Fabian Nicieza, a writer in the comic book medium best known for co-creating Deadpool, made two projects a reality this year – after a quarter-century.
The first is his debut novel called Suburban Dicks (G.P. Putnam’s Sons $27), a mystery that occurs in suburban New Jersey where ex-FBI profiler Andrea Stern (who’s seven months pregnant with her fifth child) and disgraced Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kenny Lee become uneasy allies when they learn the murder of a gas attendant wasn’t a robbery, but something that goes much deeper and involves a cover-up in the police department.
Prior to its June 22 release, Suburban Dicks received rave reviews and advanced critical praise. Both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews gave it starred reviews. In fact, Kirkus placed it on its “8 Novels to Read This Summer” list.
“I’m always very hesitant and wary of my own work when it goes out there,” confessed Nicieza (pronounced “Nee-see-eh-sah”), 59, of New Jersey. “I don’t tend to write for other people; I write for myself. I hope if I’m entertaining myself that you’ll be entertained as well.”
The second is Marvel Comics’ X-Men: Legends No. 1-2, which picks up during his 1992-95 run as writer on X-Men, allowing Nicieza to finally reveal Cyclops and Havok of the X-Men’s connection to Adam X, a character Nicieza co-created in 1994.
Nicieza explained what took him so long to get these two projects underway.
“I came up with the story (to Suburban Dicks) – beginning, middle, and end – and the main characters and everything about it back in 1995. It only took until 2017 to like what I wrote. I tried starting it a couple of times and was not satisfied with the prose; I just did not like my own prose, so I’d just toss it aside,” explained Nicieza. “A book is a large undertaking. If it’s not paying work and you’re a freelance writer, you have to focus on the paying work, which I had done for 35 years.”
He continued: “It got the point where you tick off the boxes as you get older – not just in terms of what you want to do from a career standpoint, but what your financial responsibilities are. You tick off the mortgage box, you tick off the college education box, and – all of the sudden – you can roll the dice and take a risk, spending a year trying to write a book and seeing what happens. That’s what it was. I decided to give it a shot finally – once and for all. Combining that, it was the first time I felt more comfortable writing prose… I just wrote and I got positive feedback from people who read a few chapters as I was moving along. I decided to keep it going. It took me a little over a year to write the first draft. It took me most of 2019 to cut and edit and get it into presentable shape.”
As for his Adam X story, Nicieza departed X-Men in 1995 due to creative differences with editorial. He had introduced the “third Summers brother” subplot in 1993, revealing Scott Summers and Alex Summers (aka Cyclops and Havok, respectively) had another brother. It was implied it was Adam X, but Nicieza left before he could write that story. This year, he finally got to confirm Adam X is indeed their brother (half-brother, actually). According to Nicieza, Marvel contacted him and asked him to pitch story ideas for its new X-Men: Legends title, so he pitched Adam X.
“If they didn’t want to do it the way I wanted it done back in 1995, I wasn’t gonna do it. They 100 percent said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it! Let’s do it!’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Absolutely, just break it down for us what it was supposed to be back then that you didn’t get to do.’ I explained the whole thing and they’re like, ‘Oh! Why didn’t they let you do that back then?’ I’m like, ‘Never mind. I’m not gonna into it,’” he recalled. “The (story) was never intended to set the world on fire or win Eisner Awards back in 1995. Why the heck should it now? It was a fun, exciting adventure set in the X-books circa 1995. That’s all I ever wanted it to be, and I’m glad I finally got to do it – mostly to show it’s not that big a deal. It wasn’t that big a deal back then; it was editorial malfeasance that prevented it from happening… The second I was done with it, that’s it – Adam X was over. I don’t have that itch anymore to scratch.”
A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nicieza – the youngest of two – immigrated to Queens, NY when he was 4. His family settled in New Jersey when he was 7, which is where he’s lived ever since. He and his brother Mariano learned to read and speak English through comic books. Both of them later got to live their dream and work at Marvel after they graduated from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
A prolific writer, Nicieza’s written more than 1,000 comics – mostly for Marvel. He got his start on Psi-Force in 1987, his first monthly series, which he called his “ultimate training ground” where he “learned a lot by getting the chance to do it.” He moved on to The New Warriors (which he considers his finest work), Avengers, X-Men, X-Force, Cable, Deadpool, Nomad, Nova, Night Thrasher, Cable & Deadpool, as well as various Captain America and Spider-Man titles, et al.
Highlights of his work at Marvel include the seminal “Age of Apocalypse” storyline in 1995’s X-Men family of titles, which is a time-travel storyline where history was changed and the X-Men became different incarnations of themselves. Along with artist Rob Liefeld, he’s perhaps best-known as the co-creator of Deadpool, a character brought to life by Ryan Reynolds in 2016’s Deadpool and 2018’s Deadpool 2, both of which grossed a combined total of approximately $1.5 billion at the box office.
“Fabian is a writer who keeps you laughing as he springs surprise after surprise upon you. I ordered my copy of Suburban Dicks a few months ago and can’t wait to read it,” said former Marvel editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco.
Nicieza spoke at length with The Strand about Suburban Dicks, his time at Marvel, and the popularity of Deadpool.
THE STRAND: Where did you get the idea for Suburban Dicks?
NICIEZA: In 1995, I was living in a home in West Windsor, NJ that had a gun club on the other side of a pond and a stretch of woods. (The house was new), but the gun club had been there in one capacity or another for 50 years. After the houses were built and all the people moved into the neighborhood, there was the occasional bullet coming our way. Our houses were occasionally hit and bullets were occasionally found in our yards.
As a neighborhood, we tried having the town government do something. We understood why they were there and had every right to be there, but we didn’t think they should be outdoors shooting, so we were trying to get the town to eliminate outdoor shooting and make the gun club indoor shooting only.
We lost. The town council voted 5-4, which basically meant we wouldn’t have the opportunity to prevent them from (shooting outdoors) anymore. As is typical of a writer, I came up with my revenge scenario in my imagination. And my imagination was: Wouldn’t it be interesting if some of these gun club members did something wrong and it caught up to them today? That embarrassment and the arrests would force them to close down.
A lot of the gun club members were older townies who’d been there a long time when most of it was farmland. The vast majority of the membership weren’t even West Windsor residents; they lived in neighboring towns. It was a vengeance comeuppance – that’s all it was.
THE STRAND: Do you still live in the same house?
NICIEZA: No, my wife and I moved around several times. It’s in the same area, though. It’s sister towns – West Windsor and Plainsboro. They also share a school district and recreational sports. I’ve lived in either sister town pretty much since 1993. I’ve lived in this general area since 1988.
Everything in the book is a slightly heightened exaggeration of the day-to-day things in the suburbs that makes you twitch… I’m reflecting a police department that is not the current department today in West Windsor. It’s queasy and problematic for me because the current police department has a different approach and tone then what it was like 30 years ago.
I’m really writing to 30 years ago and what they were like then and – yes – they were really dickish, really churlish, and really indifferent to a lot of the new residents moving in and to the cultural diversity moving in. They’re not like that now. That’s why I have in the “acknowledgments” section that this is fiction, so (I’m asking the police to) please not give me a ticket for driving 35 in 30 (MPH) zone (laughter). You have to write heightened drama for the sake of entertainment.
THE STRAND: What was the inspiration behind Andrea Stern’s creation?
NICIEZA: Andie was a little bit of a mesh-mash of several friends in my life and my wife all congealed together for the sake of a forward-driven narrative. I needed a character to solve a mystery and was intelligent enough to put obscure pieces together. But the whole concept of not getting a chance to fulfill the career aspirations you might have had and/or been super-suited for and the frustrations at times and the challenges of being a full-time homemaker when you are a college graduate and have already put in several good years into a career. That was something many of my friends were going through.
We got married and had our kids and got our first houses at roughly around the same age – between 28-35 – that’s where we all were. I was watching a lot of my friends wrestling with the idea of not returning to work and being a full-time homemaker with the kids or choosing to return to work and the uncertainty and guilt of making that decision – it’s an absolute no-win situation for many, especially if you need two incomes. I live in an area where, for the most part, a lot of the houses – especially back then – were not 2-income households. It really was common among my peer-group at that time.
Waiting to write the book, I think, was a huge benefit because it gave me a sense of perspective and proportion to what those initial character traits and character conflicts mean 25-30 years later in the lives of these women. It gave a nice vantage point to have an understanding of where I can take my fictional characters since all of us have lived through that; I can apply that to the fictional track that these characters are on.
THE STRAND: And Kenny?
NICIEZA: Kenny was a little bit me originally in that I was 29-30 when I started writing multiple comics/month and having a full-time job at Marvel. That meant I already, in essence, accomplished what I wanted to do since I was a kid. On the one hand, that’s fantastic and I understand how incredibly lucky I am to have had that opportunity. On the other hand, you stop and ask yourself if you’re already doing what you’ve always wanted to do, what do you do next? I applied that to both to Kenny and Andie because each of them had their greatest successes while they were in college.
Now here they are 10 years later and each of them is asking themselves, “What am I going to do next? Who am I going to be moving forward?” It’s a tremendous challenge. From a career standpoint, it’s a very interesting dilemma to have. The Chinese proverb is “Do not wish, you may receive.” Well, you wish you could be something or do something, then you are sooner than you expected, and then what? I applied that to both characters. I thought it gave them good motivation and good conflict.
THE STRAND: A lot of characters in Suburban Dicks are very diverse. Andrea is Jewish. Kenny is Asian-American. There are also Black characters and Indian characters integral to the plot. Yet they’re not thrown in for the sake of diversity, all of them have a purpose from a story standpoint. Explain.
NICIEZA: It goes beyond having a purpose from a story standpoint. For me, it’s always been a reflection of my reality. Looking back to 1994, before I left The New Warriors, the cover to No. 51 (with 17 super-heroes of various races) is something I had built towards for 50 issues. It’s not quote-unquote “hitting you over the head with diversity,” but it was a natural progression of the characters’ interactions and also where they lived – they lived in New York City, New Jersey, and Long Island, which are incredibly diverse areas. That wasn’t hitting you over the head with diversity. It’s how the characters grew.
I lived in a town that used to be 30 percent Asian population in the 1990s and it’s 60 percent Asian population now. It’s my reality, it’s all around me! To set a story in West Windsor/Plainsboro NOT reflecting that diversity would be a lie. That would be forced. I’m writing to the story’s needs, of course, but – ultimately – the reality of the world I live in services my fictional needs because it is an incredibly diverse area.
I was a soccer coach driving a mini-van with seven kids in it and all seven were different nationalities. To me, I shrug my shoulders. If anyone has any issues or complaints with it, that’s their problem and not mine. This is reality – this is the reality the world lives in.
THE STRAND: So far, you’re working on the second installment of the Suburban Dicks series, which is part of your initial 2-book contract. Where do you plan on going with this series should it go beyond two books?
NICIEZA: I would really like to do more with characters who get introduced in the second book, which is a workout place situation for Kenny, and with (Andrea’s eldest child) Ruth as she gets older. She’s still young, but you’ll see how her role picks up in Book 2, Book 3, and Book 4. She’ll have a huge role in that because it’s a school-related crime and she’ll be a freshman in high school.
The goal is to age them roughly in normal time because I’d like to track the growth of the kids and the growth of the characters as they move forward. There’ll be status quo changes for all of them in every single book that’s indicative of our own lives and our own status quo changes as our kids get older and as we change jobs… relationships change and all that stuff.
THE STRAND: Talk about getting an agent.
NICIEZA: During that time, through other business-related work, I met an agent from United Talent Agency in New York named Albert Lee. He expressed interest in reading the manuscript when it was finished because he really liked the idea of the book. I luckily had a landing place when it was finished… They gave me a bunch of notes to (revise the manuscript). All of them were really smart, good notes that would make the book more saleable. At that point, I wanted to sell it! I’d written it and gotten some positive feedback, but now I wanted to sell it!
Albert took it to most of the major publishers. We had multiple publishers interested in purchasing the book, which was phenomenally rewarding and fun. We decided to go with a 2-book contract with Putnam. One of the reasons why was Putnam was the first company I worked for when I got out of college (Nicieza worked for Berkley Publishing, Putnam’s paperback sister company, from 1983-85 as a production assistant, eventually working his way up to assistant managing editor of Putnam’s Ace and Jove imprints). I liked the symmetry of that: The company I worked for after college was the company that would publish my first novel.
THE STRAND: What was the best part of writing this book?
NICIEZA: It’s a little selfish and greedy but the best for me was when multiple publishers wanted to purchase the manuscript. That goes even beyond the monetary (because) when multiple publishers wanted to the manuscript, that was an incredibly rewarding validation for me – not just the work I’d done for two years…. It was incredibly validating, the time I took before I wrote it. It made me feel if I’d tried this 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have done a good enough job and the interest wouldn’t be heightened.
Luckily, for me, right now, Deadpool’s popularity and brand presence awareness has penetrated beyond the idea that it’s just a comic book character or even just a farcical character. Comic book writers and comic books are treated with more respect than we used to be. The success of comic book movies has meant that other platforms understand the monetary value that the creative element brings to the table, whether they’re in super-hero suits or not…
It really made me feel good that the time was right and I waited as long as I did. It ended up making for good timing. Multiple publishers wanting to purchase the manuscript was the moment I could smile and say, “Good job.” But, once it sells, then it’s “What’s next?” I had other work I had to do. I did the next script of the Outrage comic the very next day, then I had to get started on the second manuscript because it’s a 2-book contract. That was wonderful, but it’s always what’s next? I’m thrilled, but I got work on my plate. I have to make sure to crack down on that as well.
THE STRAND: Talk about working on X-Men, which is one of Marvel’s hottest properties that’s been adapted into numerous blockbuster movies, which includes your co-creation Deadpool.
NICIEZA: It was a very exciting time, both good and bad. The way a lot of creative changes and shuffling happened was problematic and could’ve been or should’ve been handled better at the time, but that’s looking back on it in hindsight. At the end of the day, the fact the books were selling more because there were more new readers coming in because of the (1992-97’s X-Men: The Animated Series) and the toys that were coming out. We were given the mantle and responsibility to run the company’s largest selling franchise. We were also in our early 30s, so we had that aggressive energy to want it to succeed. All of that made it fun. That’s all the outside trappings, though.
The inside trappings, which are the nuts and bolts of writing the monthly stories and dialoguing them and working with all the other writers and editors on coordinating all of this and have it make sense and steer this massive ship in the right direction, that was a lot more problematic on a monthly basis and far less enjoyable than the external trappings were.
The long lines at the San Diego Comic Con and the Pizza Hut videos (where Nicieza spoke about writing X-Men) were tremendous fun. That’s feeling like a rock star for five minutes, y’know, but the grind of going over script changes with an editor you don’t agree with or having to find out you can’t do the story you wanted to do after you’ve already started it and the first two issues have seen print… that stuff makes the work really, really difficult. The book was fun, but the work was not.
THE STRAND: What gives Deadpool such staying power after 30 years?
NICIEZA: What gives him such staying power is what made him popular and fun to begin with. He lacks a filter all of us try to have. He thinks things and says things that almost all of us think but are smart enough not to say in public. He is a voice of anti-authoritarianism and lack of respect for that authority, while at the same exact time, he’s the ultimate underdog who always picks himself back up again, no matter how badly he fails or how badly he’s screwed up in social situations; he’s always willing to try again.
A lot of people gravitate towards this character because they themselves have flaws or social anxieties or depression – he’s literally a meaningful hero to them in his constant effort to try to do the right thing. Even when he’s doing the wrong thing, he still thinks he’s doing the right thing and that’s very laudable and very noble in its own tragic little way.
(Deadpool is) Bugs Bunny meets Frankenstein’s Monster. A lot of people gravitate towards Bugs Bunny for his sarcasm and lack of respect, a lot of people gravitate towards Frankenstein’s Monster because they sympathize and empathize with his tragedy. Here’s this character that embodies both things at the same time – often at the same moment. That’s why fans like him.
THE STRAND: Is it true you got Ryan Reynolds interested in the character?
NICIEZA: You’ll have to ask Ryan that. In (2004’s) Cable & Deadpool No. 2, I had Deadpool describe himself as looking like a “cross between Ryan Reynolds and a Shar-Pei.” Apparently, Ryan was told of that. I heard he started going to a comic book shop in Los Angeles and became more interested in the intricacies of the character and what it presented in terms of opportunities for him rather than just thinking of him as a comic book character.
I think Ryan himself has said that made him pay more attention to the character as something that would be good for him to play. From there, he lobbied to get the small role in (2009’s) Wolverine: Origins movie not because he thought the movie would be great, but he thought the movie would give him the opportunity to create a spin-off for himself, which – many years later – he was able to do, but don’t forget that Deadpool script was sitting on the shelf at FOX for five years before he got a chance to make that movie.
So, yes, I believe in some small way, I am responsible for Ryan becoming Deadpool. It would be wonderful in some small way if Ryan decided to shill Suburban Dicks on social media to his 1 trillion followers, so he could be responsible for helping Suburban Dicks become a national bestseller (laughter). There you go! Feel free to print that!