Henry Alonso Myers has been writing for TV shows (“CSI,” “Charmed,” and others) for around six years. This fall he’s doing something different, “Ninja Tales,” for Boom! Studios.
I sat down with Henry to talk about “Ninja Tales,” TV writers writing for comics, television, the comics that influenced him growing up, Boom! Studios’ publisher Ross Richie’s lack of notes and much more.
Hi Henry. I understand you write for one of the “CSI” series, right?
I’m actually not on “CSI” anymore. I was on “CSI,” the Vegas one, last year. I worked on it for a year, before that I worked on “Charmed” for three years and before that, I was on a show called “The Chronicle,” which was on the Sci-Fi Channel. It was a “Men in Black” type show about a tabloid reporter. Now I’m on a new show called “Day Break” for ABC, starring Taye Diggs. It was created by Paul Zbyszewski. The premise is a guy who keeps living the same day over and over again, sort of like “Groundhog Day” meets “24.”
Years and years and years ago, one of my first jobs when I got out to Hollywood was a script reader at the William Morris Agency, where I met Ross Richie and Andy Cosby, who were fellow script readers. It was sort of my training in the business, where I learned about script-writing. Those guys had found the comic “Mage” and had actually gotten the rights to it to film it in the future, they were producing it. Now, I’ve been a comic geek for many, many years and I remembered “Mage” and we used to talk comics. At one point – one of my favorite, favorite comics in the world is Scott McCloud’s “Zot,” which is a weird book he did for Eclipse back in the day – Ross and I tried talking Scott McCloud into lending us the rights to “Zot” to try to write a movie. It didn’t work out, sadly, but it was cool to meet Scott.
Anyway, Ross came to me and said, “Hey, will you do a short piece for me?” I ended up doing “Ninja Tales.” It’s very freeing. Not that television is bad, television is relatively easy on the writer, just the writer is the producer in television. We get to oversee the final product, unlike feature writers. But comics… He’s like, “Do something with ninjas in it.” So, I wrote something and sent it to him and he said, “Great. Hey, take out the word asshole on page eleven and that’s it. That’s my note.” I was like, “Okay, great. I love this. This is a great job.”
Did you find you had to do some research to get inside the mind of a Ninja for “Ninja Tales?”
I actually did a little ninja research. But, if you saw the story I did, you’d see it didn’t have a lot to do with ninjas really. It’s called “Ninja School Dropout” and it’s about a surly teenage kid who’s going to his ninja school and he doesn’t really want to be a ninja, he wants to be an artist. Somewhere along the way, there’s a rivalry between Ninja School for Boys and Samurai High. It’s a skewed reality, ninjas just happened to be the genre. The fun thing was finding little ninja details to throw in there. All the weaponry. There’s a fight scene and, inexplicably, in every single panel where he’s attacking these ninjas who jump him – in one panel he’s got hand claws, in another he’s got sais, in another he’s got shirkin stars. You can use a cartoon logic, you don’t really need to explain why. My feeling is that if the human elements are there and people are there for the heart of the story, you can play with little things like that and no one will ever ask.
I think the cool thing about these Boom! Anthologies is how varied the stories get to be. I’m sure some of them are going to be these hardcore ninja stories where there’s meticulous research – Japan in 512 AD and this is the story of the great ninja who has to fight his way to the top of the fortess and he must kill the samurai master and blah blah blah – that’s sort of not my thing. But I think it’s cool and it’s great that these anthologies can have a story like that and a story like “Ninja School Dropout,” which, pretty much, what it’s about is right there in the title.
Art wise, what have you seen thus far?
I’ve seen the layouts. I couldn’t be happier. They asked if I had any thoughts and, working in TV you get used to getting and giving a lot of notes, and they were really receptive and great about that. I’ve already met with Ross and talked about doing some more books… but I’m hesitant to say more, since I haven’t found the time to write them. It was such a wonderful experience; I woke up the next morning thinking “I’ve got to do that again.” The great thing about it is that people read comics because they want to, because they’re fans, because what they see excites them. It’s very fun to be a part of that, even in a small way.
What about you? Did you read comics growing up?
In sixth grade, I’d starve myself at lunch so I could spend my lunch money on comics at Comics for Collectors in Ithaca, New York, where I grew up. First book I probably ever read seriously was “Elfquest,” which is one of these books that has sort of a girly reputation, but it’s awesome. Extremely well-written. The first twenty were great, then I lost track of it, when I got into the “X-Men.” This was right around the Chris Claremont “Dark Phoenix” era, which was a good comic to get into. I think the John Byrne “Wolverine” mini, “Alpha Flight” and “New Mutants” had just come out. Anyway, pretty soon after that “Dark Knight” came out, “Watchmen” and everyone was talking about how amazing comic books were. It was a great time to be into it.
What about product currently on the stands? What are you enjoying these days?
I read pretty much anything Brian K. Vaughan does. When I was younger I used to read Frank Miller’s “Daredevil” and I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was younger, I kind of picked comic books based on the artist. I loved Bill Sienkiewicz, I loved the guy who did “Teen Titans” at the time – George Perez. I was picking books based on artists. As I got older, I went back to it and started buying books based on writers. Like most comic guys, I’ll read anything Alan Moore does. Anything Brian K. Vaughan does. I really like Brian Michael Bendis. I love the “Powers” books. I don’t love all of them, but I really think they’re interesting and the books are kind of my comic material. A little dark, a little humor, a little nudge-nudge-wink-wink, a little dealing with superheroes, but not in a soap operay way… a little bit of soap opera, but a little bit of cop too. I love the cartoony art style, I’m a big fan of that. “Fables” is one of my favorites. It’s one of these books where, the premise, I was like, “oh, okay, that’s all right,” then I read and I’m like, “that’s really clever,” and then every book afterwards just gets better and better. That’s the kind of thing I wish I had written.
You’re one of a growing segment of television writers coming into comics. Talk about that a bit.
My friend Javier Grillo-Marxauch does “Middleman” and did “Super-Skrull” at Marvel. He’s one of the first guys I know who did a lot of that stuff and a lot of that just has to do with him being a huge comics fan who was doing TV for a living. As fun a job as television writing can be, sometimes you want something where you have a little more creative control. I don’t know any TV people who are doing it for the money – some of the guys working for DC and Marvel probably. If you’re lucky enough to be working in television, it’s a relatively well-paying job. Sometimes it’s just not emotionally satisfying and that’s the wonderful thing about comics. You get to tell stories with pictures and do it in a context where people let you do what you want, because they’re excited to have someone who comes in with crazy ideas. That’s the fun of it.
Writing for comics and writing screenplays are not that far removed. Instead of ‘Hold on him as we realize this,’ you do a three panel sequence to show it. The vocabulary is not that different. In some ways it forces you to think as simply and sharply as possible. The new age of comics that’s happening now, my sense of it is that it’s very writer-driven. The stories are great. I think when you marry that with interesting artwork, it becomes a better product. I think of “Ex Machina” as one of the best all-around books that I’ve read. The art is terrific, the wonderful job of capturing the human gestures that feel real – they’re not like “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way,” though I do have a deep love of Kirby and all his stuff. But that art married with Brian K. Vaughan’s superhero meets realism element, you get a unique, interesting product. He has this way of finding this depth – I don’t know if I have felt more watching a movie or anything last year than when I read the last panel of the first “Ex Machina” issue, when they show he saved one of the Towers. I’m an ex-New Yorker and when I saw that, it just hit me in the chest. It was one of those things where you realize how powerful a medium it can be and how big it can hit you. And it’s just pages in a book. That’s an impressive achievement, a different achievement from, like, “Watchmen,” which is a giant story, a novel, something with overall power. But something like that, damn. Good writing.