INSIDE: SCRIPT AND PENCIL ART FROM 52! 695
In the USA
M AG A ZI N E
DeMATTEIS & PLOOG ON ABADAZAD AND DISNEY Spring 2007
WAID • RUCKA MORRISON JOHNS • GIFFEN BENNETT DiDIO SIGLAIN
© 2007 by Disney Enterprises, Inc.
CREATING COMICS STEP-BYSTEP SPIDER-MAN: BACK IN BLACK
M AG A Z I N E Issue #15
Read Now! Message from the Editor-in-Chief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 2 BEHIND THE SCENES OF 52 The Dan DiDio Interview DC’s top editorial honcho talks about 52 and Countdown . . . . . . .page 3 The Michael Siglain Interview The 52 story, from the editorial hot seat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 11 52 Nuts & Bolts: Scripts by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid. Layouts by Keith Giffen. Script to Pencils to Finished Comic: 52 #38 Pages from “Breathless,” featuring the death of the Question. Art by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 7 Script to Pencils to Finished Comic: 52 #24 Pages from “Just Imagine.” Art by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 15 THE WORLD OF ABADAZAD The J.M. DeMatteis Interview The writer/co-creator reveals the saga of the series . . . . . . . . . . . . page 21 The Mike Ploog Interview The artist/co-creator on creating the series’ look and feel . . . . . . . page 30 ABADAZAD Nuts & Bolts: Script to Pencils to Finished Comics Pages: ABADAZAD, book 2 Pages from THE DREAM THIEF, by DeMatteis and Ploog . . . . . .page 33 Yours, Mine and Ours: Writing the Company-Owned or Franchised Character by John Ostrander . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 51 Creating Blockbuster Worlds by Jeff Gomez . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 57 Writing Educational Graphic Novels by Eric Fein . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 65 Feedback: Letters from Write Now!’s Readers
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 69
FREE Preview of Rough Stuff #4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 70 Nuts & Bolts Department Script to Pencils to Finished Comic: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #539, Pages from “Back in Black,” by J.M. Straczynski & Ron Garney . . . .page 37 Creating Comics Step by Step (Part 1 of 3) by Steven Grant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .page 41
Conceived by DANNY FINGEROTH Editor-In-Chief Managing Editor ERIC FEIN Cover art by MIKE PLOOG Colored by NICK BELL Designers RICH FOWLKS, DAVID GREENAWALT, and MICHAEL KRONENBERG Transcriber STEVEN TICE Circulation Director BOB BRODSKY, COOKIESOUP PERIODICAL DISTRIBUTION, LLC Publisher JOHN MORROW
Special Thanks To: AXEL ALONSO NICK BELL ALSION BLAIRE KIA CROSS DAN DiDIO J.M. DeMATTEIS RICH FOWLKS JEFF GOMEZ STEVEN GRANT DAVID GREENAWALT CHRIS IRVING DANIEL KETCHUM MICHAEL KRONENBERG JIM McCANN JOHN OSTRANDER MIKE PLOOG CHRIS POWELL BEN REILLY ALEX SEGURA MICHAEL SIGLAIN VARDA STEINHARDT STEVEN TICE JENNIFER ZATORSKI DAVID ZEICHNER
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: $8 Postpaid in the US ($10 Canada, $11 elsewhere). Four-issue subscriptions: $20 US ($40 Canada, $44 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. ISSN 1555-502X
WRITE NOW | 1
DAN DiDIO TALKS 52…AND COUNTDOWN Interview conducted by Danny Fingeroth via telephone 3-23-07 Transcribed by Steven Tice Copy-edited by Eric Fein, Danny Fingeroth and Dan DiDio
s VP-Executive Editor, DC Universe, Dan DiDio has been responsible for implementing sweeping changes to DC’s heroes—reinvigorating old favorites and introducing new ones—and guiding such bestselling series as Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, 52, and the upcoming Countdown.
Before joining DC, DiDio was with the computer animation company Mainframe Entertainment where he served as freelance story editor and scriptwriter for the series Reboot and War Planets. Later he became its Senior Vice President, Creative Affairs, overseeing the development, distribution, marketing, and promotion as well as merchandising and licensing of all Mainframe’s television properties. Among the projects he developed there were Beast Machines and Jill Thompson’s Scary Godmother. He began his television career in 1981 at CBS, where he worked at a variety of positions before moving to Capital Cities/ABC in 1985. At ABC, DiDio served as Public Relations Manager for the three New York-based Daytime Dramas, then moved to Los Angeles to become Executive Director of Children’s Programming. There, he was responsible for Saturday morning programs and After School Specials, serving as Program Executive on such series as Madeline, Dumb and Dumber, and Reboot. Dan was able to take some time from his astonishingly busy schedule and talk to us about DC’s hottest series, 52, and its sure-to-be as or more popular sequel, Countdown. [For those of you who’ve been out of touch, 52 is a formidable undertaking, a weekly DC comic series designed to come out for exactly a year. Its writers are Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid. J.G. Jones does the covers, Keith Giffen does the thumbnail layouts for every issue, and a host of pencilers and inkers including Chris Batista, Joe Bennett, Pat Olliffe, Drew Geraci, and Rodney Ramos bring the story to life.] —DF DANNY FINGEROTH: Where did the idea for doing something like 52 come from? DAN DiDIO: What happened was that, when we leapt
forward one year in continuity in the DC Universe coming out of Infinite Crisis, we were planning to do a series of annuals that filled in the missing year for a number of the books. And then we brought the proposal with the annuals to [DC President [Photo: Frances Roberts for The New York Times] [© 2007 The New York Times Company] and Publisher] Paul Levitz. Paul, rather than approving the annuals, made a suggestion: “Wouldn’t it be interesting if we did something like the TV show 24 and filled in the missing year over 52 weeks of comics?” So he put that challenge in front of me, and the guys in the room with me presenting the annuals plan—Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka. We promptly closed up our easel, and said, “We’ll get back to you.” And that’s pretty much how 52 was born. DF: That’s pretty wild. Were you one of the guys plotting the series? DD: I was initially in on plotting sessions, but I also was one of the people who helped establish the production methodology. I remembered how we built animated series on a weekly basis when I was at Mainframe. And I started to figure out ways that we would be able to produce a book on a regular weekly turnaround and bring some level of consistency and continuity from issue to issue. But what we always wanted to do, and we always intended to do, was to tell a 52-part story. That was the plan right from the outset. DF: That’s a highly ambitious goal. How much of the story is planned out in advance? Did you plan out in broad strikes the contents of all 52 issues, or were you sort of making it up as you went along? DAN DiDIO | 3
DD: We sat down and we broke out what was theoretically going to be happening in the 52 issues. Two things changed along the way, and this is pretty much where I handed things off to the creative team and the editor on the book. One of the original goals for 52 was, as I said, to fill in the missing year for the “One Year Later” story of the DCU characters. As we broke the series out into its parts, we decided to pick a number of characters as our leaders to take us through those stories, and we “assigned” them to different parts of the story. You know, we had Renee Montoya, a very street-level character, who took us through those types of stories. We created the space team to show the space side of the story. We had Ralph Dibny to use for the magic side of the DCU. What ultimately happened, though, and you could see the change was evident by the second issue, was that the writers got deeply engrossed in the stories of the characters who were going to be our guides.
Those characters wound up becoming the leads of the stories, and the stories became more about them than the world. Instead of the story being about the world with these guys taking us through it, the world became the backdrop to the stories and the changes were seen through their eyes. And I think, quite honestly, once we put the focus on character and story, I think it came alive much better and became much more cohesive, and then the stories started to evolve from there. DF: What surprised you the most about the whole process of doing 52? DD: The fact that we completed it. Seriously, though, what surprised me was also one of the things that changed along the way. The initial conceit, again, was that we brought in four writers with the idea that each one would be handling one week’s worth of script per month. But, ultimately, what happened is that the four guys really started to mesh together. Each one started to gravitate to particular characters, and rather than operate as individuals, the writers decided to operate as, as we called it, a band. All four guys worked on every single issue, something that we never believed was going to be able to work. But they were able to persevere, they stuck it through, and they did it from beginning to middle to end, they saw it the whole way through to the conclusion. It’s just an amazing feat for four writers to be able to work that closely together, working under such a pressure-filled deadline, and be able to turn in the quality product that we received. DF: That sounds similar to the way TV shows are written. DD: It is, but with TV, there’s usually a head writer who’s working with a group of writers, or handing off script assignments. These four guys literally wrote every issue. Every issue has pages written by each one of them.
The introduction of an all-new Batwoman, in 52 #11, who just happened to be a lesbian, generated a lot of controversy and media attention. [© 2007 DC Comics]
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DF: Has anything in the storyline changed based on fan feedback as the issues have come out? Have you modified course at all based on that? DD: No, I think pretty much any modifications that occurred along the way were because, as the stories developed with the characters, they both really started to follow a natural course of progression. We always knew there was going to be a major event at the end of the story which was going to precipitate a lot of the “One Year Later” changes. We weren’t really sure what that event was, but that evolved as the story was done. We didn’t want to lock so much into the back half of the story primarily because we knew that, as in any creative process, the story needs to take shape in certain directions in order to really reach its full potential. The writers also had weekly conference calls with their editors where they talked through each individual issue. Plus, we also got together during the course of
Here, the first of two 52 Nuts and Bolts sections. This one showcases issue #38, featuring the death of the Question. The script is by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid. Rucka typed this segment. Keith Giffen did the layouts, with pencils by Joe Bennett and inks by Jack Jadson.
Page 17 ONE: A little later. MONTOYA staggering as the LITTER slews behind her. Drawing the question mark, but we don’t know that, yet. 1 CAPTION/Montoya:
I don’t know where I am anymore.
TWO: MONTOYA dropping to her knees, trying to read her COMPASS in the blizzard. The LITTER sliding slightly behind her. 2 CAPTION/Montoya:
I don’t know which way to go.
THREE: Closer on MONTOYA, the SNOW slashing at her. She’s dropped the COMPASS and is now searching around, shielding her eyes. 3 CAPTION/Montoya:
FOUR: Past MONTOYA, turning, to see that the LITTER has flipped onto its side, VIC facing away from her.
SIX: his face. From where his MASK has begun to peel from forth. OTS MONTOYA, to VIC. The BLOOD is beginning to spill of IN STA a , mask the d mouth would be behin
There’s BLOOD in the SNOW. Vic has begun bleedin
You’re my sense of direction, Charlie.
FIVE: MONTOYA righting VIC on the litter. Angle such that we can’t see VIC’S FACE – his head turned to the side, perhaps. Bloody snow marking a track. 7 CAPTION/Montoya:
I don’t know who I am without you.
Don’t leave me… Oh God, Oh God, Charlie, hold
SEVEN: litter. BLOOD is still back, leaving VIC lying on the MONTOYA reacting, pulling leaking out of him. 12 CAPTION/Montoya: 13 MONTOYA:
…please not again… here, I’ve got …hold on, please hold on, I’m
In planning the series, the editors decided to use one artist—Giffen—to lay out all 52 issues. Keith is also a writer, and the 52 crew trusts his instincts as far as modifying the scripts. The script for page 17, shown here, calls for seven panels. Keith’s layouts—and hence, the drawn page—consist of nine.
[© 2007 DC Comics.]
52 NUTS & BOLTS | 7
Pages 18 and 19 blizzard Keith—All yours, baby. Please remember that the pages, ending on Page 13, Panel 1.
begins to abate on these
“effected” with a blur or somethi Mike—We’ll want Vic’s lines to be appropriately similar to make it seem “hoarse.”
ONE: her tears freezing on her face. Looking at MONTOYA, head bowed, eyes closed, 1 CAPTION/Montoya:
…I can’t do this again…
You never answered my question.
TWO: skin. MONTOYA reacting, nearly jumping out of her 4 MONTOYA:
THREE: MASK is peeling off his face, perhaps OTS MONTOYA, to VIC on the LITTER. The g on her/us, and they’re clear. half off, and we can see his eyes, and they’re focusin For a moment, he’s Vic Sage, whole, once again. 5 MONTOYA:
6 VIC/hoarse: 7 VIC/linked/hoarse:
Get this *kaff koff* thing off my face. Hard enough to breathe as it is.
FOUR: She’s crying – she doesn’t know if this MONTOYA peels the MASK from VIC’S FACE. else. ng is a miracle or somethi VIC is still focused on her. Managing a slight, vintage
grin, marred with his own blood.
What the hell *kaff* are you doing, Renee?
9 MONTOYA: 10 MONTOYA/linked:
Trying…trying to get us to Nanda Parbat. Trying to save you, Charlie.
For pages 18 and 19, the writers ask Giffen to decide which panels will go on each page, trusting he will bring out the best in the script.
[© 2007 DC Comics.]
The “Mike” addressed at the beginning of the page 18-19 script is, of course, editor Michael Siglain.
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Editing 52, 24/7:
THE MICHAEL SIGLAIN INTERVIEW Conducted by Danny Fingeroth via telephone 3-23-07 Transcribed by Steven Tice Copy-edited by Eric Fein, Danny Fingeroth and Michael Siglain
ichael Siglain started his DC Comics career in the company’s Multimedia Department as an Associate Producer. He oversaw the creation of online webisodes, videogames and even audio adaptations. He next moved into Editorial Administration and then finally DCU editorial, handling titles including Jonah Hex and Firestorm. When original 52 editor Stephen Wacker left DC, Michael was tapped to take the reigns of the sprawling weekly series and the rest is history. —DF
DANNY FINGEROTH: Things are getting down to the wire for you with the last few issue of 52, Michael. When does the last issue come out? MICHAEL SIGLAIN: May 2nd. Oddly enough, that’s 5/2. DF: That’s weird. MS: And it wasn’t planned that way. It just worked out that way and everyone kind of took a step back and went, “Ooh.”
it’s such a roller coaster ride now that I think people are still going to dig it, and I think everyone’s going to be extremely satisfied with how it ends. DF: Now, if somebody just starts reading the book in the middle of the series, how would they get caught up on what’s gone before? MS: We try to do little recaps here and there through dialogue, though, to be honest, it’s a little bit difficult to just to walk in after 46 weeks. If you’re just going to come in with, say, Week 27, yeah, you’re going to be a little confused, because it’s like joining a serial TV show halfway through the season, and you catch the last 15 minutes of an episode and you’re saying, “Well, wait a minute. I don’t quite get it.” There’s going to be a little bit of that if you just come in midway, because this is such a unique project. But if you stick with it, after two or three weeks, you’re in the groove and you get it, and then it makes what you’re reading more enjoyable.
DF: You came into 52 in the middle. What was that like? DF: Is there an official website that MS: It was crazy. It was exciting recaps the storyline? and thrilling and unbelievable all at MS: The DC site recaps in a way, the same time. Steve Wacker had because they show all of Keith just left, and he did a phenomenal Giffen’s breakdowns, and there are job on the book, he was truly usually articles and little goodies amazing. He kept everything on the site that will let the readers together and it was running nice in on what happened the previous and smoothly, and everyone was week or weeks. happy and working and good to 52 focuses on how the DC Universe copes for a go. Then Steve left, and it was a bit year without Superman, Batman, and Wonder DF: But there’s no one thing that a shock to the system, but when Woman. Here’s the cover to issue #1, which says, “Here’s the story from the the smoke cleared I found myself kicked the series off a year ago. Cover art by beginning to the current issue”? with a battlefield promotion. It was J.G. Jones. MS: No, we’re not doing that, [© 2007 DC Comics] amazing. It’s such a monster of a because we want you to keep project, and also an incredible one. I think we’ve done a reading and keep buying, and not just say, “All right, here good job with it. Hopefully, none of the readers noticed is the whole story for you. ” any bumps along the way, and everyone kept reading it and saying, “Wow, you know what? This is still great. I’m DF: That’s a wise commercial point. Now, how much still digging it.” input do you have with the writers? I just spoke to Dan DiDio, and he was telling me that the whole storyline DF: The sales seem to indicate that. was more or less mapped out from the beginning in MS: The sales indicate that, which is very nice, and we’re broad strokes, but with room for improvisation. So do all thrilled that it’s doing the numbers that it’s continuing you personally have any input into the stories, or are the to do, which is excellent. I mean, we’re 46 weeks in, and writers mostly filling out what was the original plan? we’re still selling pretty nicely. And the story’s going in a MS: It’s a little bit of both, really. It all started from an great direction. Everything is building and building, and
MICHAEL SIGLAIN | 11
idea by Paul Levitz. Then writers Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid sat down with editor Steve Wacker, breakdown artist Keith Giffen, and cover artist J. G. Jones, and everyone contributed to the story, and they hammered out the basic plot points and what was going to happen. Obviously, some of it was a little looser than other parts. When I stepped in, Steve had set up a system of weekly conference calls to get everybody on the same page, making sure everyone’s reading the same pieces of script that have come in, and everyone’s cool with and likes where the story’s going. During those calls, yeah, I might throw out a couple of ideas here and there to say, “Oh, what if we did this? What if we did that?” Y’know, my job is mostly to make sure that the writers are happy with what they’re doing, not so much to throw out ideas. I usually throw out bad ideas that make them say, “Oh, we can’t do that. Let’s take it in this direction.” The writers all talk to each other, and they have an idea of where the story is going, and I’ll pose questions to them along the lines of, “Well, what about this, what about that?” And I do that because, over the year, the story has changed and evolved a little bit. You let the story lead you, and you say, “Oh, wow, look at this. We thought this character was going to die, but if we keep him alive, we can do this, this, this, and this.” Or, just to continue with the life and death examples, “We thought this character should live, but do you know what? If the character died, it would cause a domino effect, and affect this guy, and this guy, and this guy.” Some of that stuff is figured out as we go, figuring out the story and saying, “Oh, wow, this is cool! We didn’t think of this initially, but what if we do it?”
home, because I go home and do it. So I use basically everything, everywhere, to keep track, because it is such a monster of a project that if you don’t, and you misstep, then that’s it. Then the snowball starts rolling downhill and you’re going to get creamed. The other person who keeps track of everything is Keith Giffen, because he’s doing the breakdowns for every issue. He is our continuity police, our pacing police. He’s been a dream to work with, because he knows everything about the book, and will say, “You know what? We did this thing in Week 31, and if we tweak it, we can have it pay off in Week 43 and it’ll connect to this other thing, and this will connect with that thing…” Or, “If we put a panel with this guy in this issue, then it’ll answer a question that we posed back in Week 6.” He’s my safety net, plus an all-around great guy. DF: Does he contribute plot ideas? MS: He contributed plot ideas initially, when everyone would get together for meetings. Since then, though, he really contributes through the breakdowns. He’ll get the script and he’ll read it and say, “You know what? They’re calling for a four-panel page, or a six-panel page, but maybe some other kind of layout would work here.” He’ll make one or two minor corrections, and then we’ll get it back and say, “Oh, wow! We didn’t even think of it like that. That’s amazing. It was great to begin with, but now—holy mackerel!”
DF: And do the artists contribute story ideas? MS: A little bit. Keith does the breakdowns, so the artists don’t contribute too much in the way of plot points. They’ll suggest things to me, and if they work, we’ll put them in. We’re obviously open to suggestions, because everyone wants it to be the best book it can J.G. Jones’s stunning artwork, as seen on this DF: So there’s room for spontanebe, but it’s really the vision of the cover for 52 #44, has been a vital part of the ity and veering from the original four writers. And then the other series’ success. This issue features the death of Shazam! villain Black Adam’s love, Isis. plan? thing is that, aside from wanting it [© 2007 DC Comics] MS: Absolutely. The beauty of it is to be the best book it can be, we that the overall story is set, but we’re putting a little icing want to make sure it comes out on time. on the cake. DF: It’s amazing how you’ve done that. DF: How do you keep track, literally, of what is going on MS: That’s the big thing. We made a promise to make from issue to issue? Do you use charts, spreadsheets, sure that a new issue of 52 would be out every week, index cards, anything like that? and it will be. MS: Everything. The easiest way to keep track, for me, is DF: Now, over the years, the Superman, and the by looking at the walls of my office which are lined, literally, with 52 stuff. On the left side of my office are all the Spider-Man, and the Batman books have been interconcovers, and every one of them is up there in week order, nected and in effect told a weekly story. Is 52 very different from something like that? and I have sketches up, and notes, and the whole nine yards. And on the right side of my office are sheets of MS: Absolutely. You can’t think of this as four monthlies paper that are tacked to the wall tracking which writers or five monthlies. This is one giant story, one giant mega-project, and you can’t quite say, “Well, it’s like are doing what, and which artist is doing what, and Action and Superman and Adventures of Superman or which backup is going where, which pages they are in, whatever. This has a bigger scope than any one line of and so on. And then, aside from that, I keep records on character-based titles, and it affects so many other books my computer, and I keep a second set of everything at 12 | WRITE NOW
Here’s our second spectacular Nuts & Bolts section dedicated to 52. In this one, we feature script, layouts, and pencil art from 52 #24. Enjoy!
[© 2007 DC Comics.]
Feast your eyes on J.G. Jones’ sketch for the cover to the issue, then his finished inks, and, finally, the fully rendered cover as it appeared in your pull-file!
52 NUTS & BOLTS | 15
PAGE FIVE THE OLD JLA MOUNTAIN PANEL ONE: LONG ESTABLISHING SHOT, WE CAN SEE J’ONN (TINY) HEADQUARTERS. FROM THIS ANGLE, VISION ONTO THE FAR SIDE HOVERING IN MID-AIR, FIRING HEAT SEVERAL YARDS AWAY, BUT FROM AIN MOUNT K N-ROC BARRE OF THE DOING UNTIL THE END OF HE’S WHAT SEE TO ABLE BE WON’T WE THE SEQUENCE. 1 CAPTION:
“Where IS J’Onn?”
WEEK 24, Day 2
rs. Original Justice League Headquarte
PANEL TWO: OFF.
HEAT VISION TIGHTER ON J’ONN, PROJECTING HIS
lf My friend, I pray to H’ronmeer himse that you will UNDERSTAND...
...and FORGIVE me.
SUPER-STRONG FIST INTO PANEL THREE: J’ONN THRUSTS HIS TERS OF ROCK FLYING. WE THE ROCKY CLIFFSIDE, SENDING SPLIN N-CARVED LINES IN VISIO HEATING, -SMOK STILL CAN SEE SOME TO STAY FAIRLY CLOSE NEED WE , AGAIN TOO. SIDE, THE CLIFF FOR THE END. TO HIM AND SAVE THE BIG PICTURE ps had I heard what happened to you. Perha 5 J’ONN: e it was I intervened...had we spoken befor too LATE... 6 J’ONN:
really. ...but we couldn’t, could we? Not in each It had come to where all we saw RE. other was the pain of mutual FAILU
E (TED) IN THE PANEL FOUR: FLASHBACK TO BLUE BEETL J’ONN WHILE J’ONN WATCHTOWER, BEING BRUSHED OFF BY WOMB. STUDIES DISPLAYS IN THE MONITOR ignoring TED. “We were BOTH guilty of 7 CAPTION: THE OLD JLA MOUNTAIN PANEL ONE: LONG ESTABLISHING SHOT, )S J’ONN SEEvario CANour CRISE , WE us(TINY ANGLE THIStoo with busy UARTE HEADQ “We were ON:RS. FROM 8 CAPTI FAR SIDE THEtance ONTO N ... VISIO HEAT G assis for FIRIN IR, pleas MID-A his HOVERING IN to PRIORITIZE AWAY, YARDS whatBUT FROMrSEVER of us AINbette ANY K MOUNT thanAL he knew OF THE BARREN-ROC but DOING UNTIL THE END OF HE’S WHAT SEE TO ABLE in.” BE were we WON’T R WE DANGE THE SEQUENCE. 1 CAPTION:
“Where IS J’Onn?”
WEEK 24, Day 2
rs. Original Justice League Headquarte
PANEL TWO: OFF. 3 J’ONN
HEAT VISION TIGHTER ON J’ONN, PROJECTING HIS M
[© 2007 DC Comics.]
The creative process for 52 is very much a collaborative one. In a nutshell, the team of writers (Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, and Geoff Johns) works out the stories with the editor—for this issue, it was Steve Wacker.
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Keith Giffen then breaks the scripts down into rough layouts (in which we see copy placement, where each number corresponds to a piece of copy in the script), which are then developed into pencil art, in this case by Phil Jimenez (which was then inked by Andy Lanning).
Comics Aren’t Just Not for Kids Anymore!
THE J.M. D E MATTEIS INTERVIEW Conducted via email by Danny Fingeroth March 19, 2007
M. DeMatteis is one of the most inventive and sought after writers in the comic book industry. During the course of his career he has written groundbreaking stories for Marvel (Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt), for Epic (Moonshadow), and for DC Comics/Paradox Press (Brooklyn Dreams). He also teamed with writer Keith Giffen and artist Kevin Maguire to relaunch the Justice League that skyrocketed DC’s heroes to new heights of greatness and humor. More recently, he is the co-writer, along with Keith Giffen, of Hero Squared and Planetary Brigade (both published by Boom! Studios). J.M. is also active in Hollywood. He has scripted episodes of Justice League Unlimited and the Legion of SuperHeroes among others and also has several live action scripts in development. Most of J.M.’s time these days is taken up with his wonderful creation Abadazad, first published in comic book form by CrossGen and now being released by Disney’s Hyperion Books For Children as a series of novels featuring comic book sequences. It is our great honor to speak with J.M. about the creation of Abadazad and his vision for its future. —DF DANNY FINGEROTH: What the heck is Abadazad, anyway, J.M.? J.M. DeMATTEIS: The Abadazad saga is a long one, but I think it’s one that illustrates what it’s like out here in the freelance trenches—and this is a magazine about the writing life—so here goes: Back in the mid-1980’s I had an idea for a story called “Silver Shoes.” It was about a little girl, living with her abusive father, who’s befriended by an old woman named Dorothy. Not just any Dorothy: this old lady claims to be Dorothy Gale, from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. After Dorothy passes away, the girl finds a gift the old woman has left behind for her: a pair of silver shoes that the girl uses to escape her father and live happily ever after in Oz. I never did much with the idea. Just filed it away.
In the mid-’90s I started toying with a story about a mother who discovers that her abducted son has been taken to a magical world that—she’d assumed— only existed in books. I folded in the “Silver Shoes” concept, named the world Abadazad—and began developing it as a movie treatment; but the more I worked to flesh out Abadazad, the more I was con-
vinced it should be a comic book. As a parent, I found the lack of smart, literate kid-friendly comic books to be extremely frustrating. By this time I’d begun weaving Abadazad into my daughter’s bedtime stories—and I was becoming obsessed with the idea of creating a comic book that I could share with her. With the story’s protagonist changed to an emotionally-wounded fourteen year old girl named Kate Jameson, I went out into the marketplace, filled with hope and enthusiasm: Unfortunately, nobody wanted it. Well, there were a few people—Joey Cavalieri and Shelly Bond at DC, Philip Simon at Dark Horse—who “got” Abadazad, but they weren’t the ones who made the Big Decisions. Doors slammed in my face wherever I went. In 2003, I decided to give it a last shot with CrossGen. I didn’t know all that much about them, but J.M. DeMATTEIS | 21
The covers to the first two volumes in the Hyperion Abadazad series, showcasing the extraordinary artistic talents of Mike Ploog. [© 2007 by Disney Enterprises, Inc.]
they seemed interesting, forward-thinking. A few days after editor Ian Feller read the proposal, CG bought the series. Thanks to Ian and publisher Mark Alessi, Abadazad had finally made it out of my head and into print. And they even recruited Mike Ploog to draw it. Having been a huge fan of Mike’s work, I was delighted that he’d chosen to return to full-time comic book illustrating with Abadazad. CrossGen also recruited the unsung hero of Abadazad, our colorist, Nick Bell. Nick’s work brings such texture and depth and power to Mike’s pencils. There’s a fusion there, so deep that I can’t imagine Mike’s art without Nick’s color over it. Ploog and I hit it off pretty much from our first phone conversation and the more we worked together, the better it got: this was the kind of creative combustion I’d only seen happen a handful of times in my career. With each issue we produced, Mike and I were pushing ourselves into new, and more creatively exhilarating, places: We were flying high. 22 | WRITE NOW
Then, after only three issues of Abadazad had seen print, CrossGen went bankrupt. By the summer of ‘04, Ploog and I had hired a lawyer in a bid to get Abadazad back. We were hopeful—but we knew the process could take years. Which meant that, for the moment at least, Abadazad was dead in the water. We’d heard about various companies sniffing around the CrossGen corpse—the name Disney came up once or twice—but these were just rumors, so we moved ahead with other projects and hoped for the best. The best arrived in the form of Brenda Bowen, vice-president and editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books For Children. Brenda told me how much she loved Abadazad and that she envisioned relaunching it as a series of children’s books. It was clear from our talks that Brenda understood Abadazad—what it was and what it could be. Disney Publishing did win the bidding—and we were stunned to discover that the reason they went after CrossGen in the first place was because of Abadazad. We were told, point blank, that Disney was going to walk away from the entire CrossGen deal if they couldn’t come to an agreement with us.
DeMatteis seamlessly blends prose with comic book art in this two-page sequence from the first book in the series, Abadazad: The Road to Inconceivable. Art by Mike. [© 2007 by Disney Enterprises, Inc.]
After some heated negotiating, an extremely satisfactory deal was struck and we were suddenly rocketed from Legal Limbo straight to the Magic Kingdom, re-launching Abadazad as a “hybrid” series of books that fused prose, illustration and comics. DF: How did this “hybrid” form come about? JMD: When Disney picked the series up, we assumed we’d just be going on with the comic...continuing the story in a longer, graphic novel format. It was Brenda Bowen who suggested the new form. I was surprised at first, then I realized that Brenda had been inspired by the comics themselves. Abadazad, the comic book, had many sequences that were, essentially, prose-with-illustration. That’s something I’ve been doing in my work for years—since Moonshadow, at least—seeing if I can blur the line between prose and comics. (In fact the sequel to Moonshadow—the
graphic novel Farewell, Moonshadow—had a format quite similar to the Abadazad books.) I’ve always felt that each story, each sequence in the story, deserves to be told in the way that best suits it. So if I want to have five or six pages where the narrative takes over with a single illustration on the page, and then another five or six pages where the visuals take over for a “purer” comics sequence, then so be it. I think that’s what inspired Brenda...and she challenged us to take it even farther. Push the boundaries of the novel and the comic book till they collapsed into each other. We’re still learning, occasionally stumbling, but I think it’s turned out well. DF: How do you collaborate with Mike Ploog? Do you write the whole book, text pages and all first, and then send it to him? Or do you do the comics pages separately, then work from what he’s drawn? JMD: I write the manuscripts—which includes all the text and all the comic book sections (which are done full-script), as well as suggestions for illustrations (Brenda Bowen also includes suggestions for illustrations after she’s combed through the manuscript)—and then that goes off to J.M. DeMATTEIS | 23
THE MIKE PLOOG INTERVIEW Conducted via email by Danny Fingeroth on March 19, 2007
ike Ploog shot to comic book stardom when, after a stint working for comics legend Will Eisner, he went to work at Marvel Comics in the 1970s. There he co-created—and drew the first adventures of—two of Marvel’s most popular horror characters—Ghost Rider and Werewolf by Night. He also drew the first several issues of Marvel’s Monster of Frankenstein series and stories for Kull the Destroyer, Planet of the Apes, and Man-Thing, among others. Mike has also done pre and post-production work for dozens of Hollywood movies including Ghostbusters, The Dark Crystal, Shrek, and the animated features Titan A. E., Wizards, and The Lord of the Rings. He also illustrated the children’s book L. Frank Baum’s the Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Write Now! is pleased to have this opportunity to speak with Mr. P about Abadazad and more! —DF
DANNY FINGEROTH: In 50 words or less, Mike, what’s the most important creative lesson you learned when you worked for Will Eisner? MIKE PLOOG: I don’t know if it was a creative lesson, but when I applied for my first passport I came to the question “occupation”. I thought a long time, am I an artist? An illustrator? Then I remembered what Will told me, “Stop trying to be Andrew Wyeth, damn it! Always do what you’re best at, and you are a cartoonist”. DF: You were in the Marines for ten years. What made you decide to not make a career of it? MP: When I was in my late teens and early twenties, the Marine Corps was a good education. It gave me confidence and I learned to respect myself. But I stayed too long. With my newfound confidence came the desire for my own identity. Weekly haircuts, shaving every morning and that uniform! I hated that uniform. Once you put on that uniform, you were one of thousands, and I felt lost in the crowd. But I must say, when I hear the Marine Corps hymn, I still get a feeling of pride. DF: Was it strange being a military guy at Marvel in the ’70s when most of the others were hippie-types? MP: Yeah, I had a hard time forgetting I was no longer a sergeant. In the ’70s I had a wonderful sense of freedom. DF: How did you get involved with Abadazad? MP: [CrossGen Comics publisher] Mark Alessi called me. He must have known Abadazad was a subject that I would be interested in. I had done several books aimed at the younger audience. 30 | WRITE NOW
DF: You and J.M. seem to have clicked immediately. What’s the connection/bond between the two of you? MP: The tie that bonds J.M. and me, I think, is the wonderful opportunity of being able to use our imaginations, and to continually return to our childhood. DF: Can you describe the working process you and J.M. have on Abadazad? Do you contribute story or character or dialogue ideas? What if you want to change something in a script? MP: J.M. is easy to work with. He lives in the stories he writes. When you live in a story as opposed to just writing about it, you see all the details and you feel all the emotions. J.M. is a word master. He knows how to take you to his imaginary land and make you believe in it. DF: What was the process for designing the characters? Did J.M. give you detailed descriptions, or did you talk them out? MP: From the very beginning, our imaginations blended together. I’ve always felt that J.M. saw the designs long before I ever put pencil to paper... [PLOOG interview continues on page 32.]
Meet some of the amazing beings of Abadazad as visualized by Mike: Lanky Man (top left), Mary Annette (top right), the Burping Dragon (lower left), and Phogg Wubbtales. [ÂŠ 2007 by Disney Enterprises, Inc.]
MIKE PLOOG | 31
For this very amazing Nuts & Bolts section we have J.M. DeMatteis’ script and Mike Ploog’s pencil art from a four-page comic book sequence from The Dream Thief, book 2 in the Hyperion/Disney prose-comics hybrid Abadazad series. Ploog also did the inks. [© 2007 by Disney Enterprises, Inc.]
Leading up to this sequence have been several pages of prose. DeMatteis uses ellipses (…) as a way to connect the action in the prose section with the comic book section. (He will also use it to segue out of it at the sequence’s conclusion on page 61.) This page shows Ploog really cutting loose with his art, merging four separate panels into one flowing series of images, heightening the script’s intended effects. [© 2007 by Disney Enterprises, Inc.]
ABADAZAD NUTS & BOLTS | 33
Here, J.M. gives protagonist Kate (and the readers) what she wants—to find her brother—even if it is only in a dream. Of course, in Abadazad, the border between dreams and reality is, intentionally, not always clear. Notice how J.M. uses a floating balloon in the last panel to act as a transitional device to the next page. [© 2007 by Disney Enterprises, Inc.]
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CREATING COMICS STEP BY STEP
By Steven Grant Copyright © 2007 by Steven Grant.
teven Grant has a long and successful career as a comic book writer. He, along with Mike Zeck, brought the Punisher to new heights of popularity with their groundbreaking limited series. Steven has also scripted stories featuring Spider-Man, Batman, and even Robocop. He is also the creator of the popular independent comic book series, Whisper. Steven has a weekly column, Permanent Damage, on ComicBookResources.com. In “Creating Comics Step By Step,” which first ran on Permanent Damage, he explores the process of how writers craft their stories. Steven has taken many agreed upon approaches of professional writers and presents them in an easy to understand and fun way. There are nine essays for this series. We’re proud to present the first three here, with the others scheduled to appear in the next two issues of Write Now! So Steven’s Whisper series ran for grab a highlighter for the important points 37 issues at First Comics, an Steven makes (guess you’ll have to buy a impressive run for an independent second copy of this mag!) and enjoy title. Cover art by Steve Epting. Mr. G’s Master Class in creating comics! [© 2007 Steven Grant.] —DF
Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead brought new life to zombie comic books. Pictured is the cover to issue #4. Art by Tony Moore. [™ & © 2007 Robert Kirkman.]
Step 1: THE IDEA The idea is both the most under- and overrated part of the creative process. Ideas can be as elaborate as “a man works in an insurance office believing he exists in 20th century America only to discover he really lives in a future where machines have conquered the human race and control them through the use of virtual reality while a number of humans have escaped to become hi-tech freedom fighters and theorize the insurance salesman is a prophesied hero come to free mankind when he exhibits unexpected powers” (The Matrix) or “Thor fights the Hulk and we finally find out which is stronger” (what Erik Larsen originally wedged his way into Marvel with). Or even simpler: “a girl with big breasts who beats people up” has probably launched more comics, certainly in the last fifteen years, than any other. Though not a good idea, it’s still an idea. “Zombies destroy civilization” is a very simple idea, albeit not an original one, but that hasn’t stopped it from underlying two very good recent properties, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and Danny Boyle’s horror film 28 Days Later.
There are all different sorts of ideas. There are the Grant Morrison/Warren Ellis “mad ideas” spat out machine gun fast. There are terribly simple, down to earth ideas, like the “adolescents trying to figure out how to be adolescents in a pressure cooker society” core of Miki Iahara’s Hot Gimmick, which is nonetheless one of the best mangas ever done. There are ideas no one else could ever have thought of and ideas someone else should have thought of but didn’t. It doesn’t really matter whether the idea is simple or elaborate, original or derivative. It doesn’t matter what the project is. All projects begin with an idea. That’s principle #1.
STEVEN GRANT | 41
The myth is usually held most dear by (and perpetrated on by writers who know better) people who don’t write, the ones who, in awed tones, ask “where do you get your ideas?” and in the next breath reveal the idea they’ve been quietly nursing for years, that would be worth a lot of money if only you’d write it up for them. Principle #3: Everyone has ideas.
Principle #2: Ideas come from anywhere. DC editors Mort Weisinger and Julius Schwartz used to have covers drawn with striking images, like the Earth being towed by a gigantic claw coming off a space trawler, or Superman encountering an alien dinosaur with a prophetic TV for a head, then hiring a writer to come up with a story incorporating the cover image, which, if nothing else, led to a flow of intriguing covers. Those covers did feature ideas (Weisinger, according to legend, polled children in his neighborhood to find out what they wanted to see in Superman comics, then developed covers and stories based on the answers) albeit not ideas originated by writers. Ideas can generate from pictures, random observations, conversations, anything, but in most cases they’re the result of the assimilation, juxtaposition and extrapolation of existing ideas the writer has been exposed to. (Sir Isaac Newton’s famous quote, “If I have been able to see this far, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”) None of us work in a void, though some are more conscious of the idea-generating process than others. The great myth of creativity is that ideas are rare and precious mystical objects, and that’s only partly right; good ideas are rare and precious things, while there are millions of bad ideas. Success doesn’t come from generating ideas. Success comes from being able to tell the good ideas from the bad ones, which is a much, much trickier thing. 42 | WRITE NOW
Mort Weisinger’s eye-catching cover ideas hooked a generation of Supermanfamily fans. Superboy #87 cover art is by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye. Action Comics #296 cover art is by Swan and George Klein. [© 2007 DC Comics.]
A classic (true) tale of Hollywood: a producer calls a young screenwriter into his office to involve him in a project that the producer will own in full but the screenwriter will develop, for scale. When the screenwriter asks the producer what the idea is, the producer, a bit nervous about unveiling his masterpiece without paperwork protecting him against theft but too proud of the idea to withhold it, beams ecstatically and, framing the words on a fantasy marquee with an upraised hand, says, with just the right amount of revelatory awe, “Rock Man!”
That’s it. The entire idea. Rock Man. No characters, no concept, no story. Just a name. Rock Man. Which the screenwriter is expected to convert into a movie franchise. (The lack of paperwork fortunately makes it simple for the screenwriter to walk away, which he does. Yes “Rock Man” is an idea. A bad idea, which only execution might save. Principle #4: Ideas, in and of themselves, mean nothing. It is possible to save a bad idea with great development and execution. It’s very possible to bury or kill a great idea in terrible development and execution. The idea is the first step in any project, but it’s only a baby step, with dozens of other steps to follow. Here’s where it gets tricky: what’s the difference between a good idea and a bad idea? That can only be answered in the specific, not the general. “Vampires attack a town” sounds like an adequate idea at best, and
wholly derivative of dozens of similar stories. Even the mention of vampires now sounds clichéd. But add a little twist — vampires attack a town isolated near the North Pole that’s beginning a month of total darkness under the midnight sun (Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night) — and it becomes one of those head- slappingly great ideas so obvious everyone else kicks themselves for not thinking of it first. Ten Little Indians-style murder mysteries were clichéd from the moment Agatha Christie wrote the novel decades ago, but until Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s Whiteout, no one thought to apply the concept to spies stranded at research stations in Antarctica. But neither project is made or broken by the underlying idea alone. How do you tell a good idea from bad? Experience, guesswork and luck. The real trick is to not get so attached to any idea, good or bad, that you’re unwilling to jettison it if necessary (I’ve mockingly said of a number of writers that you can tell they truly love ideas because when they finally get their hands on one they refuse to let go of it). The way to get ideas is to keep having ideas. Loving one idea too much makes you obsessive. Obsession as a creative technique is also highly overrated, and most often highly counterproductive.
One of the reasons why projects such as 30 Days of Night (above) and Whiteout (below) are so successful is that they take familiar concepts and put exciting new spins on them. Art for covers to 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow #1 and 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow collected edition is by Ben Templesmith. [© 2007 Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith.]
Cover art for the Whiteout trade paperback is by Frank Miller. Interior page from White: Melt is written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Steve Lieber. [Whiteout: © 2007 Greg Rucka. White: Melt: Story © 2007 Greg Rucka. Art © 2007 Steve Lieber.]
STEVEN GRANT | 43
Yours, mine, and Ours
WRITING THE COMPANY-OWNED OR FRANCHISED CHARACTER (as opposed to writing your own) By John Ostrander
ohn Ostrander has been writing comics for twenty years. His many published works include: GrimJack, Legends, Firestorm, Suicide Squad (with his late wife, Kimberly Yale), Hawkworld, Wasteland, The Spectre, Martian Manhunter, The Kents, Star Wars, Batman: Gotham Nights, and many others. He’s currently working on Star Wars: Legacy and a Suicide Squad miniseries for DC, as well as part of DC’s World War 3 Event. Born and raised in Chicago, John was in professional theater for a number of years as an actor, playwright, director, and occasional producer before becoming a full-time writer in comics. He’s also been a teacher at both the Joe Kubert School and, co-teaching with Dennis O’Neil, at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. John is a regular contributor to Write Now! and we’re glad to have him back this issue to share his thoughts about this important topic for comics creators. —DF What sort of writer do you want to be?
I’m taking as a given that you want to be the good writer – the best that you can be. If you’re reading this magazine, I’m assuming that you want to be a professional writer and that you would like to be paid for your work or even make a living at this. What are your goals? Do you want to write Batman? The X-Men? Star Wars? (We’ll call these company-owned or franchise.) Or is your goal to create your own characters, your own universe? (Creator owned.) Maybe a little of both? I’ve done both—such as The Spectre for DC Comics and Star Wars for Dark Horse as well as my own creation, GrimJack—and there is a value to each. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and we’re going to explore them here. To start with, however, we should be clear that the rules of good writing apply to both. In terms of my basic approach to writing, that doesn’t change. I put the same amount of effort and craft into everything I do; to do otherwise would be to short-change the reader.
To understand some of the differences between creator-owned and franchise properties, you need to first understand the concept of intellectual properties. I must confess my own bias here; part of me hates that label. I see it as an attempt to make artistic expression into widgets for exploitation by the business community. From that point-of-view, our work is not relevant as a means of self-expression or exploration of the human condition; instead, it is a commodity to be traded like any other widget. That said, you need to know what is meant by the term before you sign away or give away any rights you might have in it. One other caveat – I’m a professional writer, not a lawyer—nor is the editor or publisher of this magazine. I’ll give you my best understanding of this issue, but it is solely from the perspective of a working author. There are several different definitions of the concept of intellectual property depending on which dictionary you consult. Most basically, it is a thought or an intangible idea or information that has been given a physical form. In an earlier article I said a writer writes. Until you put something down on paper, it’s simply an idea and everybody has ideas. What the creator does is incarnate it — give it a physical, tangible form. It may or may not be “art,” it may be good or bad, but it is now an intellectual property and, as such, has potential monetary value in the marketplace. Is it only the finished product that is an intellectual property? No. You may have notes, you may have initial sketches, you may have a few themes written down and someone can come along and develop them further or finish them for you and—voila!—we have intellectual property. That’s one of the reasons that you also don’t go telling your ideas all over the place — someone could take one and create their own work, which becomes their intellectual property. You cannot legally protect an idea but you can legally protect an intellectual property. It’s one of the reasons I never read fan fiction; if that is my known policy, JOHN OSTRANDER | 51
then I cannot be accused of stealing from Joe Fanboy. In fact, I’ve been told by Lucas Licensing not to read Star Wars fan fiction for that reason – to avoid lawsuits. Why are intellectual rights such a big deal? Because these days, if big bucks are going to be made, chances are it won’t be off the initial work. These days the bulk of money is made not off the monthly comic but the trade paperback (TPB) collection of it. A more staggering example (at least it was for me) was the realization that with the recent Star Wars films, the real money was made not from the films themselves but from the licensing and merchandising that surrounded them. Intellectual rights include all the possibilities of using and exploiting the work in any medium–Superman, for example, as a concept exists in everything from comics to novels to movies to Underoos. This comprises one of the major differences between working on your own characters—on something you own— and working on a franchised series. When you create a work of your own, the copyright belongs to you (or you and your co-creators, if any) from the moment of creation. When you’re working on a company-owned or franchised series or character, the company is going to own that from the moment of its creation. You’re doing “work-for-hire” and the contracts will spell out explicitly that you don’t own what you’ve created. Some companies will give you “participation” which means they’ll give you a cut of the intellectual property. Usually that’s on a character rather than a series. For example, I created the character of Amanda Waller for DC’s Suicide Squad and I was granted a participation percentage in the character – a very small one but participation nonetheless. When Amanda was used in the animated series Justice League Unlimited, DC collected a fee for her use and I got a check for my percentage of that fee.
I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with all of this; there are creators out there who emphatically do not agree. I’m only saying this is my understanding of the views of the companies. Much of the world also recognizes a creator’s “moral rights” such as the right of attribution and the right of integrity as defined by the Berne Convention. The former means the creator has a right to have their name attached to the creation and the latter says that, no matter who owns the intellectual rights, they do not have the right to change it in a way that distorts the creation or its intent (my interpretation). It was used several years ago by directors protesting Ted Turner’s colorization of old black-and-white movies. The United States, however, does not recognize moral rights.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Ostrander creation Amanda Waller (seen here on the cover to Suicide Squad #10) is a major player in the DC Universe. Cover art by Jerry Bingham. [© 2007 DC Comics.]
However, I in no way control the character of Amanda Waller. DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz, several years ago, commented to me that it’s not so much who owns the property as who controls it that matters. You may sign a contract with a publisher for an original, work-for-hire property to be published and they control the rights; you may have a “reversion clause” in the contract which usually provides for all rights returning to the creator if the company ceases publication or does not generate x amount of dollars within x amount of time. That’s in theory. In practice, if a company wants to, they can probably find any number of ways to hold on to the property. Even if the publishing rights revert to you, the companies may retain control over some of the rights—such as movies and/or merchandising. The creator can own the copyright but not the trademark. It is control over those copyright and trademark that determines who controls the property. 52 | WRITE NOW
If you take an existing character and put a new costume and a new name on them, you’re unlikely to receive additional compensation. The rationale is that the character already existed in the DC or Marvel Universe; giving them a different costume doesn’t change who they are. It’s not a “new” creation. Same thing with Lucasfilm and Star Wars, although they apply it to whole creation; the character would not exist except for the pre-existing concept of Star Wars itself. Everything grows out of the intellectual property that George Lucas created; thus, legally, I cannot be said really to “originate” anything in Star Wars and thus have no claim of ownership.
What are the advantages of working on a company-owned or franchised character? At the head of the list, I would put payment. Your page rate—the amount you are paid for doing the work–is usually better than on stuff you own, and on time. Royalties—a secondary payment based upon numbers of issues sold or other use of an intellectual property—are also more likely to occur.
There’s also visibility. In comics, a large part of what you are selling is your name and your track record. That’s used to determine your page rate. The mainstream publishers generally have the most readers. The more that readers are aware of you in a positive manner, the more your name is recognized, the more of a fan base you have, the more likely it is that readers will follow you to your next work – whether it is another company-owned or franchised character, or one of your own. Name recognition is very important if you expect to have a career in comics. Companies are also more likely, in my experience, to promote books that they own or in which they have a big financial stake. The PR department in each company has only so many dollars in its budget and so much space to use. They put it, again – in my experience, where they expect to get the biggest bang for the buck — and that usually means characters that the company owns outright.
CREATING BLOCKBUSTER WORLDS:
Comics Writers Are Making the Leap to Trans-Media Storytelling By Jeff Gomez
Man, did I love Godzilla when I was a kid. Unfortunately, there were no Godzilla toys, no books or magazines back then. Things are sure different now! Today, we’re living in the era of Trans-Media Storytelling (TMS). If that term sounds a bit strange to you, let me explain! Simply put, TMS is telling one story across different media platforms: comic books, novels, TV, movies, the Web, and so on. Aspects of this type of storytelling have been around for years. In the early 1940s, Batman and Superman made the jump from comic books to radio and movie serials. And while there was no crossing over of stories between the comics and the movie serials or radio shows, there was a certain amount of give and take between the media. Two important aspects of Batman’s mythology—Alfred the butler and the Batcave—were introduced in the first Batman serial in 1943, then adopted by the comics. As for Superman, both Perry White and Jimmy Olsen first appeared in the radio show. Even Kryptonite first appeared on-air before it was introduced into the comic books. While these are not trans-media storytelling in the strictest sense, they are examples of how the stage was set for a more coherent and focused approach to media properties in the years that followed.
Origins Of Trans-Media Storytelling
To understand trans-media storytelling, we actually need to go back a bit further than the 1940s. With the
[© 2007 by Starlight Runner Entertainment.]
eff Gomez started working in comics as an assistant editor at Valiant Comics in 1994, but quickly hit his stride as a full editor there after becoming a liaison between Valiant and video game giant Acclaim Entertainment. Realizing that great stories could be translated from whatever their medium of origin to the whole gamut of entertainment media, he has become a specialist in developing what he calls “Trans-Media Storytelling.” He believes in the concept so passionately that his company, Starlight Runner Entertainment, is devoted to just that. Here, Jeff tells us a little bit about his own journey and how the media world is being transformed even as we watch—and play, and hear, and interact! Take it away, Jeff! —DF
advent of mass media in the late 19th century came a rise in demand for books and periodicals with broad appeal. Fictional characters came to prominence, and readers wanted to enjoy their further exploits in sequels or other iterations. So Sherlock Holmes would venture through issue after issue of Strand magazine, and then those short stories and novellas would be collected as books. Later, there would be stage plays and radio shows adapting his exploits or inventing new ones. He arrived on the silver screen in 1912 in France, and has never been gone for long. The same can be said for Dracula, Tarzan, and Little Orphan Annie. But the concept of formalizing storytelling across multiple media platforms didn’t really come into focus until the 1960s, and it emerged out of the Japanese comic book industry. Unlike American television, there was no Hollywood machine in Tokyo churning out libraries of animated shorts and simple Hanna-Barbera concepts with which they could jam the airwaves. Japan’s TV studios instead turned to the newly burgeoning manga market for cartoon ideas. JEFF GOMEZ | 57
Astro Boy, Speed Racer, The Eighth Man and Gigantor all started out as comic strip serials in weekly telephone book-sized anthologies put out by newspaper companies. Studios like Toei and Tatsunoko adapted the strips, and toy companies like Bandai quickly caught on to the notion of merchandising the characters to eager Asian ‘tweens. A business model was forged, and a close-knit industry was born.
Those ’70s Shows
By the ’70s, while I was watching Jabberjaw and Hong Kong Phooey, the Japanese were producing elaborate kidvid serials where super heroes with dark secrets and complex pasts were engaged in life or death struggles with galactic empires and lurid underground criminal organizations. Storylines ran parallel or jumped back and forth between television, manga and eventually direct-to-video, and when situations got really dire, there would be a theatrical feature to mark the event! This resulted in a series of rich, fully realized worlds, and they started generating a lot of money!
to trans-media storytelling; they are not in themselves trans-media story worlds, because they were not originally designed to be so. Based on my experience, here are the distinguishing features of trans-media rollouts: • Content is originated by one or a very few creative visionaries. • Cross-media rollout is planned early in the life of the franchise. • Content is distributed to three or more media platforms. • Content is unique, adheres to the specific strengths of the platform and is not repurposed from one platform to the next. • Content is in-continuity, observing the chronology, laws and characterization of the core property.
For a single magical year I was exposed to this insanity after my free-spirited mom decided to whisk us away to live in Hawaii in 1975. It was an electrifying trip to Oz, and though I would eventually return to my concrete Kansas on New York’s pre-gentrified Lower East Side, I would never look at “story” the same way again. When I wrote my stories, or started refereeing Dungeons & Dragons games, every battle would be epic; every event would run along a timeline, every character would have an origin and a destiny… And then in 1977, Star Wars was released. Because no one expected it to be as successful as it was, the licensing and merchandising rights were left in the hands of the property’s creator, George Lucas. Lucas was savvy enough to marry storytelling and technology in a variety of ways, and this resulted in the first western endeavor to equivocate and even build upon the Japanese model. Marvel Comics’ Star Wars series filled in the blanks in the storylines between the episodes of the original trilogy. Today, the Dark Horse series continue to embellish upon the mythos, fleshing out secondary and even tertiary characters. These were no longer movies; they were at once a mythology and a lifestyle. Geek heaven! So George Lucas, a man who had been raised on pop culture, became one of the world’s first transmedia storytellers.
Distinguishing Trans-Media Story Worlds
It’s important to distinguish our standard perception of fictional worlds and persistent universes from transmedia storytelling. The Marvel and DC universes, the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, and Harry Potter’s Hogwarts are some great source material for TMS. Such properties (or aspects of them) lend themselves 58 | WRITE NOW
The Magic: The Gathering comic book line boasted a roster of top talent such as Charles Vess who did the cover to Magic The Gathering: Ice Age #1. [© 2007 Wizards of the Coast, Inc.]
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ROUGH STUFF #4 PREVIEW! ROUGH STUFF magazine celebrates the ART of creating comics! Edited by famed inker BOB McLEOD, each issue spotlights NEVER-BEFORE PUBLISHED penciled pages, preliminary sketches, detailed layouts, and even unused inked versions from artists throughout comics history. Included is commentary on the art, discussing what went right and wrong with it, and background information to put it all into historical perspective. Plus, before-andafter comparisons let you see firsthand how an image changes from initial concept to published version. So enjoy these excerpts from issue #4, which presents galleries of NEVER-BEFORE SEEN art by: MICHAEL KALUTA • GENE COLAN ANDREW ROBINSON • HOWARD CHAYKIN JOHN TOTLEBEN • STEVEN BISSETTE Plus a JOHN TOTLEBEN interview, art from the Wonder Woman Day charity auction, and a new KALUTA COVER! (100-page magazine) SINGLE ISSUES: $9 US SUBSCRIPTIONS: Four issues in the US: $24 Standard, $36 First Class (Canada: $44, Elsewhere: $48 Surface, $64 Airmail).
ROUGH STUFF #1 ALAN DAVIS • GEORGE PÉREZ BRUCE TIMM • KEVIN NOWLAN JOSÉ LUIS GARCÍA-LÓPEZ ARTHUR ADAMS • JOHN BYRNE WALTER SIMONSON Plus a NOWLAN interview, and a new TIMM COVER!
ROUGH STUFF #2
ROUGH STUFF #3
PAUL GULACY JOHN ROMITA JR. • MIKE ALLRED BRIAN APTHORP • ALEX TOTH JOHN BUSCEMA • YANICK FRANK BRUNNER PAQUETTE • P. CRAIG RUSSELL JERRY ORDWAY • MATT WAGNER LEE WEEKS Plus a PAUL GULACY interview, professional art critiques, and a new GULACY “HEX” COVER!
Plus a JOHN ROMITA JR. interview, looks at the earliest work of some of your favorite artists, and a new ROMITA JR. COVER!
ROUGH STUFF #5 STEVE RUDE PAUL SMITH • GIL KANE CULLY HAMNER ASHLEY WOOD • DALE KEOWN Plus a STEVE RUDE interview, an examination of John Albano and Tony DeZuniga's work on Jonah Hex, and a new RUDE COVER!
TwoMorrows. Celebrating The Art & History Of Comics. TwoMorrows • 10407 Bedfordtown Drive • Raleigh, NC 27614 USA • 919-449-0344 • FAX: 919-449-0327 • E-mail: email@example.com • www.twomorrows.com
MICHAEL KALUTA MICHAEL KALUTA Batman: Cat’s Cradle The Cat’s Cradle is that Kaluta design trip with what, 4 bat symbols... his chest, the batarang, his face/cowl and the Bat Signal behind all... the Cat’s Cradle will add a touch of the arcane... A year later I was asked by another editor if I’d paint the cover up for inclusion in an omnibus dedicated to the release of Batman Begins. When I asked if it were to be a cover, he said no, a pin-up. I mentioned that a pin-up wouldn’t need to be painted: did he mean he wanted the piece colored, like a comic book page (after all, both the painting of a piece and the printing of a painted piece are expensive propositions, much more than the coloring of a page and printing of same)? Well, he said “Oh, no, we really want it painted!” Cool! But they really didn’t... it was an editorial mix up. What was needed for the piece was normal comic book page coloring. Still, they got a painted Batman image. Through one thing and another, the piece ended up back in my hands with assurances it’d not be used, so here: Rough Stuff gets the benefit of their editorial kindness! Batman TM & ©2007 DC Comics
ROUGH STUFF #4 PREVIEW
STEVEN BISSETTE Something that was lost for a time in the mid-tolate ‘90s in comics were pages that had no market value, that just told their stories well. In the rush to create ‘sellable’ and ‘hot’ pages for their original art market, it seemed that many of the most prominent comics artists suddenly went nuts, eschewing storytelling for a seemingly interminable procession of posed splash pages. If a page didn’t feature a flashy key heroic character or villain melodramatically engaged in action or posing like he/she were in a fashion fit (see John Water’s Female Trouble), the artists couldn’t be bothered: storytelling took a back seat to cranking out original art for the marketplace, with maximum pricing potential usurping caring about the story, the characters, the readers. (This became so prevalent by the time I retired in 1999 that I was not surprised to hear more than once from friends who were industry vets that new artists they were working with, who were assigned to draw from my friends’ scripts, seemed incapable of telling a story, so determined were they to convert every single page into a splash page of some sort, however disruptive to the narrative or superfluous it
Thus, I submit this little two-page sequence — still among my favorites of all those Alan, John and I did for our Swamp Thing run — from the opening of SOTST #23 (pp. 5 and 6), in which an ill-fated teen lad returns to the car he left his drinking buddies behind in while he (stupid fellow) went to take a piss (note: NEVER go take a piss if you’re a character in a horror movie or horror comic). Though this is a pretty understated sequence, Alan’s script, his suggested stag-
ing, the realization of everything Alan called for (down to the “LUP LUP LUP LUP” of the beer can emptying out, crushed in the dead boy’s hand — indicating the violence has just this moment occurred, mere nanoseconds ago, despite the stillness of the tableau otherwise: a brilliant touch on Alan’s part!), and if I may say so my own execution of the particulars in translating his script to pencil (including the characterization of the teenager, based on actor Matt Dillon) right to the concluding pages’s action still works like a charm. Too many cartoonists eschew or misuse sound effects. The creation of the panel at the top of page 6 from the boy’s scream alone is an effective graphic device, and though I’ve since adopted less aggressive page and panel design aesthetics, at the time my determination to make page and panel composition integral to the emotional impact of each and every page still works for me: the splintered fragmentation of page 6 communicates volumes, culminating in the most disruptive shard of all dead center: the moment of the boy’s death. The symmetry of composition concludes with mirror ‘shard’ panels in which we finally see his killer as he sees him, with his dying vision: Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man. 72
ROUGH STUFF #4 PREVIEW
Courtesy of David Hamilton. Swamp Thing TM & ©2007 DC Comics.
end up being.)