I first “met” Christos Gage via e-mail not long after I began at Wizard in 2004. If I recall correctly, it was to get a few quotes on the Deadshot limited series he was writing, his first major work in the industry. Even back in those comics-heavy days of the magazine, a “mid-level” project like Deadshot wouldn’t necessarily automatically garner even a quick blurb, but I believe Chris’ experience as a screenwriter, most prominently on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, helped give it a bit more cache.
I was enthusiastic about the project as I’d gotten a crash course in the Suicide Squad and Deadshot hard and fast off the recommendation of Geoff Johns and still riding the John Ostrander buzz. I didn’t know what to expect from Chris (I should note I’ve never called him Christos except for like our first two e-mail exchanges and in print when I have to), as I’d dealt with relatively few creators at this point and none from the “Hollywood” side of the equation.
As it turned out, Chris couldn’t be further from a “Hollywood guy” and more of a dyed in the wool comic book fanatic; he was far more nervous, anxious and excited about getting to write a character he grew up with than how his episodes of SVU would do. We had a very nice back-and-forth beyond me getting what I needed for the piece, talking comics in general, Suicide Squad in specific, and also bonding a bit over both being relative newbies to the crazy world of the professional comic book industry. Chris’ would be one of the first names entered into my fledgling rolodex and we’d frequently drop each other a line to say what’s up or ask the other’s opinion over the latest developments at Marvel or DC.
Also, Deadshot turned out to be pretty darn good, I daresay the flashpoint for the revival of the character over the last half decade, so I wasn’t just hitching my wagon to a hack here.
My role at Wizard in the burgeoning Internet age of course put me in the now familiar to most position of getting to know many creators via e-mail and the occasional phone chat long before I met them in person. I wouldn’t actually encounter Chris face-to-face until early 2006 during my infamous one-man assault on WonderCon for a 52 creative summit, where the deadly combo of fried sushi, Geoff Johns-prescribed Red Bull and vodkas and Mark Waid regaling me with tales of his “paycheck days” on Spider-Man Team-Up got me about as ill as I’d ever been—but I digress.
I believe Chris actually cornered me rather than vice versa, as he’d seen my face in the Wizard Bullpen features at the back of the magazine whereas I had no idea what he looked like. As much as we’d gotten along over e-mail and the phone, we really hit it off in person, as we share both a boundless enthusiasm for the business we’re in, but perhaps more importantly a dry sarcasm and biting “wit” that would lead many to brand us “jerks,” but instantly drew us together. We also both grew up in Massachusetts, and shared love of the Red Sox/hatred of the Yankees, particularly in those halcyon “we finally won a World Series” days forges a bond like no other.
One night, Chris and I along with a motley crew including the likes of former Wizard-ite Gabe Fieramosco and then-Swamp Thing writer Josh Dysart headed to Chinatown for dinner. After we had both loosened up a bit on appetizers and beers, my buddy told me about how he had a mini-series in the pipeline at Marvel with artist Mike Perkins and was really excited for it. I told him that was rad as I knew he had always dreamed of making it to Marvel and enquired as to the subject matter, which he informed me was Union Jack.
With all due respect to Union Jack superfan Pat McCallum, I admit I went blank-eyed and may have chuckled a moment.
“You’ve never written anything at Marvel before and you’re going to make your first impression with Union Jack? Dude…good luck.”
It was a good-natured joke between friends, as I really was happy for Chris, but it wouldn’t have been us if I hadn’t given him a hard time. He laughed along with me while no doubt planning how to spike my drink with Visine or something.
Union Jack would legitimately end up being not only one of my favorite books of 2006, but the series that made Chris as a legitimate rising star in comics, pretty much writing his ticket as far as being a guy who could spin gold with a perceived “B-list” character and thus had tremendous versatility as a writer.
Needless to say, I’ve rarely been so happy to be proven wrong (even if he never lets me forget it).
Chris’ career really took off from there. His Stormwatch: PHD was in my humble opinion the crown jewel of the ballyhooed WildStorm re-launch of 2006 and probably overdue an Underrated/Overlooked from me (though I could probably do a whole Chris Gage special). And his World War Hulk: X-Men mini wasn’t just great fun, it was further evidence that this really is a guy who had never stopped being a fan, as he was never shy about telling anybody who would listen “I’ve wanted to write a Hulk vs Juggernaut fight all my life, so I did, and it was awesome.”
As the guy who got to write skip month one-shots for Warren Ellis’ Thunderbolts and eventually became co-writer with Dan Slott on Avengers: The Initiative (before taking the book over himself), Chris got to hobnob creatively with some pretty big names, but never forgot about his pal Ben, during my final Wizard days or when I started at Marvel.com. He got to meet my then-girlfriend Megan for the first time at the 2007 New York Comic Con and was uncharacteristically gracious, and we exchange holiday cards with him and his wife Ruth every year.
Earlier this year, Chris and another fine gentleman, Mike McKone, kicked off Avengers Academy, Mr. Gage’s highest profile series to date, and one I’ve already come out in favor of. With the early success of the book, Marvel finally went and made it official, “putting a ring on it” and signing Christos Gage exclusive. It’s been a long time coming, but the guy has earned it, and nobody’s happier than me.
We had Chris on Marvel.com Live last weekend during New York Comic Con following the announcement and we were both grinning as we talked about how far he’d come (in an interview you all will be able to see for yourselves soon).
Of course he also took the opportunity to tell the world, “Ben never believed in me and told me that Union Jack was going to fail four years ago.” I copped to it but said, “Well, we were friends, so I was just goofing around,” to which he zinged me back with “Well, you thought we were friends.”
Ouch. Receipt acknowledged.
Snarkiness aside, congrats again, my friend, you have certainly earned it and I’m excited to see what you do next.