WHEN I FIRST ANNOUNCED I WAS INTERVIEWING WRITER PAUL DINI, ONE OF OUR READERS POSTED THIS ON OUR POSTBOARD: "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU GUYS ARE INTERVIEWING HIM! THE MAN'S A GOD!!! A LITERAL GOD!!! I MEAN, HE MADE BATMAN COOL AGAIN, HE CREATED ONE OF THE MOST ENDEARING CHARACTERS EVER IN HARLEY QUINN, AND NOW HE'S WRITING FOR ONE OF THE BEST SHOWS ON TELEVISION, LOST!!!" THAT PRETTY MUCH SUMS IT UP, HUH?
Wayne Chinsang: The first thing I want to know is if itís kind of weird for you to look back on everything that youíve done and know that youíre responsible for contributing to a part of peopleís childhoods? Especially with the stuff you did in the Eighties, like Ewoks, Droids, and even episodes of Transformers. Is it weird for you to think of it like that?
Paul Dini: Yeah. Especially when you think I was just at the tail end of my childhood myself. I was doing that stuff when I was in college, because I got a shot to contribute some scripts. So at the same age when most guys are trying to figure out what theyíre going to do, around 20 or 21, Iím sitting there writing stuff for guys in college who are gonna watch it on TV. And Iím in college with them, you know?
PD: So right out of school I started doing things like Ewoks and the occasional Transformers or G.I. Joe for some friends of mine who were just starting their careers in animation. So I was kind of writing for my friends and other animation geeks who just happened to be watching TV at that time.
WC: Cartoons are obviously much different now than they were in the Eighties.
WC: I think cartoons in the Eighties were geared toward kids, and now they seem to be more for adults. Was it harder to write for kids than it is to write for adults?
PD: Well, the stuff was pretty much brain-dead pap back then. And, to a degree, things havenít changed. But itís sort of like if youíre a musician, you like playing a certain type of music and nothing will swerve you away from it. And it doesnít have to be the hardest rock 'n' roll; it can be just whatever you like writing, whether itís country or swing music or whatever. Youíre just bound and determined to write that kind of music. And I think that what happened was I was lucky at various points in my life to work on shows or projects that I liked or could stand to work on. There was a ton of dreck back then, and early on youíre starting your career and youíre willing to do just about anything. And I certainly did. But, by and large, I was lucky to be associated with some pretty interesting projects early in my career. After jobbing around for a year and doing things like Fat Albert and the odd Scooby-Doo episode, I got to go up to Skywalker Ranch and work on Ewoks and Droids. And while those shows werenít terrific in the long run, it was a fascinating experience being able to work up there and get to know some of those people. I felt like a little kid going into my older brotherís room, and there are Star Wars toys lying around and you get to play with them a little bit. So I did it more for the experience of the show, because back then we werenít doing Cartoon Networkís Clone Wars. We were doing something that was shepherded every step of the way by the censor ladies at the network, and it was gone over by the child educators, and that is a ghastly, ghastly way of working. But, that said, the other creators I worked with and I tried our best to come up with something that was a little different that at least looked good, and put that on TV and have it not suck. Like I said, it was a good experience, and I look back on those days with a lot of fondness. Coming right out of school, that was an invaluable experience; it was like spending four years in film school. And when you think about the fact that right across the way John Lasseter and his Pixar team were getting started, too, that was really an amazing time. It was like working back in early Hollywood in the pre-sound days, when everything was in black-and-white animation and everybody was just trying to get ahead. I would go over and see what John and his crew were doing at Pixar, and think, "Maybe not now, maybe not next year, but in a couple years this stuff is gonna be phenomenal. And hopefully Iíll get to work on some stuff thatís just as well received."
WC: It had to have been an interesting time. My sisterís ex-husband actually used to work at Skywalker Ranch occasionally.
PD: Oh, really? When? Doing what?
WC: Right around the time of Episode I, he was doing editing for them.
PD: Oh, okay.
WC: It must have been such a weird atmosphere to be there, especially during the Eighties when Star Wars was at its height. Not that itís small now, but the Eighties seemed to be the peak time for it.
PD: Well, I was there from '84 to '88, early '89, and even last year I was kind of coming and going, juggling some other projects in there. But it was a fascinating environment to see that George Lucas was able to build all this out there-- a lair that any Bond villain would be proud of, but for a slightly more benevolent use. And, again, it was a time to experiment and try things; when youíre in your mid-twenties you just sort of have to do that. You figure out what works and what doesnít work. Star Wars was still pretty big. It was a few years after they had done ...Jedi, and he was taking some time off and just helping his friends with movie projects, like Ron Howard with Willow, Francis Coppola with Tucker, and right up until the time that Robert Zemeckis was doing ...Roger Rabbit. He really wasnít doing it there, but they were doing some of the animation effects over at ILM. So that would have been around '88 or '89, which was sort of like the tail end of when I was there. But, again, it was a tremendous experience and a place that I think fondly of. I know itís changed drastically over the last few years, and I havenít really been back, but itís just one of those experiences that come up every once in a while into someoneís life, and you just have to go with it and see what itís all about.
WC: Right. With both cartoons and comics, as I said before, in the Eighties they were geared toward kids. But youíve been not only able to witness, but also be partly responsible for this transition toward an older age group.
WC: Why do you think the shift happened, and why do you think it happened so drastically? Because now it seems like Saturday morning cartoons-- not that theyíre completely void of things for kids-- but a lot of that stuff is now either for kids but with smarter and more adult humor, or itís just strictly created for adults.
PD: Well, I think what happened was that a lot of people who really loved cartoons-- when they grew up in the Sixties, Seventies, and into the early Eighties-- they grew up to make cartoons. And they wanted to make them with the same spirit of experimentation and adventure and the sense of humor that rivaled the things that they carried from their own childhood. There is kind of this interesting age gulf in animation; a lot of people who started off in the Golden Age of animation in the Thirties and Forties, by the time they got to the Sixties and Seventies they were much older, and all they were thinking about was retiring and getting out of the business. But there was really no fresh blood that came along during the Fifties or Sixties, so there was this gulf of 20 years. And it wasnít until the late Seventies or early Eighties that you had a rising group of younger people anxious to come in. Because animation was never really looked upon as a real career. It was just something that appeared now and then on your movie screen or TV, fashioned by pixies and elves someplace. But they werenít really training new people to take those jobs. The people who wanted those jobs in animation would later make a difference in reshaping the medium, like John Lasseter, John Kricfalusi, Matt Groening, Brad Bird, and countless people who have worked with them. They all wanted to do this; there was nothing else they were really willing to do. And they kind of forced the medium to change. At the same time, I think the viewers-- even if you werenít doing cartoons or all that interested in cartoons, in the Sixties and Seventies you grew up with them; they were a part of your life, even if you later went on to have a career in finance or whatever. You still kept a bit of fondness for cartoons with you, whereas your parents might not have. I think back to my parents who grew up during the Thirties and Forties, and they saw cartoons every once in awhile, like at the movie theatre or something like that. But there was no differentiation between them. It wasnít a cartoon culture like it is now. So a lot of that stuff just fell through the cracks. Like I would talk to my dad about the Golden Age of animation, and Iíd ask him about a Bugs Bunny cartoon or a Disney feature, and heíd just say, "It was just stuff that they showed at the time. We really didnít think all that much about it." It wasnít until television came along and was readily available to kids, in the late Sixties and Seventies, that you had kids programmed by cartoons to grow up to want to see them. And when kids became adults, there was still a part of them that said, "Yeah, I still want to see cartoons." So I think thatís one of the reasons for the resurgence in animation in the late Eighties and early Nineties. I also think that people were willing to take a chance. Producers like Steven Spielberg, who also loves cartoons, wanted to bring out something sort of fun, and you had TV executives who wanted to be in business with him, so they let him have his way with shows like Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, and Pinky & The Brain.
WC: Since you are now creating to appeal to an older audience, do you think that makes it harder to create those things, because adults expect more? Like, if you change the costume of some hero, a kid isnít going to write a letter and complain about it, whereas an adult-- someone who has had decades of history with that character-- is more likely to.
PD: I think when youíre changing a comic book character, adults are liable to complain more than kids are. I also think that more adults are reading comics than kids are, so I think comics become a very comfortable thing for a reader to check in with once a month. Weíre talking about readers who go from college age-- about 18 or 19-- to people who are in their mid- to late forties; they have always liked the characters and they make time for them every month to get caught up with their favorites. And I think that thereís a lot of fondness there. Itís the same reason people like soap operas or dramatic shows or sitcoms on TV: thereís a sense of permanence and continuity and comfort there. So if you find out that suddenly Supermanís got long hair and heís wearing a black costume, itís like, "Oh. I didnít want that. I want Superman the way he always is; working at the Daily Planet and fighting Brainiac. Look out! Thereís kryptonite!" That sort of stuff, you know?
PD: You want the excitement every month of seeing your hero in a new adventure, but you donít necessarily want a lot of change that is going to muck with the concept.
WC: In order for you to have fun with the character you have to have some amount of freedom, and obviously there are restrictions. But do you take that into consideration when youíre writing for an existing character? Maybe to avoid crossing that line to steer clear of pissing people off?
PD: Well, when I work with a well-known character or someone elseís character, I like making the readers think. Itís the same if I do them on TV, too. I wanna bring something new to the way the hero is presented, and I donít want to do the same old story thatís been done plenty of times before. I want to show them something new about the heroís approach to solving a problem, or their relationship with another hero or villain. Out of these very familiar elements you craft something new. I think thatís the rule for all comic book writers, that the characters are what they are with very few exceptions, and they remain what they are. Youíre not going to kill off Batman or Superman, or at least not in any sort of realistic way, because that would kind of bring the whole comic book company crashing down around you without those characters to bolster that imaginary universe, to say nothing of their monthly sales. So within that framework you have to be creative and think about who these characters are and mine some hidden gold out of familiar territory and turn things on its ear. And that was one of the things I always enjoyed doing when we adapted the characters to animation. We were dealing in a different medium than the printed page, so not every one of the same rules applied. We could take more chances, we could certainly show things in a different way, and the characters were ours at that point, within the realm of animation, to do with as we wanted. Whereas if youíre working on a monthly for a publisher, they might have an ongoing continuity for the next two years that you have to adhere to. Thereby your stories might not be as interesting or as creative as you want them to be. When we did the superhero shows for Warner Animation we were kind of entrusted with the characters, but were told to have fun and experiment with them a little bit. And I donít think there were all that many times we crossed the line, when we would show the character off in a bad light or do something that was inappropriate for the character. We never really stretched them that far.
WC: On the other side of it, with characters that youíve created, like Harley Quinn, are you defensive about how she is used?
PD: Sometimes. It doesnít happen often, but occasionally I will read something in her comic book and say, "Aw, thatís just wrong. She would never do that. I donít see the character as being this mean-spirited. I donít see her as being this thoughtless." I donít think of her as necessarily a cruel character. On the other hand, I donít think of her just as a wacky little goofball. Iíve written her that way many, many times, but at the same time if you play her too cartoony thereís nothing to her. You have to give her something. Even if her emotions are more childlike and more simplistic, sheís got to believe in her emotions and be affected by certain things. Just as the way youíd look at a child who really loves something or really hates something, they pursue it with a certain intensity. Harley is kind of like that. And when the character got to be too sharp or abrasive... (pauses) or adult in some ways, there was just no reason I could justify why she would look like that or dress like that. Like with the jester costume to begin with, she stopped being Harley and she became another character. Thatís not to say that the writing wasnít skillful or that there wasnít a lot of craft behind it, but you have to look at the character first, any character, and figure out why they are what they are. And if someone stretches that character too far away from the basic thing that gave them a personality, then youíre dealing with a different character. They may look the same, but theyíve become somebody else.
WC: When that happens, are you verbal about it? Or do you just shake your head and keep quiet?
PD: The realm of my power goes only to certain... (pauses)
WC: Like, who can you really tell, I guess.
PD: Yeah, that sort of thing. Like, in the case of Harley I realized from the get-go that other people would be writing the book, and that they would have their say as to how the character was depicted. And, to a great degree, I just said, "Fine. Go ahead with it." Because at the end of the day, DC Comics owns the character. I think if I had stepped up to the plate and said, "I really have to write this book," and then made a strong case back when I had written the first one-shot that it had to be my way or the highway, I think they would have let me write the monthly book. They would have been happy to have me do it, in fact. But my time is so crazy, what with working on TV primarily, that I just wasnít able to do it. And at the time I didnít really want to do it on a regular basis. I had my fun with Harley in the cartoons. More importantly, I would probably write a lot more for comics if I didnít have such weird scheduling problems. A lot of people have offered me regular books; like the folks at Marvel were calling me and asking, "Would you like to write the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man?" And, yeah, there is always an enthusiastic teenage part of me that will say, "Oh, yeah! I really want to write Spider-Man!" But the more practical side of me says, "There is no way you could ever adhere to that deadline, not with everything else youíve got going." So rather than disappoint people and make promises I canít keep, I would rather just enjoy a good issue of Spider-Man written by somebody else than attempt to write one myself.
WC: Yeah. It would get down to choosing between writing Spider-Man or sleeping.
WC: So I know youíve gotten into some live action TV stuff as well, and you just wrote an episode of Lost. How did that come about, and is live action TV work something youíre interested in doing more of?
PD: Yes, definitely. What happened was earlier this year, in February, I got a call from Bryan Burk, who works with J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions. I had met him socially a few times through some friends, and I had been recommended to him as a possible writer on the new show that J.J. was doing, which became Lost. Bryan gave me a very sketchy description of what it was, so I came in and met with him and Damon Lindelof, who is the executive producer of the series and who at that time was co-writing the pilot with J.J. So they explained what the series was and I got very excited about it because it sounded like a lot of fun; something that hadnít been done on TV in a long time, if, in fact, ever. But it was also a return to things that I loved when I was growing up, which were adventure shows and shows that had a bit of the bizarre or fantastic to it. Now, in this day and age of reality programming I had no idea whether the show would go or not, but it certainly sounded interesting. So after spending 20 minutes talking to them I said, "Boy, I would love to be involved with this." And as luck would have it they enjoyed my writing, and they felt that I would be a good fit with the show, so I got the nod to come on. At that point we didnít really know if we were going to be on the air or not, but thanks to J.J. and Damonís phenomenal pilot, ABC was very enthusiastic about the show and they picked it up. And weíve been going great guns ever since. Itís really been a great change for me, and I really enjoy it. Itís been a tremendous learning experience; there are a whole set of different rules to learn. Some of which I knew from some live action writing I had done before, but working in a room with a bunch of talented writers and coming up with ideas was a new experience for me. I had other friends who had worked in live action TV tell me what it was about, but I didnít really know what it was like until I got into it. And, by and large, I think itís a pretty great way of working.
WC: Were you given character outlines? Or were you just given the episodes leading up to the episode you wrote?
PD: Well, I was hired with three or four other writers, and the final pilot was still in the process of being written. And one of the reasons they wanted to have us involved in the show early on was that it was such a large cast of characters that they wanted to get different writersí perspectives on who those characters were. Characters like Jack and Kate and Locke and Sayid and all the rest were definitely in the pilot, and J.J. and Damon knew generally where they were going to take them, but they wanted other writers to come in and speculate what was in the charactersí heads. We would take different characters and write backstories on them, some of which were used and some of which were not. But it was just very helpful to do that; to do what we call "blue-skying" about who these characters are, what their motivations are, where they come from, and what their likes and dislikes are. So by the time we started writing scripts we had that material to refer back to, or, in some cases, deviate from, as a way of feeling like weíve known them for awhile. Weíve been on the island with them since day one. They seem almost like old friends to us, and that makes the show a lot easier to write.
WC: And it was probably more open-ended than writing for a character that has been around for 50 or 60 years.
PD: Yeah. Itís not like we were given a bible and told, "This is Jack. Jack comes from this city and has this job." It was a process of evolution that we were all involved in from early on.
WC: Thatís cool. So, letís shift and talk about Jingle Belle a little bit.
WC: My first question is, why Jose Garibaldi? Because heís just atrocious.
WC: No, Iím kidding. Jose is a great guy.
PD: Jose is great. He was recommended to me by Jamie Rich at Oni. I had read Joseís Mariaís Wedding and I thought it was just tremendous. And he has a very stylized, yet very cartoony way of drawing. Thereís something that seems a little classic about it; not necessarily old-fashioned, but it reminds me of really good strip cartooning. I grew up as a huge fan of comic strips, but I really kind of hate them now because whenever an artist rises to the forefront with a style that is really different that clicks, suddenly everybody else is desperate to draw in that artistís style. Whereas Joseís cartooning was very unique and very much his own. I like that a lot. I like the Jingle Belle stories to have a little bit of timelessness to them; they should look a little bit classic. She should never look like she came out of an X-Men comic. She needs a bit more of the humor look to her, and Jose got that perfectly.
WC: With the story, since itís a Christmas tale there is immediately a sense of timelessness attached to it. Was a Christmas story something you wanted to tell?
PD: Well, originally I just wanted to tell a father/daughter story. Itís always been in the back of my mind to do a Christmas story, because I do like the holidays and the fantasy aspect of it. There is something that strikes a very human chord and a warm, emotional response, and I like that a lot. That, to me, is 90% of what the celebration of Christmas is all about. But oddly enough that wasnít where Jingle Belle came from. It came from looking at a Christmas card from Steven Spielberg, of all people, who was posing with his kids. And I thought, "Here is a guy the rest of the world reveres, and heís got all these kids. And I wonder if they see him in the same way that another kid would look at him." So I thought that was sort of interesting. I know a lot of famous comic creators and movie directors that have kids, and sometimes Iíd wonder what goes on at home. And it was Christmas when I started thinking about it, so I started doing these sketches in my sketchbook. I thought, "Well, Santa doesnít have a kid, but what if he did? And what would the kid be like? Would she be all sunshine and sparkles, would she be wanting to take on the mantel of the great gift-giver, or would she be more of a little brat?" So I started thinking more about how current parents indulge kids. When the holidays come around, kids get an enormous amount of presents and gifts. So I started wondering if kids even appreciate them, or if it just makes them want more. And then I just started to apply that feeling to Santa. Like, "What if Santaís parenting skills leave something to be desired? What if out of a very kindly spirit, initially, he has this daughter that he gives these great presents to because he gives the best toys in the world, but what if she still grew up very rebellious? Or, more importantly, what if she grew up with a bad case of sibling rivalry for every other kid?" You know, she has the only dad who is out working on Christmas Eve. So I started thinking about what her Christmas Eve is like. And I figured sheíd probably either go to a party with the Eskimo kids and come back late because her dadís not around, or, when she was younger, she probably just sat up with her mom and ate a sandwich and they did each otherís hair or something. It was probably a very boring night for them. And then I thought it was all kind of funny, so I decided to play around with it a little bit, and thatís how Jingle evolved. She grew out of that. And so did my own take on The North Pole, which has taken on its own entity, too. I made my own little world beyond the reindeer. The reindeer are something I barely even touch on, because I think of them as a creation of other writers. Iím more interested in my own little pocket of The North Pole universe.
WC: So once you sketch that all out in your head and in your sketchbook, how do you translate that to Jose so that he adds to it appropriately, but then also translates your ideas appropriately?
PD: Well, by the time I started working with Jose most of the characters were already pretty well defined.
PD: I remember early on, [artist] Stephen DeStefano saying, "Well, I guess I better go and get a picture of a musk ox." And I told him Iíd help him out. So what did I do? I didnít send him a book; I went out and bought a musk ox.
PD: I bought it from an adventurersí club in Georgia. They had a big musk ox, so I got it shipped to my house and I took photographs of it.
PD: And by the time I was done with the rigmarole, by then Stephen had gone out and got himself a book. (laughs) I said to him, "I got those musk ox pictures." And he said, "Yeah, well, I found one on Google Images." "Oh. Well, that will work, too."
PD: But sometimes I would show him a rough sketch to give him an idea of what a character would look like. Then weíd go back and forth about the ideas. And Jose was always really close about every one of the initial designs. Heís a genius. He knows how to infuse whatever weird curve I throw at him with his own creative sense, and he always comes up with something that looks really cool.
WC: Since youíre responsible for both the characters of Jingle Belle and Harley Quinn, it seems like you create a lot of female characters.
PD: I know. I was thinking about that lately. I was thinking, "I need a little bit of testosterone here."
PD: Itís like Jingle Belle, my girl sheriff Ida Red, and then Harley. I must like the girls. But on the other hand, I donít really want to be doing Betty and Veronica. For whatever reason, it just is. I had actually come up with Ida Red and the Mutant, Texas characters before I came up with Jingle Belle; again, they were ideas that existed in my sketchbook. And Mutant, Texas was going to be more about the town, kind of like how Liíl Abner is more about Dogpatch than it is about Liíl Abner. I wanted to create a whole town full of weird creatures, and Ida Red was going to be the focal point for all of them. But then Jingle Belle came along, and that shoved Mutant, Texas into the background. But I think all of the characters are a lot of fun. With Jing, I see a lot of my teenage niece in her. I wouldnít say sheís an easy character to write, but sheís a fun character to write because thereís always inspiration for her. Harley I am kind of taking a break from these days. But it was just one of those things as far as the female characters go. I havenít really sat down and felt an emotional connection to a superhero type character. Iíve thought long and hard about doing a Superman or Batman type character, doing my own take on it, itís just that I havenít made yet that emotional connection between that guy in the suit and what would motivate him and keep him going. I havenít stopped looking, but I havenít had time to do it yet.
WC: Which character that youíve created would you say youíre most emotionally attached to?
PD: Jingís a lot of fun because sheís upbeat and sassy. On the other hand, I really like Ida Red because I think sheís got a little more to her, even though I havenít done nearly as many Ida Red stories as Jing stories. But thereís more of a heroic and self-sacrificing quality to Ida Red. Sheís a more decent character in a lot of ways than Jing, and sheís got a big responsibility on her shoulders being 16 or 17 and being the one who controls a town of freaks and mutants. Sheís a little harder to write, and I think thatís why I like her a little bit more.
WC: This seems to be an era, especially in comics, where the writers are more in the spotlight, like with [Brian Michael] Bendis and you. And before it just seemed like the illustrators got the rock star status. Why do you think this change has taken place?
PD: Well, I think weíre looking at some amazingly good writers out there. Bendis is a terrific writer when heís on top of his game, which is usually all of the time. Heís always thinking, heís always coming up with something new, heís always finding a way to infuse classic characters with a lot of his own personality and mindset, and yet somehow remain true to what the original vision that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko had. I think heís one terrific example. And Neil Gaiman, certainly. When he was doing Sandman he brought such a crossover of readership on. You had the comic book readers and the fantasy readers; people from all over actively seeking out Sandman and anything that heíd done. I think itís just really good storytelling, and part of it is kind of like what I was saying about animation. You have people who have grown up loving the comics medium, and now they really want to work in it and not just rehash old stories and concepts that were done by Stan and Jack or the DC writers. They want to tell their own stories with their characters. And they do it flawlessly, or even better than the original creators. I think that good visuals count for a lot, and I think itís always best if you have an artist who also writes-- and thatís another thing about Bendis, that he is an artist himself-- or else a writer who works hand-in-glove with a talented artist. I remember about 13 or 14 years ago we saw the rise of the superstar artist in creators like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld and a lot of the guys who went on to start Image Comics. And itís interesting to look at the comics of that time, because they do really adhere to the rock star attitude, as far as the artists and storytellers of that time go. But I donít think that a lot of that has endured over the years. I think the visuals were exciting and captivating, and they certainly spoke to that 14-year-old that was buying the comics, but it was also kind of shallow, too, and the books were a reflection on how shallow it was. And it was also a reflection of the readership. The kids collecting the stuff werenít doing it to read it; they wanted to get an investment. Like, "Look at this variant cover; the book cost me five bucks. Iím gonna take it back to the comic store next month and Iíll sell it for ten bucks." But then theyíd bring it back and itís still worth five bucks, if that, because there was just so much of it out there. And thatís a really tragic thing that happened, because it cut an entire generation out of reading and appreciating comics. Because the kids who were getting into comics 14 years ago for an investment didnít really care about the stories or the artwork. They just wanted to make money. And when they couldnít make the money, they just said, "Screw comics. Iím gonna take up video games." It was just too much of a good thing. It was very shallow, self-serving, and ultimately very short-sighted.
WC: Yeah. And I think itís great to see the writers remaining more humble, because itís almost like they saw what had happened. There just seemed to be this arrogance in both the industry and the readers.
PD: Right. What distresses me is when itís less about the comic books themselves and itís more about the pitch. And by the pitch I mean the pitch to Hollywood. So many creators.... How raw can I be on your site?
WC: (laughs) As raw as you want to be.
PD: So many creators came out with no more ambition than to suck the dick of Hollywood. Theyíre not selling comic books, theyíre not selling characters. Theyíre just selling pitches. The pitch gets them in the door, and suddenly-- BOOM!-- theyíve got a million dollars on an option for something that is basically a re-tread of a tried and true idea. But because theyíve got a lot of sizzle behind them, they can sell it. And how many of those became movies? Very, very few of them. Out of the crop of all the characters that became popular in the last 14 years weíve only seen movies for Spawn, Hellboy, and a few others. But then itís just back to Spider-Man, Batman, Superman.
WC: I just think itís now considered to be hand-in-hand. If you write a book itís just expected that youíre going to get an optioning deal. It just makes me wonder what people even create for.
PD: Thatís the thing. I did agree to a movie option on Jingle Belle, and that was a long process. But at one point I was thinking Iíd maybe like to do a cartoon with her more than I wanted to do a movie. And that was a long and tortured process, and Iím not even going to get involved with it right now. But a deal was presented to me and I thought, "These people are as enthusiastic about the character as I am, and they wanna make a comedy feature film out of it, and I think there is enough there to lend itself to that." So that was an act of development. But it wasnít like I was shopping it around as a pitch before it came out as a book. And I routinely hang up on people who call me for the screen rights to Ida Red. I say, "I understand your enthusiasm and Iím happy as hell you buy the book, but that character will never be on a cartoon or in a movie unless I do it from beginning to end." The story is good, the story moves like a movie, but I donít want people to mock the characters. You just have to understand that, yes, itís a story about talking bears and coyotes, and a girl is in the middle of it. And nobody has gotten that yet.
WC: I think at the end of the day you just have to be happy with the fact that it was even a book.
PD: Youíre right. And thatís one of the most important things that Iíve learned. I had a talk with Frank Miller once when he was living out here [Los Angeles] about 12 years ago, and we would get together with some friends and eat dinner and talk comics and creatorsí rights. And he would say, "The biggest satisfaction you will ever have of creating a comic character is when the book comes out and you hold it in your hands, and you think, 'This is mine, and no one can ever take it from me.'" And itís nice if the book sells, and itís nice if people love the characters and you have a steady readership. But whatís really nice is that youíve taken your imagination, youíve put it down in print, and nobody owns that except you. But so many producers and animation companies-- and, believe me, Iíve walked out of meetings for Jingle Belle with executives screaming at me, "Come back! Where are you going? You above anybody should know this is the way itís done in animation. We have to own everything." And Iíll just say, "No. You donít have to own this. I own this." And they just get apoplectic that I wonít sign away the rights to the character just because they say so. And when I hear creators say, "I just optioned this," or, "I just sold this," I say, "Well, what are you selling, man? Are you just in the business for crafting pitches and selling them just for development money?" I mean, thatís certainly one way of doing it, but if you create the stuff you get to live with it, and you hopefully get to see it taken over by other people. And thatís a big concern when you create something. At some point you will meet people who say you are just not going to work on your character anymore, and you have to deal with that. And I hope they can once the luster of the deal has worn off.
WC: Exactly. So, I just have two last things for you.
WC: What you create and how you create was very much influenced by pop culture and references that you took in. And now youíre creating things that add to that culture, and children are growing up and being influenced by what youíve done, and theyíre going to create based off of what youíve created. Is that totally weird to you? (laughs) Because it kind of creeps me out a bit to think that something Iíve created will inspire someone to create something else.
PD: Yeah. I think thatís something every creator deals with. And hopefully the people who were inspired by your work, whatever that may be, when you see that come to fruition that there is something in there that you as a creator want to read. I donít want to read something that is just a re-tread of something Iíve done. Like, if someone said, "I figured out a way to do a better version of Jingle Belle." Itís like, "Well, donít copy what I did. Donít use the same concept. Come up with something else, but come up with something that is just as interesting or as fun." You could come up with any idea for a team book, for instance; like if I had grown up loving the hell out of The Justice League, I could just do a book called The Justice Brigade and do a re-tread of every character. But whereís the magic in that?
WC: Do you get kids that come up to you at cons and they want to show you something theyíve done, but itís obviously just a copy of something youíve done?
PD: I donít see anything as blatant as that. My stuff is kind of weird. I think that if I were doing a straight superhero book Iíd see a lot more of that. But what Iím doing are these weird little humor girly books-- to be disparaging about it. And thatís "girly" as in G-I-R-L-Y, as opposed to G-I-R-L-I-E; which "girlie" means more sexy. I donít know if thereís a difference there or not, or if Iíve just created that on the spot.
PD: But I donít see a lot of that because what I like doing, what I like reading is humor stuff. Iíd rather read Evan Dorkinís Milk & Cheese than the current issue of Spider-Man. Even though Spider-Man is really good, I want to look at something that is funny and has a little bit of imagination to it. Even when I go to the comic book store, Iíll pick up an old Walt Disneyís Christmas Parade that reprints all of Carl Barksí old stories, and leave everything that is current on the shelf. Again, itís just my taste; itís just what I like. And I think Jingle Belle is a throwback to those books. I can do one or two humor stories per issue, and make it like my version of Disneyís Comics And Stories; hereís Jing in one story, hereís Ida Red in another story. You get two stories for the price of one. To me, thatís just more interesting than doing your standard superhero epic. But for most kids who are into comics at all, guys are most into the people doing the superhero comics, and the girls are doing... I donít really know what theyíre doing.
PD: Itís primarily superhero comics, and there are very few people, if any out there that want to be the next Carl Barks or Floyd Gottfredson. And if there are any of those people out there, theyíre doing those weasels-in-bathing-suits comics. The furry comics.
WC: Thereís a whole creepy world of that stuff out there, man.
WC: Well, the last question I have for you is one we ask everyone.
WC: Do dogs have lips?
PD: (pauses) Yes. And they are magnificent.