It was a fun-filled panel full of jokes from the man himself as J. Michael Straczynski answered fan questions covering “Babylon 5,” “Amazing Spider-Man,” and his many other works.
Before the questions could begin, he informed the packed audience about some upcoming movie work, including a script picked up by Brad Pitt called “World War Z” as well as another project called “Changeling,” which will star Angelina Jolie with Ron Howard producing and Clint Eastwood directing. He shared two more tidbits of information, saying he is currently writing a movie script for Silver Surfer and also has script in the works for Tom Hanks.
With that out of the way, JMS turned things over to the fan questions with the first asking about his cat, which the bemused writer only being able to say “he’s fine.”
Asked about advice on pitching stories and concepts, JMS said pitching is one of the most important aspects of the job as most producers just don’t like to read. He recommended pretending like you just saw the movie you’re pitching and you’re telling your good friend all the high points to draw his interest into seeing it. And make sure you don’t go longer than 15 minutes, so as not to bore the executive.
JMS replied to one question about how fan interaction has influenced his work by saying simply, “I had more hair.” He went further by saying he’s happy to show that success is possible because if he can do it, then anyone can.
The developments he’s most proud of going from idea to the page are the little moments, scenes like the “death incarnate speech” from “Babylon 5” and Peter Parker telling his Aunt May that he’s Spider-Man. Adding that he felt it was important for him to tell her as he got his powers from the spider, but his strength from May.
He answered another question about endings by saying he’s rarely truly satisfied with an ending, as he can always see something he wish he did differently. He’s always pleased to be done with a project and happier when it has an effect on the readers, but he did say “Midnight Nation” was practically perfect, thanks to Gary Frank’s art.
The process for writing characters is about figuring out what your main character wants, how far will they go, and who wants to stop them. He added that you shouldn’t think too much about what your character wants to do and be more about “letting” the character write itself.
One fan asked if a writer can still do comics if they don’t have any drawing ability. JMS informed the fan he’s a horrible artist and that many of the writers he knows and work with can’t draw either. A follow-up question asked how JMS collaborates with artists and JMS explained his scripts are very specific, literally telling the artist every detail in any given panel.
He then let slip that there will be another announcement in two months about a new television show he’s working on. He can’t give any details yet, but it won’t be quite as in-depth as “Babylon 5,” as he’s still worn out from that show.
JMS then explained, when coaxed by a fan, that the reason he pulled back on so much of his comic work is because he’s making room for “Thor,” a series he’s really excited about, especially the upcoming issue #3.
JMS gave one struggling writer some advice on handling characters by using a simple exercise: First, pick a character that you can base on someone you know and place them in different situations to gauge how they would react in each one. A useful trick to allow yourself to let the characters write themselves.
A “Supreme Power” fan asked JMS why Blur is the only sane, halfway normal character in the comic. JMS said he “just is” as he wanted an African American character that wasn’t a cliché or stereotype, simply a good man trying to do his best.
A fan excited about the upcoming “Babylon 5: The Lost Tales,” a series of direct-to-dvd movies set in the B5 universe, asked if there would be anymore comics based on the series. JMS said he always up for Baylon 5 comic, which won applause from everyone in attendance.
The panel ended with a fan asking if there were any plans for JMS to revisit the older, outlaw Peter Parker seen in the dark future depicted in “Amazing Spider-Man #500.” He’s talked to Marvel about revisiting that future, and has plans, but he just doesn’t have time to write it right now.