I didn't grow up reading comics, and the passion for the medium settled on me late in life. Basically, I was taking post-graduate fiction writing courses at U.C- Berkeley while working on a novel (and at a day job) when I noticed the first season of the Batman Animated Series, and became utterly intrigued with the characters, especially Dick. As a formerJit-major, I had along history with fictional characters; I knew how to let. them into my world. But Dick, being frorn a different medium (comics as opposed to literature) initially threw me, audit was really my quest to get closer to him that lead me to DC. I had a friend working in a comic book store, so he set me up with all kinds of great reading material (like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns), and the next thing I knew, I was hooked.
So the need to do comics professionally, for me,was actually about needing to get closer to the characters—-as a writer, I've always learned about things by writing about them. It was very personal, and, frankly, pretty obsessive—Tjust needed to do it, somehow, so I put my novel aside and after reading every book about the medium that I could get my hands on, I went directly to the source. I was too naive to know any better than to just start writing and calling the Bat-office editors; as far as I was concerned, DC Comics was just sort of...where Dick lived.
I thinktheymust have found me very amusing at first, and patiently answered my questions about the best comic stories out there and the best classes to take to learn more, etc. As obsessed' as I was, I was already writing fan-fiction, and eventually they came across some in an A.P.A (amateur press association) I was involved with at the time. Apparently they liked what they saw. I kept up a sort of correspondence with them for nearly three years, sending along more short stories from time to time and offering to do anything I could to help them, even considering a job at DC as a copy editor at one point (which would have entailed a very expensive move to New York; I lived in San Francisco at the time).
And then I just got very, very lucky-—Darren Vincenzo called me at work one day and offered me a ten page script in The Batman Chronicles (which became "Like Riding a Bike in The Batman Chronicles #7—though technically, I believe that piece was beat to the stands by Batman Plus Arsenal, which some therefore consider my first work) and it all just kept building from there. I'd already written three or four scripts for them by the time I finally saved up enough money to visit New York and meet them all. And now I live much closer and they're all like big brothers to me.
I think what the editors are used to are people who know about comics, coming to them to learn how to write. I was a person who knew about writing and was coming to them to learn about comics. It was different, and it worked.
Until I got the Catwoman monthly (and, much later. The Titans), I never knew for sure that I'd evever work again. The Bat-editors were always tremendously reassuring, and the signs of a healthy career were there early, but for the first two years of my freelance life, I would literally finish one assignment completely unsure of what the next one might be. Now, in my third year, I realize how incredibly lucky and well taken care of I'd been all along. Sitting in front of me now is a writer's schedule that has the next several months of my life carefully filled to the brim with work, and the problem has become how to get everything done, which is a much nicer problem.
No Man's Land started out extremely controversial, but seems to have won over the fans. What has been your role as it has progressed?
Well, as I understand
it. No Man's Land started as an idea in editor Jordan Gorfinkel's head—one
which was enthusiastically embraced by our daring chief editor, Denny O'Neil,
who almost right off the bat (no pun intended) realized that if this was
worth doing, it was worth doing big. I'm not sure of the exact chronology,
but either right before or after Gorf's proposal, Denny was introduced
to crime novelist extraordinaire, Greg Rucka. Around the same time, he
was also informed that Back To The Future's Bob Gale was interested in
doing some work with the Bat-office. Even at this early stage in the game,.from
the point of view of a "Bat stable" freelancer, you could tell that big
changes were in the air, and that's always both a nerve-wracking and exciting
feeling. In a
sense, much as it had to win over the fans later (which it did, with it's stunning "newness"), early on, it had to win over the freelancers. We just weren't sure. The turning point for me, personally, was hearing Denny state all of the uncertainties explicitly-1 don't remember the exact quote, but he basically said, look--if this works, it'll be unlike anything we've ever done betore, and if it doesn't, we're really gonna fall on our faces. But at least we will have tried to do something new. For me, too, on a more practical level, it represented the chance to work in the core Batbooks, something I hadn't yet done (I'd been on what we call the "ancillary" titles like Catwoman and The Batman Chronicles). So after some personal deliberation, I got onboard - with both feet.
Editor Darren Vincenzo took point on my arc, which was to be a Scarecrow/Huntress story. No Man's Land has been painstakingly mapped out, in broad strokes, at: several different editorial and summit (meaning the freelancers are there, too) meetings. So it was really a fascinating challenge to set characters into motion within a pre-determined framework. In some ways, the perimeters were looser than most people might expect, and in other ways, there were all these things you just could not do without adversely impacting future stories. Chuck Dixon, who I already knew and respected, and GregRucka, who I immediately hit it off with, were at one of these early meetings with the Bat-editors, and I think when it really started working for me was when we were all able to talk out our ideas and story arcs face to face. It quickly became a genuine-team effort, and that was fun. And although there's never any way to be completely sure, from where we were sitting, it looked like it was going to work.
first arc I did, "Fear of Faith," gave
me a chance to establish how the Huntress operated in No Man's Land (where
all the rules had changed), and also gave- me the opportunity to play with
the Scarecrow, who I'd worked with in Catwoman and just love. My mother
is a therapist, so I really enjoy thinking about what Professor Crane's
motivations are and how his mind works-it's a language I understand. We
knew we wanted to introduce a "neutral territory," maybe with some sort
of religious affiliation, and
as an avid student of comparative theology, I wanted to represent as many different faiths there as possible. Darren had the idea of introducing the priest character. Father Chris, and the story built from there.
I recently finished my second contribution to No Man's Land-a thirty-eight page story about Leslie Thompkins' hospital zone (and what happens to a peaceful zone when it's sheltering a sociopath) that will appear in an upcorning Batman Chronicles, and am just this weekend putting the finishing touches on my third contribution, the second No Man's Land meeting between Batman and Superman, which will appear in Shadow of the Bat # 92.
How did the Black Widow project come about?
This is my first work for Marvel, and I'm. thrilled to have had a chance both to work with these extraordinary characters, and also with this extraordinary creative team-the book has the most incredible pencils and ink job by J.G. Jones, colored by Brian Haberlin, and is edited by Joe Quesada.and Jimmy Palmiotti. Quite honestly, I wouldn't have accepted the assignment if riot for Jimmy and Joe's participation.
It was exciting to get to explore a character who was new to me in a universe which I was less than completely familiar with. For me, the key note to Natasha's character was discipline. This woman has been a spy most of her life, and before that, she was a Soviet/Russian trained ballerina-the control that kind of training takes is all but unimaginable to most of us, the grace and the economy, the absolute efficiency of every word and gesture. I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would mean to be able to do that, and what it would mean to complete that training and excel at that kind of work. At some level, you would have to give up a lot of what made you unique, becauseyou would always have to be able to blend in, you could never risk leading your enemies back to your employers. But Natasha is a woman with a rich history and a wonderful, inherent sense of style-so what does it mean for her to be essentially able to suppress that? How long can you lie to other people about who you are and still be confident that you know yourself?
This brings us to The Titans. What are you hoping to accomplish with this new series?
The first part of this first year is essentially being used to establish and clarify the characters and relationships we're going to be playing with in the course of this run, including the bad guys. Different, issues focus on different Titans and different baddies, all leading up to our year-end finale in issues ten through twelve, where the warm glow of coming together is hopelessly chilled when things suddenly start moving very quickly on that super-heroic, adventure scale. I'm absolutely dedicated to providing a lot of action in the book, but I think, too, that readers really love seeing how these characters interact (and god knows I like writing about that!), so there's a lot of personal drama arising from and even motivating many of the adventures.
To sum it up in terms
of a general overview basically, at this point, this incarnation of the
team has come together for several different personal reasons, but primarily
to share and foster a sense of family. In the plus column, that dynamic
can leave the individual characters feeline less isolated, and so we've
been exploring some of the funnier, sweeter, more satisfying moments reverberating
through the T-Tower these days. But, of course, there's a down side to
coming together like that, too- all the complicated inter-dynamics of any
unit formed of separate parts - so we'll be exploring that raange in our
first year: the best and the worst partss of having a team like this,
of being part of a family.
How do you approach each series?
Well, I'm very influenced by the "Hero's Journey" story structure archetype wheel, taught by Jung, Campbell, and Vogler, among others. This is a method of using universal archetypes and archetypal energies to motivated and break down classically-structured heroic journeys for individual characters (every time I talk about this I always think of a great Willa Cather quote from 0 Pioneers: "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before,"). I also approach the characters as real people-that is, as nonsensical as the physical world they move through can be, I try to hold them accountable to modern theories of psychology and sociology. Because I'm interested in exploring facets of their personalities, much of my plotting starts with a question about a character-say, "what would convince Dick to rejoin the Titans?"-from which I create a cycle of events that will force that character to enter into asituation that will eventually elicit an unexpected and revealing action or response from them.
Also, with the Titans, since part of what they're about is representing the twenty-somethings of the DCU, I try to think a little bit about what sorts of issues and problems concern real people in that age group. Sometimes I'll be able to craft a whole villain, like Goth, out of relevant issues, and other times they'll end up addressed through sub-plots.
That s the high-brow craft level of it, anyway. Once I've got the ball rolling, a lot of it is, honestly, just playing-subconsciously following threads, listening to the character's voices take on a life of their-own, brain-storming through plot holes, playing music really loudly and drinking too much coffee and dancmg in my chair-you can't write without dancing in your chair, you know.
What are The Weinbergs and User, and when is each due out?
The release date for The Weinbergs (which is still just a working title, by the way-the book will almost certainly be called something else when it comes out) has been pushed back to December. It's hard on me because I'm so excited about this series, and I can't wait for people to see it, but on the other hand, it was pushed back for a really nice reason; our artist, Yvel Guichet, got the opportunity to work on a terrific assignment-Paul Dini's introduction of Harley Quinn into the DCU in No Man's Land. I'm very excited for Yvel, and pleased that more people will be familiar with his work•when the Weinys does at last come out.
Also, DC has been very supportive of the story, and the delay gives them a chance to really think through marketing and such. So I'm honored that it's being taken so seriously. I couldn't be more excited about this project and can't wait to start talking about it more-these kids are truly my babies!
In a sense, The Weinbergs is my way of using some of my pre-conuc- reading-days sensibilities about characters and story-telling to celebrate my newfound love of the medium. When working on JLA/Tifans, I was very aware that that project was something of a. love-letter to the die-hard fans--it's not a book I would hand to someone unfamiliar with comics. But The Weinbergs was crafted with my non-comic-book-reading friends and family very much in mind-it's meant to be accessible to a very wide audience, and it's the kind of project that really makes me wish there were easier ways to get information about comics out to people who don't normally read them. It was so exciting to "discover" comics in my early twenties, and then to watch my friends and family start to get turned on by them. My morn now takes comic books to meetings of the American Psychological Association, and reports that they love them there--I just think that's so cool, and as hard a time as the industry is having, I truly believe that the medium is viable, young, and nowhere near to having maxed out on its audience potential. The Weinbergs is my way of saying, look, this stuff's riot so scary, it's not all "super" this and "uncanny" that-the stories can be character-driven, you may find you can relate to some of them, and its totally worth checking out. And that this is a DCU book, and I'm able to say all of this from within the superhero genre, is really exciting to me.
And matching my enthusiasm is our artist Yvel Guichet, who just knocked me and editor Jordan Gorfinkel out with his character designs for these kids, and then again later with his pages. I gave him some difficult shots and he just basically kicked their ass! Much as I'm writing from a very new, atypical place here, Yvel has brought thistremendously fresh, exciting, urban sensibility into the art. You can see immediately that it's something new and different. We were at a meeting a month or so ago, and he turned to me with this kind of sly smile on his face, shook his head, and said, "you've got a weird sense of humor," and I knew right then that he "got" it, that he was willing to take risks and have fun with the art side of it, which was crucial. And editor Jordan Gorfinkel also so clearly "gets" it, and has been enormously supportive, for which I feel very grateful. It's really been a joy to produce, and I really hope that carries, I hope people enjoy reading it even half as much, I as we enjoyed making it. Keep an ear out for the book's final title!
The Weinbergs are: Houston (Joel Weinberg, fifteen), Temper (Aviva Joby Weinberg, eleven), Blindside (Tyson Gilford, sixteen), Omni (Cameron Begay, fifteenish), and Allure (Damara Sinclaire, sixteen). They're a family in a very nineties way: Joel and Aviva are biological siblings, Tyson is their adopted brother, Cameron is (purportedly) their cousin, and Damara is Aviva's babysitter (who practically lives at their house).
Their powers are allegorical manifestations of common adolescent problems. "Houston," the team leader, actually has no powers, but he's read a lot of comic books, so he's prepared for almost any situation! "Temper," an eleven-year-old girl who doesn't get a lot of societal support for expressing her feelings in a healthy manner, generates bio-electriaty that increases with her (frequently rising) anger level. Blindside, a young African-American male being raised by a white, Jewish family in a semi-affluent Northern California neighborhood (the Weinys are from Berkeley), has such strong issues with feeling "unrecognized" and "unseen" by society that he literally disappears when he's upset. "Allure," under a faerie- enchantment spell, emits high-levels of super pheromones that can dominate the wills of anyone attracted to her-like a lot of teenage girls, though, she experiences this as a bizarre discomfort more than a gift; men continuously react to her in what she experiences to-be startling and _un.comfertable~ways, and she's never sure that she's liked for who she truly is. And "Ornni" is a mimic-he can duplicate the powers of anyone within his immediate vicinity-only he doesn't acknowledge that particular limitation, being quite convinced that he autonomously possesses any number of fantastic powers. He's also chronically co-dependent; terrified of being left alone, seemingly sustained solely by contact with his family and friends. I think we all know someone like that! Um...minus the superpowers. ;-)
Set in motion by the death of the central parental figures, we meet the Weinys already on the run, a newly self-proclaimed superhero team, traveling in their dad's winnebago across the DCU hoping to get to Metropolis where they can get their inheritance money from their maternal grandfather, and "hook up with Superman." Although they all have different ideas about the sanity (or lack thereof) of this plan, they also all have their own reasons for running-reasons that are explored over the course of the series. For Joel, the leader, the death of his parents is an "obvious origin," and the traveling,becomes a matter of trying to outrun his grief. However, unlike many superhero origins, this time it doesn't work. Eventually Joel is forced to stop and confront the bereavement that has him unwittingly tearing apart the very. thing he now needs most-his family.
Also coming out in December is User, a three-part Prestige format project I'm doing for Vertigo. The story is about a young woman who, when threatened by a dangerous family situation, manages to challenge her own faulty self-preservation instincts through the medium of online role-playing (for those unfamiliar with the concept, online role-playing is a lot like traditional role playing-Dungeons & Duagons.being perhaps the best known example-except that it's all done through computers, with players using screen names to portray fantasy characters that then interact over the course of fairly unstructured, spontaneous adventures. There are ways to roll dice online to help determine the winner in "combat" situations, but unlike live role-playing games where you play in person with a group of friends, in online gaming you might never know the real identities-the "rnuns"-behind the other.characters you play with).
Through the fantasy world she explores turns out to be easily as fragile and damaged as her day-to-day reality, the ability to learn to honor the archetypal masquerades chosen by herself and the other players in the fictional world awakens her own sense of empathy and competence in the real one. In my time with online RPing a couple of years ago, I was really struck with how creative and powerful some of it is. I mean, yes, there's also the more obvious flip side about how some people take it much too seriously, and initially the protagonist of User is using it in an unhealthy way. But she soon learns that slaying dragons is the easy part. It's making sense of the little evils of every-day life that's almost impossible.
The online scenes will be painted by JohnBolton, and Sean Phillips will pencil the "real world" scenes, and I think both of them are planning on doing some computer manipulation-so pretty much no matter what I do, it's gonna look fantastic!
What would be your dream project?
The Titans. Or maybe The Weinbergs. I am the luckiest girl in comics, I want for nothing. I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing. The only thing left to ice the cake might be more direct work with Batman.
By Will Allred