Dennis O'Neil

Nearly 23 years after he hired me, I finally got a photo with the reclusive, mysterious, majestical, magisterial Denny O'Neil.

I'd have bet cash money Dandy Denny O'Neil didn't do selfies
And he even paid for breakfast.

(Not pictured, just to my left: Robert Downey Jr. Yes, really. He wanted a photo but I told him I was busy with a real star.)

Kelley Jones

Scott Peterson™ by Kelley Jones©.
How I miss the days of having
lots of thick, dark hair... 
It seems like one day you're a college student rediscovering comic books and the next day one of your first tasks at your new job—actually getting paid actual money to work on the actual Batman books—is to call up one of the artists from what was then your very favorite comic being published and introduce yourself as his new assistant editor.

That was how I met Kelley Jones. Just a few months earlier I'd been devouring his issues of Sandman—still some of my favorites from that amazing run—and now here I was talking logistics with him, as though I were a professional. Which, technically, I was, but, I mean...

And then time goes by and (if I recall correctly) we needed a cover for an upcoming issue of Detective Comics and I suggested Kelley and the boss (the redoubtable Dennis O'Neil) liked the suggestion and shortly thereafter we needed covers for the entire massive Knightfall crossover so Kelley got roped into doing all the Batman and Detective covers for years and years. And it was good.

I was the model for one of the characters
on this cover but I'm not saying which.
Fine, it's the third bat from the left.
And then I left to go freelance and have a billion kids and that was the end of the long, long weekly phone calls. And while having no commute massively beats having a terrible commute, losing those calls was a serious blow.

But times moves on and even though I'm very much not a phone guy, years later I found myself thinking, you know what, I'm going to call Kelley. And even though we had a decade to catch up on, it was like no time at all had gone by. Some people are just like that.

So. One day you're introducing yourself and discussing publishing schedules and somehow the next day or maybe twenty years later you're on the phone with the guy and he's still one of your favorite artists and he not only just illustrated the cover to a middle grade novel you've just finished writing, but the two of you find yourselves exchanging chicken recipes.

It's a weird world. But sometimes it's a good 'un.


The things you find online, man...

Someone sent this to me and, as far as I can recall, it's the first time I've ever seen it, despite having written the text. I mean, I can't actually remember writing it, but it says I did, and it sure sounds like me. (Pace Stephen King's excellent advice, I do likes me my adverbs.)

Lovely art by Alitha Martinez, with whom I don't think I was ever fortunate enough to work again.

Blüdhaven: örïgïn öf ä nämë

So this fine individual with unusually sophisticated and refined tastes posted recently:
This just in: I am apparently the only one ever who pronounces “Blüdhaven” like “bluedhaven”
I responded:
Not quite the ONLY one. :)
but thought I should explain, since the exception in question is not, in fact, me. 

Man, that's some sweet ad copy.
When we were decided to do a Nightwing monthly for the first time, we had to figure out where to set it. Gotham City would have been easy enough, but it seemed like the titular character had made it clear that, while he valued his status as a member of the Bat-family, independence was also extremely important to him. 

So we decided to create a new city, a sort of Newark to Gotham's New York. A dozen or two miles away, a major city dwarfed by its massive neighbor, with problems, in some ways, even more serious than its larger cousin next door. 

But what to call it? Well, it was the mid-90s, when grim and gritty was the order of the day. I thought about New Haven, another of NYC's much smaller neighbors, and came up with "Blood Haven." I decided to smush the two together, tweak the spelling and add a Spïnäl Täpian ümläüt, and badda-bing, badda-boom: Blüdhaven

It was, obviously, a joke. We laughed every time someone said it. Except the more we thought about it, the less stupid it began to seem and the more legitimate, especially after Chuck Dixon came up with its history as a port town settled by German whalers. Suddenly, things started clicking. It was a thoroughly blue collar town, with little to none of Gotham's ritzier sections. A place where, as Chuck said, hockey, not football or basketball, was the sport of choice. A place which had fallen on hard times decades, even a century before, but which just kept on falling, and which desperately needed a superhero. 

Also, literally the first thing we decided to do was to nix the ponytail mullet. You're welcome. 
Enter Nightwing. 

When this splash page first came in from Scott McDaniel, I had to be revived with smelling salts. I mean, seriously—look at that damn thing. 
Despite the ümläütëd spelling, I kept pronouncing it "Bloodhaven," because, duh, America. My wife, fluent in German, however, would have none of it, smilingly pronouncing it the correct way. So now the only time I ever say it "right," is to mollify (or, really, tease) her. 

(But then she went and actually got to sort of co-plot an actual issue, so who got the last laugh? But that's a story for another day.) 

And that's how Blüdhaven came to be borned. 

music for writing

I generally find myself unable to write without listening to something. Ah, but to what is the question.

I so envy my artist friends who can listen to podcasts, or books on tape, or sports, or even movies as they work. So efficient! Unlike many of my writerly friends, I can almost never write while listening to music with lyrics—I have no idea how they even do that—so obviously something with a competing narrative is right out.

For me, it's got to be almost entirely instrumental: mainly classical (chamber music usually works better than orchestral) or jazz or ambient. Keith Jarrett, Brian Eno, Debussy. World music works, too, especially if I'm writing something set in another country. Recently I've been listening to a lot of post-rock, as it tends to be light on vocals.

The past few days I've been listening to a lot of Bill Frisell, especially his solo concerts, or his duets with the great pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz. Here's a similar show where they're joined by a rhythm section, and featuring the work of some composer named John Lennon who, judging by the evidence here, had a way with melody. (If he had any facility whatsoever with lyrics, he might've been a contender.)

Gotham Adventures #20

I don't like cover copy. When it comes to covers, I much prefer a minimalist approach: the title and the credits and other than that, just let the image speak for itself.

But my editor on Gotham Adventures, the indefatigable and redoubtable Darren Vincenzo, wanted cover copy on Gotham Adventures #20 and gave me the first shot. I tried, I really did, but I couldn't come up with anything. Do I not like cover copy because I'm not very good at it, or am I not very good at it because I don't like it? Or maybe they're mutually exclusive? Either way, I drew a blank. I mean...'s Batman (and Robin and Nightwing) eating cereal. What can you say? What really needs saying?

And the moment I opened my comp copies and saw the printed books, I thought, oh, of course: Champions of Breakfast.


Gotham Adventures #42

Once again, one of my favorite bloggers has taken a few quick looks at one of my old issues. In this case, it's Gotham Adventures #42, illustrated wonderfully by guest penciller Craig Rousseau.

This issue has a slightly unusual origin. Some organization, I don't recall who or what, contacted DC Comics about getting some issues to include in some sort of package or packet or something, and they requested a lower violence level than usual. It was going to be a pretty heavy order of books—doubling or more our normal print run, if I'm recalling correctly—so going along was highly encouraged.

I liked the idea of selling more, of course. But even more intriguing was the challenge: I loved the idea of trying to do an entire issue that had every bit as much action as usual but absolutely no violence. I'll be honest: I was always the youngest in my class—and, back then, small for my age—so seeing Batman beat up badguys, whether supervillain or street criminals, was one of the things that first drew me to the character, as well as comics in general, back when I was a wee lad. Although I grew out of that (for the most part), it was still an integral component of how I viewed the character...not to mention an easy and satisfying way to get the visual excitement so important for this kind of story.

So I came up with the idea of having Batman battle a series of fires plaguing Gotham, brought about by a solar storm, rather than villains. And Craig did a fantastic job of bringing it to life.

A few reviews at the time thought the idea of solar storms being dangerous was simply silly. I therefore felt vindicated when, a few years ago, it turned out we'd narrowly dodged a bullet, as a large solar storm almost really nailed us. What's more, it was reported that a solar storm back in the 1800s had caused massive infrastructure damage, and that such a storm of similar size today could conceivably knock out the entire grid for years. Boo-yah!

Mainly, of course, I liked how the Batman was even more badass than usual.

The kicker, of course, is that the deal fell through, so the books never even got into the hands of all those potential new readers, and it was all for naught. Only, not really. Not even close.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Of all the issues of Gotham Adventures I did with the great Tim Levins, this is one of my very favorite sequences.

See that one that NEARLY got 'im? Yeah, that's me.

A picture's worth a thousand words? Seems like there are way more than ten thousand, then, right there.

Captain Invincible and the Space Shapes

Well, this made me happy.

A reader sent me a link to this video—it's for a book I (ghost)wrote years and years ago.

I was stoked when they offered me the job, as I thought I was finally going to get the chance to write prose, something at that point I'd done little to none of since college. Naturally, they asked me to write it like it was a comic book. But it turned out wonderfully, largely due to the fantastic art of Remy Simard.

Years go by where I forget about this one, until one of my kids hits the age where s/he loves it—my second son's there now. And the guy reading it in this video does a great job, from the melodramatic line readings, down to the exact same cat sounds I would've made.

The World's Greatest True Detective

Man, talk about two great tastes that taste great together. I'd watch the living hell outta this show.

(Love the "created by" credit.)

Pushing Dinosuchus

I found this the other day—a drawing of my head with an alligator's (crocodile's?) body. Chris Gugliotti did it as part of a Pushing Daisies comic I was editing and he was drawing. I have no memory as to why he did it, but I was sure glad to see it again.

The Secret Secret Origin of a Batman Villain

This here blog, Oh, the Things I Do, has written quite a few very nice pieces over the past few days about various books I've written—some Gotham Adventures issues as well as some of the Batgirls I co-wrote with Kelley Puckett. (Much as I would love to claim otherwise, Kelley very much did the lion's share of the writing on those. And Damion Scott's artwork continues to blow my mind with its awesomeness.)

One of the issues she wrote several times about was Gotham Adventures #49—the first appearance of criminal mastermind Kim.

(That's not Kim. That's Killer Croc.)

((The big green dude, I mean. The other guy's the Batman.))

Back when I was writing this series, there were only a fraction of the places reviewing comics that there are today, so it's nice to see something you did still resonates. I was pleased that she was pleased by the Batman's detective work. I always liked this sequence—my pal/partner-in-bat-crime/hero Tim Levins, as usual, took what I thought at the time was a neat idea and absolutely hit it out of the park.

I should get around to getting better copies of those.

I loved what she had to say about Kim:
I like Kim as a character. He feels like a great throwback to those classical Batman stories where villains were villains for the fun of it and had elaborate schemes set up on around a gag or motiff for no reason other than the “why not?” of it. But, unlike a lot of times when these homages happen, the bizarreness and just curious nature of the crime isn’t lost on the context.
I also like that this comic sets up some interactions we’ll have with Kim in later issues. It’s a fun addition to the canon I kind of wish had been added into the fold of the main universe.
But… meh. I’m sure Kim would’ve turned into a far more sociopathic killer with like… a tragic artist background. Like he was a good traditional artist, but the art schools he applied to were all too invested into the modern movements. And he starts committing murders that represent splash paintings overlayed on the city map.
[Emphasis added.]

I had to laugh when I read that. Because what I think maybe a half dozen people know is that Kim is actually Kelley. As in, Kelley Puckett.

I mean, no, not really. Not literally. But for some reason—I don't remember why—I got the idea to turn Kelley into a supervillain. And one thing led to another, as these things do, and next thing I know, he's [spoilers!] using Killer Croc as a pawn for his crime spree before ultimately fighting (and losing to) the Batman.

I'm not sure how much most of the readers liked Kim—although, clearly, he connected with at least one extraordinarily astute critic—but he sure made me laugh. And my editor let me bring him back a few more times, so that was nice.

Would Kim have eventually turned dark? I really don't see that happening...or at least, I hadn't. Now I kinda love the idea of him trying to out-dark the Joker or Two-Face or Mr. Zsasz or something. I usually see Kelley at SDCC. Maybe I'll see what I can't goad him into doing.

(Oh...and it just occurs to me now...I'm not sure I ever actually told Kelley about any of this. Huh.)

What a State Wants

Crazy busy finishing up my second pass on my First Second graphic novel. But I've run across several maps online recently that seemed not entirely un-germane to the entire Uncivil War theme.

A map of what each state wants, according to the infallible Google autocomplete feature.

Another collection of Google autocompletes, this times on what each state is.

A third set, this time on why each state is so.

And one that hits especially close to home for me, a possible alternate map of our great nation, showing what coulda been.

Yes, Tyrone, There Is a Santa Claus

Here, by popular demand, is the original Kelley Puckett script to what I think is one of the truly great comic book short stories ever, "Yes, Tyrone, There Is a Santa Claus." I used to send this to writers to illustrate how much thinking can be put into shot descriptions—what angle to use when and why—and just how much can be done in a mere 10 pages, two of which are splash pages. (Or, as my old boss Denny O'Neil would point out, not actually splashes, but full page panels.) And also because it's just hysterically funny. (We won't mention Kelley's unfortunate penchant for needlessly double-spacing after periods.)

Kevin Nowlan, one of Kelley's four biggest fans, cursed me for sharing this script with him—or, at least, he did once he discovered it was already in the process of being pencilled, as he said he'd have walked across broken glass for the chance to draw it, had he known it existed. (The great Pete Woods did an absolutely fantastic job with the art on this story.)

Kelley Puckett

Panel One
  This story is drawn in an old-school, 1950's-era style.  We begin inside the bedroom of TYRONE, a red-haired, freckle-faced seven year-old straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  His room's straight out of a Rockwell painting, too, and we start here with a close shot of his wall, showing baseball pennants (Matt – what's the Metropolis team's name?), baseball cards, a glove, a bat, a mitt.  It's dark, with a faint glow coming from the right.  We're reading the text of the letter Tyrone's writing.
  LETTER TEXT CAPTION:  Dear Daily Planet,
  LETTER TEXT CAPTION:  Is there a Santa Claus?

Panel Two
  Pan over to the right as the glow grows stronger, still coming from off-right.  We reach the edge of Tyrone's desk, on which sits a plate with a half-eaten piece of homemade apple pie, a glass of whole milk next to that.  More stereotypical 1950's boy paraphernalia in the bg.
LETTER TEXT CAPTION:  My friend Billy says there isn't.  He says Santa Claus is for babies.  
LETTER TEXT CAPTION:  He says it's all made up and big kids know better.

Panel Three
  Pan over some more and now we're behind Tyrone.  He's sitting at his desk, writing a letter by lamplight in his pajamas.
  LETTER TEXT CAPTION:  That's not true, is it?  Can reindeer really not fly?  Is nobody checking if I'm good or bad?
  LETTER TEXT CAPTION:  Is it all a big lie?

Panel Four
  Reverse for a front shot of Tyrone writing his letter by pencil, looking at the page, concentrating, his tongue sticking out.  Fresh-faced, a tuft of hair that stands up at the back of his head, he's Opie.
  LETTER TEXT CAPTION:  I'm asking you because my Daddy says everything in your paper is true.  Except the parts about the Mexicans.

Panel Five
  ECU of his signature at the bottom of the letter with his hand in the shot as he finishes it.
  LETTER TEXT:  Tyrone Jenkins III

  Cut to PERRY WHITE's office at the Daily Planet, daytime.  We have Perry, CLARK, JIMMY and LOIS standing next to each other, facing us, the letter held out in front of them.  They're all staring at it, shocked and alarmed at the loss of innocence.  Something must be done!  Everyone's drawn the way they would be in the '50's: Clark in a blue suit, Jimmy with bow tie, Lois in a business dress and Perry in white shirt and loose tie, sleeves rolled up.  I say we give him a cigar.  I have no idea if Perry White ever smoked cigars in the books, but I think it's funnier if he didn't.  Put a large Daily Planet logo/sign/something in the bg somewhere so stupid people know where we are.
  TITLE:  Yes Tyrone, There Is a Santa Claus
  CREDITS:  if you dare

Panel One
  CU Perry reaction shot.  Energized, practically shouting, a gleam in his eyes.
  PERRY:  Now this is what I call news!

Panel Two
  From behind Perry with Clark in bg.  Perry right fg, Clark left bg.  Perry starts barking orders to the troops, pointing his left hand index finger out at Clark like a conductor.  Everyone's dead serious.   Clark's on the case.
  PERRY:  Kent!  Gimme an editorial.  I want it wise, I want it funny, I want it heartwarming.
  PERRY:  I want it to touch me, but not in a bad way.  Got it?

Panel Three
  Again behind Perry, this time left bg with Jimmy in right fg, Perry pointing his right hand finger at Jimmy.
  PERRY:  Olsen!  Hit the streets.  I want background on this kid – what he eats, where he sleeps.
  PERRY:  I want to know his next move before he makes it.  Before he thinks it!

Panel Four
We continue over to our right for Perry left, Lois right, standing at the side of his desk.  Perry looks down at his desk and gives Lois a right hand, thumb-up gesture, shaking it.  Lois, hurt, protests.
  PERRY:  Lane!
  PERRY:  Be a peach and get me a cup of coffee, will you sweetheart?
  LOIS:  But...Perry, I'm your number one reporter!

Panel Five
  Lois and Perry left bg, then Jimmy and Clark in right fg (going left to right).  Perry picks up a piece of paper from his desk, engrossed in it and gives Lois a condescending smile.  She's either still standing there, shocked, or storming off-left petulantly.  Jimmy's holding the letter as he and Clark look down at it, walking towards us.
  PERRY:  You sure are, doll-face.  Cream, two sugars.
  JIMMY:  You know who this looks like a job for...
  CLARK:  I think I do, Jimmy.

Panel Six
  CU Clark as he turns away from Jimmy, brings his hand to his glasses and lowers them just enough for us to see his Superman eyes over the top of them, a private smile forming on his face.
  CLARK:  I think I do...

Panel One
  Cut to an est. shot of the Fortress of Solitude.

Panel Two
  Close on a table full of wrapping paper, ribbons, etc. and SUPERMAN's hands as they blur back and forth, wrapping Christmas presents at super-speed.  Don't show us the rest of him yet.

Panel Three
  Shot of a red sleigh covered in Christmas trappings as several presents fly in from off-panel, one after the other in a perfect line, piling up perfectly in the sleigh.

Panel Four
  CU of Superman's chest as he closes a red Santa coat over it.  Only this one has a Superman-like “S” emblem on the front (red S on a white background).

Panel Five
  ECU Superman's face as he looks right at us, explaining the S.
  SUPERMAN:  For “Santa”.

Panel One
  Cut to the big reveal of Superman in full Santa outfit (minus the beard), hovering above Tyrone's house in the night sky on Christmas Eve.  There is, inexplicably, a red Superman cape coming out the back of the outfit, fluttering in the wind.  He's hold the present-laden sleigh off to the side with one hand, looking down at Tyrone's house far below.

Panel Two
  Three small panels across the bottom of the page.  CU Superman, still looking down as he smiles, anticipating.
  SUPERMAN:  Magic time.

Panel Three
  Same angle, but Superman senses something coming up behind him.  His eyes dart to the side, but he doesn't turn his head.

Panel Four
  Same, but now Superman closes his eyes and sighs with a pained, exasperated look.
  SUPERMAN:  What?

Panel One
  Two-shot, Superman left with BATMAN right.  Batman's hovering next to Superman, using one of those old astronaut jet-packs (with the big arms sticking out that you rest your elbows on).  It is, of course, painted black with some kind of bat-emblem on it.  He's in his normal 50's era outfit.  He's looking at Superman with barely-concealed disgust, slowly shaking his head.
  BATMAN:  Pathetic.

Panel Two
  Just Batman.
  BATMAN:  For God's sake, man.  Look at yourself.
  BATMAN:  What are you doing out here?

Panel Three
  Focus on Superman, Batman in right fg.  Superman turns towards Batman, holding his hands up and shaking his head as if to say “Ever heard of any of this?”.
  SUPERMAN:  Restoring a child's sense of wonder?  Teaching him that the world can be a magical place?
  BATMAN:  Yeah, well, my parents taught me a different lesson...

Panel Four
  ECU Batman as he gets sidetracked, looking away, going off into his bad place...
  BATMAN:  ...lying in the alley...
  BATMAN:  ...twitching...

Panel Five
  The two of them again as Batman snaps out of it, back to business.  Superman rolls his eyes with a slight sigh.
  BATMAN:  Sorry.  Look...

Panel One
  Medium Batman, looking at us, making sense, persuasive.
  BATMAN: point is that you've got to take yourself seriously.  You're the hero!
  BATMAN:  Any calamity, any disaster, any great wrong and people look to the sky.  For you.

Panel Two
  The two of them, Superman left, Batman right.  Superman's facing us, looking down, thinking seriously about what Batman's saying.  Batman's turned toward Superman, making his case.
  BATMAN:  The idea that you could take a night off playing dress-up for some kid?
  BATMAN:  It's patently ridiculous.

Panel Three
  Zoom in for a CU Batman as he turns and looks us directly in the eye for a complete break in the fiction of the story, addressing us, the reader, directly.
  BATMAN:  It's like something out of a comic book.

Panel Four
  Back in the story.  The two of them, focus on Superman as he looks down at himself, frustrated.
  SUPERMAN:  I do feel a little silly in this outfit...
  SUPERMAN:  But that poor kid.  I just wish I something for him.

Panel Five
  CU of the two of them as Batman puts a manly hand on Superman's shoulder and they share an affectionate manly look.  It's not what you're thinking.
  BATMAN:  That just shows what a true hero you are.

Panel Six
  Superman flying up, up and away towards us, looking down at Batman, waving as Batman pumps his fist in the air encouragingly.
  BATMAN:  Now get out there, tiger.  Save the world!
  SUPERMAN:  You're right.  Thanks, Batman.

Panel One
  Cut to Superman flying off through the night sky, Santa suit off, still holding that sleigh, thinking out loud.  Maybe don't show the sleigh here, only when he thinks about it next panel.
  SUPERMAN:  I suppose I should do something about that whole Middle East thing...

Panel Two
  Sleigh and presents in fg as Superman stops, looking at it, realizing he never gave the kid his presents.
  SUPERMAN:  Wait – the presents.  I should at least leave him his presents...

Panel Three
  Cut to the inside of Tyrone's house, an open window in the bg and Superman sneaking down the dark hallway, a pile of presents in his arms.

Panel Four
  CU Superman as he rounds a corner, looking towards us, his face suddenly bathed in warm light.  What's this?!

Panel One
  Big, big shot of the living room with Tyrone, his LITTLE SISTER, MOM and DAD all gathered around Batman in a Santa Claus outfit (but with the Bat-mask and gloves still on).  Include or leave out the beard, whichever looks more ridiculous.  Batman stands there, a roaring fire behind him, handing out presents left and right, laughing jollily.  The place is completely decked out, the very picture of warm holiday cheer, the kids' faces alight with the glow of childlike wonder and glee.
  TYRONE:  Bat-Santa, you're the best!
  LITTLE SISTER:  I love you, Bat-Santa!
  BATSANTA:  Ho ho ho!  Merry Christmas!

Panel Two
  CU Superman as his jaw hits the ground.

Panel Three
  CU  Batman as he spots Superman and flashes him a wink and a Mentos smile.  Gotcha, buddy!

  Okay, this is my favorite shot of the story, but I have an alternate page ten if people deem it inappropriate.  Superman, overcome with fury, plows into Bat-Santa at hyperspeed, a red and blue blur, demolishing the fireplace behind them and surely crushing every bone in Batman's body.  The family looks on, horrified, the children traumatized for life.