Being one of the people in charge of a supremely packed TV universe is no easy task, but Marc Guggenheim has been making it look easy for the first three seasons of The CW’s superhero show Arrow, about to premiere season four. But he’s not content to just write in that universe; he wants to create whole new ones, which is exactly what he’s done (several universes, in fact) with his new comic miniseries The Infinite Adventures of Jonas Quantum, along with artist Freddie Williams II, from Legendary Comics.
I chatted with the prolific writer about his new creation, about weaving in science fiction influences, and about building your own sandbox.
NERDIST: My first question is, how long have you been percolating the idea of Jonas Quantum?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: Believe it or not, off and on for about fifteen years, I would say. I first started cogitating on it back when I first moved out to Los Angeles. It was before I broke into comics; I was just ruminating on various different ideas, and this one sort of captured my attention to a point that I would sort of return to it over the years very organically and continue to develop the idea. It just happened very slowly over time.
N: Was that the kind of thing where you’d be working on something like Arrow for example, and then you’d just kind of work on Jonas to take your mind off of stuff?
MG: It was sort of like this little thing I’d sort of doodle on. I can’t speak to other writers’ process, but my process is very much like … Usually, my mind doesn’t wander to other stuff while I’m working on one thing, but rather it tends to wander when I’m in the car, which it’s Los Angeles, so quite a bit, or when I’m in the shower, those sort of little down moments where your mind has time to wander a bit.
N: You’ve been writing in the Arrow universe both in TV and comics for a really long time. When you were trying to actually get this comic going, when you knew it was going to be a thing, what kind of things did you want to put into the universe?
MG: That’s a good question, and there are a whole lot of answers actually. Basically, I think the one thing for me was I think I was looking for a comic project that was very unstructured in the sense that I wanted each issue to be its own animal and to be able to just sort of really take my imagination off the leash. A lot of my comics work, like most peoples’ these days, is based in arcs. You’re telling four to five to six-issue stories. That’s great, and I love the long form, but if you’re doing like a six issue story, that takes up half a year there. I kind of wanted in part to design a book that, if I had an idea for a concept — this was definitely a book about big ideas — I wanted to be able to implement that idea and not wait.
It was also, the other piece of it, was taking inspiration, not aping or even homaging, but taking inspiration from the comic books that I grew up with which were a lot more self-contained stories where you would pick up a single issue, and you get essentially a full meal. I kind of like the idea of working in that short form.
N: With TV, especially a show like Arrow which has so many characters, was it fun to just have a couple of characters? Basically issue one of Jonas is just a two-hander at times. Was it fun to just write bantery dialogue through the whole thing?
MG: Very much so. One of the things I love doing is writing bantery dialogue. It’s not something I really get a chance to do because Arrow is not a very banter-heavy show. Every now and again we’ll add another character for Felicity to banter with, but Oliver is certainly not that verbose. It’s very nice to take myself off the leash in that regard because I’ve always enjoyed writing sort of back-and-forth. There’s a lot of that in this series.
N: Did you give yourself a series bible if you will about what Jonas did at what point in his life? Because you cut away to like “Day whatever, he does this.” Did you have a list of here are his accomplishments, and here’s roughly when he did them?
MG: No, I probably should have done that. This book — more so than others but I guess I sort of go into every concept with this in mind — this book is designed to be written in a certain way. One of the things that I wanted to do was really not limit myself and not have to follow a set pattern or a set of guidelines for Jonas. I wanted to very much look at that idea. I wanted there to be no limitations on the ideas. As I’ve been writing, though, I’ve had to keep myself organized going forward, so I have a little chart, which really is trying to help me do the map of the number of days of his life that we’re counting. But, it’s very much building things organically rather than having a set plan. I feel like I have a set plan in so many of my other projects. Like I said, that is designed to be a little bit more reactionary to inspiration than executing on a plan.
N: The first issue sets up the mystery, and I would assume because of the word “quantum” and the fact that he has invented time travel that it’s a time travel-related mystery. Is that a hard thing to do, or is that a fun kind of challenge to be like setting up clues that maybe haven’t happened yet?
MG: Yeah, it’s funny. As I’ve been doing these interviews, I’ve been struck by how large the concept of time travel seems to loom for people. I didn’t know this would happen. Time travel is not a huge component of the book overall.
N: Oh interesting, okay.
MG: Rather, the book is really, you’ll see as it goes on, the book plays around with just about every science fiction convention I could come up with in the first six issues. Time travel just being one very prominent science fiction convention, but it’s by no means the focus of the book.
N: Intriguing! Okay, shifting gears – I had loads more on time travel – Jonas as a character, you set up that he knows everything basically, or he can at least figure out everything. As a character, is it hard to balance the know-it-all nature to him? He’s certainly prickly, but has it been difficult trying to make him likable versus a know-it-all jerk?
MG: Yeah, you know I think that’s always the fine line. The fine line is how do you keep him from being an arrogant prick? The way I try to strike that balance is show that his intelligence is as much a curse as it is a blessing. The idea is that hopefully that curse will make you feel a little bit of sympathy for him. That level of sympathy will help soften his rough edges, if you will.
One of the things that, a theme that runs throughout the book, is the moral grayness or the moral ambiguity of what it is that he’s doing. He’s someone who is inventing these things. He’s really with each invention, he’s potentially opening Pandora’s box. That is an interesting problem for him. You’ll see it over, hopefully I’ve found new and different ways to examine it, but you’ll see that he knows the consequences of what he’s wrought periodically revisited throughout the book. His whole approach, he thinks he has got a good handle on the danger of his inventions. As the first issue demonstrates, that’s not necessarily the case.
N: Just one last question — the obligatory Arrow question before I let you go: How has the season been so far? You broke the internet with the trailer last week, but how has it been from your end? How has your experienced been filming it?
MG: I’m not objective, obviously, but I’ve been really, really pleased with this year. We finished the first three years like a trilogy. This year, it feels the same and new at the same time. The newness has just been really invigorating, I think for everybody. The show really has an incredible scope this year. We’re all having a lot of fun writing the new, lighter tone. I think the actors are enjoying the dynamics. I think we’re doing a much better job than we have in the past of balancing all of our characters. We have a large ensemble, and I feel like everyone in each episode has their moment to shine, which is something that we’ve always wanted to get to. That’s always just a big challenge. I think we’re coming out of the gate really strong, and I really, really hope that everyone watches it and enjoys it. I think they will. I’m very optimistic about what people will think of the new season.
The Infinite Adventures of Jonas Quantum Issue #1 is available this week via Legendary Comics.
Image Credit: Freddie Williams II/Legendary Comics
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!
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