It's a rough world out there for the little robot that could.
But that's part of his appeal -- "WALL-E" took cinemas by storm with the largely silent portrayal of the musical-loving, trash-collecting, post-cataclysmic automaton. But "WALL-E" isn't stopping with just an Oscar-winning Pixar film -- now he's moving along to BOOM! Studios. Newsarama caught up with writer J. Torres to talk about portraying pantomime, whether or not our hero was an only child, and what "WALL-E" really means.
Newsarama: How did you get involved with writing WALL-E?
J. Torres: I met with Mark Waid a little over a year ago and we talked about what I might be able to do at Boom, and contributing to the Disney/Pixar line was the first thing we discussed. He passed me on to then editor of the line Paul Morrissey, he and I ran some stories up the Pixar flag pole, and eventually here we are.
Nrama: It sounds like you've got a lot of balls in the air in terms of your subject material: It's an Oscar-winning Pixar property. It was largely a silent film. And you're having each of your four issues work as stand alone, done-in-one tales. How are pulling this off? Was there any sort of preparation you did to get into this mindset?
Torres: I've lost count of how many times I've watched the DVD, especially the first act which I played and replayed to get to know Wall-E better, how he moved, how he expressed himself, what noises he made instead of using words, etc. I listened to the commentary tracks several times and took notes. I made screen grabs of different "expressions" and poses for reference. I poured over books like The Art of Wall-E and the model sheets and other material we were given. I bought some of the more detailed Wall-E toys to also study. I really immersed myself in his world. But as far as the done-in-one tales, I've been writing those for DC's all-ages books like Teen Titans Go, the Legion kids comic, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold for some five years now, so that part of it was like another day at the office for me.
Nrama: How do you see WALL-E, as a character? What should we know about him? Is there any characterization you've been able to add past what the movie set up?
Torres: In the movie, he's this hardworking robot looking to get more out of life. Hence, the digging through the garbage for treasures, playthings, and even companionship. But has he always been that way? What was he like when other Wall-Es were still around? When did he start collecting junk? Why? We answer these questions - and more - in the four stories.
Nrama: What are the difficulties of portraying a largely silent character like WALL-E? Will the comic reflect the movie in terms of the lack of dialogue? And if so, how do you still inject your voice as a writer into this?
Torres: I actually made a list of "words" he said in the movie and tried to "translate" certain sound effects on the page. Didn't always work out or read as well as I thought it should, so I added a few things to Wall-E's vocabulary. But that's the extent you'll hear my "voice." This is the type of assignment, the type of story, where it needs to be as true to the source material as you can make it. I think if fans hear too much of you, you'll hear about it! It's like covering a song the "right" way and not butchering it with riffs and runs that show off stuff you really need to save for something else.
Nrama: WALL-E the film seemed to have a lot of weighty topics for a children's film -- the environment, lethargy, consumerism -- are you planning on touching upon these topics (or any others) further in your comic?
Torres: No more than the movie does, really. The creators of Wall-E have said that they didn't really mean to make any kind of big sociopolitical statement. It was more about Wall-E's growth as a character and everything else was backdrop. Not that there aren't messages there, or lessons to be learned, but this isn't an Aesop fable with a moral explained at the end. Some people look at Wall-E as an environmental parable, but others will say it's a movie about rising above your station and/or pursuing your dreams. It's both, right? I just want to tell a good story, and hope readers get something good out of it.
Nrama: You've been doing a lot of younger-oriented books in the past, such as Batman: The Brave and the Bold. But with WALL-E, there's also a studio to work with. What are the differences between working with a TV property like the Brave and the Bold, and putting together an adaptation for a film property?
Torres: It's not really about film versus TV property, and more about the genres and sensibilities of each property. One requires fast action and campy one-liners, the other is more pensive and gets its comedy from pantomime. Both are very visual, it is comics after all, but Wall-E requires more "acting." One is Chaplain and the other is Jackie Chan, you know? There is no narration or monologueing to help tell our story. It's very much show and not tell. And that's where Morgan's skill comes in and saves my butt.
Nrama: Let's talk about your collaborator, Morgan Luthi. What do you feel his strengths are for this project? What's the back-and-forth like there, on translating your work to the page, and building upon said work?
Torres: He is a great sequential storyteller. He writes AND draws so he knows how a comic should be made. We have yet to meet in person, but so far the collaboration has been a lot of fun and really easy. And by easy I mean we seem to gel and get along and there is a nice back and forth as we go from the script to pencils to the lettering stage. Our editors have been good about letting us bounce things off of each other and tweak things together as we move along. I think this will show in the final product. And that will show people how talented Morgan is.
Nrama: Lastly, without giving too much away, what's your favorite part about working on WALL-E? Are there any scenes or moments you're particularly digging?
Torres: I love all the Easter Eggs in Pixar's movies! So, Morgan and I have hidden some eggs of our own. I hope people will get a kick out of trying to find them. Also, speaking of finding things, we show throughout the four issues where some of Wall-E's treasures came from and build towards that awesome collection we see in the movie. I've really enjoyed watching the movie for those details and then putting them into the comic in the hopes that readers will have fun making some connections.