Friday, October 3, 2014

THAT COVERS IT


Looney Tunes #222 cover

Man it's been awhile since I've been around these parts…

Apologies as I've been absent from posting much here. I'm in an interesting transition period of work. Have wrapped up most of my inking commitments. Writing various short stories and special issues for a range of places (drawing a few of them too). And venturing into the Children's Book Market for the first time as I'm in the early stages of working on what will be a huge publicized project in the coming years. Equal parts daunting and exciting.

And another phase of work is getting the chance to draw covers, which I always consider another form of "storytelling"…just with less space involved.

The career I'm stumbling through to chisel out, I never expected to work on covers. Or even draw sequentials. I was pretty comfortable just inking for a long stretch of it. But eventually you want to try different things. Opportunities surface. And you're just sort of happy for the chance.

Working on Looney Tunes has been pretty exciting. It doesn't seem that long ago (although it's been 25 to 30 years in the past) that I was waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings, getting hopped up on sugary cereal, and lying on the floor to watch hours of cartoons. Of those, repeats of those great classic Looney Tunes were part of that experience. Now all these years later, working with one of my editors on Batman Li'l Gotham, I'm fortunate to draw some covers for the Looney Tunes comic that DC is still putting out.

Drawing such recognizable animated characters is probably the greatest challenge. Unlike most comics where companies (and fans) are interested in an artist's distinct style, it's much different for cartoons (and cartoon based comics). The artist isn't the star attraction, the character and their design is. And being focused to draw them as close to "on model" as you can is the most important part.

For a couple of years before I got into comics, I was in art school specifically to get into animation. Character animation, inbetweening, clean-up, storyboarding; and shopping my portfolio around animation studios. And even though comics always was the bug that bit me first, I've always enjoyed animated material. But it's also tough to try to fit into that style on a consistent basis. But doing covers is a little easier than drawing or animating these characters more sequentially or frequently.

Below are some of my thumbnail ideas for this cover. Covers usually happen one of two ways. You either just randomly draw whatever you feel like and it doesn't have to relate to the story. Or you get the script and come up with ideas around it. This was sort of a mix of both. I got to read the script, and drew some space themed ideas, even though the cover scene never specifically happens in the story itself. Still it's a fun exercise to try to capture a theme in one image that will make the reader want to buy the comic.

I have another cover I'm doing for the comic as well as writing the story for it too. But I'll cover that (no pun intended) in a future post.





Wednesday, April 30, 2014

EXPERIMENTAL STEPS


Just like all science experiments, there are steps involved in order to create. It's no different here, bringing back a beloved cartoon to comics. So here are six steps involved in creating the new DEXTER'S LABORATORY comic at IDW . . .


STEP 1:  THE PITCH

In this industry, I've found this rule-of-thumb applies best…

    It's always better to be asked than to ask.

I've tried pitching for various titles and companies in the past. Cold call submissions. You might know someone at a company, or sometimes not at all. But you're hopeful your resume of past work will help them consider you, so you contact them first. For the most part, it generally never works that often. Pitches get turned down for any number of reasons (similar projects in the pipeline, they're not looking, or they just flat out hate the idea). But when a company comes to you, you at least know they're interested in the project, and more importantly, in you.

I was approached by Sarah Gaydos, who had previously edited me on Batman Li'l Gotham at DC. Now that she was at IDW and in charge of the Cartoon Network line of kids book, she asked if I'd be interested in pitching for Dexter's Laboratory. It was a show I fondly remembered when it came out during my latter years in college before I graduated. I loved the humor, and felt this would be an ideal follow-up to the fun stories I helped write in Li'l Gotham.

Pitching is just like a job interview. You have a resume of past work and connections that can get your foot in the door. But it really comes down to presenting yourself (your idea) as best you can and just hope that they like it. Add to that, that you're not the only one pitching. You assume, and rightfully so, that others were asked to present their ideas as well. So you're in competition with others as well as yourself, right out the gate. Putting your best foot forward and coming up with the idea itself can be the most nerve wracking part of the process.

When pitching for a licensed title, the research involved means watching cartoons (or as I call it…the perks of the job). Dex had many seasons of shows, and a lot to go through in a limited time. But the idea for my story came within watching just a few episodes. Really it came down to seeing the opening title sequence for every episode. Seeing the antagonistic relationship between brother and sister, and no matter what Dexter created, it would be inevitably destroyed by Dee Dee. I started forming the basic plot for a 4-issue storyline, jotted it all down on a one page pitch and sent it off. Of that, the premise became:

There is one thing that has always ruined every experiment Dexter has ever created…his sister, Dee Dee. Realizing the only way to ever succeed is by removing this error from the equation, Dexter believes he's created the perfect world in which to reach his ultimate potential. Instead, his dream becomes a nightmare once he realizes he needs Dee Dee, and will go to the end of the world to bring her back.

As the case is with pitching, sometimes you hear back but usually not at all. You cast away, hope for the best, and move on. I can't recall if it had been weeks or months when I heard back, but I was out of town and checking my email on my phone when I got the word that Cartoon Network liked the story and greenlighted it! Before I could celebrate, it was time to start drafting up the outlines to each issue, and get the ball rolling.


STEP 2:  THE SCRIPT

There are actually a few steps for the process of writing comics. For me, it's turning in an outline for each issue (generally a page or two long that plays out the various beats and ideas for the issue). There's writing the scripts themselves (I always write full script…breaking down every page and panel with description and dialogue). Writing is rewriting, so once you get notes back from the editor and the licensor, it usually only takes one more draft to turn in. And towards the end of the process after all the art and lettering is done, is the proof stage. To see how it looks and turn in any last minute notes (usually to add or take out dialogue as the case may be).

For Dexter, the scripts came pretty easy. A lot is watching enough episodes to get a feel for how the show writers helped give voice to the characters. I always try to remain as true to the show as I can. I want to hear the actors in my head when scripting them for the comics. It's the best compliment to get when someone reads the comic and says it reads like the show or they hear the actors. And you always hear horror stories of various networks asking for lots of changes and being tough to work with. But Cartoon Network has been very easy. I noticed that when writing the Adventure Time comics and it was no different on the Dexter's Lab comics.


STEP 3:  THE COVER

Knowing that IDW publishes multiple covers for each issue of their comics, I wanted to see if I could draw one (especially for a title I'd be writing). So it was agreed I'd do one for the very first issue. From this point, it was a matter of drawing up some thumbnail ideas for what the cover might look like. And the idea for what would become my cover, came while sitting in traffic. Stuck on the 405 in LA, bumper to bumper, I had a notepad in my passenger seat. And when the idea of Dexter stuck in a tube held by Dee Dee in his lab popped into my mind…I drew up a rough sketch. I later revised it into a few different designs.

Once approved by Cartoon Network and IDW, I went about drawing it up in blue pencil, then ink, then passed it along to the colorist, Pamela Lovas. Aside from web comics and convention prints, this is her first professional published work that I know of, and I think she did a fantastic job. Actually added so much more to my very basic idea. And I've worked with her again on an upcoming Adventure Time story.


Cover Process with thumbnails and rough pencils (art by Derek Fridolfs)

STEP 4:  THE LAYOUTS

Not every project I'm on, do I get to see the rough pencils before the art is finished. A lot of time, books are already under tight deadlines, and the writer doesn't see anything until the proofing stage (and sometimes not even then). But we were on schedule or ahead of it, that I'd get sent some of the rough layouts by artist Ryan Jampole. And even at this stage I was excited, because his roughs looked on-model and clean. I could already imagine what the finished art would look like!

Layouts by artist Ryan Jampole


STEP 5:  THE ART

Ryan Jampole on pencils & inks. Jeremy Colwell on colors. I'm not sure how close they worked together, but I think they blend together extremely well. The cartoon is heavily centered around blues and greens. And sometimes, that might get drab or come across flat on the comic page. But I think a nice balance has been reached. To the point that the art looks so close to the animation cels from the show.

Art by Ryan Jampole and Jeremy Colwell


STEP 6:  THE STANDS

And the final step….you the audience!

The first issue, in all its covers, hits stands today. And I'm hopeful that new and old fans will like it. And I'd love to hear from ya. Feel free to comment.

Covers by Ryan Jampole, Derek Charm, and Derek Fridolfs with Pamela Lovas




Monday, March 24, 2014

UP UP AND AWAY!

Superman is one of those characters you never think you'll get a chance to work on. Arguably THE #1 recognizable superhero and trademark for the industry. The cape, bright colors…truth, justice, and the American way. And when the DC Digital First "Adventures Of Superman" title was announced as an out-of-continuity anthology where creators could put their stamp on the character, it would provide an opportunity to do a story that might be a little old fashioned. One that wasn't tied into the current look or feel for the character at the company. And one I couldn't wait to tackle.

The longer I work in comics, the more I see the chances to work on some of these icons as fleeting. The directions for these characters, their titles, and their creators, all get set up many months if not years in advance. Very few spots become available and very few fill-ins anymore. So when you do get to tell a story with them, you really feel like this might be the only chance you'll get. You really feel the pressure of the "kitchen sink"approach. That you better have a great story to tell and put in everything you want to say about that character, because you might never have another chance. And that's really the approach I took with my story.


Everyone has their favorite version of Superman, whether it's the film interpretation by Christopher Reeve or the era of the comic they first started to read. My approach was more animated. I loved both the Fleisher era and the Timm/Dini/Burnett show that also drew from it. I wanted to include all the classic tropes…The Daily Planet, Lois not knowing Clark's secret identity, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor and Brainiac cameos, Superman put in an unenviable position with a life on the line and no easy answer, and of course, the underwear on the outside. I wanted to split the time in Metropolis as well as a rural small town farm community. And I had to find space for it all in 20 pages.

I don't remember exactly how I landed on the idea of "Letters To Superman". Just that it's probably been done in the Superman comics of the past, as well as for other characters. And it provides for an interesting story angle. For Clark to step outside of his Superman persona for a brief moment and see how others view him. It's something I've recently experienced myself from time-to-time when DC will forward some letters from school students to me asking questions or sending along their words of appreciation. You get so used to sitting in front of the computer or art table, alone in a room, working on comics by yourself; that it's nice to get a handwritten or typed letter from someone you've reached with your work and realize there are people out there enjoying it. 


One thing that surprised me after my story came out was a comparison to the "Man Of Steel" film. One even pointed out that it might've been in direct opposition to it. That the movie had all sorts of collateral damage by keeping the battle in the city and lives lost, while my story took the fight out of the city and into the farmland. To keep any casualties to a minimum. And my enemy wasn't killed at the end but saved through other means. Of course, none of this was on purpose or some kind of statement on my part. I had no idea at the time of writing my story how it might be compared to a film that hadn't come out yet. I had turned in my script at the start of 2013, and a film I didn't know the full details about wouldn't get released until that summer. And while I prefer a more throwback approach to the character in my story, I still am a big fan of the "Man Of Steel" version as well. I think Superman is a large enough character (much like Batman) that I appreciate all variations and that there's room for various interpretations.

But the most amount of fun I had working on this was with my good friend Sean "Cheeks" Galloway on art. I met Sean online waaaaay back before he had broken into the industry. And seeing him rise through the ranks of comics and animation has been a fun journey to witness. As someone who has his own studio of creators working for him at Table Taffy, I wasn't sure how busy he was. So it was perfect timing that he was able to fit this story into his workload. I knew since we both grew up at the same time and have similar interests, that this would be a story he'd enjoy working on and geared to a more all-ages mindset. And he'd be able to give it that sort of cartoon cel shaded style that he's known for (having been the designer on the Spectacular Spider-Man show and Hellboy Animated films). And you'll be seeing more from us in the future as well, as I've written for some of his Kickstarter created projects.

Layouts and finished color art by "Cheeks"


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A LI'L FINISH


It's been a little hectic around these parts as I've been juggling all sorts of jobs lately the last few months. Writing in comics and the computer game industry, back to inking fairly regularly again, and also found the time to draw an upcoming short story as well. Whew! But in the end, I've been neglecting to keep things updated here on this blog. Going to see if I can change that and update things a little more frequently.

Batman Li'l Gotham finally concluded what became an insanely fun ride. What started as Dustin pitching chibi characters for a line of snow globes, turned into a couple short backups in the Batman Annuals, and eventually to a full blown digital and print series. Out of all the projects I've written, it might've been one of the easiest to write for. Dustin always had the tough task of having to draw and paint it all on a tight schedule that never let up. But I got to kick back, brainstorm with him, and come up with some of the silliest ideas…and it somehow just clicked. Very little in the way of rewrites. Most of the stories were set to run as-is, which is a huge blessing in this industry.

For the very last Li'l Gotham story, I'd had the spark of an idea very early on. I think early in our run after the book had found a very excited and vocal audience, it sort of dawned on me that it would be nice to really think out a nice ending that would wrap our run. To really stick the landing. It's very rare for creators to have a chance to plan an exit long in advance. Usually a book gets cancelled prematurely or the creators pulled from a book with very little time to wrap things up to their satisfaction. So as we went along, I know I was always nervous about wanting to find out exactly when we'd finish. Was it going to be the original 12 stories, the expanded upon 24, or even possibly more after that? I wanted to have a story in the bag so when the time came, we could present it as the last one.

I don't know where I came up with the idea for having a family album look back, but it just felt appropriate. Li'l Gotham's cast actually grew very big over the year. Lots of friends and family for the Bats, as well as villains. And trying to fit in everything and everyone for a final bow would be a crazy task. At one point, we toyed with the idea of doing a 2-part Christmas story. Sort of a Batman ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. What life in Gotham might be like if Batman wasn't in it. So Bruce would be visited by an early version of himself as Batman (or possibly the Grey Ghost), a current version of Batman, as well as a trip into the future with Batman Beyond. Dustin and I even toyed with having our idealized version of the future. Superman and Old Bruce with kids carrying on the tradition. Have a brighter outlook than the darkness that permeates most of the current books. But as things got closer to Li'l Gotham finishing, we were running out of room with stories we'd already committed to. So we decided on just doing one 10 page story to wrap things up. And the family album concept would be a nice visual treat to look back on all the characters fondly. And of course, give me one more chance to toss in a song by rewriting the "12 Days Of Christmas" Li'l Gotham style. 

While finished, Li'l Gotham remains firmly on my mind with a smile. A chance to continue the collaboration with Dustin and see his vision of this project finally become a reality after taking years to get it greenlit. It helped open a lot of creative doors for me being associated with it. And it's just nice to have something I've worked on be so easily accessible to kids of all ages. I think the trick to how our book worked, was Dustin and I were just having a lot of fun. I don't think I ever thought of trying to write to fit a certain age bracket. I kind of just approached it with the mindset of the animated series with a lighthearted angle to it. To write something I'd enjoy reading. And I think the darker the main books got, the easier it was to go the opposite way and shine a light on the silly absurdity of these characters. But always in good fun.
 
So what does the future hold? Our first trade paperback collection is hitting stores, so all these stories will eventually be collected. I think the sales of these can help determine if there's enough demand to bring back the series. And we're going to get some Li'l Gotham action figures coming out this year as well. And hopefully those do well enough to continue past the initial four being offered (I totally wanna get a Li'l Gotham Mr. Freeze…make it happen)!
 
Out of the Li'l city and back into the big city again.

Thanks for everyone's support!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

PLAYING A LI'L CATCHUP

It's been a busy last few months juggling a lot of things, that I sort of neglected my blog. So now on the eve of our very last story for Batman: Li'l Gotham, I figured I should go back and share some thoughts on all the previous issues I haven't covered here yet. Provide a little insight for how some of these stories came about…


SAINT PATRICK'S DAY (digital issue #7) = Some of the stories based around the holidays were pretty easy to pair up with certain villains. Anything winter would go to Mr.Freeze. Thanksgiving has a turkey so any bird related stories could have Penguin. With this one, all I could think of was the color green for the holiday, and Riddler wears green. Sometimes it's as simple as that. Now Riddler, as I'm sure most writers and fans would say, is probably one of the toughest characters to write stories for. He's a genius, so already he's smarter than…well…all of us. And trying to work in the riddle or puzzle aspect to his crimes can also rack the brain trying to come up with something. But this was a fun one to have Batman go detective trying to solve the crimes, and get a chance to see a lot of the heroes and villains. Having old-school Lobo in this (my favorite version of the character) was from me. And the large backseat in the batmobile gag…pure Dustin. What I'll remember most about this story is Dustin drawing pages in the hotel at Seattle's Emerald City Con. We were already putting out two stories a month, and with no time to spare, he would be at the convention all day, and in the hotel drawing these all night. Not enough gets said for his commitment putting out a monthly painted book. It's not easily done.

EASTER (digital issue #8) = I think this one came about because of the white rabbit being associated with both Alice In Wonderland and Easter. So it would be a Mad Hatter story by default. I was always looking for ways to make these stories fun for Dustin to draw (and for me and the readers to see), so having stuff like the pixelated video game Damian was playing were things always being added in. Same with different art styles and color schemes that would come into play in later stories. Having Damian tackle the Easter Bunny and fight off mind controlled zombunny kids…just your normal type stuff we'd giggle putting into these stories. And even though it's implied that Hatter ate the egg bomb at the end of the story, I always felt they were playing a joke on him and he didn't really eat it. The bomb's ticking sound was all in his mind. We'd always try to skirt the line between implied or fun fights and not gory violence.


APRIL SHOWERS (digital issue #9) = This was always intended to be a 2-part story. "April Showers" being the first part with Mr.Freeze, and the follow up issue would be "May Flowers" with Poison Ivy in an overgrown Gotham from the rain and the plants. What we didn't see coming was Dustin just being overworked with the schedule never allowing time for him to breathe once we started doing two stories a month. So we ended up having a break so he could get caught up, but we'd lose one of the stories this month. So the 2-parter got shortened to 1 issue, which is why Ivy's release from Arkham and quick re-arrest only hinted at what the second issue would've been. One of the aspects I loved most about writing Li'l Gotham was being able to write in familiar nursery rhymes and songs, but adjust them to fit in the story. I got one in here and in other issues as well. Mr.Freeze is probably my favorite Batman villain. Forever always our Charlie Brown in Li'l Gotham, with good intentions but never getting what he wants. And the thank you card at the end of the story, I believe, was drawn in crayon by Dustin's daughter.

CINCO DE MADNESS (digital issue #10) = This issue was spearheaded by Dustin. When we could, we'd sort of divide up stories. He ran with this one and I came in for any additional dialogue or scenes after he finished his first draft. I know Dustin always liked the idea of a Gotham Boys & Girls Club, having a chance to draw Damian, Colin, Tim and the others. The younger kids away from the adults. So this was their chance to shine. Stuff like the scrabble game and taco challenge, again…pure Dustin.


MOTHER'S DAY MANIA (digital issue #11) = We begin with a Paul Dini cameo. Dustin and I loved working with him on Detective and Streets Of Gotham, and it felt like a fun nod he'd be in a scene in an issue with his creations (Harley Quinn and Colin Wilkes "Abuse"). I apologize for the bad pun dialogue I gave him. The more we wrote these issues, the more we wanted to keep putting Damian in them. He's a good obnoxious comedy foil for anyone around him. And I admit, I patterned a lot of him after me (right down to his favorite sandwich from a previous issue, choice of pizza toppings in this one, and that I played the trumpet throughout high school and college). It was very easy to vicariously write through him. Most don't know this, but had we continued to work on Streets Of Gotham if it didn't get cancelled, Dini was planning on doing more with Abuse. Including him having his own costume that would be a unique design variation on Batman. Which is why I thought it would be fun to have that show up in this story when he changes into the new costume. I grew to really love doing this sentimental stories. There's really no space for them in current darker books, but we found they fit perfectly in our Li'l universe.

FATHER'S DAY FUN (digital issue #12) = You can't have a Mother's Day without a Father's Day, so this was sort of a paired two-part story. My original influence for this was the episode of Seinfeld where they couldn't get a table at the Chinese restaurant. With that in mind, I thought putting the two opposing families on opposite sides of the same table would lead to some fun heated dialogue. I think having all the boys cooking for Alfred in the kitchen was Dustin's idea. So goofy yet perfectly fitting for this type of story.


MINAZUKI (digital issue #13) = For the longest time, Dustin wanted to write and draw this issue. The ocean provides for a very colorful visual with all the sea life and Aquaman. That it happened to have giant robots fighting monsters at the same time that Pacific Rim came out, wasn't intentional but a fun coincidence (as we had pitched this story a long time back). I think I was always aware for us not to fall into having a lot of guest staring stories (but cameos yes). I think I wanted to keep the brand very focused on Batman and his family of characters, and I didn't think it would be ideal for it to turn into a Brave And The Bold or JLA book. Especially since there was some thought at one time about doing a separate title with the rest of the DC characters. Still, this was a fun one to do.

INDEPENDENCE DAY (digital issue #14) = I think out of all the stories we did, this one we had the least idea about. When we pitched a year's worth of stories, before it doubled up, we picked out all the main holidays with loose descriptions of what they'd be about. I think we left this one pretty vague in the pitch about bbqs, beach, and fireworks. So when it came time to write it, it was a bit slapdash trying to figure out what the story would be. I think as the stories continued along, I got tired of seeing the same villains in every story. That it would help to space them out so characters wouldn't reappear so often. And also have a chance to rotate in lesser known characters…which is why we get a chance to have Roxy Rocket, Firefly, and Solomon Grundy. Also I'm guilty of these stories being very villain focused. They're so much fun to write, that sometimes it was easy to forget to put Batman and the good guys in them. The "Batdad" line, was sort of my influence of the tv show Alias, where it was very common for Victor Garber's character to be nicknamed "Spydaddy".


GOTHAM COMICCON (digital issue #15) = This was another idea that Dustin had very early in our pitch. To do a story to come out around San Diego Comicon (perfect cross promotion). And Gotham's version of that would poke fun at so many of the things we've experienced in the years going to that show (I can't believe I've gone to San Diego Con 19 years in a row…you see a lot in that amount of time). It would provide a chance for us to actually cameo in our own comic. A chance to have the Grey Ghost show up briefly (no surprise that Li'l Gotham is heavily influenced by Batman: TAS). And ultimately a chance to make a statement and begin the healing process of how fans feel towards comics. We all have favorite characters, creators, and runs. And whenever they stop, we're disappointed, saddened, and angered. But our story would be a reminder that just because the version you like isn't happening; that you shouldn't let that stop you from enjoying those old stories.

TROPICAL GETAWAY (digital issue #16) = Finally we'd have a chance to do a real 2-part story. In the first part we'd have Batman and Catwoman off on their pirate adventure, and the second part would see what the rest of the heroes and villains did while they were away. And anytime Dustin gets to design a new Batman uniform, he always jumps at the chance. This one turned into a bit of an Iron Man (Iron Bat?) design, with the uniform in the suitcase and boot jets. Sort of like Batman Beyond as well.

BIRD WATCHING (digital issue #17) = With Batman away, it was up to the rest of the heroes to band together. I know originally, Dustin and I just thought of this story as having all the different Robins get together in their clubhouse to protect Gotham. But with so many of the heroes having a bird theme (Birds Of Prey, Hawk & Dove), it was fun to extend the cast in this one. Same goes for the underused villains. This story was top heavy and out of control with the cast of characters, and I'm guilty of packing it with as many as I could think of just to see Dustin draw them. I always liked Penguin's Iceberg Lounge, and wanted to feature it more in one of these stories. And having the heroes arrive as part of the jazzy swing band seemed a great visual (I didn't even realize the Birds Of Prey already had appeared as singers in an episode of The Brave And The Bold, so this ended up being an unintentional nod).

LABOR DAY (digital issue #18)
= I think no one loves the Carpenter more than Paul Dini, Dustin, and I. Created by Paul in Detective Comics and Streets Of Gotham, I always love these sort of fun quirky characters. I also felt this story might be a risk having it center around her, even if the holiday matched up perfectly. She's not as known as many of the villains. But it gave me a chance to show all the villains that she's worked with building their hideouts. It has a very children's book quality to the gag and payoff through the issue, as she's constantly interrupted on the phone. And fun to see Dustin once again, draw a range of characters. I thought it would be fun to give her a Boston Terrier, which is the same type of dog that Paul and his wife own. Hush finally made a longer appearance here to do a riff on the "Who's On First?" gag.


IVY IN THE FALL (digital issue #19) = Another of the stories that Dustin was clamoring to write and paint. Ivy is his favorite character and this became a tour-de-force for his art. To show her in different seasons. Probably the most beautifully painted story he did on our run. We also always liked the Gotham City Sirens, so any time we could do stories that had the three of them together, we'd jump at. This story I probably had the least amount to do. The draft that Dustin provided was so pitch perfect, aside from maybe any grammar corrections or some added dialogue, it was good to go.

HORROR STORIES (digital issue #20) = This was another one that Dustin headlined. And one that actually caught me by surprise. I didn't know he had planned to paint all of the kids' separate ghost stories in a different style. It really made the whole thing very special. I know as it got closer for this story to be worked on, the original idea was to see if we could have Scooby Doo and the gang in there, either as part of the story or even a short cameo with the Mystery Machine in the background. But I think they're so particular on how those characters look and are portrayed (needing to be almost animation on-model all the time), that it was decided against using them here. Also I think since they were going to have Batman & Robin crossover with Scooby in another comic, it might be confusing or steal that thunder. Regardless, this was a ton of fun to work on, as we really played up their exaggerated horror stories.


ALL SAINTS DAY (digital issue #21)
= Since we were now getting close to our full year on the book, we didn't want to fall into the habit of revisiting the same holidays over again. So technically while still a spooky issue, this isn't Halloween but All Saints Day. And keeping with that religious theme, it seemed one of the perfect places to have Azrael show up. Also I think after the nice unexpected reception to Damian's family Halloween (of fighting off reanimated corpses from the Lazarus Pit in issue #1), I was looking to do a much longer zombie story. And I'm such a fan of Talia and Ra's it made for one of the more offbeat shared custody holidays in the comic. I wasn't sure if my playful dig at the New52 being Damian's dehydrated hallucination would fly…but it was all in good fun. Same goes for the 1-900 Kill Robin death call joke (Dustin has a morbid sense of humor…which I fully endorse and enable).

TIME TROUBLE (digital issue #22)
= The Clock King is another one of my favorite villains during his time in Batman: The Animated Series. He rarely gets used in comics but doing a Daylight Savings Time story was the perfect excuse for him here. Also maybe a little too late in our run, I was feeling that Batman wasn't getting as much time in our stories. So I thought here was a chance to not have him partnered up with anyone other than…himself. Lots of Batmen. A fun way to use various Elseworlds versions of the characters (or entirely new like Fruit Batman). I know had we done another year of stories, Dustin and I would've gotten around to doing some in the future with Batman Beyond. Instead, we had to find a way to fit in Old Bruce and Terry near the end of our run.


SANDWICH DAY (digital issue #23) = Sometimes these issues write themselves. Seriously! Not wanting to repeat another Thanksgiving story, it just so happens that November has a sandwich related holiday. So who better than the Condiment King to show up to be angry at the more popular Thanksgiving holiday. Again, the longer we were into our run, the more fun I was having dusting off the more offbeat villains. Also I thought it worked well to have the story about a missing pet; something I think younger readers might sadly relate to. And this quite possibly has the most puns used in any of our stories. Dustin and I would go back and forth in drafts, one-upping each other and adding more puns to the story. The brand new villain, The Zookeeper, was my nod towards the ending of Pixar's The Incredibles (Batman, Damian, and Jerry all ready to jump into action). At one point in the script, I even had Jerry wearing his own mask here at the end, but Dustin didn't draw it in. Probably for the best. heh


WHEW!!! That's all of them…or almost all of them. Our very last issue of Li'l Gotham goes on sale digitally tomorrow. And I'll be back with my final thoughts after that.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

PICK YOUR POISON


DETECTIVE COMICS #23.1

Getting to write Poison Ivy during "Villains Month" started out as a means to explore the extent of Ivy's powers to wild abandon. This was a Gotham without Batman, nor any other heroes around in her story to stop her. A chance for her to run free and do whatever she wants without any opposition, in a city of chaos. And while it started out that way, I also felt some responsibility to give her a revised origin. With the New52 relaunching the entire DC Universe, so many of these villains (Poison Ivy included) became fresh slates again or even for the first time. While it wasn't mandatory to include her backstory here, I felt it was an opportunity I couldn't resist.

Doing any sort of revisionist retelling of a character's origin is a treacherous line to walk. It really feels like a no-win scenario. Change nothing and it's seen as a retread of something everyone already knows. Skew too far off the path with a new take, and readers are quick to hate and want the old version. The approach I chose was to honor the basics of what we know or like about the character, while filling in some history to Pamela's early formative years to show how she became the villain she is today.

Most of Ivy's origins or stories in past comics and cartoons have always shown her already as an adult. But I felt it would add to her story if we saw her as a child. What was her home life like? Her college years? What helped shape and form Pamela before the incident that created Poison Ivy? These were all things I wanted to address. 
Pamela's research would include mammal, reptile, and insect pheromones. But in the end, it would be the plant based vial that would spill on her to trigger her new abilities.

I also felt that past origins for her always had her as more of a victim; poisoned or injected by men she worked with. After becoming a very recognizable feminist icon in comics, I never quite liked the approach of her being used as a guinea pig and injected with the toxin to turn her into the villain. So my approach was to try to make her a bit more self-made. She had bad things happen around her during her early years. But in the end, her own research and development of the power of animal & plant pheromones, and her ambition to use them to great extremes, would be her undoing. In some ways, I wanted to explain her backstory in a very relatable real world approach. The fantastical part of Ivy and her powers could grow out of that.
 
John Kalisz's coloring technique over Javier Pina's art, made these flashbacks really stand out.

I don't know where the idea generated to give Pamela a skin condition during her youth, but it felt like something unique or different to add to her character. As Poison Ivy, being linked towards plants and their ability to feed off the sun, it was a nice way to show the opposite of that as a child. That some extreme case of photodermatosis afflicted her. That exposure to the sun would react to her abnormal immune system, to cause rashes. The very beginnings to show that Pamela's biological makeup wasn't normal. Because of that, she might be interested to pursue botanical research in school as a means to find a cure. It didn't hurt that her mother had a fascination with flowers and gardening that could also be shared. And by gaining an immunity to toxins and viruses through her transformation into Poison Ivy, it would cancel out her adolescent sun allergy (although one might gather that it transferred those rash-like symptoms to anyone she touched).

Going back to the original intent of the issue, I wanted to explore Ivy's powers. While I've always been a fan of her classic green leafy clothing, her redesign in the New52 also had promise. I always saw it as a type of living costume. It's draped in leaves, but that's not all. I wanted to show that she'd be able to access this living suit to grow vines, wooden bark to help shield her, and shoot thorny projectiles out of it. I imagine it can do so much more (generate spores; provide fallen leafs as a smoke screen or camouflage when trying to evade capture; even grow leafy wings to glide or fly with). Very forest nymph qualities. And of course being able to grow sentient topiary type animals from nature around her was a given. 

Ivy's living suit as well as her surroundings, provide her with plenty of means for offense and defense.

Writing the Bruce Wayne scene might've been my favorite for the issue. Ivy always struck me as someone that could quietly be one of the most powerful in the DC Universe if given the chance. I think it's easy to see the giant gods and cosmic threats as all-powerful, but her ability to control minds through pheromones has such wide ranging potential. Getting a few people or even one head of a company under that control, could raise or ruin a business very quickly. Or get her into places she couldn't or shouldn't be. Her powers are like having the keys to the kingdom. So why wouldn't she think like a business woman and try to use it initially to benefit her employer and herself?

Also in a sly way, I think it was my way to explain away how Batman might be one of the only people immune to her powers. There's always been a great flirtation between Ivy and Batman throughout past comics; alternating between being seduced at times but also has been shown to be unaffected by her powers. By keeping her research as a proprietary right to Wayne Enterprises, it leaves that door open for Bruce to investigate her findings further. For the Dark Knight to realize how dangerous her research is, and probably come up with an antidote so he's not affected. A very unassuming way to explain if he ends up being the only person immune to her, without her specifically knowing the reason for it. But that's just the backstory in my mind.

Working on this issue would be nothing without the other people involved. Javier Pina and John Kalisz made a perfect artistic combo on this issue. Javier had done some nice work on Birds Of Prey. And John I've worked with in the past on my runs with Detective Comics and Streets Of Gotham. I remember when John wrote me to ask how I wanted the coloring to go on the flashbacks, I think I wrote in the script to make it lighter and almost pastel looking so it would offset the current parts of the story. He basically replied by saying he had an idea he'd like to try and see how it turned out. And I think it's probably the most talked about art of the issue. The way it looks almost watercolor in appearance, the implied paper texture grain apparent, and the lack of hard panel borders. It turned out so beautiful. Jay Fabok turned in a visually arresting and enticing cover that really pops in 3-D. Taylor Esposito added some nice design work for lettering the credits and the captions through the issue. And working with my editors Joey Cavalieri and Kyle Andrukiewicz was a neat process as I was constantly bouncing ideas off them until the story took shape.

A couple other behind-the-scenes moments...

I think readers assumed we were blowing up another Wayne Tower in this story, as it's constantly blown up across other issues and titles. Rather this was the Wayne Enterprises R&D facility, formerly the Kane Chemicals building before the merger. Batman Group Editor Mike Marts got in on the fun by helping with design suggestions, passing back and forth photos of various real constructed buildings out there to give Javier some thoughts as he designed it. Looking at these buildings these architects created is a work of art in itself.


Originally the story would end with Ivy's jump off the GCPD building and she would float away into the night air on a giant dandelion. It was a visual I always thought might look cool, that I hadn't gotten around to using in Li'l Gotham and thought I'd try it here. But after seeing it, it just didn't fit the scene as well as I'd hoped. So we made the decision to show Ivy swing off into her Green Kingdom on a vine. But here's that original version…



Monday, September 9, 2013

INTO THE GREAT BEYOND - PART 2

Wrapping up my final thoughts on some of the larger stories that would've comprised my "Recruitment Drive" extended arc for Justice League Beyond. After such a long stretched out "Konstriction" story, made longer with how everything got spread out in release; I made a concentrated effort that adding new members to the League would happen in quicker shorter stories. A new Flash, Captain Marvel, and Lobo would at this point be part of the team.

At one point, I even considering adding Martian Manhunter but in a much different format. I thought it possible that in his martian race, their people would eventually fade away into ghosts as they lived into old age. I thought it only made sense with his intangibility powers of being able to disappear, that it would be a precursor towards how they'd fade away in death. So if I added Martian Manhunter to the team, he would be sort of an "Obi-Wan Kenobi" type…a ghost that would appear in the Watchtower to provide a voice of experience. But he wouldn't be able to do more than that. But once I found out that Martian Manhunter would be used differently in the Superman Beyond storyline, I just nixed that idea.

But here are the last of the larger ideas that we never got to…


SUPERWOMAN / BRAINIAC / LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES

 
Anyone that knew Supergirl from the animated continuity, knew her struggles to fit in on the Justice League and her longing for something more. She decided to travel into the far future (much further than the Batman Beyond timeline) to join up with the Legion Of Superheroes, and with a budding romantic relationship with that future version of Brainiac; leaving her cousin Kal behind. And that was the last we saw of her. But the story I had planned would be the next large arc. Here's my original outline to her story:

In the far future, Supergirl is dating a fellow member on the Legion who happens to be a heroic Brainiac. His death leads to a Brainiac War, with multiple versions of Brainiacs across multiple realities and timelines being drawn to the future, all with the intent of killing Supergirl.

The idea was that by introducing love into the equation of an artificial intelligence, it damaged Brainiac's programming and caused a sort of rift amongst all the different versions of Brainiac. They'd travel to the future to kill the perpetrator, leading to the destruction of the Legion. Going against the very guidelines set up by the Legion not to affect the past through time travel, Supergirl makes a last ditch escape to jump back in time and find a way to fix things. To warn her past self not to go to the future (feeling responsible for setting all this in motion). But something goes wrong with the wormhole and she ends up in the Beyond timeline. It's in her past, but not far back enough. Her Legion ring is damaged so she's now stuck permanently. Luckily her cousin Kal is still alive but he too is older than last she remembered.

Since she wasn't able to stop herself from going into the future, she now goes to Plan B. She'll need to find the Brainiac of this timeline and upload a program (virus) into him that essentially stops Brainiac from ever creating the version that she fell in love with. It will prevent it's creation which led to its destruction that creates the Brainiac War in the first place. Essentially, this is like some future norplant story to stop Brainiac from ever reproducing both good and bad versions of itself.

In the Beyond timeline, Brainiac is living a quiet peaceful existence having turned a new leaf. It's come to the realization seeing its past failings, it sees the solution to humanity. Instead of attacking and trying to end them, it's up to Brainiac to evolve them. To "upgrade" humanity so they're part of the equation rather than the problem. It's decided to share its technology with everyone for the advancement of the planet. The truest of altruistic intentions without any trappings of money or power. Much of Neo Gotham and even Metropolis owes its technological advances to Brainiac, regardless of how Bruce and Superman feel about their past adversary.

Brainiac now resides in his own living city. An island of technology and high rise buildings. It's a part of everything there and also it's own individual amongst it. A nation or island unto itself. Supergirl with the JLU travel to the city for their mission. To confront Brainiac, explain the situation, and hope it understands why they must do this to him.

The Legion ring that Supergirl was given to her by the Legion Brainiac as a show of love and acceptance to the team, actually contains part of Brainiac's technology in it. So when Supergirl traveled back in time, a future version of Brainiac came with her. And even though the ring is damaged, it still allowed for a new female Brainiac emissary to emerge who is tracking down Supergirl. The ring is left with Bruce Wayne to study its technology, not knowing the secret Brainiac it's about to unleash in the cave. The Emissary is able to tap into the Batcomputer to gain access to information of this timeline and become even more powerful. It leaves to go hunt down Supergirl in Brainiac City.

When Supergirl confronts  Brainiac, the fear is that he won't accept. That he'll decide his time of peace has expired and it should go back to its evil ways, collecting technology, and killing their hosts. Instead Brainiac understands the proposition and agrees to the procedure. But not before the Emissary arrives with it's own plan. Not just to kill Supergirl but to mate with Brainiac and start breeding new offspring. To take over the planet with multiple Brainiacs, and then the galaxy.

Both Brainiacs are stopped, possibly sacrificing itself. Brainiac City is destroyed and sinks. And Supergirl joins the team, heartbroken for the loss of her friends, her love, and her life in the far future. But hopeful for new opportunities to reconnect with her cousin Kal. And of course, that young Batman is kinda cute. Supergirl would have an updated costume and name, now going by "Superwoman".

With this longer story arc, there's no need for a Beyond: Origins, since much of it will be covered in the actual story about Supergirl and her decision to go into the future with the Legion.



So there's that. A first pass at a much longer story arc. It would've been about half the size of "Konstriction", but definitely longer than the preceding recruitment issues. And I just liked the idea of someone even further in the future, now stuck in the Beyond universe. And after so much tragedy that befell Superman, he now had a familiar family face to relate to again. To see that his younger "cousin" had grown up since last he saw her. Of course, he is much older as well, so there'd be plenty of humor to be had between the two of them.



WONDER WOMAN
 

I think right around the time with all the press concerning Superman and Wonder Woman pairing up in the New52, there was talk about having Wonder Woman show up in the Beyond universe. I brainstormed some ideas with my editor just to explain the continuity of the character from the Justice League shows and how she wasn't in Batman Beyond. But in the Justice League continuity, they had developed a growing relationship between Diana and Bruce Wayne. With that insight in mind, the brainstorming quickly lead to the idea of them having consummated their relationship with a child.

Now…adding offspring to any established character has all sorts of headaches that come with it. And giving Bruce a kid here, when he already had Damian in the New52 (and Terry was already his biological son in the Beyond universe, even if Terry didn't know it at this point of the story), well…my initial reaction was a groaning reluctance. It felt like ground that had been covered. But then I thought, does it have to be a boy?

Bruce has only ever had sons, either surrogate wards, partners, or biologically (at least in the animated continuity…discounting the Huntress of the alternate comics universe). But here was a chance to try it out. That once Diana became pregnant, and keeping it a secret from Bruce, she decided to quit the League and retreat from the world of man to raise her daughter back on Themyscira. Diana would become queen, to replace her mother. But now some threat would bring the Trinity back together…older Superman, old Bruce, and Diana. And it would concern this daughter, introduced to Bruce for the first time here. Feeling too old to play "dad", Diana would still encourage Bruce to introduce her into man's world, to train her, and at the same time he would get to know her. By the end of the story, she would eventually become the new Wonder Girl. And might depart to go explore the Beyond universe (ultimately joining the Teen Titans Beyond, which was being toyed with as a new comic title they might do).

There was a lot still to be hashed out, but DC was pushing for a Trinity Beyond story to be the first big crossover between all the Beyond titles: Batman Beyond, Superman Beyond, and Justice League Beyond. I think it was going to be a 6 part arc that would last two months. The only problem…every one of our titles was already in the middle of our stories, and planned out for the year. Even knowing this, they wanted to put this Trinity storyline smack dab in the middle of all of our current arcs going on. As if the fans weren't already annoyed by the release schedule of all of our titles grouped together in Batman Beyond Unlimited (including the Origin stories that were sprinkled in), now we'd have this Trinity story on top of things, to interrupt our main stories. I don't think we were halfway through the "Konstriction" arc when this idea was trying to be pushed forward.

Thankfully after a lot of back and forth between all sides, it was decided to wait to do this. There were too many wheels in motion and this would've really thrown a wrench into each of our titles. If it had gone through, the already stretched out "Konstriction" arc would've taken over a year to complete, for something that was essentially a 6 issue story (minus the Origin stories). Whew!

It would've been an interesting story. Some unrequited love between Diana and Bruce. A lot of unfinished business that could only add to the drama. Bruce feeling betrayed by both Diana and Clark. She had kept his daughter a secret, and requested Clark not reveal it to Bruce in order for him to continue his mission as Batman. She would raise the daughter on her island like all daughters before her did. Also without knowing it, Terry would have a chance to spar and team-up with, what would essentially be, his step-sister. All sorts of interesting avenues to explore.

I've no idea if Wonder Woman will eventually show up in the Beyond 2.0 books, but I wouldn't doubt at some point she'll be brought in. Just that I doubt it'll look anything like this version we were starting to set up.


OTHER ABANDONED IDEAS

- The mention of the "Near Apocalypse Of '09" (in the Batman Beyond show) was something brought up as the last time Batman and Talia paired together to fight and defeat Ra's, resulting in his apparent death. But as we learned, he found a way to live and inhabit his daughter's body. I always felt this was a flashback story ripe for the telling, since it was always brought up by the fans of the show wondering what exactly happened (and the show creators always saying they had no plans for it).

- Also I wanted to eventually do a story that showed what happened to the Justice League in the past that caused them to disband or move on. That there would be some great battle that tested them, frayed them, and possibly even killed a lot of them. And afterwards, they never were the same until an older Superman started to rebuild the League. I thought it could be a way to introduce a new villain that was responsible in the past, and now resurfaced in the future, causing Superman to relate what had happened. I always felt this was a huge arc in the making as it was always something the fans wondered about as well, how the future League was so small and what happened to the original League with all its members.



GOODBYE BEYOND

And with that….I bid the future, farewell.

Justice League Beyond was one of those dream projects. Something that started back when Dustin and I were wrapping up our commitments on Streets Of Gotham and Batgirl, and DC asking us what we wanted to do next. First it was to take over Batman Beyond, but then it turned into Justice League Beyond. The New52 wasn't even known at this point. We got to do all sorts of crazy stories, in a future world with open possibilities and less constraints than the regular DC universe. Worked with a whole bunch of great artists. And had a blast!  I look back on my time on the title very wistfully. Someone growing up a fan of all the animated shows during my high school and college years, never dreaming I'd get to play in that sandbox to continue the stories of the characters of those shows.

My thanks go out to my editors at various stages… Hank Kanalz, Ben Abernathy, Alex Antone, and Mike Marts.

To all the artists, colorists, and lettering that brought the stories to life.

And to all the fans that followed our crazy release schedule, whether digitally or in print.

THANKS!