INSIDE: SPIDER-MAN WRITERS’ ROUNDTABLE!
In the USA
#January 14 2007
A POINTED POINTED INTERVIEW INTERVIEW WITH WITH A
STAN LEE TODD McFARLANE J.M. STRACZYNSKI PETER DAVID MILLAR && McNIVEN'S McNIVEN'S MILLAR MARVEL CIVIL CIVIL WAR WAR MARVEL SCRIPT && PENCILS PENCILS SCRIPT
COVER ART ©2006 ALEX MALEEV
JIM STARLIN STARLIN JIM JOHN OSTRANDER OSTRANDER JOHN
The Magazine About Writing For Comics, Animation, and SCI-FI
M AG A Z I N E Issue #14
Read Now! Message from the Editor-in-Chief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 2
The State of the Bendis Interview with Brian Michael Bendis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 3
SPECIAL 45th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION: SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE Amazing, Spectacular, Ultimate Q &A with great SpiderWriters past and present, including:
Stan Lee, Brian Michael Bendis, Tom DeFalco, Roger Stern, Todd McFarlane, and many more . . . . . . . . . .page 27
DANNY FINGEROTH Editor-In-Chief
Not A Platypus or The Rebirth of Mystery in Space Jim Starlin documents the winding road he traveled to get his current DC cosmic project approved . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 47
Just The Facts, Ma’am: Secrets of Non-Fiction Comics Scriptwriting Fred Van Lente explains how you can create non-fiction comic books and takes you behind the scenes of his acclaimed Action Philosophers series . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 55
Adapting To the Cinematic Sandbox Lee Nordling explains the realities of how movies are made from comic books . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 67
Feedback Letters from Write Now! ’s Readers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 71
Cover art and coloring by
ALEX MALEEV Managing Editor
ERIC FEIN Designer
RICH FOWLKS Transcriber
STEVEN TICE Circulation Director
BOB BRODSKY, SEASTONE MARKETING GROUP Publisher
Nuts & Bolts Department Script to Pencils to Finished Comic: CIVIL WAR #1 Pages by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 17
Script to Pencils to Inks: MYSTERY IN SPACE #1 Pages from “Eschatology,” starring Captain Comet, by Jim Starlin and Shane Davis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 52
Script to Finished Comic: ACTION PHILOSOPHERS Pages from the series by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey . . .page 62
Special Thanks To:
THE SPIDER-WRITERS!! And… BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS ALISON BLAIRE TOM BREVOORT BOB BRODSKY KIA CROSS RYAN DUNLAVY RICH FOWLKS CHRIS IRVING ALEX MALEEV BRANDON MONTCLARE ERIC NOLENWEATHINGTON ADAM PHILIPS CHRIS POWELL BEN REILLY BOB SCHRECK ALEX SEGURA JIM STARLIN VARDA STEINHARDT MICHAEL SWANSON FRED Van LENTE STEVEN TICE 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:firstname.lastname@example.org All characters are TM & © their respective companies. All material © their creators unless otherwise noted. All editorial matter © the respective authors. Editorial package is ©2007 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.
ARTICLE NAME | 1
the state of the bendis:
THE BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS INTERVIEW Conducted via telephone by Danny Fingeroth 10-23-06 Transcribed by Steven Tice
DANNY FINGEROTH: When we first spoke, which was almost five years ago, you were at the beginning of your mainstream success. It’s five years later, and you’re still riding this incredible wave. Did you think you still would be back then? BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: No, no. I’m too show biz savvy, pop culture knowledgeable, not to know that you either get a two-year shelf life or you get to ride maybe a little longer. So, yeah, this is much more than I had hoped I would get. But I’m thrilled to bits and I take it very seriously, and I don’t take it for granted. But, no, this is way more. DF: I’ll flatter you by saying it’s because of your talent, but do you see any other explanation? BMB: Well, I appreciate that, but, as I just mentioned, I’m pop culture savvy enough to know that talent has very little to do with it. There’s a lot of talented people and there’s a lot better writers out there than myself, and it’s very amazing for me. DF: So is there anything you would attribute it to, or is that too much of a superstitious question to even ask about? BMB: It’s hard to say. The one thing I’ll pat myself on the back about is, I seem to be a little more business savvy than some people I’ve met in this business, both older and younger than myself. I do ascribe that to my wife’s
Photo by Alex Maleev.
rian Michael Bendis has become so prominent in the comics writers world, it’s hard to believe that he’s only been in the “mainstream” for about six years. After nine years of steadily increasing success in the indy world on his creator-owned titles such as Jinx, Goldfish, and Torso, he was hired by Todd McFarlane to write the Sam & Twitch minseries and soon found himself launching the then-controversial Ultimate Marvel line. Brian is still the writer (after over 100 issues!) of Ultimate Spider-Man, and has also become a mover and shaker in the regular Marvel Universe, writing often-controversial titles like Alias, New Avengers and The Illuminati. His and Mike Oeming’s indy noirsuperhero series, Powers, is still going strong and is now a part of Marvel’s Icon line. Brian’s jinxworld.com website is a vibrant hub of discussion about comics. He is also active as a creator of movies, TV and computer games, but his first love and loyalty is comics. I first interviewed Brian, back in 2002, for the premiere issue of Write Now!, and he, Oeming and Powers were the subjects of WN #6’s “In Depth” look at the series. Now, we check in with Mr. B again, to get his take on comics writing and a host of other topics in 2007 and beyond. —DF savviness. And also, I learn as many lessons as I can from those who came before me and study them very carefully. That is one of the reasons I love almost everything TwoMorrows publishes, because of that, because it’s right there, it’s accessible, and people are very honest about their place in the world, and you do study it and think about repeating their mistakes and making your own new ones. DF: What mistakes do you think you’ve avoided? BMB: There’s a sense of entitlement that seems to come over people when they get a book that sells, whatever gets into the top ten for whatever generation. Once you have a top book, there seems to be a royal entitlement. And I do not have that in me. I just don’t have that in me at all. I get almost neurotic about people spending $2.99 on a book that I wrote, and I take it very seriously, and that never goes away at all. And I do see that that does get across to a lot of people, even people who beat the h*ll out of me online. No one says I’m lazy. DF: No one could ever accuse you of that. BMB: So I take it very seriously, and I think people respond well to the fact that they know that I’m not using comics as a stepping stone, I don’t have an agenda other than to entertain and provoke and do something worth buying. BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS | 3
DF: You’ve anticipated a question of mine. You’re clearly not a guy who’s using comics as a stepping stone, because you could have stepped if that was your intent. Why haven’t you? BMB: Because, well, I’ve gotten a taste, I have gotten to write a couple of movies—I just wrote one recently—and I’ve gotten to work on television shows. I worked on the MTV Spider-Man show, which is a perfect example. See, when I was offered the show, I actually didn’t even understand that I was going to be working on the staff of the show. I was offered to write the pilot. I was writing the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, and it’s the greatest job I’d ever had in my life. It’s completely fulfilling on every conceivable level. So I figured that writing the TV show in addition would be twice as good. And when I started working on the show, immediately it was not fun. I would, literally, have a meeting where the executive would say, “Why does it have to be a spider?” And he wasn’t joking! And the movie was already out! And I’m like, “No, seriously, what’s the meeting about?” And then I find out that that was really what the meeting was about! And then you find out this is not as fun or–”fun” sounds immature—as inspiring and as fulfilling as working on the comic book. There’s this false thing that floats out there that movies and television are better than comics. And they’re not at all. In fact, there’s a lot of arguments that say that comics are five years ahead of every pop culture curve that has come our way. Whatever’s going on in comics, five years later happens in movies. I remember some executive telling me when I was working on the show and I was frustrated with some lines getting dropped or whatever, and he said, “Well, you know, in television, if you get forty percent of your script on-screen, it’s considered a success.” And I was like, “Wow! No wonder all of TV sucks.” Not that everyone ever thought it was genius, but you’re shooting for forty percent? You’re aiming for it? How about aim for a hundred? Which has never occurred. I mean, it was just so frustrating. And then I realized, oh, yeah. You get spoiled. Even though you’re working for a big corporation, Marvel Comics, every word you write gets on the page. Everything you write. You know, if I f*ck it up, it’s me who did it—not some faceless producer or whatever whose name no one knows. DF: And comics get out to the world much quicker. BMB: Yeah, it’s immediate and it’s visceral, and there’s a lot to be said for that. And that’s why you see so many television and film people actually coming towards us more than we’re coming towards them. DF: It’s been a remarkable thing. BMB: A lot of us in comics and TV and movies are friends and we put it out there, “Boy, every word I write gets seen by the public.” That’s an intoxicating feeling, especially for people who have been frustrated that a whopping forty percent of their work is seen on screen. And they come to comics and they have a blast. The double edge is that I love movies and I love great television, even though you can count the number of good television shows on one hand. 4 | WRITE NOW
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series ran for 13 episodes in 2003 on MTV. [Spider-Man character TM & © 2006 Marvel Characters. Spider-Man Series © 2006 Adelaide Productions, Inc.]
DF: You’re doing comics and you’re doing the other stuff, as well. BMB: Yeah, I’ll do the other stuff, but I’m very, very picky, and I don’t hustle there. I wait until stuff happens. And also, because of the nature of the beast, like, my graphic novel, Jinx, just got sold. But from now on, I don’t sell it unless I’m the writer. Mike Oeming and I sold Powers to Sony and I wasn’t the writer, and they offered enough money where we could justify it. Plus, we were both just coming up and couldn’t afford to turn down the money. But the scripts that were being handed in just weren’t filmable. And they were by good writers, they just weren’t getting it, you know? They were writing superhero scripts instead of cop drama. And it took them five years to realize that they were on the wrong genre. And so, from now on, we don’t sell anything where I’m not the writer. And also, my comics success has allowed me to side-step a lot of the screenwriting ladder. Like, now I write major motion pictures. DF: Is that Jinx that you just wrote, or something else? BMB: That was Jinx, and I know the thing went well. I just found out this week. I’ve had other times when people tell me they love a script that they were lying right to my face. But when they offer you another job...
DF: That’s the meaningful compliment, right? BMB: Right. Now I got offered a couple of gigs, one from the studio I wrote Jinx for. It’s like, “Ohhhh, okay. This is what lying isn’t.” You have to feel the other thing before you realize that. I’ve actually been invited to the Jinx meetings. I know that’s a miracle. DF: It’s like that in comics, too. The ultimate compliment is, “Here’s the next gig.” BMB: Exactly! But, you know, they lie to you in Hollywood with such blank-faced verve. You know, it’s on a whole other level. No one in comics has the ability to lie to you like film people can lie to you. I’m not used to it. When someone looks me in the eye and says “great job,” I figure I’ve seen the truth. DF: No, no. There’s always quotes around it. BMB: So I’ve learned. DF: They might even think it’s a great job, it’s just not what they or their boss want. BMB: Yeah. Or they’re speaking some kind of code. DF: There’s that saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad meeting in Brian first rose to comic Hollywood.” book prominence as the BMB: Mm-hm, that’s writer and artist of such right. That’s right. That’s crime noir series as another thing, too. In Jinx and Goldfish. Hollywood, there’s an [© 2006 Brian Michael Bendis] inordinate need to have meetings. They’re just so full of meetings so they can justify their jobs, and I really would rather just work. I need to go out there for Jinx and Powers and a couple other things, so I cram two days full of meetings, and we do all those meetings, and my manager distills down the ones that are b*llsh*t and he just gets rid of them. Because I just don’t want any more “get-to-know-ya’s.” Every moment away from my child has to be meaningful, so I need get out of L.A. real fast. DF: Is that why you don’t live in L.A. or New York, to keep a distance like that? BMB: I love New York. I would rather live in New York than L.A. I would never want to live in L.A. I totally despise the place. People just living off of other people’s fear and distrust. And it’s such a damn power play, and I know it’s kind of a cliché, but I’ve actually seen very talented friends of mine who are out there for a long period of time, and
you realize they’re being preyed upon, and you go, “Dude, dude, dude, dude! Cheer up! You’re doing really well!” But you can’t possibly do well enough out there. You go to a party and say, “Oh, I’ve got a show.” And the other person says, “You mean a show in development. Not such a big deal.” They just smack you down. They can’t be happy for you. It’s impossible. So I wouldn’t live there for a second. DF: But New York…? BMB: New York I like, but I think actually, in this day and age, it’s actually a plus not to live in New York. If Marvel saw me every day, I think I’d be out of work. I think it’s nice that they rarely ever see me. I think it makes them like me more. DF: Yeah, it makes you exotic.
BMB: Yeah, exactly.
DF: Now, you are the comics establishment, or a big part of it, and closely aligned with Marvel. That must be a little weird, considering your indy roots. BMB: I guess it’s all about state of mind. I think about this a lot. I was talking to [Ultimates writer] Mark Millar, and we’ve kind of been connected at the hip by fate because we both broke in virtually the same week. We’re both completely different animals with completely different agendas, but we’ve talked about, “Okay, we’re here now. We get to stay, and I’m under contract for a while, so I’m guaranteed the work and whatever. So what are we going to do with it?” And I do think that being part of the establishment, if that’s the case, is to not forget how you got here. And I got here by a little indy comic p*ss and vinegar, and that’s still in me, that’s not squashed. Let’s build that up, and at the same time, what was the goal before I got here? Oh, yeah, comics excellence. Let’s do that. Make comics that we would buy. Every script I write, I sit there and I go, “Would I buy this?” And if I wouldn’t, I just toss it. It’s that simple. DF: You’ve gone from the Ultimate universe to the mainstream Marvel universe? Any difference in writing those two? BMB: Yeah, there is. There’s a lot of baggage in 616 [the original Marvel universe]. I’m writing the Illuminati series right now, and I’m purposely and gloriously retconning BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS | 5
As a special treat for DFWN’s readers, here are script and pencil art from Marvel’s Civil War #1, written by Mark Millar, with pencil art by Steve McNiven. (The printed comic pages are inked by Dexter Vines.) Civil War has turned the Marvel Universe on its head, as friend and family are pitted against each other, thanks to the Superhuman Registration Act.
[© 2006 Marvel Characters.]
CIVIL WAR | 17
It’s the job of the artist to translate the writer’s directions into appropriate art. Notice the art direction for panel one: “Close on Cap, moody and eyes narrowed.” Now look at the first panel of pencils and notice how McNiven has chosen to tilt Cap’s head down slightly and to show the tension in Cap’s neck muscles. This gives him a more menacing attitude and adds tension to the panel. In this way, the penciler plays the role of “actor,” “director,” and “cinematographer.”
[© 2006 Marvel Characters.]
18 | WRITE NOW
In a major crossover event as big as Civil War, the writer and artist will have to coordinate their efforts with not only their editor, but with other writers and artists as well. Notice the note to the artist in panel 4. It lets the artist know that some of the characters he will have to draw have been designed by another artist— Howard Chaykin. If the note wasn’t there, McNiven could have reasonably assumed it was his job to design the “Cape-Killers.”
[© 2006 Marvel Characters.]
CIVIL WAR | 19
mazing (and Spectacular) as it may seem, Spider-Man debuted almost 45 years ago in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. Over the course of those years, the wall-crawler has had his comics exploits written by dozens, if not hundreds, of writers. All these folks took their lead from the character who was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back in 1962.
In honor of this occasion—not to mention the fact that there’s a third Spider-Man movie coming our way this spring—I decided to get together a virtual roundtable discussion of some of the greatest Spider-Man Writers of all time. I say “virtual” because I didn’t actually sit these folks down in one room. I asked them all (with one exception) the same dozen questions and am running their answers consecutively. So there’s no “cross-talking” as there no doubt would have been were all these writers in the same room. Most of the writers chose to answer the questions via e-mail, while two—Todd McFarlane and Brian Michael Bendis—decided they’d rather be interviewed by phone. And if a given Roundtabler doesn’t have an answer to a given question here…it’s because he or she chose not to answer it. Since yours truly had the honor of doing some Spider-Man writing over the years, I decided I’d also answer the questions—which explains why I’m both the interviewer as well as one of the panelists. As I mentioned above, there was one writer who got his own special set of questions. Needless to say, that was Stan Lee himself. I couldn’t really ask him what it felt like taking over a character with a legacy like Spidey’s—since Stan was responsible for so much of that legacy! So while some of the questions the other writers answered are relevant for Stan, it was a no-brainer that he’d need a bunch of his own unique ones, too. His incredible responses lead off the section, and then we take off with the other writers’ answers. There’s a webful of fascinating and insightful information in the pages that follow. So…read on and enjoy!
Danny Fingeroth Editor-in-Chief
WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE
WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE
SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE
WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE WRITE NOW! SPIDER-MAN WRITERS ROUNDTABLE
SPIDER-MAN ROUNDTABLE | 27
STAN LEE ON SPIDEY
him a grad student. Later we had him get married—or maybe it was earlier, I can’t quite remember. I’d have eventually had MJ get pregnant, also. However, Martin Goodman, the publisher, didn’t want him to age in real time so that put a stop to it.
DANNY FINGEROTH: What’s the hardest thing about writing Spider-Man? STAN LEE: To me, the most difficult thing was coming up with different villains and different threats to the superhero Spidey—and to Peter Parker as a young, troubled man.
DANNY: Do you identify with Spidey more than (or differently from) other characters you’ve written? STAN: Not really. I identify with each and every one of them, all in different ways, of course.
The Man himself leads things off with his thoughts about chronicling the wall-crawler’s adventures…
DANNY: What’s the most fun about writing Spider-Man? STAN: The dialogue, always the dialogue. I got a kick out of adding gags, wisecracks and, of course, whatever dramatic, hopefully memorable speeches I could come up with, although I never quite topped the Gettysburg Address. DANNY: Once Spider-Man became a hit, did you feel you had to treat the character differently than you had when you thought that “no one was looking”? STAN: Nope. I always wrote everything the same way, whether I thought it was a hit or not. Of course, if it wasn’t a hit, I might have experimented more and tried to change the style a bit, but with Spidey there was no need to ever do that. DANNY: You had Spider-Man graduate from high school in pretty much “real time.” Was it your intention that the character age in real time—that he’d get a year older every year? When did you realize you couldn’t do that anymore? STAN: Yeah, I thought it would be great to have him age in real time. I never really knew that it couldn’t be done. You may recall, after high school I put him in college and then after he’d been there for a few years I made
28 | WRITE NOW
DANNY: Who’s your favorite Spider-Man villain, and why? STAN: I’m really not good at picking favorites. I love ‘em all or I wouldn’t have done them. But if I have to pick one, I guess it might be Doc Ock because I thought his tentacles were a real original concept, although I also liked Sandman and Kraven and Lizard—aw, forget it! There’s no way I can just pick one! DANNY: What are you proudest of that you’ve done on Spider-Man? STAN: The fact that we managed to inject some humor and a considerable amount of realism into a superhero series. DANNY: Would you ever want to write a regular Spider-Man series or limited series/ graphic novel again? Where it all began: Stan and STAN: Probably not. Steve Ditko introduced Perhaps an occasional Spider-Man to the world in special issue— Amazing Fantasy #15. Cover preferably one with by Jack Kirby and Ditko. a humorous angle— [© 2006 Marvel Characters.] but to do a series, whether limited or not, would be what I did years ago, and I kind’a prefer to move forward in life rather than backtracking. DANNY: How is writing the Spider-Man newspaper strip different from writing the comic books?
STAN: The biggest difference is the pacing. As you can imagine, it’s tougher to tell a story in three panels a day than in twenty pages a month. Also, in syndicated strips there’s a terrible size constraint. There’s no way to draw any big, spectacular panels in the amount of space allotted to us. DANNY: What’s the appeal of Spider-Man that’s made him so popular for so long? STAN: I think the realistic quality about Spidey makes it easy for readers to empathize with him and, as you know, empathy is one of the most important qualities in a fictional character. DANNY: If you could meet Spider-Man, what would you like to ask or tell him? STAN: In case nobody has told you, Spider-Man is a fictitious character. It’s not likely that I’ll ever meet him. I really don’t spend time wondering what I’d ask or tell Robin Hood, or Sherlock Holmes or James Bond. It’s a full-time job just thinking of what to tell the people I work with day after day. DANNY: Is there anything you’d like to say about writing Spider-Man not covered by my questions? STAN: ‘Fraid not, Danny. You seem to have covered everything. Well, actually, there is one thing! I can’t understand why people think J. Jonah Jameson is sort-of a villain— especially since I modeled him after my loveable self. Stan Lee co-created the Marvel pantheon of characters including—in addition to Spider-Man—the X-Men, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. His Sci-Fi Channel series, Who Wants to Be a Superhero?, was the TV hit of the season, and will be returning soon with 10 new episodes! Now that we’ve heard from The Man, let’s hear what the rest of the roundtable has to say about he wallcrawler… DANNY FINGEROTH: What made you want to write Spider-Man (besides being offered the gig)? BRIAN BENDIS: I am Peter Parker. There is no character I have to do less work to get me excited than Peter Parker. And also, every wound from high school is as fresh as if it happened yesterday. And I’m moved by the philosophy. “With great power comes great responsibility” is something you can live by. GERRY CONWAY: I was a fan from about issue #6 – it was a dream assignment, the fulfillment of a childhood (and maybe childish?) ambition. Also, I kind of identified with Peter Parker. PETER DAVID: Who wouldn’t want to write Spider-Man? He’s Marvel’s flagship character, he’s the everyman of the superhero community, and he’s quite possibly the single best character ever to come out of Stan Lee’s imagination. His appeal is limitless, and there’s just so many directions you can go with him. TOM DeFALCO: While I was always a fan of Spider-Man, I never planned or wanted to write him. I had done a fill-in, a few guest star appearances and a few issues of Marvel
Stan meets Spider-Man in—appropriately enough—Stan Lee Meets Spider-Man #1. [© 2006 Marvel Characters.]
Team-Up and I struggled to get his voice right. In those days, a character had a particular voice and it was the writer’s job to replicate that voice. I thought Roger Stern had done a great job and I was totally intimidated when Danny Fingeroth asked me to follow Rog. In fact, the assignment scared me so much that I knew I had to take it. J.M. DeMATTEIS: To be honest, in the beginning—and I started my acquaintance with Spider-Man with a lengthy, and fairly mundane, run on Marvel Team-Up—it really was the gig. I liked Spider-Man as a character...who doesn’t?...but, at that point in my career I would have been thrilled to take anything that was offered to me. “Wanna write Millie The Model?” “Cool!” Of course Spider-Man was one of the Great Marvel Icons and that was a treat. It was only in writing the character that I came to really love Spider-Man. Peter Parker is the most wonderfully complex, and wonderfully human, character in any superhero universe. It’s a case of becoming a bigger fan of the character as a professional than I was as a reader. DANNY FINGEROTH: I had been editor of the Spider-Man line and had gained an appreciation of the character I actually didn’t have as a kid, when my favorites were the FF, Captain America, Iron Man, and Daredevil. With my enhanced appreciation of the character, I thought I could contribute something to his universe. SPIDER-MAN ROUNDTABLE | 29
HOWARD MACKIE: Getting to write Spider-Man was a dream job. I, like everyone else working in comics at the time, grew up reading those Lee/Ditko and then Lee/Romita issues. Spider-Man was comic books as far as I was concerned. He was a guy I could identify with or at least hope to be like, and had powers that were way cool. But…and isn’t there always a but? I really did not want to write Spider-Man when I started writing comic books. If you remember correctly I was a reluctant member of the SpiderMan writing family at best. The Ghost Rider comic book had taken off, and gotten me some attention as a writer, and you (the editor of Web of Spider-Man) were in a jam and I agreed to take on Web for a short time as I began my freelance career. Writing the adventures of Spider-Man just seemed to be aiming too high too fast. So I wrote Web for a while, and then decided I was way too busy with Ghost Rider and decided to quit. I did. Then I left staff. And you immediately offered me adjectiveless Spider-Man. And for some unknown reason I said yes. The reality is... who could really have said no? Aside from getting to work with one of the greatest editors in the business... it was SPIDER-MAN!!!! TODD McFARLANE: As an artist, I was getting to the point where I was seeing if I could actually write stories for myself that I wanted to draw.
Lee-Ditko magic on page 16 of Amazing Spider-Man #27. [© 2006 Marvel Characters.]
30 | WRITE NOW
AL MILGROM: Oh, please. Who, aspiring to a career in comics books, wouldn’t want to write the adventures of one of the greatest characters ever created? He was a revolutionary character and he, along with several other of the ’60s characters I loved, literally changed the course of my life! I was becoming tired of the DC stuff and was just on the verge of “outgrowing” comics altogether when the Marvel stuff started to trickle out. Like Pacino’s character in Godfather III, just when I thought I was out they pulled me back in. Spidey’s comics ultimate “everyman.” If you’re a human, you can imagine what you’d do if you had superpowers and gain insight into the character. DENNY O’NEIL: Well, actually…I did it because my boss asked me to. I think I was happy to get the assignment, but I don’t remember going after it. LOUISE SIMONSON: Spider-Man was always my favorite of the classic Marvel heroes. I loved the fact that as Spider-Man he won...and as Peter Parker, that usually meant a loss. I guess it was the irony of his situation... Also, it was fun to work with you as the editor. ROGER STERN: Well, I’d been reading Spider-Man stories ever since high school, and he’d always been my single favorite Marvel hero. But actually, I’d really never expected to wind up writing him. That seemed too far-fetched to me, even after I lucked into a job in comics. Looking back, one of the earliest things I wrote for Marvel was a ten-page framing sequence for a treasury edition holiday special. Just about every major Marvel character turned up in those ten pages — and I should probably retroactively apologize to George Tuska for asking him to draw all of that — so, of course, Spider-Man had his cameo. At the time, I thought that would probably be my one shot with the character. Then, about three and a half years later, Denny [O’Neil] offered me the assignment to write The Spectacular Spider-Man. And I still had to spend about a day thinking about it. The idea of writing one of the Spider-Man books on a regular basis was pretty intimidating, but I’m really glad that I decided to go for it. Writing Spider-Man turned out to be one of the most satisfying assignments I ever had. Plus, there was the added benefit that just about everyone had heard of the character. Shortly after I started writing comics, a teller at my bank was impressed that my paycheck was issued by Marvel Comics. But when I told him I was writing Guardians of the Galaxy, he just gave me a blank look. Later, whenever I told people that I was writing Spider-Man, you could see their faces light up. Same thing with writing Superman. People think it’s the coolest job in the world. And they’re right! ROY THOMAS: Actually, I didn’t particularly want to write Amazing Spider-Man, much as I liked the character—and flattering as it was to become only the second person ever to write the character. When Stan told me he needed to take four months off from writing so he could script a screenplay with French New Wave director Alain Resnais. I preferred to write Fantastic Four...but Stan specifically asked me to write Spidey...and since I didn’t have time to add both books for several months, Archie Goodwin was given FF...although, as it turned out, I did end up writing one issue of FF in that period.
LEN WEIN: Are you kidding? I was being offered the chance to become the third regular writer (following Stan Lee and Gerry Conway and discounting a couple of fill-in issues by Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin) of the most important book in the Marvel Universe. Who says no to that? MARV WOLFMAN: Actually, that is precisely why I wrote it. I loved reading Spider-Man; I thought he was easily Marvel’s best single character, but I didn’t think I’d be able to duplicate the kind of dialogue Stan wrote. Back then, in the ’70s, we didn’t have the freedom to make wholesale changes in approach that writers do today, and Stan’s work on Spidey was personal, flowing out of his mind. I had wanted to write the Fantastic Four, but I was told by editor Archie Goodwin that if I wanted FF I had to take Spidey, too, because if I didn’t, he’d have to give it to another writer he didn’t want to give it to. I reluctantly took over the writing chores and discovered that I fell into writing Spider-Man. I had a better time writing him than any other book I was on save for Tomb of Dracula. FINGEROTH: Was there anything you consciously (or, in retrospect, unconsciously) set out to accomplish during your run on Spider-Man? BENDIS: I consciously was going for the [John] Romita, Sr. years. When I remember having this conversation with [Mark] Bagley, that’s the quintessential Spider-Man to us. That’s when the rules for Spider-Man were laid out pretty strong, and they were still kind of thinking about the Ditko years. That was the height of drama, fun, and superhero pathos put together. Unconsciously I really wanted to stay
employed. There’s a lot of mistakes that could be made, and I really didn’t want to f*ck it up. I just really didn’t want to be the guy who really made a mess of things. CONWAY: I just wanted to write the stories I would have wanted to read as a fan. DAVID: The intention, during my first run, was to write Spider-Man in a tone and style that hadn’t been done before: To give it a sort of “Hill Street Blues” feel. In fact, that’s why Owsley put the credits at the end as simple white against black background. DeFALCO: Yeah, I was determined to do the best I could, even though I was convinced I was going to screw up and humiliate myself. I soon realized that I could channel that fear of failure into the character. DeMATTEIS: With a character as multilayered as Peter Parker, it seemed natural (at least to me) to go for as many psychologically-driven stories as possible. I like to peel back the layers of a character, question the basic assumptions we all take for granted. Try to figure out why he does what he does. Find out what life circumstances, what stresses and traumas, pushed him to become the man he is. Looking back, I think the single thing I did best was to shine that same kind of light on the Spider-villains. I did some stories with Kraven, The Vulture, Mysterio, Elektro and, especially, Harry Osborn that I’m very proud of. I never saw any of the villains as “bad-guys.” In my mind, they were trying to do their best in difficult circumstances: they just made some horrendous choices along the way. We live in a world where people are forever trying to demonize “the other,” “the enemy,” “the evildoers.” Which means that, more than ever, we need stories that examine even the worst human behavior with compassion. I have to add that I also fell in love with the character of Aunt May. I think I poked into some corners of her psyche that few others had. In fact, I loved the character so much, I killed her. But I hear that she recovered!
Aunt May came close to marrying Doc Ock in Amazing SpiderMan #130. Written by Gerry Conway, the art was by Ross Andru, with inks by Frank Giacoia and Dave Hunt. [© 2006 Marvel Characters.]
SPIDER-MAN ROUNDTABLE | 31
NOT A PLATYPUS:
THE REBIRTH OF MYSTERY IN SPACE
ast issue, writer-artist Jim Starlin showed us some cool script and art from his The Weird feature in Mystery in Space. This time around, Jim gives us the lowdown on how he got involved with MIS to begin with—including his reimagining of Captain Comet. Take it away, Jim… —DF All things evolve, figuratively going from single cell organism to plankton to fish to amphibian to mammal and eventually becoming their equivalent of either man or platypus. Businesses and business practices are no exception to this rule. In the comic book industry, evolution has made some huge leaps in the past couple of decades. Hand lettering and little old ladies sitting in a windowless office somewhere in New Jersey, separating comic book colors for publication, have evolved into much simpler operations done on computers. But I believe the greatest change has taken place in the area of how a comic book comes into being: the conception process. Now to establish my own bona fides, let me remind the reader that I have been in the biz since 1972 and enjoy a pretty successful career in the comic book industry. Today there are perhaps only a half a dozen other creators that have more collected volumes of their past work currently in print. So one would think that getting a comic book project off the ground wouldn’t be a problem for me. Well, you’d be wrong. Process is king. Back in ’72, after a run on Captain Marvel, I stopped by the Marvel Comic offices to speak to then editor Roy Thomas about my next project. At that meeting we decided I’d take a crack at another outer space oriented hero. That night I began penciling the first page of the Warlock series. But since then movie tie-ins and myriad merchandising deals have come into the equation. DC and Marvel Comics aren’t the small operations they once were. So let us now consider a new project I’m working on at DC: the revival of Mystery in Space. Warning: this tale will be strictly from my prospective, the freelance artist/writer point of view. I have made no attempt to fill in empty spaces in my knowledge by interviewing anyone up at DC about the following events. This is absolutely an exercise in subjective ignorance.
So to begin with, I was in the middle of the second volume of Kid Kosmos for Dynamite Entertainment and decided, once this graphic novel was done, that getting my name out there more broadly amidst the comic-book-buying public would be a wise career move. The best method for accomplishing this end would be taking on a job for either DC or Marvel Comics. There’s two ways one can set about gaining such employment. #1: You can phone overworked editors, most of whom are desperately trying to catch up with their deadlines, and leave a message on their answering units, to see if they’re interested in working with you on some project. What will probably then happen is said editor will write a note to remind him or herself to give you a call back. That note will then disappear beneath a mountain of late work and never be seen again. #2: You can go to a comic book convention, have a few drinks in the evening with fellow freelancers and editors and something may just rise out of this strange mix of camaraderie, reunion, alcohol, ego inflation and JIM STARLIN | 47
deflation, paranoia and confusion that is the after-con happy hours. I chose to take my shot at the Baltimore Comic Convention. But Dan DiDio and I actually connected up on the con floor rather than over a beer. I was looking for a job and he was interested in having me write this particular project he had in mind. A number of phone calls and a few weeks later, Dan and I mutually agreed I wasn’t right for the abovementioned project after all. But we’d meet at the Philly Con in a couple of weeks and talk possibilities. That’s when MIS came into the picture. Right off the bat I got a good hit off Dan, could see that he appreciated writing. This is something not all comic book folk take into honest consideration. What has good writing got to do with a visual medium? Dan told me DC had plans to revive Mystery in Space with Adam Strange. Mr. DiDio wanted the character jazzed up in some new way. I was hooked. As a kid I spent many a transit vacation hour in the back of the family station wagon, enjoying Covers to issues #1 and 2 of Adam’s quirky adventures and studying Jim’s Kid Kosmos, which is a the breathtaking art of direct continuation of his Carmine Infantino and Cosmic Guard series. [© 2006 Jim Starlin] Murphy Anderson. Yes, this was a project I could and would get obsessive about. But then Dan laid the bombshell on me. Mystery in Space would be linked to DC’s next big crossover miniseries, 52. I tried to conceal the horror this revelation stirred within me. Now if you’ve been in the business for any length of time, you know that coming in on a job that is connected to a crossover is very similar to leaping through the window of a fast moving train without jostling any of your fellow passengers. I’d been involved with many of them over the years and can assure you that, as far as freelancers are concerned, there are only two types of crossovers: the annoying hassle crossover and the total disaster crossover. The upside was that we’d be working nearly a year ahead of schedule on Mystery in Space and 52 could work around and with what we did in our project. I’m 48 | WRITE NOW
absolutely certain Dan believed this to be true when he assured me that things on this project would go smoothly. And I, optimistic fool that I am, wanted to believe. So I proceeded to begin revamping Adam Strange, even though I hadn’t yet seen all of what Andy Diggle and Pascaul Ferry were currently doing with the character. Those books eventually caught up with me and I was filled in on what would happen in the Rann-Thanagar War [limited series]. I adjusted my synopsis accordingly and by the time I polished it up, I was quite proud of my Adam Strange proposal. Our hero would be going in a radically new and complex direction. This would be an Adam Strange no one had ever before seen. Of course by now you realize this is also an Adam Strange no one will ever see. But I’ll get back to that. Experience had taught me that for a project to survive at either of the major comic book companies it needed a paladin— a champion—within the community. Yes, I said community. For each of the majors is very much like a small village in the middle of Manhattan, populated by real and fictional folk, who have their own game agendas and insecurities. Yes, Dan DiDio had started the wheels rolling on Mystery in Space, but I knew the man currently had several dozen different plates spinning at the end of different sticks. Mystery in Space desperately needed an editor to assure it didn’t get lost in the shuffle. Once again a comic book convention proved the solution, this time in Barcelona, Spain. Bob Schreck and I had never worked together but had run into each other many times at cons. I knew his rep as a professional. It was solid. Now working with an editor is one of those strange relationships you just can’t easily describe in print. A good editor knows the territory and can subtly guide you to fruition without yanking the steering wheel from your hands. I’ve worked with some of the best, like Archie Goodwin and Roy Thomas. I’ve also worked with the other end of the spectrum.
Page 1 Splash Panel: We start off Comet (in his new outfit andwith a street scene set on Hardcore Station, in the residentia futuristic -looking apartment looking like a very fit twenty-something,) has just walk l district. building and is being set upon ed out of a Captain Comet clones who work by for the Eternal Light Corporatifive assailants. Shane, these are the monks. on. I’ll refer to them as the hood ed There’s no design yet for these because you’ll be drawing them character’s outfits so I’m going to be leaving that job feel about them. Their heads before me. They should look dark and mysterious withup to you, should be fully covered with hood a cleric s with eye cut outs. Good luck. al Two of the hooded monks are grab bing Comet by the arms. Another hero looks pained but is resis is mind blasting Comet. Our toward Comet, holding a psyc ting this assault. A fourth hooded monk is walking on it. The last hooded monk ishic restraint headband. This is just a headband with a circumenacingly itry design hovering in the air above the attac k, supervising. Maybe have a small robot hove ring in the air nearby, silently witnessing this incident. Logo: Title:
Jim Starlin Colorist ?
Asst. Editor Editor Brandon Montclare Bob Schreck Cap1: Muggings on the stree ts of Hardcore Station are, unfo rtunately, quite common. Cap2: But getting assaulted by five telepaths with super stren gth is something to take special note of. Cap3: For one thing, there aren ’t all
that many of us psychics arou nd. Cap4: Telepaths that can benc h press a Buick? Until ten seco nds ago I was pretty certain I it. was Cap5: Lots of questions and no time
[© 2006 DC Comics]
52 | WRITE NOW
Here are some of Jim Starlin’s script (“full script,” with the art and dialogue done at the same time) and Shane Davis’s pencils for the first couple of pages of Captain Comet in Mystery in Space #1. (The finished pages are inked by Dexter Vines.) The art differs from the script in several ways, while still telling the intended story. Here, on page one of the story, Davis—with clearance from writer and editor—came in close for a dramatic full-page splash. Many of the details Jim asks for in the script aren’t revealed until the next page and beyond.
Page 2 , aining him on the previous pageis one of the monks, that were restr Comet Panel 1: Comet is now flippingband device. Crash! The other monk that was holdingdriving him into the monk holding the headhis waist. Comet is hitting him with a telekinetic blast, now sunk into the street, up to k on the ground is rushing toward Comet, as if to attack. downward. The remaining mon down. dead serious about taking me Cap1: Because these guys were space. thing brea ht me about a half second of Cap2: A little leverage boug ies into the street, that these badd I was telekinetically driving Cap3: I could tell, from the creepcle department. mus outclassed me in the with k, but his assault is being met g to mind blast the rushing mon een Comet Panel 2: Comet is now tryin k. The mental forces are slamming into each other, betw another mind blast from the mon ay. and the monk. Spectacular displ level, it looked like... Cap4: But on a pure psychic et is was battling is collapsing, Com test of wills. The monk he took down, getting Panel 3: Comet has won the can see the first two monks he we et Com nd Behi . blast mind besting him with a to their feet. up on them. Cap5: I had a bit of an edge ng metal plate (6 ft. x 6 ft.) is rippi of ing at a nearby wall, where a large getting up. Show some kind were Panel 4: Comet is now point that ks mon two the mind into his telekinetic powers. The k is free of its setting and slamming Mon et’s head to indicate he’s using emanation coming from Comshould have distinctly different looks to them. The hovering rs powe inetic blasts and telek now heading toward Comet. ’s length and take them out to keep them further than arm Cap6: So the game plan was A.S.A.P.
For page 2 of the story, Jim provided a basic page layout to show how he envisioned the 4-panel page in his script looking. Shane had some other ideas for how to tell the story and submitted two different thumbnail sketches of his vision of the page for Jim and editor Bob Schreck to see. [© 2006 DC Comics]
JIM STARLIN | 53
JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM:
SECRETS OF NONFICTION COMICS SCRIPTWRITING W
Fred Van Lente
hile currently doing work for Marvel and Image, Fred Van Lente’s also a prominent voice in the indy comics world. Here, Fred has taken the time to talk about some of his own experiences—and what you can learn about them. —DF PART ONE: The Truth About Nonfiction Comics— and Me. Go into the average bookstore. Go on, I’ll wait. Pay attention to how much surface area is devoted to what topics in the store: there is usually one fairly large section for “fiction and literature.” But the majority of the store is taken up by genres in the nonfiction category: Science, Nature, Travel, Gay and Lesbian Interest, Cooking, Philosophy, Religion, Judaica, Current Events, African-American Interest, History, Psychology… The list goes on and on. On the other hand, in the average comic book store you’ll find that the percentages are very much skewed in the reverse: Nonfiction makes up the smallest percentage of the available stock. If you discount the nonfiction about comics (or science fiction or video games, and related topics that could be labeled “Geek Interest”), that number drops down to a few stray titles.
Mostly, this is because, as I am sure I will shock exactly no one by asserting, what is usually referred to as the “comic book” Direct Market could be more accurately described as the “superhero market” or, even more accurately, as the “DC & Marvel Universe market.” Comics readers, no matter how sophisticated or interested in alternative books, generally started out as fans of one superhero or another and then “graduated” to other types of comics as time went on. (I’d include myself in that category.) So of course fiction, in the form of superhero comics, predominates. That said, however, the Direct Market, she is a changin’. As the mainstream publishing industry begins to embrace comics, the Direct Market is adopting more and more aspects of mainstream book publishing. A good indicator of that fact is the small but growing
market for nonfiction comics out there in Funnybookland. I discovered this myself quite by accident when I started self-publishing, with artist Ryan Dunlavey, my own nonfiction comic book series, Action Philosophers. Right off the bat I should underscore that when I refer to nonfiction comics I do not mean autobiographical comics. Ever since Harvey Pekar self-published his first issue of American Splendor back in the mid 1970s, autobiography has been one of the dominant forms of independent comics. Arguably the most famous graphic novel ever, Maus, is itself part autobiography (being as much about Spiegelman’s relationship with his father as it is a biographical account of his father’s wartime experiences). Joe Sacco’s celebrated journalism comics, Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, are as much travel journals of Sacco’s sojourns through war zones as they are reportage, so I’d stock them on the memoir shelf as well. VAN LENTE | 55
This distinction didn’t start with me: Most creative writing departments and writing contests/grants consider “literary nonfiction” to be a separate hybrid of the two dominant forms. The reason for this, I would suspect, is that the autobiography or memoir has more structurally in common with the novel or short story than with, say, a treatise on voting patterns in Sub-Saharan Africa. Memoirs and novels are both frequently dependent on characters, dialogue, and suspense to move their narratives along. Since the nonfiction writer does not have access to the thoughts of his subjects and is held to higher standards of evidence and proof, he can rarely employ the same bag of narrative tricks available to the fiction writer. (Though some writers, like Bob Woodward of All the President’s Men fame, flagrantly disregard this fact and write internal monologues for their real-life “characters,” this is highly controversial and generally a no-no for people who are not Bob-freakin’Woodward.) Unless one actually has credible transcripts of conversations on hand, for example, it is difficult if not impossible to include long passages of dialogue in a nonfiction work. Also, any narrative, fact or fiction, tends to have the same basic structure, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. By contrast, information in a nonfiction work is frequently organized in a non-sequential way: by, say, geographical origin, unity of concept, or some Steve Ellis’s covers for two other method. comics that he and Fred
co-created and which Fred
So, when I refer to wrote: Rightwing #44 and nonfiction comics, I mean The Silencers #1. those dealing with [Rightwing and The Silencers are both copyright the sciences and the © 2006 Fred Van Lente and Steve Ellis.] humanities: history, politics, philosophy, et cetera. And even though they’ve never been as popular as their make-believe counterparts, nonfiction comics–even as I’ve narrowly defined them above—have a long and venerable history in the medium, dating back to the Golden Age. In 1946, DC started publishing the rather redundantly titled Real Fact Comics (as opposed to Fake Fact Comics?), which ran a hodgepodge of factual features in each 52-page, bimonthly issue: “How a Movie Serial Is Made”; a biography of Annie Oakley; “Dog Training at Canine College.” Comics history given what it is, however, Real Fact is best remembered, bizarrely enough, for premiering DC’s first major space hero, Tommy Tomorrow, in its sixth issue (in “Columbus of Space”). Maybe Fake Fact Comics would have been the more accurate title. 56 | WRITE NOW
The cartoonist generally regarded as creating the first underground comic, God Nose, in 1964, signed his work under the pen name of “Jaxon,” but soon reverted to his real name, Jack Jackson, and as a writer and artist he is probably the greatest single creator of nonfiction comics ever—the Will Eisner or Jack Kirby of the field. The legendary chronicler of Texas history in such graphic works as Comanche Moon (Rip-Off Press, the company he co-founded, 1979), Los Tejanos (Fantagraphics 1982), Lost Cause (Kitchen Sink Press 1998), and Indian Lover (Mojo Press 1999) mixed exhaustive scholarship with a sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic visual that made a huge impression on Yours Truly as a teenager. Unfortunately, Jackson’s comics did not make much of an impression on the academic community. It was his first prose work of history, Los Mesteños: Spanish Ranching in Texas, that garnered him a pile of humanities awards, made him a Lifetime Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association and got him inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. It is a true tragedy that we will not get to see any more history comics from Jackson, as he has now passed into history himself. He was found just outside Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Stockdale, Texas, at the beginning of June this year, an apparent suicide. One practitioner of nonfiction comics who has spectacularly succeeded in penetrating the mainstream is Larry Gonick, a cartoonist who began serializing his Cartoon History of the Universe in 1977. While shopping around for a mainstream publisher, he was lucky enough to find an exceptionally formidable advocate: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, then an editor at Doubleday. Jackie O edited the book version of Universe and since then Gonick has produced, through a number of big-time book publishers, further installments, such as The Cartoon Guide to Physics (1994), to Genetics (1983), to Chemistry (2005), Computers (1991), Sex (1999), and many more. Rumor has it that the Cartoon Guide to Navel Lint is soon forthcoming. I should also mention the most successful nonfiction comic ever—which, perhaps predictably, is about comics—Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud’s delightful hybrid of art history, narrative theory and how-to-book. It’s still going strong now 12 years after its original publication by Tundra in 1994. I just checked and it’s currently #453 on the overall Amazon sales list. Four hundred fifty-three! Out of something like two million-plus titles Amazon offers! Pardon me while I go gnash my teeth in jealousy.
In the wake of the success of Understanding Comics, more and more creators have tried their hand at nonfiction comics. DC’s Paradox Press initiated its Big Book line of factoid anthologies with a Who’s Who of A-list comics talent, beginning in 1994 with The Big Book of Urban Legends. And there’s Mr. Science Comics, Jim Ottaviani, who through his company, G.T. Labs, has published five graphic novels, starting with Two-Fisted Science (1997), through his latest hit, Bone Sharps, Cowboys & Thunder Lizards (2005). Recently, the incomparable Kyle Baker has gotten into the act, self-publishing a four-part biography of slave rebel Nat Turner beginning in 2005. As for me, I had little interest in nonfiction comics beyond that of the casual reader; I fell into them as a creator entirely by accident. My artist buddy Ryan Dunlavey was planning on going to the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Maryland in 2001 and wanted to submit a story to their annual anthology. Ryan and I had been friends since college (Syracuse University–McCloud’s alma mater) and I had always admired his work, but we had never collaborated on a comic before. I somehow managed to talk him into letting me script his short story. I had been a veteran of several SPX’s past, always with my co-collaborator on comics like The Silencers (Image/Moonstone), artist Steve Ellis (another SU alum). Beginning with our first SPX in 1998, Steve and I created mini-comics that were parodies of different kinds of comics. We had written and drawn a parody superhero character called Rightwing, the rabidly right-wing conservative vigilante. The next year we showed up with a landscape pamphlet religious comic in the style of Jack Chick’s fundamentalist Christian tracts, except ours tried to convert people to the worship of Great Cthulhu. I decided to continue the tradition when I sat down to write a script for Ryan. One type of comic that I had yet to satirize was the little free comic booklets you’d get in action figure packages when I was kid, like GI Joe or Masters of the Universe. The theme for the SPX anthology that year was biography. I thought it would be amusing to imagine there was an action figure of controversial nihilist Friedrich Nietzsche, and that what Ryan and I were creating was the free bio comic that came with it. Thus the concept and first installment of Action Philosophers was born. Unfortunately, Destiny is a cruel mistress. Not only did the anthology people reject the Nietzsche story, but also the convention itself was cancelled that year because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But Ryan, showing the bulldog tenacity that strikes fear into the hearts of his many enemies, refused to give up on the AP concept. He submitted the Nietzsche story to a start-up comics magazine, Prophecy, which wanted to be an Onion-style free paper distributed in major metropolitan areas around the country, supported
Plato, Wrestling Superstar of Ancient Greece, leaps off the cover of Action Philosophers #1. Script: Van Lente. Art: Dunlavey [Action Philosophers © 2006 Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey].
by local advertising. It turned out that Prophecy’s editor had been a philosophy major in college. He loved the Nietzsche strip and commissioned more in the Action Philosophers series; Ryan and I gratefully complied and in the succeeding months produced two more AP strips, featuring Plato and the founder of Zen Buddhism, the Indian monk Bodhidharma. But Destiny was not done toying with us just yet. Prophecy’s funding fell through, sticking Ryan and I with an entire comic’s worth of strips and no publisher. We went out trying to find one, but all the major indy labels shot us down. It was actually Chris Staros of Top Shelf who recommended we apply to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird’s non-profit Xeric Foundation for a self-publishing grant (learn more about their fine work at http://www.xericfoundation.com), so we’ll always give a grateful tip of the hat to Chris for that. VAN LENTE | 57
ER(S) #19: ACTION PHILOSOPH ! THE PRE-SOCRATICS e Script by Fred Van Lent y. Van Lente & Ryan Dunlave Copyright © 2006 Fred
ONE story. I Socratics featured in this of all A gathering of all the PreFULL-PAGE SPLASH: a “class-picture” type shot do d coul You s… way of two g around a could see this going one e, and show them sittin rout ge oma ics-h com the 693) of them in rows. Or, go IETY. (Quote: Aristotle ting of the JUSTICE SOC table like this first mee sophy it on to match his philo l atic has a distinctive outf be found in their individua Regardless, each Pre-Socr can e renc refe re pictu ly accurate (links to more historical strips): a wet suit; • THALES wears a scub a fish head; e • ANAXIMANDER has on it and holds one of thos a beanie with a propeller • ANAXIMENES wears ; ered fans keeps hand-held battery-pow head (like Firestorm) that ling pyro with a flaming • HERACLITUS is a gigg n; agai over and more flicking a lighter over – not like the Thing, but like he’s made out of rock ”); EAD • PARMENIDES looks CKH “BLO a ally a look (he’s liter black of a petrified wood kind burnt to a crisp, so he’s into a volcano and got • EMPEDOCLES jumped t him is his eyes. abou le shab ngui disti thing and steaming—the only ers,” writes the first real “Of the FIRST philosoph thought CAPTION: y, ARISTOTLE, “MOST HISTORIAN of philosoph were of the nature of MATTER the principles which were s.” thing ALL of s ciple the ONLY prin no “META”-physics… The In other words, there was ed : TION CAP spiritual worlds all obey material, idealistic, and IDENTICAL laws! in the days before the Those theories prevailed CAPTION: mega-star philosopher, appearance of this first are ers that expounded them SOCRATES, so the think #19… ACTION PHILOSOPHER(S) known, collectively, as LOGO: CREDITS:
(by COMIC BOOK are STORY The dual principles of this Y)! ART (by RYAN DUNLAVE FRED VAN LENTE) and
Here are script and finished, lettered art from Action Philosophers #19. Fred writes detailed full scripts for artist and AP co-creator Ryan Dunlavey.
[Action Philosophers © 2006 Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey].
Providing reference for artists is often part of a comics writer’s job. The internet has made that aspect easier. Doing things such as having the Philosophers sitting around a table a la the Justice Society is one of the touches that attract both regular readers as well as comic book fans. Note how Fred provides a web link to the Justice Society shot he wants Ryan to see. Since Ryan received the script via e-mail, he can just click on the link and see the reference.
62 | WRITE NOW
Through humor, lean text, and imaginative art, Fred and Ryan are able to deliver many complex philosophical ideas and make them understandable.
TWO HEADER: LOGO over top:
ETUS THALES of MIL He is extremely povertythe pyramids by their shadows.
Panel 1: Thales measures . toga is patched and threadbare stricken in this picture, and his DES. He a scientific JACK-OF-ALL-TRA was s Thale 1. CAPTION: the flow of mighty predicted ECLIPSES, diverted RIVERS… ure the height of the …and figured out how to meas ON: 2. CAPTI SHADOWS at the precise PYRAMIDS by measuring their was equal to HIS height! time of day when HIS shadow EMEN mock Thales openly. Panel 2: Some rich Greek NOBL S would have won think his mad MENTAL SKILL You’d 3. CAPTION: PEEPS. Thales some PROPS from his 4. CAPTION:
You’d be WRONG….
he’s so GREAT! Pfff! SHADOW BOY here thinks exter? T, why aren’t you RICH, Poind SMAR so you’re If 6. NOBLEMAN #2: HAW, HAW! er station in an olive grove. Panel 3: Thales studies a weath ined that next after careful STUDY, Thales determ So, 7. CAPTION: ially bountiful OLIVE summer would produce an espec CROP… up all the OLIVE …and used his last CENT to buy ON: 8. CAPTI PRESSES in the neighborhood! noblemen pay him toga, grins madly as the glum Panel 4: Thales, now in a rich of the olive press behind him. use the for dough of ads buttlo , he CLEANED UP renting Once his prediction came TRUE 9. CAPTION: rs! out his equipment to the growe
5. NOBLEMAN #1:
THREE Panel 1: The now-rich Thales, lost in thought, wanders through a land up at the twinkling stars scape, looking in the night sky above. 1. CAPTION: But not even FINANCIA L SUCCESS slaked Thal es’ thirst for KNOWLEDGE… 2. THALES (THOUGHT): There is such a WONDRO US VARIETY to the thing s in the world… Clouds, stars , men, earth… 3. THALES (THOUGHT): …yet I am CONVINCED that the MANY are relat ed to each other by a single COMMONALITY—the ONE ! Panel 2: Thales is so lost in thought, he doesn’t realize that he has come open well until he trips upon an on the edge, and loses his balance. 4. THALES (THOUGHT): But WHAT could this One BE— 5. THALES: WHOOOAAAA… Panel 3: Same shot: Thal es falls into the well. 6. SFX: SPLASH! Panel 4: Same shot: the well. NO COPY Panel 5: Stat previous panel. 7. THALES (THOUGHT, IN WELL): By ZEUS, I’ve GOT it! 8. THALES (THOUGHT, IN WELL): ALL THINGS are made of WATER!
’t PAY? Heh! Who SAYS philosophy doesn
[Action Philosophers © 2006 Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey].
VAN LENTE | 63
ADAPTING TO THE CINEMATIC SANDBOX L
ee Nordling’s back with some more tips about you, your comics, and Hollywood. Listen to what this smart fellow has to say. [By the way, there are spoilers to the endings of several movies, comics, and books in this piece, none of them current. You have been warned.] —DF Every writer has his or her own process for determining how to best adapt material from one medium— whether it’s comics, prose or TV—into film. Your interest here could be as a creator whose work is being adapted, you could also be the writer looking to adapt somebody else’s work, or you might just be interested in watching the train wreck that may or may not take place. Regardless of which it is, it’s important to understand the process in which you’re participating or observing. In adapting a property from one medium into film, some rip the heart out of the original piece and do whatever they want to do, simply because they can. There are a lot of these people in Hollywood. I’m not just ragging on writers, because directors and producers often do the same thing to screenplays, but when they’re doing it to screenplays that are from writers who just eviscerated somebody else’s work...well, on these days, I believe in karma. Other writers try to adhere slavishly to the source material, or as many aspects of the material as possible, as was evident in the first two Harry Potter film adaptations. In this process, the results usually don’t take best advantage of the visual storytelling possibilities of the film medium, but they do manage to not offend the fan base. They may bore them to death, but they don’t offend them. The above examples are two extremes, and sometimes these extremes produce vibrant cinematic results, but this isn’t a discussion about being so lucky or talented that you can escape the pitfalls. Those are the extremes; now let’s discuss the two middles. The first one is a process for figuring out how to consider what to keep and what to toss. It’s not new, in that many screenwriters have practiced and written about it before, William Goldman in his book, Adventures in the Screen Trade, being the most prominent example I can think of, but this approach is embedded at the core of most successful adaptations. 66 | WRITE NOW
The key to a successful adaptation is getting to the heart of the story, isolating what it’s really about— not what it could be about, but what it is about, concept-wise or thematically—as opposed to how it tracks in terms of plot or in its sequence of events. The first step to discovering what’s at the heart of a story is by simply looking at where it begins and where it ends. Then you look at the bridge between the two, examine the journey, and ask yourself, “What’s the moral of the story?” Yep, it’s that simple. When you figure out the moral to the story, which can also be called the “moral argument,” “theme,” or “controlling idea” —the statement that the story makes about one or more things the writer wants to convince you are or aren’t true—then you’ve got a spine around which to wrap your adaptation. My favorite example to prove this point is how one of my favorite writers, David Mamet, badly adapted an early draft of Thomas Harris’ book, Hannibal. For the uninitiated, this book was the follow-up to Silence of the Lambs, which, in turn, followed Red Dragon.
well as why the finished film is episodic and unfocused. There’s so much in it that doesn’t belong in a love story between Hannibal and Starling, and, even if the events were in the book, the results are unsatisfying. If you accept that Hannibal is My Fair Lady, then the solution to the adaptation and Foster’s possible participation should have been a simple fix. My Fair Lady is a musical adaptation of the stage play, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw. In this original incarnation of the story, Eliza Doolittle allows herself to be molded into a “lady” by Professor Henry Higgins. When Eliza realizes she’s been taken for granted, she leaves the professor, just as she does in the scenes toward the end of My Fair Lady. But in the original play, she doesn’t return to him at the end, and the bullying professor gets his comeuppance.
Separated at birth? Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling in Hannibal. [My Fair Lady © 2006 Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc. Hannibal © 2006 Dino De Laurentiis Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Scott Free Productions, Universal Pictures]
Excesses and wanderings aside, I liked the book. By the time I’d reached the climax, I’d already figured out that it was the thriller equivalent of My Fair Lady. “Huh???” you say. “Yep,” I say. My Fair Lady is about a woman who is refined and defined by a man, with whom she ultimately comes to a separate-but-equal understanding. Hannibal is about a woman who’s being pulled in several different directions by a number of men, each of them wanting to refine and define who she’ll be as a person. Hannibal wins, and they ultimately come to a separatebut-equal understanding. At their hearts, they’re not much different. Whether it was by direction from the producers or from the director, Ridley Scott, the adaptation was re-imagined as a story of unrequited love by Hannibal for Starling. Nope, I’m not guessing, Scott says this on the DVD commentary, and it’s the best clue as to why Jodie Foster chose not to reprise her role as Starling, as
Since Jodie Foster was reported to have hated what happened to her Starling character in the book, the people shepherding the film could have easily steered the adaptation in the direction of Pygmalion, where Starling is manipulated by a number of different and powerful men, but ultimately breaks free of all their influences and regains her footing as her own woman. Pretty compelling stuff, and Foster might have been onboard for that. After this, the next step would have been to eliminate and/or refocus the rest of the novel’s story that doesn’t work to this end. Sure, easier said than done, but in the end it would’ve been a lot less work than trying to turn Hannibal into a love story while smoothing out all the stuff that didn’t fit, which is something they did not end up accomplishing anyway. Conversely, Silence of the Lambs—a film that’s often referred to as a horror film, and contains many truly horrific images and sequences—isn’t structured like a horror film; it’s a buddy movie. Ted Tally, the screenwriter, recognizing that he couldn’t condense the entire novel, established the relationship between Starling and Lecter—two characters with opposing goals who are forced to work together to achieve those goals—at the center of the story, and he only kept in whatever else was necessary to have each of the characters achieve his and her goals. In this manner, he was able to refashion the novel into a screenplay, with considerably less story/plot than the original book contained and still have it work as a whole, making it a distant cousin of buddy pictures like 48 Hours and Die Hard With A Vengeance, but still related to them, nonetheless. ARTICLE NAME | 67