Even before Emmy and Eisner Award-winning writer Paul Dini helped to redefine the Batman mythos with his work on Batman: The Animated Series, he earned a name for himself working on bouncier cartoons such as Beany and Cecil and Tiny Toon Adventures.
His latest project is a 48-page Kickstarter-funded graphic novel titled Boo & Hiss, illustrated by Dave Alvarez, that draws upon the classic days of two-dimensional animation to present a novel concept — what happens when a cartoon cat catches and devours his prey? And the cute little mouse then returns as a ghost to enact vengeance on his feline murderer?
With the Kickstarter hitting its $15,000 goal in its final days, CBR caught up with Paul to talk about Boo & Hiss, his paranormal reinvention of the cat vs. mouse genre with artist Dave Alvarez and his work on the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, which is turning 25 years old this year.
CBR: Fans can check out the first seven pages of Boo & Hiss at the Kickstarter page. How has Kickstarter changed your approach to developing new projects? Does potentially cutting out the middlemen and gatekeepers alter your approach to storytelling?
Paul Dini: Not so much as how I tell a story, but rather how I get that story to an audience who might not otherwise be able to see it. If you have a comic based on a hit animated series or classic characters that have been around a while, you have a greater chance of getting them out in print through a major publisher. It’s a much more limited marketplace for original humor titles. I got a great response when I showed around the first drawings of Boo and Hiss a couple years ago, and it seemed that the best way of getting them to readers was to approach them directly through a crowd funding source. Kickstarter has turned out to be ideal for this.
With your work on Tiny Toons, and later Duck Dodgers, you’ve helped to keep the classic era of animation alive. Boo & Hiss draws on similar influences; do you think an audience can endure for this style of storytelling in the modern media landscape?
I think there will always be an audience that embraces the look of classic hand drawn animation. You can tell a cat and mouse story in CG animation, or anime, but I think there will always be an audience that will respond enthusiastically to that traditional 2D look.
The Dave Alvarez preview pages have elements of Tex Avery and even John Kricfalusi. How did you become familiar with Dave Alvarez’s art, and what makes him the right artist for this project?
I first became aware of Dave’s work on DC’s Looney Tunes book, over 10 years ago. Dave’s posing, acting and storytelling were right out of the classic cartoons, with a special skew it seems, toward Chuck Jones. I thought his work was amazing when I first saw it, and I was so happy he was open to working together on some of my own characters, like Jingle Belle. That led directly to us working on Boo & Hiss.
Can you elaborate on Stephanie Buscema’s contributions to Boo & Hiss? Her variant cover is really amazing.
Stephanie has a wonderful flair for Halloween, ghosts, and all things macabre, though with an often whimsical touch. She perfectly captured the relationship between Boo & Hiss in her cover painting. Likewise she came up with a great design for their young ally Weejean, who is a fledgling medium. David and I kind of knew what we wanted, but we had a hard time coming up with a design we liked. Stephanie nailed it on her first try.
Are you familiar with the recent success of the classic animation-inspired video game Cuphead? Do you think Boo & Hiss could also tap into this interest for the golden age of animation?
Cuphead is great, so fun and inventive. I see a little more of the Fleischer Studios influence there, but they definitely seem to be drawing from the same cartoony sensibility, and same spirit of anything goes humor.
Many fans don’t know that your work in the DC Animated Universe was foreshadowed by the Tiny Toons episodes “Inside Plucky Duck” (with its Dark Knight Returns parody) and “The Just-Us League of Supertoons.” Did you ever think when writing these episodes that the DC heroes would have such an extensive revival in animation?
I didn’t know for sure, but I always hoped. There was so much untapped potential in the DC Universe for animation. I’m glad I was there at the start of it.
Batman: The Animated Series took a more sophisticated approach to television animation, giving writers previously limited by the tight restrictions of “kids’ TV” opportunities to show more of their range as storytellers. What was it like to walk into Batman after years of more traditional animation writing?
It was like “The Saturday AM censors chains are off. Let’s have some fun!”
Since Harley is crossing dimensions and publishing houses to meet the Archie gang, is a Jingle Belle/Harley Quinn crossover within the realm of possibility?
Not this Christmas, I’m afraid. Jing’s still pretty new. Maybe after she’s been around a couple decades we’ll see.
Your Batman: The Animated Series episodes had a tendency of taking characters from somewhat obscurity and finding a new angle to draw personality out of them. Mr. Freeze, Zatanna, Poison Ivy…their portrayals to this day owe much to those episodes from over 20 years ago. Do you feel protective over those versions of the characters? If DC came out with an entirely new reinvention of Zatanna, do you think you would be open to going along with it?
Sure, why not? To a great degree, reinvention is what keeps comic characters relevant and exciting. As far as feeling protective, I don’t own any of them, so it’s not productive for me to stew over what another creator may be doing with them. If they were inspired by something I added to those characters, my hope is they add something better, something that will someday inspire another creator down the road and so on.
Are there any Batman: The Animated Series ideas for episodes that didn’t make it to air? Didn’t you once pitch an episode featuring Black Canary that FOX immediately rejected because they didn’t think there was enough room for Robin in the plot?
Yeah, the Black Canary/Catwoman episode was a casualty. They wanted more Robin in the series, and each time we wanted to drop him from a story, we had to fight for it. Not that we had anything against Robin, we just wanted to stretch now and then and do solo Batman stories or episodes that focused mainly on Gordon or the villains. After the experimentation of the first season, the network felt we might be leaving the boys behind, so we got the edict, add more Robin. Other than that, there was a Poison Ivy seducing Swamp Thing story I toyed around with, but the rights to Swampy weren’t available then. I did a sort of version of it years later as an episode of Justice League Action.
How much thought was given to continuity during the transition of Batman: The Animated Series to the New Batman Adventures? Were the creators interested in, say, explaining the Penguin’s radical makeover, or were these issues you felt best unexplained?
No, I think that was all from the desires of Bruce Timm and the other artists and directors to vary the look of the characters somewhat between iterations. Partially it was to make it look a little more like the new look of the Superman animated series, but also to just experiment and refine a few things. That tradition of visual reinvention has always been a part of Warner Bros Animation. No one ever asks about Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck getting visually redefined over the years, it was just something the directors did over time.
Finally, a nagging question from the Batman: The Animated Series days…is Killer Croc dumb or not? Clearly, Batman plays him as dense when impersonating him, and his voice acting isn’t particularly erudite, but Croc is clever enough to frame Harvey Bullock, and we occasionally see him as sarcastic and quick-witted. Was Batman projecting his own low opinion of Croc into his impression?
Croc’s not dumb, not as dumb as Batman makes him out to be in “Almost Got ‘Im,” anyway. It’s actually the other villains who thought Croc was dumb, which is why Batman played down to their expectations.
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