Having written stories for everyone from Buffy to Hellboy and created a wealth of his own characters and tales, Christopher Golden is quite possibly the most prolific author I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. Seriously, his work-rate is staggering (If you don’t believe me, Google him. See. Fantastic isn’t it? I’m not usually one to say I told you so, but… I told you so) , almost unbelievable and to be able to maintain the kind of quality that imbues ever single one of his books throughout his career so far, well folks, it’s not only amazing, it’s quite literally mind blowing. With a new series of ‘Baltimore’ (that he co-writes with Mike Mignola) just hitting the shelves, and a new novel due out next month, Mass Movement caught up with Christopher to talk about comics, books, characters and ‘The Cult of the Red King’…
Interview by Tim Mass Movement
MM: I guess we should start, like all things do, at the beginning. Would you like to introduce, and tell us a little about, yourself?
CG: You’d think that’d be an easy question to answer, wouldn’t you? Hmmm, I’m a novelist, comic book writer, editor, and screenwriter, among other things. I’ve been writing full time since I quit my job in 1992, at the age of twenty-five. I live in Massachusetts with my wife and kids and as much as I love what I do, family comes first. Like most writers, I read a ton and watch too much TV and not as many movies as I’d like to.
MM: So, which came first for you Christopher, comics or books? And what attracted, and continues to attract, you to both?
CG: I started writing my first novel as a senior in college, and sold it in 1992, which was also the year I was first paid to write comics, so I guess you could say they happened around the same time. Writing novels has always been my main occupation, with comics as a side-line, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love comics equally. I think of my work as being a storyteller, and that’s not defined by what medium I’m telling stories in. When you’re writing a novel, it’s purer in a way, because it’s essentially downloading the story straight from your brain into the reader’s. Writing comics is a hugely collaborative endeavour, but that’s where the magic comes in. I haven’t always been lucky with artists, but with Baltimore I’ve worked only with incredibly talented, dedicated artists, which has spoiled me completely.
MM: Did you always want to be a writer? Or was it just something that you stumbled into – it has happened to a few people? What, and who, was it that made, and makes, you want to write?
CG: As a kid I wanted to be a private detective, I think. When I was in junior high, I started thinking about writing. In high school I had decided that I wanted to go to film school, but it’s such a competitive field that I knew I needed to get the best education I could possibly get so I could fall back on that. I decided to go to graduate school for film and do my undergraduate at the best university that would accept me, which turned out to be Tufts. While I was there, I took creative writing classes with two excellent professors–Alan Lebowitz and Jay Cantor–and by the time I was a senior, I’d realized that I wanted to write novels and stories. Why do I write? I love stories. Writer isn’t a name for what you do. It’s a name for what you are.
MM: Let’s move on to ‘Baltimore’. The comic’s origins are literary in nature aren’t they? In that, it was a novel before it was a comic wasn’t it? So, how did you and Mike Mignola first come up with the idea for, and begin working together on, Baltimore?
CG: Mike and I have known each other a very long time. For a period of I don’t know how many years, every time we would talk he would mention this “vampire graphic novel” that he planned to do someday. Eventually the phone rang and he told me he’d realized he was never going to do it as a graphic novel, and would I be interested in taking his notes and turning them into a novel. He did a ton of illustrations for it and we created the novel, BALTIMORE, OR, THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER AND THE VAMPIRE. Dark Horse is releasing it in paperback for the first time on July 14th. It’s still one of the best things I’ve ever written. For a while after that we were working on developing a film version, but that fell apart. (Hopefully it will come around again.) During that, we talked a lot about the missing years in the novel and how we could fill them up with comics stories, and we also talked about picking up at the end of the novel and telling the rest of the story. And that’s where we are now.
MM: If you had to explain ‘Baltimore’ to someone unfamiliar with the comic, how would you do it? What would you say to them?
CG: First I’d tell them they don’t need to read the novel to get everything they need to know. Picking up the first volume of the comics, BALTIMORE: THE PLAGUE SHIPS, covers it nicely. Plus, if you want to just start with BALTIMORE: THE CULT OF THE RED KING #1, which is out this week, you can do that, too. BALTIMORE is the story of a young British nobleman who meets a monster on the battlefield during World War 1. That encounter costs him his leg and later his entire family, starts a plague of disease but also of vampirism, and is the spark that begins to disturb the millennia-long sleep of The Red King, the most ancient of evils. It’s also full of homages to Dracula, Moby Dick, and Hammer Films, and has some of the best art in comics today. Also…there is nothing else like it on the stands. Truly.
MM: How do you see the character’s, and comic’s, evolution up to this point? That is, from ‘The Plague Ships’ through to the ‘…The Witch of Harju’? How do you think that both the book and Baltimore have developed, evolved and changed?
CG: I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say this: Baltimore has undergone some significant changes. He used to believe he didn’t need anyone else to aid him in his quest and he has realized how wrong he was about that…though working with him in his crusade is perilous to those around him. The truth is that all he wants to do is die. He’s had his vengeance on the monster that killed his family and all he wished for–and expected–was that he would fall down and die at that point, but the powers that be will not allow him to die yet…not while the Red King stirs. He rejected that fate at first, but now he’s embraced this new crusade, the larger responsibility of it. His friends hope that this means he has chosen life, but he doesn’t believe he has a choice. He still hopes for death as his reward.
MM: Which brings us to the latest Baltimore instalment, ‘The Cult of the Red King’… Has everything been leading Lord Baltimore to this point? Haigus and the vendetta that began on the battlefields, his relentless pursuit of evil? Is this the culmination of his efforts thus far?
CG: Absolutely. His first meeting with Haigus set it all in motion and his subsequent mission forged him into the relentless creature he has become. He is what the world needs him to be–a hero, maybe, but not heroic. Not at all. He will fight the rise of evil because it needs to be extinguished, but not because he sees himself as its opposite. As for culminations…The Cult of the Red King is the overture, the opening of the final arc of this story.
MM: The first issue feels like a new beginning, but also the beginning of the end… So, is this the start of something new for Baltimore and do you think will he find what he’s looking for by confronting ‘The Red King’?
CG: Whether he finds what he’s looking for is a larger question, but are we heading down a path that leads to a real confrontation with the Red King? Of course we are.. Anything else would be a betrayal of the faith our readers put in us.
MM: And talking of finding what he’s looking for, Baltimore has always seemed like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders and he’s definitely seen, and experienced, far more than his share of horror, and there’s a wonderful scene on ship where his allies discuss the reasons why he fights and does what he does… Why do you, given all that’s he’s lost and suffered, think he continues to fight?
CG: I sort of addressed this a bit already, but at his core, Baltimore is a good man. He sees there is evil and knows that someone must stand against it, and he is the most capable of doing that in many ways. If he could choose death, he would prefer to do that, but God–or whatever is using him as its pawn in this chess game–will not allow him to die. And so he’ll fight, and do all he can to stem the rising tide of darkness.
MM: Tell us about ‘The Cult of the Red King’. What can we expect to see in the series, how will it change Baltimore’s world and what can you tell us (come on, a titbit or two….pretty please?) about The Red King himself?
CG: We’ve never made a secret of who and what the Red King is, but we definitely learn more about that in this series. His worshippers call him many things, one of which is “the god before gods.” That gives you an idea. The Red King is the most ancient evil there is, a thing that existed before the human race, a thing that created all sorts of monsters. When humans worshipped him, the Red King grew stronger, but when the worship began to wither, so did his strength. Eventually he abandoned humanity, in need of a rest, and he has been sleeping in his own little parallel limbo since then. He dreams monsters into being. His sleeping imagination gives birth to them, but if he WAKES…oh, we’re really screwed then. The thing is…he’s starting to really stir, maybe halfway between sleep and wakefulness now. You’ll learn more about him in this series.
MM: You’ve also got a new novel, ‘Tin Men’, coming out in June haven’t you? What can you tell us about it?
CG: TIN MEN is a real switch for me, a near-future SF thriller in which the U.S. has developed remote-piloted robot drone soldiers and used them to impose our will upon the world in order to safeguard the global economy for our own security. Needless to say, many people are unhappy about that, and an international group of anarchists decides that the only way to level the playing field is to take out technology. The novel focuses on a single platoon of TIN MEN, and what happens when the world starts falling apart around them and they have to decide between getting back to their human bodies or trying to preserve what remains of their own government and the hopes of their nation.
MM: Being as prolific as you are, and having created as many characters as you have and written for, and about, as many existing characters (and franchises) as you have, I was kind of wondering… Which of your own characters is you r favourite to write for (and about), and which of the preexisting characters whose exploits you’ve been instrumental in detailing, is your favourite to write for? Why?
CG: My favorite of my own characters are usually whichever ones I’m writing now, but I’d have to also mention Peter Octavian, the star of my Shadow Saga series, and Jenna Blake, about whom I wrote a ten novel YA thriller series called BODY OF EVIDENCE. As for licensed characters–I’ve written Hellboy, Buffy, the X-Men, Sons of Anarchy, Alien, Uncharted, and a whole lot more, but if forced to choose it would have to be Hellboy. The Bones of Giants, my second Hellboy novel, is probably the best licensed novel I’ve ever done.
MM: What’s next for you Christopher? That is, what do you have planned after ‘Tin Men’ and ‘The Cult of the Red King’?
CG: This November will see the release of my supernatural thriller/horror novel DEAD RINGERS from St. Martin’s Press, who published my novel SNOWBLIND. I’ve also got a second comics project in the works with Mike Mignola for Dark Horse and another project with Mike that I can’t talk about at the moment. And I’m at work on a new novel for St. Martin’s. No rest for the wicked.
Baltimore: The Cult of The Red King #1 is out now and available from all good comic retailers and Dark Horse