Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Batman: Li'l Gotham #1 now on sale at Comixology:

Let us know what you think. And be back next month for another!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


It's finally happening…and it's been a long time coming.

DC just announced the new Batman: Li'l Gotham series that Dustin Nguyen and I are working on. I'm on co-pilot duties as the idea & story man, while Dustin also is writing and (more importantly) gorgeously painting this whole thing. Every month on every major holiday, starting with Halloween, is an all new 10 page story with the Li'l Gothams.

Dustin has gotten known for drawing in the "smaller" style for awhile now. He doesn't even like to use the name chibi. Because here's the secret….these aren't baby characters. They're just drawn smaller (no diapers here Marvel…wink wink). He's drawn them for fun and also for prints he sells at conventions. He's worked on merchandising art and samples for toys. And has always been pushing to do a project with them at DC.

Weird to think that we did get our chance very briefly. During 2009, we got to work on two 2 page shorts with "Lil Gotham" that ran in the Detective Comics and Batman annuals for that year. You can read those below…

Those earlier stories should give a good idea on the style of art and the writing. We're keeping it very fun and loose. It's definitely a fan-service homage to characters from our runs on Detective Comics and Streets Of Gotham with Paul Dini (who gave us a nice congratulatory twitter shoutout), along with our deep love for all things Batman: The Animated Series. And really, the long history of Batman in general…comics and cartoons.

I think the thing I love most about anything Batman, is just that….anything Batman. This character, more than most, has this unique ability to tap into all ages and story types, across multiple platforms. And each has it's place. From the campy Adam West tv show, to the various animated series, films, and video games. With Batman, there really is something for everyone out there, whether you're a kid or an adult.

Those that have followed our runs in the comics, will recognize all sorts of beloved characters. I think we get as much enjoyment out of including everything as the fans do spotting them. And there'll be more easter eggs to come. We're not sticking to any hard continuity on this, in order to be able to play around with as many characters and versions of them as we can.

I'll be covering more in the future. So cruise over to Comixology tomorrow before you head out to get your candy, and get our first issue of Batman: Li'l Gotham. No trick this time…only treats.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Cover by Franchesco!
With all the work I've been doing for DC Digital, it's interesting to note that my first digital work didn't come from them but actually from a smaller independent publisher.

I don't know how I first stumbled across the Digital Webbing website, but it was during its early days a handful of years ago in the early 2000s. A site that's become known for its message boards, helping bring together a lot of creators both new and hungry to the industry. And out of that, they decided to become a publisher too. They created the Digital Webbing Presents anthology gathering stories from all the creators on the message boards. I admired them for their scrappy independent spirit and allowing fresh and new talent to have a showcase. Even though I was just starting to get work at Marvel at the time, I was happy to contribute on their titles, for cover inks as well as sequential inks. And during it's long run putting out the book, it became this great little place for up-and-coming people that passed through. Before Skottie Young became known for all of his work on the Oz books and Marvel baby variant covers, he did some of his earliest work at DWP. Same goes for Ryan Ottley of "Invincible" fame. Before Nick Bradshaw became known for his X-Men work, he was doing covers and interiors for DWP. Even Eric Powell's "The Goon" had one of its earliest stories before it ended up arriving at Dark Horse. And those are just a few of the people off the top of my head whose early work was a part of Digital Webbing.

Many years later, I worked on a short story called "The Hunt", not knowing where it would turn up. A couple of the pages you can see below. It was sort of a sexy sci-fi story in the tradition of something you might find in Heavy Metal Magazine. I had found the work of the artist online, loving the way that Dean Kotz's style had influences of Gene Colan and artists from the past. We finished the short story and ended up pitching it to a new anthology that was just starting at Image called "Popgun". Our story was slated to show up in their first volume, but then things changed.

The way anthologies are put together involves quite the juggling act, and the job of editing and overseeing such an endeavor is probably something I wouldn't wish on anyone. You're trying to manage multiple stories and multiple creative teams (some of which is their first published work), working at different paces and lengths, and then trying to assemble all of them together into one package by a deadline. It's a headache waiting to happen.

We had finished our story ahead of most and then waited for them to find a slot for it. The idea was, in order to arrive at a set page count for the entire anthology collection into a graphic novel, that some stories might have to shuffle around and be in the next volume in order to fit what they could into the first. On the one hand that's understandable, but also lead to my frustration for the entire process. What ended up happening was some stories that were finished early in advance ended up getting pushed off on the next volumes (plural), and each succeeding volume would have an all new editorial team take over and begin the process again. All the talk of guarantees that if your story didn't make it into the first volume and would show up in the next one, turned into a lot of useless talk. And the thing that irked me most, was that our story kept getting dumped off for three times (for three volumes) with no end in sight, when there were other stories in later volumes, finished much later than ours, that were getting in. In other words, there was no preference or privilege of first-come-first-served to the way they were doing things. And to me, that was a slap in the face. Very unprofessional. Each new editor would come onboard, mention that they'd make sure to get the story published in their volume, and then proceed to dump it off on the next volume. All for a story that got greenlit before the first volume ever came out.

After being passed around like a bad joint with no end in sight, I thought enough was enough. I'd take the story elsewhere. And that's where Digital Webbing Presents showed up in the picture. After having a successful print run of their anthology, they were looking at relaunching the title as a digital exclusive. When I found out about it, I contacted them with my finished story, and they immediately gave it a home. It showed up in the second issue of Digital Webbing Presents volume 2 (available through Comixology).

Throughout all of this goes a great deal of thanks for the patience of the people that worked on my story. Dean drew this and then went on to working for BOOM, Ape Entertainment, and Zenescope. Gary Henderson's colors really helped shape and bring Dean's drawings alive, and has since done a range of work for Marvel, Dark Horse, and other publishers. And Thomas Mauer made it all readable with his fantastic lettering.

The road to getting stories published in comics can be crazy. Usually it's a miracle just completing what you've started. But that's only half of the journey. The other is finding a place for it. And I'm happy with where mine finally turned up.

Friday, October 26, 2012


While I don't want to cover too much about stories or ideas that didn't happen in Arkham Unhinged, I do think it's an interesting topic to cover on the ins and outs of creating comics.

Part of the process of writing for a title is generating story ideas. Sometimes you work closely with the editors and artists. Other times, you're sort of left to your own devices and given free rein. I imagine there's pros and cons to both approaches, although the creative control freak in me definitely loves being left alone to let my ideas run wild. The more oversight one gets, the more watered down the idea changes and becomes. It's that old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen. But on the other hand, editors are also there to bring the best out of their talent, providing insight and recommendations that might spark an even better idea. So yeah, both methods can produce great results.

With Arkham Unhinged, since it was the first ongoing title I was involved with writing on my own, it was an exciting proposition. I was churning out rough ideas in batches, usually at a clip of about 5 to 10 each time I'd send in. I wanted to have a range of stories covering different characters, and then let DC and Rocksteady look through and pick the ones they were most interested in pursuing full scripts. It's actually the same with how cover artists work for comic companies. Rarely is there a specific idea for a cover that the artist must follow. Usually the artist draws up 3 or more designs, and then the editor and art director decide which one they'd like. And usually how things go, even when the artist puts in a note that they like one cover over the others…they usually never do that one. I don't know what it is in the process, but it's almost like jinxing yourself if you say out loud what you'd like to do. They always pick the opposite. Same goes with the stories. You might turn in a batch of ideas, say the ones you're most interested in, and then watch as those usually get passed over for the other ones or ones they recommend. But them's the breaks. It's part of being work-for-hire. The companies have things in mind what they want, and sometimes that goes against what the creators would like to do.
I think as I came close to the end of my run on Unhinged, and really throughout the whole process, I was looking at having as many characters get a chance to have a spotlight story or issue. While some characters turned up more than others (Joker, Penguin), the fan and writer in me wanted some of the lesser knowns to get a shot. One of those that I thought would've made for an interesting story was involving Zsasz. Someone of his type of serial killer character isn't prone to having a lot of stories told, especially in the more superhero type world of comics. But for Arkham, I thought one could be generated that involved his escape at the end of the first Arkham Asylum game, and following what he was up to in Gotham, leading up to his capture and entrance into Arkham City. That I pitched it with art by Ken Jones, a close friend of mine, made it even more enticing.

I had him draw up some character designs, a sample page, and I broke out the inks to show how we'd look together. I felt he really captured the sick nature of Zsasz extremely well. But ultimately, the powers that be decided not to do the story. What it ended up doing was open us up to collaborating more.

Before I broke into comics, a local group of artists would all get together to jam on art, inspire each other, and travel to conventions together. Ken was one of the first regular artists I started out inking (this also is what happens when you come into a group of all pencillers and no inkers…I became a tracer by default). We've since worked on an anthology story together for an award winning editor from Archaia, with Ken on pencils, me on inks, and both of us co-writing based on our own creation.  While our part is done, the other stories are still being assembled, but once I know when it'll come out, I'll be sure to talk more about it.

I definitely see the advantages of creator owned…that whole thing about free rein. Controlling your own destiny. And not having to compromise. So out of one project that didn't happen, came one that did (you can see the first design for it below). And I look to do more of these in the future.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


As a freelance writer, in order to eat and keep the lights on, you find yourself open to taking on all kinds of gigs. You won't always work on a title you pitched for or characters you grew up loving. Sometimes you're just happy for the work. And that's usually where corporate advertising comics come into play. The type most famous for "Hostess Fruit Pie" ads that ran in various comics, decades ago. And comic storytelling has always been a very easy way for advertisers to get at their target demographic. Back in those days…kids. Today? Well, mostly just us adults reading comics.

I basically stumbled into a corporate advertising comic job by accident (although for these type of stories…you tend to wonder if there's any other way). It was my last visit to the Wildstorm offices before they closed up shop. And while I was there to mainly talk about getting Justice League Beyond up and running, two other work gigs came out of that trip. One was working on the Arkham City digital stories that would lead into the ongoing Arkham Unhinged comic. The other, was being in the right-place-right-time when they needed someone to write a short comic for Subway Sandwiches.

Go ahead...*groan*
Now these aren't considered high literature (gasp). Nor are they intended to be. You know going into these type of jobs, you're there to camp it up. Pun away. Have some stupid silly fun with it. And most importantly, help advertise exactly what the company wants you to promote. I think the only creative thing I got to do was settle on the villain I wanted the heroes to go up against. I originally pitched Gorilla Grodd, but found out that I was one of the last writers on the stories, and they had already commissioned one featuring that villain. Using a Manhunter would make more sense and I'd be able to have it go against Green Lantern (which I believe at the time, they were gearing up for the movie, so it made sense).

Art by Adam Archer, who also drew my digital exclusive Bane story for Arkham City
I didn't know if these promo comics would be given out at Subway stores. So it was a bit of a surprise that they ended up being inserts each week in the regular DC monthly comics. And yeah…I could understand all the animosity of having these ads stuck in the middle of everyone's comics, interrupting their reading. But of course, a gig's a gig. I ended up pulling out mine from the stapled book anyways (screw mint condition).

Still it was a fun quick job, and truth be told, these type of gigs actually pay higher than regular page rates. But it's probably also why they're so infrequent and short. Of course, I wouldn't want to get in the habit of being type-cast into only working on promo ads. I've got more serious funny book stuff to get to in my career!

And before you ask, if you hadn't already…no, I didn't get any free sandwiches out of the deal.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


One of my very first writing jobs at DC was a story in their Halloween Special back in 2009. As it goes with these type of anthologies, they're used to try out new writers and artists on a holiday themed one-shot with stories that usually are pretty forgettable. And that's not a knock to the people contributing to them, but just the format itself. The stories generally run 5 or 6 pages long and aren't especially tied in with anything else going on in the DC universe at that time. Basically you're just there to get in and out and tell something that relates to the holiday in question.

For something like this, it would've been very easy to just do something using familiar characters around that holiday…Scarecrow, the Demon, or any other horror related characters in the DC universe. Throw in some ghosts or kids in costume, and call it a day. But my feeling was, why not use this very brief opportunity to create a new villain for our hero to go up against. And that was how Sugar Tooth was brought to life.

I always appreciate the characters who start off as decent human beings but through tragedy, become the villains that we end up caring for. Mister Freeze is a perfect example of this. And I wanted something similar for Sugar Tooth. A mild mannered family dentist that was unfortunate to cross the path of the Joker, resulting in the demise of his loved ones, and forever cursing him into the tragic villain he would become. And I felt he even fit the holiday very well, with all that candy being given out to kids.

I'm hopeful to get the chance to bring the character back at some point down the line. Either through a cameo or extended storyline. I feel there's still some untapped potential for him. So we'll see where he gets a chance to turn up next.

It's also fun to look back on this story, as it's one that very few people probably read, since these holiday specials don't attract the same numbers as the regular books. It's possible for the Dustin Nguyen completist fans, that they've never even seen it. And of course, I sort of wince at my early days of writing. Being a little overly verbose for the page (stacks and stacks of caption box dialogue crowding out the art in some instances). With every project you write, you start to figure things out. Get more comfortable. Know when you're writing too much or too little. Having lettering proofs and the re-write stage helping you to chisel and rework your story until you're more satisfied. And what it comes down to is not being too married to what you've written. I think I usually always start out writing too much, and then trim it down to fit the story. In this instance, I didn't do enough trimming in some cases. And bless the letterer for having to figure it all out. They're the unsung heroes in these instances.

All that said, I grew to love writing Damian in this story as well as co-scripting his dialogue for a couple issues of Streets Of Gotham. I think it's a shame there's no solo Robin title out there for him currently. Because I'd write that book in an instant!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


The illusive "pitch" process in comics isn't all it's cracked up to be. It would be so much easier if it could be some perfect equation that anyone can follow. But it never is. So much is by chance. If your idea first gets to the right people to even be seen and read is the first major hurdle. And then if it's at the right moment when they like or need it being the other factor. Like anything, too much is left to chance. That's for the 99% of us. For the others that are the top guys at any company, all it takes is a chance conversation over lunch at a con or a tweet, and that's usually enough to greenlight it. Ahhh to be king of the mountain.

A project I'm attached to, that was actually talked about and pitched a few years back, is only now going to finally happen. It can be nerve wracking. Sometimes you pitch and hear back immediately (that's always good). It means, they need something NOW! And that's also why it's rare that happens. Someone might be late on an issue or schedules have changed around leaving an opening. And through dumb luck, you contacted them at the time they needed you most. But usually, you can pitch to write for an established title or pitch an entirely new project and it might sit forever. Never get seen. Put into the trash for all you know. The stories of pitches by well known "name" artists and writers that don't even get a once-over consideration, would make for an interesting published book all on its own. You end up seeing and hearing about those online, sometimes posted from those responsible. And after you see what they turned in, it only riles up the fan community wishing the powers that be would've greenlit it. But that's how it is. Taste and timing. You just never know.

By the time people find out the next project I'm on that gets released at the end of this month, they'll probably slap their heads and go "FINALLY!"  Just know…we the people working on it, feel the exact same way.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


This issue seemed to get the fans the most riled up due to the timing of when it takes place. In the game, after Batman is helped out from under the rubble by Catwoman, Protocol 10 is in effect and he's to forget about going after Talia and go directly after Hugo. By placing this Sirens story in-between all of that, immediately didn't sit well with a lot of people. But I had my reasons for it.

The genesis for the story started with wanting to do a story with the three girls together, which we never get to see in the game. In the comics, DC and Dini had completed a run on the Gotham City Sirens title, uniting Catwoman, Harley, and Ivy. There wasn't much alluded to the three of them all together in the Arkham games, aside from Harley being friends with Ivy (helping release her in the first Arkham Asylum game) and Catwoman having killed off some of Ivy's flowers, leading to the scene where she gets strung up by her in Arkham City. Even the game trophy was named "Arkham City Sirens". But any scene with the three of them all in the same room, never transpired in the game. And after having so many guy centered stories in Unhinged, I just wanted to find a way to write the three of them together, even if it was a flashback leading up to their current predicament in the game. And truth be told…a chance to show the classic version of Harley we all know and love from the show. I miss that classic jester outfit since the games and comics have moved on from it. But for flashbacks, it could be allowed.

"Arkham City Sirens" by story artist Mike S. Miller

The problem for this issue was having it take place in the small window between Batman's rescue and going after Hugo. But my answer to that has always rested with the gameplay itself. The game has it's free roam capabilities. There's the main story going on, along with plenty of side missions, leaving it up to the gamer to decide what order to play certain parts in and how long those will take. Even from the very beginning of the game, after you suit up as Batman, your first mission is to go to the courthouse and rescue Catwoman. But if you decide you want to go out and roam Gotham, beat up thugs, collect trophies, or just wander…there's that option. It might take you one minute to go directly to the courthouse or it might take you one hour or longer if you put it off (of course, you'll get reminded to go save her if you delay too long). And things like that happen throughout the game if you start to deviate from a main mission objective. But again, the time it takes to do some of that is left up to the gamer themselves.

With that in mind, having placed this story in-between a crucial part of the game, didn't allow for much wiggle room…but it is there if you allow it to be. Some are willing to suspend that disbelief to enjoy the stories. Others are sticklers to detail that it could never happen in the game. Such is the box one is placed in when you work in the confines of writing stories adapting video games. It's up to each reader whether they want it to be canon in their mind (which is always humorously insightful when I'll read some that don't consider Unhinged canon but End Game is canon). But here's the thing…both Unhinged and End Game get read, notes provided, suggestions made, changes enacted, all going through Rocksteady and DC before they're approved to get made. So saying one title is canon and one title isn't canon, is a conflicting statement to make based only on opinion. But everything Arkham related doesn't get made without the approval of both Rocksteady and DC. If that's not canon, then I don't know what is. It really becomes a fascinating insight into the mind of the reader though. All of us are different. All of us place some stories as canon and others as insignificant. Some voicing their opinions very loudly while others choose not to let it bother them one way or the other. Fandom at its finest!

New character "Fervor"...every bit as annoying as you would expect from a tabloid princess

Another thing I'd like to address is character creation. I've always admired that Dini created so many new characters during his run in comics (on Detective and Streets Of Gotham) and the animated shows of course. And some of those creations, he'd always find ways of writing into projects he was on. His own "Diniverse" that would follow him onto whatever comic story he was writing. You'll have some creators very loudly claim to not want to create any new characters that the company will own and they won't. On the one hand, it's safe and smart to keep very personal characters and large ideas to yourself to own, of course. But on the other hand, not wanting to actually add new villains or characters to DC while writing Batman seems like being overly careful and a missed opportunity. And I feel confident enough as a creator that I'm a fountain of ideas. I'm not going to miss creating one character for this story that I'd be all tapped out and not have anything for myself. And truth be told, most villains or new characters created for companies like DC, don't grow big enough to be that popular anyways. There are always exceptions of course. So this is my roundabout way of saying that I was looking to add a new character. Whether she sees life outside of this one issue, either in comics or games, is out of my hands (actually there's the possibility she might cameo in my next DC project, so we'll see). But yeah, it's kind of a fun treat to create someone new and try to insert it into a story.

Fervor was created as a means to shed light on my distaste for celebrities in the news. You know the ones…the Kardashians, Lohans, etc.  The no-talent media whores that seem to be in the tabloids and invade all news reports, that one can't escape from hearing. The ones we just want to go away. It was very easy to make her as annoying as possible right down to the shorthand twitter-speak.

Catwoman provides astute observation...

And of course, it's always fun writing all these girls in action and having Batman thrown into the middle. A chance to shed some insight on how Catwoman views Batman. Other criminals view him as an agent of fear and a threat to stopping their actions. Catwoman of course has a different opinion.

On art, it was a chance to have Mike S. Miller return to draw a story. He did a nice job on our very first Unhinged story with Catwoman, it seemed natural to have him draw her appeance again with a few more ladies added. Also this was the first issue where we got Mico Suayan on cover art duties. And through the first few covers he would complete, would be enough to encourage DC to have him pencil a story for Unhinged which gave him a chance to draw just about every character in the Arkham-verse.

Cover artist Mico Suayan's original pencils