Derrick Ferguson: Who is Mat Nastos?
Mat Nastos: I like to think of myself as the world's greatest living professional nerd. I'm also a novelist, comic book artist and television writer.
DF: You’ve got a very distinctive name. What is its origin?
MN: Nastos is a Greek name. My grandfather came over from Greece in the early 20th Century. He snuck in because, at the time, Greek immigration into the US was very limited and there was a lot of prejudice going on against them. Immigration by those of Greek decent was actually the most regulated by the US until the 1970s when the ban was lifted. He had to join the US Army during the First World War in order to become a citizen.
DF: Where do you live and what do you tell The IRS you do for a living?
MN: I live just outside of Los Angeles in a small town called Covina.
What do I do for a living? Well, my business card says "super genius" and I think that is the best description for it. For the past 7 years I've been a professional writer for film and television. Now I'm adding "author" to the mix.
DF: Give us the straight skinny on your background.
MN: I've been a nerd since I was a kid growing up in Hawaii. I started and ran the first comic book conventions in the Islands. After that, I pursued my love of comics and art by going to the Joe Kubert School in New Jersey and then the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. While at SVA, I became assistant to Joe Orlando in the Special Projects office at DC before getting picked up to draw Elfquest for Warp Graphics.
Throughout the 90s I went back and forth between drawing/inking comics (Spectacular Spider-man, Thor, Man of Steel and some others) and storyboarding for film and television. I did a ton of work for Roger Corman, as well as on just about every science fiction show on TV outside of Star Trek -- things like MANTIS, Highlander, Space: Above & Beyond, Babylon 5, First Wave, Farscape, Sliders, and a bunch of others. In there somewhere, I art directed and produced on a couple of video games.
In 2001, I moved in to writing and directing for film, doing a few low budget horror flicks, before moving on work for Disney TVA on a number of shows, including Emperor's New School and Phineas & Ferb. During this time, I went back to school to get my master's degree in marketing.
Now I make up stories and publish them as novels.
DF: Access the memories of the 12 year old Mat. Are you right now doing what the 12 year old Mat Nastos dreamed of doing?
MN: Honestly, the 12 year old me would be surprised and maybe a little disappointed. At 12 I thought I'd be drawing comics forever -- specifically Elfquest comics. That was my goal in life for the first 25 years of my life: drawing comics. Writing never once entered my mind as a kid.
Luckily, I was able to live out my dream at a pretty early age: I was working for DC while I was still in school and drawing Elfquest by the time I graduated. By the end of the 90s I was hanging out and working in the Marvel and DC bullpens drawing comics. For a life-long fanboy it was amazing.
As I got older, what I wanted to do changed. I was able to do a lot of work in film/TV as a storyboard artist and director. That opened writing up to me and I've been having a blast ever since.
DF: Before we start talking about the Malcolm Weir books, we should talk about the earlier short stories and novelette you self-published. Was this a way of getting your feet wet in the field of self-publishing?
MN: Totally. I'd been drawn to the new world of e-book publishing because of my experience doing Internet marketing work for a number of companies (and on my own sites) mixed with my desire to tell stories. While I very much enjoy writing for TV and film, I wanted to do something I had more control over...something simpler to get out in a pure form. Since I had never written something as significant as a novel before, I thought my best bet was to try things out in smaller bites with short stories and novellas. Doing that first gave me a lot more confidence when it came to sitting down to tackle a full-length novel AND it gave me the experience I'd need to make sure the work I produced actually sold well enough to earn a living with.
DF: You’ve been around for a long time. Why now to start writing novels?
MN: Freedom. I've worked in comics, film, TV and video games professionally since the early 90s. The downside for working on a team is the loss of control and forced compromise. Collaboration is great, but sometimes a creator just wants to get what they see in their head out to fans in as "pure" a form as possible. Since I've never warmed up to working with myself as an artist/writer (the writer thinks the artist side is flakey, and the artist side thinks the writer in me is an douche bag), that left me with novels.
I love the ability to tell a story on my own and to stand or fall based on my own merits. There are no excuses or safety nets when you do that, and it's really exhilarating. I still love comics and filmmaking, but the storyteller in me is addicted to novels.
DF: What I like about your writing is that you’re not afraid to cherry pick from a variety of genres and mash ‘em up in the same story. Is this stylistically deliberate or do your stories just come out of your subconscious that way?
MN: As a marketing person I love genres. They are an excellent way to target your audience and to get sales.
As a storyteller I find them repellent. They are artificial and limiting. One of the best things about storytellers from the early part of the 20th century (comics, prose, film, whatever) is the lack of adherence to genre. The compartmentalization of fiction wasn't as clearly defined yet and it allowed creators to be more free. I love that freedom and the ability to tell whatever kind of story I want, with whatever kinds of elements I want.
It was one of the things that had originally attracted me to the idea of "New Pulp" when I first heard about it a few years back. Unfortunately, the reality of the movement itself turned out to be very different. It turned out to be very limited and controlling in terms of acceptance.
DF: When New Pulp first came on the scene you had some very definite things to say about it that were controversial to say the least. Have your opinions changed or been modified since then?
MN: No, my thoughts on the New Pulp movement are still the same as they were back then. The movement is run by guys who have no idea how to market and sell material, especially online. The majority of the material is being sold to a very small crowd of 400 hardcore fans or less.
The sad part is, a lot of the work being generated by New Pulp authors has the potential to go a lot wider, but it is being held back by association with the "movement" itself. If all a publisher is doing is promoting the work to the same minuscule market over and over without attempting to grow or expand their brand (more than likely because they don't know how to properly market), then that publisher is working in opposition to the best interests of the authors they represent. Those authors would do better to go out on their own and self-publish.
So, no, my opinions haven't changed. New Pulp is a mess that is shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis. However, and I've said this many times, there is a lot of material being held back inside the movement that has potential to break out and do well. In fact, a lot of what I read is from New Pulp authors like Barry Reese, Bobby Nash, Van Allen Plexico, Perry Constantine and Adam Garcia. I'd love to see the New Pulp publishers step up their game and grow the market because the material deserves it.
DF: Do you consider what you write to be New Pulp?
MN: I go back and forth on whether or not what I'm doing is "New Pulp." I'd say it is pulp-inspired for sure. Some of the biggest influences on the way I tell a story were the mass market paperbacks of the 70s and the 80s. I grew up devouring hundreds of those books--everything from science fiction to fantasy to westerns to adventure novels. Whatever I could get my hands on, I read.
I'm going to say something here that will probably get me lambasted by the New Pulp crowd, but I think what I write is a lot closer to living up to the spirit of what pulp was back in the golden age. In my head, I'm writing popular style material that is acceptable to as wide an audience as possible. The Weir Codex books (The Cestus Concern and The Cestus Contract) are the written versions of summer blockbusters and that is very much at the heart of what the original pulps were, not material written for a very tiny audience and confined to a very tiny set of rules. The New Pulp movement has become the exact opposite of what the original pulps were. It's closed off, confined and limited.
If you asked me to define my work in relation to New Pulp I'd call it "Pulp-Inspired."
DF: Now let’s talk about THE CESTUS CONCERN. I describe it as “the best 1980’s action movie you’re going to read.” How would you describe it?
MN: How would I describe "The Cestus Concern?" By stealing your description and taking credit for it! Really, you put into words exactly what I wanted to do with the books. I wanted to write a novel that felt like a 1980s/1990s style action flick. Of course, that goes back to what "pulp" is for me. I wanted something exciting, fun and over-the-top.
I just wrote what I love and what I enjoy reading. Bullets, blood, bombs and blades!
DF: You’ve got a very cinematic writing style. As I was reading the book I visualized the action as if it were a movie. How did you develop that style of writing?
MN: I call it the art of writing without knowing how to writing. :D
All of my training in writing has been on the job. When I first started, it was for a film that Shoreline Entertainment needed written quickly (and cheaply). I just sort of jumped in with both feet and lucked out to have done well enough to keep getting work.
It was the same for prose. Writing prose wasn't something I had ever really done before a few years back. I just took what I had learned writing for comics and film/TV and tried to force it into my prose work. Some people would describe it as "ham-fisted" more than "cinematic." Since most of what I'm writing is heavily action oriented I focus on trying to make that stuff as clear as possible. All I do is try to get down onto paper what I see going on in my head when I map out a scene. Most of the time I feel like I'm over-writing a screenplay instead of writing prose.
DF: Did you think about doing THE CESTUS CONCERN as a screenplay or comic book before writing the novel?
MN: Sort of. The basic ideas for The Cestus Concern began life as a pitch I put together for an old Extreme Studios/Image Comics character called "Cybrid." The character was an obscure character created by Rob Liefeld back in the 90s who only popped up a handful of times. Since Cybrid was essentially a blank canvas to work it (he was a pretty generic mid-90s Wolverine clone -- one of about 100 that popped up around the time), using him allowed me to play with all of the things I wanted to write and pull in all of my influences (the work of Shotaro Ishinomori being one of the biggest).
Rob loved the pitch and gave it the nod to put together as a new series.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), as I was writing the comic I found there really wasn't much to Cybrid and what I was creating was essentially a completely new, completely unique entity. With this new character and new story in hand, I pulled the project and set about fleshing out the material in a format that I would have complete control over: a novel.
For me, the control an author has when writing a novel is fantastic. There's no more putting up with all the hassles and compromises that I deal with in my film/TV work, and there were none of the issues a writer runs into when working with a co-creator in comics. That freedom was amazing and very addictive.
DF: Tell us about THE CESTUS CONTRACT.
MN: The Cestus Contract takes Malcolm Weir to New York City in search of the people behind what had happened to him in Project Hardwired. He's got an insane amount of data stored on the nanotech running through his veins with no access to it. On top of that, with the destruction of the Abraxas Array in the first book, Mal's beginning to lose control of himself and his cybernetics. He needs someone to help him get it all sorted...but the government isn't ready to help the rogue cyborg and they're not about to let their investment just walk away.
The story is all about control -- Mal's control of himself and the government's control over everyone.
It's also about elaborate fights, explosions, and enough action to blow the hair right off your head!
DF: How many Malcolm Weir adventures can we expect to see?
MN: As long as I can keep coming up with action that tops what I've done before, I'll keep writing! Right now I have 4 novels total outlined (two more after The Cestus Contract). That will take readers through the main story-line I started in the first book -- dealing with what happened to Mal in Kabul and who was responsible for it all. Beyond that I have a few more ideas, but it'll all depend on how much fun I have doing the books and how much the fans like what I do. Right now I'm having a fantastic time writing about Mal, Zuz and the Nissan Cube!
DF: You’re writing a comic book as well that is being drawn by none other than Rob Liefeld. How did that come about?
MN: Yes, I'm scripting the new Brigade series for Rob. He held a Kickstarter so that he could give away 100,000 copies of the book in hopes of bringing new (and old) readers to comics. The short version of how I became involved is that Rob checked out my first novel and enjoyed it enough to give me a really fantastic quote for it. I think he responded to the level of action and adventure in there, along with the humor. The book seems to resonate well with fans of 90s Image comics.
The longer version is that we had been talking about doing something together for a couple of years and this seemed to be a good fit. The audience I've built with my work (prose, TV and film) compliments his audience and the work he does. It also doesn't hurt that we're friends and share a lot of the same comic book loves.
DF: Comic book fans are split right down the middle when it comes to Rob Liefeld. They either love him or hate him. Does any of that matter to you?
MN: What comic fans think of Rob (good or bad) doesn't really impact me at all. The truth of the matter is that Rob has a love of comics and pop culture that is similar to mine. We're both Byrne and Perez fanatics. We both grew up reading and loving the same books -- X-Men, Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans...and just about everything else in the 70s and 80s. His truly loves comics and it's easy to get inspired when you work with someone like that.
The funny thing is, I didn't read much of his work in the 90s -- I do remember reading and enjoying Hawk & Dove in the 80s, as well as seeing his pieces in DC's Who's Who and the Handbook of the Marvel Universe. I was working as Joe Orlando's assistant when Image started taking off and reading Image was frowned upon in the offices. Keep in mind, DC was #3 at that point and the Image stuff was blowing us out of the water in terms of sales and fan interest.
I didn't pay any attention to that material until a couple of years ago when I was reading through it all in an attempt to find something cool to pitch as a new series. When I did, I found tons of really cool ideas in the work -- I'm not sure there was a lot of realized potential in the work, but there were a lot of sparks that got my mind churning with stories.
With all that being said, I don't see the issues people have with his work. To me, he's like Jack Kirby -- neither one is a realistic style illustrator. They're cartoonists who deal with getting excitement onto the page. Rob did that better than almost anyone and it made him one of the most successful comic creators of all time. When you add in the fact that he's a genuinely nice guy with a monster affection for the comic medium, it's hard to understand the nearly fanatical rage some fans have against him.
DF: What’s A Day In The Life of Mat Nastos like?
MN: It is an exercising in doing whatever I can to avoid growing up. I usually start writing very early in the morning before my family wakes up and write until about 12:30. Then I spend time with my wife and kids. The evening is filled with karate, the gym and more writing. Every so often I'm forced to make the run into LA to do thing TV thing, but I try and avoid it as much as possible.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Mat Nastos: My new novel, The Cestus Contract, is out now. It is the sequel to my first book and is filled with a lot of the same kind of over-the-top action that readers seemed to dig. You can find out more on my website at www.matnastos.net or the publishing site www.NiftyEntertainment.com.
On the Web: http://www.MatNastos.net
On SmashWords: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/matnastos
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/matnastos
On Twitter: http://twitter.com/niftymat
On DeviantArt: http://elfsong-mat.deviantart.com/