PAUL DINI Talks JINGLE BELLE, Animation & Return to Comics


Paul Dini is already well known for developing characters for television, thanks to his work on shows like Lost and his creation of animated TV characters like Harley Quinn.

But as comic fans know, the writer/producer also has a knack for creating new ideas within the world of comic books. And his Christmas-themed creation — Jingle Belle, the rebellious teenager daughter of Santa Claus — is one of his most beloved original characters.

This December, Jingle is getting the type of dedicated comic her avid fans think she deserves. The new Image one-shot, Jingle Belle: Gift Wrapped, will feature new comic strips about young Jingle with a reprint of her Harvey Award-nominated feature story, "Grounded."

It's a welcome return to comics by Dini, who has a loyal fan following after his years writing stories in titles like DC's Detective Comics and his creator-owned series of books from Image Comics' Top Cow Productions called "Dinicartoons."

Lately, Dini's been busy in the television industry, working most notably on the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon and a new Hulk series for Marvel.

But he also has big hopes for Jingle Belle, pitching her story as both a feature movie and an animated TV special.

Newsarama checked in with Dini to find out more about the Jingle Belle one-shot and everything else the creator is doing right now. And we found out his goal for 2012 is to return to comics — although not in the way some fans might expect.

Newsarama: Paul, what led you guys to do this one-shot of this Jingle Belle story?

Paul Dini: We had a lot of attention on the "Grounded" story last year -- it ran in the Top Cow Holiday Special and ended up getting nominated for a Harvey Award -- so we decided to give people a chance to read it as a one-shot.

But it's not just the reprint. It will include a reprint of the "Grounded" story, but we're also putting in some new short stories and one-page strips and things like that, to make it more of a bonus for readers who want to see some new Jingle Belle material this year.

Nrama: Jingle Belle seems to appeal to so many different types of readers. Why do you think this character and her stories have resonated so much with people?

Dini: I just think readers enjoy something a little lighter sometimes. She's just a fun personality who regales against an established structure. That structure just happens to be her father and all the Christmas stuff.

And I think it's a sort of comic strip storytelling that isn't told much these days. If you look at comic pages, there isn't anything like this. And once upon a time, there were a lot of funny strips around in newspapers. Now, they're not so much anymore. There are strips about cats and dogs and families, and stuff like that. I suppose those will never go away.

But Jingle Belle spins out of my love for just sitting down and reading a good, fun Sunday morning comic strip panel. Most of the new material in the book this year is approached that way. They're like a Sunday page, back when they could really take some room and play with the Sunday page format a little bit.

Also, I think there are very few humor books on the stands. If Jingle Belle harkens back to anything, it's sort of the Harvey Comics. Not really Archie, but more of a teenage version of what Harvey Comics would have become, with the type of fantasy wonderland of her and her various friends.

Nrama: So many Christmas-themed TV shows and comics and stories are aimed at very young kids. But Jingle Belle feels like it's something that would appeal more to teens or young adults. Do you feel like there's untapped potential for the character with that age group?

Dini: Yeah, once teenagers read it, I think it appeals to them because they've kind of moved beyond the "little kids" Christmas stuff. They feel like they're a little too grown up for all the sugary nonsense of it, although they still like getting together and partying with friends and seeing their family and everything. It's just that teenagers have kind of grown beyond the very young stuff.

So I think they're looking for a new spin on it. And that's exactly where Jingle Belle comes in; she's looking for a new spin on this stuff also, because what her dad does is sort of like, "Yeah, yeah, that's for little kids. I'm doing this stuff my own way."

I think that relatively very few teenagers are aware of it. The more years I do it, the more gradually people will become aware of it.

Nrama: Kind of switching gears a little, since I've got you on the phone, what's coming up for you in your animation work?

Dini: I've got Ultimate Spider-Man, which is coming out spring of 2012. And I have a new Hulk series, and I can't say much more about those projects than that.

I have a new short that's in the Batman: Year One DVD. It's a Catwoman story, and that turned out really well, I thought. It's pretty spicy.

Nrama: It's got to be weird, after so many years of playing in the DC animated world, to switch over to Marvel. But is there that much of a difference?

Dini: I didn't want to redo the exact same things I did with the DC characters that I'm doing with the Marvel characters. I would have found it pretty limited to just make a Marvel show with the tone I already established with the DC characters.

So when I came on board over there at Marvel, I had some new ideas about shaking things up and doing a superhero cartoon in a different way.

That's really all I can say about it right now, other than the fact that we're all having a lot of fun with it. Jeph Loeb has been great to work with, and he's been really supportive of some really bizarre ideas I've had. I'm just very happy with the way it's all turning out.

Nrama: Do you think Jingle Belle could ever be animated?

Dini: I talk to people all the time about doing a movie version of it. Every year, another movie comes out that seems to cherry pick little elements of it here and there.

But what I really want to do with the movie hasn't been done by anyone yet.

I also would also like to do a Christmas TV special at some point. A classic cartoon special would be terrific, like the Grinch or something like that. In traditional 2-D animation.

But for whatever reason, it hasn't happened yet. I think I may have to get into it and make the sucker myself. It comes down to, ultimately, do I want to start a studio myself and get it done? That would be a tremendous undertaking. Or do I want to deed the rights over to somebody else? But then I'd have to watch it possibly get mangled, and I'd rather not do that. I'd rather not anything happen with the character that I couldn't have a say in.

That's why I really like doing it in the comic strip form.

And I think next year, I'm going to try to do more comics, not only with Jingle, but with some of my other characters that I haven't worked with in awhile.

Nrama: In monthly comics?

Dini: No, what I'd like to do is get them out on a weekly basis, probably online. I'm experimenting with some stuff like that. And I think that could be a good way of going.

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