ECCC 2019: Meet The Superheroes Of DC, Especially Aquaman, The Wonder Twins, and Brian Michael Bendis!

by Noah Sharma

“It was so nice of them to make that movie to promote my book,” said Aquaman writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. DeConnick has described her Aquaman as being like Led Zeppelin: epic, primal, mythic, sexy, and full of bass (pronounced like base, although it occurs to me that it makes for a killer written pun). Kelly Sue said that she doesn’t have a particularly visual imagination and so she approaches her books from the standpoint of music and sound. “King of Atlantis feels too small. I wanted him to be the champion of the ocean,” she said, adding “there are many kingdoms but there’s only one ocean.”

Asked about Aquaman’s history, DeConnick said that she strove to respect what fans who have loved the character for years and give them what they love without alienating fans coming in from the movie or to see her take. She didn’t worry about people who thought the character was a joke. Aquaman is Jason Mamoa now, who still thinks of him as the guy who skis on dolphins? David Walker objected at that “[that’s] totally badass!”

DeConnick tried another tack, citing the common criticism that Aquaman’s power is that he talks to fish, but that didn’t resonate with her either. “He’s a hypermasculine character who’s defining characteristic is the ability to ask for help. That’s fascinating.”

Thanking fans for coming along so far, DeConnick promised that issue 46 is where the wave crashes.

Interior art from Catwoman #9 by John Timms

John Timms has been enjoying working with Ram V. on Catwoman, saying that it’s a fun change from Harley Quinn. However, it’s just as exciting that he’s helping Patrick Gleason on Young Justice starting in issue #4. It actually came about after Brian Michael Bendis tracked him down at ECCC last year, something that set Timms’ fanboy heart atwitter.

Bendis is also a close friend and colleague of Walker’s, who co-writes Naomi with him. The book started as a vague collaboration at Marvel, however, just when it was seeming to start coming together, Bendis left the company. Then last year Bendis got sick, very sick, and Walker visited him in the hospital. A feverish Bendis insisted that they would write a book together to which Walker said, “of course we are!” He didn’t think of it again, more concerned with his friend’s illness than a white lie he told him to make him happy. That is, until Bendis called him and told him that the book had been approved.

Asked about cowriting, Walker said that he came on board with the idea that it would be an opportunity to learn from Bendis. As Jamal Campbell’s first pages came back, Walker not only knew that this book was going to work, but that it was going to go to “a whole other level” than what he had initially planned. Walker and Bendis give Campbell a lot of freedom but it comes with some drawbacks. In the script for issue #4, Cambell was apparently handed a double page spread that “breaks every rule of comics” that Walker and Bendis teach to their students. The composition is apparently massive with at least forty panels. At first Campbell was uncertain if he could meet the task, but Walker says that he’s a Jamal-whisperer. In the end Campbell got close to cracking the pages but couldn’t make room for all of the panels and the dialogue. So Bendis removed it. Campbell was shocked, but Bendis and Walker were certain that he could communicate everything necessary without dialogue.

Comic writers are already writing for translation, translation into visual story by an artist, so working with a co-writer is oddly natural for Walker, all the more so for he and Bendis’ frequent collaborations in the classroom. The two will separate and write a scene before handing it over to the other and so far they haven’t fought about the book at all.

Naomi #3 will feature two huge reveals but neither of them are the ones Naomi wants to hear. That’s a big part of the series’ mechanism, but, rest assured, issue #4 will be focused around her origins. There was a real worry for Walker that the slow burn of the first two issues would scare readers away. The creators tried as hard as they could to avoid making a decompressed book, but they needed two issues of lead-up. Now with issue #3 the book is cut loose and Walker promises that huge secrets about characters in the DCU will come to light.

Mark Russell accepted Wonder Twins before the sentence that offered the book to him was over. He loved the Wonder Twins from childhood and saw a potent statement about society. Zan and Jayna have been dropped on a dysfunctional planet that they know nothing about, but they’re also somehow expected to fix it. Russell called it a ready metaphor for the post-millennial generation.

Interior art from Wonder Twins #1 by Stephen Bryne

Wonder Twins artist Stephen Byrne says that he wanted to find something half way between the feel of the Superfriends cartoon and a modern DC book. Russell saw the twins as inherently relatable characters, heroes who were allowed to mess up and therefore more human. “It’s half manifesto about how our institutions fail the human race and half after school special.” That latter part focuses particularly around dealing with humiliation, a topic that Russell says is near and dear to him. This let him pull easily from his own experience. “Writing is suffering in public,” said Russell.

Wonder Comics was hyped as a new and overdue corner of the DCU, an answer to the question of ‘how do you reach new readers’ without putting out a separate, all ages book. Early on, David Walker, in a particularly cynical moment, wondered if they couldn’t throw the Hero’s Journey out the window. Bendis listened to that and sat on it for a day, but, when he came back, he had a simple rebuttal, “this is old to us, but we should be crafting this to young readers where it’s new.”

Mentioning the (partially unearned) perception that DC is dark and humorless, Russell compared Wonder Comics to being a ska band signed to a heavy metal label. Walker said that, as a child, the perception was that “DC was for kids”. Then New Teen Titans set a new standard for DC and things grew darker and more mature, but that was, in his mind, a mistake, DC should be for kids.

“Do not confuse bleak with substantial,” cried an impassioned DeConnick. Russell added that, in his view, the most daring thing you can do right now is offer people hope.

The panel agreed that Bendis is the perfect person to stand behind Wonder Comics, with DeConnick specifically calling him the most buoyant person she’s ever met. That’s part of what made it so scary when he was in the hospital. His love of comics led every writer who sat with him to find something to say with a character, leading to DeConnick’s Aquaman and (allegedly) Matt Fractions Jimmy Olsen ongoing (though the panel had to check if an ongoing had been announced before deciding whether to say anything about that. It has not), and it makes perfect sense to her that he’s made his career writing Superman and Spider-Man. She also added that Bendis’ writing bears the mark of his illness, saying that he writes like someone aware of his mortality and all the better for it.

Interior art from Mera: Tidebreaker by Stephen Byrne and David Calderon

Bryne says that colorist David Calderon has injected something truly special into Mera: Tidebreaker. That led the panel to be asked how much control writers have over color in their books. DeConnick broke the trend, saying that she definitely gives coloring notes but added she’s shocked how much color is not discussed in comics. She and Walker both had dramatic moments where they were reminded of the importance of color and the impact that colorists give, in a television color meeting and an internal editorial dispute respectively. DeConnick said if anyone wants to have a similar epiphany they should read If It’s Purple Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color In Visual Storytelling.

Asked what DC character they would pitch if they could have anything Walker cited an Apache Chief and Black Vulcan concept he pitched sometime ago. He stands by that and also mentioned that he has a Joker story that he thinks is probably too wild to do. Even so, he’d probably want to do something that kids could read and enjoy.

Bryne didn’t necessarily know what he would ask for but wanted to write a normal person in the DCU.

A year ago Russell was asked to pitch to the Batman group and offered up a Joker origin story where he begins as a down and out comedian with an incredibly shitty life. Desperate, he turns to wilder and wilder Kaufman-esque performance art comedy which begins to gain a following and, as his anger grows, slowly evolves into the violet crimes of the Joker.

DeConnick usually doesn’t answer this question but she seriously pitches a reboot of Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park in every television meeting she takes. “You know, I was in the Kiss army and I never got any discharge papers, so at any time I could be called up,” DeConnick warned.

Timms also hadn’t had time to put anything substantial together, but he had the urge to explore social media through Jimmy Olsen.

Twisting that concept, a fan dressed as Loki asked if there was a comic that the panelists were happy to get away from. The panelists were understandably reluctant to speak ill of old projects, but DeConnnick admitted that there was “one one-shot was a nightmare from beginning to end.” Russell also answered, saying that it was actually a book he loved; Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, just because it was emotionally exhausting to work on.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: