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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Comic book heroes: Real Adventures

English major combines love for writing with passion for comics

Oct. 27, 2011, by R. Dominic Lloyd '10

Kurt Busiek '82, author of Astro City.
Kurt Busiek '82, author of Astro City.

Kurt Busiek ’82 has never swung between the skyscrapers of Manhattan like Spider-Man, pierced the dark with the ring of Green Lantern, or helped the Avengers defeat Kang the Conqueror. However, The College of Arts and Sciences alumnus, who majored in English, has accomplished a feat just as noteworthy: He writes for both DC and Marvel, the two most prominent publishers in the comic book industry.

His stories for Spider-Man, Green Lantern, and Superman have earned him a place among the most respected writers in the business. Busiek’s own creation, the award-winning comic book series Astro City, debuted in 1995 and has been collected into a number of trade paperbacks. The most recent Astro City saga, The Dark Age, is a 16-issue story arc that began in 2005 and concluded in May 2010. Astro City is currently being adapted for film. “At every stage it’s like you’re pushing the rock uphill,” says Busiek, who is writing the screenplay for Astro City. “It could roll down and crush you at any time. It’s that kind of business. But even if there never is an Astro City movie, the whole adventure is entertaining.”

Busiek rarely saw comic books as a child because his parents believed comics were “bad for the brain.” However, by the time he was 14, Busiek’s parents relented and he started his comic collection, soaking up the characters and stories. That led him to think about the possibility of combining his desire to be a writer with his passion for comics. “I wanted to be a writer, but the idea of spending a year or more writing a novel only to find out that it’s no good was a disincentive,” he
says. “Comic books were then only 17 pages long. I figured I could write 17 pages a lot more quickly than a novel.”

Busiek tapped the artistic talents of his childhood friend, Scott McCloud ’82, a graduate of SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. Together they began experimenting with their own comic books, first in high school and later at SU where they honed their skills as writer and artist. By the time he graduated from SU, Busiek had already sold his first comic script—a backup story that appeared in Green Lantern #162, for DC Comics. McCloud is now a well-known illustrator and author of several books about the comic book genre, including, Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels (Harper Paperbacks,

“I felt I should’ve apologized to his parents,” Busiek says. “He didn’t go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to become a scientist like his father. Instead, he became a comic book artist and was eating Ramen noodles!” But, Busiek notes, with an ironic chuckle: “McCloud did make it to MIT—as a guest speaker.”

Cover of Astro City comic book.
Cover of Astro City comic book.

Today, Busiek has a smorgasbord of work to his credits. Alongside the movie, Astro City will soon return as a monthly publication. Busiek is also working on a new project for DC comics and on a Batman series that will feature a horror-tinged reinterpretation of the Caped Crusader. Busiek’s successful career in a genre that wasn’t part of his childhood library hasn’t been lost on his parents. A few years after his son graduated from SU, Busiek’s father was searching for a new administrative assistant for his business. One of the people he interviewed asked if he was related to Kurt Busiek the writer.

“The question surprised my Dad,” Busiek says. “He then asked me for copies of my comic books.” A few weeks later, Busiek asked his Dad’s secretary whether he had read any of the comics. “She said, ‘I don’t think so, but they’re all on the coffee table in the office,’” Busiek says. “He’s not worried about me anymore.”