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Comic Book Day: Andy Diggle Steals the Show in “Thief of Thieves”

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by on May 29, 2013

Much like Alan Moore has the market cornered on dressing like Willy Wonka, Andy Diggle is one of the names most associated with comic book thrillers. From his humble beginning as an editor on 2000 A.D. to standout works like The Losers and Snapshot, Andy Diggle knows his way around explosions, intrigue, and intricately woven plot twists. Now, the British scribe is taking over one of Image’s hottest new titles, Thief of Thieves, a book which is most definitely up his alley. To get the inside scoop, I caught up with Diggle to talk about taking the reins from James Asmus and Robert Kirkman, his predilection for writing thrillers, and the joys of going creator-owned. Double check the security footage, folks, because Andy Diggle is about to steal the show.

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Nerdist: You have a real knack for writing thrillers as evidenced by works like The Losers, Rat Catcher, and Six Guns. Is that part and parcel of what attracted you to Thief of Thieves? What excites you about this title?

Andy Diggle: It’s a big part of it, yeah. Thief of Thieves is slap-bang in my wheelhouse. It was one of the very few comics I was already reading for pleasure every month, so when they offered me the chance to write it, I jumped in with both feet. Thrillers and crime stories are such a huge part of popular culture; it’s always struck me as strange that you don’t see more of them in comics.

I guess partly it depends on what you grew up with. Most of my early influences were American movies and TV – I never read superhero comics as a kid. Growing up in the 1970s, my favorite (pre-Star Wars) movies were The Italian Job and Kelly’s Heroes. It didn’t occur to me until years later that they’re both offbeat heist capers, and both written by the same guy – Troy Kennedy Martin.

Then in the late 80s I was very much inspired by the BBC’s Edge of Darkness – a political conspiracy thriller with a heist at its heart. And again, I had no idea at the time that it was also written by Troy Kennedy Martin! I think his stuff just got into my DNA, rewired my brain somehow. He and John Wagner are probably my two biggest writing influences.

There’s something about doing white-knuckle thrillers in a grounded, believable world that makes it that much more exciting than, y’know, super-guys punching each other through planets. I find it hard to relate to that, especially when you know they’re not going to die – and even if they do, it’s just a marketing stunt and they’ll be back a year later. But when the bullets and the blood are real, and death is absolute, the stakes feel that much higher. Someone dies in Thief of Thieves, they stay dead, and the survivors have to carry that responsibility.

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N: How closely did you work with Robert Kirkman to ensure a smooth transition?

AD: I can honestly say, it’s been the smoothest and most enjoyable job I’ve ever had in comics. Robert had already given Nick Spencer and James Asmus a rough outline for the first year’s stories, but after that, it was pretty much wide open. Conrad’s son Augustus had gotten himself into a bad situation with this murderous drug cartel, but there weren’t any concrete plans in place for how he was going to get out of it. Robert basically just said, “The big heist Conrad was planning for years and tried to walk away from in issue one? That’s your arc.” So that was a lot of fun. Robert, Nick and James had created this great cast of characters and all these hanging plot threads, and I got to weave them all together into this heist caper set in Venice. It’s pretty cool. I pitched Robert my outline and he was like, “That’s great. Do that.” That’s the kind of editorial feedback I like!

I started scripting my first issue before James had finished his arc, so we bounced ideas back and forth and worked together to smooth over the join. It was all very collegiate. No egos involved; the best idea wins. It’s all in service of the story. Robert keeps a light hand on the tiller but you know he’s still the captain of the ship. Plus he threw in some great suggestions for Lola, the psychopathic cartel boss, including a truly gruesome backstory which I’m really looking forward to scripting!

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N: What can we expect from your upcoming run on Thief of Thieves?

AD: We get to tie up some plot threads that have been hanging from the start, while creating a whole bunch of new problems for the crew. Obviously, I don’t want to give too much away, but it was made clear in the first issue that the Venice heist had taken years of planning and millions of dollars to bankroll. So I had to come up with something complex and audacious enough to justify that kind of preparation. It’s a big machine with a big cast – pretty much every character we’ve met in the series so far has a role to play. I’m pretty happy with what we’ve cooked up. But of course, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, as the old saying goes. It takes a few unexpected twists, and leaves Conrad in a very challenging position for the arc after mine.

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N: In addition to Thief of Thieves, you’ve also been writing Snapshot with Jock handling artistic duties. What was it like to team up with Jock again on a creator-owned series?

AD: It’s always a pleasure working with Jock. I guess Snapshot must be our fourth or fifth collaboration and it always comes out better than I could have hoped. He makes me look good! And our stuff seems to click with people outside of the comics mainstream, which is great. Obviously The Losers got made into a movie, and Green Arrow: Year One is an important part of the Arrow TV show’s DNA. Our influences tend to come from outside of comics, and I guess it shows.

N: Are there any challenges inherent to working on a creator-owned series versus handling a preexisting franchise? Do you prefer one to the other?

AD: It’s weird to think that I’ve been writing comics for over 10 years now, but Snapshot is the first thing I’ve written that I actually own. It’s daunting to take on a creator-owned book without the safety net of a page rate, especially when your writing is supporting a family of four. So Snapshot kept getting pushed aside to make way for paid work, which is why it took us so long to get it out there. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my royalties for the first issue of Snapshot exceeded what I get for a work-for-hire book, so suddenly it doesn’t seem so daunting. I’m definitely planning to do more creator-owned books. I have a lot of stories to tell. Watch this space!

As for the process, yeah, it is different. I didn’t get into comics so I could write my favorite characters; I got into it because I have my own stories and characters than I want to put out there. There’s a weight of expectation on pre-existing characters – every reader already has his or her own ideas about how that character “should” be written. There are pretty strict parameters for what you can get away with. On creator-owned books, you create your own parameters. I find that creatively satisfying.

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N: Apart from Thief of Thieves, what else can we expect from you in the coming months?

AD: My final four-issue arc of Doctor Who begins in issue 9, which has just come out this week. I’m co-writing that with my good friend Eddie Robson, and we’re lucky to have the amazing Andy Kuhn on art. I’m really pleased with the way that story’s come together. We’ll be tying up some mysteries we’ve been seeding since our first issue, which will hopefully be all the more compelling in light of the cliffhanger ending of the latest TV season. I’m curious to see if anyone can figure out who the Hypothetical Gentleman is…

I’m also writing Uncanny for Dynamite’s new crime line. It’s a work-for-hire gig, but a lot of fun to create a new franchise from whole cloth. It’s a noir crime thriller with a supernatural twist. A lot of fun to write. The first issue’s coming out at the end of June.

I also have a couple of new series in development – both crime/action thrillers which I can’t really talk about just yet. And I’m planning my next creator-owned book, which is going to be a twisted take on superheroes.

N: What comics are you reading and enjoying now?

AD: I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading monthly books – I’m more of a trade-waiter. I think Thief of Thieves was one of the last books I was reading purely for pleasure rather than continuity homework. I got a kick out of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman. That was a ballsy reinvention. Becky Cloonan’s new one-shot Demeter is just as amazing as Wolves and The Mire before it. I just today picked up Stephen Mooney’s Half Past Danger, which looks like a ton of fun. Dames, dinosaurs and danger! I’m currently re-reading my Gotham Central hardcovers, which are just perfectly controlled comics. After that, I have a big stack of Image trades awaiting my reading pleasure.

N: Last but not least, what would be inside your ideal burrito?

AD: Sleep.

Thief of Thieves #14 by Andy Diggle, Robert Kirkman and Shawn Martinbrough  is now available in your local comic book store. For more on Mr. Diggle’s many happenings, check out his website.