It was the cartoon comic that the Internet put on notice. When DC Comics announced earlier this year that it would be releasing a more serious sci-fi take on kids mystery series "Scooby-Doo" with their "Scooby Apocalypse" comic book, all corners of the Web took a second look at a tougher, meaner Mystery Inc. gang.
But as "Scooby Apocalypse" #1 arrives in comic shops this week, the creative team of writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and artist Howard Porter (along with a conceptual and design assist from DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee) promise that their series isn't all doom and gloom. As a viral plague creates a monster-filled apocalypse, the creators promise that things won't be hitting "Walking Dead" levels of despair. Far from it, in fact.
CBR News spoke with the book's creative trio, and the creators whose most recent collaboration was the future-centric "Justice League 3001" explained that "Scooby Apocalypse" #1 is, if anything, a respectful take on a cartoon that's earned its iconic status. Below, Giffen, DeMatteis and Porter explain the development process for the book, explore how Shaggy and the gang won't be changing in the face of actual monsters and mutants, and dream about some wild crossovers and twists should the series prove a success.
CBR News: Gentlemen, I know a lot of readers of your series will think of "Scooby-Doo" as something that's been around their whole lives, but I think a few of you likely remember when it debuted. But however it arrived on your radar, I doubt you thought "In 30 years, I'm going to be talking about this cartoon in relation to the apocalypse for work."
Keith Giffen: [Laughter] It was weird because I remember when I was called and offered the job, I thought, "My God. That's something I haven't thought of in ages." I was familiar with it, but it was like, "Where'd that come from?"
What is each of your histories with "Scooby-Doo" like? Did any of you have any strong feelings on it before the gig came to you?
Giffen: You can't have a family and kids and not know "Scooby-Doo." That's all there is to it. I have vague memories of "Scooby-Doo" from when I was younger, but most of my experience comes from watching it with my kids -- my son and my daughter. It's always around. It's just one of those concepts that's always coming out in some form or another.
J.M. DeMatteis: I think it's one of those things that's like Mickey Mouse or Superman. It's just in the pop cultural stew. Even if you've never seen "Scooby-Doo," you know what it is. Now even my kids didn't watch much "Scooby-Doo," to be perfectly honest, but you're aware of it. You know what the basic premise is, and you know the Mystery Machine, and you know that they're pulling off the rubber masks and somebody is saying, "I would've gotten away with it, too" at the end. And for me, I've been working on the new "Scooby-Doo" cartoon on Cartoon Network for the past year. That was really my Scooby education. That's where I really learned about these characters in a way that I hadn't known them before. So the timing was really fortuitous that I got my basic Scooby education and this gig came along.
Giffen: And Howard pretty much thought Scooby-Doo was a kind of dog food.
Howard Porter: [Laughs] Yeah, I thought we were taking on an advertising gig. No, ever since I was a kid the two things I loved were comics and monsters. I read a lot of "Creepy" and "Eerie" magazines and things like that. So on Saturday mornings I'd be glued to the TV to watch cartoons. That's the only time we'd get to see them, and "Scooby-Doo" was a part of that. As time went one, the live-action film came too, and I loved the "Mystery Incorporated" show [from 2010]. And now I'm getting to work on it.
Giffen: "Scooby-Doo," I think, has become like Superman in a sense. You can go anywhere in the world and stop anybody and say, "Scooby-Doo," and they'll have a basic recollection of what it's all about. It's almost iconic in that sense.
So how did this development process work? I know the three of you have been working together for a while, most recently on "Justice League 3001." But DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee has also been taking a strong hand in putting this specific concept together. What did you discuss with him both conceptually in the story and in terms of the visual identity of the book?
Giffen: You know, I've got to say one thing -- they still think we communicate!
DeMatteis: [Laughs] I know, it's crazy. I'd say I can give Keith 55% of the credit in our partnership because he's the one who has to face the blank page and create the plot. So he lays it all out, but the fun for me is that Keith has always allowed me the freedom to basically do whatever the hell I want from there. Now obviously, I'm going to respect what he gives me because he's so good at what he does, but I have the freedom to layer in things and change things and spin things. There's so much you can do in the dialogue. But the building blocks come from Keith. And like I've said in the past, so much of what we do comes from working in glorious isolation -- not that we don't talk on the phone pretty regularly. But even if we discuss the story, Keith is going to go off and write whatever he wants anyway that has nothing to do with what we discussed, and then when I do the script I'll do what I want. That's always been the fun in our collaboration. And I've said for years, for me it's the collaboration that's more fun often than even the property we're working on. I think we could work on just about anything and have fun. So here we are working on Scooby-Doo and having fun. But in terms of the vision of the world, it came from Jim and Keith.
Giffen: Jim Lee and I talked about it, and he had all these characters designed, and he had the basic idea for the apocalypse where the monsters were real. It was kind of organic. As Jim and I talked about it, he'd put stuff in there, and I'd say what I was interested in doing, and then he'd drop in a few more suggestions. And the really great thing about Jim is that we had the talk, we set up the world, he puts in his input, and then he steps back and sees what happens. He's not the kind of guy who wants to constantly tweak things. I'm sure if we do something wrong, we'll hear about it, but Jim is mostly there as a... I had to say "Big Idea Guy" but he did come up with the way the Scooby crew would look and the basic idea of it being an apocalypse where the monsters were real. He laid the groundwork, and he's been a delight. He insists on doing covers, and I'm sure he'd love to do an issue somewhere down the line, and we'd love to have him on board. But like Marc said, it's really an organic process. I don't think any of us can take too much credit for it.
Porter: Yeah, I always thing of Keith and Marc like John Lennon and Paul McCartney where Keith is Lennon laying down the rhythm while Marc comes in and puts the melody over it. That's what gives you the song. For my part, Jim had designed the characters beforehand, and they were all fantastic. So it was on me to make them work for the way I draw, and I forged ahead from there.
DeMatteis: And when Howard says, "The way I draw"... just look at those pages. They're beautiful. I keep being astonished that each page is better than the one that came before. And I was saying that on "Justice League 3001," so they've been getting better for a long time, and they started out great. The art alone is worth the price of admission on this book. He's really doing a fantastic job.
Porter: I will say, when I started drawing Scooby I wanted to draw him as an anatomically correct Great Dane, and it just didn't look right. It didn't work because as a straight interpretation of the character, it didn't have any of his personality or charms. So I kind of did a version somewhere between the two. He can emote and is a bit anthropomorphic.
Giffen: What you do is do something you feel comfortable doing, and if you're lucky enough, it fits within the confines of the book. So far, we've been really lucky on that.
That's interesting because one of the things I wanted to ask you guys about was tone. When this was initially announced, and people saw Jim's designs, I think part of the reaction was, "This is a dark and grim Scooby-Doo, and that should never happen." But it seems upon seeing the issue that even while this is a more serious sci-fi concept, you have to keep in mind that this is based on a cartoon and let the fun bleed in. Doesn't this have to be both for the concept to succeed?
DeMatteis: Well, it's us doing it. I mean, the minute you see Keith's name and my name -- and now Howard's name who for better or worse has become attached to us -- you know that there's always going to be humor in the book. It's character-based, and there's going to be a lot of banter in the book. Frankly I think that's more realistic than the grim and gritty stuff because people are funny in most situations. So there is a lot of banter and play and humor in this, yet the horror is played straight. Keith and I have talked about this, and we keep referencing the movie "Zombieland." The horror element is there and it's strong, but there's still a lot of humor and a lot of really strong characters. So this is really an extension of everything we've done before. It's just that we've shifted that "Justice League" mentality into a Scooby-Doo/horror mode.
Well, let's talk about the characters. As you said, this cartoon cast is iconic today. As you worked to make this version, what did you find was essential to make these still feel like the original characters, and where did you deviate from them?
Giffen: To be honest with you, I really don't think we've deviated too much from the characters that people remember. Daphne's maybe a little bit more in your face, but to my mind, they're still the same Scooby-Doo characters. We're just going in and playing out our spin on them. We're not looking to recreate "Scooby-Doo" or tell anybody that "Scooby-Doo" was wrong. The cartoons and the concept were strong enough to support what we're doing -- not the other way around.
DeMatteis: Right. We're building on that. So the characters may deepen and widen, but the essence of what they are is essentially the same. We're in a different world so Daphne is a little bit stronger of a character -- she's actually pretty kick-ass -- but she's still Daphne. Shaggy is not quite the Maynard G. Krebs that he was on the TV show, but he's still Shaggy, and it works that way. The fun for me doing the dialogue is that I learn things about the characters through their dialogue with each other. They talk to me. So as we go along, they're revealing things about their back stories that I didn't know. But the core of who they are remains the same. It's like the different interpretations of Batman. How many different versions of Batman have there been from Frank Miller to "The Brave & The Bold" cartoon to Adam West and back again? And yet he always remains Batman at his core. The same thing is true with these characters.
One area that is different here is the world and how it works with a viral plague that makes these monsters break out. But how does the story from there conform to what we expect of a Scooby-Doo story? Is there an old amusement park coming? Some kind of rubber mask reveal? Someone admonishing those meddling kids?
Giffen: Right now what I find fascinating is about the book is that we've had this thing happen, and now we can go out and explore the iconic concepts of the vampire, the monster, the ghoul -- but we get to twist those a little bit because of how this apocalyptic plot has happened. Ultimately, we're exploring this world in the same way that the readers are. We're finding out about things as we go. I couldn't tell you what's going to happen in issue #10 right now. I couldn't tell you exactly what kinds of monsters they'll encounter. But what I do know is that when they encounter a vampire, it's not going to be a Bela Lugosi vampire. We're going to present a unique take on it. We're discovering what that is as we do it.
DeMatteis: And no rubber masks. When you pull someone's mask off in this world, you don't want to see what's underneath it.
This book is just one of many Hanna-Barbera books DC is putting out, and at least one of those books in "Future Quest" is mashing together a few different faces from that studio's library. Considering the fact that Scooby's gang has crossed with other H-B properties in the past, what are the odds that "Apocalypse" could eventually pull in someone like Blue Falcon or any other old H-B standbys?
Porter: We've not talked about that at this early stage in the game, but there are characters I'd love to draw. The Frankenstein guy that flies around with the little kid would be cool.
Giffen: I haven't really even thought about the other Hanna-Barbera characters. I kind of want to get our house in shape first, and once we've got it in good shape and the world is big enough, then we might invite some other characters to play along with Scooby-Doo.
DeMatteis: Then we can do our Huckleberry Hound crossover.
Giffen: There we go! [Laughter]
"Scooby Apocalypse" #1 is on sale now from DC Comics.