The path to becoming a paid writer is often long, winding, and paved with obstacles. Yet the end of that path offers ample reward if you have the patience to follow it through. Writer Michael Moreci understands this as well as anyone. He got his lucky break a couple years back when he was accepted into DC Comics’ highly coveted writer’s program. Before that, Moreci endured ten years of struggle, turmoil, and bitter rejection. Yet in Moreci’s view, that’s all part of the process.

ComicsVerse recently sat down with Michael Moreci, who’s about to publish his first novel, a fantasy sci-fi epic titled BLACK STAR RENEGADES. Moreci chatted with us at length about the genesis of his new STAR WARS-inspired book, his comic book writing process, his contributions to DC titles like SUICIDE SQUAD and THE FLASH, and his painful yet rewarding journey to becoming a published writer.

Michael Moreci

Michael Moreci Tells us About BLACK STAR RENEGADES

ComicsVerse: Tell us about your new sci-fi fantasy novel, BLACK STAR RENEGADES.

Michael Moreci: It’s a sci-fi adventure in the vein of STAR WARS and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and you can go back even further to pulps like FLASH GORDON and stuff like that. So it’s in that tradition, but basically, it follows the story of a guy named Cade Sura who, through certain circumstances, gets an ultra-powerful weapon thrust in his hands, and he has to use it to save the galaxy. So [BLACK STAR RENEGADES] is big on character, big on adventure, big on fun… our goal was fun and to make something pulpy and adventurous and to make it just a good ride.

CV: How long have you been working on this book for?

MM: About a year from start to finish. Maybe a little more than that, with editing. I’m in the middle of writing the second book right now.

CV: Oh wow. Is this going to be a trilogy?

MM: Right now it’s only two. It depends on how the rest perform. So fingers crossed. If [book] one does well, we’ll definitely see more. If not, it’ll just be two.

Taking It to the ROCHE LIMIT with Michael Moreci!

Michael Moreci Compares Cade Sura to Han Solo

CV: What can you tell me about the main character? He seems like kind of a mixture of Luke Skywalker and other archetypes in the Joseph Campbell mythos.

MM: *laughs* Yeah, I think it’s pretty similar. It’s kind of a dual track I wanna do. Kind of Luke, but more by the way of Star-Lord where he’s a little bit more of a ne’er-do-well. [Cade] is the other guy. You have your main hero; [Cade] is more like the Han Solo. There’s Luke [Skywalker], or Harry [Potter]. [Cade] is the Ron [Weasley] or Han [Solo]. He’s the guy who is great to have around, but you don’t want him in charge, and suddenly, he is in charge. And that’s part of the story. Kind of upending the messiah mythos of Luke, or Katniss [Everdeen], or Harry Potter, or Percy Jackson, or all these characters who are like the one big whomever who’s gonna save our asses from the fire. [Cade] is not that guy, but he’s forced to be that guy.

Michael Moreci

CV: It’s funny, because in the promo for the book there’s a line that describes Cade as a total fraud. And I was like “Huh, I wonder what that means?”

MM: *laughs* Yeah, that’s something that we’re playing with actively in the book. It’s kind of meant to be an undercurrent to those types of stories like I said. But also there’s kind of a cool thing in that it’s less about one person being a savior and more about the community coming together to save themselves. And yeah, while [Cade] is a fraud, he’s also somebody who forcibly has to be a leader of a lot of people and bring out the best in himself and bring out the best in others to defeat the bad guy.

Michael Moreci Discusses Cade’s Journey

CV: What would you say is Cade’s arc? Is it redemption, self-discovery? What kind of journey does he go through?

MM: I think it’s a little more the self-discovery, kind of a coming-of-age in a way, like how so many of us come of age when we’re in our 20s. I think it’s more of a self-discovery of finding the power in himself that we all have. He gets this powerful weapon but without him being confident or able enough [to wield it]. The weapon means nothing. He needs to be strong within himself and [by] gaining strength from the people around him in order to do anything worthwhile with the [weapon] that he has.

THE LAST JEDI Review: Growing Pains

Micahel Moreci on the Weird Origins of BLACK STAR RENEGADES

CV: What was the genesis of BLACK STAR RENEGADES?

MM: Well it’s kind of a weird story. As my agent tells it, the way it happened never ever happens with books, which I knew. So my editor, Mark, he’s fantastic. I had been pitching him novels for two, three years beforehand. And this pitch for what became BLACK STAR RENEGADES was a little bit reverse engineered because he was the one who called me. He knew I loved STAR WARS so [he said] hey, let’s do a STAR WARS book. And first I was like, “I don’t think legally we can do that.” But then he explained “No, let’s do a book like STAR WARS.” And I was like “Oh, a knock-off. Yeah, I can do that.” *laughs*

So I pitched this idea because I do like STAR WARS more than anything. I pitched [BLACK STAR RENEGADES] to him and he loved it, and it kind of went off and running from there. It was eight months for the first draft and then four months-ish of editing. So the inception of it [was a little different] because it started with the editor. And he’s a big STAR WARS nerd too. So it just kind of developed from there. It was weird but awesome. It went so fast, and it went so crazy, and that was probably the best way for it to be because I didn’t have time to freak out about having to write a novel. So that was good.

Michael Moreci Wants to Ride The STAR WARS Wave

CV: With the success of GUARDIANS and STAR WARS’ resurgence it seems like a great time to capture this new wave of STAR WARS in the mainstream. Writing a STAR WARS-esque book seems timely.

MM: Yeah I think that was part of the thing. Mark and St. Martin’s [publishing] were both aware of doing what they’re doing when they’re doing it. So [BLACK STAR RENEGADES] is very intentional with market in mind. And that’s smart. I’m glad to be the guy to fill that need that they were looking for to do a STAR WARS book. Yeah, it’s a great time to do it; it’s a great time to be a STAR WARS fan. BLACK STAR RENEGADES comes out three weeks after [STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI]. We’re just gonna ride that wave man.

Michael Moreci

CV: Switching, gears, let’s talk about comics. How did you get into writing comic books?

MM: You know, it’s weird because I never really thought it was possible… I went through a Master’s program in creative writing at Northwesten University, which is out here in Illinois. And I remember when I turned in my thesis, which was a novel — thank god it never got published — I remember the first thing I did, I was at the park with my wife, and I remember turning to her and [saying] “I just wanna write comics. I got [the novel] out of my system, I wanna write comics.” I started writing shorts for UK anthologies… I [did] more and more and more until I got a break doing the backup in Tim Seeley’s HACK/SLASH… and I guess the rest is history-ish. But not really, I mean I’m still doing it, so hopefully it’s not too much history.

Michael Moreci’s Experience in the DC Writer’s Program

CV: Now I know at some point you did a program with DC, right? A DC writers program? How did that come about?

MM: Really weird, actually. I had been pitching DC; I was kind of kicking around editorial offices. Now, it’s an application process. They go through, and they pick people. But I was in the first class, and it was people who were selected. And I remember I was at Disney World with my kids, and I got a phone call from one of the town relations people and they were like “Hey, wanna do this DC writing class?” And I was like, “Yeah. Okay, sure.”

This was December, like two years ago… it was kind of like with BLACK STAR RENEGADES. It seems like luck. It was nice [the book] worked out. Same thing with DC. But prior to that, it was years of pitching and rejection that led up to that. Painful rejection, that led to that moment. So it was luck but also a lot of misery along the way.

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Michael Moreci On Hanging with Scott Snyder

CV: A lot of our readers might be interested to know what the DC writers program is like. Is there anything you can tell us about the program?

MM: It’s intense. It’s cool. I loved it; I learned a lot. It was ten weeks, maybe eight. But it’s taught by Scott Snyder. He’s pretty good. *laughs* He knows some stuff. There’s been three of them so far, three of those workshops, and he’s taught all three. Basically, it’s kind of a hybrid of a class because Scott is teaching you how to write superhero comics, particularly how to write DC comics and what DC is looking for in terms of big characters, big emotional arcs. [The class was also about] how to manage the trick of comics, which is, as [Scott] would say, to take the toys off the shelf, play with them a little bit, and put them back exactly how you found them.

Michael Moreci: You Can’t Kill Bruce Wayne

[That’s] the trick of continuity. You can change, and you can develop, and there are certain ways you can make the most of it, but you can’t really be like “I’m gonna kill Bruce Wayne and put in my own new cool Batman” that’s not happening. *laughs* So you learn a lot about the inner workings of DC, and specifically how DC and how superhero comics function. But it’s also a general writing class… how acts break down, the beats of a story, the structure. Scott got into a lot of that.

At the same time, you’re introduced to editors, you get a sense of how they work, how they look at books, just how the entire DC universe functions. That stuff is really invaluable. And you’re surrounded by other really talented writers and really great people. So it was cool, it was a really good ten weeks. It was intense; it’s definitely not easy, but they really invest a lot into students who are there. And you get to hang out with Scott Snyder and [editors like] Dan Didio drop in, so it’s pretty wild.

 

Michael Moreci

Michael Moreci Talks Dynamics of Comic Book Writing

CV: It’s interesting, I’ve started reading comic book scripts, and the first thing I’ve noticed that’s different from movie scripts, or television scripts, is the fact that everything is written as though it’s describing a Still-Life painting. Everything is written in stationary terms, de-emphasizing movement. For example, ‘Clark Kent is near the pot getting a cup of coffee’ as opposed to ‘Clark Kent goes to the coffee pot to get a cup.’ It makes me wonder if there’s something intrinsically halting about the comic book script format compared to more fluid, natural writing.

MM: Yeah, I mean, the key word I think, — and you’re right, I agree — I think the key word is dynamics. You know, whether it’s fiction or whether it’s comic scripts I always try to make it dynamic in some way. For example, I had written this chapter [in BLACK STAR RENEGADES], and I had to trash the whole thing because it wasn’t dynamic, people were just talking. It was boring; there wasn’t anything happening; it was just static. It [really was] like Still-life. And you don’t want that in the type of fiction I write or the type of comics.

You don’t want to — I mean, there’s always gonna be some of that. [For example,] ‘Jon takes a seat next to Clark.’ [That’s standard because] you have to stage scenes. But where you’re staging, and then restaging, and then staging again, when it’s like “Jon sits up. Jon sits down. Jon goes to the pitcher.” When it’s all just staging, you’re in trouble.

Michael Moreci on Tom King

You have to find a way. And that’s the trick of comics, and the beauty of comics, is that you have to find a way to make it dynamic, to put characters in dynamic situations. [On the other hand] sometimes I think comic books tend to air too much on the side of being dynamic. Where it has to be too big sometimes. Explosion, explosion. Car chase, explosion. Person thrown off the building. You know, [sometimes] there’s a beauty in slowing down.

I think Tom King is a master at that. Tom King is great at having dynamic storytelling, dramatic conflict, explosive forward movement in his plot, but he can also pull it back and have the same level of intensity in the quiet moments as he does in his action moments. So it’s just a matter of finding that balance and finding a way to make the dynamic moments, the action moments really thrilling and still have a weight to them and having the quiet moments still have a sense of weight and importance to them as well.

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Michael Moreci’s Views on the Writing Process

CV: So in terms of the writing process itself, do you write out the story first before channeling it into comic form?

MM: Yeah, I usually do a broad overview where I’ll just be writing what the story is, then I’ll be like “Okay, well this should take four pages, and this should take three…” So broadly, here’s the story, then here’s how this breaks down into twenty-two pages. Every step gets it closer to the script, so you’re [not] just being like “Page one, panel one, page one, panel two…” If you start there, you do run into that stiltedness, that “Still-Life,” I think that’s a good term. So I think that for me at least it works to start broad and then go more and more narrow [until it’s ready to be] a comic strip.

Michael Moreci on the Comic Book Brain Function

CV: It seems like there’s an extra step to comic writing that doesn’t exist in writing for other mediums, where you have to take extra time to translate it. Do you think comic script writing is more rigid and less flexible than writing scripts for film or television?

MM: Yeah, I agree, and I think also that, [in terms of] structure, there’s a certain brain function that is kind of structuring [the comic] at the same time [as you are writing the story], so you are hitting the right [marks] — act one, act two, act three, when your acts are supposed to rise, when they’re gonna fall and putting those pieces like a puzzle into place. And that makes it easier to navigate in the script because you’re just putting things where they belong at a certain point.

Then comes dialoguing, and dialoguing is a lot of work in progress as you go. Dialoguing is a lot of responding to the art as you get it back. So it’s very fluid up until the very end. I don’t wanna say [dialogue] is not important, but it’s not so set in stone to begin with. But that initial script, whatever goes to the artist is [important] in making sure everything is where it’s supposed to be.

Michael Moreci

Michael Moreci Talks SUICIDE SQUAD: MOST WANTED

CV: So after you finished the DC writer’s program, your first story for DC was in SUICIDE SQUAD: MOST WANTED, writing a story that focused on Captain Boomerang. Of course, the Suicide Squad is comprised of all villains, but some would say that Captain Boomerang is the most unlikable character of the lot. As I recall, the comic directly addressed the fact that no one liked Captain Boomerang, not even his own teammates. Tell me a little bit about writing a comic so focused on an inherently unlikable character.

MM: Yeah it was a weird time too because it was just when the movie was coming out, so there were a lot of eyes on SUICIDE SQUAD. But ultimately the trick is, you wanna embrace who the character is and Captain Boomerang is just an a-hole. That’s just who he is. And especially having only two issues [to work with], in two issues you’re not gonna reinvent the wheel. You have like forty pages, that’s nothing. It’s so short, so you’ve kind of just gotta take the character as he is.

Michael Moreci Thinks Captain Boomerang is Just the Worst

I still [wanted to] do something unique with it, something fun. But the goal was “Who is Captain Boomerang? What makes him tick? How can we take who he is and just do something cool with it?” And the biggest thing about him is that he’s unlikable. And there is something kind of liberating about doing something with a character who’s, you know, just the worst. *laughs* Because it’s fun, you can have fun with that. It’s harder to make jokes with Superman — because he’s perfect — than it is with someone who’s very, very flawed and sarcastic and kind of crabby. You can mine a lot of humor from that and that was what I wanted to do. Let’s just make this fun thing about a guy who nobody likes — and he knows nobody likes him — and just see what happens.

NYCC 2017: Interview with THE FLASH writer Joshua Williamson

Michael Moreci on Writing THE FLASH

CV: On the flipside, you teamed up with writer Joshua Williamson for THE FLASH #34 and #35. Of course, the Flash is the complete opposite of Captain Boomerang in every way. Tell me what it was like writing Barry Allen.

MM: I think [the issues I wrote] got into some of the most essential Flash dynamics, which is [that] Barry Allen always tries to do too much. Barry tries to take on too much, Barry is driven by [a] guilt complex because of what happened to his mom and his dad. He’s a guy who, in his need to protect people, winds up hurting them because he’s trying too hard. He always has to kind of reckon with his overextension, and I think that’s a really interesting thing to do with a character; that’s a really unique thing that’s special to Flash. [He’s] a guy who’s so driven to help people that sometimes he hurts them.

Michael Moreci Takes The Flash to rock bottom

CV: When we spoke with Joshua Williams at NYCC, he discussed the importance of taking a really heroic, good character like Flash and bringing them down to rock bottom. That’s what happened with Barry throughout his Negative Speed Force arc, where he pushed people away in order to protect them, but just wound up hurting them more. That’s kind of where Flash was when you came into it.

MM: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I think that’s a go-to for characters, having them hit rock bottom to bring them back up again and to know what bottom looks like. You know, what is bottom for Barry? It’s interesting to see what Barry’s bottom looks like, where he goes, what his dark place is. It’s not the same as Bruce’s, it’s not the same as Clark’s, or Wonder Woman’s, or Green Lantern’s. What bottom means to these characters is often what defines them as much as their heroics do.

Where you are at your best and where you are at your worst are two things that are just as important in defining who a character is. Josh is exploring that with Barry and the Flash in a really cool way. It’s like, who is Barry when he’s at his worst? I think that’s a really important question, and I think [Josh] is doing it in a really smart way. It’s important to do that, because like you said, he’s a really positive character, [and Josh is exploring] what happens when that positivity goes away.

Michael Moreci on Working with Joshua Williamson

CV: What were you individually able to bring to Barry while writing him on this journey?

MM: I think that the thing where Josh and I are most different — we have a lot of similarities as writers — but I think where we’re most different is, I probably have a little bit more levity, a little bit of a lighter [approach], more humorous. I mean, granted, sometimes I’m not very funny at all, but I do have that [humorous] side. Like [with] BLACK STAR RENEGADES, it’s more fun, its more just space adventure, it’s goofy at times. I think I brought a little bit more of that [quality] to the two FLASH issues, and hopefully, it kind of worked.

Josh [had] ultimately the final [say], the final draft [belonged] to Josh, and he kind of pulled it back and infused his things into there where he saw it necessary, and it always worked. You know, he has a way better handle on this than me. But yeah, I think we differ in there, but we both have very similar story sensibilities in terms of hitting the right notes, especially for hitting the right notes for Barry in these two issues where it’s still an exploration of his bottom but also what he has to do to come out [from] bottom. There’s some very specific things that continue that journey that he’s on, and I think [Josh and I] really saw eye to eye in terms of how to handle that specifically for Barry.

Michael Moreci’s Advice on Breaking into Comics

CV: As someone who recently began writing for DC Comics, you’re in a position closer to those aspiring writers who still want to break in. What advice do you have for aspiring comic book writers and artists who want to get into the industry?

MM: That’s a good question. It’s one I get asked a lot. The biggest thing, I would say, is patience. It takes a long time. I think it’s never been harder, unfortunately, to break into comics than it is right now. I mean [the comics industry] is very difficult; the market is very difficult. Patience is so important. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. SUICIDE SQUAD: MOST WANTED came out last year. My first published comic in those UK anthologies had come out ten years before. There was a ten-year gap between my first published anthology and SUICIDE SQUAD. And I was actively writing the whole time. There was no [period of] like ‘oh I took two years off.’ No. *laughs* I was working, and working, and working that whole time.

Michael Moreci: The Writer’s Dilemma

You know, there’s a lot of rejection, there’s a lot of doubt, there’s a lot of elation as well. There’s little victories where you can have them. But the main thing is that it takes a long time. I mean yes, every once in a while you’ll look around and see somebody who wrote their first script and got a job at Marvel — you know, it’s like their Wunderkind. And that happens, but those people are not the rule, those people are the exception. You can’t base yourself off of that, you have to base yourself off the 98% of writers who are, for lack of a better term, just grinding it out.

DC Comics’ THE FLASH: ComicsVerse Essential Reading List

The [DC] Writers Workshop, the novel — those came out of years and years of laying ground work. I didn’t know [my writing] was gonna lead to that. I didn’t know it was gonna lead to the DC writing program, I didn’t know I’d get a call to pitch a STAR WARS book. I never knew those things were gonna happen, but I put in a lot of the work prior to that.

Michael Moreci Shows Up

What’s the Woody Allen quote? “90% of life is showing up,” I believe [that’s] what it is. And you have to show up for a really long time. You have to show up and show up, you have to be at [conventions], you have to do whatever you can to get your work to where you want it to be. Its tough, its not easy. But at the same time, the process of writing — if you don’t love it, don’t do it. I love writing just because I love writing. I would do it no matter what. So if you don’t love writing, you shouldn’t do it.

Like [Jack] Kirby said, comics will break your heart, writing will break your heart. And you have to really love what you’re doing to endure all the heartbreak that you’ll face and just have the temerity to keep going. So it sounds kind of bleak, and I don’t mean it to be bleak. What I mean to say is, just do it because you love it. And the rewards will come eventually. It’ll take awhile, but they’ll come. And the fundamental reward should be that you’re writing because you love writing,, and you’ll get more rewards of being published and being interviewed on podcasts [like ComicsVerse] and stuff like that. You know that stuff comes, it just takes time and dedication, and you get there. I believe that people do [get there] if you just stick with it.

Michael Moreci

What’s Next for Michael Moreci

CV: What’s next for you? What else do you have coming out that you can tell our readers about?

MM: Right now I’m working on BLACK STAR RENEGADES 2, that’ll be in 2019. BLACK STAR RENEGADES 1 comes out in January. I have a spy thriller called THE THROWAWAY, which is a novel coming out in June, and I have a new comic — it hasn’t been announced yet — but I have a new creator-owned series coming out in I believe April. So I’m pretty busy, just making a living — at least trying to *laughs*.

Michael Moreci: The Human Crossover

CV: Is there any final pitch you can give to our readers about BLACK STAR RENEGADES? Something to get the comic-reading crowd psyched?

MM: Yeah, you know, myself being a crossover of comics and novels, I think that if you’re a comic reader, you’ll see a lot of the comic storytelling baked into [BLACK STAR RENEGADES], so it won’t be a totally unfamiliar experience. It’s fun, it’s big adventure, it has those kinds of characters you love from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and STAR WARS. This is all template. [It’s] characters that we’re all familiar with. So I think there’s a lot to gravitate towards for comic readers if you love those [kinds of] movies, if you love those types of books, there’s a big crossover. [BLACK STAR RENEGADES] is a fun read, it’s an easy read, and it’s intentionally made to be that. Just to be something you read [and say to yourself] “That was fun. I enjoyed reading it. I had a good time doing that.”

CV: Well I don’t think anyone’s going to say no to reading a book that’ll give them a good time.

MM: *laughs* That’s the quote. You’ll have a good time.

Our thanks to Michael Moreci! BLACK STAR RENEGADES releases in bookstores everywhere on January 2nd.

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