Welcome to the Hot Seat, CBR’s column written by a wide variety of comics professionals. This week “Catwoman” and “Batman” writer (soon to move to “Detective Comics”) Ed Brubaker shares a few things he’s learned over the years since breaking into the industry.
THINGS I’VE LEARNED
When I was a teenager I went to a seminar at the San Diego Comicon about writing, taught by Mark Evanier. Towards the end, he asked some of us to pitch story ideas to him, and he would critique them (I may be getting some of the details wrong, it’s been a long long time). Then he got to the guy next to me, who said, “I’m not gonna tell you my idea, you might steal it.” To which Mark replied, “Look, if you’ve only got one idea, you’ll never make it as a writer anyway.” Which might be the single-most important thing I ever learned about writing.
Some people claim that your brain can be trained into having new ideas, and some people only get them in the shower, or riding their bikes, or on long drives. But the fact is, if you make a living as a writer, you most likely have a fuckload of ideas, all the time. Someone please explain this to the relatives of all writers who are constantly sending them news-clippings with the ever-present “Thought this could make a good story!” note attached.
I have ideas I’ve been waiting years to write. My favorite mystery writer, Ross Macdonald kept notebooks with ideas for novels for as many as twenty years before using them. He though ideas ripened over time, like a fine wine. But there’s something else about ideas, too. They almost never go to waste. They get stored away in an old notebook or in the back of your mind and then one day you’re trying to think of a plot-twist and you remember that old pitch you did for Rose and Thorn in 1998, and how much you liked part of it, and suddenly, it’s part of the new “Catwoman” plotline you’re working on.
There’s a better example, too. In 1997, I was working on “Scene of the Crime,” with Michael Lark, who was approached by someone in the Bat-Office (the previous regime) to do something for “Legends of the Dark Knight.” Michael called me to see if I wanted to do a one-shot thing, and strangely enough, I told him I didn’t think I could write Batman. I had no ideas. But the minute I hung up the phone a story started to appear in my head anyway. This story starred a character that I’d always been attracted to as a kid, in his few “Detective Comics” appearances in the 70s and 80s – Slam Bradley. My story was called “Slam Bradley’s Last Case” and featured Slam as a retired cop on his deathbed, passing on his last case, the case he could never solve, to Batman. That case of course, was the murders of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Michael and I were both really happy with the idea, and the editor he was dealing with liked it, but they weren’t looking for stuff like that and asked us to propose something for No Man’s Land instead.
So, the story went into a drawer, and years went by. “Scene of the Crime” came out, got some critical praise, a few Eisner nominations, and one of the few people in comics to really champion my writing became the Bat-Editor. Suddenly I’m at Wondercon with Greg Rucka, talking about Batman, and I tell him this great idea I had to do a Batman story from the POV of the officer in charge of the Wayne Murders. Greg says he likes it, and he really wants to write more about cops in Gotham, too. I think the first seeds of Greg and I collaborating on “Gotham Central” were planted in that conversation. And a year later, we’re planning the event now known as “Bruce Wayne Murderer/Fugitive,” and suddenly my story has a place to be told. You can read it in “Batman #603” in May, and trust me, I haven’t spoiled it in this piece.
But you won’t find Slam Bradley in that issue, because I got to him earlier. A few months beforehand, the powers that be had decided that Darwyn Cooke’s art for our Catwoman redesign was so different than what came before it, and that our new look for the costume was so cool, that the book should be relaunched, which pushed it back on the schedule and opened up the possibility of doing a lead-in to the new series in “Detective.” When my editor called me to give me the news, the first words out of my mouth were, “Slam Bradley. The mayor hires Slam Bradley to track down Catwoman.” And now, I get to write about Slam Bradley in the pages of “Catwoman” as often as I can fit him in.
Thinking about it, Archie Goodwin once told me something (also a long time ago at a Comicon) that might rival Evanier’s quote. He said, and I paraphrase, “Originality is a myth. There are only five or six plots in the world, it’s figuring out how to tell one of them in an original way that makes a good writer.”
But I haven’t got an anecdote that fits with that quote.
— Ed Brubaker
Ed Brubaker is the current writer on DC Comics’ “Catwoman” and “Batman” monthly comics. His recent one-shot comic, “The Fall,” with art by Jason Lutes, has been nominated for an Eisner Award and optioned for a major motion picture. Ed Brubaker’s web address is www.edbrubaker.com.
Are you a comics professional interested in contributing to The Hot Seat? Drop Executive Producer Jonah Weiland an e-mail with your idea.
The Hot Seat will return next week with the final part to Beau Smith’s story from a few weeks back.