Writer Spotlight: Daniel Kibblesmith
Daniel Kibblesmith is an Emmy-nominated writer for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and has written comics for Marvel and D.C., including Marvel’s Loki (2019) and Black Panther Vs. Deadpool (2018). He co-wrote the humorous How To Win At Everything (2013), and is also the author of the picture books Santa’s Husband (2017) and Princess Dinosaur (2020). He was one of the founding editors of ClickHole.com, and his comedic writing can be seen in places like The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and APM’s Marketplace. He works and lives in New York with his favorite author, Jennifer Wright.
What are your inspirations for Loki?
Loki is ever inspired by himself (or herself, or themselves), and that was how it worked for me, too. I was a big fan of Loki as a villain in the MCU, but I hadn’t read a ton of Thor-related comics until I got the gig. The exception was the Journey Into Mystery series by Kieron Gillen and a whole roster of great artists who—alongside Tom Hiddleston’s MCU appearances—really set the mold for the modern take on the character. So I re-read that, and from there I expanded outward into past and future, and read the tremendous Agent Of Asgard comics written by Al Ewing, Lee Garbett (and other artists), as well as going back to early 60’s Loki appearances orchestrated by his own creator gods: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Larry Lieber.
Aside from comic-related research, one of my editors, Wil Moss, recommended Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, which was incredibly fun, concise, and helpful in giving me a more rounded view of Loki’s history and personality. I’m a big Sandman fan as well, so it was inspiring to stand at the nexus of Kirby’s influence on Gaiman, and mythology’s impact on both of them, and to see their impact on me, first as a reader, and then as a writer, as I set out to place these mythological figures in an approximation of our actual world.
What aspects of yourself do you see or put into the characters you write?
Loki’s defining trait, especially in the original myths, is that he is both the creator and the solver of the problem. Because no one else is clever enough to get him out of the mess he started, he’s barely ever fully exiled from their society. As a former “problem” student, whatever that means, the aspect of Loki I relate to the most—and I think a lot of people do—is the idea that you can mean well, try your best, and still get punished for it.
Authority figures love to reward cleverness if it comes with obedience. I tell a story in the introduction letter to Loki #1 about getting detention for pointing out, during an assembly, that two teachers were inexplicably wearing the same clothing. I obviously didn’t break any rules but the people who make the rules found me to be inconvenient and disruptive, so I got punished.
When I hear the phrase, “too smart for your own good,” I think of kids like that who don’t even know they’re about to be labelled as “bad”, which can alter their entire future and identity—for something that, in any adult circumstance, would be seen as attentiveness, or creativity, or intelligence, or just relatively harmless humor. Loki is a kid who got treated this way for a thousand years, so, of course, he became a villain.
The story we’re telling now is about coming back from that—healing, forgiveness, and the responsibility that comes with an ever-racing, ever-curious brain, the default setting of which is casual mayhem. Loki’s superpower is one that real people actually have to live with and manage: “I just noticed a vulnerability in our world. What would happen if I acted on it?”
You’ve written for television, the internet, for magazines, and have authored books and comic books — how does the writing process vary for these different forms? Is there one you prefer?
I often compare it to playing different video games because the needs and reflexes are different. Writing satire about the news is faster-paced, and comes with its own formulas, just like character-based narrative. Writing a monologue script based on a news event is very reactive, like Mario Kart: foot on the gas, hit the important stuff, miss the stuff that will slow you down. Writing fiction can be a lot more exploratory, like Zelda: I walked around for two hours today but I found a really important acorn, that I really needed for the stuff I’ll do next. Writing comics can be very nose-to-the-grindstone, but for me, breaking story is often incidental and happens at the gym, or before sleep, or in the shower. The major architecture of my narrative writing exists as fragments on my phone and in pocket notebooks, born out of little sparks of inspiration. The heavy lifting happens in fleshing them out and editing them together into something cohesive.
If you could live in the universe of any book or comic book, which one would you pick and why?
I’m not the biggest Harry Potter fan—I’ve read five of them, I think. But I would choose to live in the Harry Potter universe because as near as I can tell, it’s just our current universe but with far superior candy.
If you could have a conversation with anyone, real or fictional, who would it be and what would you talk about?
Probably Gumby. He seems chill.
What advice would you offer to your fourteen-year-old self?
Fourteen is honestly too young for most actionable advice from successful adults, and you’re not really in charge of what you’re going to do that day, anyhow. I usually tell college-aged writers to finish entire writing samples, that ideas and potential are far less attractive to people who can hire you than finished scripts or stories are. But I can’t imagine my career taking off based on the screenplay I would’ve finished at fourteen. So my advice would be to start drinking coffee and working out because both of those things are going to make you feel better in a world of things that are trying to make you feel terrible—including, in some cases, young adults roughly your age and twice your size with whom you are trapped, by the hundreds, in a massive brick building, in which they are often inexplicably literally trying to maim you. In case anyone was wondering where comic and comedy writers—and trickster gods—come from.
Thanks so much, Daniel! Follow @kibblesmith! If you’re lucky enough to be attending New York Comic Con in October, Daniel will be signing in Artist Alley at Booth A-28.