I Thought You'd Never Ask: Rob Levin

I'm back (one day late from my usual Thursday posting) with another installment of "I Thought You'd Never Ask." The skinny is this: Every week, I ask 5 questions of one of my comic creator pals, questions which your average reporter would never think to ask. Hopefully, it's a mix of entertaining and informative for you, dear reader. Check out these archival interviews with Phil Hester, Ron Marz, and Rick Loverd.

This week's victim is Rob Levin. If that name isn't familiar to you yet, it will be soon. Rob is one of the smartest, savviest, and funny guys I know in the business. Rob is currently a freelance writer and editor, but I got to know him as the youngest Vice President of Editorial over at Top Cow. He rose to that position because of his keen critical eye for the art of comics. Listening to Rob give notes, you can't help but wonder if he's actually like Benjamin Button. It's pretty common for pros meeting him to assume he's much older than he actually is. As a writer, he's only just now breaking on the scene with stories like The Darkness: Butcher, a Ragman story in the DC Comics Holiday Special, The Darkness: Shadows & Flame, and the upcoming Broken Trinity: Pandora's Box with co-conspirator & renaissance man Bryan Edward Hill. He also recently edited the critically acclaimed Days Missing limited series for Archaia and the upcoming The Crazies comic prequels from American Original. It's just the tip of the iceberg of what Levin has in store for the comics industry so get on board this train early. You an find him blogging at Authentic Imposter as well as here at Geekweek or sharing his random insight on Twitter @roblevin. Finally, you should know I call Rob "Dusty" and he calls me "Frutti," the reasons are a thing of comic book urban legend.

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Filip Sablik: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? You originally studied film in college, did you always want to write comics? Or did it just come out of a desire to write in general and this is the medium you've found some opportunity in?

Rob Levin: I don't know if there was a specific moment when I decided.  I remember I was always obsessed with stories.  I must have seen Ghostbusters more than a hundred times, and Back to the Future is in that same range.  I was the kid lobbying to watch Robocop and Se7en well before I was legally allowed, or knew their cinematic merits.  Eventually it just seemed like a natural extension to create.  And occasionally I would garner critical acclaim (from teachers) for something I would write, so that probably did something to encourage me.

I do remember back in elementary school I wrote this illustrated story... And I can't draw, but I did the art in this.  It was about this family of flying squirrels who were like superheroes.  I worked really hard on the story, I even made up my own technobabble names for their weapons.  I don't remember much else about the story, I think someone got kidnapped and later rescued, but that was probably my start in comics.  I hope my mom doesn't read this and then dig it up.  Could be a career ender with me going into hiding to escape the shame.  I guess that explains why I write instead of draw.

I should also mention that the aforementioned Se7en and Ron Marz's first Kyle Rayner story in Green Lantern had a pretty profound effect on me.  I got really into revenge stories about (spoiler alert) dead girls and men bent on avenging them, and that's continued to this day. 

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FS: You're relatively new to the writing game, so tell me off the top of your head - what's the one character or title you'd give your left hand to write right now?

RL: Everyone I know wants to get their hands on Batman at some point, and the eight-year old in me wants to say Darkhawk... but off the top of my head (whilst I continue to stall for time) I would say Daredevil.  He's just such a put upon character.  From the accident that took his sight to his dad, to every woman he's ever met ending up dead, he never catches a break.  I love characters you can put through the paces, and there seems to be no bottom for Matt Murdock, and he just keeps on coming back for more.  Being able to write characters into a corner and having them show you the way out is an awesome feeling.  

And if I were a better writer I'd love to write for either The Office or Californication.

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FS: Hear that Marvel? Put Rob Levin on Darkhawk. Sure, he said Daredevil, but Darkhawk sounds like a platinum idea. Where do you start with a story? Are you an inside-out guy or an outside-in guy? Do you start with a scene or set piece and then build around it or start with the character and see where they take you? Or start with a plot idea and work from there?

RL: I don't have a specific formula.  Sometimes it's a situation, other times a character.  Sometimes it's a line of dialogue.  Other times my more talented co-writer on a gajillion things, Bryan Hill, tosses out a quick idea or an exercise to get the juices flowing and we go from there.  I'm a firm believer in the whatever works method.  I always try to have some sort of plan or rough version of an outline when I'm actually working on a project, but purely in terms of creating... There are a lot of documents, sticky notes, and gnarled legal pads around here with more stuff than I'll ever get to.  And tons of emails sent to myself.  Obviously being able to work a number of different ways really helps when writing something either for-hire or from someone else's concept.

My "training" if you can call it that is more about structure and narrative than process itself.  Everyone has different tweaks or formulas they use, include the legions of people that follow Robert McKee's advice (and one day, I will finish that damn book).  I just sit down and work until it comes out the way I want.  And sometimes it's even good, but I don't have a specific workflow that I follow with any regularity. 

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FS: Alright eough with the dull writing questions, let's get to what these people really came here to hear about - dodgeball. You are a dodgeball enthusiast. Why dodgeball?

RL: Honestly it started on a lark.  My friend Alexander White, a fine creator in his own right, sent me an email out of the blue.  It said, "Do you want to join a dodgeball league?"  I thought about it for three seconds, then decided there was nothing I would rather do.  And now I'm ruined, because weeks without dodgeball are just weeks spent waiting for other, better weeks when I can throw balls at my editor...  Great workout, interesting people, and drinking afterword.  Plus, you THROW BALLS AT OTHER PEOPLE.

Filip, how are you not getting this?  Balls.  People.  Recreation.  Booze.  Yes.

And for all those who play kickball and think it's the joint, let's pull back the lens for a second.  What's the best part of kickball?  You don't have to answer, I'll tell you.  It's when people are running between bases and you can peg them with the ball and get them out.  And that, my friends, is just wannabe dodgeball.

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FS: Wow, now I have a whole new reason to make fun of recreational kickball players. Awesome! What's the one question you've always wanted an interviewer to ask, but you've never been asked?

RL: This question.  Next.

Honestly, and I'll regret this as soon as I say it, but I would be thrilled to get the question, "Prolapsed rectum.  Your thoughts?"  To which I would respond, "Rectum?  Damn near killed 'im!"  Or any question involving a flattering prelude to it such as, "Despite your prowess as a dodgeballer, fantastic ability to grow an afro, and my jealousy over not being you, why isn't this project any good?"

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So yeah, I'm open for anything.  I think the best interviews are the ones that go on tangents about dodgeball or the Atlanta Hawks, skinny pirates (the drink, not the seafaring hoodlums) or burritos.  Future interviewers take note.  Filip just put a bullseye on your tired questions, and my words are weapons.

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FS: Damn, skippy, Rob. Damn, skippy.

Filip Sablik is the Publisher of Top Cow Productions, Inc. He’s been in the business for nine years and just officially entered his thirties. Occasionally, he does a bit of writing and drawing. He loves comics.
Top Cow Productions, Inc. was founded by Marc Silvestri, co-founder of Image Comics. Top Cow currently publishes its line of comic books in 21 languages in over 55 different countries. The company has launched 20 franchises (18 original and two licensed) in the industry’s Top 10, seven at #1, a feat accomplished by no other publisher in the last two decades.

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