Me, Myself & I

I don’t usually use this column to plug my own work, but what the hey! Let’s see how it feels.

The news that George Pérez and I are finishing “Games,” The New Teen Titans graphic novel we began about 15 years ago broke last week at the Texas Wizardcon and I thought I’d give some background to it. The story is on my website, www.marvwolfman.com, so I won’t repeat what I said there, but I still wanted to talk about it. So here goes.

The idea of going back and finishing something that was started so long ago is daunting. Both George and my styles have changed a lot since those days. I know back then I tended to write lots of dialogue and many, many captions, often with lots and lots of purple prose, whereas these days I try to be a lot more concise in my writing. Fact is, today’s comics eschew captions as well as lots of dialogue. I am, of course, aware that styles change; old ones go away and new ones replace them, but I find a lot of the dialogue today is so short and to the point that the rambling nature of fun dialogue is lost. Yes, today’s craft is unquestionably better than much of what was done back in the 70s and 80s, but in making the dialogue more realistic, more movie-driven and less melodramatic, I think some of the, dare I say it, corny fun used back then is gone, too.

So, is that bad, I hear some of you ask. Melodramatic writing is, let’s face it, not realistic. But then neither are any of the situations comic book characters find themselves in. There is literally no realistic way to spout meaningless treknobabble about the Earth being attacked by an armada of super-alien lizard people who possess the ability to disintegrate our molecules. If you try to make it sound real, I think it takes away some of the “Oh, my God” aspect of what we in comics and brings it thudding down to Earth, often stealing the magic of the medium. I know readers want more realistic dialogue, but I wonder if the very wonderment of what comics are is being lost in the process? Do we, as writers and artists, in seeking to make all super hero comics more mature, make them in fact less fun?

And does that last line sound like something Carrie would write in “Sex In The City?”

Some people, Alan Moore for example, can do both, but how many of us are Alan Moore? Ummm. I think only one. Alan Moore. And he’s as close to an original genius as this field has ever had.

I therefore look at the Titans art that has already been done – a good 70-plus pages - before George and I figure out how to finish telling the story, and wonder exactly how I should go about writing the story. Do I write it as I did back in 1985-7? I can very easily return to that style as I could just as easily update the writing. Fact is, when I write the Titans, that earlier style is the approach I default to – and not my later Titans style - because the earlier version is so much fun to write. Yes, it isn’t the kind of dialogue Neil Gaiman or Brian Bendis would write, it doesn’t win awards or tell people how deep the underlying meaning of the story is, but it is the dialogue that seems to fit with those characters.

But here’s the rub. If I go for today’s style, will the characters no longer sound like the Titans George and I did? Will I be changing what made the Titans good or will I be bringing them up to date. So here I am trying to work out the approach I’ll take with the story. I already have had a conversation with the DC, but I know I won’t start writing until I feel the approach I’ll take is completely natural for me. My best work is done when I sit down knowing in advance how I’m going to handle a job, and then do so, while still letting me be surprised along the way as the writing takes different twists and turns. But the roadmap is always firmly in place.

Who are the Titans? I’ve written many different versions of them depending on who was editor. There was no difference in the writing between when Len Wein first edited the book and when George and I took over - Len never believed in forcing a style on another writer – but after I was no longer editor, the book shifted personality depending on who was in charge. But the one thing that didn’t change, until nearly the end when it all went to hell in a handbasket, was that the Titans were a group of people who truly, deep down, cared for each other even if they didn’t always like each other. They were a family, and family members occasionally wage wars against each other and sometimes hate each other, but when attacked, group together as one. Wendy Pini said it best in Elfquest with Cutter and Skywise: brothers in all but blood.

To me, the Titans were family in all but blood. They’d risk their own lives for their friends, but it also took awhile to get to that place. In the beginning, they were suspicious of each other, yet, because Raven chose them well they were ‘doomed’ from the start to mesh together. Being an empath, she knew their personalities would eventually jibe, and, lo and behold, they did. That George and I also had a pretty good idea of who they were probably didn’t hurt, either.
There has already been a lot of questions and speculation about “Games,” and I want to remind everyone that not everything is set. George and I haven’t had a chance to talk about the book either between ourselves or with Eddie Berganza, the DC Editor in charge. George still has a few projects he has to get through before he can begin, so things like size of the book, format, how many of the original 70 pages will be kept and even if it’s going to be a flashback tale or not has not been formerly worked out. George and I are both committed to doing it, and, hopefully, it will be done in time to come out Christmas, 2004, for the 2005 25th anniversary of The New Teen Titans. Yikes! It is hard to believe we created the series almost 25 years ago.

At any rate, I’ll use this column to occasionally update you on our progress, and I’ll be using the TODAY’S VIEWS section of my website for sudden developing news. I’ve also expanded the Titans section on my website because of so many requests from old Titans aficionados as well as new fans of the animated series.

Speaking of the animated series, I know the plans for season two and three, and long time Titans fans should be very pleased. They are bringing in some very surprising characters and storylines. I did a first season episode and am slated to do another for season three. As for season four…
And speaking of animation, I recently received, and somehow erased, an email from someone asking about the 1990s Adventures of Superman animated series that I story-edited.

Most people have never seen that series and it has never come out on video or DVD, which is a shame, because, for the most part, I’m extremely proud of the work we did.

The letter talked about the series being reviewed as one of the very few that actually tried to be faithful to the source material, and again, for the most part, it was.
For those who have never seen the show, let me give you some background information.

My stewardship of Superman actually began with an episode of CBS’s “The Garbage Pail Kids” cartoon show. What? You never saw that show, based on the very crude, often disgusting, but usually funny card set done in the late 80s as a parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids? Well, don’t feel too bad. Nobody ever saw the show. Wasn’t it produced? Yes. Thirteen episodes were completed, and when I say completed I mean right down to the final animation. It was done. Finished and waiting to be put on the air.

Now, friends of mine were the story editors of the series, and because they knew I not only wrote animation, but was writing the Superman comic at the time, asked me to do a spoof of Superman based on one of the Garbage Pail Kids cards titled Super Nerd. I wrote a very funny, I thought and they thought, story featuring a Lex Luthor-like kid villain who sends killer robots after Superman, you know, the same story that used to be done in every issue of Superman. My killer robots were like giant Pez dispensers and fired their bombs from their necks when their heads flipped back. As I say, it was very silly and perhaps one of the funnier cartoons I had done at that time. CBS, the network, loved it, approved it, and it was animated.

The problem was that the Garbage Pail Kids cards were reviled by parents who thought they were so disgusting that they were warping kid’s brains everywhere. Church groups were so up in arms over the cards, that they sent signed petitions to CBS demanding the show not be aired.

True story: One day I was visiting Eclipse Comics in northern California and went to Brother Juniper’s, a really great little restaurant owned by Franciscan Monks. I was having lunch and I noticed the petition on the wall asking for signatures to ban this awful, blasphemous show. Now, I had only just finished writing my episode and I knew that nobody could have ever seen the show. So I asked the owner what the petition was about, and he told me that the show was blasphemous, evil, and should be stopped. Without saying who I was or what I had done (I was afraid of being stoned!) I asked him if he had ever seen the show, knowing, of course, he could not have. He said no, but he just knew the show was bad.

The funny thing was the show had little to do with the cards except for the physical similarity between its kids and ours. We avoided the “dark, evil stuff” and instead did Mad Magazine like parodies of TV shows and such. The show was actually funny and not at all gross. It had none of the inherent nastiness of the cards, which is, of course, why kids loved them in the first place. The same reason my generation of kids loved Mars Attacks cards which showed Martians blasting people’s guts to pieces with ray guns.

Anyway, the church groups, without ever seeing the show, bombarded CBS with the signed petitions, threatening to boycott the network over this abomination of a show, and CBS, well, CBS buckled faster than they did when they recently cancelled the Reagan TV movie. The show was not only cancelled, but I believe the network became like the Secretary in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – they denied any knowledge of its existence. The episodes were never aired, although I did get a copy of mine on tape.

Meanwhile, the head of CBS Children’s programming was being pressured at the time to do a Superman animated series. She was, I’m told, really good at what she did, but she didn’t care for super-heroes at all. She preferred funny cartoons and did a great job on those shows, but Superman…? Not her cup of tea.
At any rate, she liked the parody story of Superman I had done for The Garbage Pail Kids and asked the production company, Ruby-Spears, to hire me to do the real Superman cartoon show. She had no idea I had ever written the comic, but she thought that based on my parody, I could handle the real thing. Nobody asked me if I wrote comics and it never occurred to me to say I did. This was a network animation assignment and I’d write Superman to their specifications, not DC Comics.

She had a second idea. Rather than make the show one long cartoon, we would have an 18 minute Superman adventure and a 4 minute continuing back-up series chronicling the history of Superman, from his arrival on earth to him being hired as a reporter for the Daily Planet. In essence, we would show the story behind the story.

I really loved that idea and set down to work. The pilot would, in a way, be a serious version of the story I had done for the Garbage Pail Kids. Luthor would be the villain again and he’d have his robot attack Superman, kidnapping Lois in the meantime. I wrote what I thought was a really good story that took the power of the old Fleisher Superman cartoons and mixed it with fun dialogue. Luthor would be the businessman version that I had created for the comic, but because they wanted the character to also reflect the movie version, I wrote him to sound like the Gene Hackman version. As story editor I suggested that they use the Superman movie theme but to also include the dialogue from the opening of the old TV Show, “Faster than a speeding bullet, etc.” This was going to be both faithful and fun and considering the limitations of network animation as well as 1990’s Standards and practices, as strong as I could make it.

I was really proud of the pilot and CBS approved it immediately. I then went to work writing the back up, and I think the job I did on the four-minute story called “Adoption,” which shows how the Kents adopted young Clark, is one of the best animation stories I ever did. The animation, too, was excellent.
CBS approved the pilot and we were given the go ahead to series. But before I could start, I had to meet with the CBS head of programming as well as some other folk. I went to the meeting and the CBS exec proudly introduced me to someone who was supposed to be a stranger to me: Jenette Kahn, publisher of DC Comics… and my other boss for almost a decade.

Although nothing was ever said when the CBS Exec learned about my connection to DC Comics, and I did story-edit all 13 episodes of the series, to this day I am certain that if anyone had known I was a comic book writer who also wrote Superman instead of an animation writer who had just done a Superman parody, I would never have gotten the job.

I’ll talk more about this show as well as other cartoon super-hero shows I’ve worked on next time.

See you in fourteen.

Marv Wolfman.


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