Friday, July 30, 2010

Rewarding Comic Book Work

Shawn Robare asked what comic book writing gig has been the most rewarding to me personally.

While many might thing my answer would be Midnight, Mass., the comic book series I wrote for Vertigo in the early 2000s, they would be wrong. While I did create the series, and had been eager to do it for years before it finally hit stands, Midnight, Mass. went through a lot of difficulties at Vertigo before it ever hit stands, and both the initial 8-issue run and it's follow up mini-series Midnight, Mass. - Here There Be Monsters suffered from these difficulties.

My actual answer on what comic book work was most personally rewarding is twofold. On one hand I'd have to say it was Xombi a series I wrote for Milestone Media in the mid 1990s that had a 22 issue run. This series was pure me without any interference whatsoever. I had nothing but pleasurable experiences with everyone involved, particularly artist J.J. Birch, and if I could return to writing one series it would be this one. I'd love to finish what I'd planned. I suspect though That I would not be allowed the same level of freedom that I had then. My favorite issue was not issue #6, which is the issue almost everyone chooses not just as my best issue of Xombi, but my best work overall. (Issue #6 is included in the Brave and the Bold: Milestone trade paperback collection). My favorite issue was the Xombi Hanukkah Special which was illustrated by Guy Davis with color by Noelle Giddings) which was completed but never published. For the first time anywhere you can see a page from this unpublished issue below.

The second part of my answer will probably surprise most everyone. For sheer variety of satisfying stories I have to say that the work I did for the comic book incarnation of Dexter's Laboratory was probably my most satisfying work. The drawback in writing so many all ages comics, such as Dexter's Laboratory, is that no adults really read them, certainly not anyone who reviews comics professionally, nor probably anyone who edits them. The general attitude seems to be that these comics are the equivalent of Disney straight to video sequels, disposable dreck meant for an undiscerning audience. I've always found this funny in light of how seriously books like Deadpool or Gen 13, or any superhero title  are taken. What that also means is that the most significant body of work to my name has gone ignored, or dismissed altogether. Unlike Scooby-Doo, there is no real formula to follow in writing Dexter's Laboratory, and pretty much anything, no matter how zany, so long as it's true to the characters and the spirit of the property, was okay to do. This in itself made it a lot of fun. The trick was that a measure of the television show's strength came from how it used beats of movement vs no-movement, reactions, and cycles of movement. It also had those vocal performances and music. These are things we didn't have, but I think we captured the spirit of the show in the most true fashion that a comic book version of it could.

Issues of Dexter's Laboratory are probably pretty cheap on ebay. To see which issues I wrote visit my comic book archives.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Guillermo del Toro to Helm New Haunted Mansion Movie

At Comicon, Guillermo del Toro, the director of  The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth, and the two Hellboy movies announced that he will be making a movie based on the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

"I couldn't be more excited to be a part of my own adaptation of the original theme park attraction Walt envisioned and that remains for me the most desirable piece of real estate in the whole world! This is the place where I go when I need to think or I need to relax."

del Toro promises the movie, which will be shot live action in 3-D, will indeed be a horror movie. "We are making it scary and fun at the same time, but the scary will be scary."

The idea is that the Haunted Mansion is the most haunted place on earth, and the Hatbox Ghost will be reintroduced as the villain. 

"This to me is a dream come true and I hope to steal as many props as possible, del Toro stated.

You can read the full announcement here.

Notice that there was no mention of there being a previous movie based on the attraction. I've been a big fan of del Toro's since Cronos, and am filled with hope that his Haunted Mansion movie will be light years away from the previous movie, and truer to the spirit of the attraction and what we all hope such a movie could be. This attraction is in the man's blood. 

I also wonder if the reintroduction of the Hatbox Ghost in the movie means we'll be seeing him reintroduced back into the attraction itself.

For more on the Hatbox Ghost check out this incredible one of a kind recreation by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Comic Book Stores Today

SCOOBY-DOO #158 hits stores today and features three of my "Velma's Monsters of the World" segments. Velma will tell you all you need to know about zombies, the pricolici, and the azeman. Don't know what these monsters are? Now's your chance to find out and impress your friends. Fabio Laguna, Leo Batic and Horacio Ottolini provide the artwork. Swands provides the letters and Heroic Age the colors. Harvey Richards edited. Published by DC Comics. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Michael Jones wanted to know what my favorite yokai is. For those of you wondering what the heck a yokai is click on the above picture. Combining the Japanese characters for "otherworldly" and "weird" yokai are a collective group of demons, monsters, transformed objects and people, goblins, ghosts, and spirits, though none of those words really does them justice. There are a lot of them too. So, when I told Michael it was going to take some thought, I wasn't putting him off, I really had to give it some thought because there are so many yokai that I like, and for so many different reasons. The main reason though is that they are weird, weird in a way that appeals to the same part of my brain from which my own strange creations have come forth to occupy various comic books I have written. Yokai are nothing like anything we have in the west. When we think monsters here things like werewolves, zombies, vampires and the Frankenstein monster tend to come to mind, but if Universal Pictures had used yokai as the basis for their movies they would have been a whole lot stranger and they would not have run out of material so quickly.

Among my favorites are a category of yokai called Tsukumo-gami, or "artifact spirits" or "haunted relics." These stem from Japan's animistic Shinto religion that believes that all objects, living, or no, has a  soul. The Tsukumo-gami are objects that have given many years of service to their owners, whether they are a frying pan, screwdriver, umbrella or VCR who furious at being thrown away come to life to cause mischief. My favorites of these is Kara-kasa the one legged, cyclops umbrella with the long tongue and arms and Mokumoku Ren, the haunted shoji screen covered in dozens of eyes.

As much as I like these, and other yokai, when push came to shove, my favorite of them all is Rokuro-kubi the long-necked woman.

I'm not sure what it is about her that I like so much. Yes, she's visually interesting, but most of the other yokai are more visually interesting than she is. She's also not all that high concept in terms of yokai. Essentially her story is that she was once a regular woman who has been cursed and transformed into a ghostly creature. At night, often while the Rokuro-kubi remains asleep, her head takes on a life of its own, wandering her house at the end of an endlessly stretching flexible neck. It will head outdoors searching for insects to eat on, or will simply feed on some of the lifeforce of a sleeping man leaving him fatigued the next day. They also will drink oil out of lamps. One interesting facet of the Rokuro-kubi is that a person can be one without knowing it.

Again, I don't know exactly why I'm drawn to this particular yokai over any others, but I am. I wrote about Rokuro-kubi in SCOOBY-DOO #130 and have used other yokai in other Scooby-Doo stories as well as stories for THE SECRET SATURDAYS and THE HANGMAN.

If anyone reading this has a favorite yokai, I'd like to know which one and why. You can learn more about yokai by visiting  the obakemono project, which is a great resource for all things yokai.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Disneyland!

This weekend marks the 55th Anniversary of the opening of the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, CA in 1955. The Disney movies and parks had been highly influential on my work and continue to be to this day.

The opening day map comes via the excellent Disneyland resource:


Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Hangman - Heroes and Villains

Now that THE HANGMAN co-feature from THE WEB, published by DC Comics has come to an end, I thought I'd take some time to talk about some of the villains and heroes who have appeared in the Hangman stories. 

When I took on the role of writer for THE HANGMAN I was coming into it one issue after BABYLON 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski was asked to reintroduce this old character from the Archie Comics line of superheroes published under the banner of Red Circle Comics. Straczynski also handled relaunching three other Red Circle characters, The Shield, Inferno, and The Web into the DC Universe. My concern was purely with continuing with what he'd done with the Hangman. The stuff I liked I used and often expanded on. Other things he did which I didn't like (such as having a man who automatically transforms into a masked vigilante at sunset having a career as a trauma surgeon. Does he just cut out of work in the middle of an operation?) led me to come up with ways to deal with the issues I had. Even though the character was essentially a new, using a word I dislike "reimagined," version of the original Red Circle character, I and the other writers of the new Red Circle backs wanted to not only incorporate them into the larger established DC Universe, but to also keep them connected to their original Red Circle Comics roots. One of the ways I chose to do this was to select some of the original Red Circle villains and update them for modern comics as well. 

Some of the bad guys I used were my own brand new creations such as the all pink scooter riding girl gang called THE BUBBLEGUM GIRLS (seen below), others had their origins in the 1940s.

Oddly, one of the first villains I made up as an original character had an established parallel character in the original Red Circle Comics. This was the character of DEAD HAND LEGENDRE (shown below) who makes his first appearance in issue #2. 
Legendre was a shriveled man who was quickly rising to become a serious kingpin of crime. He had one particular ability that instilled fear in those who worked for him, and against him. His dead, shriveled, right hand had the ability to drain the lifeforce from someone else and transfer it into Legendre. Doing so restored his health by degrees, making him younger. He could also reverse this flow, using his dead hand like a ghastly defibrillator to push lifeforce into a dead body which would return to a semblance of mindless life to do his bidding. When he did this, his physical health diminished and he aged. 

The impulse for creating him was to mirror the idea that the Hangman who is essentially immortal isn't simply someone who can never die, but is also someone who isn't truly alive anymore either. 


While the name was taken from Bela Lugosi's character, "Murder Legendre" from WHITE ZOMBIE (because of his control over mindless zombie slaves), the real inspiration for the character came from Koura, the evil magician played by Tom Baker in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. From the time I first watched that movie as a kid, I latched onto the concept that every time Koura used his dark magic it aged him, and left him physically weaker. I've always meant to incorporate that into a character of my own, and finally got to do so with Legendre.

It was only after Dead Hand Legendre was established that I found out that there was a Red Circle villain named BLACK HAND who initially appeared in BLUE RIBBON COMICS #16 (Sept. 1941) as an opponent to Captain Flag. Black Hand apparently had a diseased right hand which he used to kill people. Given that DC already has a villain named Black Hand who was featured prominently in their big event series BLACKEST NIGHT, a name change would have proven necessary anyway.

The first of the original Red Circle Villains I chose to reintroduce was THE UGLY MAN (seen below) who was actually a foe of the Hangman, appearing in Pep Comics #22 (Dec 1942). All I knew about him was that he was supposed to be the ugliest man in the world and that he went on a killing spree. This was enough of a blank slate for me to feel like I could build on this without distressing an fans of the original characters. 

My Ugly Man was inspired by actor Rondo Hatton whose distorted features were the result of acromegaly. He would make the perfect henchman and fit in with the noirish look of the Hangman.

The Ugly Man also appeared in issue #2 as an enforcer for Dead Hand Legendre. Despite his physical appearance I wanted the Ugly man to be a snappy dresser as well as smarter, more articulate and much faster than his size and appearance would imply. My original plan was to introduce him in a story set in the 1930s, but other ideas for the character led me to include him in the modern age.

The next character I pulled out of the Hangman's past was THE JACKAL. He was perfect. He had a distinct physical trait, he only image I found of him (below) implied a personality, AND he even came with a plot I could use on the new series. Appearing in PEP COMICS #18 (Aug. 1941)  according to his entry on The Mighty Crusaders Network

"The Jackal is a criminal mastermind who puts on a Hangman suit himself and starts committing murders in the Hangman’s name. He is identified because he has two thumbs on his right hand."

Artist. Tom Derenick gave the modern Jackal, who debuted in issue #5, an equally dumb haircut, and somewhere in his development his two thumbs on his right hand became a sixth finger on his left. Our Jackal was smart and ruthless and earned his name in a two-fold manner. He makes his living in the criminal world by picking over small time criminal organizations and gangs and by eliminating members he sees as worthless and gathering the members with potential who he hires into larger organizations for a fee. He also picks over the corpses of those he murders and takes from them a souvenir which he adds to his collection.

In the modern comic, he also masqueraded as the Hangman and set out on a murder spree in order to keep the police busy hunting for the Hangman and the Hangman busy eluding the police, so that Legendre could go about his citywide conquest of criminal activity. This was meant to be a longer, more involved subplot which was to be used to throw light on how the Hangman is perceived among all walks of life in the city he protects, as well as to further illuminate the genuine Hangman's methods of dealing with crime. It was also going to be a way to bring the police into the series and connect them to the Hangman. Because the series ended up with a short life, the barely introduced story element was brought to a quick end and the more expansive elements were all dropped. 

A couple other Red Circle villains made brief cameo appearances. THE BULLFROG from PEP COMICS #32 (Oct. 1942) was a foe of the Hangman who started out as an Opera Singer who turned to a life of murder dressed as a frog because a frog was let loose on stage during one of his performances. I can't say I would have chosen that as the origin for the modern Bullfrog, and viewed mine as a half man-half frog creature.

From SPECIAL COMICS #1 (Winter 1942) comes THE CLOWN, who murders a woman because she refuses to ever marry a clown. He was also a Hangman villain. Like the Bullfrog, since he merely appeared in one panel, I did not provide the modern Clown with an origin.

The Bullfrog and the Clown were paired together for their cameo in issue #8. I had originally written the BULLFROG into my portion of THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS SPECIAL, but removed him when I restructured my part of the story.

One of the Red Circle villains who DID appear in THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS SPECIAL was THE BUZZARD. His inclusion was decided by co-writers Brandon Jerwa and Eric Trautmann, who also masterminded the project. Here's how he appeared  back in MIGHTY CRUSADERS #11 (March 1985)

Here he fights the modern Hangman in THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS SPECIAL.

The last original villain I put into THE HANGMAN wasn't really a villain, or original, but was Umi-Bozu a water Yokai from Japanese folklore who appeared in issues #3 and #4. I wanted to feature a character of a more supernatural nature because of the Hangman's own supernatural nature and one that I could use to illustrate the side of the Hangman's mission to serve the innocent rather than the aspect of him which punishes the guilty.

A couple established DC villains made their way into the final issue. THE SCARECROW is a character I've enjoyed writing before, and was one I planned to feature in an upcoming Hangman story which ended up being encapsulated in one panel. Also featured on the same page was CHEMO, the giant semi-sentient walking container of chemical waste. This was for a panel showing the Hangman working alongside the other Mighty Crusaders and I wanted an image that evoked the covers of Fantastic Four #1 and The Brave and the Bold #28 which introduced the Justice League of America, so chose Chemo for his size and color.

THE WEB also made a cameo appearance solo in the last issue. Since THE HANGMAN was a co-feature in THE WEB, I felt it only made sense.

Because the Hangman has been alive since the 1830s, I was looking forward to telling stories which would pair the hangman with various DC characters from various time periods between then and now. The closest I ever got to do so was a couple of isolated panels and some back story from THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS, where we see the Hangman working alongside EL DIABLO (incidentally the man who steps into that black hole becomes the modern incarnation of another Red Circle villain, THE ERASER), AIRWAVE (and his parrot, STATIC), and the Golden Age GREEN LANTERN. 

In the second issue of THE WEB, we are given a one-panel glimpse of the Hangman on a case in New York City's Chinatown with the Golden Age SANDMAN, a pulp inspired story I was really looking forward to telling.

Note: Images and source information was borrowed from The Mighty Crusaders Network an invaluable resource pertaining to every aspect and incarnation of the Red Circle characters. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar RIP

Legendary autobiographical comic book writer Harvey Pekar has passed away. For more information please visit The Beat.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Tomorrow on Cartoon Network

For you early risers, or all nighters, "Night in the Sanctorum," one of my episodes of SUPER HERO SQUAD airs again tomorrow (July 10) morning at 6:30 (e/p) on Cartoon Network. In this episode, the Super Hero Squad crash the Helicarrier and must find alternate living arrangements. Will they stay with the Punisher? Reptil? or Dr. Strange? and what does the Enchantress have to do with it all? 

Monday, July 05, 2010

Ask Me Anything

As part of my notion of giving this blog a bit more structure, one of the things I mentioned in my 1000th post was the idea of having a regular Q & A here. I've decided that the first Monday of every month will be  "Ask Me Anything Day." Of course you can ask me anything any time, but questions posed in the comments section of the "Ask Me Anything" post will fuel posts throughout the month. So, if there's anything you want to know about projects past and present, older posts here, things that have influenced me, or even if there are suggestions as to what you'd like to see on this blog, go ahead and ask. Essentially, you can ask me anything, and I'll try and answer it.

Likewise, if nobody asks me anything then I'll stop this feature and ask myself if there's any real reason to continue with this blog.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

From the Archives 3

The above sketch goes back to around 1995. This was my concept for an extra-terrestrial that would briefly appear in XOMBI #19 (this story was originally slated as issue #16, as exidenced by my note on the sketch, however this storyline was bumped three issues to accommodate a three issue tie-in to the company wide crossover "The Long Hot Summer"). I wanted something completely alien, and only with only the most rudimentary humanoid appearance in the sense that it had arms and a head and clothing. It took a while to mentally achieve what I was looking for. Inspiration came while I was standing within the door of, I believe Midtown Comics, in Manhattan, where there was a poster of the Roger Dean painting "Tsunami,"(seen below) taped to the wall.

Something about the vertical rock structure on the middle right suggested a head in profile to me, with the stone archway suggesting a flowing cape. That was when the lightbulb went off. When I went home, I took that basic shape and broke it down further to what you see above.

Here's how the alien appeared in the actual issue  as drawn by  J. J. Birch and colored by Noelle Giddings. It is accompanied by a cat woman based on Joan Chen and a creepy old man, inspired by Vincent Price, with his underage consort. The guy with the ears is a bellhop.

I also wanted the alien's language to be completely alien, and we did this by just using color to represent it. The idea was that it spoke in vibrations through the leaf-like digits of its "hands" which are placed on each side of the person it's talking to, like stereo speakers. Somehow it was also able to covey its language to the listener so that they understood it without translation. The extra-terrestrial only appeared in a couple other panels where it's seen sitting at a dinner table, though we don't see what is on its plate.

This extra-terrestrial was really only a throw away character, but I've always been pretty fond of it.