DC Comics announced Wednesday that writer J. Michael Straczynski would be taking a one-to-five year sabbatical from monthly comics.
He'll leave his much publicized runs on Superman and Wonder Woman mid-stream, concentrating instead on the sequel to the hugely successful graphic novel, Superman: Earth One.
The announcement was a surprise to his fans, many of whom who have followed his work for years, on independent books like Rising Stars, on Marvel Comics like Amazing Spider-Man, and DC Comics like The Brave and the Bold.
But JMS is so determined to make the switch that other writers will finish his stories on Superman and Wonder Woman, using Straczynski's story notes.
Why the departure from monthly comics? Newsarama contacted ‘JMS’ to find out.
Newsarama: Joe, what motivated your decision to back away from monthly comics?
J. Michael Straczynski: Here, again, I need to be really clear on the situation in terms of how it developed. As I've noted elsewhere, I came to DC in the beginning primarily to write the Superman: Earth One book, which was in top-secret development for nearly a year before it was finally announced, said announcement coming after I'd pretty much finished the script, which is how I prefer to handle such projects. I filled in a bit on The Brave and the Bold to kind of get my sea legs in the DC Universe.
DC, particularly Dan DiDio, feels that original hardcover graphic novels are key to DC's future, not to supplant monthly comics, but on a parallel track. I think he's correct in that assessment. This is why DC did such a big push on the book, and the result speaks for itself: #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for graphic novels, selling out at most comic stores overnight, and with Amazon selling out its entire inventory in less than 24 hours.
I'd come on to Superman and Wonder Woman to do two twelve-issue arcs with the goal of a) returning Superman to a high visibility profile, especially with non-comics readers; and b) getting Wonder Woman into the upper tier of DC books. Both tasks were achieved, particularly with Wonder Woman, which went from the low 80s/90s in the [Diamond] Top 100 charts to the upper 40s. DC was happy with the books, I was happy, the sales were great...everybody was happy.
Then the sales on the Superman OGN came in beyond anyone's wildest expectations, causing an immediate second print run (and I believe there's been a third on top of that), DC asked if we could fast-track the next one. I'd scheduled my time so that I could finish the runs on those two monthlies on the assumption that I'd be starting the next OGN afterward. I looked at the calendar and what would have to get done and said that there was no way I could do the monthlies and give the OGN the kind of careful consideration and detailed writing that was essential to volume one...and the expectations would be even higher on volume two given the success of Volume One.
So without even blinking an eye, DC said no problem, we'll slide you off the monthlies, let other writers finish the scripts based on your outlines, and you can focus entirely on the OGN. I know it's fairly common to work that way in comics, where one writer does the story/plot and another does the script, but I'd never worked that way before, so this was new to me. But DC felt comfortable doing that, so I said okay.
My main concern was making sure that the stories in both books ended the way they were intended to end. If that were the case, and my name was there on story credit, and it got to where it was meant to go, then I said yeah, let's do it.
I have to reiterate here just how amazingly great Dan DiDio has been in all this. He didn't hesitate to make the call, and he's been just breathtakingly supportive of this process. As a measure of how supportive DC has been, after we made the decision in-house to do this, which was a few weeks ago, and I was having second thoughts, worrying if I'd let DC down, that maybe I should gird up my loins and try to get it all done anyway even though I was afraid that being over-extended would harm the work...I got this amazing gift from DC Entertainment: a beautiful copy of Superman #16, the first Lois Lane cover. They wanted to emphasize how supportive they were of the switchover, and of my dedication to get the Superman reboot right. It was just an incredibly moving gesture on their part.
So that's how the DC part happened. To the larger issue of monthlies overall....
The thing about writing a miniseries, a graphic novel, a screenplay or a book is that it's a story from beginning to end, told in one lump, and when it's done, you can sit back and ask, what did I learn from that? What did I do right? What did I do wrong? You can gain some perspective and improve your storytelling. It's much harder to do that when you're telling a story in bits and bites over a monthly book, at least for me. Which is why my better work has always been in the short form (Midnight Nation, the Superman graphic novel, Silver Surfer Requiem, Rising Stars and some of the Brave and Bold issues), moreso than in the monthlies.
So I've been considering for some time now getting out of monthlies so I can focus on miniseries and graphic novels. I'd rather tell a few stories really well than a lot of stories reasonably well, if that makes any sense. It would mean taking a massive pay cut, but in the final analysis, after you're gone to dust, I don't think anyone cares what you made. All that matters is what you put up on the shelf, the stories you tell. And as anyone who knows my work can attest to, I've always told better stories in the limited format. That being the case, then that's where I should be concentrating my work, so I can guarantee to readers a level of storytelling that they rightly expect for their hard-earned cash.
When DC suggested sliding me off the monthlies to do the Superman OGN, this seemed like the right time to make that segue. No more, no less.
Nrama: Was this connected to recent delays on your comics?
JMS: No. First, there's only been one delay on Superman due to a recurring lung infection that has, happily, been resolved once and for all. There were no delays on Wonder Woman, and before the B&B hiatus, all of those issues came out on time.
Once the decision was made to shift me from the monthlies a few weeks ago, they put out the word that the next Wonder Woman issue would be pushed, but that was just to buy time to find a new writer to finish the story.
It's funny...I turned out Spider-Man pretty much like clockwork for years, got the Surfer and Bullet Points and Strange minis out on schedule, I've written nearly 200 published comics in about 10 years, but nobody seems to notice when things come out on time, only when they're late...and I'm more than happy to take the rap for it when it's my fault, and sometimes it was, and sometimes it wasn't. Them's the breaks.
And to the inevitable question: yes, the Twelve is being finished. To recap: there were times I was off the grid, and times that Chris was off the grid in Hollywood, and we kept going round and round on who was available, when. I could never get too far ahead of the art because I always found something in Chris's [Weston] art that made me want to adjust the story a bit to capitalize on what he can do in his amazing art, so it's always been a case of me finishing an issue, giving it to Chris, he's either on or off the grid, time passes, he gets it done, but now I'm off the grid...this past week he caught up on the last pages of script that I gave him, so now the ball is in my court to finish the last bit of this and bring it in for a landing. It'll probably end up being published in graphic novel form, I hear.
Nrama: How difficult was this decision for you after working in monthly comics for so long?
JMS: Once it was made, not difficult at all. Yeah, again, as I've noted elsewhere, going from one or two monthly comics to just one or two graphic novels or minis per year is a huge financial hit, but that's not the point. The point is where can I tell the best stories? Once that decision was made, the rest followed easily.
Still, it's a big decision for me. I've been writing monthly comics since the late 90s, so that's over ten years. It's kind of scary to say, y'know, I'm not going to keep doing what I've been doing all this time, in the hope that I can do something better. We all fall into patterns where we just keep doing what we've been doing because it's safe there. Leaving monthly comics ain't the safe thing to do. But if, in the end, it produces better stories, so that people can feel they have their money's worth, then it's worth doing. Doing the minis and graphic novels means that I get to write them and have the art start and probably finish the writing before the book is even announced, which guarantees it comes out on time. That for me is the way this should be done.
Nrama: Why stick with the Earth One book above all other possible projects?
JMS: Because that's the dream book, that's the book that lured me to DC in the fist place. How many times can a writer, any writer, have the chance to reboot and essentially recreate Superman? DC has given me absolute freedom to write the book the way I feel it needs to be written, [Editor] Eddie Berganza has been a saint in how he's handled this, it's a great creative team, Shane [Davis] s terrific, and it's a format that DC wants to build into something important, so there's the chance to contribute to that process. It's an amazing creative opportunity.
Nrama: Has DC asked for your input on future storylines for which they have your outlines on Wonder Woman and Superman? Do you plan to be involved at all?
JMS: We haven't gotten that far in the discussions. Right now my attention needs to be fully on the next volume of Superman: Earth One. It can't be just as good as Volume One; it has to be better. And that's quite a challenge given the success of Volume One.
Nrama: What circumstances would bring you back to monthly comics?
JMS: For the next one-to five-years, there really aren't any. I can't say for dead certain that I'm out for the full five years, because you never know what'll happen in the future, but in terms of what I've decided for myself, which is all I have control over, my intent is to stay out for no less than one year, but that'll probably end up being closer to five. I think I'll need that much time to really sit back and look at the work I've done in monthlies and assess where I did right, where I screwed up, and learn what I have to learn from the experience. So it's not an external thing, it's a process of re-evaluation...it's the difference between having ten years of experience vs. one year of experience ten times.
You must understand that I am harder on my work than any critic out there. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being Alan Moore, I think my monthly books have generally been in the 5-6 range, with the occasional pop to 6 or 7. By contrast, my limited series work has generally been in the 7 range, with the occasional pop to 8 or 9 (Midnight Nation, and Superman: Earth One). When I can be sure I can deliver a monthly book in the 7-8 range, I'll come back to it. I know I can write better in short-form; I just need to figure out how to write better in long-form. And that's what I'm going to be working on during this 1-5 year sabbatical.
And I'll be as interested as you are to see how this all works out in the end.