An interview with Devin Grayson
A Shameless Web Exclusive
BY SHANE DINGMAN
Comic businessQ: Can you talk about your very early days with DC? How did you find the culture? How did you find the work?
D: The beginning was thrilling. For the first year and half or so I worked from home in California - I’d never seen the offices or met any of the people I was sending scripts to. I spoke to them on the phone sometimes and exchanged a good many e-mails, but mostly I was just sitting across the country from them trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. And the guys I first started working with - Scott Peterson, Denny O’Neil, Darren Vincenzo, and Jordan Gorfinkel - they were amazingly supportive and trusting and absolutely able to talk me through the problems I encountered early on, which mostly had to do with script formatting and learning how to effectively communicate with artists.
Scott was the one who had been tutoring me on the industry long-distance; recommending books worth reading and classes worth taking and people worth trying to get to know, and also the person most directly responsible for introducing me to the work culture. One of the things I learned from him right away was how important it is to respect the people with whom you’re working. He is so funny and so deliciously irreverent in his day-to-day dealings, and yet when he talked about Denny or DC Publisher Paul Levitz or an artist he was introducing me to, like Brian Stelfreeze for example, he was able to communicate reverence more authentically and clearly than anyone else I’ve ever met. That has had a tremendous influence on my career. Going in to it, you barely understand what you’re supposed to be doing, let alone what the other people around you are responsible for and how difficult their jobs may be. To have someone pointing that out to you early on is terrifically valuable.
Darren gave me my first two assignments and walked me through my first finished script over the phone with tremendous patience and kindness. These guys all had a great sense of humor and were always so much fun to talk to and learn from. The first thing I remember Darren explaining to me was the idea of static action. I had a tendency in my early scripts, which he thoughtfully assured me was a common mistake, to overload the action for a single panel, writing something like, “Batman pulls out his grapnel hook and shoots it at the roof.” In a movie that’s no problem, but in a comic there’s no way an artist can draw Batman both pulling out a grapnel hook and also aiming and shooting it simultaneously, those are three separate actions (four if you want to show the grapnel connecting). It took a while for me to learn to break panels up properly and Darren really helped me on my pacing and the mechanics of communicating effectively with the artist, always in a tremendously encouraging, patient way. He was very good at figuring out what it was that I was trying to achieve and helping me translate that into proper comic script format.
Denny, who gave me my first series (Catwoman), was the first person to really talk me through judicious use of text - I had a tendency to be pretty wordy early on (partly, maybe, because I was trying to prove how “literate” I was) and needed to learn to trust the artist to communicate his or her part of the story. Denny’s one of the best writers the medium has ever had, and also a stunningly warm, generous, and interesting person. He’s really interested in how writing works and how we develop and communicate ideas, and is very much a Zen master of editing. I remember going to him several times with story problems and he’d listen and then come back at me with one incredibly simple, pure question and I’d suddenly know exactly what I needed to do. The one that really stuck with me - this was for a Catwoman script in which Batman was guest appearing - was, “well, whose story is it?” I had been stuck for a week and the second he uttered that question and I let it into my brain, the last seven pages, or whatever it was, of the book just came to me in full right there. It was Selina’s (Catwoman’s) story, and suddenly I knew what to do.
Jordan, or Gorf as he is affectionately called, helped me launch my first creator-developed series, Relative Heroes (or The Weinbergs, as we called it), and that was an amazing journey unlike anything I’d done up to that point. Gorf really encouraged me to think my ideas all the way through and trust but also clarify my instincts. He’s a genius when it comes to high-concept ideas and taught me not only how to work an idea all the way through, but also how to not lose interest in it during that process. There can be a point sometimes when you’ve kind of thought through and plotted out a story to a degree that you don’t even care about writing it anymore, you’re sort of done with it even though there’s no product. Gorf got me to that point with The Weinbergs and then showed me how to move through it... it was the first time I went into writing a script totally knowing where the story was supposed to go page by page but also totally open to the developing “voice” of the project and the internal energy it was starting to generating as it came into actual (fictional) being.
Another lesson I learned early on was script specificity. In my very first script, a 10-page Dick and Donna story that ran in The Batman Chronicles, I was amazingly blessed to have the artist Rodolfo Damaggio. I cannot say enough about his work, it is absolutely thrilling and beautiful and crystal clear and I was so overwhelmed by and appreciative of it. But the story called for Dick to be “bike jacked” by a couple of street cons, who in my head I imagined as Caucasian stoners. I did not specify that in the script though, and when the final version came out, I realized that almost every character in the story was white, except for the bad guys, who were black. And I was mortified. But it was entirely my fault, because I had not clearly stated otherwise. Since then, I’ve been very careful about specificity.
I moved to New York about a year and half after I started really writing
for that first Bat-office, and finally getting to meet and truly befriend
those guys remains the high point of my career.
Q: What are the plusses and minuses of a creative enterprise riddled with people who have a personal fan-boy connection to the product?
The main plus is that almost everyone who works in this industry is crazy about the product. It’s certainly possible to burn out, but basically no one shows up in this industry by accident and everyone, at least initially, comes to honour something that’s brought them great joy. That’s a nice way to enter a field.
The problem is, they’re usually coming to honour something that’s brought them great joy IN THE PAST. Comics are a lot like pop music. We all think the stuff we read first - or listened to during high school - is the good stuff, and everything else is an aberration that needs to be “fixed.” So there’s this bizarre internal continuity battle running through the creation of comics. What we’re supposed to be doing is making the legends of the heroes we loved as kids available and relevant to the current readership, but what we end up doing, myself included, is fighting to return those characters to the way they were when we, personally, liked them best. That includes an almost endless cycle of killing characters off, bringing them back, changing their costumes and names, and contradicting pieces of their “histories” that have gone before in an effort to safeguard the versions we hold dear. This is all furthermore complicated by the fact that we run these stories as serialized monthlies, so a character like Batman, for example, has been in print for over 60 years and has been 35 for almost all of that time. Obviously, at some point, you have to let go of the idea of a complete and comprehensible history for him without losing track of his humanity and the basic fundamentals of his character, and for some reason that’s something hardcore fans seem particularly unwilling to do. It is, frankly, a mess, and a huge problem. And the people who could be in charge of reining this in - publishing administration - are often some of the worst offenders (“oh, yeah, I can fix this - let’s take everything back to the ’70s!”). The best attempt I’ve seen to deal with the problem so far are the Marvel “Ultimate” lines, which allow some creators to be working on classic (read: accessible) stories about the heroes while others are doing the post-modern thing (read: continuity-dense stories packed with returning characters and reveals only hardcore fan-boys will understand).
Q: You mentioned that the ideal writing situation in comics is to take over a flagging title and kick it into shape. Obviously, this wasn’t your situation with Nightwing, but have you had that experience? And if not, which flagging title is in serious need of Devinizing?
Um, (laughs), I haven’t had that, have I? That is actually something Mark Waid says a lot, and it makes a lot of sense. I guess bringing Ghost Rider back is the closest I’ve come to attempting to restore something to its former glory, but that was actually not a running series when I started my mini for Marvel Knights, so it’s a slightly different situation. I don’t think there’s any book out there that needs - wait, I just thought of one I’d enjoy working on, but this question can’t be answered without indicting a fellow writer, so I’ll just say what I’ve always said and what has always been true since the very first script I wrote: I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.
Q: What was the process for creating Gotham Knights? It was obviously a huge move for you professionally, how did it come about? (And, is it true that you were the first woman to be the lead writer on a big Batman book?)
I’m frequently asked what project of my own I’m most pleased with, and I usually say USER because it was so personal and came out so much as I’d hoped it would. But Batman: Gotham Knights was the synthesis of what I had come into comics to do, so that series is really running a very close second on my personal sense of accomplishment scale.
Gotham Knights came about when Denny O’Neil asked me in his own inimitable way, “if you were at the helm of a Batbook, what would distinguish it from the others we already have?” At that time I think we had Batman, of course, which was sort of the pure superhero book, Detective, which was - obviously - more of a crime drama, and I think Legends of the Dark Knight, which was sort of DC’s pre-Marvel Ultimate line answer to the Marvel Ultimate line. I answered with a single word: “family.”
I think we all love the idea of Batman as a loner, but for reason that are honestly primarily based in commerce (the more characters in the Bat-universe, the more marketing opportunities), he has been increasingly surrounded with a seemingly ever-expanding cast of co-stars, and these have become well-developed, exciting characters in their own rights. There was no book at that time dedicated to exploring those relationships... I think in some ways we were sort of avoiding the issue, and I really wanted to walk right up to it: “look, they’re here to stay, we have to really integrate them into Batman’s existence and mission in a meaningful way.” Denny is actually very much of the Batman-as-loner school, so I was really surprised and honored when he let me talk him into the idea. We wanted to be really honest about the weirdness of it - you’ve got this shadowy, mysterious vigilante who is essentially the personification of self-determination and autonomy, and yet he’s basically running a training program for teenage vigilantes. I told Denny I thought Batman probably was uncomfortable with it, but that was precisely what made it such great material for serialized exploration: why does he let all those people be there? Could he get rid of them at this point if he wanted to? How do they feel about him? What do they need from him? Can he give it? What does it mean to love someone like a father who’s convinced that familial love is a death warrant? We know what happens when he puts on the Bat-armor and goes out to fight. He’s Batman, he’s gonna win. But what happens when the armor’s off and there are these kids looking to him for approval and guidance? How does that add to - or even detract from - his mission? There’s a lot of material there.
Leaving Gotham Knights to write Nightwing was the most difficult decision I’ve made in this career so far.
(What I’ve been told is that I was the first female to develop and launch a new Batman title for DC. Certainly, other women have written Batman in the past, but I don’t think they created their own titles and I don’t know how long they stayed at the helm of the books - you’d have to ask someone with DC or a comic historian, I’m really not sure. The gender issue was, of course, completely irrelevant to me at the time and kind of still is).
Q: You're fairly tough on old Batman. Dick, in your estimation, is a much stronger person for having lived with Bruce and come out of it not only mentally stable, but a bright decent person. How much of your ideas about Batman's emotional unavailability (and stunted personality) is DC gospel, and how much is of your own conclusion?
It’s hard to say. Certainly he’s been portrayed as being very dark and emotionally unavailable in the past, especially when I started reading (Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns - a story often credited with ushering in the “grim and gritty” era of Batman - was one of the first Batman stories I encountered). Most of my ideas about him are formed from stories that are now considered cannon. What I believe - and I couldn’t say whether or not this is a wholly original idea - is that to be as spectacular and amazing as Batman is, to develop those areas so thoroughly, you would have to be missing something else. You can’t be more than human without in some ways having also let yourself become less than human.
My mother is a family therapist and my dad’s a sociologist and I tend to approach characters from those angles - it’s not that Batman is incapable of human intimacy on any organic level, it’s just that he hasn’t worked on that in any sustained way because his attention and energy has been elsewhere. Now, Ralph down the street hasn’t worked on intimacy either, and is equally incapable of it, and what he’s really good at is drinking beer and yelling at his dog. Most of us are underdeveloped in some pretty key ways and often don’t have much to show for it. That’s not what I’m saying about Batman. His internal makeup is a choice he made. I don’t mean to point out his deficiencies as marks against him, but rather as humanizing factors of sacrifice. He has given up so much to be able to do what he does, and in many ways there’s nothing more noble or laudable than that kind of self-sacrifice. I adore Batman, he’s my personal hero, he is 100 percent who I would want in my corner when things got bad. But I feel for him, too. And I feel for Dick, who is a very different kind of man who grew up in very different circumstances and now has his own burden to carry.
I suppose I’m not the first to say that Batman is not going to win any Mr. Congeniality awards anytime soon, but what I’m trying to say about that is that his limitations, as much as his competencies, are what makes him a hero on the deepest, most personal level. He is not a hero because of some great fortune he decided he’d share with others. His heroism was born from his darkest tragedy. He took the worst thing that ever happened to him and turned that into motivation to protect and fight for good. That is so much more interesting to me, and so much braver, than the hero legends we usually share. It’s someone doing Tonglen, to use a Buddhist meditation term, in a room full of people doing loving-kindness meditations. Tonglen is when you breathe in the darkness and pain and anger and despair of the world and breathe out the peace and love and compassion, both to prove to yourself that you can survive the negativity, and also as a way of gifting the world with the positive energy it needs. It’s warrior breathing. Everything else is about breathing the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. That is our basic inclination and survival strategy. You have to be so courageous to do it the other way around.
Q: You mentioned once that Dick's chattiness was a nice method to get inside his head, to give the readers a thoughtful narration, as well as a fun one. Do you prefer to work with that device, or are you more inclined to letting the plot do the talking, not the interior monologue?
It totally depends on the character and the story. I think when I made the comment you’re referencing, I was probably actually thinking about one of the past writers on Batman who used to do the same kind of narration with Bruce, which just drove me crazy. Batman is NOT chatty.
My absolute favorite kind of writing is first-person prose, which is all about voices, so I do greatly enjoy using a narrative device like that. But I think these days in comics I’m happiest when the art is leading you through the story rather than an internal monolog. It just sort of feels like a better use of the medium. Most of the time. But not always. That’s one of the things that’s so cool about comics, we’re still playing with things and learning what works best and how far the medium can be pushed. And if you pick up five random, great comics, they’ll probably all handle narration differently. The medium is really up for anything you want to do with it. It’s very inclusive and flexible.
Q: How has the industry changed since you started? You have suggested your enthusiasm waxes and wanes depending on a bad day, could you describe the kind of day that really gets Devin Grayson down (without incriminating yourself or others you still work with!) and the kind of day that makes up for it all?
It’s changed a lot, no question. Primarily just that the people I initially worked with have now all moved on. I’m still in the Bat-office, but it’s a whole new Bat-office, and even the DC administration is different, all the way up to Paul Levitz.
A bad day is anything from 24 straight hours of writer’s block to a call from an editor explaining that the story line we’ve been discussing will have to wait because there’s a new crossover event coming down the pipeline and: “I don’t have information for you yet but it will effect the next script so don’t write anything until I get back to you at which point you’ll probably have two, maybe three days before it’s needed. Oh, and on your other series? Yeah, the artist is behind, so we’re going with a fill-in guy - no one you’ve ever heard of - and we need two scripts from you by the end of the week so both artists can start ASAP.”
The thing that gets me down the most is when someone drops the ball but doesn’t apologize or take any responsibility for it (like an editor not noticing a huge art mistake until we’re proofing the black and white and it’s way too late to change it) or, worse yet, when someone you have to work with, be it an artist, an editor, a fellow writer, or a publishing company higher up, locks you into working on an idea you hate. Another bad day is picking up a comp copy of a book I’ve supposedly written and recognizing less than two sentences in it, or, as happened to a good friend of mine, being instructed by an editor to do something, doing it, having people hate it, getting blamed for it, and then having the editor leave you hanging out to dry for it without evening mentioning to other editors who now won’t hire you that you were working under his orders to begin with. A bad day is noticing a really stupid mistake in your published work. A bad day might start with an e-mail from a well-meaning fan who, apparently unaware that you don’t read message boards, is writing to tell you that you shouldn’t be down about the horrible things they’re saying about you on them because not everyone believes them (believe me, I wasn’t feeling down about it until you just reminded me that that’s still out there!), and ends with office politics over which you have absolutely no control. A bad day is when an artist you’re speaking to for the first time calls you “sweetheart” or you get interrupted in a meeting 14 times by guys with louder voices and less socialization in compliance than you. A bad day is working really hard to accommodate another writer’s storyline only to have them totally run roughshod over your work and the work of your friends. A bad day is the day after that day when your editor gets back to you to tell you there’s nothing anyone can do about it because the uncooperative freelancer has the benediction of someone more powerful than your editor. A bad day is the day after that when that freelancer is lauded in the industry press or fawned over by fans that don’t realize that he’s behind all the stuff they hated in the other books. Or, today for instance, a bad day is the day after you’ve panicked and sent an artist a half-finished script, and you’re sitting down to finally finish it when you realize you’ve made some horrible mistake on page three which you can no longer change (since the artist is already busily drawing page five) so, feeling like an idiot, you have to throw away your outline and come up with some genius idea for fixing your own messed-up story before anyone notices you tanked it.
A good day, though, is a day spent writing, which is what the days consist of 90 percent of the time. A good day is learning something new about a character you love, or finding yourself in love with a character you’ve just met. A good day is getting art back on a project that looks better than what you were imagining. A good day is coming up with a great idea for something new, or finally putting the finishing touches on something you’ve been working on for months. A good day is when the four-year-old across the street asks you if you could please give a letter to Superman for him, or the next day when you get to hand him an actual response. A good day is being interrupted from your EQ game by a call from Jim Lee asking if you’d be interested in maybe writing an EQ comic. A good day is spent smoking a joint with one of your favorite TV stars that you’ve just met at an awards ceremony where you’re both being recognized by the queer community for honest and inclusive work. A good day is asking the businessman next to you on the plane if he’s familiar with Batman after he’s inquired about what you do for a living and rather snarkily followed up with “anyone I’ve ever heard of?” A good day is telling your best friend you’d be happy to take her daughter to the zoo because it doesn’t make any difference to your editor whether you write your script at two in the afternoon or two in the morning. A good day is getting a call from an editor offering you work you didn’t even solicit for. A good day is when your first comic appears in the stacks or when your first novel hits the shelves of your favorite bookstore. A good day is meeting another creator you’ve always admired and genuinely liking them. A good day is getting through a whole eight-hour meeting without once being treated as anything other than one of the guys. A good day is standing in the middle of a comic convention in Northern Spain watching a total stranger who doesn’t speak your language grin at you and hold her index finger up against her head like bat ears. A good day is talking to a fellow freelancer on the phone and reminding them why they put up with the bad days.
Q: A couple of years ago you said it took you a good four to six hours to hammer out a script from a more time consuming and laboriously constructed spring board... does that still hold true? And could you break down what goes into a springboard?
Sure. Springboard is actually not the right word, I apologize for that. I should have said outline. A springboard is, specifically, an art layout that helps a penciler decide how to place the panels on the page and what action needs to be represented in each of those panels (based on the script he or she has received from the writer). A finished springboard in comics is still pretty rough looking - it might even be stick figures or written notes. It’s how an artist works out the choreography of a page before getting into the really time-consuming rendering. Springboards are also used in movies and animation to help visually plot out action before committing it to film.
Similarly, an outline is what many writers will create before starting on a script. It will include the beginning, middle, and end (or cliff hanger) of the story, and maybe even a few key lines of dialog or important character bits, but it’s not polished the way the finalized script is. I don’t actually always work with outlines - more on that in a second - but I always should. At some point or another, you’re going to have to figure out how the story unfolds - that’s really the hardest, most time-consuming part of story telling.
In fact, let’s just take a look at the whole process.
The fun, exciting part is the idea, or inspiration. Though a good deal of thought may have gone in to it, subconsciously or otherwise, there’s usually a sort of energizing, thrilling moment when the story idea becomes clear to you and you realize you’ve got something worth pursuing. It feels like magic, and is what most people mean when they say they want to be writers. They’ve had that experience once or twice and really enjoyed it.
Now that you have an idea you like, you have to sit down with it and work it through a little to make sure it will really make sense as a comic. This is when you expand it from “what if five teens in the DCU (where being an orphan is almost a prerequisite for being a superhero) lose their parents unexpectedly and decided that, instead of grieving, they’ll hit the road and try to become superheroes?” to:
Their powers are their problems This story is about learning how to be a family; learning that trust is earned and not bargained for, that intimacy isn’t possible without risk, and that having friends can be more powerful than having superpowers. It’s also about learning to safely express various traits of humanity: ambition, anger, cultural identity, dependency on others in terms of learning to accept comfort and assistance, and independence from others in terms of self-esteem and one’s internal sense of personal worth. And, especially, grief. Instead of having individuals whose powers are their saving graces, this team has abilities strangely representative of their personal failings. Their powers are their problems. Joel Weinberg’s decisive leadership is also a manifestation of unchecked ambition and the subconscious desire to attach others to him through need rather than loyalty. His sister Aviva’s “temper” is exactly that-a drastic and still inappropriate means of expressing rage. They’re joined by Tyson, a young African-American who has literally learned to turn invisible in sullen deference to society’s general disregard of his worth, Cameron, a powerful fourteen-year-old “mimic” whose ability to absorb the talents and powers of those around him has left him incapable of enduring solitude, and Damara, a beautiful, charismatic fifteen-year-old girl, forever unsure if she is liked for herself or for her powers of captivation. To function together as a team and achieve the familial support they all have individual need of, each must first come to a better understanding of who they are as individuals. Joel has to learn that being able to care about other people is just as important as having them care about him. Aviva must learn that manipulating people doesn’t feel as good as having them want to help. Tyson needs to discover that the disregard of others doesn’t hurt as much if he has friends who see him clearly. Cameron struggles with understanding that instead of conning people into being near him with flashy, professed autonomy, it can be preferable to tell them that they are valued and ask them to stay close. Damara needs to come to believe that true friends can see beneath the surface and value her for who she is. And then together in the adolescently-claustrophobic Winnebago the young Weinbergs have inherited, they must all acknowledge their need of one another, and make a conscious pact to be the family that none of them would otherwise have. It’s “MTV’s Road Rules,” meets “The Teen Titans,” -- The Hero with a Thousand Faces meets “Party of five.” And this time we’re hoping the world can save the superheroes, instead of the other way around.”
This is the point at which you would consult your editor about the story - tip him off to what you’re thinking about doing if you’re very established and trusted, or submit a formal proposal if you’re still kind of an unknown quantity (to that specific editor - it doesn’t always matter how well you may or may not be known in the industry at large). For a creator-developed story like the one we’re discussing here, you’ll definitely also have to write a formal pitch to be approved by upper administration:
OVERVIEW: Five newly orphaned, socially maladjusted teens attempt to flee an imperfect home-life, troublesome superpowers, and their overwhelming grief by traveling the DCU in an inherited Winnebago searching for superheroic camaraderie. Instead of discovering an open-armed community of super-peers, however, they find a world as competitive and distrustful as the overcrowded home they’re trying to out-run. It takes a few battles with supervillains and other treacherous threats to their family - like Child Protection Services - to teach them that nothing is stronger than the bond they share among themselves even if it includes grief.
DRIVING THEME/ WHY THIS IS UNIQUE: We’ve all had days when it would feel great to pound a nefarious supervillain into submission, but usually we’re too busy struggling with personal insecurities to triumph over larger world threats. The Weinbergs get a chance to do both in this sometimes humorous, sometimes tender attempt to address the almost superheroic courage it takes just to grow up. The powers that these teens possess are not genetic blessings nor gifts from alien civilizations, they’re inconvenient and unmanageable defense mechanisms against a world that makes no room for adolescent imperfection. In between inter-galactic emergencies and life-threatening battles, the Weinbergs learn that nothing is scarier than group psychology.
WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT: This six part arc follows the teens on their travels from Berkeley to New York (passing through Opal City, Central City, and Metropolis), as they’re pursued by agents from Child Protection Services (CPS), a super-villain group called Counter Strike which seems to be after a notebook in Cameron’s possession, and their own fears and doubts about life without parental supervision. The Weinbergs focus most of their energy on attempting to unravel the mystery of “Project Cypher” - the only cryptic reason the villainous Counter Strike has given for pursuing them. It’s in New York that they learn that Cameron himself is “Project Cypher” - a biological construct conceptualized by lead scientists at STAR Labs, but built by the CBI Defense Subdivision in Central City, who believe that the project has tremendous potential as an anti-super-hero recon instrument. “Cypher’s” pre-determined objective is to adapt to any surrounding super-powered individual and molecularly capture enough of their powers to return to his owner with testable stored data -- a small matter of “programming” that accounts for Cameron’s literal fear of being alone. A conscious pact to protect Cameron’s right to live his life as a free agent rather than remain a pawn in a dangerous game of technological politics is the final decision that solidifies the Weinbergs’ commitment to stick together, leaving the team with a greater sense of collective purpose and ready to carve a name out for themselves - albeit it an unusual one - in superhero history. Subplots include group adoption by the Weinberg’s maternal grandfather, battles with the kind of supervillains that attack anyone wearing a costume, and a less-than-productive encounter with Superman himself.
and to give the marketing department a sense of what you’re doing:
YOUR PARENTS ARE DEAD. YOUR LITTLE SISTER THINKS SHE’S LOBO. CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES WANT TO TALK TO YOU, THREE OF YOUR BEST FRIENDS HAVE SUPERPOWERS THEY HATE, AND YOU’VE JUST INHERITED A WINNEBAGO.
SUDDENLY, YOU’RE THINKIN’, “ROAD TRIP.”
So, let’s assume for the sake of argument (or history, in this case) that you get approved. Chances are good that you’ll have to adjust your proposal to address concerns of various editors or upper management (The Weinbergs-- which ended up being marketed, to my disappointment, as Relative Heroes - entailed nine proposals before it was approved, whereas USER took only two), now you’re looking at actually writing the damn thing, and this is where the outline comes in.
Sometimes (all too often, actually) on a regular series (meaning one that comes out every month, as opposed to a limited or miniseries like Relative Heroes) there simply isn’t time to write an outline. You’ve had a discussion with the editor about where, in general, the book’s going, the regular artist starts running a little late and - bam! - the editor hires a fill-in artist and needs a twenty-two page script from you in two days. I suppose if you’re very disciplined, you’ll realize that you’ll ultimately save time if you stop to work out an outline anyway, but at that point, I and many writers I know usually jump right to, “Page one, panel one...” and do the best we can.
With a mini-series like Relative Heroes, though, it’s up to DC when to schedule its release, so you almost certainly have time to work out a thorough outline (and since this story will have a beginning, middle, and end, it’s all the more crucial to - it’s easier to fake it when you can end a comic in a cliff-hangar...I remember once a friend of mine left his lead character in a particularly horrific situation at the end of one the comics, and when I asked him how the character would get out of it, he smiled sheepishly and admitted “I don’t know yet,”).
So let’s look at examples of outlines.
Initially, I was going to be a 12-issue series, so here’s an example of part of an early outline (italics added for clarification, this would not normally be in script):
#1. GRAIL OF STEEL part one: “Fate & Other Accidents” FIRST OF THREE-PART HOUSTON ARC. DOUBLE-SIZED ISSUE.
JOEL is fifteen when he sees his parents’ car crushed between two others on a local televised broadcast of the lethal highway pile-up. If Joel has felt vaguely disassociated from his adolescent, middle-class life up to this point, reality is now threatening to bear down too hard. To his little sister, AVIVA’s, surprise, Joel forgoes making funeral arrangements in favor of loading up his dad’s Winnebago with his comic collection and announcing that he’s heading to Metropolis to collect his inheritance from their maternal grandfather and, more importantly, to find Superman and aid him in his fight against crime.
By the time Joel is out on the road he has picked up four additional traveling companions. The first is of course his little sister, who has no choice but to follow her big brother. Aviva in turn insists that they be accompanied by her baby-sitter, DAMARA Sinclaire, a charismatic sixteen-year-old. Furious with, but unable to detach herself from, her codependent single mother, Damara is all too happy to use the excuse of watching over the poor, newly orphaned eleven-year-old Aviva as an excuse to get away for a little while and clear her head.
She also has her own, secret reason for wanting to meet with Superman and inadvertently inspires a wild fantasy in young Aviva: if this guy is the god Dami and Joel have all their hopes pinned on, then it’s only logical that the Man of Steel will be able to grant Aviva’s dearest wish too. The eleven-year-old settles contentedly into the back of the RV with misguided calm, dreaming of the moment when Superman will resurrect her dead parents.
Also joining the exodus is African-American Oakland resident and fellow comic shop enthusiast, TYSON Gilford, whose name is highlighted on Joel’s METAlist (a hacked roster of hospital-identified Meta-gene carriers cross-referenced with his regional telephone directory), and Tyson’s best friend, CAMERON Begay. With Tyson’s help, the group locates Cameron at the scene of a recently blown up genetics lab. Cam has just survived an attack from a group of super-powered teens, Counter Strike, who are after a lab book in his possession (the ensuing battle inadvertently the cause of the lab to explode), and has now been instructed by his mentor and uncle, Dr. Randall Begay, to deliver the lab book into the hands of Dr. Sarah Charles at STAR labs, N.Y.
Together, the teenagers are eventually able to thwart another attack from Counter Strike, collectively using their own unexplored powers to escape onto the open road, temporarily leaving the police, the CPS, several concerned adults, and most of their collected common sense behind them.
#2. GRAIL OF STEEL part two: “Metropolis or bust.” SECOND OF THREE PART HOUSTON ARC.
The group makes a pit stop in Opal City to replenish supplies and argue over fast food restaurants, super-hero monikers, costume designs (which they’ll need Joel’s money to prepare), and directions (“So how much further now?”-“Well, Mr. Goodwin at that last gas station said Metropolis is hundreds of miles East of here.”-“Yeah, but this Carlin Map makes it look like we’re already almost there,” ) Sub-textually, the anxiety over being “lost” runs far deeper than the geography. Joel tries unsuccessfully to contact his grandfather by phone while Tyson struggles with an overwhelming attraction to Damara (who seems to be interested in Cam), and back in Berkeley, the CPS begin an active search for the Weinberg children.
The Winnebago has barely pulled out onto the open road again when Counter Strike reappear to make another play for Dr. Begay’s lab book. The battle that breaks out is worse than disorganized; it’s chaos. Despite their first battle in Livermore, none of the Weinys know anything about one another’s powers, and some of them hardly even seem to know their own. It’s not until Joel starts barking out orders, and the motley group decides to follow them, that the Weinberg’s are able to push back the well-organized Counter Strike. The book ends with the Weinys shaken and anxious about the realities of heroing, wondering for the first time what they’ve really gotten themselves into.
#3. GRAIL OF STEEL part three: “Questions for God” THIRD OF THREE PART HOUSTON ARC.
Arriving in Metropolis, Joel finally manages to contact Grandpa Nathan, but hangs up in a panic upon hearing that the CPS is already waiting for the Weinbergs at Nathan’s house. Frightened of the possibility of juvenile detention, the team sets off in one last frantic search for Supes - but to no avail. The big S is much harder to locate than they had anticipated. Tired, arguing amongst themselves, and sensing defeat, they begin to discuss turning themselves in.
Gallantly, Joel insists he’ll take the rap for all of them. It’s the first time he’s really thought of them as a team, and his sacrificial gesture fills him with an unfamiliar sense of self-worth.
Arriving at Grandpa Nathan’s with a sense of defeat, all of the Weinys are surprised when the old man winks at his grandson and suddenly turns to the splenetic Ms. Michaels with an innocent, “Say, what if I took them in?” Unhappy with this suggestion, Ms.Michaels can nonetheless think of no legal precedent barring it. The minute the door slams shut on the CPS, Nathan slaps a blanket, cape-like, over his shoulders, rubs his hands together, and gleefully chortles, “Okay kids, let’s get busy!”
Grandpa Nathan’s first order of business is to get the team into costumes. Embarrassed, confused, and even somewhat disappointed, Joel sulkily refuses to participate as the other Weinys get outfitted and excitedly assess their goals. Deciding that they’re more powerful together than individually (not to mention that Tyson is still hung up on Damara, who is still hung up on Cam) the group-sans-leader set about conducting their own research on the notebook. Their detective works calls their attention to something called “Project Cipher,” and ends up placing them in the custody of the CBI. It’s up to Joel to save his friends, leading them through a final battle with multiple CBI agents that ends with his own, personal commitment to be part of a collective future; a team. He even, as a token of Grandpa Nathan’s approval, gets his own costume.
Subplot: Although the team as a whole is unable to locate Supes, Aviva and Grandpa Nathan happen upon him as he heroically catches a malfunctioning subway before it runs off track. After racing to him determined to beg for the lives of her parents, Aviva finds herself so overwhelmed by Superman’s actual presence that the request she finally stammers out is, “Can I have your autograph?” Although the noble Kryptonian grants it, Aviva’s excitement is tainted deflates into an almost catatonic shadow of depression and anxiety, convinced both that she is now responsible for the absence of her parents, and that Joel is going to be furiously disappointed in her.
Transition: About to head out, while trying to make room for Grandpa Nathan (who refuses to give them any money unless he can go along) in the already cramped Winnebago, the team is startled by the dramatically flashy appearance of a young god calling himself “Eryx,” whom Damara apparently knows all too well. He calmly tells the Weinys he has no intention of hurting them...providing they turn his fiancŽe, Damara, over to him.
As those of you who read the story know, this is different than what finally happened, at least in terms of pacing - when the book was cut from 12 to six issues, I was wildly glad I had such a detailed outline. It was hugely helpful in condensing the story.
Another example of an outline is what DC calls the “six month outline” - this is for a regular series, and is just a kind of beat sheet demarcating the general direction of the book:
ISSUE #87: SNOWBALL
A PLOT: Dick is on a date with Barbara trying to woo her back when she comes under attack by Blockbuster hirelings - including Tarantula! If Tarantula’s baffled as to why she was sent after a chick in a wheelchair, Dick is even more so - why are they after Babs!? - but of course rushes in to save her without a second thought.
B PLOT: ...which pisses off Barbara, whose ability to defend herself is negatively impacted by Dick’s inability to stand down. She’s tired of having to tell him she can take care of herself, tired of his ceaseless energy, and tired, too, of his ex-and/or-potential-psycho-love-interests-in-costume. Later, when Tarantula reports back to Blockbuster he asks for confirmation that Dick Grayson’s girlfriend is dead. “No,” Tarantula tells him, “it’s better than that - she broke up with him.” Final image in book is Nightwing sitting on a Blüdhaven rooftop somewhere looking lonely and forlorn.
PUT INTO PLAY: Hint that Blockbuster (or Tarantula) seems to know Nightwing’s secret ID.
ACTION QUOTIENT: Kicking-ass and taking names Oracle-style - that is, until Dick Grayson jumps in to defend his girlfriend.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Dick and Babs officially break up here (although real-life style they aren’t completely done with each other yet - read on). Blockbuster shifts into high gear, foregoing the caution and subtly of a behind-the-scenes kingpin to embrace the high-level-personal-vengeance-psychosis of a full-fledged nemesis super-villain.
ISSUE #88: FLURRY
A PLOT: Dick receives a frantic call from Irving Carberry, current accountant for Haly’s Circus - they’ve been picked up for a televised holiday special, but their star flyer was just found dead of an overdose. Sensing something awry, Dick agrees to help out, hoping to solve the mystery of the flyer’s death. By the time the filming of the special performance is commencing, he’s certain it was, indeed, a homicide...a hunch confirmed when, in the middle of his performance, a huge fire breaks out in the big tent. Though he’s able to heroically save many lives, Dick looses his circus, many of his performers, several animals, and even patrons and film crew. Dick is so distraught by this larger-than-life repeat of his worst memory and so determined to get everyone safely out that it’s one the animals - Zitka, an elephant he cared for in his youth (B:TAS cont) - who finally drags him, unconscious from smoke inhalation, out of the conflagration.
B PLOT: Feeling that he failed to protect the circus, Nightwing shows up at Babs’ place forlorn and radiating need. Against her better judgment, she lets him in. She still loves the guy.
PUT INTO PLAY: Another Blockbuster strike against Nightwing, not that Nightwing (or the reader) necessarily know that’s what’s going on yet.
ACTION QUOTIENT: Fire, explosions, animal stampedes...man, this could almost be an episode of E.R.!
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Dick takes another devastating - and personal - blow. We gotta be in high gear by now.
Both those examples cover multiple issues, but you don’t sit down to write multiple issues, you sit down to write one. Here’s an example of an outline I wrote years ago for a Gotham Knights script:
Their underwater fight interrupted by Batboat
Batman pulls Captain up, Baddie starts to swim away, shooting at Captain
Bats sends Batgirl onto ship for captives, ties life boat to bat boat (so they can’t get away - or just yells to them??? Help!)
Batman jumps in after Baddie who is armed and keeps shooting at Batman and Captain
Batgirl and Baddie pull themselves back onto oil rig around the same time (but in different places)
Batman right behind Baddie
Batman and Baddie start fighting as they scale their way up onto the sinking ship
Cut to captives, arguing amongst themselves (“never say die”) more fleshing out of who they are and what they stand for
The door (or whatever) they’re locked behind gets blown off hinges from outside with a batbomb
They all look up to see Batgirl
So you can see how most of the thinking and hard work is in this part, and to get from a detailed outline to a script isn’t going to be quite as time-consuming, though it’s still a matter of sitting quietly alone in a room and turning these concepts into a script your artist can follow:
PAGE 9, panel one
Stay with Raton and the captain, still fighting, but now underwater, fully submerged. Raton can lose the shotgun here if you want, or if you like it, Dale, when I say he pulls a smaller pistol out you can just have him stick with the shotgun - up to you.
Attentive readers might notice the bottom and wake of a sleek, black motor boat directly above them.
1 CAPTION: HAVING BATMAN WILLING TO DEFEND YOU IS USELESS IF YOU’RE INTENT ON TAKING YOURSELF DOWN.
Page 9, panel two
Much to his surprise, the Captain finds himself being pulled up by the back of his shirt by a gloved hand (Batman’s). Raton notices this too, squinting through the salt water, putting together what this might mean as - still fully submerged - he pulls a gun out from a hidden holster somewhere (if you had him lose the shotgun - if he’s still got the shotgun, he can just aim that).
2 CAPTION: THE LINE BETWEEN SELF-SACRIFICE AND SELF-DESTRUCTION IS A FINE ONE, EVEN IN AN ORDINARY LINE OF WORK.
Page 9, panel three
Batman, in a sleek, black “Batboat” (though no obvious Bat-symbols on it, I think - just a really sleek, cool, expensive, fast, motor boat with room for about four) pulls the Captain up (Batgirl helping), as Raton comes up in the water to fire a shot at the Captain (um, and yes, guns CAN shoot when wet, I asked Chuck and he confirmed it!).
The Captain, coughing, is pointing to the ever-more rapidly sinking rig. Oh, and I don’t need to mention that the sound of gunfire has Batman’s teeth grit. Raton’s gonna get it now....
3 CAPTAIN: -KAFF KAFF- PEOPLE -KAFF- STILL ON -KAFF- BOARD....
4 SFX: =KA-POW=
5 CAPTION: FOR A VIGILANTE, THE DISTINCTION SPRINGS CHIEFLY FROM MOTIVE.
Page 9, panel four
Batman whirls towards Batgirl, pointing up at the rig. Batgirl has moved to attend to the still recovering Captain, but looks up at Bats now with full attention. Raton is now swimming towards the rig, his gun still in hand.
When you can get them in, the crewmembers on the lifeboat are alarmed by the shooting, ducking and worried for their captain.
6 BATMAN: SWEEP THE SHIP. EVERYBODY OFF.
7 CAPTION: DO YOU RISK YOUR LIFE TO RELIEVE THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS --
Page 9, panel five
Fluidly, Batman dives off of the Batboat after Raton as Batgirl fires a grappling hook up on to the Suezmax, clearly preparing to board. The Captain watches them go with obvious awe, now alone on the Batboat.
8 CAPTION: -- OR DO YOU LAY DOWN YOUR LIFE TO ALLAY YOUR OWN?
So to answer your question at long last, the time it takes to write a script is dependent on a lot of things, chief among them the thoroughness and clarity of the outline, the complexity of the story goal, and how much time you frickin’ have.
Q: You have said “I love role playing games, spicy food, and damn near anything Japanese, and like to consider my bisexual, bi-coastal, comic-book-writing, role-playing, vegetarian, Buddhism practicing, cosmogony studying, 460-thread-count sheet addicted, music-loving, botany-obsessed self a fairly typical representative of my utterly unpredictable generation.” What do you mean to say about yourself when you say you're a member of an utterly unpredictable generation?
Just that I do not feel heavily compelled by peer pressure or social norms. Everyone I know in my age group is moving through life a little differently. Within my closest circle of friends, for example, I think we cover every configuration of “family” I’m aware of, from perfectly traditional to completely experimental and self-defined. I feel like my generation grew up during a time when it was sort of obvious, politically and socially, that very few of the established institutions really worked; we are bereft of heroes (news coverage, pop cultural, and human inclinations are now such that no one can stand in the public eye and not be found wanting), skeptical of marriage (I can think of two people I know in my age group who don’t come from “broken” homes), and completely cynical about politics (it never in a million years would occur to us that a politician might NOT be lying). The downside of this is that some of us are a little shell-shocked and dangerously apathetic about our ability to initiate change, but the upside is that there’s no “right” way to do anything. There’s a lot room for, and a lot of support of, experimentation and invention. When I tell my friends that I don’t believe in marriage and don’t want to have children, they just shrug. If I’d grown up in my parents’ generation, that would not be the most typical response. I feel pretty strongly that a lot of who I am comes from the luxury of not having to answer to anyone about how I set up my life.
Maybe this is all best summed up by one of favorite refrigerator magnet quotes: “Life is not about finding yourself, life is about inventing yourself.” The possibilities for invention in my generation are fairly limitless.
Q: Also, how does someone get obsessed with botany?
I should clarify that I’m not actually obsessed with the science of plants so much as with the meaning of plants. I’m just sort of intrigued by this species we share the planet with that is so self-sufficient and fairly, as a general rule, peaceful. I told my dad when I was 10 or something that I thought plants were the most moral beings on the planet, because their existence is so beneficial to and in harmony with the environment and also because I didn’t yet know enough about gardening to understand just how merciless plants can be (Kudzu, anyone?). I would now put the anthropomorphism aside and admit that plants are, of course, amoral, but I still think there’s something fascinating and profound about them. And, I don’t know, photosynthesis is just cool. I live in Northern California fairly near some of the world’s most gorgeous redwood parks, and standing in the shade of a 3,000-year old tree is an overwhelming experience. Hiking through hundreds of them (not all quite that old, but still up there) is awe-inspiring. I know a lot of people who derive strength and inspiration for a particular kind of landscape: the ocean, the mountains, the desert... For me it’s those redwood forests and I feel like I should know more about them than I do.
Q: Your parents split up, and you were moved around the country. Do you think that had any impact, negative or positive, on your later avocation? Do you find the atomic family is a rare thing among comic creators?
I find it’s a rare thing among Americans! Look, according to the Census surveys, the national divorce rate hovers around 51 percent (I just jumped online to check that and found that, not surprisingly, it depends who you ask. But the lowest number anyone is giving is 43 percent and the highest I could find this evening is 67 percent). I just find those pretty bad odds. And there’s no question that divorce is hard on kids (and everyone else for that matter), but I grew up experiencing it as the norm. When I find someone whose parents are still together, I’m always surprised. It’s unusual.
My childhood specifically wasn’t really that nomadic. There was one big move from the East Coast to the West Coast before I was two, and I had grandparents I could visit in the east (New Jersey) and the south (Savannah), which was sort of cool in terms of getting to know the country a little better. But I still remember going to Idaho when I was 16 and being absolutely as mystified by them as they were by me. They sort of thought a white, ethnically Jewish girl with divorced parents and a female high school sweetheart living in Oakland and attending an arts school (“like Fame!?”) was a myth, and I was equally blown away by their slow speech, right-wing politics (their high school newspaper ran an anti-abortion editorial while I was there and literally didn’t have anyone available to write the op-ed!), rural poverty, and total lack of personal ambition. They were asking me questions like “what’s it like to talk to a black person?” and “is it true you really have horns?” (I swear to their god!), and I was equally ignorant of their culture (“But what do you do at Circle K?”). One of the girls (I was visiting a foster home) told me she loved to read, and when I asked what she was into she said, “oh, you know, I’ll read cereal boxes or anything - you know, like, the backs of cereal boxes, I just love to read.” I mean, that’s totally tragic and totally stereotypical, but it was all real.
Um...and it also doesn’t answer your question about formative experiences and avocation. I suppose you could argue that all personal events inform all creative careers. A large number of the established professionals in the comic field are older than I am, and I don’t actually know whether or not they have intact nuclear families. I guess the only ways that I can imagine it being concretely helpful to have divorced parents in the context of vocation is that 1) if you get left to your own devices a lot by overwhelmed, single working parents, you’ll probably develop some kind of creative skill, like writing or drawing, to keep yourself occupied, and 2) having a crisis in the initial set-up of your own family maybe gives you a small intimation of what it might be like to lose your parents all together, which is sort of a staple of the superhero genre origin myth.
Q: In terms of acting: Is the dramatic thespian urge in a lot of creators, writers and pencillers, and are comics particularly suited to express that theatrical desire?
I don’t know about the pencilers, but yes, several writers I’ve spoken to have confessed a long love affair with the dramatic arts. And I don’t think you have to narrow it down to comics — acting and fiction writing are kissing cousins. In acting, you give your body over to a character, let them inhabit your skin, move your muscles, speak through your mouth. Fiction writing is the same, only this time you’re offering your mind and experiences and powers of observation. But both jobs are about listening for truth and then expending inordinate amounts of energy bringing the metaphors forward as living, breathing characters and stories. Great actors and great writers both talk about a sort of possession, a willingness to give themselves over to this other world and its inhabitants. I studied acting quite seriously up until college, and I still rely regularly on the characterization exercises I learned in the theater to help me create characters in writing. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that acting classes are one of the single most beneficial things you can do in your effort to become a writer or story-teller.
Q: Talk to me a little about New York, you spent four years there. what do you miss, and why did you move back to California? And generally speaking, which states haven't you lived in (it seems like it might be a shorter list!)?
I’ve really only lived in California and New York. I was born in Connecticut, but we left before I was two and I don’t remember anything about it. And I lived very briefly in Pennsylvania, but the whole time I was there I was pretty much “in a New York state of mind.” (Though my cat loved the mousing there — she would leave a field mouse for me on the welcome mat almost every single morning. Here in Oakland she comes racing in with a raccoon on her heels — can’t be quite as much fun).
I went to college in upstate New York and moved to San Francisco after that because both my girlfriend and I had spent our teenage years in Northern California and it was a place in which we felt comfortable and thought we could make a go of it. We also both had family in California, though at the time I’m not sure how much of a draw that was.
The second time I moved to New York it was in direct response to the comics industry. I’d been working for editors at DC for about two years and really wanted to meet everyone and be part of “the scene.” Writers and artists working in comics live absolutely everywhere, but there’s no doubt that being able to stop into the DC or Marvel offices on a regular basis is helpful. It was also a nice way to take the edge off the loneliness - I think most aspirants have no idea how isolating it can be to work as a freelance artist. Whether you’re writing or creating visual art, you’re spending weeks at a time completely alone with your work in a home office or some such. No one ever walks by the water cooler, there’s no one to go to lunch with, you never meet anyone new. You just talk to editors and artists on the telephone once or twice a week and spend the rest of your days with your head down and pencil (or keyboard) in hand. So being in New York meant, for me, that I got to feel a part of the team in a more concrete, social way. I could go in for lunch or hang out in the offices in the afternoon and annoy the editors to my heart’s content. Local artists and visiting writers would come in and out for meetings or to drop off their work - I found that experience very galvanizing. It also meant that people who were work colleagues could become friends. My very first day visiting the DC offices, for instance, Phil Jimenez stopped by and swept me off to lunch and it was so kind of him and so much fun. Later Denny O’Neil and I got in the habit of going to lunch two or three times a month, and of course we’d talk about work a little, but we were also both vegetarians and students of Buddhism and skeptical idealists, and it was so cool to be able to get to know and befriend him on that level. I mean, the first time I met him I was shaking in my boots! He’s a legend and, as it turns out, he’s somewhat shy, which in an office setting usually plays as quiet which, when you’re a newbie freelancer, you’re likely to interpret as disinterest or disapproval. So to see that kind of impassive, serious face break out into a grin suddenly...I still count him among my mentors and all-time favorite people to work for, but he’s also one of my all-time favorite people, and that couldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been in the same state.
Beyond that...New York is...you know, man, New York! There’s no place like it on earth and it really is a place everyone should try to live in at least for a little while and when they’re young enough to recover from it. My mother’s parents were from New Jersey, so NYC had always had a sort of mythical status in my family. My folks lived there for a while before I was born and have all these great stories about the village and all the artists they hung out with, my mom and grandma took me in from New Jersey once when I was nine or ten and we saw a Broadway play and the whole thing...living there as a grownup and getting to make my own discoveries - the roof garden on top of the Met, the castle in Central Park, the walk across the Brooklyn bridge - well, it is Gotham in many ways, so there’s lots to pull on there, and also it’s just an amazing place filled with amazing people and amazing culture. Everyone says that, but you know what? It’s because it’s true. There’s literally an electricity in the air - everyone is on this constant buzz and WAY nicer than you’d guess. I remember one summer day I was walking out of Central Park after lunch as was a Prototypical New York City Business Man in his three-piece suit. If I had to guess, I’d say he was a lawyer. He leaves the park with his jacket slung over one shoulder and this shit-eating grin plastered across his face, and then literally the moment he passes through the park gate his face hardens into that no-nonsense business scowl, you know, like he was putting the Mean New Yorker mask back on. And I just laughed out loud and said “Dude, I saw that!” and he cracked up and walked at least three more blocks smiling. Everyone in New York is, at some level, aware of the privilege of it, just thrilled to be there (and exhausted and fed up and sick to death of it, too, of course) and once you’re part of that...I don’t know, in a lot of ways it was the least scary place I’ve ever been.
I was living in Brooklyn by the time I decided to move back to Cali. Brooklyn was reminding me a lot of Oakland, where I grew up - both are hardcore sister cities to urban big guns and both are incredibly diverse and surprisingly large and very loyalty-inducing places. I think in some ways, Brooklyn was making me homesick for Oakland. The editors I adored at DC were all leaving the company, I was having some personal issues, and mostly I was feeling like I was ready to start putting down some roots - I really, really wanted to buy a house, which is a major commitment - and as much as I love New York, it became very clear to me very quickly that home would always be the Bay Area - both because of the people here (biological family and even more importantly my “pack,” my true, long-term, non-industry friends) and because even though I just spent two paragraphs raving about New York and still visit every chance I get, the San Francisco Bay Area is the most wonderful, comfortable, exciting, challenging, interesting, diverse place I’ve ever been. Literally every friend I have from another state who visits me here ends up moving here within a year. It’s a pretty incredible place. I bought my house -- a 1906 Victorian duplex near Lake Merritt - and I’m here to stay.
Q: You once wrote that women are not as into comics as men because of several factors, distribution and the stigma of comic-book-guy types running little out of the way shops being one of them. But you mentioned story straight off, the male power fantasy colliding with the more female interest in story line... these are your words, you related it to an episode of Smallville. Do you think that kind of thinking is A) still true as when you said it, or B) a continuation of the gender myths that you yourself say marginalize women in comics.
First of all, I want to point out that I didn’t just spontaneously say or write that. That was probably my fortieth answer to one of the “chick writer trope” questions I get asked during every single interview, “why are girls less interested in comics than guys are?” After a while I stopped denying the entire assumption of the question and started experimenting - sometimes I’ll answer very stringently against the idea of gender-separated reading interests, and other times I’ll try it on for size; okay, what if females are more interested in relationships and males are more interested in fight scenes? What would that explain?
The story I told about watching Smallville with a teenage girl and two teenage boys is a true story - the boys were very excited every time Clark used his powers and the girl was much more interested in the Lana Lang “romantic” scenes, and I was much more interested in the Lex scenes (which, since I find Michael Rosenbaum incredibly hot, could also fairly, I suppose, be categorized as interest in a “romantic” scene. I certainly didn’t care whether or not Lex was hitting anyone, at any rate).
I just don’t know how to answer a question like this conclusively. I have no idea. My knee-jerk reaction is to be appalled by the idea that fiction is gendered. But on the other hand, everybody has different tastes and likes, and if some of that is determined by sex, I guess that really wouldn’t be all that surprising, at least as far as the socialization goes. I can think about examples of male and female behavior and even apply some of them to myself and understand where some of these generalizations come from. I think these are really interesting questions politically, but I can’t sit on them too long analytically without crashing into my own feelings on the matter, which are that in general I don’t identify with being female at all: I hate the stereotypical portrait of womanhood and would be furious to be shoved into it, I have no interest in speaking for or in anyway representing the kind of female we tend to be talking about when we generalize about females, the people in the world who I love the most tend to be gender-fluid and sexually “alternate” and I feel the need to defend myself and them by not talking about sex in generalized, traditional terms, and, also, the minute I say “I hate being a woman,” I’m flooded with thoughts of, for instance, the struggles in Afghanistan and the equal rights movement here and all the totally cool, strong women in the world who I do share a kinship with, and proudly at that. So how do I answer these kind of questions? What do women like? How the hell do I know? Personally I absolutely can’t tolerate being boxed into a limiting definition like that, and at the same time, politically I absolutely can’t stand the idea that I would be separated from the struggle of or in any way shirking my responsibility to or chance to advance the cause of, essentially, “my people.” Every single time I sit down to think about one of these questions, all of that comes up for me: my unhappiness with my own body, my revulsion at the general idea of motherhood and resentment about being expected to want that, my intense admiration for and loyalty to the queer and alt communities, the ways in which I think I’m very male, the ways in which I suppose I’m very female...I mean, we’re talking about a group here who run the gamut from Ann Coulter to Suraya Parlika. I just don’t know that you can say anything very definitive about “women.” But that said, I’d love to be able to write fewer fight scenes and have my editors be open to stories that focused more on interpersonal relationships. So, again, I don’t know. Make of that what you will.
Q: Do you find you're answering the same questions that were being asked of you when you started in this business? Are male comic readers still amazed that a "chick" can write Nightwing, or have they gotten over that?
Exactly the same questions, yes. It’s not the readers so much though, it’s the industry press and the interviewers. Young fathers will come up to me at cons sometimes and go out of their way to say they think it’s “cool” that a woman is writing comics, but I think they mean this more in terms of hoping for an inclusive world for their kids and appreciating signs of it than as an expression of amazement. And every now and then I’ll still run into a fan who sheepishly admits that he didn’t realize I was female until he got in line to get his books signed, but that’s as much about my name as my sex. I don’t have as much contact with them as other creators who frequent message boards or do several conventions every year, but the sense I get is that comic fans have better things to worry about than the sex of the person writing the comic. They’ll love it or hate it totally independent of that. People writing about the people who write comics, on the other hand, have not moved an inch on the subject. Or rather, “it” is still the subject, rather than my work in and of itself. There’s quite enough of my work out there for people to be drawing their own opinions about what it means for a woman to be writing in this industry, but for some reason, my nonfiction responses to questions about gender are still more interesting to most interviews than the fiction I’ve actually developed under this “condition of femaleness.”
Q: Do you still feel that questions along that line challenge your identity as a human being?
Yeah, totally. Even more so as a writer. Imagine admiring the hell out of a group of people and what they do and working really hard to be included in that work. And you actually get there, you’re in, you’re one of the guys, except that every single time you have to interact with the press the very first thing they point out is that you’re not. They’re not judging the quality of your work or your ability to get along with the rest of the group or what you’ve produced, they just want you to talk about what it feels like to be an outsider. Well, I’m not an outsider. I’m a professional. I’m a writer - that’s a conscious decision on my part and something I’ve worked very hard to achieve. Being female, on the other hand, is something I was born into and have no control over. I mean, there really seems to be this idea out there that women spend every single moment of their lives thinking about being women. Like instead of me going, “whoa, I love writing and this medium is so cool and I wonder if I could do it professionally?” I supposedly thought “Interesting...as a female I really enjoy these male comics and I wonder if I could break into this male industry and write female comics from a female’s perspective for a female audience?” That is totally ridiculous and marginalizing. You know I’m a writer because I have published written work out there - I’ve offered that, that’s fair game. But what makes you so sure that I’m a woman? Maybe I don’t feel like a woman, maybe I don’t identify that way. Maybe if you met me you’d realize I’m one of the least feminine people you’ve ever met. Or maybe not - maybe you’d see the breasts and the lipstick and the flawless social training in consideration and compliance and you’d think I was completely charming in a very typically female way. It’s complicated, and to really understand you’d have to be able to “read” me. But that is not on the table, that’s not something I’ve worked to put out there. Being asked about being a “female comic writer” essentially takes me out of a context I’ve worked very hard to be included in (comic writer) and puts me in a context I find very isolating and ill-fitting. And after seven or eight years in the industry and literally hundreds of interviews the message becomes clear: I am not going to be allowed to assimilate. I don’t think that’s conscious on the part of most people, but it is powerful. And yes, it is a direct challenge to my humanity.
Q: You mentioned that to ignore gender bias it is to give it power. Has that been true in your case, or are you extrapolating from other people's experience?
That was actually something my mother said once when we were discussing it, but it felt very true to me. And yes, gender bias is one of the things that, the minute you relax and stop worrying about it, can come back and bite you in the ass. In my case, personally, I really think that there was not much of it at DC when I started, so it was easy not to worry about, and indeed, with that group of people, appropriate not to worry about. I think I mistook their coolness as individuals for company culture, but then they all left for various reasons, and the people who came in to replace them were not as uniformly cool about it. So suddenly it is a problem again, but I’d become very unguarded about it and during the first several instances of it, it really caught me by surprise.
My inclination is still to ignore it most of the time, but when it costs me a job or triggers inappropriate press (like during a recent radio show when a colleague followed up phoned-in comments of mine with the charming observation that I was “really cute and probably got a lot of attention from lonely, male editors” when I was breaking in, when, in fact, he was the only one who hit on me during that period) then, yeah, I regret having not been more vocal and active in its opposition all along, though I’m also grateful for the reprieves.
Also you mention that you're reluctant to take on "girl frenzy" type projects, because to write an all-woman title is to make the work about you're experience as a female writer, and not just a DC comics writer... Are there any female characters you'd be happy to pen in their own title?
Well, I’ve done a few - Catwoman and Black Widow most prominently - and I love both those characters and really enjoyed working with them and would be thrilled to do so again. And I do think that the longer I’m in the industry producing good work, the less of an issue it should be. Both DC and Marvel have a lot of great female characters I’d love to work with (some of the X-nonMen, like Jean Grey, Rogue, and Mystique, are characters I’d love to do more with, for example), but I do feel I have to be a little bit careful when accepting or going after assignments. I’m more relaxed about that now than I was early on in my career, though, and hope that I can continue to be so. I don’t want to have to discriminate either.
Q: When did you first know you were bi?
Actually, the question is really when did I first realize that most people think they’re straight? That was so disappointing for me, finding out that most of my boyfriends got really uptight if I asked them about their boyfriends.
I was falling in love with boys and girls from the very beginning. Just little girl crushes on my part, but they all seemed totally natural regardless of the gender of the beloved. I remember being at summer camp when I was seven or eight and I wanted to marry the counselor, George, but we went swimming one day and I nearly drowned because I became so fixated on this girl’s eyelashes - her name was Nicole and when her eyelashes got wet they clumped into these perfect zigzag triangles, like a Vegas showgirl (though of course I had never seen a Vegas showgirl at the time). George swam over and asked what I was doing and I told him - I didn’t know there was anything weird about that, she was just frickin’ beautiful! - and he grinned and said, “okay, I guess I’ll have to marry you both.” And I just thought that was the PERFECT solution. This is why I loved him, he was brilliant!
My best friend from second-grade and I (and incidentally, she’s one of the people I now still game with every week) used to play these very sexualized, intense “let’s pretend” games, and we were always changing gender to suit the story. One summer much, much latter when I was in New Jersey visiting my grandparents she wrote me a letter in character - from Mark to Princess, actually (you guys get Battle of the Planets up there?) - and I had my first real experience of longing for what was essentially a fictional male (boy would THAT become a reoccurring theme in my life!). And then by the end of sixth grade, I was in theater and had guys I liked (usually the guy I was playing opposite to at the time - funny how that happens) and I think even had my first kiss with a guy on stage, but the first time I fell in love - that was Tina. And I do remember the first time we french-kissed the sentence “I’m kissing a GIRL!” went through my head, but that was it, that was the last time I ever thought about it that way. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-to-late teens that I became aware of any kind of gay culture or gay community (Tina took me to Castro Street in San Francisco, actually - a famous gay district - and I think I cried tears of joy for three straight hours in the middle of the street, as most queer people seeing Castro for the first time do). And it wasn’t until I met my first gay male friend that I really started identifying with the political side of the community.
Q: Did you have any coming-out anxiety with your first same-sex relationship? Or for that matter, with your first straight one?
Not at all with the same-sex, described above, beyond that one thought. The guy I technically lost my virginity to, though, that was weird. Because I was a virgin and he was not and yet I had waaaay more experience than he had in terms of the intensity of my relationship with girls at that time. We were trying to be very romantic and very hetero and very classic - we were in the backseat of his mother’s car, which I thought was hysterical - and by that time I’d already been in all-girl menage-a-trois and stuff he could barely dream of, but for this one thing I had to put all my faith in him and I think for him it was a little intimidating, especially because I couldn’t stop laughing. Talk about being forced to be a representative of your gender! Fortunately, he’s a really great guy and everything worked out fine. I don’t even remember why we broke up, actually, but I still hear about him a lot from a mutual friend and remember him warmly.
It was not a big deal in terms of any identity issues on my part or anything though. To this day, I just really don’t get the conflict and am in fact a little suspicious of people who can’t fall in love with someone regardless of their genitalia. There was the one time my dad caught me with my second girlfriend and dragged me down to the laundry room to ask if I was “practicing.” I could see that he was anxious, and I felt bad about that, but I just couldn’t even imagine feeling ashamed about my relationship with this girl, I was so in love with her at the time. I told him that we pretty much had it down, thanks, and by the way, are the clothes in the dryer ready? He has always responded well to logical calm. Later he told me he worried that being bisexual would make my life harder and more complicated for me, but I told him that my teenage relationships were the best things in my life and that up until that point, it had only made things easier. And that has pretty much remained true.
Q: Does the “gay writer” tag become just as sticky as the “chick writer” tag? If so, how do you avoid it, or for that matter deal with it (assuming the tag is meaningless to how you actually do your job).
Interestingly enough, no, it isn’t as difficult, at least not for me personally. Being taken out of the comic book writer community and dropped into the “female writer of comics” category is lonely - I don’t know what the hell I’m doing there, and because of my own personal proclivities, I haven’t done much to gather support for myself in that area. I have no relevant feminist work to point (though I’d like to develop some someday) and I don’t feel as though I’m a particularly strong or educated speaker for the cause.
Being dropped into the “gay writing” community, though - now that is a community! I get so much support there, both from fans and fellow professionals, and I’m so proud to be part of that population. I have done work that was consciously inclusive of the community and I’d like to do much more. I’ve done education and public speaking programs about GLBT rights and issues, I’ve marched in parades, I’ve signed up. That’s the big difference. You wouldn’t know I was bisexual unless I’d mentioned it out loud somewhere, which I have, proudly. The female thing, though...I don’t get to decide when to tell you that, when I’m comfortable being out in the world as a woman. I don’t think people choose their sexual orientation, but they do experience it - it evolves as a narrative you can participate in and decide when to share. It includes other people, both physical and emotional experiences...it is something that blossoms and something that you can more or less control the press on. Gender, on the other hand, is, for most of us, immediately present and difficult to ease into, let alone define. And it’s right there, written across, well, your chest.
This is part of what’s difficult about these questions - they’re so personal. I’m uncomfortable with being female but very comfortable with being bisexual. I’m sure there are people who feel exactly the opposite and would much rather be categorized as feminist pioneers than gay rights activists. As soon as I find one, I’ll set up an interview trade with her (“whoa...could you grab these questions here about the female thing? I’ve got your back on that kissing girls one, thanks!”).
Q: In an exchange on newsrama you mentioned that you wanted to do something with Dick that the higher ups nixed... what kind of changes are verboten, and how are they communicated? Is there a bible of "THINGS THAT MUST NOT BE DONE!"
Nooooo, that would be too easy! Then you could just look things up and know what not to waste your time on. Unfortunately, the rules change with the players, and there’s a level of capriciousness in them that runs even deeper that that. You can’t, for instance, kill a major supervillain who’s about to appear in a movie. Unless, apparently, you’re Greg Rucka. You can’t use the headline character from another book during a major arc in a way that contradicts the story in the eponymous title, unless you’re Judd Winnick and you don’t give a shit. It’s usually okay to show blood in a scary Batman story (especially if it belongs to the villain), unless someone in upper editorial gets cold feet that day. Then your story - even if it’s all scripted, drawn and inked - will get pulled, and seven months later you’ll see someone do something even worse in their book but yours will still remain pulped. You can’t have characters swearing unless you can. You can’t show sex unless it’s Wednesday. You can’t ignore an editor’s edicts unless you turn your script in so late that they have no choice but to turn it over to the penciler without editing it. You can’t, apparently, name a book after a (n obviously) Jewish superhero team. You can’t have Clark Kent and Lex Luthor kiss, but you can put them naked in a hot tub together (this one I know for a fact). At Marvel, you can’t have characters smoking, even though Wolverine did it for years (and, hello, has REGENERATIVE LUNGS!?). You can’t make sexual implications about Batman and Nightwing’s relationship unless someone doesn’t read your script closely enough. The list goes on, and will change tomorrow.
Q: Do you think Dick Grayson is gay? And, was that what the higher ups nixed?
That was not what was nixed, no, I’ve never actually tried to push for that in any serious way. Personally, I think he’s bisexual. I mean, look at his history - there’s no denying that he likes women. The way I think about him, he likes everyone, he’s sort of a contact junkie - just this incredibly physical (and attractive) person who lives wholly in the corporeal plane and responds with - processes things in - his body before his head or heart. I imagine that he can be hypnotized by a touch the way other people can be stopped dead in their tracks by the sight of money or the promise of true love. I think he likes kicking and kissing in almost equal measure - except kissing edges out ahead because you can do it for longer and it leads to nicer things. It’s difficult to communicate in a comic, but he’s the guy who never stops moving, who touches you a lot when he’s trying to get something across to you, who withholds himself - becoming physically very rigid and distant - when he’s unhappy about something. I’m writing a novel for WB right now that he’s in and I have one scene where Batman has to stop a fight before it gets out of control, and most of the people he can just yell or glare at, but with Dick, he just stands really close behind him and Dick freezes. That’s not supposed to be a sexual thing (though it is kinda hot! ::laughs::), it’s an understanding on Bruce’s part that his physical proximity will speak just as quickly and loudly to Dick as his voice, maybe even be processed faster. And I think a large part of Dick’s rather complicated romantic history has to do with the fact that he can be incredibly focused and intense and intimate in a way most people can’t - when he’s with you, he’s 100% with you - and then he can also get up and just go to the next thing and be 100% there, whether it’s work or, god help you if you’re in love with him, someone else. And he doesn’t mean this at all in the typical “notches in the belt” way, it’s a hunger inside of him, a way of communicating. Think, for a minute, about being an aerialist. Your life depends on latching on to that other person’s wrists - the human touch is literally what saves you.
And now think about being a very physical and naturally gregarious and loving person and growing up with someone like Bruce. Then add in the confusion about his status - a “ward” is something you stop being the minute you turn eighteen. Having already lost his parents and then hurling into adolescence at the speed he did...in my personal version of the story, he develops sexual desire and social anxiety about the future at the same time, and this leads to tremendous confusion, on his part, about his role in Bruce’s life. He can’t be a ward forever, in the back of his head he knows he won’t be Robin forever...what is he to this man who is at once his best friend and personal savior, personal god? “Son” is what they eventually settle on, but I think when Dick was in his late teens, the idea of “lover” must have run through his mind (which means, really, as we’ve already discussed, it ran through his body)...and if in any way Bruce retreated from that advance - which is what I’d expect him to do (he does love the kid, rather wildly really, but that scares him, and it’s not a sexual love, and that would be a perversion of the relationship anyway, and what the hell does he expect me to do!? “Dick, maybe you’d better leave now,”) - then Dick is going to pursue that retreat with the energy of a demon, because that’s what Bruce has taught him to do - pursue what flees. Eventually, much later, Dick gets distracted by other relationships and is able to ease up enough on Bruce for Bruce to relax into his own comfort-level of kindness and affection again (once the threat of sexuality has been removed) and they carry on more or less unharmed. But the relationship remains incredibly powerful and intense for Dick, who ends up feeling apologetic, rejected, and confused on top of all the other issues we already know exist between the two of them. Dick responds to Bruce - or really I should say Batman, since that’s who his relationship is with - on every single level.
But I don’t push that on DCU proper, because I know that it’s more than a lot of people can handle and I want these characters to remain accessible to everyone who loves them. And I’m comfortable with sort of having one version of the character I write for the company and one I keep for myself. The gay community has, so far, done a terrific job of reading what they want to into the Bat-relationships regardless of what we publish. I suspect the straight audience would not be so flexible.
Q: Further to that, if Dick is gay, what kind of guy is his type?
I actually love this question, it’s very much the kind of thing I enjoy speculating about and playing with. However, in the case of sexuality, I’ve always found attraction way more complex than “types.” If you add Kory and Babs together, you can say that he likes red hair, and I think that’s a fair assumption (who doesn’t?), but other than that, what the hell do those two women have in common? With men, his romantic prototype is Bruce, but there aren’t a lot of men like that out there (hence his wild attraction to women like Helena, who manage to embody some of those qualities anyway). I don’t think, even in my own private writings, that he’s quite comfortable enough with this aspect of his sexuality to have a type - I mean, the guy who would stop him in his tracks would be a little older, very strong, very dominant, and in some kind of horrific emotional pain, but Dick’s not conscious of any of that. He’s more likely, probably, to have time to develop an intimate relationship with another hero (or civil servant - someone whose work might parallel his own and someone who might be able to understand what he does in the world enough to feel comfortable with him doing it), and, for him with his intense loyalty issues, the best case scenario would be someone he already knows and trusts and feels comfortable with - but ultimately it goes back to that sexual “on” switch for him. Type isn’t as important as passion and opportunity. Because of his psycho-sexual makeup, the other key factor would be a sense that he means something to that other man, that his “surrender” is making that man happy, allowing him to bring pleasure to someone (as he was never allowed to do for Bruce). There’s also a sense, if I may be so bold, of needing to be “caught” and “held down” - this going back to the trauma of losing his parents...being strong and passionate and heroic and virile and loving with a woman is fantastic, he lives for that. But he lost both parents. There is also a part of him that longs to be pinned down and loved a little bit savagely and hurt just enough to reassure him that he’s alive.
Man, I’m totally gonna get fired when this comes out....
Q: Where did the ideas for User and Relative Heroes come from? Are you interested in revisiting gay/bisexual themes in future projects?
Three totally different questions. Neither USER nor Relative Heroes were conceived as “gay” stories. But since they’re both creator-developed and populated with characters of my own design, obviously I’m going to reflect that part of reality.
The gay theme in Relative Heroes is pretty beside the point. There’re five teens, and the leader, Joel, happens to be gay. If we had had a chance to continue with the story, he was supposed to eventually fall in love and form a relationship with Rive, who was going to start traveling with the rest of the family in the Winnebago in the official capacity of Joel’s boyfriend and the unofficial capacity of team chef. But as it was, there were maybe three pages in six twenty-two page issues that even alluded to it. The idea for that story, though, came from editor Jordan Gorfinkel asking me to develop a new series, a superhero team, for the DCU. I kind of panicked and thought to myself how easy I’d find an assignment like that if they weren’t supposed to be super-powered, but that the superhero part of it was really presenting a problem for me (because, basically, I don’t like working with that much allegory - I think we’re pretty damn fascinating and complex and worthy of stories just the way we are). And then the idea came to me that if their powers were my problem, their powers could be their problem - walk straight up to the allegory and look it in the eye. The main themes of the story are adolescent growing pains (some of the struggles of which are demonstrated through the very nature of their powers) and grief. But did I love writing the gay cruise scene? Did I run around and proudly show it to all my friends after it was drawn? Do I still have a copy of the black and white for that page in an old binder on my desk? Hell, yeah.
USER was a pitch I made to Vertigo, based on the closest thing to a real life experience I’ve ever written about. I just wanted to try something more personal, and, terrifyingly for me, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve done (I say terrifying because the implication there is clearly that being more revealing and personal works). The story is more an exploration of gender than sexual preference, but of course, all of that is tied up together and so does play out over the course of the series.
USER was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award, and that meant more to me than anything else I’ve ever been up for. I definitely do look forward to doing more GLBT-themed work in the future, both as a way, politically, to stay active in and supportive of that community, and also, artistically, as a means of continuing to explore diverse and inspiring characters.
Q: You've mentioned a rejected suitor spread lies about you "having slept your way to the top" after you had published two comics... as painful as it might be to discuss that, you're method of dealing with such a sexist attack might be invaluable advice for other young creators facing similar slurs. So, how did it happen and what did you do?
It’s not painful to talk about it, it’s just frustrating, because there wasn’t anything I could do. How it happened was that I was no longer in touch with him, I got a little bit of public notice and the guy got online and started saying mean things. It’s that easy to malign someone. His allegation was, primarily, that I must have given head to a Bat-Office editor to get my first Bat-book assignments, so I did go online once early on to point out that they were in New York and I was in California, and although I had yet to meet them, I highly doubted they were so endowed that we could manage such a trick trans-continentally. But even I know that it’s not as much fun to have someone prove a rumor false as it is to have someone insinuate one, and I’m sure that there are people who believe his story to this day. They are not likely to be people, though, that have taken my work very seriously to begin with, so although it does hurt to have mistruths spread about you, I guess ultimately it doesn’t really matter. I know how I got my work, the editors know how I got my work, it’s seven or eight years later and I’m still being given assignments regularly and that guy who started that rumor is now married in Ohio and is hopefully happy and busy and has better things to do with his time. So as much as it will always be pretty profoundly not okay, it is also, basically, okay. Life goes on. And, too, this is something successful women go through in every industry I can think of, which is part of what makes it so frustrating. Why do people even entertain it anymore? It’s such a dumb, easy, self-revelatory put-down. No one likes having lies told about the, but almost everyone has experienced it.
As for other young creators - the male ones won’t have that problem, and the female ones will already be familiar with it from other parts of their life (though obviously, the more public attention you get, the more virulent and persistent the rumors). My advice to all professionals is to not take the message boards too seriously - personally, I don’t read them at all (someone once said in a column that anyone who said that was lying, but obviously he’s never been attacked about his dating history, sexual proclivities, body or basic right to be in the industry...believe me, the boards hold no allure for me). Beyond that, there’s really not a thing you can do. I spent the first year and half trying to fight back and do damage-control and it was making me crazy and impacting my work and getting me nowhere, so finally I just decided to be a good person and a dependable writer instead of trying to prove that I was either. I stopped reading comic message boards and now the only time I hear anything about what’s going on in them is when a well-meaning fan writes me an email to tell me that they totally don’t agree with what’s being said on them and he or she hopes I know that not everyone believes it. And then I write them back and say “thanks, I really appreciate your support, but please don’t worry about it - it doesn’t hurt my feelings if I don’t know about it, and I won’t know about it if you don’t tell me.”
Q: Does that experience play into your dislike of message boards, which I understand are pretty much the lifeblood of serious comic fanatics?
Of course! That and many others like it. The final straw for me was when someone got fed up with my unwillingness to fight to defend myself online and started posting as me. I’m sure she meant well, but my god - that was horrific. I had her account traced and wrote her an email demanding that she stop and she really didn’t see why she should, she thought she was doing me a favor. So from that point on I announced that I would never read nor post on a comic-related board (just to clarify that if you do see a post on one under my name, it ain’t me) and I’ve kept to that and been much, much happier for it.
And I don’t think it’s true that message boards are the lifeblood of serious comic fans, I think they’re the lifeblood of serious posting fans. Compare any sales chart to what’s being said on the boards and you’ll immediately see how misrepresentative they are. I love the idea of Internet communities and think it could be very valuable for fans to have places where they can share ideas and reading lists and such, and I also know that eighty percent of the people who post are really nice, reasonable, bright people. But that other twenty percent makes it not worth it for me, personally, to be there, so I stick to Gaming forums and Political boards where at least the vitriol is not aimed at me. ;-)
Q: Who do you see as your constituency? Those fanatics, or the regular reader who picks up stuff from the newsstand, not the specialty store?
We don’t have comics that are sold on the newsstands much anymore, which is a shame. They are not something the casual reader is likely to just run into in the course of day-to-day life. You pretty much have to seek them out. Direct Marketing saved the industry in the early seventies, but now it’s something we seem to be rethinking. It would be great if we could figure out some way to support the specialty stores and also have more comics available to the general public in grocery lines and magazine racks and such.
I don’t really think in terms of a constituency, I just write the best stories I can, one at a time. Ideally, you want enough character development to keep the long-term readers happy and enough clarity to keep things accessible for the casual reader. Because I came to comics so late in life, I do really love the idea of getting people who are unfamiliar with the medium excited about it, but it’s also really satisfying to give the loyal, long-term readers something they can sink their teeth into.
Q: Current status? Single? Dating? Married?
I refuse to marry until every consenting adult who wants to can. Right now I consider it an elitist and faltering institution (54 percent failure rate? Pass, thanks!). So, yes, I am both single and dating.
Q: Current residence? (city, not looking for mailing address!)
Q: Still living with three folks? Describe in more detail home situation, house, apartment, rent, buy?
No, I own my own house in Oakland now - a duplex, actually, that I purchased with a friend from high school. It has a lovely home office slightly separated from the living space, which I really enjoy. But as I write this, I’m on my laptop in the house I used to live in with the three people (now six). I visit here a couple times a week, and the little girl who was 19 months old when I wrote my website bio is now five.
Q: What are your current projects, I know you're working on the novel, (details if you can share any, would be awesome) but what else is coming up?
My current project right now is this interview! Holy crap, this is long! ::laughs::
Let’s see, I’m still on Nightwing (with new artist Phil Hester), Matador is about to come out (with the incomparable Brian Stelfreeze), I just finished what is erroneously called YEAR ONE: Batman/Ra’s al Ghul (it has nothing to do with “year one” - it’s Batman current time and Ra’s years, like, 356 and 592 - I have no idea why they named it that) with Paul Gullacy, and the novel is my third for DC/ Time Warner Aspect, this one a DCU Batman team-up story guest-starring Green Arrow (Ollie) and Aquaman, in addition to Nightwing, Arsenal, and Tempest. It’s set in Gotham, more or less current time, and deals with the current political climate in Qurac (from the DCU Atlas and not to be confused with Iraq, it’s actually more like Saudi Arabia or, really, Hiroshima) and relationships between fathers and sons.
Q: Type 1-diabetes: in your words, you said once you've had it since 15, what physical challenges does it present to you?
These are fun questions? ;-P Well, I’m insulin-dependent, and self-administer three to four injections a day, so the biggest impact it has on my life is the need to always be thinking ahead - I can’t just decide to go out to dinner with a friend if I haven’t brought my insulin along, and I need to remain cognizant about my eating schedule and blood glucose levels, which becomes especially important (and tricky) when I’m exercising or traveling through time zones or ill. Most of what you have to do to take care of diabetes is what you should be doing to take care of yourself anyway, though. I think I get tired faster than other people sometimes, at least when my blood sugars are out of range, but these days it’s a fairly manageable condition.
Q: You studied Kaje Kempo? A martial art? What drew you to that? And have your interests taken you to any other physical pursuits?
Kaje Kempo is a hard-style Karate / Jujitsu form developed partially
from Chuan Fa as a branch of Kajukenbo. I just wanted to learn a martial
art and stumbled into a school that happened to be teaching that style,
but I really love it, it borrows a lot from other techniques and works
very well as a self-defense basic. I also study yoga and am interested
in taking kickboxing, but make no mistake about it, if I want to keep a
roof over my head, I need to spend about ninety-eight hours a week in a
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