CTVW: Good point. So, why do writers go into comics?
JR: Your stuff gets produced. Look, every writer is just a storyteller who wants to tell a goddamn story. And with comics, you can see the micromarket succeed. Look at Dark Horse. Everyone gets paid. No one gets rich. Low print runs. Say five to seven thousand an issue. And you can build an audience on that. Granted, it's still a hackload of cash someone has to cough up to get a book going. But it's a smaller hackload.
CTVW: I find the huge amount of mythos out there daunting. How the hell do you write when there's this intricate backstory involving thousands of issues that may involve your character?
JR: You're talking about the capes. On Blue Beetle
, we don't keep track of the continuity. Keith [Giffen] has a great saying: consistency, not continuity. BB has to keep the same personality. If you ask me, "But what about issue 635 of this series, he did this and now you have him doing that" ... I don't care. He's the same person. ... Fortunately, our series is set in El Paso, Texas. That's where the magic scarab shows up. So the first call isn't going to be to the JLA watchtower. One of the big guys will fly through now and then, but at a certain point everyone's in Metropolis. So many writers try to handle "their guy meets Superman." And there just isn't that much you can do with that.
CTVW: So you're safe because you're in flyover land.
JR: Literally. Just tell good stories. Find the essence of the characters.
CTVW: What do you learn from writing for comics?
JR: You basically have five panels on a page. That's five angles, five pictures. Imagine shooting a film, you have just five angles for every scene, and a minute for that scene. Comics have to move. You learn how much you can do through dialog, action and framing.
CTVW: What can't
you do in comics?
JR: Well, Scott McCloud has this idea that what happens in comics really happens in the gutters between the frames. Because you don't actually get motion. On TV you can have a smile flicker across a character's face. In comics, if she's smiling, she's smiling for that whole frame. She'll always be smiling in that frame. On the other hand, with comics the audience brings more of their imagination. On TV the story is always the same. What you see is all that's there. In comics, you have to fill in the moments between the panels.
CTVW: And you can't change the shape of the frame. You can't have a vertical panel or a splash panel.
CTVW: How have comics and the comics audience changed?
JR: Well, the comics audience has NOT changed. You get a lot of "why can't comics be good like back when Mom was alive?" sort of thing. Basically there are two generations of comics fans. There are you Marvel diehards who've been reading since they were kids. And then you have the new anime bring-ins. They go to Barnes & Noble and read the manga section. There's not a lot of crossover. In BB, we're writing for fans of the American comic book. It's hard. It's hard getting people to pick up anything printed in a digital age. You know, more guys under 25 play sports games on Xbox than watch sports? It's a tough world to sell pulp paper in. Even if you look at Marvel, they're getting only 20% of their revenues from comics. The rest is licensing to videogames, movies, and toys. But when it works, it's something you can only do in print.
CTVW: So in a sense, the printed comics are a farm team for the movies. They create the characters and then sell them to the movies. They only print the comics so they can have something to throw on a studio exec's desk -- because a studio exec will
actually read a comic.
JR: Yeah. You don't have coverage for a comic. Well, comics are part of the resources that the big movie monster eats. Because they're a complete package: characters, plotline, visual style. They get directors excited, and directors get things made.