While it’s seems like Marvel Comics has been the company that’s been bringing in famous talent to contribute to their comic book line up, DC Comics has begun to show that their collection of characters can be just as enticing to Hollywood’s stars. June 2003 will see the release of “JLA: Workweek,” written by Patton Oswalt, who portrays Spence on the CBS hit comedy “King of Queens,” and illustrated by increasingly hot talent Patrick Gleason. As reported by CBR News last October in an interview with Gleason, this special will take a look at the JLA when they’re not saving the world and Oswalt spoke to CBR about his experiences writing this comic.
“A ‘zine writer for Portland spends a week onboard the JLA Watchtower, watching some pretty un-heroic downtime,” explains Oswalt of the story’s driving concept. “It’s done in a fragmented, non-linear style, so there aren’t any ‘conflicts’ or themes I want to give away at this point.”
A long time comic book fan, Oswalt found his inspiration for this story coming from his love for the Justice League of America and from some of his other passions. “I cribbed it from a bunch of sources,” he admits. “The main character is a sunnier version of a real-life writer named Jim Goad, who lives in Portland and who published ‘Answer Me!’ magazine, along with a brilliant book called ‘The Redneck Manifesto.’ I was also inspired by those ‘plotless’ episodes of ‘M*A*S*H,’ Mike Leigh films, James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners,’ the Supergrass album ‘I Should Coco’ and especially Grant Morrison’s run on ‘JLA.’ There’s also an amazing single issue of ‘Hellblazer’ — #51, I think, written by a guy named John Smith — where Constantine is just sitting in a laundromat, and all matter of subtle and not-so-subtle horror is going on around him. Off-scene downtime is very cool to me.”
Being a professional stand up comedian and writer for film and television, Oswalt brings a different perspective to the comic industry and is able to finally explain to people how Brian Bendis and Geoff Johns can write so many comics. The answer is obvious, he says: they’re on drugs. “Writing this was the hardest thing I’ve done yet. I don’t know how Brian Michael Bendis and Geoff Johns do it. I want to meet their meth dealers — and you know they’ve got meth dealers,” laughs Oswalt. “Screenplays and television scripts, you can just describe action, and a good director can figure out how best to shoot it. So it’s a really breezy sit, writing for movies and television.
“But in comic scripts, you’re the writer and director — at least in the way I write them. You’ve got to figure out the action, and then how to best illustrate it. Pick the panels. Also, I was constantly slashing my dialogue to make way for more action, which sucked because I have a massive ego and everything I write is so fucking brilliant and who am I to stand in the way of such genius?”
Oswalt’s comic timing is undoubtedly a big part of what got him the job writing “Workweek” and the unabashed love for superheroes, whom he includes in his stand up comic routines, is evident when he’s asked why he’s such a big fan of comics. “I like comics because I’m a nerd and girls don’t like me,” admits Oswalt and with a grin, adds, “Gollum gets laid more. The JLA’s cool because it’s all the heavy-hitters in one room. It’s like the Alamo or Ragnarok every week. I like Martian Manhunter, because he’s twice the outsider that Batman is, yet he’s trying to be upbeat and inclusive. That struggle should be examined more. And someone needs to de-gay his costume.”
Some may wonder if when Marlus Randone, the lead character of “Workweek,” sees the JLA in their “relaxed” states, if each member will be purposely embarrassed for different laughs, but Oswalt says that isn’t the case. “Actually, I didn’t embarrass any of them. I tried to humanize them, if anything. Or at least, take some of their qualities which seem like qualities under the heat of battle — Batman’s obsessive, driven resentment and envy, Superman’s gee-golly-gosh nature, Wonder Woman’s eternal warrior drive — and showed how they become awkward, and in some cases liabilities — when you’re just interacting with people one on one. Imagine being in a group that includes Batman and Plastic Man. Like being in a band with Sinead O’Connor and Keith Moon. Think of the tour bus. Yeesh.”
While the sheer joy of writing his childhood heroes was a high for Oswalt, the writer admits that a special gift from writer Geoff Johns helped make the experience special. “I loved the crystal meth that Geoff Johns sent me when I started writing it. And I think readers will be surprised to find out I wrote it in a single 92-hour no-sleep jag at a 24-hour Winchell’s Donuts on Cahuenga.”
No mention of “JLA: Workweek” would be complete without discussing the art by Patrick Gleason and while Oswalt admits to not be sure how Gleason came to be involved with the project, he’s sure glad he lucked out with the young Mid-Westerner. “Pete Tomasi told me Patrick was doing the art after I’d started. And what makes him perfect is that his art fucking kicks ass. Have you seen it? Did you see that ‘JSA’ single ish he did? Holy shit. I really lucked out. I have a feeling his art’s going to make my writing seem better than it is. Which is fine.”
For those fans looking forward to more sequential art exploits from “Spence,” don’t hold your breath- he’s got a country to conquer first. “Nothing soon, because this was so much work,” concedes Oswalt. “I’m going go back to writing ‘BoogerFart’ movies for thirteen year-olds, buy the country of Australia with my fees, and then consider comics. I have three very specific dream projects, but my agent says to cool it on the comics for awhile.”
Patton Oswalt, however, doesn’t see any reason why you should “cool it” and not rush to your local retailer to pre-order “JLA: Workweek”:
“Don’t you want to read a comic by the screenwriter of the upcoming film ‘Boogerfart?'”