When I found out that Insight Editions would be releasing a book dedicated to the hit movie “Aquaman”, I was very excited. Their books are always filled with glorious and exclusive artwork combined with in-depth and fascinating facts. I have a few of their publications and the books are huge and make great display items.
I received a review copy of the book last week and I instantly fell in love it. The photographs, concept art and behind the scenes images are a joy and when they are combined with Mike Avila’s words, the book becomes a portal. I became lost in the book and found myself remembering scenes from the movie and picking up new details which I did not spot. I will have to go back and see the film yet again and I am fine with that!
I recently had the honour of speaking with Mike about the his career and I was excited to (terrible pun alert) dive into the mind of the person whose words were a big reason why this book has captured my heart and will soon capture many more when it is released on January 1st. You can pre-order it here.
Mike, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I have read this book from cover to cover and it is filled with information. Every page is a joy to look at and read. How long did the process take?
It took about nine months to write the book. A somewhat abbreviated schedule, given the research, interview prep, transcribing and some old-fashioned ‘creative procrastination.’ Thankfully, things got easier as the deadline approached. For that, I must give thanks to my incredible editor at Insight Editions, Paul Ruditis. A unsolicited tip for writers out there: Be kind to your editor. They will save you.
How do you get into your writing zone? Do you have a favourite place to work or artist to listen to?
Getting into the zone can be a challenge for me. I tend to enjoy having sports on tv as background noise when I’m writing on my favorite lounge chair in the living room, or in the office of our house. I wrote about 90% of this book after 11pm, when my wife and kids are asleep. The quiet helps me. I’m also getting better at just waking up and hitting the keyboard keys. Sometimes, it’s good just to write; not write well or insightful. Just write.
Were you given any access to the sets, props and did you visit behind the scenes of the film at all?
I did not visit the set in Australia, as I signed on to do the book as principal photography was wrapping up. One of the first things I got my hands on, though, after I was signed to do the book was a massive digital ‘look-book’ featuring the concept art of the movie and images of the various weapons and sea creatures in the film (Spoilers: There were LOTS). For a movie like Aquaman, with its scale and ambitious visuals, being able to see the images that informed James Wan and his team was invaluable.
The book is filled with in depth information and you talked to many people who worked on the movie. Which department was the most interesting for you?
Not to play favorites, but Kym Barrett, the picture’s costume designer, was fascinating to talk to. Talking with her and learning her approach to this project really opened my eyes to how important the costume dept. is to a movie. Kym was incredibly generous with her time with me.. We talked for more than an hour at one point on the phone, while she was walking her dog. She told me how her and production designer Bill Brzeski came up with a set of ten ‘rules’ to help them in creating sets and in Kym’s case, costumes. For example, they determined that Atlanteans devolved in different ways after Old Atlantis sunk. Some became horrific depth-dwellers like The Trench, due to the location of their settling. She theorized that most of the beings who ended up in what would become New Atlantis would have slowly lost all their body hair, to make living underwater easier, and create less drag. I was just fascinated to hear that so much thought went into informing the creation of the costumes we see onscreen, as opposed to just making something that looks cool. Another example: Kym told me that after Wan told his team he wanted to have Orm wearing a cape, she and Brzeski decided that the way to rationalize it was to explain it as a formality, part of the royal protocols that have remained for thousands of years. Because otherwise, wearing a cape underwater makes absolutely zero sense! I was impressed by the structure of it all.
What was the most fascinating thing you learned about the film while writing the book?
The Dry-for-Wet shooting process was very interesting. I enjoyed the irony of a movie about a hero who is the lost son of Atlantis being shot almost completely out of the water. The more I learned about it, the more impressed I was. Because it didn’t make James Wan’s life any easier. Shooting scenes on wires and green screens, and then digitally placing those performances ‘underwater’ is incredibly ambitious. Think about the painstaking process of having Jason Momoa shoot a scene that takes place below the surface, digitally scrubbing his hair, and then re-inserting it in postproduction to make it all look as if it was happening 20,000 leagues under the sea. A monumental effort, and a brilliant and gutsy production choice by Wan and his production team.
The book features a lot of information about all the many different locations which were used in the film. Did you have a favourite and if you could live in any fictitious land, where would it be and why?
I have a particular fondness for Old Atlantis, and wished we could have seen more of that in the movie. The design of that locale was just spectacular, with all kinds of nods to ancient Rome. As for a fictitious land that I could live in, I’ll stick with the movie’s locations and choose Amnesty Bay. Because who wouldn’t want to live in a picturesque town with a perfect lighthouse and an indestructible fish-boy you could toss back beers with?
You partly dedicated the book to your wife and two daughters and you mentioned that they are now big Aquaman fans, which is great news! Future generations need to share the love of comic book heroes! Did you read them any Aquaman stories and what are their favourite books?
I haven’t been able to make my girls comic book fans – yet. The DC Super Hero Girls books and some Ms. Marvel TPBs are the only comics my oldest (who is 8) enjoys at the moment. Of course, Both Alexia and Talia are super-excited about Aquaman because their dad wrote this book. It’s a much bigger deal in their eyes than it is in reality, so it’s been fun hearing them brag about it to their friends.
The film is currently number one in the world box office and some people are already excited for a possible sequel. Why do you think this D.C film has been such a huge success?
The movie just has a different tone to it than the rest of the DCEU. Even Wonder Woman, which was so, SO good. Wan absolutely pushed the tongue-in-cheek factor about the characters and their universe as far as he could without entering camp territory. When I was writing the book and doing interviews, movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing The Stone were name-dropped by the principals involved as to the type of movie they were after. The type of movie where the leads bicker and banter, and the female lead gives as good as she gets. Jason Momoa is a BIG factor in the success of the film; the guy is larger than life, and perfectly cast as Arthur Curry, and a fantastic ambassador for the movie. But Amber Heard is just as important. Mera is bad-ass, and as comics fans know, she’s incredibly powerful. Heard really portrays that well, and has great rapport with Momoa. Their chemistry together, factored in with a maybe the best DCEU villain in Patrick Wilson’s Orm and a bonkers finale, I feel make it a crowd-pleaser.
This book was a joy to read, from start to finish. Once I finished reading, all I wanted to do was watch the film again! The films visuals blew me away and the book describes many of them in great deal. D you have a favourite scene? For me it was the epic moment when Aquaman and Mera dived into the Marina Trench.
The Trench scene is AWESOME. Probably my favorite as well, because it’s terrifying and beautifully shot. I also loved the Ring of Fire sequence. C’mon, underwater lava and a ginormous arena?? ALL IN.
Now, let’s talk Superheroes and powers! Other than your talent for writing, do you have any other secret talents/superpowers?
I am blessed with the extraordinary ability to tune out absolutely everything and EVERYONE when I’m reading or watching TV. Just ask my wife.
Do you have any heroes or heroines, either fictional or in the real world?
In real life, I have many, from leaders like Barack Obama to creative types like Bruce Springsteen, who has always inspired me to do your damnedest to find what you love, and make that your life’s work. Also, my mom, who raised two sons mostly on her own. Parenting is hard, man.
Fictional — Captain America. Because his first instinct is always the right one.
If you were able to be a ghostwriter for any Superhero’s tell all autobiography , who would you choose and why?
Tony Stark/Iron Man, easy. That amount of heroism, debauchery and sleaze might need a three-volume series.
Why do you think that the world has so many Superhero movies and T.V shows? It is great that were have so many and there was a time when we had to wait years for one and now we get multiple ones each year! Do you think that we will continue to get more (I hope so) or do you think that it may come to an end?
Entertainment is cyclical. The western used to dominate Hollywood, until it didn’t. When I was a kid, there seemed to be a romantic comedy or gun-heavy action film in theaters every week. Now, they’re practically extinct. We are enjoying a true Golden Age of comic book-based entertainment, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. But if there is one thing to be learned from the explosion of Star Wars movies the past couple of years is that, too much of a good thing eventually becomes … too much. Enjoy all this while you can. Because there are no guarantees.
Finally, what are you currently working on and what are you looking forward to in 2019?
I’m a senior producer for SYFY WIRE and I’ll be working on tons of stuff for them in 2019. We just announced a brand-new podcast series called Behind The Panel, where I’ll be talking about comics with creators of all shapes, sizes and super-tights. It’s an extension of the video interviews I do for them already, and we’re launching with a 4-part series on the history of Vertigo Comics. It launches January 7th, wherever you get your podcasts (shameless plug, I know). I’m also working on a couple of other big video features I can’t announce yet, but you’ll hear more about it in the coming weeks. And I hope to line up my next book in the next couple months.
Mike, thank you so much for letting me ask some questions about this marvellous book. Every time I look at it I want to go back and see the film again!
If you have seen the Aquaman movie then you will know how visually mesmerising and thrilling it is. This book gives the reader a detailed and entertaining look into how a film of this huge a scale is created. From start to FIN-ish. Sorry.
The Art and Making of Aquaman by Insight Editions will be available to purchase from January the 1st but you can preorder your copy here.