Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Robert Greenberger On His Return to Writing Comics

Robert Greenberger has been many things in his career. He's been an editor of magazines, newspapers and comic books. He's written for magazines, newspapers, comic books and websites. He's written non fiction books for kids and for adults. He's written novels, and he's been involved in local politics.

Today is a special day for Robert Greenberger. Today, at a comic book store near you, BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20 goes on sale. This exciting issue was written by Robert Greenberger, and what makes it so special is that this is the first comic book he's written in TWENTY YEARS!

Robert has generously agreed to tell us about what it was like for him to return to writing comics as well as how he approached writing his story and the challenges he faced making it happen.

Here's the cover art for BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20. You can learn more about this cover's art here. 

Here's Robert:

I have not written a comic book in nearly 20 years so was delighted when I was offered a chance to write an issue of Batman: The Brave and The Bold. All through my career in comics, I was either an editor or administrator, letting others do the writing. These days, I am a fulltime freelance writer so wanted to see what I could do with writing some comics.

Here's two of the last comics Robert wrote 20 years ago. 

While the comic initially replicated the television show’s format, a teaser with a different team-up then the main story, I arrived as the comic book’s format was being altered. Since DC Comics sells foreign language rights to their stories, they take feedback from their international clients and for many; a 22-page story aimed at younger readers was too long.

They wanted shorter stories so it had been decided to eliminate the teaser and reduce the main story into two 10-page chapters.  As a writer, this changes how you write the story since you now need to find a point where one chapter can end with an exciting cliffhanger and then open the second part with a quick recap and resolution to the cliffhanger before completing the story.

The term "cliffhanger" comes from old movie serials. Serials were episodic movies shown in chapters each week before the main movie at a movie theater.  The filmmakers would try to make people want to come back to the theater to see the next chapter by ending each episode with the hero in a dangerous situation that seemed like he could never escape from it such as hanging from a cliff.  The above panel from "The Amazing Spider-Man #26 by Stan Lee and Steve Dikto shows the comic book equivalent of a cliffhanger. The issue ends with Spider-Man being captured by the villains. The reader, just like the last man speaking in this panel, wants to know "What's gonna happen next?" and hopefully buy the next issue. Stay tuned for a future post devoted to entirely to cliffhangers. 

In my case, I had Batman and Big Barda on the hunt for the missing Mister Miracle and the altered story structure meant I needed more action than actual detecting, which meant introducing the real threat earlier than I planned, setting up the cliffhanger.

In order to accomplish my creative goal of Batman seeing a successfully happy married super-hero couple, I decided to tell the story from a first-person perspective. From beginning to ending, he comments on their situation and Barda’s near-panic over her husband’s fate.

Here's a panel with Batman commenting on Big Barda's marriage to Mister Miracle.  Because Batman is the main character in this story, and also serves as the narrator, the narration is refered to as "first-person narration." The main character is usually the first person that we meet in a story which is why narration from their point of view is called first-person narration.

Had I been able to include the teaser, I would have had Batman and Huntress stop minor criminals Punch & Jewelee, a happily married pair of villains so it set up a subtle theme that would carry into the main story.

If you watch BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD on television, the "teaser" is the sequence before the main titles at the beginning of the episode which shows a portion of one of Batman's adventures that leads into the main story, but maybe features different characters than the main story. You can see from this splash page from the beginning of BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20 that Robert was able to take everything he wanted to tell in his teaser and condense it into three narrative captions. This entire issue is an excellent example of how narrative captions can be used to convey information to the reader about the characters and situations without intruding with the flow of the story. Robert tells you exactly what you need to know so that you can read the story with full enjoyment. This is the result of his long career as both a writer and an editor. 

In the end, I think we rushed some of the ending because of the space issues (you lose panels for storytelling by adding a second splash page to open part two). Robert Pope did a marvelous job with the packed adventure, from his imaginative cover to the final panel. It made for an excellent reintroduction to the world of comic book writing.

Thank you, Robert Greenberger for taking the time to talk about writing BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20! If you have any questions for him, or want to let him know what you thought of BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20, please leave a comment below. 

Parents and teachers can learn more about Robert Greenberger by visiting his website.

1 comment:

  1. Twenty years? Wow! Very informative post, as I can hardly write my own middle name!