Born 1954 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Chuck Dixon has made a name for himself in the comics industry as one of the fastest, most consistent action-adventure writers. He is best known for writing about such iconic characters as Batman and Robin, and for the new adventures he created for these characters in the Birds of Prey, Nightwing, and Robin series. Dixon has not limited his prolific output to known entities, however; he has also created his own characters for such comics as Akota, about barbarians crossing the Bering Strait; El Cazador, about swashbuckling pirates; and Iron Ghost, about a man seeking vengeance against the Nazis during World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allied forces defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan). For nearly two decades, Dixon has pumped out six or seven comics each month for the most respected publishers in the industry, including DC Comics, Marvel, Cross Generation Comics, Eclipse, and many others. His success stems, perhaps, from his unashamed love of his job. When asked which of his current comics he liked most, Dixon told Sequential Tart "It sounds corny, but all of them." And when Fanzing interviewer Michael Hutchison asked Dixon what he would do if he stopped writing comics, Dixon replied simply: "Die."
"This is the medium I love. It's the only way I think of telling stories."
Falls in love with comics as a kid
Chuck Dixon was born in 1954, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On his Web site, Dixonverse, he described his early years as "unremarkable." But it was during his youth that his deep love of comics started. A sickly child, Dixon missed so many days of school that his advancement from first grade was in peril. With their son recuperating at home, the Dixon parents came to an agreement with the school: if Dixon could learn to read at home, he could move on to second grade the next year. To meet this goal, Dixon remembered his parents offering him armloads of comics of every sort. His father would bring home huge piles of old comics bought from the local flea market or saved from the junkyard. Dixon pored over them, and he learned to read. What's more, he discovered that he wanted to become a comics creator himself. "I fell in love with the medium and studied it by reading and re-reading the same comics over and over again until I understood how all those great stories were told in those little static pictures," Dixon told Broken Frontier, Industrial Evolution columnist Mike Bullock.
Valkyrie: Prisoner of the Past (1988).
The Punisher: Kingdom Gone (1990).
Batman: Knightfall, Part One: Broken Bat (with Doug Moench) (1993).
The Punisher: A Man Named Frank (1994).
Batman: Knightsend (1995).
Batman: The Joker's Apprentice (1996).
Batman: Bane (with Rick Burchett) (1997).
Nightwing: A Knight in Blüdhaven (1998).
Birds of Prey: Black Canary, Oracle, Huntress (1999).
Nightwing: Rough Justice (1999).
Green Lantern: Emerald Allies (2000).
Nightwing: Love and Bullets (2000).
Robin: Flying Solo (2000).
Alien Legion: Force No Mad (2001).
Nightwing: A Darker Shade of Justice (2001).
Batman—Bruce Wayne—Murderer? (2002).
Invasion '55 (2002).
Robin: Year One (with Scott Beatty) (2002).
Batgirl: Death Wish (2003).
Nightwing: The Hunt for Oracle (2003).
Way of the Rat: The Walls of Zhumar (2003).
Batgirl: Year One (with Scott Beatty) (2003).
Crux: Strangers in Atlantis (2003).
Brath: Gladiator Triumphant (2004).
Crux: Chaos Reborn (2004).
El Cazador: Blood Red Sea (2004).
Way of the Rat: The Dragon's Wake (2004).
Way of the Rat: Haunted Zhumar (2004).
Nightwing: On the Razor's Edge (2005).
Nightwing: Year One (with Scott Beatty) (2005).
Dixon has written hundreds of comics, from single issues to contributions to long-standing series.
Dixon's interest in comics only grew with time. He amassed an enormous collection. He particularly admired the work of Steve Ditko (1927–), especially his work on the characters Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. Dixon started writing his own stories, filling notebooks with his work. These stories were mostly about war, as Dixon remembered to Broken Frontier. "You know, planes strafing [firing at ground troops from low altitude] outrageously dressed Nazis with those little dotted lines leading from the plane's wings toward the bad guys and the Nazis all going 'AAAAH!'" He linked his interest in war to the stories he heard his father and the men in his neighborhood telling about their service in World War II. "You could just hang out on the front step or around the kitchen table and hear these first hand accounts of Iwo Jima or the Bulge [Battle of the Bulge]. So, I think the idea of historical adventure comics was a natural for me," he added in Broken Frontier.
At age thirteen, Dixon turned a critical eye toward his work and determined that no amount of practice would make him as good an artist as Ditko. He gave up drawing and focused on becoming a writer. "When I realized I wasn't that talented at drawing I aspired to be the next Archie Goodwin" (1937–1998), Dixon told Broken Frontier, adding that he was "still working toward that goal." Goodwin's success was inspiring. He made a name for himself in the 1960s writing for Iron Man, Fantastic Four, and Batman, rising in the industry to become, in 1975, chief editor at Marvel Comics, a position from which he presided over numerous comic creations into the 1980s. In remembering Goodwin as a major influence on his work, Dixon told Alexander Ness on the Slush Factory Web site that "He understood how to write briskly entertaining stories that took full advantage of the comics medium; a perfect melding of words and pictures."
Throughout high school and into a few semesters of college, Dixon never lost his love of comics. He bounced from one odd job to the next—from driving limousines, to manning the cash register at 7-Eleven, to installing roofs, to selling mail-order T-shirts—all the while thinking about comics and adding to his own portfolio. About his pursuit of comics, Dixon told Ness that "I was never serious about any other career."
Takes ten years to become a professional
Over the years, he tried to interest various publishers in his writing. He did land a few professional writing jobs, scripting several commercials and creating children's books about Raggedy Ann and Andy for Golden Books, and Winnie the Pooh for Platt and Munk. But these were not comic books. "I hated kids books.… I love comics and they're really all that I want to write," Dixon confided to Ness. He landed his first comics industry job in 1977, writing and drawing three of his own stories for GASM, a magazine put out by Country Wide Publications. These writing jobs ended, and by the mid-1980s Dixon's odd jobs remained his main source of income.
Dixon's breakthrough moment came in 1985, when he was hired to write stories for Savage Sword of Conan. Dixon's first stories for the well-known series about Conan the Barbarian centered on the older character, Kull the Conqueror. These were the stories he had been waiting to write: real action adventures. And they made him a full-time comic writer. "When Larry Hama gave me the monthly lead in Savage Sword of Conan, I was already writing the Kull back-ups. That added up to a whopping fifty-eight pages a month and the book also paid royalties so it was in no danger of cancellation. I was able to quit my job and propose to my wife," Dixon told Michael May in an interview for Comic World News. He continued work on the Conan stories until 1991.
Dixon soon took on more work in 1986 when he teamed with Timothy Truman on a revival of Airboy, a comic series from the 1940s about a young World War II fighter pilot and his plane Birdie. The pair would write fifty issues of Airboy before the publisher dissolved in 1989. The revived series had been welcomed by fans of the young hero, as it traced the son of the now-dead Airboy as he discovers his father's past and takes over his mantle as a modern-day Airboy. Airboy had been a critical success when it ended, and with the rights to the character sorted out again, Dixon took up work on a graphic novel about the Airboy characters, titled Airboy '42: Best of Enemies, due for publication in 2006.
Builds reputation as "action master"
Working on Carl Potts's Alien Legion, a comic series about the foreign legion in space, Dixon had the chance to work with his mentor Archie Goodwin at Marvel Comics. In action-packed stories, Alien Legion explores the benefits of democracy even in the face of maintaining that form of government in a world made up of different alien species. The series became very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s and helped to solidify Dixon's reputation as "the action master," as Potts dubbed Dixon in an interview with Jonathan Ellis for Popimage.
Dixon confessed to enjoying action comics to Graphic Novelists (GN), saying "I like a good shoot-em-up, what can I say?" But more than just appreciating action comics, Dixon had devised a specific approach to writing them: "I feel that a mainstream comic book requires a certain amount of visual action. I build my stories around the action set pieces." Action is a necessary component to compelling comic storytelling, Dixon explained: "Comics are a static medium and don't lend themselves to long dialogue or pastoral sequences. The reader needs to see something happening and happening with every detail shown."
With his growing reputation for solid storytelling and his capacity to churn out stories at record pace, Dixon took on more work for Marvel. He found that he could write numerous stories at the same time. In the late 1980s, he took on authorship for The Punisher series, a continuing story, begun in 1974, about ex-Marine Frank Castle, a vigilante bent on destroying criminals to avenge the death of his family at the hands of mobsters. Dixon wrote as many stories as editor Don Daley "could throw at me," Dixon remembered on Dixonverse. Before writer Garth Ennis took over the series in the early 2000s, Dixon wrote nearly one hundred issues of The Punisher. Although Dixon moved on to other projects, he remembered his work on The Punisher with fondness. In a Comic World News interview, Dixon said, "The Punisher was also a lot of fun and still my favorite character."
Dixon became best known, perhaps, for his work at DC Comics. Starting in 1990 he began work on the Detective Comics series, which included Batman and all his cohorts. Having been created in 1939 by DC Comics cartoonist Bob Kane (1916–1998), the Batman character and the tone of the series was well established when Dixon began writing for the Detective Comics series. But Dixon provided new angles on the series' minor characters and his fresh approaches revitalized the series. For Batman's faithful sidekick, Robin, as inhabited by the character Tim Drake, Dixon created Robin, a miniseries that told of Drake's adventures in growing up and revealed a widening rift between Batman and Robin as the youth matured. Dixon also explored the rift between ward and guardian in Nightwing, a new series about Robin as an adult named Dick Grayson who patrols Gotham's neighboring city of Blüdhaven. Dixon later wrote Robin: Year One to reveal more about Grayson's youth. Dixon also created Birds of Prey, a series about three women living in Gotham City who unite in bonds of friendship to serve justice to a variety of criminals. And to the Batman cast of evil villains, Dixon added Bane, Batman's greatest threat. By creating Bane as a character with a tragic past (he was born in a prison), Dixon was able to create stories that allowed readers to have sympathy for his villain. In doing so, Dixon was able to use his stories to highlight the vulnerabilities and darker sides of both his good and bad characters. In Knightfall Part I Bane even defeats Batman, breaking the hero's back. After eleven years working on the Batman titles, Dixon left DC Comics in 2001 to pursue fresh opportunities.
Takes on new projects
After leaving DC, Dixon immediately took up work on a handful of new titles for Cross Generation Comics, including a series about martial arts called Way of the Rat, and he was soon creating even more comics for other publishers as well. In 2003, he introduced the first comic series about pirates since the 1950s with El Cazador. The story followed the adventures of a Spanish donessa (noble-woman) who takes command of a pirate ship to seek out those who abducted her family. It earned Dixon and co-creator artist Steve Epting a nomination for an Eisner Award, the comics industry's top award, in 2004. In 2005, Dixon prepared to launch his own comic book line with the startup company Shooting Star Comics. That year Dixon was writing Akota: Wargod of the Lost!, a series about barbarians crossing the Bering Strait; Junior Pirates!, a series of graphic novels about young pirates; and The Iron Ghost, a story about the search for a murderer of Nazis during the fall of Germany at the end of World War II. Dixon also started work on a genre he had long loved, the Western, with Wyatt Earp: Dodge City, a series about one of the most respected lawmen of the Old West.
While part of Dixon's legacy as an action comic writer in dozens of stories is best described as dark in tone, his more recent writing revealed lighter, more humorous elements. Dixon explained his early writing to GN as simply providing what editors requested of him. "I was starting out," Dixon noted. "I wrote what editors wanted. And they wanted dark and grim." Dixon used humor in his later writing to add contrast to darker story elements, and his writing for younger readers revealed even lighter storylines.
Although Dixon stopped drawing long ago, he never forgot the intimate connection between text and image in comics, and his storytelling reflects this. Dixon often leaves good portions of a story for the artist to reveal in the pictures, and strives never to describe in words what a picture could reveal best. Dixon told Hutchison that "The thing that really shines about [writing comics] above all else (and 99 percent of comic writing is nothing short of rewarding) is seeing my words turned into pictures by some of the greatest talents in the business. If you had told me when I was a kid that Joe Kubert or Russ Heath or John Severin or John Buscema would one day illustrate what I had written I wouldn't have believed it possible. And I work with some of the greatest guys today. Nothing tops that."
Throughout his decades in the comics business, Dixon has come to be the quintessential action-adventure writer. He revealed some of his writing secrets to Sequential Tart: "I don't like to be bored writing and I figure if I move a story along briskly then the reader has to follow at my pace. I've learned what to leave out of a story to keep it moving." On his Web site, Dixon offered to aspiring writers his "Ten Commandments of Comic Book Script-writing," most of which illustrate the method he developed over the years for quickening the pace of his stories and developing his characters over time. While Dixon continued to refer to the late Archie Goodwin as one of the best men in the business, many younger writers could now draw their inspiration from Dixon himself.
Plotting for Pirates
El Cazador opened Chuck Dixon to a world filled with real-life adventure. His diligent research revealed the life of pirates in the 1600s, the time period of the series, to be difficult and dangerous. Rather than reveling in the romantic notions of life on the high seas, Dixon composed his stories around the real troubles of sailing a vessel in rough waters, navigating with rudimentary instruments, fighting aboard a rocking ship, and enduring the slow pace of travel that plagued pirates of the era. Dixon confided to Silver Bullet Comics that El Cazador included some writing challenges: "El Cazador presents some unique pacing problems. Because sailing is not exactly the fastest mode of travel known I have to consider time as a factor more than is usual. Things have to be timed so the appearance and convergence of characters and subplots is believable in a world where time is measured in months not moments." But with his noted eye for action, Dixon exposed the horrors and drudgery of living as a pirate without dampening the thrill of the golden age of pirates. To add to the intrigue, Dixon created a host of characters from various countries so the series not only included the usual pirate stories of vengeance, kidnapping, and treasure, but also political controversies. The myriad of characters also presented difficulties in writing the language of the series because each character used the dialect of their country of origin. Dixon told Corrina Lawson of Sequential Tart that it was writing the "language of El Cazador [that posed] the greatest challenge," adding that he wanted it to "sound right" and to keep it "vivid and engaging and understandable to modern audiences."
El Cazador quickly became a top-selling series for CrossGen; sales of the first issue sent the publisher back to the printer three times. As the Wizard Universe Web site noted: "Chuck Dixon and Steve Epting have crafted an epic right from the get-go." Despite its popularity, the series ended after six issues when Steve Epting left to work exclusively with Marvel Comics.
For More Information
Bullock, Mike. "Industrial Evolution: Across the Dixon-Verse." Broken Frontier. http://brokenfrontier.com/columns/details.php?id=146&PHPSESSID=c848e4c1852206de05771dbf14d3fe0a (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Dixonverse: The Official Web site of Chuck Dixon. www.dixonverse.net (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"El Fantastico." Wizard Universe. http://www.wizarduniverse.com/magazines/wizard/WZ20031204-csl.cfm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Ellis, Jonathan. "Interview: Carl Potts." Popimage.http://www.popimage.com/may00/interviews/pottsinter.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Hutchison, Michael. "Chuck Dixon: The Interview." Fanzing. http://www.fanzing.com/mag/fanzing20/iview.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Lawson, Corrina. "The Sigilverse Is Dead. Long Live the Pirates!" Sequential Tart. http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/feb04/cdixon.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).
May, Michael. "A Yo-De-Ho Kinda Mood." Comic World News. http://cwn.comicraft.com/cgi-bin/index.cgi?column=interviews&page=60 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Ness, Alexander. "Thoughts from the Land of Frost: Chuck Dixon." Slush Factory. http://www.slushfactory.com/content/EpuZuylAupzIpQgwoU.php (accessed on May 3, 2006).
O'Shea, Tim. "Chuck Dixon on El Cazador: Interview." Silver Bullet Comics. http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/news/107891679583754.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from correspondence with Chuck Dixon in September and October of 2005.