Nerd City Interview: Jai Nitz

September 16, 2008


Jai Nitz is a Kansas-based comic book writer whose work for DC includes “Blue Beetle” and his current project, “El Diablo“.  He recently discussed his work, his history in comics, and the blossoming Kansas comic scene with Nerd City’s own Max:

Jai, currently you’re writing”El Diablo” for DC, and you’ve also worked an all-Spanish issue of “Blue Beetle”. Why don’t you tell us a little about how you came to work for DC, and some of your training and earlier work?

I have always wanted to write comic books, but didn’t seriously try until I was 22 years old. I had just graduated from film school and wanted to write comics. I self-published a few books and got small work from Marvel and DC. I went to cons and befriended pros and editors (in the days before MySpace and Facebook, mind you). I had a few creator-owned books at Image. One of the people I met at cons was an assistant editor named Nachie Castro. He worked on Green Arrow with my mentors Phil Hester and Ande Parks. Nachie eventually took over as the full editor of Batman Strikes! at DC (it was the print version of the animated show, The Batman). I had kept in contact with him over the years and he gave me a shot at an issue of Batman Strikes! He liked what he saw and gave me another. And another. I did six issues in all. During my run, I visited the DC offices in New York and landed El Diablo. That led to Blue Beetle. It’s been a series of baby steps for a decade to get where I am.

Could you please tell us a little bit about the character of “El Diablo” and the changes being made to the character by you and Phil Hester?

Our El Diablo starts off as a bad guy. He’s a bad guy given powers that make him do “good” things in the name of vengeance. That’s the drive of the story and the main difference from other incarnations. The other versions of El Diablo have been heroes. Ours comes from a very different place. Visually, he’s very different from the other versions. One looked like a Zorro/gaucho, the next looked like a masked bullfighter. Ours looks like a luchador from Hell.

Is “El Diablo” DC’s first Hispanic superhero? How does the character’s heritage affect the storylines and overall feel of the book?

Nah, he’s not the first. Currently, Blue Beetle is the biggest and best example. One person described our El Diablo as an American-Mexican-American which is very accurate. LOL. The ethnic background ties to me writing about what I know. The name, heritage, and look all draw from Hispanic influences. They’re all good touchstones for things that happen in the book. El Diablo is set in the Southwest and Mexico. Issue two is set in New Mexico. New Mexico is the “Land of Enchantment”. I take that literally. LOL.

You live in the Kansas City area. As do Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron and frequent Hester collaborator Ande Parks. Why do you think Kansas is currently producing such top talent?

It’s weird. I grew up (for the most part) in Kansas City. Growing up, there weren’t as many guys and gals around that were serious about making comics in KC. Every now and then someone would put out a book, but there weren’t any legit pros that were working in the business on a monthly basis. Now? There are comic writers and artists all over the place. There’s me, and Freddie Williams at DC. Fraction, and Aaron at Marvel. Clay Moore, Alex Grecian, and Harold Sipe at Image. Ande at Oni. Kerry Calen at Slave Labor. Nathan Fox and Chris Grine at Dark Horse. I know I’m leaving out several other guys and gals. It’s awesome.
I don’t know if KC is producing top talent, or if talent has settled here because of cheap living and cool amenities. Oddly, Fraction (North Carolina), Aaron (Alabama), and I (Georgia) all lived in the South before we moved to KC.

So what’s next for you?

Right now I’m concentrating on making El Diablo as good as it can possibly be. I’ve always got my eye on the horizon, but I want to knock that off and worry about the here-and-now. Of course I have several projects in the hopper, but few come to fruition. We’ll see how El Diablo is received, then I’ll worry about what’s next.
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