When former Newsarama co-owner Matt Brady announced last year that he was co-writing a comic, the response from fans was immediate.
Sure, Brady was well known in the comics industry. But as a writer? This was going to take some getting used to.
Well, now try getting used to him as a Batman writer.
Brady is hoping a year is enough time for that adjustment, because he and co-writer Troy Brownfield are back with a story in this week's Batman 80-Page Giant 2011. Filled with short stories, the comic will include a piece by the writing duo, who first got attention with their work on Dynamite's Buck Rogers Annual #1 earlier this year.
Both writers entered the comic book industry by writing about comics. Brady at publications like Wizard and his 10-year stint as co-head of Newsarama, and Brownfield as a columnist and reviewer at this site.
But when Brady left Newsarama in 2009 and became a high school science teacher, he finally had a little time to dedicate to all the comic book ideas he'd developed over the years. And Brownfield became his partner.
As their next foray into comics comes out this week, Newsarama talked to the co-writers about their story. [And as a side note, this interviewer was hired by Brady seven years ago, so asking him questions has to be one of the more surreal experiences of my career.]
Newsarama: Matt, there was quite a reaction to the news last year that the two of you were starting to write comics. Why do you think it fascinated the Internet comics’ community so much?
Matt Brady: From my side, I think there was a feeling that while I was “known” in comics news reporting, this was an all new avenue, and, being known, whether Troy and I were going to succeed or fail, we were going to do so publicly, in the medium that we were a part of, even tangentially.
And I do have to say, having been in your shoes so many times, Vaneta, it’s just bizarre hearing me say some of these things that I thought were just pat lines creators said.
Nrama: It can't much more bizarre than it is for me to hear it. But Troy, were you surprised by the reaction?
Troy Brownfield: I’m not sure how much of a reaction there was; to know that there was one at all is simultaneously flattering and daunting. I know that my friends have been pretty excited and said lots of nice things about it.
And when I told my sons that I was writing a Batman story? Good Lord.
But I think there’s been some curiosity, since people know us from a particular site for particular things, and then suddenly (to their point of view) we’re teaming up and writing books. If anything, I hope that people see that as encouraging, that you can still break through.
Nrama: What got you in the door at DC? And how did this gig come about?
Brownfield: Matt and I had both pitched things to DC over time either as individuals or in other partnerships. Like the vast majority of pitches, those just didn’t happen. I actually had previously pitched an 80-Page Giant story or two to (Associate Editor) Janelle Asselin, and those hadn’t gone all the way.Now, I need to state as a absolute certainty of public record: Janelle is a friend. She was on my Best Shots team at Newsarama, she was the assistant editor at Fangoria Comics when I was an associate, and I have now known her for years.
However, you still have to pitch, and you still have to have the right story at the right time for everyone involved. Janelle got behind this particular story, but it also had to go through Mike Marts and all of the other channels. Even if you’re a Batman editor and your friend pitches, you’re still Batman editor first; it has to be the right story. Fortunately for us, they thought this was the right one.
Nrama: We know fans love these "giant" comics. What is it about them that's so compelling for fans, and for you as writers?
Brady: Speaking as a fan, I love the variety. I remember being able to buy Dollar Comics versions of Adventure, Batman Family and Superman Family that did largely the same thing as the 80 Page Giants – you get a bunch of stories with a bunch of characters from a bunch of different artists and writers. I just always dug that approach.
And as a creator, sometimes great Batman (or any other character) stories can be told in 10 pages rather than 22 or 20. It was a fun challenge to come up with something that we felt actually told a story in those 10 pages.
Brownfield: I agree. Batman might be one of the most versatile characters ever. You can do grim, you can do funny, you can do team or family or solo . . . it can all work in 10 pages. Our story is a bit more techy-action; I told my wife that my one regret is that Alfred isn’t in it. Next time!
Nrama: What kind of story did you guys do for this issue? And who are the major players in the story?
Brady: I think we figured out what kind of story it was after it was plotted out – simply put, it’s structure was an unconscious nod to Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini’s style in Batman: The Animated Series – introduce a cool concept, bring it to Gotham, cool concept meets Batman, and out. Ten pages and done, baby.
Brownfield: As for the major players, it’s really just the antagonist and Batman. Small, simple, direct. I’m sure every writer has a five-year Batman plan in their head, but we knew that this was a short, sharp blast.
Nrama: How did you come up with the idea for the story, and why did it interest you as writers?
Brady: Something that Troy and I really like exploring in superhero worlds is the “non hero/protagonist” point of view. That’s literal here, and the story is told from the point of view of the guy fighting Batman, so he’s able to explain how he got there, what he’s doing, and more importantly, his reaction to fighting Batman. And there’s a nod to The Dark Knight Returns in there as well that we got a chuckle out of when we put it in.
From the practical side, I had been reading about new technology, and thought…”You know what? That would work like this in a Batman story, and would be pretty cool.”
And the story’s title is “Short Straw,” is literal, too.
Brownfield: There’s another side to this story, regarding the notion of who might be interested in Batman, or heroes in general. Wouldn’t certain elements of society, be they corporate, military, what-have-you, want to study those individuals? Mine data for their own purposes? For example, if I ran an energy company, I’d be pretty interested in what Firestorm could do for me.
Nrama: Were you at all aware of the changes coming in September? And as writers of a story coming one month before the big relaunch, does it change the way you view the issue at all?
Brady: I actually told Troy that we needed to answer that with, “In writing ‘Short Straw,’ we proudly yet humbly take our place with Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman in that select fraternity of writers who have closed the book on incarnations of DC’s legendary characters,” but that made me sound like more of an ass than usual, so we scrapped it.
But once we realized that we were writing one of the last adventures of the Batman that we grew up with, it was kind of cool.
Brownfield: I would like to help Matt by pointing out that the Alan Moore/Neil Gaiman thing was indeed him making a joke. It’ll still show up on some guy’s blog as a headline: “Brady Compares Self, Brownfield to Moore, Gaiman.”
Nrama: Who's doing the art on your story?
Brady: Our artist is the amazing Thomas Nachlik, who did the art on Top Cow’s Last Mortal. Janelle found him, and I think we had about a four second conversation that frankly, sounded like porn dialogue of “YES! YES! YES! OH GOD YES!” which was not one of my most professional moments in comics.
Thomas did an amazing job with the story, was always open to suggestions, and just knocked it out of the park at the end of the day. We’ve pitched two more projects with him so far, and there will be more.
Brownfield: Thomas is outstanding. That’s all there is to it. Honestly, I’ve been stupidly lucky with the artists that I’ve worked with, whether it be Tommy Patterson (now doing Game of Thrones), Carlos Rafael (now doing Dejah Thoras) or Thomas. Thomas is one of those guys that elevates every scene with the smallest touches. He really got the story and attacked it in just the right way.
We should also note that Rachelle Rosenberg did a killer job on colors, along with most excellent lettering by Dave Sharpe. It takes a village, people. Ha! Village People.
Nrama: How does it feel, as a fairly new writing team for DC, to be working in the Batman world, and with the other creators on this book?
Brady: I think Troy and I were buzzing on the fact that we got the gig for about a week and a half after we got it. Finally, reality hit, and one of us said, “Uh, you know this means we have to write this now, right?” which can bring you down to earth quickly.
But for me, it’s the coolest thing ever. I mean, Troy and I start writing comics, and our second story to be published as a team is Batman? That’s nutty cool.
Brownfield: Allow me to go Full Fanboy for a minute. There is a picture of me, a Polaroid no less, about age three, full head of shaggy ‘70s hair, asleep on the floor of my room, holding a Mego Batman like a teddy bear. I grew up on Batman, and my boys (6 and 4) are growing up on Batman (particularly The Brave and The Bold). To grow up in the middle of Indiana and be able to co-write a Batman story? That’s unbelievable. It’s that Flash #0 moment where you want to tell your adolescent self, “Hang in there, dude.”
As for the other creators, we’ve provided a list of EVERYONE that worked on this book, and we’d love if you could run it. We’re just one team out of several that put the Giant together, and we’re proud to be associated with all of them. Comics require an insane amount of collaboration, and everyone should be recognized.
Nrama: Now that you're probably getting a rhythm for how you work, how do the two of you share duties on your writing?
Brady: On any given day, I’m Paul and Troy is John…or I’m John and Troy is Paul – I forget which. Usually, one of us has the seed for a story, and then I’ll take it, go into my cave and plot the crap out of it, while Troy will offer pointers and help when I run down blind alleys, or need a continuity or character check. During this process, we are the most horrible editors on the planet to ourselves in making sure the story works. Once that plot is down and bulletproof, Troy takes it, goes into his cave, and scripts the crap out of it. After that, we tweak, and tweak, and tweak until the deadline.
Brownfield: The truth is we’re probably both Ringo. Matt’s right, though; we really beat ourselves up in the plotting process. That’s something I’m particularly conscious of, coming from doing reviews. If I’m sloppy, people will crucify me for it.
But we work really well together, and there’s a great deal of passing stuff back and forth. We probably also make much ruder comments to each other than an editor would make.
Nrama: What other comics’ projects are the two of you cooking? Anything you can announce or hint?
Brady: Nothing we can announce just yet – which is one of those pat answers that I cringe when I write now – but we’re talking to a few different editors and publishers. We had the Buck Rogers Annual in February, and Batman in August – we’re trying to up the frequencies of our releases, for sure.
Brownfield: And honestly, reader support doesn’t hurt. If you liked our Buck Rogers annual and want to see us do more Buck, feel free to tell Dynamite. If you like what we do with Batman in 10 short pages (or if you like what any of the other teams do), send Janelle one of those nice Batman greeting cards that plays the Brave and the Bold theme song. She will never, ever get tired of that, I’m sure.
Regardless, we have some really cool original concepts in the works with some excellent artists already on board in a couple of cases. We can’t wait to share, but it’s too early.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about your project(s)?
Brady: Speaking for myself, it’s interesting to find that our superhero stuff, as I mentioned earlier, is really falling into a nice niche that I don’t think has been overly exploited, and I think resonates with fans. That tells you nothing about projects, I know, but it’s at least a touchstone that hopefully our readers will be able to look back at and say, “Yeah, I can see how all of this stuff has a similar feel,” which is cool.
Brownfield: Honestly, I just hope that they enjoy what we do. We pursued writing comics because we love comics. If I write a comic that connects with someone in the same way that my favorite books connected with me, then that’s the best of all possible worlds. At this point, we plan to keep on working, and hope that the readers come along.
This week's Batman 80-Page Giant will include work by the following creators: Writers - Eric Hobbs, Troy Brownfield & Matt Brady, David Skelly & Jennifer Skelly, Guy Major, Terrance Griep, Caleb Monroe, Joe Caramagna; Pencils and Inks - Ted Naifeh, Thomas Nachlik, Cristina Cornoas, Bill Sienkiewicz, Eric Nguyen, Peter Pachoumis, Rodney Ramos, Geoff Shaw, Jack Purcell, Joe Lalich; Colorists - John Kalisz, Rachelle Rosenberg, Guy Major, Wes Dzioba, Chris Beckett, Wil Quintana; Letters - Dave Sharpe, Sal Cipriano, Wes Abbott, Joe Caramagna. Cover: Dustin Nguyen; Design - Sal Cipriano; Editors - Mike Marts, Rachel Gluckstern, Bobbie Chase, Janelle Asselin, Harvey Richards, Katie Kubert, Rickey Purdin. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!
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