This Thursday, September 20, marks the release of writer Jeff Parker and artist Gabriel Hardman‘s standalone story for the digital-first Legends of the Dark Knight out-of-continuity Batman series. I actually found out a few months ago that Parker and Hardman were taking a dip in the DC Comics pool with this story “Gotham Spirit.” As an unabashed supporter of the storytellers, I begged for a chance to interview the two of them. Parker and Hardman agreed, but only with the stipulation it would be a different kind of interview, one in which the subjects guided the discussion. As with many of Parker’s ideas, I found this to be a great concept and I expect you will agree. Thanks to the creators for the interview — and to DC for allowing Robot 6 to show a few preview panels.
Jeff Parker: After Ben Abernathy asked me maybe the craziest question I’ve ever been asked,” Would you have an interest in writing Batman?” I finished laughing like a maniac and answered him with a webcam shot so he could see the picture that Adam West signed to me as a kid.
And then I said I’d like to write a very fundamental type of story that showed Batman doing his job. Because I wanted to use the opportunity to show Batman not as a hyperbolic figure, but a real guy.
We could have picked one of any number of his top-of-the-line rogues gallery, but I didn’t want the villain to be what’s special, I want to show how Batman is special. And that it doesn’t matter what the crime is, Batman is going to pursue it all-out. The same as if the Joker were poisoning the water supply (because the Joker goes to sleep at night dreaming about the Gotham reservoir). As it is, the crime in question is simply guys knocking over a liquor store.
Tim O’Shea: You met Adam West when you were kid? I gotta know that story.
Parker: It was a car show in Greensboro, North Carolina — yep, I was straight out of a Chris Ware comic. Naturally the Batmobile was there, and Adam West. I was in line for a while and forgot someone had asked my name and wrote it on the back of the photo, so when I got up there and Batman said “Hi, Jeff!” I practically lost my mind. Of course he knows my name — he’s Batman! Shaking his gloved hand is one of those things burned into my brain, I can still go right to that moment at any time.
Also, had Abernathy asked you about writing Flash, did you have a framed autographed glossy from John Wesley Shipp on standby to hang on your wall?
Parker: I wish I were so prepared.
Batman strives to make himself as iconic as possible in order to build his rep. But, yes, no amount of myth building gets away from the fact he is a real guy at the end of the day. What does taking that approach allow you to do in this story?
Parker: I feel like the “Batman has everything figured out and somehow plans for any eventuality” has been pushed a bit much in the past decade. I want to see him have to think on his feet and get across that at the point we might give up and call it a day, Batman tries that much harder.
This is all about breaking down a simple crime and chase, but the way it particularly happens with this hero. I also wanted to do a story where Batman never talks, which I think he would rarely do. It would project his legend as this force of nature to be silent the whole time. The criminals are scared of Batman, but they still take shots at him — it’s when you’re scared that you lash out, not when you’re calm and cool. What I set out to do was give you everything you really need to know about Batman purely by showing him in action. It’s about the ways he acts and responds and the way everyone reacts to him. The dialogue is so minimal and Gabriel Hardman’s storytelling is SO clear you don’t even have to translate this for someone from a different culture to get it. I wanted to really embrace the possibility with digital that a short story could be spread far and wide.
With Waid and Immonen’s recent Nova digital collaboration, I was struck at how they staggered placement of narrative boxes to control the pacing of the the story in the digital platform. While the dialogue is sparse, did you try to do that with some if your scenes?
Parker: The pacing of this story is all very quick, so I didn’t pull out any of the tricks I might have- other than to get out of Hardman’s way and let him make any changes he likes. I did mostly quick cuts that leap ahead in time evenly, and when there’s a big moment, Hardman gives it a lot of room and a lot of detail to hold you on it longer.
Gabriel Hardman: I made a conscious decision to put more detail into these pages because I felt like it would help the digital presentation. Because of the way it’s formatted, when you read this on an iPad you’re seeing the art slightly larger than you would on a printed page. I felt like I had to compensate for that while still not making the page too busy when they eventually print it. It’s a challenge that I’m really enjoying.
How much is it a different mindset for writing for digital?
Parker: You know, you don’t have to worry about reveals falling on an even page — every page is a reveal the way you advance the story. So that’s a plus. Other than that I’m currently not treating it too different from the way I’d work for print. I don’t want to cut out our most important collaborator- the reader. The key to comics working is that they give you a lot of visual information but still leave room for the reader to fill in the world with imagination. That’s why the stories often feel so personal to the readership.
Would you say that Hardman’s movie storyboard experience informed/influenced this collaboration?
Parker: Always. Few, very few people can create a believable scenario that pulls you in the way Hardman can. He routinely has to define scenes that will work with physical props and cg and play out in real time and have veracity. He’s always observing how real world environments can be used to film in. So with a real street level story like this, it’s no problem for him to be utterly convincing. And it’s the kind of thing many artists can’t pull off because they want it to be something else, but he can make it so dynamic you look at the world around you differently afterwards.
Hardman: The main thing this has in common with my movie work is the kind of direct action storytelling we’re working with. Because Batman is a ground level character, this story gives me the opportunity to design the kind of nuts and bolts action choreography that I’m know for in my movie work. The other stories Jeff and I have worked on like Hulk and even Atlas are on a much bigger scale.
One question for you both — back when I interviewed Mr. Hardman in March 2011, he said: ” Jeff and I don’t have identical tastes but the Venn diagram of where our sensibilities overlap lines up pretty well.”
Help me out, can the two of you toss some of the areas that you overlap in terms of taste?
Parker: I know we like Super Sabre jets, beatniks, tiki stuff and women with head scarves, we established that when he started drawing Agents of Atlas. But the first thing we worked on together was a Frankenstein story disguised as a Hulk story. So I think we have Universal horror overlapping. I would never, for example, say “Hey, Gabriel this could be like a Michael Bay production!” and he would never talk to me if for some reason I did. I’m so glad he likes to draw animals of all kinds.
Hardman: I think we both enjoy big, fun, crazy stories that are still deeply character driven. The stories I write aren’t the same kind of stories Jeff writes but that’s a good thing. That’s what collaboration is all about. Unless you’re Vichy France. That’s the bad kind of collaboration.
Also, with this story our respective tastes are overlapping in different ways than before. Since this is a ground level crime story, it’s something neither of us get to do as often. I think we’re both getting the chance to flex different muscles. A tight, self-contained action story is a rarity in superhero comics these days.