by Coffee Joe
With thanks to Chooch and Haterade for their help with the interivew!
We all, each and every one of us, love comic books. Read 'em, love 'em, can't get enough of 'em. And, I would wager, the vast majority of us have, at one point or another, thought about how we could improve comics if we wrote 'em. Unfortunatley, very few of us will ever have that opportunity.
Except, of course, for CriticalMess.Net member Jim Beard, and Comic Bloc moderator Keith Dallas.
Known for years in our online circles as either JSAJim or just plain Jim, Jim Beard has had the opportunity to write comics professionally from time to time. His earliest published work came in the form of Hawkman Secret Files & Origins #1 (2002), where he collaborated with Geoff Johns on all nine profile pages. Shortly thereafter came his four-page piece "Stormchasers" in 2003's JLA/JSA Secret Files and Origins #1, about the android Red Tornado's oft-forgotten time in the Justice Society. Here, in only his second outing, Jim not only got to put words in the mouth of JSA founder Jay Garrick, but also fulfilled every comic writer's dream: he got to write for Superman.
Jim's non-superhero work includes Star Wars Tales #15 (2003), a story about Luke Skywalker's first brush with space. This story is considered to be one of the best of the series.
In addition to comic work, Jim has also contributed pieces for The All-Star Companion, Volume 3 (2008), The Hawkman Companion (2008) and The Flash Companion (2008).
It was on this last volume, The Flash Companion, that Jim collaborated with Keith Dallas for the first time.
Keith, AKA Captain Dallas on ComicsBulletin.com, was the driving force behind The Flash Companion, and is considered a noted comics scholar by many in the industry. This reputation has helped him secure more work with TwoMorrows Publishing; expect more Companions from him soon.
Besides his Companion work, Keith is also the writer for two creator-owned comic properties.
The first, Omega Chase, tells the story of Mack Baron, a man with memories of being an officer on a 24th century starship... but also of being a medieval archer... and who happens to currently be the sheriff in a 19th century town that is overrun by zombies.
His other property, Argonauts, brings us a fascinatingly ambiguous super-hero world where everyone does what he or she believes is proper, but no one tells us who are the heroes or villains.
So what lured these two fanboys-made-good together? The chance to work on one of the most beloved properties of our time, of course. Naturally, I'm talking about Ghostbusters.
Jim and Keith have collaborated with artist Josh Howard to bring us Ghostbusters Holiday Special: CON-Volution, available late June from IDW.
No strangers to the wants and whims of the online community, Jim and Keith were all too happy to sit down and give us the scoop on their upcoming labor of love.
And so, without further ado...
Nine Questions with Jim Beard and Keith Dallas!
CM: The current hot rumor regarding Ghostbusters 3 is that Bill Murray -- who himself has been lending fuel to this particular fire -- will either be dead when the new movie opens, or killed in the teaser and resurface as a wisecracking ghost throughout. Now this just may be Murray messing with the fans, but what do the two of you think of the idea of Obi Venkman?
JB: I trust the screenwriters to come up with something that will WOW us – besides, this is exactly what you say it is at this point: a rumor.
CM: Co-writing seems like something that would be difficult. How did you guys end up doing that? How did you two hook up in the first place, and how does your process work?
JB: I went into this thinking the exact same thing: two people writing one script? How’s that work? I had heard that back when Geoff Johns and David Goyer were writing JSA that they plotted the story together, then each took a half of the script, wrote them separately, and then melded the two halves together. That’s what we did. Cool thing is, and I think Keith agrees, that we did it to good effect. And we didn’t kill each other. And that I think that it reads as if one person wrote it. And that my jokes are superior to Keith’s.
KD: Jim describes our collaborative process accurately (except of course that his jokes were really lame and thankfully were edited out of the final product). We plotted out the entire issue page by page over the phone (and had a lot of fun doing it), and then each of us wrote half the script. The two halves of the script came together nicely I think because we both know what's happening on every page.
As far as how we came to collaborate on this Ghostbusters special in the first place, Jim and I have been good friends since 2005. We've served as Comicbloc.com moderators together, and he contributed several articles to The Flash Companion book that I edited for TwoMorrows Publishing. Back in September, I told Jim that I was working on some Ghostbusters pitches, and he told me that he was a huge Ghostbusters fan. I then introduced Jim to IDW editor Tom Waltz, and it was Tom who encouraged me and Jim to co-write the comic book. The suggestion made sense to me since we were dealing with a comedic property. By that, I mean collaboration works particularly well for comedic writing.
CM: The Ghostbusters have had their biggest push since the movies lately with a game, the comics, the toys, and rumors of a third film. Is this just the cycle of nostalgia or is there something else going on in the world right now that allows for the concept to resurface?
JB: Cycle of nostalgia? Sure, absolutely, but I also very strongly believe that the power of the concept is what carries it along – and the incredible talent behind the films.
KD: I wonder if all the current (supposedly) reality television shows about "paranormal investigators" pave the way for a Ghostbusters revival. Don't know.
CM: Lots of comic writers have written characters with lots of stories under their belt, but do you find it challenging to write characters that were initially defined by some of the best comedic actors of our time?
JB: For me, yeah, it was definitely a challenge to get their "voices" right and emulate what you see on the screen. I think it's important for a reader to feel like it's the same characters in the comics that they know and love. I hope we give that feeling. Egon's my favorite, and it was a thrill to write him but Venkman almost writes himself; you only have to picture Bill Murray's face and the sarcasm and biting wit flows out of you. I appreciate that in the character.
KD: This is really no different than tackling any other licensed character, whether it comes from a movie, a novel, a stage play, etc. These characters get handed to you already fully rounded and developed. It becomes our job, as the writers, to remain "true" to the characters. Jim put it best that we want readers to recognize the Ghostbusters from our comic book as the same characters they saw in the movies. So yeah, it's a challenge but specifically because those actors did a wonderful job defining those characters.
CM: It's been argued that Winston was added to the team just to give the group a fourth member, that he didn't serve a story purpose. Do you find that to be true? What defines him?
JB: His moustache. Oh, what defines him as a Ghostbuster? Well, he’s the “straight man,” for the most part, and that’s a hugely important role in comedy – just ask Bud Abbott. I admit that I went into this wondering what the heck I could say with Winston but I fell in love with him by the time we were done. Keith and I are currently fighting over who gets to pitch “Winston Zeddmore Saves the Universe” to IDW.
KD: He adds a different personality to the group. If Egon is the nerd and Ray is the geek and Peter is the con man/game show host (as Dana accurately labels him), then Winston is The Every Man. Like Jim, I too had fun writing the character.
CM: If we learned anything from "The Real Ghostbusters," it's that there is a whole world of stories able to be told in that universe. But what is it about those characters and that universe that people find so interesting? Why is everyone so crazy for Ghostbusters?
JB: Wait! I know the answer to this one! Sigourney Weaver! No? Gotta be Annie Potts, then. Oh, wait, that’s why I’m crazy for Cocoa-Ghostbusters…
KD: People remember Ghostbusters because of the magical comedy that's produced from the characters' interaction. That's really what it boils down to. Remove the character-produced comedy from the concept and you're just left with a plot about ghost hunting. That's not enough to sustain decades' long devotion.
CM: I realize that you're keeping the plot very close to the vest, but is there anything you CAN tell us, without giving too much away? Why should we pick this up?
JB: Because any actual lifting is good exercise for comic book fans. Beyond that it’s a fun story about comic books and what makes the creators behind them great (except us). I also think anyone who’s ever gone to a comic convention will appreciate what Keith and I have done here – except maybe cosplayers. And demons. And those long-suffering significant others of comic fans.
KD: I feel Jim and I wrote a funny, entertaining self-contained story, and since Josh Howard is drawing it, you know it's going to be a great looking book! 'Nuff said?
CM: Are there any future projects -- in ANY medium -- coming up that either or both of you would like to pimp?
JB: This must be the Shameless Plug Dept.! I have a book of essays on a famous/infamous TV show that I’ve edited – should be out later this summer – and I’m writing a volume of a series that Keith designed for TwoMorrows on the history of American comic books. Mine is the 1970s.
KD: The TwoMorrows book Jim just referenced is titled American Comic Book Chronicles. It's a multi-volume series with each volume providing a year-by-year account of the goings-on of the comic book industry for a specific decade: what important comic books were created (or canceled), what important creators made their mark on the medium, what was going on behind the scenes, etc. I'm "executive editing" the entire series as well as writing the 1980s volume. The volumes Jim and I are writing should be the first two to get published, sometime in 2011. Jim and I are racing to see who can finish his book first.
Other than that, I'm still working on my creator owned projects: the sci-fi character mystery Omega Chase -- the first four issues of which can be read for free at Th3rd World Studios' website -- and the super-hero epic The Argonauts, the first two issues of which can be ordered at Indyplanet.com.
And Jim and I are also hoping to collaborate on future Ghostbusters comic books for IDW. So if you enjoy Ghostbusters: Con-Volution, please let IDW know so we can provide you with some more fun stories!
CM: You two are essentially living the dream -- fan boys (or men) who have managed to pierce the veil and enter the professional side of our shared passions. What advice can you give to the rest of us?
JB: Write, write, write. It’s the only way to get better. That’s true for artists too, to work at what they do, but I think it’s a helluva lot harder for writers to break through. We don’t get portfolio reviews – huge bummer. Personally, I feel like I’m still in that misty Purgatory between fan and pro, but Keith’s already a grizzled veteran. Hell, he puts away a fifth of vodka and a pack of cigarettes every hour – even while he’s sleeping. Maybe he has some good advice for “piercing the veil.”
KD: So that's why I keep finding all those cigarette butts when I wake up in the morning. I thought it was the dog.
Look, I have two essential pieces of advice for aspiring comic book writers: first, take your videogame console and throw it out the window. Seriously, you are wasting your valuable time playing videogames when you should be writing. Make writing your videogame.
Second, create your own comic book and get that published before you consider writing licensed characters. I hear too many aspiring writers—with NO published work on their resume—declare, "I want to write Captain America!" or "I want to write Justice League!" Well, here's the problem: there's only one person on this entire planet writing Captain America and only one person writing Justice League. Set more realistic expectations for yourself.
Create your own comic book, get that published and who knows? Maybe you'll attract the attention of an editor. That's how I got the Ghostbusters gig. The editor is a big fan of my Omega Chase book, and he approached me at last year's San Diego Comic Con and asked me to pitch him some Ghostbusters ideas. My creator owned project created the opportunity to write a licensed property.
And there you have it! Thank you both for humouring us madmen!
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