Antony Johnston, author of The Coldest City (source material for Atomic Blonde) as well as many other endeavors over various mediums is quite the creative. I recently finished reading both The Coldest City and The Coldest Winter, but that wasn’t enough, so I reached out to the man behind the words with eight questions to better understand the man behind the pen.
Agent Palmer [AP]: What was it like seeing your comic The Coldest City adapted into a major motion picture?
Antony Johnston [AJ]: ‘Surreal’ and ‘exciting’ are the two words I keep using to describe the experience. I’ve had other books optioned, but this is the first one to make it all the way through to film, so it’s been an eye-opener.
Seeing new versions of characters Sam and I created, walking and talking up on screen, was… well, like I say, surreal and exciting. I hope viewers enjoy the film as much as we did.
[AP]: You’ve written comics, novels, and for videogames; started podcasts; and worked with and are a musician; and now you’re seeing a piece of your work translated from the page to the screen. What is your favorite medium?
[AJ]: That’s a tricky one to answer. In terms of my favourite thing to create, music is probably top — but then it also earns me the least money, and is the thing I’m least known for, so it would be disingenuous to call it my ‘favourite medium’.
I’d have to say comics and novels, just because they’re my first two loves. I started reading both around the same time as a child, and for many years the stories I told were always either comics or prose. They’re still the two media I consume most, which I’m sure is no coincidence. You can do so much in either, with almost no real-world expenditure, which makes them very appealing. The sky/galaxy/universe is the limit.
I’ve spent most of my writing career in comics, of course, but I’m hoping to spend more time on prose over the next few years, with a new novel series and some short fiction in the offing.
[AP]: How has starting your career as a graphic designer influenced your creative endeavours across the various mediums you’ve been involved with?
[AJ]: I’m a fairly visually-minded author, as are many comics writers. It’s one of the reasons we’re drawn to the medium. But being versed in graphic design gives me a slightly different angle on page composition and layout to most, and it helps in communication with artists.
Spending almost a decade in another professional creative field gave me a good approach to the business side of comics, which has been a big help over the years.
And of course I can design my own logos and books when I want to, which is handy!
[AP]: You were one of the founding editors of NinthArt.com, which takes a serious literary and critical approach to the comics. Now, more than a decade on, have comics started to get the credit they deserve? And are there any other mediums now being overlooked?
[AJ]: I think we’re getting there, but it’s often one step forward, two steps back. On the one hand, comics as a whole are much more popular than they were back in 2001 when we started Ninth Art — we’ve been through the manga explosion/contraction/neo-explosion, Image has fought to expand the audience, IDW’s licensed business has exploded, companies like First Second (and blockbuster authors like Raina Telgemeier) have expanded into a true mainstream audience, and of course Marvel and DC have become synonymous in the public’s mind with comic books.
But that’s also one of the steps back — why read a Marvel comic when you can just go see the half-dozen Marvel movies released each year instead? If entertainment like this is now social currency, what’s more attractive: being one of 40,000 who read a comic, or one of millions who watched a movie?
The *idea* of comics is more popular than ever, and certainly it’s no longer a social embarrassment to say you work in the industry. But the misperception of what exactly that entails, and of the world of comics beyond Marvel/DC, sometimes feels stronger than ever.
[AP]: What is the most productive setting for you to accomplish your work?
[AJ]: Sitting at my desk, blaring loud music. Many writers I know need silence when they work, but I’m the opposite; music has always been such a huge presence in my life, I just work better with something playing. I mostly go for some classical, drone, ambient, or post-metal while scripting, because the lack of lyrical flow means it doesn’t interrupt my thoughts. When I move on to less dialogue-focused work like revisions or art proofing, I amp it up with something more high energy; metal, trance rave, hip-hop, northern soul.
In terms of location, if I’m doing stuff that requires being on my own, then there’s no better place than my own desk. Lighter and collaborative work like plotting, breaking a story, doing revisions — I can do those on the fly, even while travelling if necessary. But when I’m staring at that blank page, I’ll always take being alone in my study given the choice.
[AP]: What would you personally consider your biggest success and how does that differ, if it does, from what you would consider your biggest commercial success?
[AJ]: That’s really tough, because it’s hard for me to look at my own work and see beyond the flaws.
I guess WASTELAND is my magnum opus; certainly for now, and I don’t know if I’ll ever write something as long and involved again. I’m still very proud of it — for its scope, for the hardships we endured to finish publication, and because I’m confident I stuck the landing.
On the other hand I look at THE COLDEST CITY and THE FUSE, and there’s not much in those books I’d write differently, even today. That’s got to count for something.
My biggest commercial success, in terms of original material, is probably my Marvel work on DAREDEVIL and its associated books. But of course, we’re talking before ATOMIC BLONDE is released. So ask me again in a few months!
[AP]: The Coldest City, The Coldest Winter, “The Coldest” is a trilogy, is there anything you can tell me about the final chapter? (If it is indeed the final chapter?)
[AJ]: Well, let’s call it the ‘Third chapter’ for now; whether it will also be the final chapter is something I haven’t yet decided. I always said I wanted it to be at least a trilogy, but it’s not out of the question that there might be further books.
I recently finished plotting the third book. All I’ll say for now is that it focuses once more on Lorraine Broughton; and that you shouldn’t hold your breath, because it’s unlikely it’ll be out before 2019.
[AP]: After the trilogy is complete, what’s next?
[AJ]: Well, let’s not leap too far ahead; as I say, the third book won’t be out for at least a couple of years, and I literally have no idea what I’ll be doing that far in advance…!
I’ve recently completed a novel, which is currently doing the rounds at publishers; I’m talking with some TV people about a couple of new projects; I’m working on a series of SFF short stories; and I’m consulting on a few video games that I can’t talk about. The usual, really.
Most immediately, though, the second Codename Baboushka story, called GHOST STATION ZERO, starts in August. It’s a modern pulp action spy book, much more James Bond than THE COLDEST CITY — so if that’s more up your alley, I encourage people to check it out. Issue #1 goes on sale August 2, published by Image Comics, with a variant cover by the amazing Becky Cloonan.
As you can see, Antony is not only talented, he’s well rounded across mediums and fairly prolific, as far as getting things accomplished. After receiving the answers to these eight questions, I do have more, but he’s hard at work on “The Coldest” Chapter Three and promoting Atomic Blonde, but I for one look forward not only to reading the third Chapter of “The Coldest” series, but anything else he creates.
He is a wealth of information for writers, as an entire section of his site is devoted to information “for writers.” Simply based upon that information which he is happy to share, The Coldest City, The Coldest Winter, and his willingness to answer a fan’s questions, I am not only a fan of his work but I’m inspired by what he has done and continues to do.