DC fans may have noticed some new names cropping up on their comics’ title pages, credited for writing. Some of these writers are indeed new to comics, while others are simply new to mainstream DC. At Comic-Con International in San Diego, some of DC’s latest and greatest gathered for the DC: The Write Stuff panel and CBR was there to bring you some unique stories as told by Howard Chaykin (“Challengers of the Unknown”), Andy Diggle (“Swamp Thing”), Paul Jenkins (“Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight”), Dan Jolley (“Firestorm”), Jimmy Palmiotti (“Hawkman”), and Peter Tomasi (DC editor).
Questions in this panel covered everything from how the writers broke in to the industry, to challenges they’ve experienced with editor input. Most vocal was Peter Tomasi whose critically acclaimed prestige format mini-series, “Light Brigade” was fresh on his mind. Peter Tomasi on breaking in to the industry: “I tried to break in to comics for eons.” Before writing, Tomasi was an assistant editor under Dan Raspler (DC editor). After some time, Tomasi wrote a 10 page Showcase storyline revolving around the Martian Manhunter. “I cut my teeth on 10 page stories,” explained Tomasi, “it was being in front of people in a non-writer capacity that got me in.” When asked about his inspiration for the “Light Brigade,” Peter Tomasi had this to say: “It sprung from the idea of World War II guys in a World War I setting, and it went crazy from there.”
Dan Jolley’s break in the industry came from an unlikely source, Tony Harris (“Starman”): “I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but had no idea about comics. The foot in the door was the introduction that Tony [Harris] did for me.” Jolley’s recreation of the Firestorm character has been controversial among fans to say the least, but he is as positive about it as can be, describing writing “Firestorm” as “the most fun I’ve ever had driving some else’s car”. Reminding us that comic book writers are human too, Jolley revealed that he writes for five to six hours a day before he burns out. That is certainly something we can all relate to.
Although very well established in the comic industry, Paul Jenkins is somewhat new to the mainstream DC universe. His entrance into the industry was somewhat less stressful than most: “Just to piss you guys [the other panelists] off, I made one proposal on ‘Hellblazer’ and they said ‘okay, you’re the new writer!’.” The audience was amused to hear that Jenkins’ first work for Marvel was an ill-fated “Star Trek” comic in which the dialogue and captions became scrambled in the printing process. The result? “Quite brilliant,” according to at least one opinion.
Before “The Losers”, most DC readers did not recognize the name Andy Diggle. He was an editor on 2000AD before being assigned to the re-launch of “Swamp Thing”. Diggle: “It was Alan Moore’s run on ‘Swamp Thing’ that got me into American comics.” As nervous as his Vertigo gig made him originally, Andy Diggle seems genuinely excited about his upcoming “Adam Strange” run commenting on the sort of formulaic, continuity-laden stories that have come before. “Science fiction should be looking forward rather than backward.”
Howard Chaykin’s trademark candor entertained the audience on more than one occasion. “I’m a writer-artist, which means I’m a cartoonist. I feel it should all be done by the same guys. The audience tends to forget how much of the comic is written by the artist.” It was interesting to all in attendance to learn that Chaykin feels his mainstream work is “average mass-market stuff, just weird by comparison.” Cementing his maverick status in the DC universe, Chaykin added this commentary on his writing decisions: “I realized I didn’t want to do mainstream comics when I started doing them. I no longer pray for the people I work with to get ass cancer.”
One of the most successful rising stars in recent DC history, Bill Willingham remembers his roots as an artist for small publishers very well. He credits a shift in the comic industry toward the writing side of the coin as his ticket inside. On comic writing: “It has to have clarity, not necessarily poetry.” Because of the unique subject matter in “Fables”, the audience was understandably interested in his motivations, something Willingham was more than happy to talk about. “I was heading there [toward the idea of ‘Fables’] to an extent all along,” referring to his consistent use of folklore and mythology in his stories.
It is a commonly held belief that comic book writers constantly suffer from the shackles of editorial interference, a stereotype that everyone on the panel dismissed immediately. While Paul Jenkins admitted that other media success, such as movies and video games, sometimes cause creative shifts in the characters, Howard Chaykin commented that more often than not, “interference is suggestive, and sometimes suggestions are good.” Peter Tomasi agreed, stating that “some editors are just traffic managers, others like to give writers ideas.”
Between the joking around on stage and the audience member that accidentally turned off all the lights in the room, the panel was both personal and entertaining. Peter Tomasi said it best: “I work at DC Comics and it’s f-ing cool as hell!”