REFLECTIONS: Paul Dini, Part I

Jingle Belle: Santa Claus Vs. Frankenstein

"Jingle Belle: Santa Claus Vs. Frankenstein" on sale this week

Thanksgiving is over, though its leftovers remain. Black Friday, with its traffic jams and "you take that and I'll cut you" mentality, is past, though the bruises and scratches remain. And now you are either finished trimming the house or still putting it off until the last moment possible. After all that, don't you deserve an early present?

While your loved ones may sneer and change the combination to the safe's lock to keep the presents hidden, Paul Dini has something festive right up your alley.

This week, Dini's Christmas-themed creation Jingle Belle returns in a new Top Cow one-shot that could only be called "Jingle Belle: Santa Claus Vs. Frankenstein." Sounds like the perfect present, no?

For those of you not in the know, Jingle Belle is the daughter of 'ole Saint Nick, lives up at the North Pole, and is always up to some shenanigan or other. And for those of you who didn't just watch the movie in high school when you were supposed to be reading the book, you'll remember that "Frankenstein" ended with the Monster disappearing into the snow of... the North Pole! Cue crossover, and giggles abound.

But that's not all. In this first of a two-part interview, Dini also has plenty to say about moving all of his DiniCartoons creations from Dark Horse to Top Cow and what's coming up in the second volume of "Madame Mirage." You may consider this a tie-in to WEEK OF TOP COW at CBR.

CBR: Let's start with why you decided to move DiniCartoons from Dark Horse to Top Cow.

Paul Dini: The only thing I was doing at Dark Horse was "Jingle Belle," and when I started talking to Top Cow when we were doing "Madame Mirage," the more we were talking about doing new projects, the more it became known as the DiniCartoons ideas and characters. Stuck for another title, that name just got assimilated into that. They are characters I'm creating, after all.

We thought that "Mirage" would fall under that banner as well as a couple of other ideas I'd been kicking around with them. Plus, the holidays were coming up and we decided to take it to the next level and do a Jingle Belle comic.

Tell us a little about working with Top Cow.

They are really supportive and very creative guys. They all bring good creative ideas to the table and are very easy to work with. I come in, bring some ideas and we knock them around. Their input has been very good.

Let's talk Jingle Belle, specifically how many more stories about the character you plan to write.

Every year I say it is the last one, and then something will happen either during the holiday season or just after and I'll think, "That would make a good Jingle Belle story!"

Tell us about "Jingle Belle: Santa Claus vs. Frankenstein."

This is one of two [ideas] that I've had in my head for a while, and I decided to fuse the stories together. One story was about a political group taking a stand against Santa Claus, which is really what you are seeing more and more every holiday season. They don't want Christmas decorations or Santa Claus, and since he's not all things to all people, then he should be nothing to nobody. That's a weird, not-very-jolly attitude.

I actually find that a lot of times that attitude is only brought out there by people trying to get their names in the papers. It's a way of using it for political gains, and that is ultimately what happens in the book. It's revealed that the whole anti-Santa crusade is by somebody who believes that to advance herself in politics, she should cast a well-known basically positive target in an unflattering light.

What does this woman find in Santa that is so objectionable?

Basically that he exists. The character says: "Because Santa is a modern incarnation of a religious icon, he shouldn't be depicted in public places at all. Plus, who is he to decide who is naughty and nice? That decision should be left to committees and trusted focus groups, not one milk-and-cookies-stuffed monster. Think of all the children without presents! No child must be left ungifted!"

Santa only comes to our world once a year. He's home watching this smear campaign on TV and thinking, "All I wanted to do was spread some cheer. Is that so wrong?" And yet, he can't fight free speech, so he can't go down and defend himself.

I always wanted to do something with that attitude and put Jingle Belle in the middle. She has her own problems with Santa Claus but she doesn't want to see the guy become forgotten and fall to someone's political ambitions.

What's the other half of the story about?

It's based on a line or two in Mary Shelley's original novel of "Frankenstein." The story begins and ends up at the North Pole, with a ship stuck in ice. Dr. Frankenstein is relating the story to the captain of the ship, who has found him, and we find out that the Monster has been chasing him around the world since the Doctor brought him to life. When the Monster finally finds Frankenstein aboard the ship, he's very sad because the Doctor has just passed away. The Monster hated Frankenstein, but also had this need to be with his creator. The last we see of the Monster is when he is going off into the arctic waste to commit suicide.

I read it and thought that since both the Monster and Santa are at the North Pole, maybe they should meet. In the back of my head, I thought it might be a good impetus for a Jingle Belle story, too, and in the end I mashed them together. At the same time, when Jingle finds the Monster in a cave, there's the whole political thing going on, and I make the two stories intersect. I use the Monster as a thing that brings the problem to a head and also help resolve things.

Let's talk about the artist of "Jingle Belle: Santa Claus Vs. Frankenstein," Stephanie Gladden.

Stephanie is someone I met years ago when she was working for Bongo Comics. She was very deft at drawing The Simpsons and bringing a lot of humor to an already-funny world. She's got a great style where she can do classic cartoons and bring a girl's sensibility to it. When I would see her version of the Looney Tunes, I would think that she would bring out the best parts of those Chuck Jones cartoons, and at the same time she could also draw the Hanna Barbara characters flawlessly. When she would draw her own creations, like "Hopsetr's Tracks," or "Girls of Monster Paradise," it would be in a very appealing, cartoony style. There are many comic styles in vogue now, like the anime style and the classic superhero style, but when I think of Jingle Belle, my heart always goes toward the timeless look of the MGM or Warner Bros. cartoons.

Stephanie draws Jingle very girly and sprite-like, with big eyes and a lot of animation in everything she does. Stephanie also has a real passion for the classic monster characters, and when I said I was doing something like "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" but putting Frankenstein in there, she loved it. Automatically, we were speaking the same language. I was saying that it shouldn't be exactly the Universal [version of] Frankenstein, but with longer Bernie Wrightston Frankenstein hair and a bit of Jack Davis Frankenstein and some Mad Monster Party. She said she could do it and when she showed me, I knew it was perfect. She made him funny, monstrous but still with a soulful quality.

This is, after all, the creature from the book and not the movies, and in the book the creature was well educated and smart.

You're referring to when the Monster spent all that time watching a family in the woods and reading their books?

He hid in a shed and watched them through a hole in the wall, if I remember that part of the story correctly. He also read things like "Paradise Lost" and "The Sorrows of Young Werther," virtually the bible for unrequited lovers.

The Monster is kind of like an emo kid. There's one panel in the comic where Frankie is hanging out with Jingle and her friends in an igloo and they are watching one of the old Boris Karloff movies, and the Monster is incensed. He's complaining: "Fire Bad!? Is that even dialogue? I can speak better than that!"

The movie version rears its ugly head at one point because it's not a Frankenstein story unless the Monster goes a little berserk. That's the thing about Frankenstein. He's nice until something peeves him, then he goes off.

Are you already planning a Jingle Belle story for next Christmas?

It's too far ahead to think about right now. I think what we would like to do is an anthology book that would bring in my more cartoony characters. Jingle would show up in there in some capacity, along with short stories about Ida Red and Polly the Halloween witch. My wife Misty Lee and I are doing a series of animated shorts for Goanimate.com with our monkey characters Super Rica and Rashy. They will also probably find their way into the comics at some point.

Are there any plans for any more DiniCartoon books coming from Top Cow?

I think we are looking at more ongoing series, and are looking at "Madame Mirage" because she has quite the following. The book sold well, the trade sold well and people are asking what is next for Harper and Mirage. They want to see the continuation, so it's time to strike when the iron is hot.

After that, we can think of some new stuff later in the year. It will be not quite superhero and more in the humor vein, but with a different spin on it. We'll probably announce it sometime in January.

There is one story I've been wanted to do that I pitched to Top Cow for next year. It's a fantasy series that takes place in a sort of world that hasn't been done before. A lot of people will do an Oz story or a medieval world. This isn't that. It's a different-but-recognizable fantasy world. We are discussing what the visuals look like right now, and it's both light and nightmarishly dark in tone. It's the sort of book I couldn't imagine doing anyplace other than Top Cow, because they were willing to take the chance on my oddball concepts.

Let's talk about the first "Madame Mirage" miniseries.

It was always going to be a bookend with issue six, and I wanted to tell a story that could be a starting point for another ongoing series or just end there if there was no more desire. Luckily, people seem to like Mirage a lot so I left it open-ended.

Right now, I'm plotting out the next six or twelve issues. I can always tell straight-ahead superhero stories for her, but I would prefer to tell different stories for Harper and Mirage.

How much has Madame Mirage changed, not only since way back when you pitched her as a cartoon, but when you pitched it again to Top Cow?

I think it's really become a story more about Harper than Mirage, and Harper is more of an interesting character for me. Harper was always the character and Mirage was the illusion. What's interesting to me is that I came up with a character who is very vendetta-driven and very into the idea of killing people who aren't worthy to live, and the more she did that the more the idea of vengeance kept wearing on her soul. Harper is becoming more haunted by the deaths while Mirage is becoming more like a ghost than just a disguise. It's a much more interesting character than the pretty girl in the slouch hat going around and killing people.

I heard some people were very upset to see revealing shots of Mirage in early issues. A few retailers didn't even want to stock the book because it was too adult-looking. I didn't want to say what she was up front-I liked it when people saw issue three, realized Mirage's look was all a hoax and thought "Oh! Maybe I'll look back on those first few issues." However some readers did drop the book, saying "I now know what you were getting at, with a normal girl creating this illusion, but the fact that Mirage isn't a real girl doesn't work for me."

Why was artist Kenneth Rocafort the right fit for the miniseries?

Kenneth has tremendous ideas and a great style. I'll give him a hint about what a character looks like and I'll get back a sketch that is a thousand times better than what I've described. It's scary, because we find ourselves working on the same wavelength with a lot of the characters. In one of the issues where we saw a lot of the villains, I came up with the Weeping Willow villain. I described her as a goth chick with living hair that can strangle people, and I sat down and did a quick sketch to show to Kenneth. For whatever reason I didn't get it to the fax machine until later in the day, but it didn't matter because he had already sent me a sketch that was what I had drawn but a zillion times better. It's scary how close he can come to what's in my brain but then trumping it.

So it's safe to say that when the second series hits, Rocafort is onboard for it?

Yeah, it looks good. "Mirage" and "Hunter/Killer" has put him in demand by the other comic companies, but I would love to do another series with him because he is the heart and soul of the character.

Next Week: There's plenty more to come, specifically Dini's work with DC Comics. Is he still exclusive with DC? What does his think of his Batman crossovers? What is his favorite self-contained "Detective Comics" issue? What team book would he like to write? Want answers? See you in next week's REFLECTIONS.

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