Who’s Who at DC Comics-The New 52: W. Haden Blackman

Who’s Who at DC Comics-The New 52: W. Haden Blackman

By David Hyde Tuesday, August 16th, 2011
Yesterday on THE SOURCE, you got a backstage pass into the insights and personal stories of some of the writers and artists working on the JUSTICE LEAGUE family in DC Comics-The New 52. Today, beginning with BATWOMAN’s W. Haden Blackman, get to know some of the writers and artists working on the BATMAN group books. THE SOURCE: How do you write the first line of a new series? W. HADEN BLACKMAN: For us, the first line in the first issue of Batwoman was really driven by the desire to introduce a new villain immediately and set the tone for the entire first arc. We wrote in some placeholder dialogue, which we then revised after we had a strong first draft of the entire issue. As wit all the dialogue, we revisited it a few times, and made revisions after the first round of lettering- when we could finally see how it all fit together. How do you introduce a new hero? We hope that we were going to be both reintroducing Batwoman to fans, and also introducing her to new readers, so we do provide some recap to bring everyone up to speed. But it was more important for us to show how Batwoman's past impacts her decisions, actions, and attitudes in the present. For example, we don't dwell on the fact that she went to West Point or rehash her expulsion under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - that story has already been told - but you will see how her training as a soldier influences how she operates as Batwoman and relates to other "superheroes." In terms of her actual entrance, we wanted it to be heroic, but also immediately set up the central conflict of arc one -- it isn't just a standard "let's watch her beat up some bad guys to establish that she can" intro. How do you introduce characters? For me, it always comes down to trying to identify something unique -- or at least interesting -- about that character, and building a scene around that. On Batwoman, we're also very interested in making sure each major character has her own mission as well, which we try to establish as early as possible. The ways in which these missions conflict or complement Batwoman's own create a lot of interesting dynamics. How do you introduce a new villain? It all depends on the villain, I think. With the Weeping Woman, who is introduced in the first issue of Batwoman, I had a lot of goals... I wanted her to be somewhat enigmatic with the possibility of even being sympathetic on some level, but also clearly frightening and monstrous. I also really wanted to be true to the legends that inspired the character, establish right away why she is a threat to Gotham, and suggest some of her powers. So, we approached it from the standpoint of a witness statement from someone who has been victimized by the Weeping Woman and can describe first hand what it is like to see her, be in her grasp, and hear her speak. What was the first comic you ever worked on? As a teenager, I did a self-published one-shot with a friend about a group of superheroes trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. My first "professional" work was a short story for Star Wars Tales about an alien space pirate. Who was the first character you followed? A tie between Swamp Thing, Firestorm, and Green Arrow -- I tried to buy everything they appeared in. What was the first series you collected? Swamp Thing. I remember traveling to every comic book shop in Southern California trying to find as many issues back issues as I could. I think I have at least two full sets of the original series. I'm only missing a first printing of House of Secrets #92. Who was the first writer you followed? Probably a tie between Len Wein and Steve Gerber, both guys who wrote stories about swamp monsters... Who was the first artist you followed? Hands down, Bernie Wrightson. I really credit him with getting me to read comics, although I first saw his work in Stephen King's Cycle of the Werewolf. There are some images in that book that I will never forget – a werewolf stalking after a boy while clutching the string of that kid's kite, a werewolf embracing a lonely, middle-aged woman, a severed pig's head on a post... I sought out everything he had done previously, which led me to Swamp Thing. And I still wish that someone would do a proper film version of Frankenstein based on his illustrations -- I think it's the most disturbing yet sympathetic version of the Monster imaginable. What was the first convention you attended as a fan? Various small conventions in Los Angeles, mostly in search of back issues. What was the first convention you attended as a professional? SDCC, to appear on a Star Wars panel. What was the first comic book you read? A weirdly oversized Howard the Duck that had three or four stories in it, including one where he fights a vampire cow. I still have it on my bookshelf. What was the first piece of original art you bought? A rejected cover sketch for an issue of Star Wars Republic by Tomas Giorello, which he was kind enough to ink for me as well. What was the first digital comic book you downloaded? In general, I still prefer my weekly trip to the comic book shop, but I have been checking out a lot of motion comics lately to see how they handle creating a sense of movement and integrate audio -- specifically, the voice acting, which really makes or breaks a motion comic for me. On your creative process: When writing any story, I try to start with a one-liner, or even short description of a character arc, that interests me. For a comic book arc, I'll then turn that into a very detailed outline akin to a film treatment. Next, I do a very quick breakdown of the individual issues, estimating the number of pages required for each scene, just to make sure everything is going to fit comfortably and that I'm taking advantage of even page reveals whenever possible. This becomes my rough skeleton, though I usually throw out big chunks of it when I actually start writing and new (and hopefully better) ideas surface. When I write a first draft, I try to avoid getting bogged down in detailed descriptions or polishing dialogue until it's "just right," because I rarely know exactly what needs to be shown and said in every panel until I get to the end of an issue. I do sometimes write some scenes multiple times, though, to try out different ideas, perspectives, or hooks. After I barrel through the first draft, the next revision focuses largely on all the description I think is necessary; then I do at least two dialogue passes, not reading or touching anything but the dialogue. And finally a polish looking for typos or any dialogue that really calls attention to itself (which I hate). Working with Jim on Batwoman has been a similar process. The biggest difference is that we need to be a little more rigid about how many pages we devote to each scene because we are following some rigorous design principles -- every first and last page is always three panels, and every scene with Batwoman is a two-page spread. After we get the breakdown done, we divvy up the first draft, lobbying for first crack at the scenes that interest us the most (and if neither of us wants to write a scene, we know that there's something wrong with just the idea of the scene...). Then we swap our scripts and suggest revisions to one another, and usually end up on the phone for editing sessions where we read and reread the dialogue together.