Allrightie...I was born in a small town called Clarkson, not too far from Toronto, Canada. My folks were in the being famous business...or at least the being famous in Canada business. My mom was a popular singer on TV, and my dad was a best selling novelist, broadcaster, magazine editor, evangelist, talk show host, and damn near premier of the province I'm from.
They both could care less that I do comix for a living. I'm nowhere near famous enough to mix well with the family...something of a famousness failure, I imagine...the rest of my family is somewhat famous as well, except for my brother, who's just a successful tax lawyer, but I don't feel like going into the sister and brother story...
Before I was a comix writer/artist, I was an actor, a musician, a comedian, a TV writer, and, for an incredibly short time, a talk show host...(very long story, no real punch line, though.). Comics work and acting were the only two that paid well, and comics is the only profession that allows me to pursue my hobby of insomnia to my heart's content. In acting, people expect you to be up at certain times of the day....in comics, they just want to see the pages by the end of the week.
So what titles are you currently working on?
At the very moment that I type this, it's just Batman: Gotham Adventures. But yesterday, I sent in a script for a JLA annual, the second of two JLA annuals that I wrote this year. I'm not working on them, technically, cause I just finished them. I have a book out called HOW TO DRAW BATMAN, that turned out all right...it's an art instruction book using Batman characters to teach kids basic drawing skills.
I have one or two things in the fire, both of them comedy comic books, (something I think is sorely lacking in our biz), but since neither of them is written in stone, there's nothing there to talk about yet.
I'm still having fun telling Batman Adventures stories, where I write the scripts and do the covers.
Would you call yourself a comic collector 'Plastic bags, never read' or a comic lover 'dog-eared well read comics'?
Definitely a comic reader. I don't give a flying monkey's left nut what the shape of the comic is, I just want to read it. For instance, I have a complete collection of the Marvel Avengers books, all the way from number one to about 300 something, (around the time that permanent dullness set in on the series...it ain't bad again though, some of the recent issues have been actually okay..) Anyway, I paid, like, twenty bucks for my copy of #1, cause it's fairly ripped, I think it hangs barely off one of the staples. But there's nothing missing, and it's not a reprint, it's an actual copy of #1, so I'm just as happy with it, as if it were a mint copy, costing my four hundred bucks. (I bought my copy about ten years ago, so I have no idea the current market value, but it was about $400 when I bought me rat's ass copy for twenty bucks.)
Most of my collection has been bought with an eye for reading them, not collecting them...though I have a number of golden age comics. I always make sure to be fairly ratty ones, so I can get lots of them, rather than especially nice ones.
Who cares what they're worth? I'm only letting go of them when I'm dead...so bring on the ratty copies, boys! I want them all!!! As a result, I have about 25,000 comics, taking up waaaaaay too much of my house, but I'm not afraid to read any of them. Hell, I even let my ten year old read the golden age Batmans...he likes the old Dick Sprang comics...I just tell him to be careful with the jam and mustard if he's reading them with a sandwich...(Jesus, that sounds like a horrible sandwich! Jam and Mustard? Ick!)
I first became aware of your work during your Justice League run where you worked with Mike McKone. What was the first title that you worked on, and how do you remember that first job?
First job in comics was for a little nickel and dime company in Canada called Vortex comics. The publisher used to routinely steal money from the profits to buy things like luggage and get his car fixed. He called it expenses, but most people with a sense of the law would call it embezzling. I worked there, writing, drawing, editing, lettering, shipping, driving stuff to the printers...I did it all until I got tired of living in poverty while the boss kept getting his car fixed, if you know what I mean.
Vortex was actually an all right little company. While I was there, working on titles like Mr. X, Stig's Inferno, Kelvin Mace, and Vortex, I worked with guys like the Hernandez Brothers, Chester Brown, Klaus Shoenfeld, Dean Motter, Ken Steacy, Bill Sienkiewicz, Howard Chaykin, and a few folks you haven't heard of. It wasn't a bad start, if you don't count all the stealing and poverty.
After that, I worked at Eclipse Comics for a while, but within six months, I was getting calls from DC to work there. I did a stint as an inker/penciller, mostly for their Secret Origins book (edited by my buddy Mark Waid at the time) until I got the offer to do the JLA.
I've more or less had as much comic work as I wanted since then. I've taken time off from year to year for my acting career, but of late, it's been all comics, since I got married, had kids and learned not to sleep.
You actually drew one of my favorite comics of all time JLA #26 with Max Lord being hunted down by Blue Beetle. Which were your favorite League members?
I liked the Kirby based ones the best. Barda and Miracle. They had such cool costumes to draw. I liked Batman a lot, cause it was so cool that I got paid to draw Batman. ( I still think it's cool. Not many other jobs get such a turn of heads at a party when people say, "What do you do for a living?" and you get to say, "I write and draw Batman comics." That's better than being a heart surgeon at most parties. At least the ones I go to.)
All of the League was cool to draw. I liked to draw Beetle's face, cause he was always making faces, so there was lots to do with him. I liked J'onn J'onzz, just cause he's cool. (In fact, the first of my two JLA annuals that I just finished writing...the first one is a J'onn solo story. I requested to do a solo with him...)
Ice was based on my wife at the time, so it was fun to get her to pose for the drawings of Ice. (She always resented being the Ice Maiden, cause that's not how she was at all, but hey, she was blonde...the Ice Maiden was blonde...what do you want?)
And Rocket Red. I liked to draw him, cause I designed him.
What are the chances of my JLA #26 getting signed?
First off, I'd be happy to sign a copy of a Justice League comic any time you hand it to me. If you put it through the mail, though, I simply won't. Where I live in Toronto happens to be nowhere near a post office, and as a result, I haven't put anything through the mail in about ten years, and I'm not about to start now. If you're ever at a convention that I'm at, walk up and introduce yourself and I'll be happy to sign anything you hand me. But nothing through the mail...thanks.
Are there any characters you would love a crack at that you haven’t done yet?
Yeah. Plastic Man. I'd like to do Plastic Man, but not like he's been done yet...I'd redo him completely in my own way...I'm not sure what that is yet, but I'd like a crack at him.
Plas is character I was going to say could use your style (Well, not including Green Lantern. I think you could draw some awesome ring welding.) What do you think off Grant Morrison's view on Plas in the JLA with a kind of Jim Carrey aspect?
Um...I can't really say. Grant hasn't really done anywhere near enough with Plastic Man for me to have an opinion on it. A few panels at best, right? With all the characters he's juggling, he's barely got time to say "hello" with each of them before the issue is over.
Giffen's league was very different from Grant Morrison's, and I can never decide which is better. In the League’s long history these are my favs, what about you?
The honest answer? I suspect my favorite issues of the JLA are the ones that Adam Hughes did, so I suppose that's the Giffen/DeMatteis League. They're my favorite for a few reasons... 1) Just look at that Adam Hughes drawing, boyo! It's sure swell! 2) Adam's run on the JLA was only a few months after mine, and I was happy to see the title in the hands of someone better than I was. It allowed me to think that my rather poorly drawn issues would soon be forgotten and I wouldn't have to be reminded of them as history passed them over in favour of Adam Hughes' certainly more memorable issues. Unfortunately, you're messing that up, bringing up the JLA a lot during this interview. By doing that, you negate all the hard work Adam Hughes did in making me forgettable! Shame on you.
I never knew that you designed Rocket Red. I have a friend whose favorite JLA member was Ice. Were you as upset by her death as he was?
No. See, I was in on the fix from the beginning. Here's a secret....and I'm not kidding about this. Ice was put in the League by Giffen for the sole reason that he wanted to kill her. She was cannon fodder from the get go. She was riding out borrowed time from her first appearance. A character created to die! So, in light of that, I knew she was going to go all along. Actually, it took DC much much longer to get around to doing than it should have taken them. Mark Waid was the one who actually got around to killing her, but by the time he did it, the three JLA titles were mostly pretty lousy comics, and I wasn't following them that closely. (The only exception at the time, was the wonderful Task Force book, written by Mark Waid, and Peter David, and drawn by Sal Velluto.) But JLA and JLE were both car wrecks by the time Ice had died, so who was reading the books then? I didn't, and I even got them free!
Anyway...when she died, I called my now ex-wife and told her of her fictional doppleganger's fate. She thought it was funny. She thought it was funnier still when the character became a lesbian....Lisa (the ex) is an actress, and for some reason kept getting cast as a pretty blonde lesbian in a lot of TV shows and movies around the time that Ice "came out" so to speak. Lisa is a very pretty, feminine looking blonde (just like the character, it really does look like her), and couldn't understand why everything around her was very lesbian based. I tried to explain to her about boys and pretty blonde lesbians...it's so embarrassing.
So the JLA annuals are finished,.....anything you would like to share?
All this talk about Ice. What do you say I bring her back as a ghost? Would that be an interesting story? And I'm not talking about a "maybe" ghost. I mean, the dead, disembodied spirit of Ice, comes back and rejoins the League.
And maybe a couple of other dead Leaguers show up as well. Ooooh! Ghost stories...all summer in the JLA annuals, kids! Buy ten copies, feed my kids.
J'onn seems to be getting quite a bit of notice these days. Are there any plans for him in the long term?
He's starring in his own annual this summer, written by me, drawn by Ariel Olivetti, another of the "ghost story" annuals.
After that, he gets his own ongoing monthly series by Ostrander and Mandrake (Mr. and Mr. Spectre.)
You mentioned before about your acting career. Are you nominated in this years Oscars? Who knows, maybe a cameo in the next Bats film.
Actually, when the first Batman movie was being made, I asked my agent to make inquiries about being in it. We both thought it might make an interesting angle that one of the actual Batman artists would have a small part...(Bob Kane did, you know..) But it was filming in England, and was impossible to even get an audition.
I did do a lot of talk shows promoting the movie though....
And, yes, I'm nominated in the category of best special effects, sound editing. All the screaming people in the water at the end of Titanic is me, my voice, looped over and over on a fantastically expensive 76 track recording machine.
Seventy six tracks seems like a lot, but when you have to recreate the sound of 1500 drowning people, believe me, seventy six tracks is nothing. I had to improvise and think on my feet to really fatten up the sounds of my screaming and complaining to make it seem like hundreds of dying people, and no doubt, the nomination is in recognition of that.
You have done some spectacular work on the Batman, Batman and Robin, and Gotham series with some of the best covers on the shelves, how closely do you collaborate with the guys on the show and how much can you play with the continuity?
I don't really collaborate with anyone from the show other than Paul Dini, who I've worked with on the comic itself. He wrote a few scripts that I drew, and we wrote a few together that other people drew.
I try not to play with the continuity. I try to stick to it very closely, and hope that it runs seamlessly for fans of both the comics and the show. I occasionally do something that ADDS to the continuity, with a piece of background info, or an interesting thing in a character's life, that I might refer to in a later issue, but the people from TV land are in no way obligated to use what I do. Their audience is in the millions world wide...mine never goes over sixty thousand in the States. Their version is cannon.
Whose call was the darker tone that the comic book and TV show have taken, such as Batman's costume and the Joker's look?
Bruce Timm's, so far as I know. It's closer to the way he always wanted to do it, but was hogtied when working for Fox. The new network, WB, has given them a little leeway to tweak the show back to the way they always wanted it to be.
What do you think of the current continuity Batman books at the moment? The general attitude is that they could be better.
Really? I think Chuck Dixon, Denny O'Neil and Alan Grant are among the best writers in comix, and I still enjoy what they do very much. I don't love the Moench/Jones book, myself, but that's cause it's not good story telling. The Legends of the Dark Knight book is often a terrific read...Azrael is terrific...Catwoman is often terrific, and often a little over the top. I'm not big on the artist for Catwoman, can't remember his name, but he draws all his women with broken hips and balloons glued to their chests...
So far, I don't love the earthquake thing...but I don't hate it either...
All in all, if you compare the four big franchise titles in comics...Batman, Superman, X-Men, and Spider-Man, I still think Batman is the far and away best of that lot. He's just overburdened with ten monthly titles, is all. I think if they reduced the number of titles, then they'd probably be reducing mine, so let's not be hasty, shall we?
Mike Parobeck had a lasting impact on this series as well as being remembered for the most recent Justice Society run, how closely did the two of you work.
I loved Mike, and thought he was a terrific artist. I think his lasting impact on the series was that readers of the Adventures titles came to expect their comics to be excellent, rather than just okay. That's certainly something to aspire to, and a great deal of our critical success early on came from him.
He and I worked together a number of times over the years...He liked me as an inker and used to request me when I was free...I inked about eight or nine issues he drew of things over the years, I always loved inking Mike.
And we always used to get offered the same gigs a lot, cause we both were capable of a very open, friendly style. We both did the X-Men video box covers, we both did the Batman Happy Meal Boxes, that sort of thing. Editors would get my number from Mike, and his from me...
A real goddamn shame, it was.
How hard is it to write a 'Batman' story? As new characters are created in the TV show are you ever obliged to show them in an issue.
Not hard. It's a craft, like anything else. When you know what you're doing, it's like assembling a complex jigsaw puzzle, making the pieces fit into 22 pages. The inspiration part is easy...I'm always thinking of Batman stories.
And I'm not obligated to do anything specifically...but I'm a huge fan of the show, just like you guys, and I look for characters that I want to do....I still want to do a good Red Claw story, for instance, and the Grey Ghost is showing up soon.....
What direction do you see Batman and comics in general taking in the next few years? You mention a lack of 'funny books'?
I'm part Buddhist. I don't think too much about the future. I've got today to worry about. And the lack of funny books is primarily for the same reason there's not much comedy on TV either. Not that many funny people. And the really funny people, usually go for the TV money in the first place.
Peter Bagge, Roberta Gregory, Evan Dorkin, Kyle Baker, I think that's about it.
What are your favorite comics.....past and present, and what comics really stand out in your mind as greats?
The other two questions, what are my favorite comics, and what are my favorite comics of all time, are more or less the same question, so here's the answer.
My vote for favorite comic of all time is such a toss up, I'd rather give you a list.
In no particular order.....
Batman #251, (the Joker's Five Way Revenge....first appearance of the new Joker) by Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil. All their collaborations are amongst my favorite comix, this issue is probably their best one. Their Green Lantern/Arrow series as well...
New Gods #7 (The Pact. The backstory for all the New Gods and Fourth World stories...) Kirby, Kirby, Kirby. A close second is the first Terrible Turpin story...also from the New Gods, I believe. Kamandi comes in a close third.
Watchmen (nuff said) Love that Alan Moore.
From Hell (more nuff said) Still love that Alan Moore. I liked From Hell as a piece of writing better than Watchmen, but Dave Gibbons is a superior artist to Eddie Campbell, and since this is comix, and not prose, I have to give Watchmen a slight edge. You can throw D.R. and Quinch, and Marvelman in there for Alan as well...oh, hell, put everything Alan Moore ever did on the pile. He's my favorite writer in the biz.
The Dark Knight Returns, and Frank's run on Daredevil. (For showing the potential of the writer/artist on mainstream comics like no one else has ever done.)
Hate (by Peter Bagge) For being consistently funny and always a surprise. No one does alternative comix like this guy.
Arzach (par Moebius ) Wow. Just Wow.
The Complete Works Of Harvey Kurtzman (from Two Fisted Tales, to Mad, to Little Annie Fanny) The Rosetta Stone of great comics. Especially when he worked with Elder.
Wally Wood's Thunder Agents. (Average writing, with the best comics have ever looked. An interesting combination.)
Robert Crumb's Fritz the Cat. (Not the movie...I spit on the movie...just the comix)
Asterix the Gaul (My favorite is the Legionnaire, and Cleopatra, personally, but there really isn't a bad one. Certainly not while Goscinny was writing them.)
The Cowboy Wally Show (by Kyle Baker.) Possibly the funniest single volume of comics ever printed. I said possibly, 'cause I change my mind a lot. Maus and Stuck Rubber Baby. (Spiegleman and Cruse, respectively) I always link these two books in my mind, I'm not sure why, but I think they're among the most touching and dramatic autobiographical stories ever told. Stuck Rubber Baby is fictionalized, I know...and so is Maus to a small extent, but they both tell their stories so well. And along the same lines is Barefoot. Gen (Keiji Nakazawa) I read it when I was about fifteen, and it's never left me. I still see those drawings of the people with the melted skin crawling for help...brrrrr.
The Rocketeer (by Dave Stevens) So nice to look at. So nice. See Thunder Agents.
The Blue Notebook (Andre Juillard) For some reason, I just love love love this volume. The art is nearly perfect, and the story is very heartwarming, and yet sad. It's a wonderfully grown up comic.
And in the category of guilty pleasures: comics I've really enjoyed, but would not describe as "great" necessarily....
Waid's run on the Flash.
Lee-Kirby Fantastic Fours.
Serpieri's Druuna series (but don't read them, the stories are hellishly bad).
Curt Swan Superman Comics.
Love and Rockets (the early ones ).
Early Deadman comics.
Steranko-Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Judge Dredd, especially the Bolland ones.
Sandman, by Gaiman.
The first 100 Hellblazers were all fun.
Michael O'Donahue's NatLamp inserts (and Trots and Bonnie, while I'm there).
Joe Kubert stuff...Fax from Sarejevo, Abraham Stone...etc.
Russ Manning Magnus Robot Fighters, and Tarzans, and Star Wars.
Peter David's Star Trek Comics are all good reads.
I could go on...and I'm sure I'm leaving someone off that I'll regret as soon as we finish this, but that's a fair approximation of what it is about comics that I love.
You'll notice a few European creators on the list. To me, that's the reason there's so many great Canadian comic book creators, because, unlike American kids, we get all the European comics up here because of our French population. I read Asterix and Tintin in French as a kid, and still do, from time to time. I think European comics are, for the most part, better written and drawn that American ones, and that background allows for a much better understanding of the art form and the field in general.
One last question....Who actually came up with the Beetle laugh in JLA BWAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!
Bwah ha ha ha ha comes from Keith, I'm fairly sure of that. But all of us JLA alumnus are allowed to use it....so.
That one's on me.