It's time to go back to Back to the Future.
On Wednesday, IDW launches the Back to the Future comic book series, returning to the adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown -- in fact, starting with their very first meeting. Overseen by co-creator and the original film's screenwriter Bob Gale, IDW's Back to the Future miniseries will crisscross the timestream to tell stories of Marty, Doc and more (yes, and old Biff Tannen) in the past, present and future.
Newsarama talked to series writers Erik Burnham and John Barber, who are splitting the book with two serialized stories per issue.
Newsarama: John, Erik, what can fans of the Back to the Future movies expect with the comic book series?
Erik Burnham: They can expect to see character pieces set before, between, and after moments in the films. The kinds of things that fill in little gaps of knowledge, and answer questions folks might not even be aware they had.
John Barber: Yeah—these are never-before-told secrets fans of the movies have wondered about for years. Really interesting moments where we get to see what the characters are all about—seeing Doc getting into new Doc antics, and seeing them all come alive on the page, is just amazing. We jump all around the timestream, and like the Back to the Future movies, it all fits together into a bigger whole!
Nrama: The series is being spearstheaded by Bob Gale -- how did you get him back to the Back to the Future franchise, and what is he contributing exactly?
Burnham: Don’t call it a comeback! Bob was on this project before I came onboard, so anything I suggest would be speculation… but my speculation is that he loves Hill Valley and its residents too much to not be here. As to what he’s contributing? He’s our compass. He’s making sure we head in the right direction.
Barber: Bob lives in this world! The whole thing comes down to our editor, Tom Waltz, and our editor in chief, Chris Ryall, talking to Bob about doing a Back to the Future series. Their excitement and passion got him interested, and he came at it with a list of stories he wanted to tell! It’s been fantastic working with him on these stories—he’s a great collaborator, and you can see what an amazing screenwriter he is in the very canny notes and observations he makes!
Nrama: What do you two see as the big questions unanswered from the movies you hope to answer -- or at least address -- in the comic book series?
Burnham: Before we wrote a line Bob sent us a few ideas and story prompts – which was several pages. There were some big questions, big ideas... but just as many small ones. It’s all character-based. The only thing close to a downer is that some of the ideas deserve miniseries all to themselves, and I hope we can make that happen in the future. As for #1? Those stories were things Bob wanted to see up front – how Doc and Marty met is a big unanswered question that John and Brent Schoonover are tackling, while Dan Schoening and I look at the small question of how Doc got into the Manhattan Project during World War II.
Barber: Yeah—for all of us, I think it' fair to say it’s all about the characters. It’s all about finding the moments where we can see Doc and Marty and George and Lorraine be themselves in a new adventure, a new story, that all fits in within the framework of the movies.
Nrama: The format of this is two stories per issue, one co-written by John and one co-written by Erik. How is that working, doing these smaller stories in an anthology-style format?
Burnham: Writing a shorter story is a different kind of challenge, but it’s what I started with in comics, so I’m comfortable. These six pagers are giving me the opportunity to work with several artists, and, really, just to play. (My thanks to John for doing the heavier lifting on this series!)
Barber: Aw, I think I have it easier… basically, we’re trying to get a ton of story in there. The Back to the Future movies are really narratively dense—a lot happens in those movies, really quickly—and I we’re trying to carry that over to the comics. It’s been fun collaborating with Bob, and also really great working with Erik, where one of us will introduce some element in the stories that the other will pick up on in a later story—and it all evolves into one big tapestry.
Nrama: Can you each tell us more about your first stories?
Burnham: Bob’s choice for the back-up in issue one was the aforementioned Manhattan Project story. It’s pretty simple – it’s the 40s, Doc Brown is at CalTech, and he notices some of the best and brightest are taking leave. He figures it’s for something to aid the war effort and he wants in – but CalTech’s president, Robert Millikan, he’s not so sure Doc would be a good fit. We go from there.
Barber: It seemed like a good kick-off to start with Doc and Marty meeting for the first time (or Marty’s first time meeting Doc, anyway!). With that one, Bob had a whole story he wanted to tell—he had it scripted for the first half, and it was so crazy opening up a document and seeing these characters I’ve known since I was a kid, speaking again! And it was intimidating to be writing them right next to dialog by the guy who originally wrote them! Fortunately, I’ve got amazing artists like Brent Schoonover, Marcelo Ferreira, Corin Howell, and Ryan Browne bringing the scripts to life!
Nrama: Is this only stories about Marty McFly and Doc Brown, or could we see some others take the lead like Biff Tannen?
Burnham: Others can absolutely take the lead, and will. I’m currently working on a story starring Old Biff (clearly the best of all Biffs.)
Barber: Everybody’s fair game! We’ll see some descendants of characters, and we’ll see some old favorites, too—I mean, I couldn’t wait to get to write George and Lorraine!
Nrama: Is the cult favorite animated series canon, or not so, for this comic book series?
Burnham: Only Bob Gale knows for sure.
Barber: And I’m sure Bob would like us to mention that animated series is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray at the same time as the comic comes out! Seriously, though—there are some quite distinct nods toward that series in the comic.
Nrama: Big picture, what's the goal of Back to the Future's comic book series?
Burnham: On a macro level, the goal is fun comics. We’re serving up slices of life from this franchise that may not warrant a movie-length treatment, but are still fun to explore.
Burnham: I think to enlarge the size of the Back to the Future world—not to take away the mystery and excitement but to inject new mysteries and new adventures into a timestream already brimming with them!