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INSIDE: KURT BUSIEK ON BREAKING INTO COMICS!

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M AG A ZI N E

August 2006

X-MEN 3 SCREENWRITER TELLS ALL! ADAPTING MANGA NOVEL WRITING SECRETS

All characters TM & ©2006 Marvel Characters, Inc.

In the USA


M AG AZ I N E Issue #13

August 2006

Read Now! Message from the Editor-in-Chief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 2

From XXX to X3 Interview with Simon Kinberg . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 3

Breaking in Without Rules: One Writer’s Possibly Instructive Journey by Kurt Busiek . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 17

Screenplay to Novel: Batman Begins Interview with Dennis O’Neil . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 29

Don’t Fear the Research Novelist Bill McCay explains how doing research for your writing is necessary and can even be fun! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 57

Secret: Agent Man Mike Friedrich explains the realities of agents in the world of comics . . page 65

And Don’t Forget to Buy My Novel Marc Bilgrey talks about how he got his novel, And Don’t Forget to Rescue the Princess, published . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 69

Feedback Letters from Write Now! ’s Readers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 72

Nuts & Bolts Department Script to Pencils: UNCANNY X-MEN #475 Pages from “The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire: Plan B,” by Ed Brubaker and Billy Tan

. . . . . . . . . . page 10

Synopsis to Script to Pencils to Inks: MYSTERY IN SPACE #3

Pages from “The Weird: Enlightenment!” by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 39

Adapting Manga Manga writer and editor Stephen Pakula tells how the original stories are translated for English-speaking readers . . . . . . . page 45

Script to Finished Comic: PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE Pages from the graphic novel by Steven Grant and Tom Mandrake . . . page 51

Proposal: (CODENAME) STRYKEFORCE Pages from the miniseries proposal by Jay Faerber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 61

Conceived by DANNY FINGEROTH Editor-in-Chief Cover art by RON LIM & AL MILGROM Assistant Editor LIZ GEHRLEIN Marketing Guru BOB BRODSKY Designers DAVID GREENAWALT with RICH J. FOWLKS Transcriber STEVEN TICE Publisher JOHN MORROW

Special Thanks To: PAUL BENJAMIN ALISON BLAIRE KURT BUSIEK BOB BRODSKY KIA CROSS RICH J. FOWLKS LIZ GEHRLEIN JOE GENTILE STEVEN GRANT MIKE MARTS AL MILGROM BRANDON MONTCLARE ERIC NOLENWEATHINGTON ADAM PHILIPS CHRIS POWELL BEN REILLY BOB SCHRECK ALEX SEGURA ALEX SIMMONS JIM STARLIN VARDA STEINHARDT

Danny Fingeroth’s Write Now! is published 4 times a year by TwoMorrows Publishing, 10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614 USA. Phone: (919) 449-0344. Fax: (919) 449-0327. Danny Fingeroth, Editor. John Morrow, Publisher. Write Now! E-mail address: WriteNowDF@aol.com. Single issues: $9 Postpaid in the US ($11 elsewhere). Four-issue subscriptions: $24 US ($44 Canada, $48 elsewhere). Order online at: www.twomorrows.com or e-mail to: twomorrow@aol.com All characters are TM & © their respective companies. All material © their creators unless otherwise noted. All editorial matter © the respective authors. Editorial package is ©2006 Danny Fingeroth and TwoMorrows Publishing. All rights reserved. Write Now! is a shared trademark of Danny Fingeroth and TwoMorrows Publishing. Printed in Canada. FIRST PRINTING.


FROM XXX TO X3

THE SIMON

KINBERG INTERVIEW

Conducted by Danny Fingeroth via e-mail March and April 2006 Copy-edited by Simon Kinberg and Danny Fingeroth

S

imon Kinberg was born in London, England. He was raised in Los Angeles, and went to college at Brown University, where he studied film and literature. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude in 1995. He entered Columbia University’s Film School in 1998. In his first year, he sold a screenplay to producers Ira Deutchman and Peter Newman (Smoke, Squid and the Whale). Deutchman was Simon’s professor. That same year, in another class, Simon sold a pitch to producer Edward Pressman (Wall Street). While at Columbia, Simon received the school’s highest screenwriting award, the Zaki Gordon Fellowship. While still in film school, Simon sold his original pitch Ghost Town to Warner Brothers, and worked on scripts for Disney, Sony, and Dreamworks, working with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Mostow, McG and Stephen Sommers. His final thesis project for his MFA was the original screenplay Mr. and Mrs. Smith. He pitched the concept to Academy-Award winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who became the producer (and Simon’s mentor). The film went into production with Doug Liman directing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in 2004, as Simon was graduating from film school. Simon spent almost every day on set, working closely with the director, producers, and actors (and even acting in one scene). Mr. and Mrs. Smith was released in June of 2005. It grossed over fifty million dollars on its opening weekend, and has gone on to gross over $475 million worldwide, making it one of the fifty most successful films of all time. It has also garnered several People’s Choice Awards and Teen Choice Awards. That same summer, Simon had two more films in wide release: XXX: State of the Union, directed by Lee Tamahori, starring Samuel Jackson, Ice Cube, and Willem Dafoe; and Fantastic Four, which he rewrote throughout production. In 2005, Simon was named by Premiere Magazine as “New Power” Screenwriter of the Year, and given Movieline Magazine’s “Breakthrough Award” for screenwriting. Simon (with Zak Penn) wrote the blockbuster X-Men 3: The Last Stand, which was released May 26, 2006. He is also writing and producing Doug Liman’s next feature Jumper for Regency and Twentieth Century Fox. He is writing an original script for Nicole Kidman to star in and produce at Fox, and he is writing and executive-producing a Mr. and Mrs. Smith TV show for ABC. In the fall, he will adapt Robert Ludlum’s best-selling novel Osterman Weekend to write and direct. He also has the script Merlin at Paramount, and Jason and the Argonauts at Dreamworks. In addition, Simon has set up a number of projects as a

producer, including Salem at Sony Pictures, and Invasion at Universal. He also has a TV-deal with Jerry Bruckheimer and Warner Brothers Television. I first “met”—if you can actually be said to meet somebody via e-mail—Simon when I was writing the YA novelization of X-Men: The Last Stand for HarperKids books and he was kind enough to answer my voluminous questions about the screenplay. Now that the movie (and its secrets) is out, I thought it would be informative to talk to one of the men who wrote it. Simon, as you can see from reading his bio above, is one busy guy. But he made the time to answer yet another set of my voluminous questions for this interview. I think you’ll find his answers insightful and entertaining whether or not you’ve ever harbored thoughts of being a screenwriter. (Yeah—like the thought never crossed your mind.) —DF SIMON KINBERG | 3


DANNY FINGEROTH: Where did you grow up, Simon? How did you start writing? SIMON KINBERG: I was born in London, but grew up primarily in Los Angeles. My father worked in film and television before I was born. When I was a kid, I knew him as a film professor at USC. We would watch a lot of movies in my house. They were always something magical to me. I started writing prose in high-school. Up until I graduated from college, I really wanted to be a novelist. But friends or teachers would read my work, and they’d all say it felt like a movie. The dialogue, the external action, the transitions. I think I was afraid of actually admitting that I wanted to write films. It seemed like such a scary, unwieldy industry. But after I graduated, I started reading scripts (working as an intern for a production company in New York, and going to the New York Public Library where they have an archive of old screenplays), and I just fell in love with the form. DF: Your father worked in TV and movie writing, as well as being a film teacher. What did he work on? How did his career and work influence you? SK: My dad had me late in life. He goes way back, to Golden Age Hollywood right after World War II. He was a producer with John Houseman, working on great films like Executive Suite and Lust for Life. When I was a kid, there were guys around our house like Robert Wise and Ernest Lehman. At the time, I had no idea who they were. But there was always a passion for cinema. Like I said, my dad was a film professor, and he was essentially my first teacher, talking to me about story and character, feeding me good films (lots of Billy Wilder and Stanley Kubrick). DF: Is film school important for aspiring screenwriters? Why did you go to an East Coast film school (Columbia)? Is the Columbia program still such fertile ground for being discovered, assuming you’ve (literally) done your homework? SK: I can only speak from my own personal experience. Film school was great for me, because it was a very safe environment to try out new work, to fail without consequence. I chose Columbia because I love New York, and because the program was focused primarily on screenwriting and storytelling, rather than physical production. Beyond the lessons learned, I got my first few professional breaks in film school. A professor of mine, Ira Deutchman (a producer and founder of 4 | WRITE NOW

Fine Line Features) read one of my scripts in class, and optioned the script. Then a guest speaker, Ed Pressman, heard my pitch in class, and ended up optioning the story. So Columbia was obviously a very good conduit to the industry for me. I know there are lots of folks who have come out of the program in the last few years— James Mangold, Kim Pierce, Lisa Cholodenko, Nicole Holofcener. Their sensibilities tend to be more independent-oriented. I’m like the bastard Hollywood stepchild. DF: The screenplay your teacher, Ira Deutchman, optioned was Ghouls. How common—or uncommon—was that type of thing? What happened with Ghouls? SK: I think it’s a fairly uncommon thing. Ira was very sensitive to the situation, since it could obviously blur the lines between professorial and professional roles. Ira and his partner Peter Newman optioned the script, and sent it out to Hollywood. It never sold, partly because it was set in the same time and place as Gangs of New York, which was just going into production. But the script did open a lot of doors for me, getting me meetings with producers, and finding me representation. DF: Your theories on pitching that I read in a recent Hollywoodreporter.com interview really impressed me and struck me as useful for comics pitching as well. Can you talk about them a little? SK: I think pitching is a very different medium than screenwriting. The structure has to be different because the format and context is different. You simply can’t get bogged down pitching every little detail. If you want to sell a film, you’re selling story, situation, and character. The major transitions and act breaks need to be solid, but you don’t need to pitch out every scene beat-bybeat. No pitch should be longer than fifteen or twenty minutes, which is not a whole lot of time to tell a coherent story. So you need to focus on the big goalposts, the big ideas. DF: Most people of your generation did not read comics. How did you come to do so?

SK: When I was a kid, I was basically a reading junkie. I read everything I could get my hands on–novels, plays, poems, comics. A friend of mine turned me on to Frank Miller when Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum’s run I was a kid, then Chris Claremont’s on X-Men was an early influence on Simon. X-Men, and I was hooked. The Here’s the cover to their issue #94, cover by characters, worlds, the moral and Gil Kane and Cockrum. philosophical issues were so rich.

[© 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc.]


DF: What were your favorite comics as a kid and now?

England, the cowboy West, 19th century NYC). What’s the appeal of eras and stories like that for you?

SK: Same then and now. X-Men and Batman. Primarily Miller and Claremont. I do like some of the new X-Men books, but I’m a sucker for the classics. Writing an X-Men film was a dream come true for me.

SK: I think all writers love moral ambiguity. The most interesting characters are always the one who straddle light and dark, whether you’re talking about Hamlet or Batman. The reason why tales of knights and cowboys have survived hundreds of years is their messy morality–the notion that “good guys” can be ruthless killers, and “bad guys” can simply be born into the wrong town or province. These icons and eras are so full of life, color, energy, and surprises

DF: What kinds of books, movies and TV (past and present) do you like? SK: I read and watch across the board, but I would say my favorite stories tend to be darker genre material, meaning action, scifi, thrillers, and some psychological horror. I’m especially drawn to genre books and films that can go a little deeper–work like Bladerunner, The Shining, Parallax View, Le Samourai, any book by Jim Thompson or Dashiell Hammett. DF: You’re a disciplined writer, to say the least. Was that natural, or did you have to develop it? Any tips for how to develop discipline? SK: I’m a fairly compulsive person, so discipline is almost a disease with me. The most important thing for any writer is building good habits. It’s like sleep or eating patterns. Your body gets into certain rhythms, so you need to train yourself. The output of pages is not as important as the amount of time you commit every day. You may spend four days staring at a blank page, but your brain is working during those hours, and suddenly you’ll find yourself writing ten pages on the fifth day. Writing is a very mysterious, elusive process, so you need to do everything you can to try to be open and available to the moments of inspiration. DF: Please talk a little about the role of research in writing. SK: I’m obsessive about research. Even if I’m working on a relatively imaginary universe like Fantastic Four or XMen, I do all kinds of research into genetic mutations, paranormal abilities. I think research is an integral part of the writing process–not simply to give you hard information, but to immerse you in the world. DF: You’ve said you love eras where “the lines between rule-makers and rule-breakers is so blurred” (Medieval

A couple of Simon’s favorite movies. Blade Runner [© 1982 Warner Bros.] and The Shining [© 1980 Warner Bros.]

DF: You’ve said the action movies of the ’80s were when the genre was at its best. Why do you think that was so? Do you think audience demands and expectations have changed since then?

SK: I think the best action movies of the ’80s were truly character-driven films, whether you’re talking about Lethal Weapon or Die Hard or Beverly Hills Cop or The Terminator. That’s why they spawned sequels, because you can serialize character better than story. If you look at those films, you’ll see long dialogue scenes, a lot of character backstory, and action sequences that express emotion (rather than many of today’s action films, which use set-pieces as interruptions of character). A lot of contemporary action films build their story around trailer moments, rather than building around character. You can feel the characters making decisions that service the plot or action, rather than making human, emotional, identifiable decisions. The things you remember from those ’80s films are not the specific pyrotechnics, but the specificity of character–John McClane, Murtaugh and Riggs, Axel Foley, Sarah Conner. I would bet that most movie audiences today can’t remember the names of the lead characters in the biggest current blockbusters. In many ways, we made Mr. and Mrs. Smith as a throwback to that era, and a throwback to golden age Hollywood films like The Thin Man. We wanted to make an action film where the action was truly a metaphor for the emotional drama, where every scene was simply SIMON KINBERG | 5


c.] l Characters, In [© 2006 Marve

To go along with the X-Men lead feature and cover this issue, we’re pleased to present some of Ed Brubaker’s script and Billy Tan’s pencil art for Uncanny X-Men #475.

[© 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc.] 10 | WRITE NOW

UNCANNY X-MEN #475 SCRIPT AND PENCIL ART


To bring you up to speed on what’s going on in the pages, this background from Marvel: “Beginning in Uncanny X-Men #475, a new team led by Professor X takes off to the other end of the universe to stop a revenge-hungry Vulcan. It's up to the team comprised of Nightcrawler, Marvel Girl, Warpath, Havok, Polaris, and a surprise member to save the Shi'ar empire from his wrath. “Spinning out of the pages of X-Men: Deadly Genesis comes “The Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire,” a year-long story of revenge and redemption starting in Uncanny X-Men #475.”

[© 2006 Marve l Characters, In c.]

aracters, Inc.] [© 2006 Marvel Ch ED BRUBAKER | 11


Breaking In Without Rules:

One Writer's Possibly-Instructive Journey

K

by

Kurt Busiek

urt Busiek is one of the most knowledgeable and respected writers on the comics scene today. From Marvels to Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, to the current Superman and Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis he has, for over 20 years, produced a large quantity of high-quality work for many companies. He’s been the struggling newcomer, the hotshot superstar and the accomplished professional. Like everyone else who’s successful in the business, he’s always being asked, “how do I break into comics?” [Like you’d tell someone how they could get your job!] Here, Kurt gives his take on how you can figure out how to do it yourself. It may not be the answer you want to hear—but it’s the right answer. Read on…

I

—DF

spend a fair amount of time on the Internet, reading and posting to message boards, Usenet newsgroups, mailing lists and the like. Possibly too much time. My editors think so, at least. My wife definitely thinks so. But I do it anyway—I like the feedback. I like to see what fans are thinking, whether it’s reviews of the latest issue of whatever I’m writing, or concerns about future developments, wishes for the return of such-and-such a character, and so on.

One question that comes up a lot, in e-mails and message board posts, gets phrased a lot of different ways, but boils down to “How do I break in?” There are a lot of comics readers out there who’d like to be comics writers (for which the editor and publisher of this magazine are grateful!), and they’re not sure how to go about making the transition. They have a lot of questions—Who do I submit stuff to? What should I submit? What format should it be in? How do you organize a pitch? Do I need an artist? I followed the publisher’s submissions guidelines, and never heard back. Shouldn’t there be a better system? Why do they hire people from TV and movies, but won’t give the rest of us a chance? And so on. But the impression I often get is that what a lot of these would-be writers are really asking for is a set of rules, a map, a procedure that anyone can follow, and it’ll

guide them right up to the door of their favorite comics publisher, and usher them inside. The trouble is, there is no such thing. There never has been. And it makes no sense to complain that there should be one. The fact is, there isn’t, so the people who actually do break in are the people who recognize that fact and work around it, while the people who are waiting for the clear and easyto-follow map to their chosen destination are still waiting. Sure, there are submissions guidelines—most companies have them, and you can find them at most publishers’ websites—but let me tell you a secret: Those guidelines aren’t there to make it easier for you to get in. They’re there to make it easier for the publisher to reject you, and get back to work. It automates the process, makes it easier for one lowly-placed assistant editor in a KURT BUSIEK | 17


cubicle somewhere to shuffle through lots of submissions fast and get out form rejections. Maybe a few people break in via the cold submissions route—artists, usually, since artwork can be judged by taking a quick look at it, and writing samples have to be read—but not many. I don’t know any writers who broke in through the slush pile. And sure, there are people who happen to be drinking buddies with an editor, or the publisher’s wife’s gardener’s son, giving rise to the theory that You Gotta Know Someone. But really, that doesn’t happen anywhere near as much as people think. And if it actually was true, and you don’t Know Someone, then there aren’t any rules that are going to help, so why worry about it? But people still break in, somehow. So there must be a way, right? There must be rules.

Well, no. There really aren’t. What spurred me to write this essay—and in the spirit of disclosure, let me say that I wrote most of it in 2001, as a long, long post on an Internet forum—was the reaction I witnessed when DC Comics announced that they wouldn’t be looking at unsolicited submissions any more. Now, DC had some pretty good reasons for this—going through submissions was a lot of work, it didn’t turn up much in the way of talent, and it exposed them to legal troubles that occasionally cost them time, money and headaches—but oh, the cries of outrage! How could DC do this to the struggling creative community? How could they slam the door in people’s faces like that? Nobody seemed to notice that they hadn’t had any luck breaking in that way—they were just mad that it wasn’t an option any more. The impression I got was that people were upset that a submissions process that was not going to work for them anyway was now closed to them—not that a sure-fire way into the business that broke in people on a regular basis was closed, but that a system that gets almost nobody in is no longer being offered as a way to waste your time fruitlessly. And the cry went up, “They took away the rules! G*dd*mmit, how can I break in and be creative without rules! Somebody tell me the rules!” Even when someone would suggest something that worked for them or for others, it would be rejected as a strategy. “Not everyone can do that!” or “That’s too complicated! Tell me some other rules!” The other possibilities that were suggested, which were things that had actually worked for someone, were in fact no less likely to work for creator-hopefuls than the transom submissions, but they hadn’t rejected the transom option of hand. In fact, useless as it was, they were mad that it was gone. So why such resistance to taking another kind of chance, just as slim? It may be a waste of time—but so was the “opportunity” they were bemoaning the loss of. But that’s not the main point. The main point is this: If you need to have someone lay out a set of instructions for you, you probably don’t have the skills or imagination to be a freelance writer.

Page 7 of Pow! Biff! Pops!, a very early, pre-professional comic done as a promotional item for the Boston Pops by Kurt and Scott McCloud. [© 2006 Kurt Busiek and Scott McCloud.]

18 | WRITE NOW

Because being a freelance writer isn’t just about writing. If you’re a freelance writer, you are by definition also a small businessman, running a company of one. You will be responsible for that company—you’ll have to find customers (editors, publishers), you’ll have to market


yourself, you’ll have to guide your career. Nobody will do these things for you—if you depend on a publisher to do them, you will either need to be very lucky, in that your needs coincide with the publisher’s, or you will be very disappointed, when you hit a point when the publisher’s needs and yours don’t match, and they go off and serve their own priorities and leave you in the gutter, muttering, “But I followed the rules...!” There are no rules. There is no map. You’ve doubtless heard any number of stories of how someone broke into comics, whether it was Gail Simone writing a humor column on the Internet that made people laugh, which got her an offer to try writing something funny in comics form, or Steve Englehart taking the train up to New York while he was in the military, so he could be an art assistant to Neal Adams, and then wound up writing instead. What those stories inevitably show is that what works for one guy won’t necessarily work for others—but that the people who break in are the people who keep trying until they find a way. They’re the people who figure out their own rules, whether it means maxing out their credit cards to make a movie or Xeroxing their own comic book to sell locally and show around. None of them have any guarantee that it will work. And for some of them, it doesn’t. But the folks it doesn’t work for either quit, or they try something else. And the ones that keep trying either figure out their road in, or they quit. Or they die still trying. I know one guy who keeps showing me his portfolio, and the guy’s got to be over 50, and he’s no good, and I doubt he’ll ever get work, but he’s still trying, because it’s what he wants to do.

breaking in won’t do you any good anyway, because you won’t stay in.

Now me, I broke in on my second submission, and I broke in writing for the big publishers, but it wasn’t because I was lucky. It was because I worked at it and thought about it and figured out what would work best for me and my particular situation. Here’s how I did it. Please note, this is not a set of rules, it’s a demonstration of how you work without them.

First off, I wrote a lot of letters to lettercolumns. I had no idea that this would help me break in—I just did it because I wanted to, and I liked writing, and I wanted to talk critically about why I liked or didn’t like the comics I read (and I was 15 years old, so “critically” was a loose, loose term). But over the course of getting about 100 letters published, I learned how to think about story structure and pacing and how much verbiage I thought was too much and how much I thought was too little, and all kinds of stuff And it’s sad for him that he’s not going that turned out to be to make it, but that’s the way it goes. No useful. And I wrote rules, no map, no guarantees. You might not Kurt’s Justice League of America #224. Art by publishable letters, and Chuck Patton and Dick Giordano. make it. But if you don’t figure out a way it turned out that what [© 2006 DC Comics] that’ll work for you, then you definitely that meant was that won’t make it—because if nothing else, once there were a bunch of you get that first job, you’re not going to get a editors in the business who associated my name with membership card and a stream of offers. You’re going to well-expressed intelligent, usable stuff—even if it was just have to get that second job, and there’s no map to that, usable in the lettercolumns. either. And you’re going to have to keep getting jobs, and it won’t always be easy, and the opportunities you do get While I was doing this, I also practiced writing (and won’t always be ones you should take. But you’ll have to sometimes drawing) comics. I talked a friend into making figure that out as you go along, and use your imagination comics with me. Before I talked him into it, he wanted to and your analytical skills and your vision to continually be a research scientist of some sort, and spent much of keep yourself on a path that works for you. And it’ll often his time drawing detailed layouts of starships. Today, he’s be a road you build for yourself. If you can’t do it, Scott McCloud, and every now and then I wonder if I KURT BUSIEK | 19


should apologize to his mother for killing his ambition to go to MIT. But in any case, I wrote comics he drew, I wrote comics I drew, I wrote comics that other friends drew. Some of ’em never got finished, lots of them were lousy, and it took an awful lot of time. But we did it for close to seven years, through high school and college, and at the end of it I’d learned two things: First, I learned that I didn’t want to be a comics artist, though I’d taught myself a lot about how comics work visually. Second, I learned a lot about the craft of writing comics, without any sort of instruction book. About three or four years into all this, another friend sketched out for me what a full script looked like, based on his memory of having seen one once, shown to him at a con by Julie Schwartz. His sketch was wrong—it was all screwed up and hard to type— but I wrote scripts in that format for the next few years. That was all the insider instruction I had. [I did get something published during that period, though. The Boston Pops put on a “Comic Heroes Night” one year as a fundraising concert, playing Neal Hefti’s Batman TV show theme and “The Flight of the Bumblebee” (better known in some circles as the Green Hornet theme) and others. One of the people on the fundraising committee had a son who was into comics and into drawing, and he pitched her the idea of doing a comic book to sell as a fundraiser. He didn’t know anything about how to make a comic book, but these two kids down the street did, so Scott and I got asked to write and lay out a comic for the Boston Pops, with the guy whose mother was on the committee doing the finished art. We had no idea of what we couldn’t or shouldn’t do, so we came up with a story involving Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch and SpiderMan—and the Boston Pops organization didn’t know this was an impossible idea, so they went and got us permission from Marvel and DC to do this one-shot comic as a fundraiser, provided all unsold copies were destroyed at the end of the evening. So we did it and it was fun and maddening and hectic and it was ultimately the second “official” Marvel/DC crossover and one of the highest-cover-price comics produced to that date (ten bucks!) and it got turned into a slide show/dramatic reading for the event by Robert Desiderio and we got to attend the concert along with a not-very-interested Sol Harrison of DC (Marvel didn’t send anyone). And it got us nowhere at all professionally, but them’s the breaks.] 20 | WRITE NOW

Along the way, my letter-writing and hanging around in comics stores arguing with people about Cary Bates and Steve Englehart got me into writing articles for fanzines, and eventually into editing for fanzines and trade magazines, which didn’t turn out to be much help in the way I thought it would be as I thought it would be, but more help in ways I never thought I’d need. Then, armed with years of practice and no idea how to go about breaking in, I had to break in. My first attempt— sending a cold submission of a lousy Hawkeye backup

Pages from two early scripts by Kurt that were deemed “perfectly usable” by DC’s E. Nelson Bridwell, but for various reasons were never used. Having never seen a real comics script, Kurt made up the format based on a friend’s inaccurate memory of one he once saw. The page at the top is from Kurt’s script for a Supergirl story, and below that is his first page of a “Superman: The In-Between Years” feature. [Characters © 2006 DC Comics. Scripts © 2006 Kurt Busiek.]


SCREENPLAY TO NOVEL:

BATMAN BEGINS

INTERVIEW WITH DENNIS O’NEIL Conducted via telephone by Eric Fein in August, 2005 Transcribed by Steven Tice Copyedited by Liz Gehrlein, Dennis O’Neil, Eric Fein and Danny Fingeroth

I

n this case, the cliché is true: Dennis O’Neil is one of the most highly acclaimed writers and editors in the comic book industry. For more than 40 years, he has crafted groundbreaking stories for both Marvel and DC Comics. At DC Comics, he had some of his greatest successes. He wrote the groundbreaking Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories, illustrated by Neal Adams. Also with Adams and editor Julie Schwartz, Denny helped to bring Batman back to his essence as a “Dark Knight detective” and creature of the night. During this time, he helped create one of the most important villains to be introduced into Batman’s Rogues Gallery in the last 40 years, Ra’s Al Ghul. It is Ra’s Al Ghul who plays a pivotal role in Batman Begins, the movie that in 2005 successfully relaunched the cinematic life of Batman. Appropriately, Denny—whose previous DC novelizations include Batman: Knightfall and Green Lantern: Hero’s Quest— landed the assignment to turn Begins into a prose novel. Eric Fein caught up with Denny recently to speak with him about his work on the novelization (published by Del Rey) and to get his thoughts on the movie as well as on what it takes to write a novel. —DF Eric Fein: How did you get the assignment to turn Batman Begins into a novel, Denny?

Denny O’Neil: When I heard from somebody at DC Comics that the movie was being done and that a character I had created would be featured in it, I sent a short e-mail to [DC Comics President and Publisher] Paul Levitz indicating that I’d be happy to be involved in some way. And, if not, how about just letting me read the script? He got back to me a couple of days later with an offer to do the novelization and to work as a consultant on the videogame. EF: That’s great. Did you enjoy the process? DO: Yeah. I went into it a little trepidatiously because I had no idea what kind of script this would be. It is possible, if you are of an uncharitable cast of mind, to say that not all the Batman movies have been cinematic masterpieces. But as I read this, I said to myself several times throughout the process of reading it, “Wow, why didn’t I think of this?” They [director/writer Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer] really understood the character. They

especially understood the whole Batman mythos. There was a lot of emphasis on story values. I thought that they did just an absolutely nifty job of doing the adaptation— making it a movie, of course, but capturing the spirit of what I think of as the best of Batman comics. EF: Their love of Batman and his world certainly came through. DO: Yeah, they really got it. And when I say the best, it’s not only of my stuff, but going back to Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Just the best takes on that character that there have been. EF: They really understood what people love about the character. When you started the project, did they give you a word or a page count for the manuscript? DO: You almost always have a ballpark figure. They wanted it to be somewhere in the 70 to 75 thousandword neighborhood. I don’t actually know what the final DENNY O’NEIL | 29


word count was. It was something in that general area. EF: From start to finish, how long did it take you to write the book? DO: I did something I swore I would never do again—I wrote a novel very quickly. I mean, I’m retired. I’m not supposed to have to do race deadlines anymore. But I had something like three months, maybe a little more. EF: That’s fast. How many pages did you write per day? Five, ten, less?

DO: Yeah, that was a tribute to Julie Schwartz. He loved jazz.

DO: Mm-hm. And if they want to believe that, that’s fine. That was something that happened originally in a conversation between comics writer Devin Grayson and my wife, Marifran. They were talking about how maybe poor Alfred should have a love life. So, yeah, in my mind it was Leslie that he was going to go and see in the city.

EF: Right—you don’t have any breathing room, because everything has to be approved by the movie people, which takes away any extra time.

EF: Sounds like it took an incredible amount of discipline.

EF: One of the things that I enjoyed about the novelization was the little touches that you added to it for the characters. For example, you gave Alfred a personal life and had him enjoy Louis Armstrong music.

EF: And you also did something very cool with Alfred—you hinted that he had a romantic relationship with a woman who runs an inner-city clinic. Now, most diehard Batman fans would just assume that was Leslie Thompkins.

DO: You do simple arithmetic. You figure out how many working days you’ve got and how many words have to be done per day. In this case, as with the last novel I wrote under those conditions, it was about a thousand words a day. And that’s not negotiable. When you’re working on something like a movie project, you really do have to meet the deadline.

DO: Everything is on a tight schedule, and everything depends on everything else. So I got back into a mode of working that I haven’t been in for about four years, which is, at a given time I’d go downstairs, turn on the computer, and when I have my word count, I can stop.

To cite a term I like to use in the classes I teach, everything had to stick to the spine of the story. I couldn’t digress, but I did have to amplify.

EF: You added a sequence that was not in the movie, where Bruce goes to New York Denny’s novelization of the Batman Begins screenplay. tracking down the Ra’s Al Ghul [© 2006 DC Comics and Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.] manuscripts, and you actually show him doing some detective work and a little breaking-and-entering. Was that in the original script?

DO: Well, it’s normal professional writer discipline. I thought I would not have to be this again in my life. But, it was not a bad experience, because it was finite. I knew “I have to work this hard for three months, and then it will be over.”

DO: No, that was all me. Since the book is written entirely from Batman’s point of view, except for the brief digressions, there had to be a logical reason for him to find that stuff out, and I thought, “Well, while I’m at it, I’ll motivate the utility belt and the detective stuff.”

EF: In your process for doing the book, did you outline? Did you make notes on the script?

EF: It made a nice bridge; it was another piece of the puzzle in his progression to finally putting on the costume. You also created a character, a librarian at a college, to help Bruce with some background information. Did you model her on the original version of Barbara Gordon?

DO: No, I never do. I read thoroughly. Part of my assignment was to amplify the script, particularly with regard to the villain’s backstory. So it was more a question of figuring out an approach that would allow me to leave the original story intact but allow for some amplification. 30 | WRITE NOW

DO: Not really. I don’t think I had Barbara in mind. I just needed a librarian.


EF: And it was a way to show Bruce interacting with someone his own age who wasn’t a love interest or an adversary. DO: Yeah. I figured, actually, that that character was six to ten years older than Bruce. But, yeah, interacting with someone outside his social set who was not a cop or a criminal. EF: The other thing that I enjoyed was the way that you worked in Ra’s’ backstory, and also had journal entries from him. Did your editors not like you breaking point-ofview and giving the villain some time, or was it just, “Okay, go with it.” DO: No, they liked it a lot. EF: Who were your editors on this book? DO: Well, primarily Chris Cerasi. He got some input, but I think not an awful lot, from the movie people. And [Del Rey editor] Steve Saffel was kind of the guy who watched out for the publisher’s interest. We all had a nice lunch, and Steve made several good suggestions. But I cannot praise Chris highly enough. He is a relatively young guy, and next to [former DC Comics Licensed Publishing Editor] Charlie Kochman he’s one of the best book editors I’ve ever worked with—in that his concern is to make it a good book, and that’s his only concern. And that is, I’m afraid, increasingly rare today. He was Charlie’s assistant, and I would have, of course, preferred Charlie, who’s a good friend as well as a great editor, to get the book, but he now works for another company, and he and Devin Grayson both assured me that I would get along with Chris, and they were absolutely right. I’m doing another book for him. EF: Another Batman novel? DO: No, this is going to be The Question. For fifteen years I’ve wanted to write a Question novel, and now I finally

have a chance to do it. Batman will be in it to the extent that he was in the original comic book series, and I may amp up his part a little bit. Lady Shiva will be in it—she was always part of the Question’s continuity. EF: It’s like “O’Neil’s Greatest Hits.” DO: Yeah, it’s very pleasant to be able to go back and revisit that stuff. EF: And then be able to do it in a new way, in a new format. Writing a novel can entail a different take on things. DO: There were a few compromises—in The Question comics series—probably fewer than in any mainstream series I’ve ever done—but there were one or two things that I wouldn’t have to do today. Comics have evolved. So I will have whatever satisfaction there is to be derived from telling the story in the novel the way I think it ought to be told. I mean, I had less editorial dicta on that series than on almost anything, but there were conventions of comic books at the time that I felt I had to honor. EF: I think one of the reasons that people like novelizations is that they are an opportunity to get into the heads of the characters. DO: Yeah. And the movie people conveyed to me through Chris that, yeah, some of the stuff I put in they might have put in the movie, except they’ve only got two hours to tell the story. EF: Speaking of Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, was it odd or uncomfortable at all for you to be writing a novel that was based on your earlier works but filtered through other people’s points of view? DO: It was a weird trip, yeah. [chuckles] They rewrote me, and I rewrote their rewrite. If they hadn’t done such a good job, I’m sure it would have been profoundly uncomfortable. I thought they got Ra’s’ essential character exactly right, and one of the things I always preach about is that a comic book is not a movie and it’s not a novel—you have to reinvent the character for each medium. EF: Did you find your familiarity with the Ra’s character a help or almost an obstacle in doing the adaptation? In the heat of writing, would you write the character one way and then have to pull yourself back and go, “No, no, no. Here, in this version of the world, he actually should be acting this way.” DO: One of the reasons, I’m sure, I got the job, was my familiarity with the character and how that facilitated my amplifying the backstory, the stuff they couldn’t put in the movie. But it’s been so long since I’ve actually dealt with Ra’s extensively. I had written a graphic novel—

Covers to the O’Neil-written The Question #s 1 and 2. Cover art to #1 is by Bill Sienkiewicz, and to #2 by Denys Cowan and Sienkiewicz. [© 2006 DC Comics.]

EF: Yeah, his origin.

DENNY O’NEIL | 31


In the next issue of Write Now!, Jim Starlin will tell you about how his exciting Mystery in Space project came to pass. The comic features the Starlin-written “Captain Comet” as its lead feature. The regular backup feature is “The Weird,” written and penciled by Jim, with inks by Al Milgrom. In this issue, we present the first six pages of Jim's script and pencils, as well as Al’s inks, for “Enlightenment,” “The Weird” installment in MIS #3. [© 2006 DC Comics]

At top of this page: Jim's sketch of The Weird, used as part of his pitch to DC for the character's MIS backup. [© 2006 DC Comics]

JIM STARLIN | 39


Here’s some background from Jim on “The Weird”: “The Weird was a four-issue miniseries Bernie Wrightson and I did back in 1987. The character died at the end of the series. The Justice League was in the story. I'd suggested doing a Weird series to Dan Didio some time before Mystery in Space came up. When we lost Adam Strange for MIS, Dan decided on Captain Comet and the Weird acting as Adam’s stand-ins.” [© 2006 DC Comics.]

40 | WRITE NOW


ADAPTING MANGA!

by

I

Stephen Pakula

t’s no secret that manga is hot. Just walk into any Barnes & Noble or Borders and you’ll see row after row of manga paperbacks, many of them published by Central Park Media. Stephen Pakula worked for CPM for five years, adapting many of the volumes you see on the shelves. He’s here now to share some important insights into the mangaverse, including how you might be able to become part of this fascinating world. —DF

MY STORY: In early 2000, if you had asked me what manga was, I would have looked you in the eye and given you an answer that only a well-educated and culturally knowledgeable person such as myself could have given: “Huh?” But I had to quickly familiarize myself with it when I was fortunate enough, fresh out of college, to land a job at Central Park Media, a New York-based distributor of anime and manga. Like so many other people in the industry, I’ve been a comic book lover since I was kid. And when I graduated college I was faced with a cold, hard reality that many graduates know so well: I needed a job. But not just any job. I needed the right job. At first I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I had a pretty good idea of what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to do the temp thing, floating from job to job every few weeks, and I certainly didn’t want to work anywhere boring. After seriously thinking this over, I decided that I wanted to work in comics. “Why not?” I thought. I’ve always loved them, I knew a lot about them, and I majored in English in college. I am a laughably poor artist (although my stick figures will knock your socks off), but I knew that I could do something on the editorial side. Ultimately, I knew that what I really wanted to do was write comics. So I sent my resume to a number of comic publishers in New York to see if they had any job opportunities. Some (Marvel and DC) were obvious. Some (like Central Park Media) I’d never heard of. And it was this company that actually called me back. The job was for an internship in the comics department. Before the interview I did as much research as I could about the company and the comics they published. It was then that I first encountered manga.

read? How come they’re not in color? Why were the characters’ eyes so big? And wait, you’re supposed to read some of them backwards?! I’ll be honest, I grew up reading nothing but superhero comics. I was all capes and secret identities back then, and I was not the least impressed with the manga that I was being introduced to, but I figured that working with unfamiliar comics was better than not working in comics at all, so I eagerly went for my interview.

My first thought was, “What the h*ll is this?” I learned that manga were Japanese comics translated into English. But why did they look so different from the comics that I

Now, before I actually did it, I used to think that script adaptation was about the most uncreative thing I could be doing, and not at all what I really wanted to do, which

I didn’t get the internship. But I did manage to get a full-time job in the sales department as an assistant. I figured that I would work in sales for a bit, learn what I could, and then somehow move into the comics division. Eventually, that is exactly what happened, and some years later I found myself as the Production Manager/Editor for CPM Manga, the publishing arm of Central Park Media. The job entailed many different responsibilities, but ultimately everything was done with one goal in mind: to take Japanese (and eventually Korean) comics and adapt them for American readers. One of the most creative and fun parts of this process was—believe it or not—adapting the script.

STEPHEN PAKULA | 45


was to write comics. I mean, let’s face it, these were basically reprints of already published material. All I was doing was making sure they were in English instead of Japanese. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found that working with the translated scripts was just as creative as if I was making them up myself. It’s true that you are working within certain bounds when it comes to adapting manga. The story is already there, and you really shouldn’t deviate from it too much. The creativity, and the challenge, comes when you are within these bounds. Can you make the story work with the material that you have? It’s very similar to the debate about whether or not continuity in American comics hinders creativity or not. Some people think that continuity creates too many obstacles and barriers, and gets in the way of telling good stories. They think that a character’s long history inhibits the possibility of writing the kinds of stories that they want to write. I disagree. I don’t see any reason why you can’t be equally as creative within the bounds of continuity. There is always a way to make a story work, and only by challenging yourself can you find the right way for you. Think of it as a puzzle, and you have to fill in the pieces. But only certain pieces will fit, and you have to find the best solution possible.

seem like such a big deal nowadays, but back then manga hadn’t reached mainstream status yet.) It can seem weird at first, but it’s pretty easy to train your eyes and your brain to read the Japanese way. (Prior to my working for CPM, and at a time when the manga industry in America was in its infancy, CPM would flip the images and change the page layouts before publishing a manga, so that the comic could be read left-to-right. It made the comic more accessible to American audiences, but as time went on and manga became more mainstream, CPM, as well as many other companies, decided to maintain the original right-to-left Japanese orientation. This made the book seem much more authentic, and closer to its original foreign roots.) After I had familiarized myself with a book, we would send a copy of the original book to a translator. They would translate the text into a Word document and number each unit of dialogue, as well as every sound effect. Then they would photocopy the original manga and write numbers on every page where words appeared (the

But let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s… THE MANGA ADAPTATION PROCESS: Let me run down the basic steps to taking a manga straight from Japan and turning it into an Americanized graphic novel. There might be other ways that other publishers do it, but this is how I worked with the books at CPM Manga. The first step of any script adaptation process would be to read the original Japanese graphic novel. But since I don’t speak or read Japanese (it’s all just squiggly lines to me), by “read” what I really mean is “look at.” I would do this for a couple of reasons. The first is to just see what the story is about and familiarize myself with characters and actions. The next, and most important, reason was to see if I could follow the story by just looking at the art. My first impression of the comic would be made purely based on the artwork, and I would see if it conveyed a story that I could relatively follow without words. Could I tell what happens in the story just by looking at the images? Sometimes I could, but many times I could not. The panel structure was unlike anything that I was used to, and the sound effects were written in Japanese, so they couldn’t help me either. But the most obvious hurdle was that manga is read right-to-left. So not only was I unable to read the words, but now I had to relearn how to read! Growing up in America, it’s easy to forget that not everyone in the world does things the same way that we do. So when I first looked at a manga, it felt very unnatural to read from what I considered to be the back to the front. (It may not 46 | WRITE NOW

On these pages are the covers to manga stories adapted by Stephen Pakula. Here’s Kung Fu Jungle Boy by Jae Kyung Uhm and Choong Ho Lee. [Original Korean version “Kakoong 1” © 1996 Choong Ho Lee, Jae Kyung Uhm. English edition published by arrangement with Content Wide in Korea. English version copyright © 2004 Central Park Media Corp. All rights reserved.]


SMITTY 9 Right. Hey, girl came arou MALONE 10 Were her eyes deep blue

nd, lookin’ for Pat. ‘bout your age, I’d say.

pools of deceit a man

Pretty.

could drown in?

5. Malone's mood chan ges out what the hell she mea dourly, and Smitty glances over at her in confu sion, like he can’t figur ns. SMITTY 11 Uh… dunno. She was wearing sunglasse SMITTY 12 She asked if Pat was still in

s.

business. I think she’s got a job

MALONE 13 She shows up again, tell her he

e

for him.

moved to Michigan. Okay ?

6. Malone’s mood has chan She’s now a bit annoyed, ged as she takes a paper bag (with the sand wiches in it) from Smit stern. Smitty looks mildl ty. bag sullenly, like he'd y embarrassed, but chee look at some lowlife beat rful. Pat glowers at the ing a woman. MALONE 14 What’s the damage on the sandwiches? SMITTY 15 Hell, Malone. You know Novak eats free here, after all he did for my uncle. PAT 16 I want a bacon cheesebu rger with onion rings. And a Pabst.

SMITTY 9 Right. Hey, girl came arou MALONE 10 Were her eyes deep blue

nd, lookin’ for Pat. ‘bout your age, I’d say.

pools of deceit a man

Pretty.

could drown in?

5. Malone's mood chan ges out what the hell she mea dourly, and Smitty glances over at her in confu sion, like he can’t figur ns. SMITTY 11 Uh… dunno. She was wearing sung

e

lasses.

Here are five pages of script and finished, lettered art from Moonstone’s Pat Novak for Hire, written by Steven Grant with art by Tom Mandrake. It’s based on a 1940s radio show that starred Jack Webb (Dragnet’s Joe Friday) and Raymond Burr (star of the TV series Perry Mason and Ironside). The scripts are done full script style. The premise is this: Pat Novak, once San Francisco's toughest PI, now wiles away his retirement on his houseboat, under the watchful eye of his granddaughter. All that peace comes to a sudden end when his past, a case involving a dirty senator who ran a deranged sex cult on the side, comes back with a vicious vengeance. With enemies old and new to contend with, Novak must use his relentless crime solving skills to undo his greatest case—and destroy his reputation! No stone will be left unturned! [© 2006 Moonstone.]

STEVEN GRANT | 51


On this, and the next two pages, are Steven’s comments about the story, from an interview with Lori G on the Moonstone website. “I thought about doing a story set in the Novak stomping grounds of the radio show, which would have put it in the late ’40s. But way too many crime stories in comics these days are set in the ’30s and ’40s, which is getting a bit remote from us, it’s mainly a way for writers to layer on familiar clichés from movies and play against them. At the same time, I didn’t think simply taking the Novak character and transferring him to modern times was the right way to go; a ’40s style wisecracking pseudo-P.I. would just be too much of an anachronism. [©2006 Moonstone.]

SMITTY 9 Right. Hey, girl came arou

nd, lookin’ for Pat. ‘bout your age, I’d say.

MALONE 10 Were her eyes deep blue pools

Pretty.

of deceit a man could

drown in? 5. Malone's mood chan ges out what the hell she mea dourly, and Smitty glances over at her in confu sion, like he can’t figur ns. SMITTY 11 Uh… dunno. She was wearing sung SMITTY 12 She asked if Pat was still in

e

lasses.

business. I think she’s got a job

MALONE 13 She shows up again, tell her he

for him.

moved to Michigan. Okay ? 6. Malone’s mood has chan She’s now a bit annoyed, ged as she takes a paper bag (with the sand wiches in it) from Smit stern. Smitty looks mildl ty. bag sullenly, like he'd y embarrassed, but chee look at some lowlife beat rful. Pat glowers at the ing a woman. MALONE 14 What’s the damage on the sandwiches? SMITTY 15 Hell, Malone. You know Novak eats PAT 16 I want a bacon cheesebu

52 | WRITE NOW

free here, after all he did

rger with onion rings.

And a Pabst.

for my uncle.


DON T

FEAR THE

F

RESEARCH by

Bill McCay

or a lot of writers, doing research is like homework— something that has to be done so you can get to the fun stuff. But research can make your work better, and can be enjoyable in and of itself. Acclaimed novelist Bill McCay stops by to give you his two cents on the subject and to show you why you, indeed, don’t need to fear the research.

S

—DF

tarting this past January, a University of Pennsylvania English course uses a comic as required reading—Alex Simmons’ graphic novel Blackjack: Blood and Honor. The press release explained the choice of the graphic novel this way: “the historical backdrop and references, coupled with the plot and characters, gained it favorable attention in the educational and entertainment marketplaces.” Alex is justly proud, and so am I, since I helped research the historical backdrop receiving such praise. Having Alex ask me to work as editor on Blackjack came as no surprise. We both worked for a small publisher producing dozens of book series, and I’d edited several novels he’d written. The reason Alex gave me was interesting, though—“Whenever a question of history or geography or weapons or mayhem came up, you either had the answer or knew where to get it.” In other words, research—and my ability to do it—got me a job. Reference is a way of life for comics artists. Some artists are only as good as their reference files, and whenever professionals get into shop talk, you hear stories of people who didn’t get jobs because they couldn’t draw horses, or pirate ships, or whatever. On the other hand, someone like John Severin, who knew his hardware, had the ability to draw accurately down to the rivets on a tank or the buttplate on a pistol, depicting the people using this stuff (and their horses!) in outstanding action. His realism could turn a so-so war or Western script into a story that popped off the page. So what does reference do on the writing side? Well, consider the advice every aspiring author receives: “Write what you know.” In the action/adventure field, that would mean getting previous experience in either the military or law-enforcement fields. Otherwise, you need research on weapons, how they’re used, combat techniques, training, tactics, strategy, perhaps a little history to get some perspective—and that’s just for a start. Movie watching may help with some visual research. Just remember to take the Hollywood version of anything with a grain of salt. Maybe the best use of films is to get a sense of place—

Bill McCay (standing) and his frequent creative collaborator, Alex Simmons. Photography by Louis Chisena.

although even there, Hollywood can be misleading. Folks who actually live in Forest Hills howled at the way Peter Parker seemed to step clear across neighborhoods in Spider-Man, sometimes in the same scene. At least the movie succeeded in conveying a sense of quiet outerborough New York life. Why is a sense of place important in writing? Some years ago, an Off-Broadway musical poked fun at a geographicallychallenged European songwriting team by having performers sing about “Chicago by the sea.” A little research can help keep your writing from being just as unintentionally funny— especially when you’re writing about places you haven’t been. My third book was a series novel set in Tokyo, somewhere I’d never visited, and the advance and deadline wouldn’t allow for a fact-finding mission. This wasn’t a research job that could be handled with a quick look at a Godzilla movie. I ransacked libraries and bookstores for tourist guides and travel books, especially ones with lots of photos. Then I tracked down anyone I could find who’d been to the city and asked lots of questions. As an editor I once had an author hand me a dreadful outline. The guy always wrote prize-winning prose, but at this point in his career, he had problems setting up a plot. This was another series book, a mystery set on South Padre Island in Texas. The basic storyline worked, but the plot development faltered about halfway through. That’s where my author put in a literal cliffhanger, with a hero dangling from a 50-foot sheer drop—a problem on a barrier island barely rising above sea level. I spent half a day in the library learning about the locale and figuring how to get the heroes BILL MCCAY | 57


P R O P O SA L CODENAME: STRYKEFORCE a proposal by Jay Faerber 05-06-03 THE ULTIMATES meets THE A-TEAM The revamped Codename: Strykeforce is a sophisticated, 21st century update on the classic “outlaw super-team” theme. Here we have a group of superhumans, living outside the law (each for their own reasons), taking high-risk jobs from various desperate people (with large bank accounts, of course). And as an added element of danger, there’s a traitor in their midst... Codename Strykeforce will feature just as much of an emphasis on suspense, intrigue, and character drama as it will on action scenes. This book isn’t going to just be super-hero slugfests strung together by a series of dull interludes. It’ll move at a fast pace, with clipped, kinetic scenes (like the TV series, “The Shield,” for one example – that’s a show that manages to cram an awful lot of story into one hour). Codename: Strykeforce should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other cutting edge super-hero books of the day; books like The Ultimates and Wildcats.

[© 2006 Top Cow]

THE CHARACTERS STRYKER (a.k.a. Morgan Stryker) - A former major in the Special Forces, Stryker is a cyborg who possesses three metallic arms and a cybernetic eye, as well as vast weapons training and a keen strategic mind. He’s the leader of our team, and the rest of the Strykeforce follows his lead without question ... usually. We’ll acknowledge that this isn’t the first Strykeforce that Stryker has led, but we’re not going to dwell on the book’s previous incarnation. Instead, we’ll just mention that things ended badly for the previous team, and Stryker doesn’t like to talk about it. Stryker is able to move around in civilian life by taking off his three cybernetic arms and wearing a patch over his robotic eye. This way, he looks like a veteran of one war too many – which, frankly, he is. CUTLASS (a.k.a. Amy Pearson) - The survivor of an alien abduction, Amy was returned to Earth with a souvenir of her experience – an alien sword, able to slice through any Earthly substance. Amy tried to do the sensible thing, and turn the

[© 2006 Top Cow]

On these pages is Jay Faerber’s proposal for Top Cow’s 1994 Strykeforce miniseries (originally called Codename: Strykeforce, also the name of the series to which it was a sequel). Top Cow’s then-editor-in-chief Jim McLaughlin referred to it as an example of a perfect pitch for him. Clearly, the pitch was not just submitted “cold,” but was the result of some previous discussion between writer and editor. [© 2006 Top Cow] JAY FAEBER | 61


CODENAME: STRYKEFORC E a proposal by Jay Faerbe r 05-06-03 THE ULTIMATES

meets THE A-

TEAM

The revampe d Codename: Strykeforce is the classic “ou a sophisticated tlaw super-team , 21 st century living outside ” theme. Here update on the law (each we have a gro for their own up of superhu various despera rea mans, sons), taking te people (with high-r large bank ac counts, of cours isk jobs from And as an ad e). ded element of danger, the re’s a traitor in their midst... Codename Str ykeforce will feature just as intrigue, and much of an em character dra ma phas just be super-h as it will on ac tion scenes. Th is on suspense, ero slugfests str move at a fas is book isn’t go t pace, with clip ung together by a series of ing to dull ped, kinetic sce for one exam ple – that’s a nes (like the TV interludes. It’ll sh ow that mana one hour). series, “The Sh ges to cram an ield,” awful lot of sto ry into Codename: Str ykeforce shou ld stand shou edge super-h ero books of lder-to-shoulde the day; book r with the oth s like The Ult er cutting imates and Wi ldcats.

THE CHARAC

TERS

STRYKER (a. k.a Stryker is a cy . Morgan Stryker) - A forme bo r major in the Special Force well as vast we rg who possesses three me s, tal apons training team, and the and a keen str lic arms and a cybernetic ey ategic mind. He rest of the Str e, yk We’ll acknow ’s the leader of as ledge that this eforce follows his lead wit our hout question isn’t the first Str we’re not going ... usually. ykeforce that to dwell on the Stryker has led mention that book’s previo , but things ended us incarnation ba . dly for the pre talk about it. Str vious team, an Instead, we’ll just yk d Stryker does cybernetic arm er is able to move around n’t in civilian life s and wearing by taking off his like to a patch over a veteran of on his robotic ey e war too ma e. This way, he three ny – which, fra looks like nkly, he is. CUTLASS (a. k.a returned to Ea . Amy Pearson) - The survi rth with a souv vo of an alien enPearson) Amy - The rsurvivor of an alien abduction, Amy was throughCUTLASS ir of her ex any Earthly(a.k.a. perience – an abduction, Amy was substan alien cea. Am returned to Earth with souvenir experience – an alien sword, able to slice y triedoftoher do the sensible sword, able to slice t thing, and tur n the

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CODENAME: STRYKEFORCE a proposal by Jay Faerber 05-06-03

THE ULTIMATES meets THE A-TEAM The revamped Codename: Strykeforce is a sophisticated, 21st century update on the classic “outlaw super-team” theme. Here we have a group of superhumans, living outside the law (each for their own reasons), taking high-risk jobs from various desperate people (with large bank accounts, of course). And as an added element of danger, there’s a traitor in their midst... Codename Strykeforce will feature just as much of an emphasis on suspense, intrigue, and character drama as it will on action scenes. This book isn’t going to just be super-hero slugfests strung together by a series of dull interludes. It’ll move at a fast pace, with clipped, kinetic scenes (like the TV series, “The Shield,” for one example – that’s a show that manages to cram an awful lot of story into one hour). Codename: Strykeforce should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other cutting edge super-hero books of the day; books like The Ultimates and Wildcats.

THE CHARACTERS STRYKER (a.k.a. Morgan Stryker) - A former major in the Special Forces, Stryker is a cyborg who possesses three metallic arms and a cybernetic eye, as well as vast weapons training and a keen strategic mind. He’s the leader of our team, and the rest of the Strykeforce follows his lead without question ... usually. We’ll acknowledge that this isn’t the first Strykeforce that Stryker has led, but we’re not going to dwell on the book’s previous incarnation. Instead, we’ll just mention that things ended badly for the previous team, and Stryker doesn’t like to talk about it. Stryker is able to move around in civilian life by taking off his three cybernetic arms and wearing a patch over his robotic eye. This way, he looks like a veteran of one war too many – which, frankly, he is. CUTLASS (a.k.a. Amy Pearson) - The survivor of an alien abduction, Amy was returned to Earth with a souvenir of her experience – an alien sword, able to slice through any Earthly substance. Amy tried to do the sensible thing, and turn the

[© 2006 Top Cow]

62 | WRITE NOW

[© 2006 Top Co

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SECRET: AGENT MAN Mike Friedrich by

I

’m sometimes asked by aspiring comics writers how they can get an agent. When I tell them there are no comics writer’s agents, they are, understandably, surprised. Now, some comics and graphic novel writers who come in from other fields have agents, and some “literary” graphic novelists who are published by traditional book publishers have them. But for the in-thetrenches comics writer, the current method of obtaining and negotiating assignments is done directly writer-toeditor. About ten years ago, this was less often the case. There were a handful of writers’ agents. Mike Friedrich (having been a comics writer, pioneering publisher and retailing guru) was one of the most prominent. To find out why neither he—nor anyone else—is still doing it, and what that means for writers, read what Mike has to say in the article below…

I

—DF

was intrigued by the responses that 27 pros gave to the question in Write Now! #11 [the Professional Secrets issue] regarding the most important business advice they would give to an aspiring writer. A mere two of the pros used the word “agent” in their answers, which I found noteworthy inasmuch as I primarily made my living for over two decades as a business manager (aka “agent”) for comics professionals. Of the 27 quoted professionals, I did business in one way or another with over two-thirds of them. One was a client for a while, a few more were writers collaborating with artists I represented, many were editors who hired or chose not to hire my clients, and Stan Lee was my editor for a time when I was a writer for Marvel. And yet despite those years of personal interaction in talking about the business of writing comics, only two of 27 successful writers, editors, and executives used the word “agent.” I think that’s indicative right there that business representatives have always had a difficult role in comics writing. Of course I can only speak to my personal experiences and speculate as to reasons why this is so. What I can say, flat out, is that I was never successful representing writers, even though as a superhero writer myself for DC and Marvel, I made a special effort to do so. Whatever success I had was representing artists.

The Spectre #3, written by Mike Friedrich—his first published comics story. Cover art by Neal Adams. [© 2006 DC Comics]

Let’s look at possible reasons why a business rep might make sense for a comics writer: sales and marketing; contract negotiating; contract enforcement. As everyone who reads this magazine knows, marketing and selling one’s writing is an excruciating job, especially so when one is starting out, or later on when one is typecast as old hat and all the editors are seemingly half one’s age. In-between, if you’ve become established, there is the opposite problem, of having far more opportunities than even the most prolific scripter can handle. In the first two instances, I found that, while I could market a new artist’s work literally at a glance, it took a tremendous amount of time, effort and expense to get writers the editorial eyeball time they needed to gain assignments and get ahead. In a high percentage of cases, the effort would not pan out, and the few successes did not pay me enough to make up for all the MIKE FRIEDRICH | 65


AND DON T FORGET TO BUY MYMarcNOVEL Bilgrey N I

ot much for me to say by way of introduction since Marc gives you all the background you need. Read and learn…

by

—DF

’m writing this article in the hope that maybe it’ll help or inspire someone. I know that when I was starting out as a writer I loved to hear other writer’s experiences and I still do. What I’m going to tell you about is how I wrote my new novel, a humorous fantasy called, And Don’t Forget to Rescue the Princess: why I wrote it, and how I sold it. I’ll also discuss the differences between writing prose and other forms. In order to give you some context, first I need to mention a little about my background. I began my writing career by performing stand-up comedy I’d written for myself. I did this until I started writing for other comedians, then magazines, nationally syndicated comic strips and eventually, for TV as well. How did all this writing come about? I had gotten to know people through performing, which led to assignments. During this period I didn’t have an agent. Looking back now, I realize what I was doing was right, though I didn’t know it then. I was doing the two things that I believe are crucial for success, not just in writing, but in any career. I was developing my craft, meaning writing a lot, and I was being social. I was putting myself in environments where I met people, and making real friends. Now they call it “networking.” I thought I was just hanging around. These two things—developing your craft and being social—can’t be stressed enough. One without the other is like trying to create water using just the H without the 2 O. If you’re the greatest writer in the world and you isolate in a small cabin on a tiny island, chances are that you’ll have piles of unsold work. I know because I did just that for a while. I had a romantic notion that I needed complete solitude. I moved out of New York City for some years to a remote little cabin in the middle of nowhere. I wrote a lot, since there was nothing else to do, but I vanished from the civilized world. Some people even thought I’d died. Needless to say, being dead may not be the best thing you can do for your career. It was during this time that I went from writing monologues, jokes, movie scripts, plays, comic strips and panel cartoons, all of which are essentially dialogue driven (or spoken) to writing short stories and then novels. It’s been said that movies are about action, TV is about plot, plays are about dialogue, but novels (and short stories) are about thoughts and feelings. And to a certain

extent that’s true. Obviously, a novel or a short story must have action and a plot and all the other elements that make it readable and entertaining, but in a novel you can go so much deeper than in the other forms. Novels allow for more detail, description, and nuance. You can create a character’s moods, emotions, psychology, philosophy and history, in ways that no other medium will allow. At a certain point I realized that everything I’d been writing was a blueprint for something else that required other people. Jokes required a comedian to tell them, scripts (either plays or movies) required actors and directors. Only novels and short stories required no one but me. When I finish writing a novel or short story it’s in its final form. It doesn’t have to be turned into anything, and it doesn’t need collaborators. And novels and short stories aren’t subject to changes by other people (except one’s editor). Scripts I’ve written were changed by actors; some cartoonists I’ve worked for rewrote my material to the point where I didn’t even recognize it when it was published. But with a novel, you write the dialogue, you build the sets, design the clothing, light it, direct it, even do the make-up. Don’t get the wrong idea, I think my novel And Don’t Forget to Rescue the Princess, would make a wonderful film, but it doesn’t need or have to be a film. It already exists as a complete work. The good part is, if you like it, I MARC BILGREY | 69


Write Now #13