31 May 2011

A Peek at Oz in Peekskill?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a proposal to erect these statues in Peekskill, New York.

Why Peekskill? For a couple of years as a child, L. Frank Baum attended the Peekskill Military Academy. And there is a small stretch of yellow brick road in the city, reportedly old enough for him to have seen. Are those facts enough to make Peekskill a significant site in the literary history of Oz?

Who cares? Those statues are delightful! They’re by Richard Masloski, based on the character designs of W. W. Denslow. They can come large as life for only about a quarter-million dollars.

Surely there’s a library out there that wants the whole set.

(Hat tip to the Daily Ozmapolitan.)

29 May 2011

The Universe Needs a Robin

The last weekly Robin quoted several reader letters from 1989 because I was struck by how closely those fans’ analyses of the Dynamic Duo’s relationship matched young Tim Drake’s rationale for a new Boy Wonder in the storyline mysteriously titled A Lonely Place of Dying.

The preceding story, “Year Three,” had shown how Dick Grayson’s parents died at a circus, and how Batman swooped down to offer comfort (or as much comfort as a man dressed as a giant bat can offer). Those issues also introduced a little dark-haired boy in the audience named Timmy. As at least one reader surmised, that wasn’t his last appearance.

A Lonely Place of Dying begins with Batman acting unusually violent and reckless. Actually, he’s not acting much differently from his appearances in many other stories, but both Alfred and an unseen observer tell us he’s acting unusually violent and reckless. That observer, who’s kind of short, is trying to track down Dick Grayson.

The next installment is a somewhat strained murder mystery at Dick’s old circus. Its real revelation is that the short tracker is Timmy Drake, now thirteen. He explains how years before he’d seen surveillance footage of Robin doing a quadruple somersault, and realized that only Dick could pull off that move. (Especially since, as pictured, it wouldn’t work.)

That realization has let Tim deduce the identities of Batman, Nightwing, and the second Robin, and to realize what’s making Batman crazy (again, relatively speaking for a man dressed as a giant bat).

“Batman has to have a Robin,” Tim declares. Caring about a kid sidekick actually keeps him careful and sane. Lest we miss that idea, Tim repeats it twice more. His first plan is for Dick to squeeze back into the multicolored suit, an idea that Nightwing’s fans were already writing in to protest. There was only one solution, the final act of the story makes clear: Tim has to become the Boy Wonder himself, at least long enough to save Batman and Nightwing.

Marv Wolfman’s story thus avoided a trap that had made the second Jason Todd unpopular with fans: looking as if he’d pushed Dick Grayson aside. Tim is Dick’s biggest admirer. He respects the original team. His prodigious detective skills are clearly different from Dick’s acrobatics. And in contrast to what Jason came to stand for, Tim’s trying to make Batman less violent, and he promises to follow instructions.

At another level, Tim’s character offered Wolfman help with his own psychological trouble, a crippling writer’s block. After creating some of DC’s most popular new heroes in the early 1980s, Wolfman was suffering through a creative dry spell. He also needed a Robin.

And DC Comics needed a Robin to provide a counterpoint to the violent, dark, and grim period that The Dark Knight Returns and A Death in the Family had set off. Tim Drake couldn’t stop the trends of the early 1990s, but he ensured that what Robin had traditionally meant in the DC Universe would endure.

COMING UP: And there was one more thing Tim Drake stood for.

27 May 2011

“Baum brings to his pages a plenitude of intellectual puzzles”

From Prof. Ellen Handler Spitz’s appreciation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, titled “Yellow Brick Philosophy”, in The New Republic:
The book drops you, rubbing your eyes, into a mysterious ether—onto shifting sands (recall the “Deadly Desert”)—into oneiric realms, where you lose yourself and wander, enchanted: “The cyclone had set the house down, very gently… in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty….” “The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick…” “I am Oz, the Great and Terrible. Who are you, and why do you seek me?” Charmed sentences follow one another like dance steps along the winding road itself. Yet few readers have focused on the book’s prodigious mental adventures.

But first: Dorothy, whose shoes, in the pages of Baum’s story, are silver, not ruby-red, appears before us not as a puppet but as a believable child. Denslow’s line drawings make her out to be no more than six. Who can fail to admire her for slapping the roaring lion’s nose while telling him to be ashamed of himself for trying to bite Toto? And for chastising the Wicked Witch who trips her and steals one of her silver shoes? And for steadfastly denouncing the less-than-candid Wizard and calling his bluff? Kind, gentle, honest, and loyal to her friends, Dorothy is endowed with Aristotelian virtue, with genuine heroism. Some interpreters pretend she grows up along the way so that, by the end, she comes to accept her dull Kansas home with aplomb. But Baum keeps her a little girl from start to finish. Aunt Em asks her on the last page where she has come from. One adverb reveals all: “‘From the Land of Oz,’ said Dorothy gravely.”

Beyond this—beyond magic, fantasy, and psychological verisimilitude—Baum brings to his pages a plenitude of intellectual puzzles. Subtly and with great charm, he explores in children’s terms the realms of ontology, epistemology, and ethics. He actually helps children learn to think. . . .
I quite agree that Dorothy grows only a little over the course of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—but there’s a clear difference in her self-presentation when she returns in Ozma of Oz. She’s realized the strength within her all along. Her companions, of course, never quite manage that discovery, and remain enamored of the Wizard’s symbolic gifts.

Though Spitz’s hook is the upcoming movie prequel being made by Sam Raimi (and the word “movie”) is in the URL), her article is all about L. Frank Baum’s text.

26 May 2011

“In the center of the chair was an enormous Head”

The Lafayette School in Chatham, New Jersey, has mounted a production of The Wizard of Oz with all the characters (even Dorothy) portrayed using big papier-mâché heads.

The result looks sort of like a lost Sid and Marty Krofft production. In the Chatham Patch photo by Liz Alterman above, we see the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Dorothy, and Toto.

It looks like such “Head Shows” are a tradition at Lafayette. The school has also put on Alice in Wonderland and original dramas.

(Hat to the Daily Ozmapolitan.)

25 May 2011

Making Lemonade Mouth a Little Sweeter

I heard an interesting publishing story at last week’s SCBWI New England conference. Mark Peter Hughes originally published Lemonade Mouth as a young adult novel in 2007. This story of a teen-aged band got good reviews, and Mark and his family toured the country to promote it.

Earlier this year the Disney Channel unveiled its adaptation of the book to big audiences. Even a moderately successful television show reaches more people than solidly successful book by multiple orders of magnitude, and the Lemonade Mouth movie was more than moderately successful. It may not be a High School Musical phenomenon yet, but it attracted a lot of Disney’s core viewers.

The only problem is that those core viewers aren’t “young adults”—they’re tweens, and possibly tween wannabes aspirants. What would those readers find when they looked for Lemonade Mouth in bookstores? What would their parents find?

Mark and his publisher decided to tweak the text for the book’s likely new readers as they reissued the paperback. The adaptations seem small—nothing to the plot, little to the language. The result is, I suppose, a “Disney version,” but it also speaks more directly to most tweens’ interests. It may also reflect a future of authors tailoring books to different readerships, something that digital formats will make even more economic.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if sixth-graders will whisper to each other to check out the library’s old hardcover copy of Lemonade Mouth.

23 May 2011

“New England Voices” for 2011, Tuesday, 24 May

Tomorrow, 24 May, the Foundation for Children’s Books will host its annual “New England Voices” event in Walsh Hall at Boston College. This event, starting at 7:30 P.M., is free and open to the public. There will even be refreshments, as well as books available for purchase and signing.

Once again I’ll introduce the four regional authors who will speak about and read from their work:
  • Karen Day is a colleague in one of my writing groups. She specializes in emotional novels about middle-graders. Her latest is A Million Miles from Boston, showing how twelve-year-old Lucy’s annual summer trip to Maine doesn’t turn out at all as she’d hoped.
  • Nancy Poydar has written and illustrated twelve picture books, including No Fair Science Fair. She taught sixth grade for over a dozen years before becoming a full-time book creator.
  • Susan Lynn Meyer is the author of Black Radishes. This debut novel is about a young Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied France was inspired by experiences of Meyer’s father.
  • Christine McDonnell is a picture-book author and children’s librarian from Jamaica Plain. Her latest, Goyangi Means Cat, shows a young girl coming from Korea to live with her new American family.
Come out for an entertaining evening with some of New England’s many talented authors!

22 May 2011

“He needs someone like Dick Grayson”

The death of the second Jason Todd and retelling of how Dick Grayson became Robin led to a flurry of reader letters in 1989 discussing what those events had meant to Batman, and what Batman himself meant. Here’s a selection.

Steven Milunovich, Batman, #436:
Most of the world thinks of Batman and Robin as inseparable, yet the creators of the comics can’t make the two concepts compatible. It does seem inconsistent to have Batman the avenger trailed by a teenager in bright red and yellow. But from Robin’s inception until his departure in the early 1970’s the team was a tremendous success, inspiring many copies.

So what of the present rendition of Batman? When Batman becomes a crazed loner, the entire supporting cast suffers. Is there no room for a lighter side in a man driven to fight crime because of the murder of his parents?
Michael Leon, Batman, #440:
In Batman’s current state of mind, he needs someone like Dick Grayson to alleviate his anger and his melancholy. Batman losing Jason Todd can be likened to when Dick Grayson left. It was like losing your own son twice. Batman becomes an embittered loner without a companion. He needs someone to keep him under control.
Malcolm Bourne, Batman, #440:
[Bruce Wayne’s] lack of reaction to Jason’s death could destroy him. We all need to grieve, and a failure to do so is catastrophic, emotionally and psychologically, for the grieving person. Maybe Dick can heal the rift and, at the same time, help Bruce through this difficult time. But first Bruce must acknowledge these differences.
(Another letter from Bourne appeared in issue #442, guessing that a new character would provide help.)

John Brindley, Batman, #440:
I’m a counselor at Sky Ranch for Boys in South Dakota, a home for troubled boys. . . . Many could identify with Jason’s juvenile problems. There’s a popular consensus that they would like to see Dick Grayson return as Robin someday. For now the boys prefer Batman alone as they are, always haunted by memories and past mistakes, yet continually striving to find peace in their lives and someone to share their future with.
Other letters also suggested that Bruce and Dick team up more regularly, but only this one said Dick should return to the Robin costume.

In fact, that prospect left most vocal fans anxious, as expressed by Leif Vanderwall, Detective Comics, #605:
I heard that Dick Grayson was going to join Batman again (after “Year Three”) and possibly change his name from Nightwing back to Robin. I don’t mind Dick Grayson joining forces with his old mentor from time to time but I think he is too old to be Batman’s “little boy.” I think he’s good where he is right now, being Nightwing and being the leader of the Titans.
That letter was actually printed twice, the second time in Detective, #607, probably because Assistant Editors got their signals crossed as one took over from another. The editorial reply in the earlier issue was non-committal. The second told Vanderwall and the rest of the readership that “Dick Grayson will not change his name from Nightwing back to Robin to join Batman again. He thinks it’s good where he is right now, too.”

At the same time DC was reassuring Nightwing fans, it was also trying to keep some mystery alive. The house advertisement for the “A Lonely Place of Dying” storyline showed Dick Grayson as Nightwing holding the old Robin uniform and looking sad. The copy read:
Batman is destroying himself. Can Nightwing help? Will he?
Of course, everyone knew Dick Grayson would try to help because he’s, you know, Dick Grayson. But how far was he willing to go?

As I noted last week, the “Year Three” recounting of how Dick Grayson saw his parents murdered at the circus also introduced a four-year-old fan in the audience. Which leads to the last letter…

Christopher Scott, Batman, #440:
I really like the way “Batman: Year Three” is going. I can’t know this for sure, of course, but from where I sit, it looks like by the end of this 4-part tale we’ll be seeing young Timmy in the yellow cape at the big guy’s side. I hope I’m right. Batman has been through a lot and taking on a new partner might be good for him.
The editorial reply to that letter said it had “been censored due to Christopher’s almost spilling the beans.” But because of what issue #442’s letter column called “a production error,” that speculation ran unedited at the start of a new storyline titled “A Lonely Place of Dying.” The only detail Scott got wrong was being three issues too early.

COMING UP: Young Timmy in the yellow cape.

21 May 2011

Reversals and Recognitions

After I posted my “Plotting Made Simple!” flow chart this week, author Kimberly Marcus emailed me to ask what the different shadings for the arrows mean. So here’s more of my workshop from last weekend’s SCBWI New England conference.

In thinking about what makes up a plot twist, I went back to one of our earliest literary critics: Aristotle in the Poetics. He wrote, according to one translator:
the most powerful elements of emotional interest in Tragedy—Peripeteia or Reversal of the Situation, and Recognition scenes—are parts of the plot. . . . A Complex action is one in which the change is accompanied by such Reversal, or by Recognition, or by both.
As I see it, Reversal is when your protagonist’s external situation changes. Suddenly he’s under arrest, or he’s been turned into a mouse, or he’s being mistaken for the President’s grandson. Reversals can be good for the protagonist, but they’re most exciting when his situation suddenly gets worse.

Recognition is when your protagonist’s internal situation changes. She sees herself, or other people, or the situation, or the world, in a new way. Those Recognitions grow out of the individual personality and situation an author has created, so it’s hard to generalize about them. But they usually link to the themes of the story.

Aristotle’s fave example was Oedipus. He suffers a Reversal when ***SPOILER ALERT*** he tumbles from being the king and hero of Thebes to being a blind outcast. And that Reversal comes about because of his Recognition that he’s killed his father and married his mother.

As that example shows, Reversal and Recognition are most powerful when they’re linked. In Oedipus’s case, Reversal follows Recognition. More often it’s the other way around: suffering a Reversal makes the protagonist realize what’s really going on, or what’s really important.

Take Jane Austen’s Emma, and another dose of SPOILER ALERT. The title character suffers Reversals when Knightley reprimands her, and then when she realizes she was wrong about the objects of Jane and Harriet’s affections—and that produces a Recognition about whom she’s in love with herself.

On my chart, the places where Reversals usually occur have gray arrows, and the places where Recognition usually occur have dotted arrows. But sometimes the arrows should be both gray and dotted.

20 May 2011

Comic of the Week

Here are a few panels from Jon White’s comics-form rendering of the Presidential Campaign Press Release of the Month.

Click on the image or here for the full picture.

The cocktail-party-going, gun-toting, falsehood-firing sheep are of course the Mixed Metaphor of the Year.

18 May 2011

A Dastardly Plot

Last weekend I was at the SCWBI New England annual conference, co-directed by my writing-group colleagues Greg Fishbone, Kathryn Hulick, and Marilyn Salerno.

At that conference I debuted a new workshop titled “Milestones to an Exciting Plot,” in which I tried to leave behind the three-act structure in favor of something less predictable.

15 May 2011

Looking Back on Dick Grayson’s Life after 49 Years

When Dennis O’Neil and his editorial colleagues at DC Comics decided to bring on a (by my count) fourth Robin in 1989, they were convinced that they needed to please fans of the first, Dick Grayson.

As I wrote back here, I suspect the second Jason Todd started hemorrhaging fans after he was rude to Dick in Batman, #416. If fans took against Jason’s replacement for the same reason, or any reason, then all the effort of introducing that new character would go to waste.

Part of the company’s strategy appears to have been to reestablish the place of Dick Grayson in the DC Universe. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, fans were no longer sure what stories and details were “in continuity.” That same Batman, #416, had drastically changed how Dick had taken on the role of Nightwing. So what else was solid about Dick Grayson in the post-Crisis universe?

An issue of Secret Origins Annual codified Dick’s history with the Titans, going back to his first team-up with Kid Flash and Aqualad in The Brave and the Bold, #54. Scripted by George Pérez and illustrated by a variety of artists, it bundled two decades’ worth of often goofy storylines into a tighter—though only slightly less goofy—knot.

The second stage of the process was a series of four issues in Batman magazine called “Year Three,” scripted by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Pat Broderick, with stunning covers by Pérez. The first, Batman, #436, was cover-dated August 1989, so it appeared in late spring, around the time of Tim Burton’s Batman movie.

While Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One and Mike W. Barr’s less highly regarded Year Two were set entirely in Bruce Wayne’s early crime-fighting career, “Year Three” wove flashbacks to how Dick Grayson became Robin into a story taking place in the present.

The basic origin myth didn’t change much: thugs working a protection racket killed Dick’s parents during their trapeze act, and Bruce Wayne took him in and trained him as Robin. But while those events took less than a page in 1940, the retelling gave due respect to the bureaucracy of child services. In other words, Dick spent time in an orphanage before coming to Wayne Manor.

In addition, the gangster who ordered the hit on the Flying Graysons, Tony Zucco, changed in significant ways. Originally he was a fat version of Edward G. Robinson’s Little Caesar lording over a town outside Gotham. In the retelling, Zucco is an orphan who worked his way up in the mob, keeping notes on all his Gotham colleagues’ activities. Year Three begins with Zucco about to be released on parole.

The storyline’s most far-reaching development is Bruce Wayne’s reaction to Jason Todd’s death back in Batman, #429. DC’s writers had been keeping away from that subject, at first because they wrote their scripts before knowing the result of the fan poll and then because the team hadn’t decided how to address it.

Wolfman made Bruce’s psychology a major part of his story. Batman has suffered a second trauma, almost equal to his parents’ death. He’s more angry, tight-lipped, and violent than ever. He’s no longer acting ultra-rational (or as much so as a man in a bat costume can be), but taking reckless risks and coming close to violating his ethical code.

This of course all makes Dick look even more admirable and important. His arrival provided Bruce with emotional balance, the story implies. And in the present-day adventure, Dick as Nightwing solves the mystery and wins the final fight with the bad guys. The story also parallels him with Zucco—both spent time in the same orphanage—further underscoring what a moral paragon Dick Grayson has turned out to be. (See Reason for Robin, #10.)

One more little detail: among the flashbacks to young Dick’s circus career, we see him greeting a four-year-old fan named Timmy.

COMING UP: Dick Grayson’s biggest fan.

13 May 2011

I Would Never Have Been Able to Choose

A while back I stumbled onto this page of theater listings from the New York Sun, 6 Dec 1908, archived in the Library of Congress’s “Chronicling America” website.

What brought me to this page was the announcement that L. Frank Baum would soon arrive in New York to present his “Fairy Logue and Radio Plays,” starting with a Monday matinee.

But I was immediately struck by all the other offerings, including others with Oz connections:
  • David Montgomery and Fred Stone; having become stars playing the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow in the 1902 Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza, they were back on Broadway in The Red Mill.
  • Bessie Wynn; having played Sir Dashemoff Daily in that show, she was featured comedienne at Hammerstein’s theater.
  • Billie Burke; she would play Glinda in the 1939 MGM musical of The Wizard of Oz (which borrowed one episode from the stage show rather than Baum’s books).
  • a show based on Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo. (Baum at one point suggested trying to recruit McCay to illustrate the Oz books instead of John R. Neill.)
  • Musical readings of Henry W. Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn, no doubt including “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
  • Lew Fields as performer and producer (with former partner Joe Weber presenting a rival play).
  • Ethel Barrymore.
  • Douglas Fairbanks.
  • Maude Adams.
  • William Gillette.
  • Anna Held.
  • Harry Lauder.
  • George Arliss.
  • Eugenie Blair, who reportedly gave her life playing Anna Christie fourteen years later.
And, at the Hippodrome, Schmergel’s Musical Elephants!

12 May 2011

Designs on Illustrating The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

A British website called Blank Pages is inviting artists to collaborate in illustrating L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, each piece of art inspired by one page of the novel.

Obviously, the organizers chose that book because it’s in the public domain around the world, and conjures up a lot of striking visual images. However, many of those images come from the 1939 Technicolor movie rather than the text of the book. Thus, Baum’s Dorothy wears silver shoes, but one artist has contributed a couple of images of ruby slippers. (At least I think both come from the same artist; it’s definitely the same slippers.)

A more striking visual problem with the project is that the text itself is obviously a Project Gutenberg transcription laid out in an ugly, hard-to-read design. Much more attention is going to the art and user interface than to the words that started it all.

That’s a sad irony because W. W. Denslow’s design for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 was a masterpiece of the book art. In addition to four-color plates, Denslow created two-color illustrations throughout the book, with the second color spreading behind the black text. The tints in those drawings reflected Dorothy’s progress through the color-coded land of Oz. In the spread above, for example, the green signals that she has come close to the Emerald City.

The Blank Pages format can’t replicate that overlapping effect, but it could do much better on the design side.

11 May 2011

Creating “A Day in the Life of Oz”, 14-15 May

The 15th of May is L. Frank Baum’s birthday, and Jane Albright of the International Wizard of Oz Club is inviting Oz fans of all stripes to celebrate by creating a photographic “Day in the Life of Oz.”
This weekend, please take your photo, showing something of your personal Oz interests, and send it to IWOCEvent@aol.com. The Oz Club’s Banner Elk event this summer [5-7 August] will be celebrating Oz fans—not just IWOC members or those fans whose names we all know, but all Oz fans—so we need to put together a look at...all of us! That includes you.

Think about “Oz fans” for a minute...we have favorite collectibles, create our own artwork, wear sparkling red sneakers, and train our little dogs, too. We unpack cookie jars we got on eBay, produce our own Oz films, blog our Ozzy wisdom, travel great lengths to see our Munchkin friends, and appear in costume as favorite characters. Love of Oz leads us to organize events, write stories, loan materials to displays, plant poppies, sing, dance, solder and sew. With one thing in common—Oz—we are no two fans alike. Yet collectively we are the fans of Oz.
Send photos before the end of June to be sure they’re included in the show at Banner Elk.

09 May 2011

Literary Agency Trying Out Life as a Publisher

Today’s Spectacle features an interview with erstwhile blog member P. J. Hoover about the digital publication of her fantasy novel Solstice.

What struck me about this publication is the organization with Hoover worked with: her literary representative, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
My agent [Laura Rennert] and I had subbed a very different version earlier (about a year ago) with minimal dystopian elements. We got close to selling but never found the right fit. . . .

I had a phone call scheduled with her to talk about what our submission strategy would be. We talked about that a bit and then she said, “Well, there is another option.” And she suggested the self-publishing route. . . .

We did another round of edits. And then a copy edit, and two proofreading edits. . . . They chose the cover picture and found a cover designer. (The POD book should come out a while after the e-book.) So, the agency arranged for cover design and layout and editing, and they are getting their regular 15% of royalties.
That’s a lot less of the revenue than a print publisher hopes to retain, and less than most electronic publishers. But the interview doesn’t say who paid (or fronted) the costs of the editing, cover image, overhead, etc. Also unstated is who will handle or pay for marketing the book. Presumably the agency can keep trying to sell ancillary rights. So there are still a lot of questions about the economic viability of this approach. Nevertheless, it may signal the start of a new publishing model.

[ADDENDUM: The second part of the interview talks about marketing. Not that there’s much to talk about.]

08 May 2011

“We need a new Robin right away.”

Yesterday I enjoyed Free Comic Book Day at Outer Limits, where the crowd seemed to be one-third regulars, one-third parents with kids, and one-third visitors from the International Steampunk City festival.

On the store’s freebies shelf I picked up a first issue with an embossed cover, indicating that DC Comics has high hopes for its title character. I suspect this young man will have staying power.

Last year I raised the question of whether in 1989 DC Comics might have decided to leave Robin behind. The comic-book business had moved its focus off the youth market, which the character had originally been designed for. That year’s Batman movie and the period’s bestselling Batman graphic novels didn’t include a current Robin. (The Dark Knight Returns introduced future sidekick Carrie Kelley.)

In fact, the Batman comics team apparently did want to let the Boy Wonder rest in peace as the editors and fans recovered from the brouhaha over Jason Todd’s death. But Warner Communications (which in March 1989 merged with Time, Inc.) saw no value in letting a nearly-50-year-old trademark wither. As Vaneta Rogers reported for Newsarama earlier this year:

Denny O’Neil, the Batman editor at the time, initially wanted to wait a while before introducing a new Robin. “After we bumped off Jason, I thought eventually, we’d need a new Robin, but I thought we’d give it a year,” he said. “But word came down from on high—I mean, higher than Jenette [Kahn, then DC president]—no, we need a new Robin right away.”
Marv Wolfman, co-creator and longtime writer of the New Teen Titans, had been instrumental in establishing Dick Grayson as an independent character, giving him the identity of Nightwing, and spurring the creation of the first Jason Todd. As for the search for a new Robin, he told The Titans Companion:
Actually, I was trying to stay as far away from it as possible, but I got a phone call from Barbara Randall—now Barbara Kesel—who was my editor, and she said, “Would you be interested in creating a new Robin?”

I wasn’t too sure, but then I thought about it and the idea came to me, and it felt like the old days where it was a real solid idea.
At the time Wolfman, having torn down and rebuilt the DC Multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths, was suffering from a debilitating writer’s block. He hadn’t created a successful new character for years. But this time he thought he had a winner.

COMING UP: O’Neil’s team prepares the ground for Wolfman’s “real solid idea.”

06 May 2011

Ruth Sanderson’s Cinderella Goes Digital

At e is for book, Ruth Sanderson wrote about how she adapted her picture-book retelling of Cinderella to a digital format for PicPocket Books.

Sanderson’s daughter supplied the fairy godmother’s magic with animated sparkles, and PicPocket had the tech to add sound effects. But that still left a big gap, Sanderson thought—in particular, a gap between words and pictures, the two essential elements of a picture book. She explained:
In my other apps the narrator reads the story while the text is shown alone, then alternating with a picture, and I felt that these were more like audiobooks with occasional pictures than interactive apps. I wanted to have a picture shown on every page, but how to fit all those darn words?
Especially since, as she added, “A picture book double spread averages 11x17 inches. Shrinking the whole thing down would create text too small to read.”

Her solution owes something to how TV shows used to share picture books by panning over and/or isolating parts of the illustrations, or perhaps a variation on the “pan and scan” method that studios used to make wide-screen movies fit onto television screens. She decided to “crop each picture from the book in a number of ways so that the longer text would be spread out over multiple pages.”

Sanderson shows an example of how one double-page spread became three screens’ worth of images, and how she found space on each for text. She also pulled in some artwork originally used for the copyright/dedication page. End result: sixteen original images, most double-page spreads, became 36 pages in the app.

That points to one of the big advantages of the new digital formats for picture books: the screens are a lot smaller than a printed book, but there are no strict limits on how many there are.

05 May 2011

Grant Morrison Talks Method

I caught a glimpse of Grant Morrison’s current comics scripting method over a year ago when artist Cameron Stewart told me:
Grant's scripts have full page and panel breakdowns, but the dialogue is either very rough or not included. Most of his dialogue is written after the artwork is completed.
That question came up because of an error in Batman and Robin, #7. On looking at Stewart’s panels, Morrison felt the dialogue would flow best if one panel was flopped, moving the Caped Crusader from left to right. Stewart delivered the change, but an older file went to the letterer, and a confusing panel appeared in the magazine.

In a recent interview at Graphic Novel Reporter, Morrison described how his approach evolved over years of working for different companies and with different people: 
I used to do a film script and all the dialogue complete, but then as I started handing in scripts with preliminary guide dialogue, but all of the panel descriptions in place, all the visual information was there, but the dialogue was just purely to let the artist know where the beats came or who was talking first. And once I got the art back, I would then kind of tailor the writing to suit the artwork, and it allowed me to take out a lot of excess, which was good—because once you saw the artist was doing the acting and the nuances of expression really well, you could often drop a lot of the expository stuff. So it allowed me to streamline the process.

And, like I say, in this particular period where I'm doing three Batman books simultaneously, which thank goodness is almost over (laughs), I've been doing the same thing, but this time it's been going in six and eight pages at a time sometimes, so I'm seeing chunks of each issue coming in all the time. . . .

Well, the story is already there as a kind of structure in my head, and it comes into view. I always compare the way I do this stuff to a photograph developing. I kind of know what the photograph is going to be, but as it develops, I start to notice things about it that I hadn't seen before and only by the very end, when I put the last line on it, I get what exactly it's been about (laughs). So it tends to work with that sort of weird way, the work comes into focus for me. It's almost like bringing it into the light.
This back-and-forth is possible now, especially for a writer who lives in Scotland and California, because of digitized art and nearly instantaneous communication. Even so, it must be a challenge to manage, and there have been mistakes, timing problems, and perhaps some grumpiness from other creators who’ve had to fit their storytelling into Morrison’s complex and slowly developing narrative.

03 May 2011

“They looked down and saw a strange sight.”

The New York Public Library has sent me (and several thousand others) an email about its “Celebrating 100 Years” exhibit, due to open on 19 May. Among other treasures to be shown in the system’s century-old main building are “The Wizard of Oz pen and ink illustrations by W.W. Denslow.”

I couldn’t find out which pieces of artwork will be displayed, but I hope they include this image of Dorothy and Toto peering at the China Country, viewable through the Library of Congress’s website.

In the large version (click on the thumbnail) one can see how Denslow originally penciled Toto and the Cowardly Lion peering at the china people from the lower right corner. (There are other penciled figures on the left, but they’re hard to make out.)

Denslow eventually chose to draw Dorothy and Toto alone at a larger scale with a thicker line and hatching, to emphasize how she’s much bigger than the china people. And I like how he sat Toto on the internal frame of the picture itself.

02 May 2011

Supporting the Cause of Independent Comics

Of all the creator booths at this weekend’s Boston Comic Con, the Boston Comics Roundtable’s probably offered the greatest diversity of independently published material and facial hair.

(Photo by Retro Rocketer via Flickr. I’m not actually supposed to be able to show it like this, but heh heh…)

01 May 2011

Tim Drake and the Latest Technology—of 1990

I was planning to report on the Robin meet-up at this weekend’s Boston Comic Con, but couldn’t find the Teen Wonders at the announced time. (I ran into the core group later, posing with a little Captain America, but didn’t have a good chance to chat.)

Instead, I’ll use one of my convention purchases to explore the technology of the past. The panel above is a scan of Norm Breyfogle’s original art for Detective, #620, as inked by Steve Mitchell.

This story takes place just before Tim Drake ascends to the permanent role of Robin. That’s why he’s wearing a snazzy tweed suit instead of the revamped Robin outfit. Breyfogle and Mitchell achieved that herringbone pattern by applying a Zip-A-Tone pattern over the line art. The effect works better after coloring, just as the vanishing right leg of the tall gentleman doesn’t matter so much on the final page.
In this panel Breyfogle used three types of Zip-A-Tone: the pattern of Tim’s jacket, an array of dots for the shading on his face and neck, and parallel lines designating the side of the phone booth. On the original page, one can read “ZIP” in blue pencil in that last space.
And Zip-A-Tone’s not the only old tech visible on these pages. For you younger folks, Tim finds a pay phone that dials with its handset attached to an early type of computer modem. As with the first panel’s suggestion that having just “a lap-top, for goodness’ sakes,” means that one commands very little computing power, this whole set-up looks extraordinarily quaint.

Ironically, in this scene Tim and Lonnie Moore, also known as Anarky and writer Alan Grant’s candidate for a new Robin, were in a high-level intellectual struggle over who was the better hacker. So the technology was very significant.