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Writer Dan Slott By Pete Bangs
Dan Slott is going to appear to be the proverbial overnight success to many of the readers who pick up his new book, Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. He’s writing a high-profile book with art by the rising star of the bat firmament, Ryan Sook, and most Batfans could be forgiven for assuming Dan Slott must have some hold over the editors at DC.
Truth is though he’s spent more than a decade writing some of the biggest pop culture icons around, from Bugs Bunny to Ren & Stimpy, having broken into Looney Tunes comics in 1993. Looney Tunes, like Disney, has an enormous readership outside the U.S. and the over all international readership for much of Dan’s work probably numbers in the hundreds of thousands, figures most superhero writers can only dream of.
And so ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, we give you Dan Slott.
PB: Dan, You've been writing comics for over a decade now but you're still a name that may be unknown to some of the people who pick up your upcoming miniseries, Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. Do you feel like you've finally "arrived" or is this simply another step in a fairly diverse writing career?
DS: Writing mainstream superhero comics has always been a dream of mine. And yeah, you're right, I took a long, twisted path getting here. But, now that I've got a toehold, just TRY getting rid of me! I dare ya!
PB: What draws you to superheroes? Do you identify more closely with the modern, largely British, desire to deconstruct them and tear them down, or are you more inclined towards an interest in the sheer, larger than life mythological side to them?
DS: Six of one, half dozen of the other. I’ve always been drawn to the heroes who straddle both fantasy and reality. You’ve got all the powers of a spider, but you can’t pay your rent or get a date. You’re the world’s greatest detective, but you can never find the faceless killer who murdered your parents. As a group, you have grand cosmic adventures, but at your core you’re a family—dealing with babysitters, forgetting your wife’s anniversary, and trying to find out who ate the last slice of pie from your favorite Yancy St. bakery. That’s what I love most about comics. The things you can relate to married to the fantastic. It’s those elements, that heart, that draws me to these characters.
PB: You've written an awful lot of humour books for animation franchises like Ren & Stimpy and Looney Tunes, as well as forays into superheroes with Venom and New Warriors at Marvel. What are the highlights on your CV for you?
DS: I am very proud of my recent work on Justice League Adventures (most of which can be found in the recent JL Adventures TPB - on sale now! Plug, plug, plug). Though my personal faves (good luck finding them!) are...
- A Two-Gun Kid story I did with GIL KANE! How cool is that?! It was recently reprinted in the Marvel Visionaries: Gil Kane TPB. After that story saw print, I could've been hit by a bus, content with the knowledge that I'd led a full life.
- Ren & Stimpy Special #3: Masters of Time & Space. This was the world's first-and-only interactive-fourth-dimensional comic book. Don't even ask me to explain that. Just find a copy of this four-color Chinese-puzzle-box of a comic and read it. It ate up six months of my life just to make sure it worked.
Other high points include: Superman Adventures #57, Looney Tunes #75, and Midnight Sons Unlimited #9.
PB: Gil Kane is a major comics legend and the Two-Gun Kid story with him must have been a major buzz. Did you get to meet or talk with him when you did the story?
DS: Sadly, no. I really wish I did.
PB: That’s too bad, All the interviews I’ve read with him show him to be a real character. Talking of major creators though, who are your writing heroes and influences, who’s had the biggest effect on your writing?
DS: I could probably rattle off a list of story-telling icons like Spielberg and Hitchcock, or comic book royalty like Jack Kirby and Gardner Fox... But my biggest heroes and influences are the mentors, collaborators, and friends I've amassed over the years in this industry. I am constantly seeking their valuable counsel, input, and friendly ears. Tom Brevoort, Ty Templeton, Manny Galan, James Fry, Mike Siglain, and Fabian Nicieza... just to name a FEW!
PB: Spielberg and Hitchcock are interesting choices. Many modern comics creators cite the influence of film and filmmakers. What do you think comics can learn from film as a medium? Do you think comics should be learning from film rather than trying to feed of comic to film successes?
DS: This seems like an S.A.T. question. Comics are to Film as: A) Radio is to Television, B) Photos are to Video, C) Text is to Speech, D) Rootbeer is to Sasparilla.
I think Comics can learn from ALL media. Look at Marvel’s current covers, they’re obviously drawing on mainstream magazine covers (Rolling Stone, Vogue, Maxim) for inspiration. Comics are always finding inspiration from the world of Art — like George Pérez drawing on the works of Escher when he redesigned Olympus for his run on Wonder Woman. In issue #3 of Arkham, the script called on Ryan Sook to draw upon the works of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey — and the results were AMAZING!
In the end, comics can only be comics. We can try to adapt some of the tricks of film. But we can’t be a slave to that kind of mentality. After all, there are lots of things comics can do that films can’t.
We don’t have a special effects budget. If we want to blow up fifty cars, no sweat. Heck, we can blow up the entire universe without blinking. We can bring back ANY character we want for a sequel. Get the EXACT shot we want at any time of day. And, most importantly, we can be folded up and put in your back pocket. Let’s see films do that.
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PB: Now Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is quite a change from much of your previous work. DC's solicitation likens it to the HBO prison drama Oz. What drew you to such a dark storyline?
DS: The chance to break out of my pigeonhole. Most people see my work as cute, clever, or funny. My editor, Val D'Orazio, keeps reminding me that after Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, that's all going to change. I used to worry about being typecast as a humor writer. Now, I'm worried that people are going to think I've got dead bodies stashed away in my crawl space. This is a sick, sick, sick book.
PB: And Warren White (the lead character in AA:LH) and his situation, were they inspired by any of the recent Big Business financial scandals? Did you find yourself drawing on real world events for this story particularly?
DS: Yes. When I think about companies like Enron and Halliburton...I just get furious! So, yes. Warren White is a corporate weasel who gets cast down into the pits of Arkham. There, he will suffer horribly at the hands of Batman's Rogues Gallery. It's the pure, guilty pleasure of schadenfreude. Soak in it. It's fun.
PB: Changing tack, you've worked on probably every one of Warner Bros.' great animation icons in your comicbook career and Batman is one of the great comic icons. Subject matter aside, do you approach Batman differently to how you would Bugs Bunny or Foghorn Leghorn?
DS: Working on licensed properties is a great training ground. To do it well, you have to get the character's voice right, create new stories that are endemic to that character, and structure it in a style that feels like the original medium. When you read a Bugs Bunny comic, you should feel like you're getting a new Bugs Bunny cartoon. Once you've got that down, then you can have fun and explore what's unique about the comic book medium and, hopefully, deliver a story for that property that can only be done in comics.
This project is different. This miniseries creates a unique world for the audience to go into. You may have seen Arkham Asylum before...but not the Arkham Asylum Ryan Sook and I are creating. I'm dizzy with the freedom this prison is giving us. There are stories and ideas peeking out of each cell door.
PB: So is this "YOUR BATMAN STORY," the one you've always wanted to tell, or has Batman’s name been a vehicle allowing you to tell a story you want to tell and reach a bigger potential audience?
DS: This isn't my "Batman Story." This is my Arkham story. The Batman corner of the DCU is so rich, so full of potential. From the everyday heroes of the GCPD to the seedy noir-style adventures of Selina Kyle in Catwoman, there are so many places to go. And if you want to go mad...Ryan and I know just the place.
PB: And what inspired your new characters such as Death Rattle, Humpty Dumpty and Junkyard Dog? How do you think they stand up against classic Arkham inmates such as The Joker, Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter?
DS: This is a down-and-dirty prison drama. Things get brutal, actions have consequences, and I can’t kill the Joker. So enter a new cast of Bat-villains. These quirky rogues also make Arkham a little less of a joke.
Seriously, how many times can Two-Face escape from Arkham? Is he up to the triple digits yet? By having a set of villains that Batman has caught years ago and off panel, we can actually have some Arkham "lifers." See? They can keep some cons in their cells.
As for how the new rogues stack up against the classics? If Humpty Dumpty can make it out of this mini-series in… well..."one piece," I fully expect him to become a breakout star and join the ranks of the regulars. Val, Ryan, and I have a soft spot for the egg-man of Arkham. So we’ll all have to wait and see…
PB: You're working with Ryan Sook on Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. Are you working full-script and how has having Ryan as the artist affected how you've approached the story?
DS: Over time, Ryan and I developed a style that worked best for us as a team. My scripts are loose in places, describing all the scenes I need for the issue. In other places, where I want very specific dialogue, the script gets tighter. I leave suggestions for how long each scene should go (so I know that the story can be done in twenty-two pages). But these are just suggestions.
Then Ryan works his magic. He paces out the story, choosing his layouts, camera angles, and set pieces. It’s really amazing! I can’t stress this enough, Ryan doesn’t draw the story—he illustrates it! This is one frighteningly beautiful book!
People who’ve seen Ryan’s superlative work (in books like The Spectre and his Hellboy projects) are in for a big surprise! In Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, Ryan has made a creative quantum leap. He’s found a voice that’s all his own—and it’s amazing! There’s a reason DC is putting him on Detective Comics. You’ll see it in Arkham.
PB: This is the first book tied so intimately to Arkham since Grant Morrison's seminal Batman: Arkham back in 1989. Any concerns about possible comparisons being drawn?
DS: Nope. None at all. These projects are completely different animals. Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum: Serious House on Serious Earth was a macabre psychodrama. Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is a brutal prison drama with some "gallows humor" and slasher-horror-film suspense.
PB: The architecture and everything about Arkham Asylum is incredibly fluid, ranging from almost medieval castle to high tech Hannibal Lecter prison, and seems to change to meet the need of the story being told. Did you find you and Ryan have a similar idea of what Arkham is like, both as a physical place and an "experience" for the people there or have there had to be compromises along the way?
DS: No compromises. Our Arkham is our Arkham. When Jim Lee draws it in Batman, or Dave McKean drew it in the graphic novel, it has a different feel. That’s part of the magic of the DCU.
That said, I think any Arkham design has to acknowledge both its Lovecraft-ian roots (Denny O’Neil originally based it on Arkham Sanitarium from H. P. Lovecraft’s story, "The Thing on the Doorstep") and the needs of a modern day prison for criminal masterminds.
PB: Any future plans you're able to share?
Starting May 3rd, Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, and I are re-launching Batman Adventures! And the first issue is DC’s free comic for Free Comic Book Day. We’re all working really hard to make this the best Batman book possible!
This is a Batman title that anybody can jump into. It’s a stand-alone book that’s not weighed down by years of continuity. That gives us an immense amount of freedom to tell good, solid, stripped-down-to-the-bone Batman stories. Think of it as "Ultimate Batman."
We promise you a great read, good art, and (for the first four issues) some awesome new covers by Bruce Timm! Check it out!
It's a good all-ages book alternative to the blood-soaked, scream-fest of Arkham Asylum: Living Hell.
PB: You mention the Batman Adventures relaunch and you’ve worked on The Justice League Adventures; animation inspired books don't seem to work well for the large majority of long time fans, despite the constant high quality of art and story. Where do you think the audience lies for these books? Should DC be marketing them as their "Ultimate" books?
DS: That’s a loaded question, Pete. The DC Adventures books do very well abroad and on the newsstand. They’re books about some of the most popular characters in the world, free of convoluted continuities. So anyone can jump in and get a good story starring heroes they’re familiar with.
It’s only in the American direct market where these books don’t flourish like they should. More often than not, they’re racked away from the "regular" titles, shoved into dark corners next to copies of Betty & Veronica and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Let’s get real for a second. Hundreds of thousands of people read Loeb and Lee’s Batman. Millions of people watch Dini & Timm’s Batman on Cartoon Network and buy their DVDs. If comic shop owners were on the ball—and wanted to attract new customers into their stores—they’d put up posters of this version of Batman in their windows as well!
So, should DC market this as their Ultimate line? No way. They should market it as the Batman that millions of people know and love.
PB: Lastly, what would be your dream assignment with which character with which artist?
DS: Right now? Doing Arkham Asylum with Ryan Sook AND Batman Adventures with Ty Templeton ARE my dream assignments! And I just want to thank Joan Hilty and Dan Raspler for getting these projects through channels and pairing me up with such great artists!