The following conversation about SUPERMAN EARTH ONE Volume 2 took place over the weekend of New York Comic Con 2012 via what kids are calling The FaceBooks. No names have been changed so authorities can find us all easier.
Rob Patey: Gents. Would you be up for a little Q&A session via the FaceBooks about Supes Volume 2 for Ain’t It Cool. Talked with DC PR and they were as giddy as a school girl rooting through Justin Bieber’s garbage about the idea. I’ll shoot out questions, answer at will.
It’s been about two years since fans last saw Earth 1′s version of SUPERMAN. Did you guys take the same break or did you roll right into Vol 2?
Shane Davis: Rolled in mid Nov after Volume 1 released, I think. Finished last February.
J. Michael Straczynski: The first book hit in a ridiculously bigger way than DC was anticipating. It sold out within 24 hours of being released and they had to keep chasing run-outs with additional printings.
I think that they were probably anticipating somewhere in the vicinity of 20K sales as being good…it ended up doing five times that. So as soon as this monster landed, they called me and said “we’re taking you off everything else, don’t worry about Superman (the monthly book) or Wonder Woman, we’ll take those off your plate, get going on this right now.”
Similarly, when the pre-sales figures started coming in on V2, which looks to be even larger sales-wise than V1, they put me right onto V3, which I’m writing yea unto this very moment.
Shane: JMS good going on Vol.3!
Rob: I like to think my screw up of reviewing VOLUME 1 two weeks early helped with the success, but more likely it was just an awesome book. Joe you were pretty vocal in your glee leaving monthlies behind, is it still all sunshine and roses?
Shane what’s the move to big books been like on the art side?
JMS: I don’t know that it was glee as much as an opportunity for reflection. Once DC shifted me off Superman and Wonder Woman to S:E1v2, I realized that I didn’t have any monthly comics on my desk. Rather than try to amend that by taking on other assignments, I figured, “let’s use this creatively.” I decided that I would take a minimum two year sabbatical from monthly comics, doing instead only GNs and miniseries, and use that time to sit down and really evaluate my work to see where it worked, where it didn’t, and learn from that.
The problem with doing a monthly book is that there’s never any time to really stop and take stock of the work. You’re like a man running to catch a bus. I’d been engaged in that process pretty much nonstop ever since I took on The Amazing Spider-Man. Here, then, was a chance to stop running.
There is a word in the bible, used in Psalms and Proverbs, to indicate when the speaker is to stop while reciting a particularly important phrase: “Selah.” It means, literally, “pause and consider.” I needed a Selah moment.So I spent much of the last two years pulling all of my work down off the shelf and reviewing it to find the relative strengths and weaknesses involved. I read every critical review of my work I could find, bypassing most of the positive ones in order to learn what could be improved.
The process was pretty ruthless but I felt I couldn’t come back to monthly books until and unless I felt I could do a better job than I had before.Having come through that, a lot of the things I learned helped shape V2, and are certainly playing a role in the writing of V3 and in particular the Dr. Manhattan mini-series for DC. I now feel sufficiently armed with new perspectives to return to monthly comics in 2013 via the Joe’s Comics imprint at Image. That’s a two-and-a-half, almost three years sabbatical from monthly books, and I honestly feel I’ve learned a lot from the process. I would suggest it to anyone.
Shane: Earth 1 made me miss and appreciate monthlies more. There are clearly advantages with both formats. As an artist its hard not seeing you work received by fans for a lengthy period of time. So with OGN’s I like to try and swing cover work to stay out on the shelf.
Rob: What was the BIGGEST critique you found on the Interwebz and how did it translate into Supes Earth 1 Vol 2?
Shane Davis: After Vol 1 i added some muscle to Superman in Vol 2. There were some comments on how small I had drawn him. I figured since he is a practicing Superhero now I would add some muscle weight onto Clark.
JMS: I can’t pick a particular site from memory because it was mentioned on several, but one of the most useful criticisms I got was that my work tends to be stronger on solo titles than on team books (Fantastic Four, Squadron Supreme, as opposed to Supreme Power, which was Hyperion’s story) which sometimes kind of fall apart.
After reading and analyzing these critiques, it really brought home that — maybe because of my TV training which is always about finding and servicing the star of the show — I wasn’t spending as much time as I could on developing the arcs for the supporting characters…which is funny because so much of what I did on Babylon 5 was about building up the arcs of the supporting cast.
So when and if I should be put on a team book, I really need to invest a lot more time planning out those secondary and tertiary arcs on their own, not necessarily as to how they relate to the main character.
Rob: I promised DC PR I wouldn’t talk about all the surprises in Vol 2, but we need to at least spoil the main nemesis. How and why did you choose Parasite for this volume?
JMS: I needed someone who could go toe-to-toe with Superman on that power level, and someone who could, for the first time, bring him down to a human level so he could experience that vulnerability, a first for him. The fun part of that is the degree to which it makes him appreciate the ridiculous courage humans have just to walk out the front door every day knowing there are a thousand things that can kill them at any moment.
Rob: Shane, the story updates in Supes E1 are very clear. What was your guiding mantra for updating the visual elements of characters and their surroundings?
Shane: When I was building the visual of the Superman Earth One I really wanted it to feel unique–Something that was the way I saw the character today. I took a lot of chances and followed my gut on the changes. Clark was always drawn to be a torn emotional young man, in and out of glasses. The old body type had to go, I felt it was necessary to pull off a believable young Superman. The next thing I wanted to do was design the S- shield. I tweaked the S and added a yellow trim to pop it from the blue shirt. The rest of the cast was simply drawn the way I saw them. Jim was a great evolution.
Parasite’s design was a tough one. I wanted to do something more with the character than the color purple. The energy receptors were added. We had the opportunity to have the character grow, and building his anatomical structure, rhino skin type was a lot of fun. All around my main objective was to make parasite look like something you didn’t want to touch, hence the blister like receptors.
Rob: Since the exposition was handled in Vol 1. This volume gives you much more room to work on the relationships of Clark’s world – and not just at the daily planet. What was the thought process behind the development of the denizens in Clark’s apartment building?
JMS: Entry-level jobs at newspapers pay very little money. So it made sense that Clark would have to look for a place he could afford…and that would lead him to a less than terrific part of town where rent was cheap, on the downward slide, as it were. The people he encounters are a mix of the sorts of people you would logically encounter in a neighborhood that’s kind of on the edge. I know, I’ve lived in some of those places growing up.
Clark’s neighborhood consists in the main of people just trying to hang on…or on the decline. That there would be some degree of drug abuse is a given in any declining neighborhood in any major city. (Not to mention that there’s a fair amount that goes on at every level of society, right up into the economic stratosphere.) So that led me to the creation of Eddie. Lisa, his neighbor, is a fun character with a lot of levels going on. She’s bright and funny and sexy but also troubled, and over time Clark will be pulled further and further into that.
Shane: I just drew her hot. Gave her some tattoos. 3 stars;)
Rob: Clark was almost pulled pretty “deep” (innuendo alert) into Lisa in Vol 2. How did it feel to tackle the age old pubescent debate of what happens if Superman tried to make baby Kryptonians with earth ladies? (And yes Shane you drew her very hot)
JMS: It was just an awful lot of fun. On the one hand, you have the conversation that’s always been there on the periphery of Superman fandom: what about sex? Can he have sex with a human female or not, given certain natural reflexes?
Now add to that the awkwardness of “the conversation” that often has to take place between a father and a son, and it was a great opportunity for both character and humor. The result is not just one but two very cute and funny scenes between Clark and Lisa. As much as I love writing action and big plots, those sorts of scenes are what really make it worthwhile.
Shane: I always wanted to draw a love scene, which is kinda odd to say. I love drawing superheroes fighting, but to have the chance to draw a date, much less these dates was pretty fun. Makes you as an artist think back to your awkward moments with girls and you get a laugh.I enjoyed creating and playing up the tension and the kiss was a great scene to draw.
I remember when drawing the scene where Clark is running away from Lisa’s place, trying to fly, I had to put a dog in the ally. Somebody had to see it in order for it to be funny, even if it’s just a white dog that can’t tell a soul that a guy on a date flew away.
Rob: It’s clear you threw yourself into this book Shane, at one point…literally…no?
Quiet moments aside, Clark’s solitude aside, you have set up one large prevailing theme on this earth that once again makes it so very akin to our world – fear! Especially on the part of the American government. Bit of an indictment?
I’m a big believer in following the truth line, and if, in the real world, someone like Superman showed up, they’d be terrified, and rightly so. A guy who can cross any border with impunity, who is powerful beyond understanding, from whom no secret can be kept, no safe harbor created, who is to all intents and purposes invulnerable and invincible…if you’re a president or a prime minister, how would that not be terrifying? Sure, he says he’s on our side, but how do we know that’s true, and even if it is true…it’s only true right now. What if that changes tomorrow? Common sense requires that you do everything possible to find out as much as you can about this guy, up to and including how to kill him if necessary.
As humans, we operate out of a human perspective…and human history is filled with people who declared themselves saviors of one sort or another and became just the opposite. It’s a very short walk from “I am here to help you, my people” to invading Poland. As to the graphic novel format lending itself well to quiet moments and character pieces, you’re absolutely correct.
The difference between monthly books and an original GN is not far from the difference between writing TV vs. a film. In television you can have quick little character moments but you end up hurtling toward the act break and have to put in enough action or danger to bring people back after the commercials. In a film they’re there from fade in to fade out, so you can extend those moments and make more of them. For as cool as the action was in, say, Pulp Fiction, what we remember are the quiet moments, the character details. A Royale with cheese. Cleaning up the back seat. Several minutes spent on what comprises an appropriate or inappropriate foot-rub. You could have those moments in a TV episode but you could never extend them as you can in a film.
For me, those moments are what make the writing fun. So I wrote Spider-Man on the wall of an apartment building sharing a box of popcorn with some stranger during a particularly difficult moment…in Thor two of the favorite moments for readers had the Asgardians attending a town meeting to discuss indoor plumbing, and the locals building a mailbox to be put outside Asgard for incoming letters. But they’re quick, maybe a page and you’re on to the next thing.
In S:E1v2 there are a number of scenes that I could write at length in ways that I could never do in a monthly, and which also provide a lot of tools that are harder to pull off in a monthly. There’s the element of thematic parallelism that is drawn between when Clark helps the young woman next door, and something that happened in his past with a wounded animal. You don’t have to hang a lantern on it, it’s just there. Which is not, by the by, to say that GNs are superior to monthlies. Nothing could be further from the truth. They’re just different forms. I like writing monthlies and GNs as I like writing TV and movies. They represent different challenges, and working within the rules is half the fun. You can write free-form verse, and enjoy the looseness of that, then write a sonnet, which has very specific rules. Both are enjoyable for different reasons. To see the differences is not to put one above the other, only to be accurate.
Rob: Guys thanks for the great responses especially during the middle of THE second biggest event in comicdom.
One last question – is the surprise appearance at the end of Volume 2, the fulcrum of Vol 3?
There’s a division of opinion between them on how to deal with Superman, and it doesn’t go the way it generally has in the past. Everybody’s been waiting for this character to make an appearance, but I didn’t want it to fall into the well-established pattern we’ve seen endlessly over the decades. So I’m going to be redefining this character in some new and hopefully entertaining ways in volume three.
I went at their design in a fresh new way. My wife influenced the visual design for the lady part of the team. I really wanted a strong, beautiful and powerful female behind the man. As for the man himself, he was drawn slightly uncertain in appearance and gesture.
Of course I wanted both of them very fashionable with McQueen like fashion style.The OGN format does lend to a lot of leeway on giving scenes justice. I think V2 surpasses V1 in the action format. I heard from fans that they wanted to see a lot more action, which is fun because we got 3 Parasite fight spreads throughout the book. I took advantage of that and choreographed the fights in 3 different ways.
Rob: Any closing thoughts?
Shane: I’m happy to have been a big part of Earth One. I really sat down with certain expectations to meet and feel that I did that. Fans would come up to me saying that they did not like Superman until the Earth One series. They would tell me that the visuals pulled them in and helped them to care about Superman.
I have had great success with other projects and characters like the Red Lanterns or Superman/Batman to JLA. In the end, I felt like I had done a lot for Superman. I constantly try to out-do my past work and when it came to volume 2, I had no mercy. Artistically speaking, I feel that I somehow out did Volume 1. I will constantly try to outdo myself in my future projects . I’m currently in the middle of my next OGN, Shadow Walk, with Max Brooks and Mark Waid, and the stuff looks better every day. I hope in the future I can always say that I give my best.
JMS: In the analysis of anyone’s career, you have to ask: what is the pattern, and what are the exceptions? I’ve written over 300 published comics, another 300+ produced television episodes, over 500 published articles and I had four films I worked on produced in four years. There’s not another writer in town who can match those numbers. The pattern is getting stuff done.
But for a while there, I kept bumping into the exceptions when the books I was working on took editorial or marketing turns that changed it from the book I’d started out writing, and the story I wanted to tell, into something else. They got yanked into big events or otherwise turned into something I hadn’t signed on for. Even the successes produced bumps because when sales on S:E1v1 went through the roof, DC asked if I’d go from Superman and Wonder Woman to do V2, which added to the perception noted above.
The thing about corporate publishing is that from time to time, sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong reasons, things get turned upside down to serve a larger agenda. Most times it works out okay. Once in a while, not. By luck of the draw, I got caught in several “once in a whiles” in a row. Happens.
When I began the sabbatical on monthly books, I continued to do miniseries and GNs because they would be less vulnerable to editorial tidal shifts. The result has been every bit as successful as I’d hoped. S:E1V2 came in ahead of schedule. All of my Before Watchmen scripts not only came in early, I was the first one in the door with scripts and the first one across the finish line overall, which is why I was given Moloch (also finished way ahead of schedule). And it’s pretty much given that my script for S:E1V3 will also be in early.
This gave me the confidence to approach Image Comics to re-launch the Joe’s Comics imprint, which via Top Cow had previously launched Midnight Nation and Rising Stars. (This is part of the whole Studio JMS mini-studio that Patricia Tallman and I announced at SDCC in July, and which already has two TV series deals, one movie and two web series going into production.) So starting in the Spring of 2013, I’ll be back to writing monthly books through the Joe’s Comics imprint, which is not subject to corporate issues. We have complete autonomy to write and publish whatever we want. The writing process has already begun, far ahead of schedule, and we’re making our final artist selections now. By working well ahead of deadlines, we’ll be able to hew to the norm, not the exceptions.
I’m still doing outside, non-monthly work (I’m working on another OGN for DC that I hope they’ll announce soon), and other miniseries, but for the foreseeable future my monthly work will come out via Joe’s Comics. We’re going to have fun with it. Because honestly, what’s the point of doing anything if it’s not fun?