Comic book writer Tom King (KK Ottesen)

Tom King, 37, is a freelance comic book writer with Marvel and DC Comics and a former CIA officer. He lives in Washington with his wife and three children.

How did you go from CIA counterterrorism to writing comic books?

So the comic book writing is more of the straight line — the CIA is the weird part. I always wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. But I grew up in L.A., my mother worked for the movie studios, and her attitude was like: It’s impossible. So I was prepared to be a lawyer, just in case. Then when 9/11 happened, I literally went on the CIA website, just trying to figure out what I could do to help. It was awesome, an amazing job. But when my wife was pregnant, I knew I couldn’t spend a year overseas away from my kid. So I decided to take a year off, write a novel about superheroes, and watch the kid during the day. After a year, I had an agent and had to make the big decision. There are things I love and there are things that are impossible. When I think about going away from my children — that’s impossible.

What is the best part of your job now?

I always think of “Die Hard” for some reason, that moment he grabs the gun and says, “Yippee ki-yay” — I feel like my job is to create those moments, where you create enough quiet and then you turn the tension up and you create something loud and it gets that adrenaline going. ’Cause you can’t just write at 11 all the time or else it just sounds like noise.

How important do you think heroes are for people?

I think they’re intensely important, I mean obviously superheroes are just what Westerns used to be. And Westerns are what myths used to be — like you go back and you read your Iliad and your Odyssey — they’re an exaggeration to metaphor of what you deal with every day. They make sense of the complicated. They organize chaos. And they have those moments, right? Like that moment Achilles rises up and decides he’s not going to slack off. Or the moment Odysseus comes back and sees all the suitors in the house — those are “Die Hard” moments! That tension so that when that release comes, it’s awesome. That’s what I’m trying to re-create.

Who’s your favorite superhero?

Oh, I mean everybody wants to be Dick Grayson [Robin/Nightwing], right? He’s the coolest of cools. I like the idea of a guy who grew up being a sidekick and sort of having to evolve from that.

So back then, he was Robin, right? Or was he Nightwing?

He was Nightwing; he converted when I was a little child.

Maybe I’m a little older than you because I remember the Robin of “Holy cow, Batman!”

[Laughs.] I had that, too. But in the comic books he was Nightwing. You’re a little less nerdy than I am. See, you were watching mainstream stuff.

Why is he so cool — for the uninitiated?

He’s a lot of people’s favorite character because he’s a lot of people’s entry drug into the business. Here’s a kid inside this crazy world. So you see yourself inside the world. And as you follow him, you’re like, Oh, he got older — he evolved, just like I did.

Dick Grayson is like Batman in that he’ll never give up, he’ll always find a solution. But, he enjoys his job. That’s the difference. Batman’s always sad, like, Oh, my parents died. It’s always sort of a dirge. Because Batman wasn’t raised by anybody — but Dick Grayson was raised by Batman. So it’s sort of a dedication. Like, I was able to give you what I was not given. So to be a guy who gets it done and never gives up but enjoys what he’s doing — that’s something to aspire to. And also to make a difference in the world. That’s what I miss from my CIA days; saving the world is always kind of nice.

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