Batman & Robin Adventures #7

Saw this online:


Now that’s how you depict the Ventriloquist, someone to whom Scarface is very real, and not real at all, both at the same time, and doesn’t see anything odd about it.
and I really loved that analysis of the character. 

I own this page of original art. I won't say I stole the page from Rick Burchett....per se. But I will say it’s one of the finest examples of storytelling I’ve ever seen. 

It all starts with great writing from Ty Templeton, and without his wonderful script, of course, it's not likely we'd even be talking about it. But the thing that makes it work as staggeringly effectively as it does is that pan down, a pan created entirely by Rick’s judicious use of gutters. It forces the reader to slow down—something difficult to do in comics, and virtually unheard of these days—so the bloody hand, which is the key and obviously there the entire time, isn’t revealed until the third panel. Amazing. Simple yet simply brilliant. 

Also noteworthy is fantastic coloring from Linda Medley. Linda is, of course, the incredible writer/artist/creator of the magnificent Castle Waiting books, but despite that, she colored a number of comics for me in the 90s. (But not nearly enough—never nearly enough. Still and all, I'm grateful she agreed to color any.) 

Detective Comics #726

Ran across this today. I think of this issue often, for a number of reasons, but I'd forgotten about this particular page. Which is kinda funny, since it features the Batman choking me out.


That's right, I'm the one Batman's choking with his right hand.


Also featured on this page are some of artist Brian Stelfreeze's other favorites, such as Cully Hamner, Karl Story, Jordan B. Gorfinkel (twice! boy, he must have really hacked off the Dark Knight), Darren Vincenzo and Mike Cotton.

Kinda weird that I sometimes forget about this page. Probably a spot of brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.

Jim Aparo, master storyteller

I'm currently working on a new project which has had me looking to try some approaches I haven't really used much before. I've been talking over various storytelling techniques with my co-creator, the artist on the project, and as will happen, we've been discussing artists that were formative influences on us. Which in my case leads me back, time and again, to the great Jim Aparo. Here are just a few of the pages that we've found especially interesting or useful.

Looking at these, I'm amazed at how much he can fit on a page without it ever feeling cramped. The storytelling is so clear yet so dramatic. 10 panels and yet it still somehow manages to breathe.

And Jim obviously wasn't hesitant to go for panels that probably weren't all that much fun to draw, yet which did exactly what was best for the story—I mean, how clean and clear is this sequence with the motorcyclist? The way the locked-off camera adds to the tension (no pun intended) as the biker draws nearer and nearer to his doom?

How dynamic yet efficient are these upshots of the Batman and the KGBeast leaping over the alley? How great is the first combination of panels, with a closeup of the Beast and the Batman in the foreground contrasted with a dutched long shot of them in silhouette in the background, followed by the bird's eye view? That's a lot of camera movement, and yet there's never the slightest doubt what's going on and where. 


Check out these Milleresque vertical panels—curiously underused these days, yet utterly perfect for the actions involved in this sequence: climbing an elevator shaft, dropping cinder blocks down an elevator shaft...basically, the things one does when near an elevator shaft. 


These quick cuts are so effective. Notice how tight Jim pulled in for most of them, and why not? It heightens the drama, and it's not like there's any way for anyone to mistake who either of the faces on this page are. (By the by, that curving shadow from the Batman's ear? That is, in fact, the proper way to shade the Batman's cowl. For the record.)
I love the stat-and-repeats going back and forth between Bruce and the Joker—like the classic Clint Eastwood/Lee Van Cleef/Eli Wallach standoff from Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Also, that Joker chin, man—so awesome. 

I loved Jim Aparo's art from the very first time I saw it. But the longer I study it, the more I admire it.

Detective Comics #710

So I had reason to look at this page today, pencilled by Graham Nolan and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz, from a script by Chuck Dixon. It features what may be my single favorite drawing of the Batman ever, or at least his head. The whole page is great, but just look at that very first panel. The Batman looks lean and tough and dangerous and impossibly cool—I mean, he looks like he could take out a small group of assassins just using his ears. You don't get any more badass than that.


The Killing Joke

I was talking about this with Kelley Jones the other day and even after all these years I still think this is probably the single greatest house ad I've ever seen.



In Which Bruce Timm and Paul Dini Congratulate Me on My Nuptials

When I walked in to my office at DC Comics one day in May 1994, after being away for a week on my honeymoon, this was waiting on my desk.



Not a terrible way to start the working day. In fact, between that and being married, it was a pretty good way to start the week.

Happy Valentine's Day from the Midnighter

Of the many cool things about working at WildStorm, one of the best was getting to edit the Midnighter monthly. I took over the title from Scott Dunbier not quite halfway through the run, and got to work with some of the finest creators in the industry, including Keith Giffen, Chris Sprouse, Rick Burchett, Trevor Scott and the impossibly awesome Lee Garbett.

When it came to the final issue, Keith wrote a 21-page story. It would have been easy enough to stretch it an extra page, but instead, we decided to thank the fans for their support. And what better way than with a heartfelt tribute?


I think the actual bloody heart was my idea, but the lil' Midnighter Cupids were Lee's, and turning the valentine in the background into the Carrier's door was colorist Gabe Eltaeb's. Obviously, I'm biased, but I think this may be my favorite shot of the Midnighter ever, due in no small part to the great Lee Garbett being so great.

Game Over review

It's always gratifying when something you've created causes someone to spontaneously semi-confess to past misdeeds. Chris O'Donnell writes:
I read it in two nights, so that probably tells you what you need to know. Scott doesn’t waste any words in the book. He jumps right into the plot and he keeps the plot accelerator floored for pretty much the entire book. I’m a little beyond the target age range of the book, but my enjoyment of it had nothing to do with the fact that a certain high school I attended had to spend a bunch of money on Apple II computers when the military base pulled the schools terminals because certain students, some of whom avoided punishment, had socially engineered a teacher account and engaged in some non-authorized exploration of the base mainframe file system. I may or may not have been involved.

Batgirl

The internet's awesome. Without it, I wouldn't have copies of even half the stuff I've written over the years. Por ejemplo:


I am constantly in awe of how many great artists I've gotten to work with, even if ever so briefly.

Codename: Kids Next Door

Hey, check out what I've got coming out this week.


That's right. The cover don't lie. I'm being published in the same book as Louise Simonson. That's just...insane.

Here's the blurb:
The KND discover something even worse than parents, the Delightful Children From Down the Lane, editors, or even asparagus, when they get caught up in the Super Secret Crisis War! Challenged to a fight by a robot created by the evil Aku, the KND find they're in an impossible situation: win and they're transported Aku’s space station. But lose and... well, they're goners! What's a collection of underage operatives for a super secret global organization to do?
(I can't believe they left in the bit about editors.)

Click right here to check out a preview—featuring amazing art by the great Ryan Jampole.

Buy early, buy often.

Batgirls

Towards the end of my stint with WildStorm—which is to say, towards the end of WildStorm's life—I had the distinct pleasure of working with Jon Sommariva on a book. It was a limited series, so as it was wrapping up, we started discussing what he could/should do next. I'd have loved to work with him again, but didn't have anything free at the moment, so I suggested doing some DC characters, to show the east coast what he could do, offering to give him a rave review as to what it was like to work with him. I knew that the then-current Batgirl artist was going to be leaving the book, but had no idea what the plans were going forward, so thought doing a variety of versions of the character might be a good way to go.

This was the result, and it made me all the sorrier I wasn't able to give him oodles and boodles of work.



By the time he was done with it—after all, he was still drawing a monthly book at that point—the Batgirl book had already gone in another direction. Fortunately, Jon's gone on to do very well for himself...but I'm still holding out hopes of working with him again someday. I mean, just look at that thing. Who wouldn't love to work with that artist?

Game Over: Birth of a Cover

So. I had a novel ready to go. Now came time for the part of the process that I am completely and totally unable to even fake: the cover.

Fortunately, I know Christopher Gugliotti and, far more important, he knows I have information on him which certain foreign governments would be very interested to learn about. Which means he's "happy" to make me some pretty covers. (For a fee, of course.)

I knew the rough elements I wanted on the cover, but there were so many, that I wasn't sure it'd work without being too busy—and the prevailing design trend in YA these days seems to lean more towards the minimalist side of things. What's more, to be effective, a cover really needs to be recognizable at thumbnail size, since that's how big (or, I suppose, how small) most people will first see it on Amazon.

So, with some trepidation, I start. I ask a photographer I know to snap a photo of a school crossing sign.

photo by Melissa Wiley
(Why are these adults going to a grade school? Why aren't kids shown on the sign? For saftey reasons? They're just silhouettes, for pete's sake. Are kids more difficult to properly silhouette than adults? And who are these adults? Are they teachers? Can we see some I.D.? Also, is the man carrying a purse? I make no judgments, I'm just asking.) 

Thusly armed, I proceed to use my advanced knowledge of composition to sketch out a rough design for Chris.

tremble in awe at my graffick skillz!
be awed. be very awed.
I sent both things to him and about five minutes later he replies, along with a note saying "something like this?"


Yes. Something very much like that.

Okay. So now let's add the text.


Hm. I love the yellow filter Chris put over the entire thing, but the title and name placement aren't really working. Let's nuke my original design and swap the text elements. And let's go with a font for the title that says "computer."


Way better. Not loving the plainness of the font for my name, though, even though I've noticed most YA books this year are using a sans serif font for their cover elements. Let's try the same font Chris used on my Uncivil War books.


Oh, I like that so much better. The drop shadow on the title makes a big difference. I think my name's still a tad large, though, and I don't feel like we need the Uncivil War bit—note my bold attempt at going minimalist—so let's take one more pass.


And we've got us a cover.

Chuck Dixon: From Comics to Novels


Chuck Dixon is recognized across the industry as the most prolific writer working in comics today. 

His résumé includes thousands of scripts for such iconic characters as Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Iron Man, the Punisher, The Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants and GI Joe.

He is (along with artist Graham Nolan) the creator of the Batman villain Bane, the first permanent addition to the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery in forty years and for which he won 1993′s Wizard Fan Award for best new character. 

An early pioneer in the movement for creator ownership of comic book properties, Chuck is also the creative force behind Lawdog, Sigurd and Slasher, Invasion ’55, The Vanishers, War Man, Seven Block and comics cult classic Winterworld.


  

Dixon was nominated for an Eisner for El Cazador, a pirate epic created for CrossGen comics with Steve Epting.

Along with Jordan Gorfinkel, Chuck created the successful comics series Birds of Prey for DC Comics which was developed for television by Warner Bros. 

Currently, in addition to writing GI Joe for IDW and The Simpsons for Bongo Comics as well as various other projects for comics and motion pictures, Chuck has launched the science fiction novel series Bad Times. The third installment, Avenging Angels, is now available.  




***

Chuck was almost the first professional comic book writer I met. We worked together on (among many other things) Detective Comics, the flagship title of DC Comics, as well as the birthplace of the Batman. I talked to Chuck recently about moving from comics to novels. 

So. Chuck. After 25 years as one of the most prolific comic book writers in the entire industry, writing not only the graphic novel adaptation of The Hobbit but also hundreds of stories for Batman, you've turned into a self-published novelist. 
Actually, I prefer "raconteur-at-large."

Of course you do. What was the hardest part about transitioning to prose?
No artist!



What, if anything, was a pleasant surprise or change?
No artist!



Okay, some joking aside, I had to learn to write real descriptive stuff—actual wordsmithing to create a picture or environment in the reader’s head. In comic scripts I'm describing stuff for the artist to draw. It's informal and sometimes repetitive. "Nightwing jumps again." That won't fly in prose. So I had to put more description in my work. Not too much at first. Then, when I realized I was twenty thousand words short of my contracted length, a whole lot more.

The most pleasant surprise was that novels aren’t like comics in that you don’t have to end on The Big Moment. You’re allowed a denouement. But I still allow myself only brief ones.

"Novels aren’t like comics in that you don’t have to end on The Big Moment. You’re allowed a dénouement."

Have you found that, now that you're self-pubbing prose novels, you're able to write stories you wouldn't have been able to tell in comics? 
In comics I've always tried to hold myself to a PG rating, particularly with superhero stuff that attracts kids. And I'm not really into writing comics that have skeevy or gross-out imagery. My target audience there is a precocious ten-year-old. In prose I'm not as restrained. For my novels, my target is a felon doing hard time with limited choices in reading material. I can be more expletive-laden and what my wife likes to refer to as "frank" in my writing.

"My target audience is a felon doing hard time with limited choices in reading material."

Do you have a daily writing routine? Anything you do to get into the groove?
With comics it’s a lot of walking around and a little typing. An actual workday of six hours or so. With prose it’s an all-day, all-night ordeal and then trying not to sneak back into the office on weekends. It’s like a marathon only with a lot more napping.


You were known for being insanely prolific as a comics writer, averaging 8 pages a day at a time when 4 or 5 pages would have been a really good day for most writers. Now that you're working in prose, do you have a daily page count or word count you try do hit? 
I'm averaging about 10,000 words a week. On a good week.


How much do you think about your story away from the computer?
Constantly. My Bad Times series involved time travel and paradoxes and parallel events. I’m constantly having further paradoxes and complications occur to me and then working back to make sure they fit. My wife insists that writing that stuff makes me schizo. I can’t argue with that even though the little voice in my head insists I should. But what does he know? He hasn’t been born yet!


Do you outline, even in your head—do you know where the story's going to end? How much do most of your stories change along the way?
I hate writing outlines. I’m about the same age P.G. Wodehouse was when he started outlining. So maybe I should start doing that. His excuse was that he was being held prisoner by the Nazis. (It’s true! Look it up!)

I know my Big Scenes. I know what I’m working toward. What changes the most is the layering on of character and event detail. There’s no room in comics for anything but the broadest storytelling (if you’re doing it right). To dig in on stuff like dialogue sequences and internal stream of consciousness is all brand new to me as a writer and I’m more comfortable with it after almost ten novels.

I also get to delve into geeky detail bits like the pseudo-science or some obscure historical detail. Do readers dig those parts or am I going all Melville on them? Cetology, right? Who cares? They can skip those parts if they like. But, if I can believe the reviews, the readers are digging them.

  


How has self-publishing gone? Is it odd to be on your own?
It’s turned out not to be as scary as freelancing. With series work the more books I add to the series the more I earn. It’s like a reverse Ponzi scheme. With each new addition the earlier books sell more. The payments are monthly and add up to decent money annually. But I still have to put the work in. That’s never bothered me.

"With series work the more books I add to the series the more I earn. It’s like a reverse Ponzi scheme. With each new addition the earlier books sell more."


What's the best part?
Just making stuff up wholesale. I miss working with a good editor and the back and forth of that. But I don’t run into that many good, interested, engaged editors these days. And after experiences with producers in film and TV I want to run away and write in a cave.

Oh, and I own it. I mean OWN it with no encumbrances.


What's the least great part?
Marketing myself. I hate that part.

"Marketing myself—I hate that part."

What do you do about the technical side of things? Proofreading, editing, formatting for ebooks, and covers? 
I have an editor, JW Manus, who proofs and formats for me. I send Jaye the files and she sends back a proofed version in Word. She always finds a few awkwardly constructed sentences that she, rightly, suggests I fix. In my most recent book she suggested that I eliminate a couple of sentences that were either redundant or telegraphing too much. Since she's the first reader of the work other than me I always go with her direction. Jaye's not my editor in the truest sense of the word because I'm not really looking for story editing, just content. But she's made observations that were very helpful and one that led to a new running subplot that will lead to an entry in the Bad Times series all its own.

Once that part is done she formats the book and I look over that version before sending it off to Amazon.

The covers are handled by Derek Murphy who does ebook and Print-On-Demand covers full time. I give him the elements I'm looking for and he has something for me to look at in a few days. Since it's a series the covers have a tight format that he came up with. It's just a matter of filling in the two figures that are always prominent on each cover.


Sounds like you're pretty happy with the way things are working. Would you be open to writing for a traditional publisher?
If they backed up a truckload of money or promised a big marketing push or both? Sure.


Titans or X-Men?
Batman and the Outsiders.

Chuck Dixon as interpreted by artist Flint Henry

Game Over — a new YA novel

So I've got a new YA novel out.


As you might be able to guess from looking at the cover, it's called Game Over.

It's set in the middle of America in the middle of the previous decade. A group of friends, tired of being picked on, decide to fight back and, as will tend to happen, things get a little out of hand.

How out of hand? Well, here's how the novel opens:
The tanks rolled in just before dawn. 
People felt the rumbling from halfway across town—Ben said later that he fell out of bed, his room was shaking so much. Of course, Ben was known to exaggerate. 
Still, there was no need to exaggerate about this one—it was even more screwed up anything any of us could have imagined, and we had some great imaginations. Our little town, right in the middle of America, under siege. By our own army, sent in by our own government. Roads ripped up by tank treads, neighborhoods sealed off, electricity cut, phones tapped, bank accounts frozen, Green Berets sweeping through our backyards in the dark and a complete news blackout. 
All because of us: a bunch of computer geeks.  
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should back up and start at the beginning. The beginning of the story, way back in 2004. And the beginning of school. High school, that is. 
So...pretty much that out of hand. Which is to say, really very much so.

Why is it set in 2004? Well, because that's when I wrote it. It was the first novel I'd ever written. At that point, I'd been writing comic books professionally for about six years, and wanted to try prose. I'd written some short children's books during that time, and a series of vignettes the previous decade, and it made me curious to see if I had it in me to stretch out and tell a longer story. And when the idea to Game Over first occurred to me, it was clear it wasn't really a natural fit for the medium of comic books.

So one day I just started writing. And unlike (superhero) comics, which tend to have very definite pages counts you have to know ahead of time, before you've written the first word, with a novel you can pretty much let the story dictate how long it's going to be. So I just wrote and then I wrote and then I wrote some more. And about four months later I was surprised to realize I was on the second to last chapter and then I was done. And then what?

Well, then other projects came up, and I worked on them...and then I found myself going back to a full-time job as a staff editor and that was that for the next several years.

Until a year ago when I thought about Game Over again. I re-read it for the first time in a decade and decided that, yeah, I still liked it. So, knowing an outstanding cover artist, I got a cover for it, and had it proofread and sent it out into the world.

And here 'tis.

Tell your friends. Tell all your friends.



***

(PS: to those who understandably keep writing, asking about the next Uncivil War installment, this isn't it. But, yes, I do have the next volume in the works. I'll let you know the pub date as soon as possible.)