REFLECTIONS: Catching Up with Dan Jurgens

Reflections #198

Oh look, we are back to the original numbering as we count down to my 200th anniversary column. I've sent out the invitations and the RSVPs keep trickling back in from your favorite creators, who are all coming to the bash, more every day. Who are these favorite creators, you ask? Well, we have everyone from Marc Andreyko, Adam Beechen, Tony Bedard, Mike Carey, Keith Champagne, Frank D'Armata, Mike Deodato Jr., Frazer Irving, Greg Land, Jeph Loeb, Joshua Ortega, Hugh Sterbakov, Mark Waid and Dan Jurgens.

Speaking of Dan Jurgens, did I mention I have a phenomenal interview with him for this week's REFLECTIONS?

Dan is right up there with Jeph Loeb and Grant Morrison as one of those creators that first made me fall in love with comics. The guy is as talented a writer as he is an artist, and his runs on "Superman," "Justice League of America," "Zero Hour," "Tomb Raider"…okay, if I keep listing it will take up a page and a half easily, so I'll stop. But there is more, and I do have to give a shoutout to one of my favorite storylines of all time, which would be his lengthy run on "Thor," which was a perfectly-realized look at a torn hero trying to do what is best but the world doesn't agree.

Dan recently signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics and just finished up an arc of art on "Nightwing" with Marv Wolfman. He's currently scripting and drawing an arc of "JLA: Classified" with Dan Slott, prepping a "Metamorpho: Year One" miniseries and working on "Countdown" in some fashion that is revealed below.

So, get reading and get all the info on that and much more.

Dan Jurgens

Robert Taylor: Hey Dan, how's life?

Dan Jurgens: Good. Busy. I can't complain.

RT: So, let's start off talking about "52" since you did the pencils for this week's rather gory issue. How did you get onboard doing the pencils for a few issues?

DJ: Obviously I worked on it when I did the "History of the DCU" stuff that appeared in issues 2-11. Whenever you have a weekly book, you get to the point later, if not earlier, where it's all hands on deck and I ended up being one of the hands.

RT: So, it's safe to say that you read "52" from the beginning and enjoyed it?

DJ: Yeah, very much so.

RT: As you were the man who created Booster Gold, I have to ask if you were in on the whole killing him off/bringing him back secretly storyarc?

DJ: Er…uh…yeah. (laughs)

RT: To which part, the killing him off or bringing him back?

DJ: All of the above.

RT: How happy are you that he is getting more of a spotlight now?

DJ: Very much so. I think that anytime you create something it's nice to see that it has legs and can last awhile. I thought that the way the writers approached the character was very much in keeping with the way he probably is.

RT: It's good to see him back because he had become so attached to Blue Beetle in recent years that when they killed off Ted one had to wonder if Booster would just fall into the abyss, which would have been a shame since he's such a strong character on his own.

DJ: It's really great, isn't it?

RT: So, what is your favorite storyarc in "52" right now?

DJ: I think the Booster thing has been very effective. Any time you build in a mystery, which that was, it tends to be an effective storyline.

The Shazam storyline has been very interesting. Whoever thought that you would make a viable worthwhile Isis? That has worked really well.

It's always fun to take and make a semi-political type storyline where you take a superpowered character and give him a country. What was fun about it was that they didn't make Black Adam either inherently evil or inherently good.

RT: It's rather similar to your major storyarc in "Thor" now that you put it that way. Do you have any more issues of "52" coming up before the big conclusion?

DJ: No, I have moved on to other things.

RT: Tell me about penciling over Keith Giffen's breakdowns.

DJ: It's fine.

I think Keith and I tend to think differently about things. For me, as long as I was allowed to twist things and turn things a little bit so they made more sense to me, that was okay. It's something that I need to do a little bit of.

It's not that Keith has done anything wrong, it's just that some people like ketchup on their hot dogs and some people like mustard. Sometimes, to communicate the exact same message, people just take different routes of doing it. One thing about Keith is, because he is a writer as well, there is a total clarity of thought at work in his art. And I think the same way, but differently.

RT: Tell us a little bit about those scripts. Are they really dense because they have several writers?

DJ: It changes from issue to issue. On this one the script was fairly sparse. To the extent that the script serves as a roadmap for what the art should be, it's to my taste to have it a bit more sparse.

When I draw from something somebody else writes, the more room I have the better. I like to have the freedom on the page to pace the story and control the flow of how it unfolds.

By and large, over the past bunch of years, comics have become driven more by full scripts instead of plot, making them visually less interesting in some cases. Not all cases by any means, since it comes down to how the penciller and writer communicate with one another.

But I think that the preponderance of full scripts that we have gets in the way of more natural storytelling.

Of course, you can also find 100 writers and artists who disagree with me.

RT: I personally don't like 18 panels on a page, but maybe that's just me. Moving on, let's talk about your "JLA: Classified" work. It's old-school, but JLA from the Morrison-era. The most obvious question would be how much is Dan Slott and how much is you?

DJ: In terms of the overall conceptual stuff in the series, that is totally Dan Slott. It started in his bed and he deserves all the credit for it. It was him, and in a perfect world he would have been around to see it all come through.

RT: It's been in the makings for quite some time, hasn't it? I remember interviewing Dan awhile back and he said he had just started working on it, and this was before he signed his Marvel exclusive.

DJ: It was always one of those back-burner projects. It was something you did to fill time when you were doing other things. In that amount of time, Dan went exclusive with Marvel and, as you can imagine, that got in the way of him doing a DC project. Conceptually, it really was Dan's baby to start with.

RT: Have you ever taken someone else's plot and turned it into a script before?

DJ: Once or twice. Way back in the day, as they would say, I did it a couple times for a couple of writers, but it's not something I feel terribly comfortable doing, mostly because you like to see the writer be able to finish it out himself.

RT: How much hair-pulling did you go through trying to stay true to Dan's vision while still putting in your own stuff?

DJ: I think that, as much as anything, where he and I might differ is in our dialoguing style. I don't know this, but his might have had more jokes and quips and snappy dialogue.

RT: What did you add to the script?

DJ: I don't know. [laughs] I say that because this wasn't drawn from a script, it was from Dan loosely plotting the book and then I went from there. The structure was there, but in terms of page-by-page stuff, Dan only scripted the first issue. I didn't want there to be a jarring difference, so I had to put on a Dan Slott baseball hat and go from there. Ideally, the reader doesn't notice the differences between the first issue and the second issue.

RT: Do you feel like it's been an overall success?

DJ: I think so. Whenever you deal with alternate-reality stories, there are dangers. The reader could feel hoodwinked by the end or, when everything comes together and is back to normal at the end, it has to make sense in the story. When you are telling the story about what is happening on three different earths simultaneously, it can get a little bit confusing. Did it make sense to me? Yeah. Did it work for me? Yeah. But readers can reserve the right to make their own judgments.

RT: How has reader reaction been?

DJ: They seem to enjoy it. I haven't gotten any emails from readers saying, "Send me my money back, Jurgens, that sucks!" I think it's working out okay.

RT: Do you often get emails with people wanting their money back?

DJ: If you work in this business for any amount of time and your email address gets out there, you get a lot of different kinds of comments. I have gotten that "Gee, why did I buy that," thing.

RT: Well, I've gotten emails from certain creators who will go unnamed who didn't like my reviews back when I was doing them, so I know the feeling.

DJ: There ya go.

RT: Do you like the fact that "JLA: Classified" is an ongoing book with different creators on each arc or would you prefer it to be in miniseries format?

DJ: I hadn't thought about it a lot. In a perfect world I would have liked to see it as a standalone miniseries, but that is because, in my head, you like to see something with a definite beginning, middle and end on the stands. It would be a little more satisfying on a personal level. But do I spend a lot of time thinking about it? Not really.

RT: The reason I was asking is because I didn't even realize the story was coming out until I was just looking on the stands. It hadn't been really hyped or anything, it was just there one day, and fans really didn't get the opportunity to realize it was coming. I don't think it got as much press as it would have if it was a miniseries.

DJ: That is probably fair to say.

RT: Tell me about the series of inkers. Was that a time thing or purposeful?

DJ: Al Milgrom did some, Jerry Ordway did some and Trevor Scott did some. It was all an attempt to make the realities look different from one another.

RT: If you had to choose three inkers, you could do much worse.

DJ: I thought that it communicated visually exactly what we set out to do. We wanted to make the realties different without it being overly jarring.

RT: Why don't you tease out the conclusion of the arc?

DJ: If you have been reading the individual chapters, the story sets up a simple problem, which is how the hell they can get out of that thing! The heroes have to solve it, obviously. But there has also been the introduction of the Red King, who might be fun to play with down the road.

RT: How'd you get onboard with the "Metamorpho" miniseries?

DJ: Several months ago, Dan DiDio and I started talking about it, and a month later I was drawing a "Metamorpho" miniseries. It just starts with a general conversation and then Dan asked me, and I said I'd do it.

RT: Speaking as someone who has read most of your DC work, I never really thought that you had any special love for Metamorpho.

DJ: I think he's a real intriguing character. But I have a hard time determining how he fits into the DC Universe, and that is what we are trying to fix with the series. If you look at the Metamorpho during the '50s, even during there was a Justice League connection, it felt to me that he wasn't part of the DC Universe as a whole, and I think most people would agree with me about that.

And then, if you look at his next big part of the DC Universe you would look at the Outsiders. Obviously, it got him more engrained in the universe, but it didn't feel like the same Metamorpho from the '60s.

Metamorpho has a lot of the same problems Captain Marvel does in the DC Universe. It hasn't been a straight line ascension for the character and acceptance: there have been a lot of different versions, which means that he can't quite fit in the DCU in the right way. It's like having an old-style colonial home and putting in a leather vibrating chair. That might be a fine chair but it doesn't work in the room.

Wow, that was a really horrible example. [laughs]

So I think that is what we want to do in the miniseries.

RT: Tell me about what about the characters appeals to you as a writer.

DJ: Part of that is he does not set out to be a superhero. Rex Mason is a reluctant victim. He was digging in a pyramid, and all of a sudden he comes out with the whole appearance and powers. He didn't have a grandiose vision to become a hero. What you end up with is a normal guy put into these very strange circumstances. These types of stories can work very very well in fiction.

RT: You are drawing it as well, correct?

DJ: Yes.

RT: Now, what about the character appeals to you as an artist?

DJ: I think the character design, rather it is Java or Mason/Metamorpho, are all very individualistic. I'm trying to carry that into the series as well. They all had very demonstrative personalities on the page, and I want to give the book that overall feel.

RT: Tell us about your arc on "Nightwing."

DJ: Marv Wolfman and I had worked together on a special tie-in for "Infinite Crisis," and that is, though Marv and I knew each other for a long time, the first time Marv and I worked together.

So when they called me up for this and told me that I would be working with Marv again, I said "Sure!" Dick Grayson is Marv's character. I think that so much of Marv has been stamped on Dick Grayson that we can almost see him as Marv. So I thought it was great to see him come back on the book, and I had a lot of fun doing it.

Though, I must say, when you have an entire issue taking place inside a coffin, it gets real challenging to make it look interesting.

RT: So, what else do you have coming up? Are you just writing and drawing your stuff mostly now, or are you going to be writing for other artists soon?

DJ: Right now I am writing and drawing all my own stuff. We've got "Metamorpho" happening, and I am also doing a ten-issue run in "Countdown," much like I did in "52" with the "History of the DC Universe," but it is probably too early to talk about right now. But once that starts, I'll have that story that runs in the back of each issue for four pages each.

And then something else coming out in the end of 2007 that I can't even begin to talk about, so I'm going to be very secretive.

RT: So what artists would you like to work with as a writer in the DC stable and what writers would you like to work with as an artist?

DJ: It would be fun to work with Andy Kubert again. Adam and I never worked together, so that would be fun. I would like to do something with Geoff Johns at some point, just because a lot of the stuff he does is like a lot of the stuff I like to do. He's effectively elaborated on a lot of the stuff I had set up previously, so it would be fun to come full circle with that.

One of the great things about being a writer/artist is that you can work with people on both sides of the hallway. There are writers I want to work with, and I can do that, and there are artists I want to work with, and I can do that as well. Those opportunities would not normally come up, and now they do.

RT: You've worked for DC for a long time during your professional career. What's it like working at DC these days?

DJ: I'm having a lot of fun. It's great to be back and working on characters you have that fondness for. It makes the projects better.

RT: Now we've done the normal "Actor's Studio" questions the last time we did an interview together, so I'm going to just ask some random other questions that I've been interested in asking along with some of the standards that may have changed, okay?

DJ: Okay.

RT: What books on the stands are you in love with right now?

DJ: From DC, I like a lot of the Vertigo stuff right now. I think "Y" is something I've always had a fondness for because I can see it as a movie. "Jonah Hex" is tremendously solid. I've loved Adam's shot at "Action Comics" and Andy's shot at "Batman." I though that Mark and George's first issue of "Brave and the Bold" was real nice. I think "Green Lantern" is good month-in and month-out.

At Marvel, "Civil War" has been an interesting read.

RT: That's a nice way to put it.

DJ: I certainly enjoy "Fantastic Four" because Mike McKone's artwork is really pretty. There is a lot of really good stuff out there.

RT: What do you think is the next big trend in the comic industry? Weekly comics or something completely different?

DJ: I suspect that it won't be for awhile yet. Weekly comics are nothing new. When we were firing on all cylinders on "Superman" it was a weekly comic book. Even though our main story wasn't always linked across the four books, there was always something that connected from week to week to week, which is why we had the little triangle numbers.

It's a tremendously viable way to tell a story. We have created an audience that tends to walk into comic book stores every week anyway. You can deal with some events and concepts that just don't work if a book is coming out once a month.

RT: What character is most in need of a makeover at DC or Marvel?

DJ: I don't know because so many characters, especially at DC, are in the process of their own makeovers. You are seeing a lot of that happening, and it might not be overt. Andy Kubert and Grant Morrison's "Batman" is a good example of a makeover without there actually being one.

With Marvel, I just don't know when Tony Stark became a fascist. That's a new one to me.

I feel like one of the most boring devices in comics is when the business guy becomes the bad guy, which is what they resorted to there. One of my problems with the "Fantastic Four" movie is that Victor Von Doom was a businessman, like we haven't seen that before. There is this tremendous need for writers to cut to the incredible shortcut of a business guy being evil or unreasoning or the radical conservative Republican nutso right-wing fascist.

If you don't have anything else in your bag of tricks, I guess that's what you've got to do, though.

RT: If you had to kill off one character, who would you kill?

DJ: Right now it would have to be Iron Man.

A lot of it is because there is an Iron Man out there that I really like and I'm really not seeing that right now.

RT: Since you are the guy who hitched Superman and Lois Lane, what do you think about characters being hitched today? People like Peter Parker and Green Arrow and Black Canary?

DJ: Generally I'm against it.

Even with Superman, when we first did the engagement, we thought the engagement could last a good long time. We could have gotten 15 months out of it. That is what we expected, but that was not what took place.

Once you have characters who are married, you put them in a box that they can't get out of. And we've seen that with both Superman and Spider-Man. How do we get them out of the box, because you remove fictional possibilities by having them in the box.

When it's Superman and Clark Kent, he's going to be held to a different standard than other characters. You can take Reed and Sue Richards, and Sue has walked out on Reed how many times now?

RT: Probably like 75 or something.

DJ: That same thing doesn't play as well with Clark. I'm not sure I've ever felt terribly comfortable when it happens to the FF either. If these guys are supposed to carry that level or moral altitude that we expect them to have, then it doesn't wash. You have to be very careful what happens there.

RT: Dan, good talking with you. We'll have to do this again later on in the year.

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