Interview With Surrogates Creator Robert Venditti

Interview With <em>Surrogates</em> Creator Robert Venditti

The Surrogates author discusses the transition of his graphic novel to the silver screen.

Like a lot of young men, the creator of Surrogates, Robert Venditti, went to college with big dreams.

"I was going to be the next Hemingway," he says.

As he earned his BA from the University of Florida and a masters from the University of Central Florida, he figured out "you can't just graduate from college and apply for a job as a fiction writer."

Law school was out. He had a taste of that in a summer job "and realized it wasn't the life for me."

But there was that part-time job, the one that started in South Florida and moved to Altamonte Springs and then Winter Park, Fla., as he attended grad school. He worked at Borders Books, and that changed his life. That's when Venditti first picked up a comic book.

"I thought, like a lot of people, that comics were just a juvenile medium," Venditti, 35, says from his home in Atlanta. "But my buddy Marques Robinson got me to read Astro City: The Confessor. The complexity of the ideas, the characters, the way the visuals help tell the story, really appealed to me. I started researching comics, trying to figure out how you got to write for them."

He figured it out, all right. In 2003, Venditti's comic-book series The Surrogates hit stores. Entertainment Weekly called this tale of people who live vicarious lives through their artificial (and artificially gorgeous) surrogates "a resplendently grimy commentary" on our times.

Friday, Venditti's success could reach a whole new level as "Surrogates," a thriller starring Bruce Willis based on Venditti's book (with artist Brett Weldele) hits theaters. It's a comic-book writer's - any writer's - version of winning the lottery.

"The minute I heard Bruce Willis was cast was the first moment I allowed myself to hope that this might actually get turned into a movie," Venditti says with a laugh. "A producer who had just hung out his shingle called me up (Max Handelman). He shopped it around, ran into a studio guy who had just seen 'Sin City' and wanted 'something edgy, comic-booky' like that. So Mandeville Films got involved, then Jonathan Mostow (director of U-571, Terminator 3), with screenwriters from Terminator 3.

"I've been involved, at least in the loop," he says. "I looked at it from the perspective that these other people were creative minds in their own right. If they're inspired by something I did to bring their own creativity to it, I'm taking that as a compliment and letting them do what they want. They were staying true to the themes and adding their own ideas and plot lines and characters. You know they're going to add explosions. That's Hollywood."

Venditti's Borders-to-Hollywood story should be an inspiration to anyone hoping to break into comics. He worked his way in the door with a tape gun.

"I'd moved to Atlanta, transferred to a Borders up here, and I'd heard of this comic-book company, Top Shelf Productions, that was having a rough patch," he says. He offered to come in and use his expertise packing books as a volunteer. A few months of that and he showed the company his idea for a comic, one inspired by Indra Sinha's book, The Cybergypsies, which he had read in grad school at UCF.

"Sinha studied people addicted to the Internet. Obsession with alternate reality was causing divorces, people were losing their jobs. By 2002, all these 'extreme makeovers' were all over the media. What if there was a technology that allowed people to fulfill that basic human need to be someone other than yourself? What would that world look like?"

With the huge fanbase for the online alternate-persona game "Second Life" and James Cameron's film "Avatar" hotly anticipated this fall, Venditti seems ahead of the curve.

"That's just another happy accident," he says. "That idea is just out there now."

His Surrogates was such a success that he just released a prequel - Flesh & Bone. He has another comic, The Homeland Directive, in the works, and is adapting the novels of Percy Jackson (The Lightning Thief) into a comic. If he hasn't given up his Hemingway dreams, Venditti does sound very much like a man who is sold on his new medium.

"Great novelists like Michael Chabon (Wonder Boys) and Jonathan Lethem (The Fortress of Solitude) are crossing over into graphic novels."

His ambition may have been to be "the new Hemingway." But in a world where Sin City and Watchmen are classics, Venditti has found a reality that allows him to realize that ambition - in books where pictures help tell the story.

Many thanks to The Orlando Sentinel and KansasCity.com for giving us an inside peek into the mind of a great comic author.
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