Gotham Adventures #17

When I was first trying to figure out how to differentiate the original Batman Adventures run from the many other Batman comics we were then producing, one of the things that occurred to me was to strictly limit the number of panels per page.

I liked this idea for a few reasons. The first was that the book was designed to be accessible and attractive to the very earliest of readers, and fewer, bigger panels seemed to me one way to achieve that goal. But the other thing was that we were, obviously, tied to the brilliant animated show. And I felt that by going with fewer and therefore bigger panels per page, we'd be making it a faster read, sorta kinda imitating the kind of motion animation obviously has and which comics obviously don't have.

I thought it worked wonderfully. Some creators felt it was a bit restrictive, but others flourished—most obviously the unsurpassable team of Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck and Rick Burchett. I found it to be something like working in blank verse rather than free verse, somewhat akin to the (perhaps apocryphal?) famous Robert Frost quote that writing free verse was like playing tennis without a net. I loved the challenge of writing (hopefully) fully satisfying, interesting, exciting, funny, thought-provoking stories with an absolutely maximum of 85 panels (and sometimes even fewer).

Fortunately, in Tim Levins I found a co-creator more than up for the challenge. Just check out this page, from Gotham Adventures #17—only our second issue working together:
Look at how clear, how elegant, yet how interesting this page is.

The exterior establishing shot, shot from far away and high above, already indicating the house—mansion, really—is extremely large...and there are unconscious bodies strewn about.

Move in for an interior establishing shot, with another interesting camera angle, another victim in the extreme foreground, others in the background, and more indications of wealth.

The third panel, the first to show actual action, as two more victims are tossed onto an enormous desk, the action ramping things up, the angle straight on for maximum clarity.

Then the final panel, pulling the camera back, although still eye level, with the Batman and not just his deeds at long last on stage, way off to the right of the panel, his antagonist on the far left, their placements drawing a parallel between these two characters, both largely in shadow and yet the antagonist's wheelchair highlighting the obvious difference.

Gotham Adventuers #20: Swing

Reason #739381 I love working with Tim Levins

Compare and contrast the script page I wrote:
Page Five
Panel One
Batman and Robin swing as only they can. Starry, starry night behind them, Gotham all a-twinkle. It’s poetry, really.
     ROBIN: Wow. I knew Eden’s Own was popular, but I had no idea it’d gotten this big. 
     BATMAN: So you’ve heard of this cereal before? 

Panel Two
     ROBIN: Are you kidding? Eden’s Owns is the hottest thing on the market. There’s a lot of people who won’t eat anything else.
     ROBIN: I first heard about it from Batgirl--it’s only sold through health food stores, so college kids were about the first to pick up on it. 

Panel Three
They land on a rooftop.
     ROBIN: These days, though...

Panel Four
Robin gestures to the street down below. We can see a row of stores, all of which are closed; well, it is four o’clock in the morn, for pete’s sake. Then how come there is a huge queue, at least two dozen deep, forming outside the Blossom’s Health Foods store? Ah, mysteries... If we can see it, the store’s got a big sign in the window: “We Have Eden’s Own!”
     ROBIN: Well, just take a look.
     ROBIN: The store won’t even be open for five hours and people are already lining up to buy the stuff.
 with what Tim then drew:


I wrote "swing."

That was the total of my shot description. And that big panel is what I got in return.

Look at the characterization there: the Batman all big, bold, aggressive, assured, sheer power yet graceful, whereas Robin is more, well, kid-like, albeit a kid who's got the ability and nerve to swing from a line hundreds of feet above the city streets. Awesome.

I was fascinated to look at my page of script today, as it'd been 15 years or so since I'd last looked at it. This was only the fourth issue Tim and I had worked on together, and yet looking at those minimalist shot descriptions, very clearly I'd already internalized just what he was capable of and willing to bring to the table as an artist, and trusted him completely. As well as I should. That big dramatic panel, bookended by the smaller yet still visually interesting and aesthetically pleasing panels, with the final panel pure storytelling? That's like Comic Book Storytelling 101 right there.

Gotham Adventures #15

So my boy Tim Levins the great and powerful has been posting some of our old Gotham Adventures collaborations on his DeviantArt page, and making me positively sentimental (something which does not come naturally to me). What's more, I'm learning some stuff about how he felt about the work, and that's beyond delightful.

This is a page from our first issue together. I was thrilled with Tim's work from the very first, but I think this may be the page that made me fall helplessly, hopelessly, deeply in love with his art, and want to keep working with him forever and ever.
true love, Gotham style

I am the knight

My wife comes out of her office and stops short. "What?" she says in an alarmed tone.

I look up. "What what?"

"Why do you have that look on your face?"

"What look?"

"You looked so...grim."

"Oh. Sorry. I was being Batman."

"Oh. No, I'm sorry. Go back to it," she says, heading back into her office.

One of the nice things about being married to another writer is you don't have to explain what it's like when you suddenly find yourself writing dialogue for a scene when you're actually right in the middle of washing the dishes.

The Joy of Writing

I've never seen any other depiction come anywhere near this close to dead on accurate.

Kelley Puckett in Batgirl Beyond

When Annie Wu and I did Batgirl Beyond a few years back, my old pal Kelley Puckett gave me feedback on an early version of the script. I graciously thanked him here in this second panel. That's the kind of loving, respectful relationship we have.

Gotham Adventures #23

So someone sent this to me, and it was a delightful surprise, since I was a fan of all seven days, but two of them were, well, mine. On the Wednesday entry, I was the editor for the pinup by the great Kelley Jones and how awesome is his shot? How dead on is his characterization of the Joker and Penguin, despite being rendered in a totally different style to his normal incredibly unique style?

Then there's Sunday. I wrote that issue, my first time (I think) writing the immortal Ra's al Ghul, fully aware of what huge shoes I had to fill. Fortunately, I had the great Tim Levins on art, so I knew I was at least well covered there. And how well covered indeed. I haven't read the entire issue in years, but I had to laugh, looking at the panels reprinted here. I clearly asked more of Tim than was seemly or kind, and even more clearly, Tim then went and delivered, and then some.

I mean, here're my shot descriptions for Pages Sixteen and Seventeen:
Page Sixteen
Panel One
Big ol’ shot of the Dark Knight doing his best Tarzan imitation as he swings towards the stronghold of Ra’s al Ghul. His line’s attached to either a tree near the castle, or has imbedded into the castle itself. If, for any reason, this wouldn’t work given the geography of the island, Tim, just let me know and I’ll change this all around.

Panel Two
He’s now let go of the line and is entering a window in one of the castle’s turrets feet first, knocking over several of the guards as he does so.

Panel Three
He turns to see a host of guards coming up the turret stairs. Batman’s in one of his ready crouches and is taking a sword off one of the unconscious guards whilst never taking his eyes off the approaching troops. It’s a scimitar, one of those big mamajama swords that’s curved and thicker near the tip than the handle.

Panel Four
Batman’s in the winding stone stairway, swordfighting his way down the stairs, conquering guards left and right, taking another sword off a vanquished foe. Roll over, Errol Flynn.

Page Seventeen
Panel One
Pull way back for a big shot. Batman is still carrying his swords, if it looks okay to have a sword in each hand; if it doesn’t, just give him one (and delete the second from last panel) and have Ra’s toss him one next page. Batman is sprinting out of the stairs and into an immense room as guards come swarming. If we still see the stairs, it’s piled with bodies. This is the anteroom of the throne room (and where else would Lord al Ghul be?); although we can’t see Ra’s yet, we can glimpse the room he’s in through the enormous doorway. The door itself is a huge wooden door inside the room, hanging by a pulley system--we won’t know this until next panel, but there you go. Almost done with guards, Tim.

Panel Two
Batman enters the throne room, walking now. As he does so he throws his sword backwards and up without looking. The sword cuts through the rope holding the door up, imbedding in the wall. Needless to say, with the rope thus severed, the door begins to plummet closed.

Panel Three
Twoshot of Batman and Ra’s. The hero and the villain. The Dark Knight and the Demon’s Head. Protagonist and antagonist. The door slams closed. There are no guards in the room, but there is an enormous and ornate tapestry that hangs on an otherwise blank section of wall. This tapestry hangs almost all the way to the floor; it doens’t matter which of the four walls, but it’d be nice to see it here. This is absolutely the only decoration in the entire room, which is quite large indeed, except for some torches on the walls, if you want, because torches are cool and Ghulish. I think Ra’s is sitting down here, but if standing works better, so be it.
      RA’S: Hello, Detective.
What I asked for was totally unreasonable. And yet here's what Tim delivered.

I am a very lucky man. (And I feel we've proven beyond a doubt that torches are Ghoulish.)

What States Drink

Well. We may have finally found something even the reddest of states (Texas, Alaska, Alabama) and the bluest (California, Vermont, Hawaii) agree on: Jack Daniels.

life imitates art

Sounds like someone's been reading Game Over.

Mathematician says Kansas voting machines need to be audited
WICHITA, Kan. —A Wichita State University mathematician said she has seen enough odd patterns in Kansas election results that she thinks it's time to check the accuracy of some voting machines.
Clarkson said an audit is important because of national concerns about the voting machines that thousands of Kansans use to cast their ballots each year. She added that she noticed some suspicious patterns after the November elections and wants to find out why.
But Beth Clarkson said government officials have been reluctant to provide her with the records she needs to conduct an audit.
The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Sedgwick County election officials refused to allow computer records to be part of any recount, instead telling Clarkson if she wanted them she would have to fight for them in court.
And as we all remember from high school, if you can't trust a mathematician, who can you trust? (Besides your car to the man who wears the star.)

Hope Springs Eternal

It's far from his most celebrated work—although it should be far better known than it is, since it's (surprise surprise) brilliant—but even in the midst of the absurdist Bojeffries Saga, Alan Moore manages to tuck in some writing the likes of which I hope to someday come close to attaining:
"the evening was still, save for the faint whirring noises that the streetlamps made if you pressed your ear to them and the distant, poignant coughing of a consumptive housemartin."
"A consumptive housemartin." I mean, really. It's just unseemly.

Lady Shiva

Yet another Who's Who entry I have no memory of writing. And drawn by the great Damion Scott and inked by Robert Campanella, no less.

North 40

I recently stumbled across a couple blog posts I wrote years back about North 40, the great series by Aaron Williams and Fiona Staples, and discovered that since the old WildStorm blog where they were originally published is now pining for the fjords, the posts exist only on my hard drive and the wayback machine.

Not that my posts were any great shakes, but the series was. And while Fiona has obviously gone on to be the unanimously lauded, acclaimed artist of the Eisner Award-winning series Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan, the more stuff about North 40 on the internet, the better. So here 'tis. 

Oh, and North 40's now available in trade paperback. Go buy it. In fact, buy a bunch. You'll be glad you did. 


July 2009

So here’s how it all happened.

I was at the San Diego Comic-Con, checking out the various booths when I spied my old pal Rob Simpson, a former Marvel editor, former DC editor who was then working at Dark Horse. He introduced me to the couple he was talking to, a friendly pair named Aaron and Cristi Williams. I was under the impression that they were old friends with my old friend but later learned it wasn’t true—they were just friends with pretty much everyone they met. Cristi offered me copies of Aaron’s books and not wanting to be impolite and because I’m a huge fan of free swag, I oh so kindly accepted.

Rob and I caught up and then I had to run for a meeting with another old pal, Eddie Berganza, to discuss the DC/WildStorm crossover DreamWar. Unusually for me, I was actually a few minutes early. As is not unusual for SDCC, Eddie got caught in the crush of people trying to leave the con, and called to say he’d be a few minutes late. As all I had to read were these new Aaron Williams books I’d been handed, I opened the first one…and was instantly sucked into the world of PS238

I immediately discovered that Aaron had created a world populated with classic comic book characters, all of whom had been tweaked and tilted and turned just enough to be both completely, instantly recognizable and yet utterly new. They were old pals you’d never met before. And then Aaron grabbed ’em and put ’em through their paces, crafting stories that were clear and accessible and never went where you thought they were going and yet managed to be completely satisfying. Not to mention funny, which they were in spades. Great characterization, great pacing, great dialogue. The series was the real deal. By the time Eddie arrived I had a new favorite comic book series.

Naturally, I asked Aaron if he had anything he’d like to pitch. This is sorta like asking a shark if it likes to eat…only not really. In fact, you know what? That was a lousy analogy. Because while it’s a half-decent comparison in that, like that shark and eating, I get the feeling Aaron would cease to live were he somehow stopped from telling stories, so let’s all fervently hope no one stops him from doing so, and why would anyone anyway? But the other thing is that it’s clear Aaron loves the art of storytelling. Whereas I’ve never heard any convincing evidence that a shark really loves eating, as opposed to simply doing it because it’s a biological imperative.

And, see, the thing is that PS238 is absolutely wonderful. But it’s not exactly WildStorm material, not in the way most folks think of WildStorm, at least. I mean, yes, the quality level is there, but it’s kid-friendly, and while it’s dramatic and has its tense moments, it really does seem, superficially at least, to not be our cuppa. And yet I could tell that a storyteller as imaginative and skilled as Aaron could almost certainly work in a bunch of different genres and styles. People who can tell stories are a rare and valuable thing and not to be pigeonholed.

Anyway, I asked Aaron to pitch me. And he did. He pitched me North 40 pretty much complete, with the first story arc plotted and paced, broken down issue-by-issue, and the characters already in place. It was kinda crazy, actually, how finished an idea it already was. I mean…it was all there, down to the theme he wanted to explore with the series. The slightest of nips and tucks and we were good to go.

Now all we needed was an artist. And it took even less time figuring out who’d be perfect for that.

I’d worked with Fiona Staples on the adaptation of Trick ’r Treat, the Michael Dougherty Halloween film which was, at that point, awaiting a release date. It was, I believe, the first full-length comic Fiona had ever drawn, although she’d colored some stuff, and it was insanely great work on her part. So great I immediately offered her a project which could not have been much more different than the claustrophobic horror book she’d already done for me: this time I offered her a superhero book that spanned the globe, hopped back in forth in time and, oh, yes, was actually a film noir tale in spandex disguise. Pretty much the polar opposite of her previous gig. And yet I had not the slightest doubt she’d hit it out of the park.

Which she did. She teed off on Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor like it’d just insulted her mother and then ran over her puppy. She smacked the bejeebers out of it and left it sobbing in the corner, begging for mercy as though it were a minor mafioso and she were a Robert DeNiro character in a Scorsese flick. Which is to say, she did a really, really nice job.

So when North 40 came around, I immediately thought of Fiona. Oh, sure, she hadn’t yet drawn a small town. And she hadn’t had to design many new characters. And North 40 is essentially a western with fantasy and horror elements. In fact, basically, except for not having funny animals, North 40 is pretty much everything Fiona hadn’t yet drawn for me. And did I have any doubts this time around?

I did not. One glance at any North 40 image will illustrate nicely why I was as sure she’d be perfect for this as I am quite confident the sun’s going to rise in the east and set in the west tomorrow. (Well…except perhaps in Conover County. You can never tell for sure what’s going to happen there.) 

I sent Aaron’s proposal to Fiona and a day or two later I got some preliminary sketches. Aaron and I conferred on what changes we’d like done and concurred that they’d look a bit better without the saliva we’d accidentally drooled on them (quite independently and several thousand miles apart, mind you), and that beyond that they needed no tweaking. A few days after that I received the colored versions. Aaron designed a tasty little presentation and I submitted it. A few days later I got the green light.

Needless to say, this is not the way projects normally go. The entire birthing process is usually a much more arduous one—not always, but generally. I mean, a comic book series is a serious investment of time and energy and resources. Everyone involved in the decision-making takes it mighty seriously, and evaluates each property from a bunch of different angles. And all that’s a good thing, and it takes time to do it right.

But it’s been apparent to everyone at both WildStorm and DC Comics that North 40 is a most unusual book, in the best sense. It’s unusually original, unusually well written and unusually well illustrated. Even the response has been (very pleasantly) unusual, in that I’ve been getting emails and calls from pros who’ve gotten sneak peeks and gone out of their way to rave about it.

Which is extremely pleasant and very gratifying but, I must say, not really as surprising as it might normally be. This book has been in the works for a while and we’ve known pretty much exactly what we’ve had for a year now. And we could not be happier to finally be able to share it with the rest of you. Or, given the subject and tone of the book, mayhap it would be more accurate to say we’re pleased to finally be unleashing it upon the world.

North 40. Grab it while you can. But some caution is advised. Because there’s somethin’ mighty big and bad lurking just around the corner and you’re gonna need all the help you can get. And used properly North 40 might be just what you need.

Or…it could just be the beginning of the end…


Here're two of my favorite sequences of the entire series, smooshed together. Other bits from the series got more attention, but I just always loved what Aaron and Fiona did on these pages. I mean...the ghost looks terrified of the things walking past. How awesome is that? And, all things considered, absolutely understandable.