Writer Nick Cuti has worked for several different comics companies, and across many different genres--superheroes, sci-fi, humor, horror, you name it, Nick's written it.
Nick has also been a great friend to me and my blogs, having let me interview him twice before for my blogs All In Black & White For 75 Cents and Digest Comics. So I was thrilled when I saw Nick's name on some of the Phantom Stranger stories in the back of Saga of the Swamp Thing--now I had an excuse to email him again!
Nick, being the gentleman he is, agreed, so we spent a little time talking about his work with The Phantom Stranger:
I Am The Phantom Stranger: How did you end up writing the last two Phantom Stranger back-ups in Swamp Thing? You were on staff at DC at the time, were you working on the book already?
Nick Cuti: I had been working as Len Wein's assistant editor and one of the books in our cache was Swamp Thing. Since I was itching to do some more writing, it had been a long stretch since my tenure at Creepy (at least it seemed that way), so I asked Len if there was some small series I could work on until I was accepted at DC as a writer.
They had been planning to do a "Phantom Stranger" back-up for the book and Len thought that might be a perfect place for me to start. Since the character was super-natural instead of being a super-hero, it seemed natural for me to do it.
IATPS: How familiar were you with the character?
NC: Not very. I had seen him in my trek through supernatural comics but I was never too clear as to who he was. I read some of the back issues and they seemed very vague about his origins, powers and placement in the stories. Only Dr.Fate was more of an enigma to me. So, I decided to position him as more of a narrator than a participant in the tales he tells.
IATPS: Your first PS story, "Ageless", concerns space travel, certainly not something you saw mixed with a supernatural character like the Phantom Stranger much. Was that your love of sci-fi showing through?
NC: Of course. I had been interested in Einstein's "Twin Paradox" ever since I had first read about it in Coleman's "Relativity for the Layman". Simply stated, an astronaut slows down aging as he travels closer to the speed of light. If he had a twin who remained on Earth then the astronaut might only age ten years while the twin aged fifty years.
I combined this idea with "Progeria" or rapid aging in infants where children can exhibit signs of old age, weakness, white hair, bone mass loss, frailty and wrinkled skin, in early childhood. The result was "Ageless" where a young man who appears to be seventy falls for a girl close to his chronological age but knows he can't have her because of the way he looks. A doctor gives him a drug which reverses his aging. The now young man becomes an astronaut and romances his girlfriend but they decide not to marry until he returns back from his journey in space.
In outer space his craft is accelerated to near light speed and he returns to a world twenty years older than he is. Reluctantly he visits his girlfriend knowing she will now be too old for him but, surprisingly, she is the same age as he is. The quirk of the story is that this girl is not his girlfriend, who has passed away, but his girlfriend's daughter, who grew up on her mother's stories of the handsome astronaut that had vanished in space.
IATPS: These back-ups, unlike the Stranger's solo book, feature him as a sort of host/catalyst to a story featuring other characters.
NC: As I mentioned, that was my fault. I enjoy doing anthology stories as opposed to series stories about the adventures of a single character because, I feel, it adds more drama when you have no idea if the characters will triumph or succumb to their trials. No matter how dangerous a situation Superman or Batman get themselves into you know they will come out all right in the end. In anthology stories you never know.
IATPS: Like I mentioned, your first story involved space travel, and your second, "The Man Who Isn't There" is set in a grim urban city. If you had kept doing them, could you have seen putting the Stranger in even more diverse settings, like say in a western or war story?
NC: Absolutely. I try to vary my stories as much as I can and that includes the settings.
IATPS: As a writer, is it more or less difficult writing a character who seemingly can do anything? Many times, The Phantom Stranger could do whatever a story needed him to do!
NC: I am a big believer that working in limitations is what makes for strong drama. Notice how few people ever use God as a major character in a story. What can you do for drama with an immortal, omniscient, omnipotent main character?
When I first created E-Man Steve Ditko told me that he was too powerful. He could change himself into matter or energy at will so what could ever harm or destroy him. Steve had a very good point so I immediately began to create limitations. E-Man couldn't fly unless he changed himself into a rocket or airplane and he couldn't be everywhere at once.
Even in fantasy worlds, where you can do almost anything, it is important to set the rules and then stick to them. Getting back to "The Phantom Stranger", if I had created him I would have defined him more closely but, as I said, I used him mostly as a narrator.
IATPS: Did you enjoy writing them? If the strip had kept going, would you have been happy to keep writing it?
NC: I did enjoy writing him and if I had continued I would have done much more research into the character and had him take a more active part in the stories. I had created a series character for Creepy similar to The Phantom Stranger.
He was called October Weir and was an investigator into the occult. Whereas OW was very human, PS was definitely supernatural but I would have liked to have combined some of OW's traits and limitations with PS's powers. I guess I could have called him "The Weird Stranger". Then again, maybe it's a good thing that I never got the chance.
Nick is always a pleasure to talk to, whenever we get the chance, and it was great of him to talk some PS with me. Thanks Nick!