Thursday, July 11, 2013


Concluding the last part of my interview with co-writer Ken Jones on Legends Of The Dark Knight "The Beautiful Ugly". Digital issue #58 goes on sale today at Comixology. So be sure to read that before coming here, as we'll discuss a few story related topics...

Dr. Leslie Thompkins is a character rarely used in Batman. I've always appreciated that she has a history with Bruce. She along with Alfred, were two adult figures in Bruce’s life after he lost his parents. And one of the few in his inner circle that knows his exploits as Batman.

It's funny because originally, our early draft of the script opened the story with her scene and then we find out what happened to Aiden and Marissa flashing back. But as we did more drafts, it was a better fit coming much later, to tell Aiden and Marissa's story in real time. And to actually start our story with Batman in action, making a better bookend to our story.

Talk a little about the inclusion of Dr. Thompkins in our story.

It’s funny because it’s a small scene, but the whole story kinda pivots on it.  Dr. Thompkins is fascinating to me because she’s a gatekeeper to the world of Batman.  She’s one of the few people with open access to him and whom he trusts at their word.

Most of the other characters with that interact with Batman are more directly involved with what Batman does; other masked vigilantes, cops, like that.   But with Thompkins you have this regular, ordinary person in Gotham who just happens to be able to contact Batman whenever she wants.  She’s a very world-building type of character, a bridge between the reality the audience knows and the unique reality of Gotham

Of course, I was completely unaware of Thompkins before The Beautiful Ugly.   But you talked about wanting to include her pretty early in the process. I think that’s a knack of yours; telling stories within worlds—whatever ‘those worlds’ might be—that have a sort of object permanence.  I think it stems, at least in part, from your ability to sort of pull characters out of the ether that make the story realer to that universe.

Sometimes you come up with characters on the spot during our brainstorming sessions that fit perfectly.  It’s a pretty impressive gift.

It's an interesting point about Thompkins as a sort of bridge for the audience and Gotham. In some ways, the few people that Batman keeps close to him (Alfred, Gordon, Lucius Fox, and Thompkins) provide a sort of tether for him as well. A sort of working class humanity aspect to provide insight and rein him in from just becoming immersed in Batman fully. To either remind him to stay the course, or recognize when he's starting to stretch and go too far.

The fate of our lead characters is unknown by the end of our story. Why the choice for this ambiguity?

Actually, I’m more interested in your thoughts on that since the concept and main storyline were your ideas.  In fact, you even had the major beats of the story worked out by the time we sat down to brainstorm, including this sort of ambiguous ending we have.  So Mr. Fridolfs, what inspired you to come up with the story I the first place and what prompted to you take it in the direction that you did?

While not every story calls for it, I do tend to like the idea of not knowing the finality of a character's fate. To leave a little mystery and some areas open for the audience to surmise on their own what might happen. And the way the audience comes to their own conclusion, might stem to their own outlook or perception on things. In this case, it comes down to the jury results. Guilty or Not Guilty. And in either case, I don't know if there really can be considered a happy ending for either party in this.

I know when coming up with the title and the last page of dialogue for this story, who it belonged to felt very interchangeable. That it could just as easily refer to Two-Face as much as it does to Batman. What does "The Beautiful Ugly" mean to you?

I think it’s all-encompassing.  Not just for Batman and Two-face, but for Marissa and Aiden as well. Gotham City too, for that matter. It even extends to the larger concepts of justice and revenge and redemption.  We kind of unpack it all and leave it in the audience’s lap.  But we don’t do it to avoid answering the question.  I think the duality is the answer.  The city, the people in it, and the ideals they’re striving for or running from all contain and compose both beautiful and ugly things.

See, I never even thought to associate Marissa, Aiden, Gotham, or the larger concepts for it, and yet that's a great point! The things one learns after the fact.

Switching topics, there are very few black writers working in comics. And quite possibly none at the Big Two companies currently, which seems pretty unfathomable. For an industry that has so many diverse voices and styles, and as a black writer, how do you feel about this? What do you think you can bring to comics?

Damn the Man, I says!

Actually I think it’s a systemic issue.  Working in comics is about who you know.  Fact of life. And I don’t know why there’s so much diversity on the art side but so little on the writing side except to say that there may be less diversity in the private lives of many comics writers.

On the flip side, comics might not be a readily pursued career path for black writers.  I do know firsthand that there is cultural pressure for black writers—black creators of any stripe—to identify as “black” writers, artists, or whatever.  It’s patently absurd.  It’s a description of a person’s ethnicity and occupation.  But I think it’s a core tenet of the human condition to heap as much cultural baggage as humanly possible on anything and everything we can.  And maybe that results in fewer black writers considering comics.

I'm all about diversity of characters and creators. That each of us brings a whole different set of life experiences, backgrounds, and heritage to the table. That it's fascinating to have as many diverse points of view.

Any final thoughts to having your first big mainstream story published?

It’s very, very cool.  And hopefully, it’s just the beginning. So back to work.

So there ya have it. It was a real pleasure getting the chance to introduce everyone to Ken, and to especially work on this story together with him. Many a day and weekend are spent hanging out, talking about life, politics, social problems, entertainment, and brainstorming stories. Much of the published work I've done has been through a great filter as I've shown Ken my work, gotten feedback, and opened my mind to the greater process of writing. He's always been a great sounding board if I'm struggling with something or just want to float an idea out there to get his opinion. That we finally got to work on something published together isn't the end of this great journey but only the beginning. And I'll keep you posted what we'll be working on next.

A final bit of thanks goes to editor Hank Kanalz and artist Jason Shawn Alexander. Hank I've been working with on all the digital work I've done through DC in Burbank. I sort of caught him by surprise by sending this story pitch to him out of the blue, not knowing if there were any openings or even if he'd like it. And he was extremely generous and patient getting it all set up. And what can I say about Jason, that I haven't gushed about before? I wasn't quite aware of his work before Arkham City End Game (and a nod to editor Jim Chadwick for bringing him to my attention). But I've gotten to be a huge fan since that time. It can be rare to find the chance to rework with people in the industry. To strike lightning in a bottle twice. We all have separate goals and schedules. Lots of projects being juggled in work and in life. But that Jason found the time to work on this story, I felt very lucky. And he brought his "A" game once again, drawing and inking the characters emotions all over their faces and body language, the weariness of Batman and the city of Gotham, and the fractured soul that is Harvey Dent.

And thanks to all of you that have bought our story, read this blog, and have commented. Every little bit is like fuel to keep the fires burning. And very much appreciated!

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Continuing the second part of my interview with friend and co-writer Ken Jones, about writing Legends Of The Dark Knight "The Beautiful Ugly". Covering our working process as well as some of the characters and themes of our story…

What is the writing process like when working together with another writer on a script? From the initial thought, to outline, to execution? How do we break down a story?

Wow.  That’s an expansive question.

Yeah, there's a lot to cover. But I think most readers are used to one writer per story and might not understand the division of labor involved when two writers collaborate. And I'm sure every 2-man writing team has their own approach. But explain how we go about it.

Our process starts with spit-balling ideas until something sticks.  Sometimes the heavens open up and the story gods rain blessings down upon us.  Most of the time, it comes from trying to develop points of interest, combining disparate ideas, or even just talking out thoughts and observations we might have until it becomes a story concept.

From there, we usually pool multiple concepts together and go with the best one.  Of course, circumstances play a role in that, too. But it really helps us figure out why we want to write a particular story.  This might be the single most important step in developing a story—the reason why you’re doing it. Virtually every decision you make will be based on that.  And the reason can be anything really.  You just need to be aware of it.   Sometimes you know why you want to write a story as soon as the idea comes to you.  Other times it takes some mulling.

Typically, we start brainstorming, overloading the story concept with ideas—ideas for scenes, jokes, dialogues, plot points, etc.  Those ideas ultimately get whittled down in the outlining process, but I think it helps us in deciding what to cut and what to keep.

From there we flesh that mess out into an outline.

That’s when our jobs tend to separate. You typically take over breaking the outline down into whatever format the story is going to be in, fleshing plot points out into scenes.  From there I take over with the scripting.  Obviously, we’re both free to input in each stage as we see fit.  You might throw in a line of dialogue or narration.  I might decide to emphasize a different beat in a scene.  The last step is us taking another pass or two at the script, sometimes making dramatic changes, as was the case with The Beautiful Ugly.

For my part, while it seems like a long process, I think it’s pretty efficient and we end up with something that I feel is stronger than what I might have done on my own.  Plus, we can do it in half the time!

I think for "The Beautiful Ugly", I started with the basic germ of an idea. The concept of Two-Face revisiting the very first case he lost as Harvey Dent during his District Attorney days. And now he could come back later and set it right in his own twisted mind. The more we talk about our stories when we're just hanging out, the more the ideas start to grow and breathe. And I felt this one started to blend cohesively, leading to pitching it together.

What makes the world of Batman and Gotham interesting to write about?

As with any good fiction, it holds a mirror up to nature.  And what makes Batman’s world brilliant is that it allows us to explore such a wide range of human themes.  It can go anywhere from sci-fi, to fantasy, horror, monsters, noir, crime, to super heroes, seamlessly. It’s hyperreal and operatic.  Plus, everything about it is just cool in terms of style and mood.

You'd always use the line "Writing is re-writing". Obviously stolen from some greater source out there, or as a motto that all editors adhere to. We went through quite a few drafts to settle on the final one. What is your process towards what to keep and what to get rid of when it comes to re-writes?

Whatever helps the story.  That might sound simple, but it’s really not.  In fact, I think it’s the hardest part of writing.  The proverbial killing your babies.  A scene or event or character that absolutely made the story work in your first draft—perhaps even the reason you wanted to write the story in the first place—might be completely unnecessary in the second.  Worse, it might be the thing that keeps your story from coming together.  This is where knowing why you want to write the story and remembering the audience can help make those decisions.  Nothing is sacred.  Not even why you’re telling this story.  But in comparison to the why, everything else is expendable.

I always loved your explanation of Two-Face by way of Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men. Can you explain a little about the pivotal scene from that movie and the similarities you see concerning Two-Face and his coin?

I just think flipping the coin plays a similar role for Two-Face and Chigurh.  So often, the coin is a gimmick for Two-face.  In some stories, stopping him is a matter of knocking the coin out of his hand.  It’s too thin.

Chigurh, as the embodiment of fate in No Country For Old Men only uses the coin as the final determinant of an outcome.  In his mind, anyone who crosses his path did so through a series of choices and events.  So if he’s pulling his gun on you, it’s probably meant to be.  However, if you can convince him that fate may be mistaken, the only option left is to flip a coin .  If fate is on your side, the coin will land in your favor.

With Two-Face, it’s different in practical terms.  You have the broken ego of Harvey Dent sharing consciousness out with his pure, uncontrollable desires.  They actually both want the same thing but the Two-Face side is willing to go farther to get it.  When Dent’s desires take him father than even his broken ego is willing to go, the coin flip is a way of arbitrating the dispute.  But think about how horrific that is.  A man is literally arguing with himself about killing you and ultimately decides to flip a coin to determine the outcome.  It gives Dent a sense of order and it gives Two-Face a measure of control.  Either way, the coin is not the central thing even though it is a key component.  The gas station scene in No Country is a good demonstration of how I see the coin being used---thematically—for both characters.

In our story, Marissa and Aiden almost steal the show. I remember at one point early in the process, our editor giving us the reminder that this is "Legends Of The Dark Knight", not "Legends Of Marissa and Aiden". Tell a little about what you found fascinating about writing these two characters. Why do they feel like another example of the misery that Gotham seems to bring to everyone in the city?

It’s about context.  Superhuman feats don't seem superhuman if everyone is capable of them.  Comics (movies, and TV) often forget that. It's actually become kind of rare.  For all the Superhero stories  that have been told, so few have been written about life for regular people living alongside these demigods.  It's been done; I'm not saying it hasn't.  Kingdom Come is perhaps the best example.  And a lot of Adam Hughes' work revolves around the theme.  But in comparison to the 'wowza' approach typically used in the modern superhero genre, it's a bit uncommon. I guess that’s a good thing, though.  It gave us a somewhat novel perspective to use for our story.

Penguin found a way into our story relatively easy. He's arguably one of those villains that writers seem to gravitate towards writing. What makes him interesting to you?

I see the Penguin as a hub, one of those people all types of folks go to for a variety of reasons; some legal others not so much.  I would imagine the Penguin committing far fewer actual crimes than the Joker or Two-face, but in aggregate, if you look at every major criminal player in Gotham you’ll find a Penguin puppet string somewhere.  I also think the same would be true for the legitimate world in Gotham.

I think something I'm always aware of while writing, is trying to be true to each character. To make each voice and each person different, so they don't all sound like they're being written the same way by the same person. Some writers struggle with this, where everyone has the same cadence and pattern. What is your approach to finding the voice of your character?

Hmm…tough one.  There’s no simple answer except to be cognizant of the voices.  Research dialects and occupations like cops, doctors, teachers.  Learn how different people talk. Learn jokes.  Write down funny conversations you have and overhear.

I try to imagine my characters existing outside of the story, even incidental and bit characters.  Say we come across a guy in a toll both. What’s his story?  Is this his dream job?  Does he like people?  Or is he making chump change and living under a mountain of debt?  Has he had traffic all day?  Is he from Chicago or London or Kansas?  Is he friendly?  I always try to have a sort of sense of that.  They don’t need to say or do anything specific to inform us of any of that but it helps give me an idea of who this person is.  And that helps me give them a voice.

What was it like to see the art as it started to be finished and you saw it visually presented for the first time?

It’s been my favorite part of the process thus far.  As a writer, you see the story in your head when you’re going along, but it’s not in the format.  It’s not really even visual. You’re just thinking scenes up and trying to figure out which moments to capture.

When we get the art back from Jason, we’re not only seeing how he sees the story, but how he would tell the story in an actual formatted way.  That’s huge.  It’s another dimension of storytelling.  And because it’s collaborative, he’s free to emphasize or depict things we might not—or might not even think of—and the story takes on a whole new life.


Legends Of The Dark Knight digital issue #57 should be on sale today at Comixology. And then come back here in one week as I wrap up our interview with some final insights towards it.