a gun to my head and made me choose, it would be writing novels, for several reasons…though the most important one is this: writing a novel doesn’t require anyone else to bring it to fruition or to make it work. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some excellent artists but I’ve also worked with some who…weren’t. If something in a novel doesn’t work, I have only myself to blame.
Andy Burns: When you’re writing, what’s your set up – how long do you spend on a given day, do you have music going when you’re working? What do you need around you for you to be as productive as possible?
Christopher Golden: Unfortunately, I find that most mornings are full of email and other business and I get most of my real work done in the afternoons. But I’m at my desk until at least six p.m. five days a week, and usually several hours on the weekend as well. To be most productive, I’d need to get away from the internet, and I’m going to start doing that soon. And yes, I nearly always have music playing. I could literally listen to my iTunes for three weeks and not repeat a song.
Andy Burns: As a writer, you’ve worked in a lot of shared worlds. As a reader, I’ve often wondered if it’s difficult to create in universes where I’m sure there are imposed editorial rules. How have you been able to work around those for your own creative satisfaction?
Christopher Golden: Part of the satisfaction comes from just being able to play with characters you already love, to be the one putting the words in their mouths and making them go through an adventure you’ve concocted yourself. Beyond that, I tend to try to push the envelope with such things. When I wrote the X-Men trilogy MUTANT EMPIRE, nobody else had ever done anything like it. That thing was huge and had just about every character I could ever have wanted to use that was related to the X-Men. I had scenes in there that were observations about those characters that I had never seen done that way before. When I had to write from Cyclops’s POV, I realized that he sees everything in shades of red because of his ruby quartz visor. I had some character stuff between him and Jean Grey that felt real and sincere to me, and I loved that. I got to write the Starjammers, back when they were cool. I loved writing those books. While I was writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels, I really tried to push the parameters of what was allowed. Nancy Holder and I wrote the very first original Buffy novel, the first hardcover, the first trilogy. I wrote the first Buffy serial, the first Buffy novel that didn’t have Buffy in it, a WWII-era novel in which Spike and Drusilla were the protagonists. Tom Sniegoski and I wrote the first Buffy/Angel crossover novel. So when I take those kinds of gigs, I really try to make it interesting for myself even beyond just the geek love for whatever it might be, although sometimes, that’s enough.
Andy Burns: Finally, is there anything your reading right now, comics or otherwise, that you would recommend to Biff Bam Pop readers?
Christopher Golden: RACHEL RISING by Terry Moore is one of the best, creepiest, coolest comics out there right now. If you’re not reading it, you damn well should be.
Thanks so much to Christopher Golden for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop, and Aub Driver at Dark Horse for making it happen. You can find out more about everything Christopher is working on at his official website here.