8: Here Comes The Punchline

So much of writing is just engaging in what I'm curious about at any given moment. 

It’s about indulging myself, and not getting afraid of going down rabbit holes. Because the moment you find the intersection between two or three rabbit holes is usually when you find the seed for an idea.

And then you water that seed by continuing to bury yourself in stories, non-fiction, and art that you think might nourish it, and help it grow into something more substantial. A story worth telling. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t, but even when it doesn’t, the journey usually teaches you a few things.

At least it does for me.

I usually struggle with the question, “Where do you come up with your ideas?” I think most writers do. Our job is ideas, and especially in comics, when we’re working so fast pace on so many projects at once, it feels like the ideas just flow naturally and constantly. If I’m honest, I always have too many ideas. Most of them end up on the cutting room floor.

But honestly, this might be the skeleton key to my answer next time I get asked the question (which I usually get via text or email or in person a few times a week). My answer is that you have to immerse yourself in everything you find interesting, following every rabbit hole of interest, and at the end of your journey, see what sits with you. Let yourself be curious about anything and everything. Always want to know more. 

I’ve been on a hybrid kick of Satoshi Kon anime, UFO stories, and mid 00s Wildstorm comics. It's been putting my brain in weird, interesting places. Some of those places are where I wanted my brain to go. Some of them aren’t. Both of those results are fascinating to me.

I had a very very raw idea for a thing the other day that I probably won’t be able to write for years, but I’m kicking its tires to see whether it’s actually a project I have any interest in pursuing. That specific idea-seed came to me when I was thinking about a one-shot connected to PROJECT DALLAS, while also thinking about the Tou Ganabe Lovecraft adaptations, and the power of working from source material… Maybe it’ll come to be something and maybe it won’t. But I’m enjoying the discovery process.

There’s this gut feeling when you know you’ve got something REAL. That’s what I’m chasing. It’s what I’m always chasing.

Early in my career, spending hours talking story on the phone with Scott, I started thinking of it as if the stories we were trying to tell already existed in the ether. We weren’t writing them, we were discovering them. We’d bang our head against the wall over and over, and then we’d discover the turn that let us see the full thing, as if it had always been there, obscured by some kind of mist. Coming up with new projects is exciting, because it’s like stumbling your way through that mist, trying to find big shapes that feel solid. That’s the weird contradictory thing about writing, on one hand, you need to accept that there is no such thing as a right answer, and you can’t polish and tweak a thing forever seeking the “correct” form… But sometimes you do stumble into a RIGHT answer, and it’s right because it feels right, even if you can’t explain why. 

Those moments where you look at an idea sideways, and suddenly, it has a full shape, and depth, and you understand exactly what it is and what you’re going to use it to say. It feels like a full body rush. Like you’ve just cracked a code, and you’re about to uncover something TRUE.

So all this digging, all this reading and watching… it’s chasing those kind of moments. The moments where a bunch of disparate thoughts come together and you have a living, breathing story idea, and you know how to make it work.

I find myself wanting a more visceral reaction from the narrative art I take in, lately. 

I want simple, powerful stories that hit you in your gut, more than the sorts of work that are in conversation with themselves on six different layers. I’ve been shit-talking nostalgia on twitter a bit, and it’s gotten me in a little bit of trouble, but I think a huge problem in comics is that a lot of books all feel like they are referencing other comics, rather than just expressing something directly.

It feels like a product of the algorithmic decay of society. Like somehow we’re meant to give people the road map to deconstruct our stories in a thousand different ways, to feed a whole geek media infrastructure hungry to break it all down… It feels kind of backwards to me.

Like building a car where every piece of the car is meant to evoke a different car from the past. Every component, rich with meaning and reference, and each of those references could be talked about in a million different ways. Picked apart on Podcasts and Youtube videos and Twitter feeds, discussing whether the hubcaps should have referenced a hubcap from the fifties, or a more modern hubcap. But to people who don’t know cars, it looks like a jumbled mess of a thing, and they don’t give a shit what the hubcaps are referencing. It just feels unapproachable.

That’s a terrible metaphor, but you get the point, right? Everything feels like its in conversation with everything. And you might appreciate it intellectually, the craft of which they layered in all the references and homages and what have you… There is obviously phenomenal work that’s pure commentary. The entire era of Alan Moore as a pop culture deconstructionist led to some of the greatest comic book writing of all time. But I’m not reading a lot of things on that level anymore. It’s become the reclamation of deconstruction after the reconstruction of what was deconstructed. And all those layers of commentary muddy the waters. Ultimately, they usually don’t hold a candle to the pure emotional reaction you get from seeing a simple story told well by creators who know exactly what they’re doing.

I think the best example right now is CRIMINAL at Image by Brubaker/Phillips. It’s a crime comic that’s not ABOUT crime comics. It’s not trying to make a meta statement. It’s using all of the tools at the Crime genre’s disposal, and using them expertly to tell good, powerful human stories. Just masterful work. They just built a really good car in a style that has always looked good, but they did it so well, that it feels revelatory and new. I feel like I’ve been studying that book lately, and others like it.

I feel like, as an industry, we need to get back to our fundamentals. Build from the foundation up again, rather than starting a new structure built on the eleventh floor of a hundred-year-old building.

Culture is so loud right now. We’ve got it blaring in our ears and eyes every day, and there’s too goddamn much of it. The idea of reading a comic that makes you think about a thousand other comics is overwhelming. To get absorbed, you want silence. You want a story to exist in and of itself. You want to be in a one-to-one conversation. Comic and reader.

And then you want ONE OR TWO absolutely bizarre elements they haven’t seen used in that type of story before, to make the whole thing memorable…

But that’s a whole different essay.

BATMANNERY

So, turns out you folks really like Batman!

Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart… Thank you.

You cannot imagine how worried I’ve been over the last six months. You always hope that you have your finger on the right pulse, you want to know that you’re going to deliver the type of comic that people want to read. But you never REALLY know until it’s in stores and in people’s hands. Especially given the breakneck pace of a double-ship comic? By the time this issue came out we’re already deep into the future of the book, and there’s not much time to right the ship. So… You liked where I started things. Now let’s see if I can keep it up.

This week sees Guillem March’s real debut on the book (after a few stunning codas), and I am very very excited for that. My first ever ongoing series at DC Comics was Talon, and that was the last time that Guillem, Tomeu Morey, and I collaborated on a comic book. Guillem’s the primary artist for the next three issues, and I really can’t say enough good things about them. He absolutely captures the Action Horror spirit I envisioned for the book since I took it over, and the life he’s breathed into these characters is absolutely stunning… Look at these preview pages, and imagine how hard my jaw dropped when they came in.

As you can see… This is also the issue where all those big bad Gotham Villains start to show up. Penguin and Riddler enter the fray here, and will remain key figures through this entire arc. But hey, there’s some other news on the horizon, isn’t there?

With the release of the April 2020 solicits… There’s some news on the horizon. My first story, THEIR DARK DESIGNS, runs from 86-94… My second story starts with 95… And we’re calling it JOKER WAR.

You’re going to learn more about it in next month’s solicits, but this is the story that started in the epilogue to Batman 85, and will be the biggest Joker story since Batman: Endgame back during the New 52. This story is going to have huge, huge ramifications for Gotham City. You’ll see all the seeds planted for Joker War in the background of THEIR DARK DESIGNS, especially as it hits its climax in April, but the big story starts in May.

It is going to be a very, very scary story. I can’t say much about it yet, other than you should probably read it and order lots and lots and lots of copies, just incase you get too freaked up and tear one of them up from the excitement.

ALSO: Who is this character on the amazing Yasmine Putri BATMAN #92 cover?! (I referred to her as the character to Batman’s left on twitter, and people are still giving me crap about it, but also giving OTHER people crap about it which seems weird to me - stop fighting in my mentions!) I obviously meant the brand NEW character… The lady about to stab Batman! To the left of him in the image, not in relative space.

But WHEN does she appear for the first time? Is it BATMAN #89? Is it YEAR OF THE VILLAIN: HELL ARISEN #3? Am I writing her origin story in the JOKER 80th Anniversary Special? Is she Joker’s new girlfriend? Is she a part of JOKER WAR??! Who the heck IS this Punchline, and why does she want to stab everyone?!?!?!?!?!?!

Wait, I’m not supposed to say that’s Punchline yet, am I? I’m not supposed to say ANY of this! And what about this incredible character design from Jorge Jimenez…? Well, while we’re here… Maybe I’ll let you be the first to meet her.

I am VERY excited for her to start showing up in the books.

Spoilers. She is not a nice guy.

OUT THIS WEEK

BATMAN #87
Art by Guillem March
Colors by Tomeu Morey
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover A by Tony S. Daniel
Cover B by Francesco Mattina

I talked about this plenty above, but I just want to reiterate how freaking excited I am for you to see what Guillem March has brought to the table. This is the year he becomes one of your all-time favorite Gotham City artists. Also: I haven’t spoken a lot about the rad Bat-Vehicles we’re introducing in the run because I don’t want to be overkill, but The Bat-Shot in this issue? It might be my favorite. We want this book to be a high octane thrill ride, and this issue keeps those thrills coming… And we’re still just revving up the engine. We’ve got a lot of ground we’re going to cover in the next couple months. Stay tuned.

YEAR OF THE VILLAIN: HELL ARISEN #2
Art by Steve Epting and Javi Fernandez
Colors by Nick Filardi
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover A by Steve Epting 
Cover B by Riccardo Federici

Honestly, one of my favorite parts of writing this series was getting to write Mercy Graves as a character. She comes into the story this issue, and I love having someone who can banter back and forth with Lex. She is great, and other people should use her more often, particularly in Lex Luthor stories! I HAVE SPOKEN! In all seriousness, I think we’ve lost the art of supervillains having a strong Number Two. Somebody they can yell at, and grandstand to, and helps them with stuff. It’s almost like that line of thinking may have led to the creation of another character I may have previewed above… HMMMMM. In this issue, Lex beats the crap out of a bunch of infected superheroes, because he is very smart and and has lots of ways to beat the crap out of superheroes, even if his new powers don’t work on them. It was very very fun to write, and I hope it is just as fun to read.

LETTER COLUMN

As always, if you’d like to see your letter show up in one of these bad-boys, drop me a line at TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com with “NEWSLETTER” in the header. I’ll pick one or two per newsletter!

Dear James,

I have been a batfan since Returns premiered decades ago and have enjoyed your previous takes on the Batman mythos in the past ( the backup stories from Batman #14's Death in the Family onwards showing the inner machinations up to the main event was very detailed, and I heavily admire that Penguin in #14 was no slouch either,) and I have been following my two favorite Rogues - Penguin and Riddler on their countless schemes. So imagine my excitement - like HOLY FREAKIN' METHUSELAH - when I first read that not only you were going to tackle the diabolical duo again, but they were going to have MAJOR arc time in the upcoming story you have planned for Batman #87 and beyond. I was stunned because to my knowledge they haven't shared a major arc together since Gotham Underground in 2008 (if you want to be more precise, Gotham in 2019) and there has always been a certain kind of rarely tapped chemistry they have always had in their appearances together (from the aforementioned Underground that concludes on a deeply bittersweet moment or in Gotham where *Spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen it yet* they breech on the concept BEYOND friendship with them,) which make them a deviously cunning and deadly eccentric powerhouse duo that I have seen reflections with in Ivy and Harley.

Ok, so thousand questions time: I am wondering how much will they interact again in this new arc and what versions of each character did you pull for inspiration (Forever, Returns, Gotham, ect.) What is also the mindset you have to approach formalizing a partnership/relationship/ect. between them as well? Since this is a continuation from King's run, will we also breech the past each character shared on opposing sides during the War of Jokes and Riddles as a topic?

Thank you for taking your time out to read this humble ask that me and my friends are curious about from your upcoming run.

Victoria

Hey Victoria!

Thanks so much for reaching out! I’ve ALWAYS loved the scenes where the villains bounce off each other. I’m happy you called out my Backup stories on Death of the Family back during the New 52, because that’s when I really fell in love for the first time. Each of Batman’s primary villains are different reflections of Bruce himself, but when you get them in a room together, you get dynamics that you rarely get to see play out on the page. Riddler and Penguin in particular are great, because they have been around for virtually the full history of Batman.

They’ve both appeared in different media, and they’re about to pop up again in the next Batman movie. I always love the characters who have been interpreted so many different ways, because you can kind of triangulate the heart of each of the characters. You want a Riddler who is as true to the Frank Gorshin as to the Animated Series as to the Jim Carrey production… And then you want to bring a little to him yourself. And Penguin is the same… You want the Aristocrat of Crime mashed up with a bit of the sewer dwelling Danny Devito take. And then when you put them together, and you can comment on how they’ve changed, from extreme to extreme, you get a sense of their relationship. I don’t know that they think of each other as friends, in the way that emotionally healthy people think of each other as friends, but the nice thing is that even if both of them got what they wanted (Everyone in Gotham to recognize Riddler as the smartest man alive, and Complete control over the criminal underworld for Penguin), it wouldn’t threaten the other one. So they can collaborate without being at each other’s throats, which is a fun dynamic.

And this whole crew, there’s NOBODY they hate more than Joker. Joker is just this pure chaotic element who is just as likely to kill half the city as he is to put a whoopee cushion under all of their seats. If he’s involved, they’re uneasy. They know they’re effectively in danger from the moment he’s involved. The only person they might resent more than Joker is Catwoman… Because she used to play for THEIR team, and now she’s working on the other side…

I would bet Penguin calls Riddler for help decoding a message from a rival crime family from time to time, and Riddler does odd jobs for Penguin to keep himself funded and off Batman’s radar. I like thinking about the ecosystem of relationships between the different Bat-Villains.

So, the long and short of it is that if you’re looking for Villains interacting, particularly Penguin and Riddler, I hope you’ll like this next issue, and you should for sure enjoy this upcoming arc!

HOUSEKEEPING

Sorry for missing the last Newsletter! It’s been a hectic couple of weeks. And it’s GOING to be a hectic couple of weeks. I’m at ALA next weekend, and in Burbank later this week… Florida end of next week and then off to a warm beach. I’m going to try to keep these things weekly, though, I swear!

Project Wingboy is getting announced this upcoming week, and I am very excited about it. I think you can all see that my work has been skewing toward the adult, and I’ve been very very excited to develop something in the Young Adult space. We’ve been cooking this for about two years, and been working in earnest for about a year. I’ll be talking about it a lot more in the next couple of newsletters. 

There’s also a lot of stuff cooking in the background. Some point in the next month, my full year and part of 2021 should be more or less set. There’s a LOT of cool stuff coming. I think generally, I’m not going to give DC projects “Project” names, but I’m a part of a few cool things that should be announced in the next couple months. And then I’ll be part of things that won’t be answered for a long while after that…

The long and short of it is that I have enough projects cooking that all my editors and collaborators keep asking me if I’m okay, which has to be a good sign, right? That they care that much? Hahaahahahahahahahahaha.

I’m going to Grenada in a couple of weeks and am going to do my best to have four straight days of radio silence, but we’ll see if I succeed at that. 

Be well!

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
1.19.20

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