The 1980s were very good to Batman in general. A number of highly talented artists and writers all worked on the title, one of DC’s flagships. Towards the end of the ‘80s Batmania exploded with the release of Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, the self titled gothic blockbuster starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton. The success of the movie helped establish the comic book as one of the most read of the decade.
The array of talent that appeared in the book is staggering by any stretch of the imagination. Gene Colan, Don Newton, Walter Simonson, Michael Golden, Michael Netzer and Jim Aparo had all drawn Batman, Batman Family or Detective Comics before the explosion that followed Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and the Alan Moore/Brian Bolland one-shot, The Killing Joke. After those two projects and Miller’s Year One (drawn in superb style by David Mazzuchelli) series the books saw an even more amazing line-up for detective Comics resulting in Mike W Barr teaming up with the (relatively) new English art team of Alan Davis and Paul Neary. After that team left the book Todd McFarlane––later to find fame and fortune at both Marvel and Image (Spawn)––took over for a three issue run. Then a number of artists and writers travelled through until stability was found with the pairing of two men, initially three.
When DC asked noted English writer John Wagner and his writing partner Alan Grant to write the title they accepted expecting fortune to follow. When the royalties didn’t eventuate Wagner left, allowing Grant to retain his by-line. Both Grant and Wagner had learnt their craft in England on the seminal 2000AD comic book and Grant brought with him concepts that he’d previously explored and touched upon. Paired with Grant was one of the best of the ‘young turks’ in DC’s art stable: Norm Breyfogle. Breyfogle was self taught and had come up through the ranks at independent companies such as First Comics before landing a job as one of the artists through the revolving door at DC. In order to garner some stability DC settled on the team of Grant and Breyfogle on Detective and allowed them free reign to create as they saw fit. The result was one of the best runs by a creative team on a book at any point in comic book history.
Breyfogle’s expressionistic artwork was more than a compliment to Grant’s challenging scripts. For five years they confronted both readers and editors alike and instead of falling back to the standard stories and characters the duo set about creating their own concepts and characters. In Grant’s case this was more out of necessity as he admits he didn’t have a wide range of knowledge of the history of Batman, unlike Breyfogle. Together the pair introduced several new characters, Anarky, Scarface, The Ventriloquist, The Fear, and the all purpose good guy, Harold, along with producing the issue of Batman that introduced Tim Drake as Robin in his all-new costume. Decades before Frank Miller announced that he would be sending Batman on a search for Osama Bin Laden, Grant and Breyfogle landed Batman in the United Kingdom to tackle terrorists. Decades before Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee would have Clayface pretending to be the late Robin re-incarnated, Grant and Breyfogle covered it. Indeed a lot of the concepts that exist in the Batman titles today can be traced back to the Grant/Breyfogle run.
Recently Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle sat down and spoke about their five years working on Batman, a conversation that also brought up quite a few other topics.
NORM BREYFOGLE: I sent Alan a big amount of little instances of what I’d like to see (for a future Batman project), but I’ll leave it all up to Alan of course. It might be all new stuff. Whether or not Anarky will be in there, well who knows? Only Alan knows at this point.
ALAN GRANT: No, I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about the guy and wondering how he would have turned out. I read over some of the previous Anarky stuff that we did – or rather that I did, what I was made to do – and [laughter] I don’t know if you ever read this but during the Cataclysm story line, when Gotham was devastated by an earthquake, for reasons which I could not make rational or logical in the story, Batman sought out Anarky and told him he had to leave the city or Batman would come down on him like two ton of concrete. It didn’t make sense. You’d think if Gotham was in pieces then Batman would want all the help he could get. But he threw Anarky out of the city and just disappeared for months.
NB: I actually drew that scene in an issue of Anarky I believe. You probably wrote it into a number of titles, though.
AG: Right, yeah. Reading over that I was not so happy with the way I’d written that because it didn’t make sense to me at the time and it doesn’t make sense now. That’s what happens when you let editorial assistants come up with story ideas rather than the guy who’s getting paid to do the writing.
NB: That’s an extension of what happens when you create a character that’s close to your heart and let someone else own it.
AG: [chuckles] Yeah, that’s true. [laughter] If you create something that’s close to your heart and you don’t own it, “Oh woe is me!” [laughter]
DANIEL BEST: Let’s go right back to the beginning. Norm, you did at least one or two issues of Detective before Alan came along and Alan, you started writing it with John Wagner.
AG: John and I were working on Judge Dredd one day when we got a call from Denny O’Neil. Denny was saying that basically Detective Comics was selling below its break even point, they were making a loss on it as opposed to a profit, and there was talk of closing it down unless he could turn it around. He had the bright idea of giving it to a couple of Brits and seeing if we could come up with different stuff. He basically gave us a two issue trial and that’s when we used the Ventriloquist, which we had actually created for another story in 2000AD, but we used it in Batman instead. Denny liked the two issues and signed us up for a year. At that time you didn’t get royalties working for any British comics and John and I were looking forward to getting some royalties on Batman because American writers and artists got royalties depending on the sales. After five months or so the first royalty statements came in and the sales were still below break even and there were no royalties. John took one look at it and quit. Basically John and I wrote five issues together, and I wrote all the rest of the run on my own. I kept John’s name on the comic for the rest of the first year because we had signed a contract and I didn’t want to give DC any excuse to fire me.
NB: Oh wow, I didn’t know that, or if I did I forgot.
AG: That’s a long time ago now Norm.
NB: That’s true. Did John ever tell you later on that he wished he’d stayed?
AG: John could never bring himself to say it, but I could see the sick look in his eyes when I showed him some of the royalty cheques that I got from Batman.
NB: Do you remember what the sales point, what the break even point was in numbers?
AG: When we first started on it, it was 80,000 per month and Detective was selling 75,000.
NB: 80,000 is a great success these days.
AG: Yeah. I know, I know.
NB: So were they lying to us about the break even point back then?
AG: No, but it was a news-stand title back then and if you look at the price it was about seventy five cents and if you look at the price of a comic now it’s about $2.75. When we started on Detective I’m pretty sure it was seventy five cents and it was selling approximately 75,000. It was like that for the first year, maybe a year and a half that we were on it and suddenly the Burton movie was released and sales shot up to 650,000 for the three issues with the Demon in them.
NB: That’s why we got a demand for a lot of Batman work.
AG: That three part Demon cross over is one of my favourites.
DB: Were either of you familiar with each others work? Norm hadn’t done a lot of work leading up to Detective, and Alan a lot of your work was in 2000AD.
AG: Not just 2000AD. The publishers who did 2000AD did a lot of other comics, a dedicated war comic, a dedicated sports comic, a dedicated horror comic etc - and John Wagner and I wrote for all of them under a variety of names, so it wasn’t just science fiction that we wrote.
NB: I was familiar with Alan’s name, and John Wagner’s name, from 2000AD.
AG: I was only familiar with Norm because Denny had sent us copies of the first Batman stuff that Norm had done.
NB: Do you remember which story it was?
AG: I can’t remember.
DB: Norm, your artwork developed over the run and became expressionistic and very ‘out there’ as you progressed. Alan, did you encourage this?
AG: Generally speaking I never saw Norm’s artwork until the issues came out. When you’re working on a monthly schedule like that you don’t have time to ok the artwork with the writer. The editor has the responsibility for all of that.
NB: Did you ever ask to see any of the artwork?
AG: Not that I can recall Norm. Not that I didn’t want to see it, just because that’s the way things were done.
NB: I can understand that.
AG: If I had been dialoguing the artwork after it had been drawn then I’d have seen it, but the dialoguing and word balloons were done by Dan Raspler in New York.
NB: About the development of the artwork . . . my work developed because I was pretty darn new to a monthly schedule in comics. I’d only been in comics professionally for about two years when I got Batman. I’d done a year or two on other titles, maybe a year in total on Whisper which was a bi-monthly title that I was pencilling, inking, lettering, and painting the covers for, and it was the first time I’d been working at that rate and meeting deadlines, so I was still pretty raw when I got on Batman. One of the things I liked about Denny as an editor was he gave so little specific directions or demands. He let us be as creative as we wanted to be and I got almost no feedback at all from Denny except for some praise every now and then, unless there was something definitely wrong that had to be changed which almost never occurred. The development of my style was just because I was getting more proficient with the language of comics and I was getting faster and learning my own formula for doing things. Frankly I wish I had gotten Batman, like Jim Lee did, later in my career, like ten or twenty years later. Like now, [laughter] at the peak of my abilities. A lot of my publised Batman stuff, although I’d accept any praise for it I guess, I look at it like any artist does and I only think of how much better it would be if I’d done it now.
AG: That’s the same with writers. When the door is shut I could have done a better job, but that’s not what it’s all about. I don’t agree with you. I’m glad you got Batman when you did get it because it probably developed your style and your style suited Batman, and the two went hand-in-glove.
NB: I always wanted to draw Batman and I was very hungry when I got the gig and it set my career in a lot of ways. It gave me name recognition probably for the rest of my life in the comics industry. There were a lot of good things that came out of it. I’m just saying what I’ve often said: that it would have been nice if I’d done it later in my career. But if I had the opportunity to change history I don’t know if I’d dare. [laughter] Because I pretty much like the way that I am. [laughter]
AG: Yeah, you might end up with a crap writer as well. [laughter]
DB: Alan, it’s interesting that you mentioned the Tim Burton movie. Around that time you had your initial run on Detective there was a three part story written by the movie’s writer Sam Hamm. When you returned though it was almost like you exploded out of the blocks with some incredible work.
AG: Yeah, I don’t know why that should have been. I think that perhaps because by that time I had seen Norm’s artwork and I had seen what he was capable of and I think that the scripts that I was writing and the characters that I was creating were being accepted very well. We were getting great mail and the fans were really reacting both in Britain and the US, so for both Norm and I it was just like you say, it was just like we’d exploded out of the starting blocks after that happened. The three- part Demon story is one of my favorite Batman stories that we ever did. The ending of that story was just perfect.
NB: That was a seminal story for me as well. I liked the juxtaposition of the Demon with Batman. In fact, I got into it so much that I decided to have the Demon give Batman the kiss on the cheek at the story’s end.
AG: I’d read the Demon when he came out in his original run , but I had never read any since then apart from the Matt Wagner version. When I came to write the character in Batman however I thought it was quite good. Everything worked well, the writing, Norm drew him exactly the way he should be drawn, he was an unstoppable force of nature and yet he didn’t kill Batman when he had the chance and he didn’t do it for a totally logical reason.
NB: That’s right. He saw himself in the character of Batman. We’re not all angels, we’ve got a little of the demon in each one of us.
DB: When the pair of you started working on Detective Comics, what leaps out is the sheer amount of characters that you created and introduced. You had Scarface, Anarky, The Ventriloquist, Joe Potato who, believe it or not has his own web page…[laughter]
AG: Does he? [laughter]
NB: You’re kidding? [laughter] Wow, I’m going to have to look that up. That’s ridiculous.
DB: You appeared to shy away from using rational established characters other than the Penguin, Catwoman and the Joker, who didn’t really appear in the issue he was in.
AG: I think that (the Joker issue) was to tie in with some other story that was going on over in Batman proper. Yeah, we created a whole wad of new characters. From my point of view that was mainly because I hadn’t read any Batman since the Denny O’Neil run had ended. I had no idea of what was happening. I had no idea if the other villains like the Joker or the Penguin were being used over in Batman.
NB: That’s interesting. I know I’ve heard that before but I’d forgotten that.
AG: So it was easier creating new ones than to go through all the hassle of finding out what was happening with the old ones. It wasn’t until I guess after maybe a year of Norm and I working on Detective that readers started writing in and asking, “Why aren’t we seeing these guys in here?”, like the Joker, the Penguin, the Scarecrow and we started doing them. But if we review all the titles we did together then there’s a phenomenal amount of characters that we generated. I don’t suppose that many other writers and artists on Batman have used them because they were kind of personal to us in many ways.
Would you agree Norm? People like The Fear for instance?
NB: He’s appeared in a couple of places and I suppose that most our characters have been used from time to time by other writers. Before you finished that sentence I thought you were about to say that there’s been very few other writers that had created so many characters for Batman when they’d written the title.
AG: I don’t know about that, because like I said, I haven’t read Batman when other writers have been doing the character. [chuckles]
NB: You made so many classic ones yourself. In recent decades there have been writers who’ve brought in new characters, but it seemed to me, being a Batman fan from the late ‘60s on, that I was seeing a whole bunch of characters from you. There was a larger amount of characters than I recall from any other single writer in a long time. Frankly I remember being a little disappointed at first because I wanted to draw the classic Batman villians.
AG: You wanted to draw the classics, of course!
NB: I grew up with them and that’s what I wanted to draw, but now looking back on it I’m really glad we created all those characters. Actually I should say that I consider them your creations.
AG: No, no. Anything that a writer and artist do together is a co-creation. Absolutely.
NB: I’ll say that I’m partly the creator, sure, but the genesis, the seed of the characters came from you.
DB: I’ll agree with you there Norm, I can’t think of any other creative team who introduced as many characters in such a relatively short run on the Batman titles. Some of those characters, such as Harold, stayed in the titles for long after you both left. How much input to the visuals of the characters did Norm have?
AG: Norm can answer this because I would say 100%. Norm was given my script and then he was left to run with it.
NB: It depended on the character in question. Generally Alan gave very little input about their looks and I would feel the same way if I were writing a character for another artist to design/draw. It’s the same way I feel about giving colour directions to colourists. It’s like, once you start with the suggestions everything is interrelated and there’s nowhere to stop. I know a picture is worth a thousand words and unless you’ve got a really clear picture in your mind of what you want I wouldn’t give specific notes to a professional further down the line, because if they’re good they’re going to do their job well anyway and if they’re not then no words are going to increase their abilities.
AG: I would totally agree there.
NB: There are a couple of characters that I can recall off hand where Alan did give me more description than others, however. For instance Joe Potato. Alan, you described him as Broderick Crawford. [laughter]
AG: I didn’t remember that!
NB: You’ve forgotten that huh?
NB: These memories are getting old to me too, but I’m pretty sure of that one. Also The Fear, you described him as having crooked teeth and looking like he was a radiation victim with patches of hair. So you got some of that in there too.
AG: Right. I remember that. I also remember that your vision of Cornelius Stirk was even more horrible than I had thought of. [laughter]
NB: Well, he’s a pretty horrible character. And then there’s Anarky of course, which was based on your directions because I wasn’t really familiar with the character V For Vendetta at that point.
AG: Yes! I remember all I said was he was a cross between V For Vendetta and one of the spies from Spy Vs Spy in Mad Magazine. [laughter]
NB: That’s right! I’d forgotten that.
AG: I thought he’d only be there for one or two issues, but then I started to get ideas above my station by thinking, ‘Well fuck, this guy could be the new Robin!” Unfortunately, because everything was so top secret at that time and there was very little contact between myself and Marv Wolfman, who was doing the Batman monthly, I didn’t know that they were already working on a new Robin and that they had already introduced this character Tim Drake who would become Robin. I had visions that Norm and I would be doing that.
NB: I still want to draw Anarky as Robin. [laughter] I mean, Lonnie Machin, I would love to draw him as Robin still. Someday.
DB: There was a lot of subversiveness surrounding Anarky. When you started to develop the character was there a thought process that this was going to be a counter culture, borderline subversive political activist?
AG: Yes. I was quite definite about that. At the time I belonged to, I can’t remember the name, it’s not the British Anarchists Society but it’s something along those lines, I subscribed to their magazine and I was a member. They threw me out when Anarky was published in the States [laughter] because they got their hands on a copy and said that people like me shouldn’t be doing this kind of stuff…
AG: …and trying to pervert their ideals for commercial gain. I thought I was doing them a favour you know? [laughter]
NB: I think so too. I think they misperceived that. Although in the first issue Anarky was more of a villain than he was after. In the first issue I believe he killed somebody, didn’t he?
AG: In my original script, Norm, Anarky did kill the drug dealer. Anarky electrocuted him with a ‘taser and in my original script the guy was killed. Denny O’Neil called me up and said he didn’t think that was right, that he liked the character and thought it was a terrible thing that someone that young would do something so unchangeable.
NB: This was pre-Columbine of course.
AG: He basically talked me into reversing it. I mean Denny was the editor and if he decided he didn’t want Anarky to kill the guy anyway he could have done it without my permission, but Denny tended to do things right. He asked first.
NB: Although that issue still does stand with Anarky having killed that guy as I recall it.
AG: No, that guy’s not dead.
NB: Really? I’ll have to look that up because I assumed he did. I remember it after all this time because that was the only time Anarky ever killed anyone.
AG: Nope. Only in my script.
NB: We’re talking about the first victim in the alley way with the Anarky symbol on the wall?
AG: That’s right.
NB: I’ve thought he was dead all along! That’s interesting.
AG: I know you thought he was dead because the script says that he is dead. Later on, in a later scene we have a newsreader on the television saying, “News from the hospital where pop star so and so is recovering from an electric shock.”
NB: Oh; okay. I’d forgotten that. I probably had forgotten it because, like you said, I was remembering the original script.
DB: From Detective Comics you moved over to the Batman title proper.
AG: Yeah, we were and I can’t say I was unhappy with that, but Norm and I, on Detective Comics, we kind of handled what Batman did on his nights off from Batman monthly. Suddenly we were switched to Batman monthly where we had to handle the continuity of the book. We had to start using characters like Jim Gordon and Vicki Vale and whatnot more regularly. I think it worked perfectly well, in a way it made mainstream the more outrageous Batman that we had been doing over in Detective. I preferred Detective over Batman.
NB: I can see how Alan would feel that way but from my point of view as the artist I felt like it was a totally smooth transition. In fact, I liked it just because I knew that Batman was bound to get better sales than Detective and there’d be more visibility. In the stories I didn’t sense anything different, but now that you mention it there was a little bit more in the continuity in terms of the regular characters. We got Jim Gordon and Vicki Vale and things like that but you still had good story ideas and you were very exciting to work with.
AG: Yeah, like I said, I’m not dissing Batman at all, just that I preferred Detective. I prefer working in a corner where nobody is paying any attention to me rather than being in the spotlight and having to, at least to a certain extent, do what you’re told. You’ve got to get Jim Gordon and Sarah Essen in the next issue whether you like it or not. Well they don’t fit into the story I was thinking of, well fit them in.
AG: What can you do?
DB: Clearly you felt you had far more freedom on Detective.
AG: That’s right. We were in our own little corner of the universe doing what Batman did on his nights off and it involved freaky stories and really weird villains and that was ok. Then suddenly we were over in Batman and we were on the flagship title and all eyes were upon us. Having said that I did settle into Batman and I did come to enjoy it very much. In fact when Denny, and I don’t know if Norm remembers this but it was at one of the Batman meets that we had, eventually said he wanted us to leave the Batman monthly and start our own title, Shadow Of The Bat, which in fact was a great honour because very few people get that kind of opportunity, I argued against it. Do you remember that Norm?
NB: Yes I do and I didn’t really understand what we were passing up. I didn’t realize that the 500th issue would do as well as it did. [laughter]
AG: Alright, hey don’t make me too mercenary. [laughter] But I had already figured out that Batman 500 was coming up and I thought, well we’ve done it so far so we should be on the 500th because there was going to be big royalties there. I guess it was just a dream.
NB: I vaguely remember you mentioned that to me at a Batman summit conference and I guess I should have listened more closely. What would Denny have done if we’d said, “No we don’t want to, we want to stay on Batman.” Would we have stayed on Batman?
AG: No, I don’t think so. I think Denny would have gone with Doug Moench and Jim Aparo on Batman anyway because Jim was more of a traditional artist than you. Therefore he’d have preferred Jim drawing Batman rather than a new title.
NB: In other words Denny offering us the choice was just a courtesy.
AG: Oh yeah, it was a genuine courtesy because they were creating a new Batman comic. Denny was shocked when I said I’d rather stay on Batman and he was shocked because very few people get asked to create a new Batman comic.
NB: Shadow Of The Bat did do well, it’s just that the 500th issue of Batman did so much better than I expected. Did it do better than you expected, Alan? It sure surprised me. Mike Manley had just been getting into comics and it was his first Batman job and he got a nice little nest egg from that.
AG: Four and a half million copies it sold. That’s good numbers.
DB: Well I bought two of them. [laughter]
AG: That’s why I wanted to stay on it. [laughter]
NB: But we wouldn’t have been able to. In other words Denny offered us the choice didn’t he, but we weren’t given a choice because he would have taken us off the book anyway.
AG: I don’t know if he would have or not. If I’d been him, I would have taken us off Batman because a new comic with Doug Moench as the writer and Jim Aparo as the artist, with no disrespect to either of them, both of them I loved and I loved their work, it wouldn’t have had the same impact as it did with you and I doing it because you and I had become a team in the limelight at that time as far as Batman was concerned. Shadow Of The Bat wouldn’t have got the high initial sales, the high publicity and the high profile it got if we hadn’t been the team on it.
NB: That’s right. That’s true.
DB: During your run on Detective, the sister book, Batman, saw artist Jim Aparo and writers such as Jim Starlin and Marv Wolfman doing more traditional material. I know its two separate books but it was two completely separate universes entirely.
AG: I agree and that’s the way I looked at it. We were handling Batman on his night off from his job in Batman monthly. Quite a lot of the early stories we did Denny didn’t know how to file them at all in continuity so he put on the ‘Batman Case File’ or something like that just because they were off the wall stories. I’m not a continuity freak. I know comics’ fans love continuity but I’m not a continuity freak at all. I don’t really give a shit about continuity. I’ll pander to it, but it comes last in what I put in my stories. Continuity isn’t that important.
NB: I feel the same way. Maybe that’s part of the reason why we work together so well, why the visuals seem to compliment the writing because I felt the same way on that point.
AG: Yep, it’s possible.
NB: But it’s probably more than anything because I was a new artist that nobody had seen before so that complimented your avante garde approach to Batman.
DB: When you started on the Batman title proper, one of the first things you did was to introduce the new Robin.
AG: Robin had already been created by Marv Wolfman and Jim Aparo, although I’m not sure if Jim was working with Marv at that time or not.
NB: I did get to draw Robin in his new costume in print first, that’s true, but I consider that to be the luck of the draw because the character ––if not the costume–– had already been introduced in Batman. We had just recently taken over Batman.
DB: Marv had introduced him wearing the traditional costume and then you introduced him in his new costume. Did sales go up with that issue?
AG: I’d have to check my statements from that time. But every issue from about that time that featured Robin sales went up because Robin did have his own fans.
NB: It was a big thing to bring in the new Robin, yes. I know my fans often point specifically to that double page splash where his costume first appears as a big event for them as fans and I usually have to point out to them that Neal Adams was the one who designed the costume. The ‘R’ symbol and the staff were all that was really mine.
DB: I found it ironic that when you left the Batman title proper to go and do Shadow Of The Bat your last story line involved Scarface and the Ventriloquist – same as your first story arc back on Detective.
AG: Oh right! That’s never occurred to me before. [laughter]
DB: You came full circle. Was Shadow Of The Bat created for the pair you or was it created for you exclusively Alan?
AG: No, it was for the two of us, but Norm chose to leave after a short period of time because I think he was offered a really good thing from another company. Am I right?
NB: Yeah, that was during the '90s comics boom and a lot of independent companies had come up. I didn’t want to leave Batman but I was open to the possibility of doing something new because I’d been drawing Batman for a while. I was offered something from Malibu, the title Prime which became their flagship title, and that was very different from Batman. The main reason I left Batman was two-fold. They offered me a signing fee for signing the contract, money was flowing in the industry back then and it was a nice, healthy signing fee. In fact it paid the down payment on my house that I bought at that point. The other reason, and it’s an equally important reason, was that Malibu promised to publish Metaphysque sight unseen. In fact I didn’t even have a title at that time, they just promised to publish my own writing and my own creator-owned character. So I took the bait and it was good for a while. I can’t say I regret it. I needed a change. Too bad we can’t live out many lives at once, though, because I can see myself staying on Batman for twenty years like Curt Swan did on Superman, but that doesn’t really happen anymore anyway.
DB: The initial five issues of Shadow were again different to what had come before, both visually and story wise. You started with Batman locked up in Arkham Asylum.
AG: Well we thought we’d do something different. We wanted to make an impact to start the series off and that was a good way to make an impact.
DB: From there you did a smattering of Batman issues together, but you didn’t really pair back up until the Anarky mini-series and the series proper. Am I right in guessing that you weren’t overly receptive to an Anarky series Alan?
AG: I was happy doing the Anarky mini-series that we did together. I enjoyed doing it a lot. It was one of Norm’s and my best works. Darren Vincenzo who was an editorial assistant on Batman at the time proposed that we bring Anarky out as an ongoing title with him as the editor; that I was opposed to. Anarky, not having any super powers, doesn’t have what it takes to bring the fans in month after month. He’s the sort of character you can get away with using in an annual once a year plus his own mini-series once a year and maybe as a guest star every couple of years, but he’s not capable, he’s not strong enough to hold his own monthly title. Very few characters are when it comes down to it. I’m not sure how long ago, I think back in the ‘70s, DC released The Joker in his own monthly comic and I think it lasted seven or eight issues, which was basically the same as the Anarky one we did. So even a character as strong as the Joker couldn’t last in a monthly format when he had to carry it on his own.
NB: Funny you should mention the Joker because he turned out to be Anarky’s father.
AG: Ah well, you know that but I don’t know if anyone does. [laughter]
NB: It was mentioned right there in the title, it’s just a question of whether or not the information had been proven to be true.
AG: Denny only let me write that story under protest, he was totally opposed to Joker being Anarky’s father and said under no circumstances would DC allow that.
NB: I remember that he didn’t like it and I was surprised he was that adamant. It was my idea at the time, by the way.
AG: I talked him into letting me write the script anyway by saying the story would create a lot of interest and then maybe in six months time I would write the rebuttal, which proves that Anarky wasn’t the Joker’s son, that he was really supposed to have been and Denny said OK but of course the monthly title got cancelled long before that point. [laughter]
NB: As it stands it could very well be that he is the father, which I like. Do you remember Denny giving you any specific reason for why he didn’t want the Joker to be Anarky’s father?
AG: No, he didn’t. I asked him for a specific reason and he just said, “I can’t allow you to do it. DC will never accept it. Paul Levitz will never accept it.”
NB: But they let Batman have a son.
AG: In the Ras Al Ghul story.
NB: The Son Of The Demon. It wasn’t an alternate reality story or anything. They just kind of pushed it under the table.
AG: They’re using the Batman son in the upcoming Grant Morrison series.
AG: I think so, yes. As far as I know. Grant himself hasn’t told me but I think I read it in Wizard magazine.
NB: I wonder how Dan DiDido feels about Anarky being the Joker’s son.
AG: I have no idea Norm, none whatsoever. Of course Denny’s not in charge of continuity now so the guys who are in charge can say whatever they want. They can say he is or he isn’t. It’s up to them not up to Denny.
NB: Right. I think I might mention it to Dan DiDido or whoever controls it.
AG: Yeah, mention it and see how he feels.
DB: I wasn’t aware that they were bringing back Batman’s son.
AG: Denny would never allow that and that’s the sort of thing that I would agree with Denny on.
NB: I would agree too. I don’t like the idea of Batman having a son. I don’t know exactly why though.
AG: You can get your story out alright but at the end of the day it’s basically just a gimmick.
NB: It’s almost sacrilegious. It’s like that movie coming out about the lineage of Christ. I guess I kind of feel the same way about Batman. Giving Batman a son changes the character too much.
AG: It changes things too much. I agree with that Norm. But then again it’s got nothing to do with us anymore so we’re just voicing an opinion. They can do what they want. If they want to give Batman a whole troupe of sons it’s up to them. [laughter] Maybe he can have a whole football team of sons.
NB: But they’d all have to have the same mother.
AG: Hey, that’s not my problem.
NB: It depends on whether they’re Batman’s sons or Bruce Wayne the playboy sons. If they’re the Batman’s then they’d probably all be from the same mother because Batman is a real upstanding character. But if they’re Bruce Wayne the playboy sons…I’m just making a joke.
AG: Yeah, well, again, the article I read in Wizard had a quote from Grant Morrison saying he was playing up to his reputation as a playboy and that. For instance they’d have Bruce Wayne waking up in the morning and he’d be in bed with three super models that he’d bedded during the night. Again, it’s up to them to do whatever they want with their characters. For me that cheapens Batman.
NB: But what if he did it only once a year?
NB: On Christmas. [laughter]
AG: I can see Batman as a practitioner of tantric sex. [laughter]
NB: That sounds like Anarky. He’d use tantric sex for his spiritual development. [laughter]
AG: Let’s keep away from that perhaps.
DB: If you had the opportunity to work on Batman again do you have any idea as to what you might do?
AG: Absolutely none. I only write stories because I get paid for it so somebody would have to be willing to pay me before I’d start thinking about what I was doing. I’m not trying to sound greedy or anything; it’s just the way that it is, particularly when you’re writing work for hire. If it’s your own character then it’s different because you’re the only person in charge of its destiny. But with something like Batman they can hire Joe Blow off the street and by next month Batman could have triplets and it could be part of continuity and made retrospective so that it stretches back to the 1940s. No, there are just too many imponderables, too many possibilities. I need to be paid before I start thinking about it.
DB: Have DC ever approached the pair of you to come back and do a run on Batman at any stage?
AG: Norman, you answer because I’ve got a separate answer.
NB: They haven’t approached me except for individual one-shots here and there and they weren’t with Alan. The last Batman that I did was with Alan. It was the Dreamland story which was a sequel to Batman: The Abduction. DC hasn’t approached me hardly ever about anything since my Batman years. Instead, I’ve approached them a few times. I don’t know why it is but I’ve gotten the cold shoulder mostly. But it doesn’t really matter because I’ve been working steadily in the comics industry for the last three years. The last thing I did for DC was The Spectre ... but that’s getting away from your question.
AG: My answer to that question is I’ve put in several Batman proposals over the years. Not off my own back because I’ve wanted to do it, but because Batman editors or senior editors have phoned me up and asked me to do it. And every proposal that I have put in has been nixed for one reason or another. I was beginning to wonder if I had might have pissed off somebody up at DC and this is their way of exacting revenge on me. One of the ideas (I’m not going to go into the idea) that I put in is far and away the strongest idea I have ever put into DC in twenty years of working for them in any feature for any character. It’s the strongest idea I’ve ever had. They nixed it and not only did they nix it, but they were quite rude about it. I don’t understand it because you might not like someone and you might not like someone’s work but you know when something comes up that’s decent. Without going into it you’ll just have to take my word for it, it’s the best idea I’ve ever had in twenty years of working for them. DC has turned down every proposal that I’ve put in since I was fired off Shadow Of The Bat.
NB: I did remember while you were speaking Alan that I did propose a couple of Batman ideas. One of them was Batman Of The Apes.
AG: That’s right, we proposed that together.
NB: That’s right. That was my idea and I approached you with it. It was an Elseworlds tale where instead of Lord Greystoke landing in the African jungle it was Bruce Wayne and he was raised by apes and somehow he would take on the mantle of the bat to avenge his parents because he would find out he was human and blah, blah, blah. That would have been really fun.
I was asked by Dark Horse to be the artist on the Batman/Tarzan cross-over and ________ was the point man on the project for DC and he nixed me from the project. Even though Dark Horse had approached DC and they owned the rights to Tarzan, it was their idea and they named me as their first choice, _______ nixed me on that. It was the first time I felt I’d been truly unfairly swatted down by any comic book company. I didn’t understand why and in fact it did seem to me that _______ had some kind of a temper and some kind of an axe to grind against me.
AG: Don’t leave me out of this. It wasn’t just ________ with an axe to grind. He had to grind against you and me because of Anarky I think. If you remember he first proposed the Anarky monthly comic, he was the editor of it, he told me the way he wanted it to go and I argued with him every step of the way. ______ was a nice enough guy but he wasn’t good enough to be a Batman editor. That’s my opinion. I’ve been a freelance writer for over twenty five years. He’s maybe improved now but at that time he certainly didn’t have what it took to be an editor. But then again the guy was probably fighting for his job. There was a lot of backstabbing and backbiting going on between the Bat assistants and the guys who were working for them. I don’t know why that should have been, but Denny’s authority, which in earlier years had been absolute, Denny, as he got older, allowed himself to be usurped by his assistants. Denny is the kind of genius story-teller who, like Norm said, was hands-on with us, both with my scripts and the art, and yet was virtually non-existent. I think that Denny asked us to re-write maybe one, or two at the most, things in a script. If he had a query he’d call and if I explained it satisfactorily for him then he was happy for it run. He didn’t praise you often for what you did, so when he did praise you, you knew you’d done something that was really right. But the guys who came after him and came on as his assistants, basically what they were was fanboys. They would get together and talk amongst themselves and say, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great” and it ended up, and Norm was off Shadow by this time, with the Cataclysm storyline, which is one of the worst Batman storylines that anyone has ever come up with. The whole thing was created in the office by the back-up assistants. A bigger pile of shit you couldn’t hope to discover and yet it was foisted upon us.
NB: It reads like it was created by them so I’m not surprised.
AG: Well some stories are good and some stories when you think of them you automatically think, “Oh no, that’s rubbish”.
NB: It’s difficult to find a good justification for a big cross-over event and there has to be, in my opinion, a really good reason for it. Having an earthquake strike Gotham doesn’t seem like much of a reason for a giant cross-over to me. Or stretching out Bruce Wayne’s trial for . . . how many issues?
DB: Too many.
AG: Far too many. Far too many.
NB: It was boring. That’s like counting sand; you know, let’s watch a court room drama. It isn’t Batman at all and I wouldn’t want to draw those issues.
DB: I always wonder that if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were around now how many issues would they take to tell the same story they did with three with the coming of Galactus and the Silver Surfer. Now it’d take two years.
AG: It’d be a two year storyline definitely. Twenty four months with maybe a couple of special issues thrown in there too.
NB: Exactly. It wasn’t that it was a bad story per se; I didn’t mean to say that.
AG: No, it was. It was a bad story.
NB: I’m not talking about Cataclysm though.
AG: Oh, right, you’re talking about the Batman trial. I have a problem with Cataclysm. Cataclysm was a bad story because it involved Batman disappearing for three months and allowing the escaped criminals and lunatics to carve out their own sectors all over the city so that when Batman came back after 90 days absence, all of Gotham had been taken over by these lunatics. The Joker had his sector, Two Face had his and the Scarecrow etc etc. The only reason these guys had been able to take over was because Batman had pissed off for three months. The reason why Batman had pissed off for three months was that he had gone to prepare for the battle he knew was to come. He was building tunnels, shipping in supplies and when you have to suspend so much of your disbelief in a story then that’s a good sign that that story is a load of muck and you should forget it. Denny should never have allowed them to go with Cataclysm.
NB: A good sign for me that it was a crock was that in the map of Gotham city that they drew showing all the sectors, each Batman editor seemed to have his own little sector named after him too. [laughter]
DB: Where I realized it was crap was when Batman didn’t allow Superman or the Justice League to come in to help rebuild Gotham. When they finally came in to help I remember reading the book and reading the excuse given, and I apologize Alan if you had to write it, but I couldn’t help but think this is just pathetic.
AG: It was. It was absolutely pathetic. I don’t think I did have to write it but it was pathetic. I had to write the same thing for when Batman told Anarky to leave the city. Instead of saying, “My city is in ruins. Please come along and help me build it over again,” it was, “My city is in ruins and you’re a good guy but if you don’t get out of town I’m going to smash you into pieces.”
NB: It’s not like Batman even called Anarky a bad guy, he called him a good guy, I remember that, and yet he kicked him out of Gotham.
DB: Do you think maybe the response for the Cataclysm story was so poor that they used you as a scapegoat?
AG: No, I mean, ok. I’m not sure how much you know about the story of me being fired. Norm had already left on his own as he pleased…
NB: [laughter] I wish!
AG: …but I was under contract. As I said the three Bat assistants sort of formed a triumvirate which became a barrier between writers like myself and Doug Moench and Denny who was still the senior Batman editor. More and more of their opinions were enforced. The ways they thought Batman should be were enforced. The stories they thought were good were enforced. Ideas they didn’t like, Denny wouldn’t have gotten the chance to see or hear them. I guess it was kind of like overthrowing the king or something.
NB: Whenever I hear stuff like that I always can’t help but feel it’s not so much that they thought they had better ideas necessarily, but that they wanted to make a big splash with their own names.
AG: I think it’s more that they genuinely believed their ideas were good and that fandom was dying. Every fanboy I’ve ever spoken to has said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea,” yeah, ok, right, as if you’re the only person in the world who’s ever had that idea. I think it was that they genuinely thought their ideas were better.
NB: I guess they would have motivation to feel that way because it would ameliorate their guilt.
AG: Because they didn’t know what a good story was or what a good villain was or anything else they were really incapable of making that decision. So anyway, one night at midnight my fax went off so I came up about half an hour later to check the fax. It was a four page fax from Scott Peterson, who was not my editor, Denny was my editor on Shadow Of The Bat and Scott Peterson was the editor on Detective Comics. The fax was from Scott. Basically it said, “You guys are probably wondering how the Cataclysm storyline is selling. I’ve got to tell you it’s getting great reaction from the fans, retailers love it, Batman sales are up,” I’ve still got it, the original fax. I kept it because it’s an historical document because there’s so much pish contained in it, “Sales are going through the roof, they love it,” and it went on like this for half a page. I honestly was thinking the guy was leading towards the fact that it was going so well, even though you thought it was crap, it’s going so well we’re going to give you all a $10,000 bonus. When I finally got halfway down the second page it got around to saying, “What’s all this got to do with me as a Batman writer you’re asking? Well the answer is this: as of next month you will no longer be writing Batman. That’s right. You are off your title. We will be getting other writers in to take over.” They sent out the same fax to Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon.
NB: That kind of demands an explanation after all that praise. Did he offer any kind of an explanation?
AG: There was no explanation.
NB: He just offered you a bunch of praise and then fired you? That’s crazy.
AG: Not only was there no explanation it was sent out at 7pm New York time to midnight my time so that when I called back to get an explanation, and I had been fired off my job for thirteen years by a guy who wasn’t my editor, there wasn’t any explanation.
NB: That’s just crazy! And after praising your work too.
AG: All I got was Scott Peterson’s answering phone. So I waited until the Monday and I called Denny and I asked why they were firing me. And I had seen Denny in action before, I saw the way they had fired Marv Wolfman. Which, instead of a single, crisp clear phone call, “Hey Marv, you‘re fired, fuck off,” Denny dragged it out for about six months. So I was getting phone calls from Marv Wolfman saying, “Hi Alan, I’m in my house in LA and I got delivered a package today by Fed Ex and it’s from Denny and I’m sure it’s the letter telling me I’m fired but I’m afraid to open it. Can you tell me have you signed a contract? Are you taking my job?” and I had no idea what was going on. And all of this was because Denny didn’t have whatever it takes to say to the guy, “Look, Marv, I don’t like your stuff. We’re going to get another writer. Work out your contract til the end or take the money but we need another writer” and Denny just does not like firing people. When he did that to Marv one of the first things I did when I started working on Batman was I became friendly with Denny, and we did become very, very friendly with each other, and I made him promise that when the time came to fire me, or to ask me to leave, that he would do it himself and that he’d do it upfront and honestly. We were quite good friends after thirteen years and I guess it was just too much for him. I was very disappointed that he let Scott Peterson do it instead.
NB: How long after that was it that you actually spoke to Denny about it?
AG: I spoke to Denny on the Monday. The fax arrived Friday night so I spoke to Denny on the Monday afternoon my time. I asked him outright, “Why am I being fired?” and Denny said, “The truth is for the past maybe twelve months or so I feel that your stories have not been up to the standards they were earlier,” and I said, “Well that’s fair enough but why didn’t you tell me twelve months ago? Why didn’t you tell me when the first story was unsuitable or below par? Why didn’t you say then, ‘Alan, this story is below par’ and at least give me a chance to get back on track again.”
NB: My guess is that he really didn’t feel that way those many months ago. Somebody else with the ability to do it decided that he wanted you off Batman. Is that a possibility or is that just too crazy to think?
AG: From speaking to Denny afterward, and speaking to both Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon individually I pieced it together. It was all taken really badly and there was a big inquest about all of this at DC, Mike Carlin the VP and Paul Levitz all got involved, there was a big eruption about the way this was all done. Basically what it came down to and what I was told after was that the assistants wanted me and Doug Moench off the Bat books but they wanted Chuck Dixon to stay. They tried everything in their power to persuade Denny to fire and me and Doug and leave Chuck on, and in the end Denny succumbed to it but said it’d look too much like favoritism if he kept Chuck on so Chuck had been fired too, so that was it. And Batman sales have never recovered.
DB: I’ll put this out there, and take no offense to it, do you think that because you’re so outspoken about these things Alan, that it goes against you, and Norm, we’ve spoken about this, do you think you’re guilty by your association with Alan?
AG: [laughter] Probably.
NB: It’s not a brush I mind being tarred with, frankly. I’m proud to be tarred with the same brush that Alan is if that’s true.
AG: Yeah. I don’t mind being outspoken and I don’t think I’ve said this to anyone else, and maybe when the transcript comes I’ll have to change my mind a bit, [laughter] but I did, in fact, upset a DC vice president who was on a panel with me at a UK convention perhaps a year or two after all this happened with the Batman and me being fired. The audience was asking this VP various questions and he was basically lying to them. He was giving them answers that were not true and twice I pulled him up about it. I stopped and appealed the to the audience and said, “Look, I’ve known this guy for such a long time, I’ve stayed in his house, he’s stayed at my house and we’ve had dinner dozens of times, but now because he thinks that you shouldn’t know the true story he’s lying to you,” and this VP, and like I said we’d been quite friendly in the past, his mask dropped for an instant and quite honestly it was one of the moments where you look into the eyes of the window of the soul and thought he wanted to kill me. I thought he was going to attack me and physically assault me on stage in front of, I don’t know, a couple of hundred fans. From that moment, and it might be totally coincidental, but from that moment every single proposal that I put into DC for the last five years has been rejected. Every single one.
NB: The vice president, that wasn’t _______ was it?
AG: [laughter] It was! You’re not meant to mention his name big mouth. [laughter]
NB: That’s very interesting because I started getting the same kind of treatment from him as well. I felt definite animosity coming from him and I don’t think it’s entirely just because I was working with you, I think it’s because you and I have a similar outlook when it comes to deception. We don’t like it and we speak out.
AG: It’s not right to lie to people.
NB: Isn’t it amazing that you even have to say that?
AG: Of course it is. Every person in the world should have that ingrained in them. And yet here we have the vice president of a company who was telling barefaced lies to his own customers. I’m sure that none of the text books would advise you to do that.
NB: Before I got let go from DC myself, he was being very critical about my artwork. He wasn’t even the editor on some of the stuff. For instance on the Dreamland book, I thought that was the best Batman work I’d done to date and six years later I look at it, and I’ve got distance from it, and I still feel that way. That was the best Batman work I’d done to that date and yet he gave me calls and was nit picking over details and basically criticizing it in a negative way. I was doing my best and bending over backwards to alter some of the artwork for him but basically I could not understand where the criticism was coming from. And shortly thereafter it was like I was psychologically being prepared to be getting less and less work to getting no work from DC. Then Dan Raspler was the only guy who hired me for about year after that and I had gone from no work for DC to working for about a year on the Spectre and then, of course, Dan was let go too and I’ve basically had no work from DC since.
AG: Yep. Dan was let go because he wasn’t really doing his job which was unfortunate because I liked Dan and Dan, at one time, had it in him to be a brilliant editor. Dan could have worked his way up that company and had Paul Levitz or Mike Carlin’s job. I’m sure Dan won’t blame me for saying this but ultimately Dan turned out to be too lazy. He preferred to have an easy life rather than put in the hard work that would guarantee him a top job. Dan and I are still friends.
NB: I was going to ask you, do you know what Dan is doing these days? I haven’t called him in quite a while.
AG: He hasn’t been doing anything very much for a while. The last time I spoke to him he hadn’t been doing anything at all. He had made quite good investments.
DB: it’s interesting that you guys spoke about ________ because there’s a well known painter, who does excellent work and did some of those classic Savage Sword Of Conan covers for Marvel but has never worked at DC. He was hired at one stage to do some Superman work but his contact person phoned him later and said that the editor in question had told him that he would never work at DC. And to this day the artist has no idea what he’s done wrong.
NB: Do you know what the painter’s political beliefs are?
DB: I think it extends to him voting.
NB: He couldn’t be construed as being a radical, then, in any sense?
DB: Not at all. Everyone I’ve spoken to who knows him tell the same story – he’s a great guy, an exceptionally gifted painter and likes collecting comic book artwork. The vendettas that people carry in this industry are just incredible.
NB: That’s right.
AG: Yeah, there’s far too much of that sort of thing that goes on. Every time it happened we were able to make it public. But because it’s all done behind closed doors people can get away with anything. I don’t want to go into bad editors that I have known. That’s not a good subject. [laughter]
NB: Let’s talk about the good editors.
DB: Was Denny O’Neil your main editor on Batman?
AG: Detective, Batman and Shadow Of The Bat. I think Denny looked upon me and Norm particularly favourably as his protégés. I think it was his idea to bring the two of us together on Batman and like you said earlier, it’s the definitive Batman of the past twenty years. We changed the way that people look at Batman when all is said and done. It was Denny’s knowledge of the energies of what is produced when you put two people together that caused him to put us together. Me and Wagner, a couple of wild Brits and Norm Breyfogle, an expressionist in the making.
DB: Frank Miller’s Dark Knight had come out previously and there appeared to be a move away from the more traditional, Neal Adams/Jim Aparo style of Batman art.
AG: I was sent two Batman stories before Wagner and I started writing the Ventriloquist story and one of them happened to be Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, which I thought was vastly over-rated. Reading it from a British point of view it seemed to me like at least 30 or 40% of the ideas in it had been stolen from 2000AD. Now it’s possible that 2000AD had originally stolen them from Hollywood in the 1970s or something, but it did seem to me that a lot of Miller’s stuff had been foreshadowed, at least in Britain, by 2000AD and in particular by Judge Dredd.
NB: That’s true. You guys were ahead of the curve on 2000AD which had kinda seen the future of America. That future’s still in the making but it’s like we’re heading more and more towards that kind of life.
AG: It frightens me sometimes Norman. I look at things now and I think Christ we were writing fiction stories about this twenty five years ago and now its reality.
NB: That’s what I’m saying. I don’t know how much Frank was actually influenced directly by anything in 2000AD, it might have just been in the air.
AG: Quite possibly it was.
DB: Out of interest, how do the pair of you see Miller’s next project: Batman hunting down Osama Bin Laden?
AG: I would say that our project should be Batman kicking the crap out of Frank Miller. [laughter] I’m not saying it’s a bad idea for a story but I saw a sort of a mini-interview with Frank about it and he seemed to be saying that it was time to turn Batman back into the patriotic character that he should be. In the same way that Captain America fought the Nazis, Batman should be in the forefront of the fight against Osama Bin Laden.
NB: I’d have thought it’d be Superman actually.
DB: I’d have thought it’d be Captain America surely?
AG: Well that’s where the whole thing falls down really. If you look at Norm and my run on Batman, a lot of the themes we handled were ripped right out of the headlines of the newspapers of the day, things about trashing the ecology. We in fact did an Islamic terrorist story.
NB: That’s right, An American Batman In London (Detective #590)
AG: Did you do the art on that?
AG: With Guy Fawkes etc. That was our attempt to cover that question many years ago. Norm that must have been nearly twenty years ago now.
NB: Well yeah, nearly. It was in the late ‘80s (September 1988).
AG: I can remember actually Marv Wolfman, when he was the writer on Batman, he came over to the UK and he stayed with John Wagner and I down in the farmhouse we were renting in Essex and he and I had a long talk into the night about America and what American foreign policy was doing wrong and how Islamic terrorism was going to grow and grow, but he didn’t see it at all. He said things like, “Hey, that’s an interesting concept, but I don’t see that happening,” and it happened.
NB: I got that from a lot of people too, way back when I was talking about similar concepts. Most of those people who were at least willing to listen have had their eyes opened over the years. They now know that there was something to what people like us were saying.
AG: I guess I should respect Frank Miller for everything that he’s done, but I don’t know, I’d quite like to punch him in the nose. [laughter]
NB: I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. More than anything it’s probably going to be quite entertaining. I think Frank’s still very entertaining to read. His artwork might not be so much that I’m interested in anymore, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. I’ll judge it after I’ve seen it.
DB: Sitting from where I sit which is completely removed from America (in as much as we have a prime minister who wants to turn Australia into a new American state), in my eyes, if anyone’s going to take down Osama Bin Laden then sure it’s going to be Superman or Captain America. But Batman…
AG: Batman has always just been a Gothamite.
DB: Yes. He’s not a patriot in the sense that’s he’s going to go outside of America to hunt anyone down. The stories set WWII didn’t see Batman fighting in Europe; he was busily beating up spies in the homeland. So if Bin Laden came to Gotham then sure, Batman would take him out.
AG: I think it’s when this kind of reality comes into our stories, a work of fiction; it does start to get very dangerous.
NB: Well, danger is what Frank Miller does and I’m sure that’s why Frank is writing it. Among other reasons. Also Dark Knight II, that was being created and came out right around 9-11 and Batman was very much like a terrorist character in there against the establishment and the elite in the United States. I get the feeling that this is an attempt by Frank, in a sense, to maybe save himself in the eyes of anybody he might have pissed off in high places.
DB: Dark Knight II took so long to come out because Miller completely re-wrote the last issue and re-drew it after 9-11 to reflect the changes in the climate and culture. The lead up in the first two issues was for Batman to commit an extreme terrorist act, but suddenly he’s fighting the good fight once more.
NB: Still, in the spirit of the series, a lot of it came through with that terrorist quality. Batman definitely seemed like a terrorist even after the last minute fix that Miller did put on it. What he’s doing now, this very next Batman project that he does, is the exact opposite for Batman. Instead of being the terrorist, instead of being the upstart he’s being the patriot. But you know it still comes down for me to just how well the story is being told. I’m willing to read it as a fictional story and see if it’s got some merit. It might very well even if I disagree with the motivations behind it.
AG: You’re quite right there Norm. There’s certainly no point in judging something like that, in fact there’s no point in judging anything at all before you’ve seen it. I shall too reserve judgment because he might counter my expectations entirely, in which case I shall eat my words and my hat.
NB: In fact, Frank might even be using the patriotic covering to get through some anti-establishment ideas. So we really can’t judge it until it’s there.
AG: That’s true.
NB: I don’t know how nationalistic Frank really is. Even if I did get that impression I’d still doubt that it’s real. I doubt that he’s a real hard-core flag waver or anything like that. I never got that impression before.
DB: To what extent have either of you kept up with the Batman titles? Are you aware that they killed off Harold for example?
NB: Yeah, they did kill Harold. That was in Hush.
AG: I wasn’t aware of that. You want me to answer this first Norman?
NB: Go ahead.
AG: I haven’t kept up with Batman at all. I’ve read very, very few issues of Batman since I was fired off the title. I’ve read few issues of any Batman title. I have relied on my brother, who has been a Batman collector since the 1960s, to keep me up to speed on what’s going on and his verdict is that the last five years have been the worst five years since the early ‘70s.
NB: I haven’t really kept up with Batman either, at least not recently. I stopped reading it regularly when they stopped sending me comp copies a year after the Spectre was cancelled, so that would have been a year or two that I haven’t been getting the DC stuff. Hush came out right after I stopped getting my comp copies, or right into the tail end of my receiving them, and I did read that so I did know about Harold’s death. That was Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb.
DB: I’m still not sure it was Harold they killed off because he suddenly popped up in an issue and started talking. Like the fable about the cat, they explained it that he never spoke before because he had nothing worth saying. [laughter]
AG: That sounds pretty nonsensical to me, coming from someone who hasn’t seen the issues of the story where Harold gets killed off. Although Norm and I introduced Harold into the story line that we were working on at the time, I hated the character. [laughter] I didn’t want to bring him in, but Denny told me I had to bring him in. [laughter]
NB: Really? I’d forgotten that.
AG: I like Batman as a totally stripped down Batman. I don’t want to see him cluttering up the Batcave with Harold and Robin.
NB: What about Ace the Bat Hound? I thought that was your idea.
AG: There’s Batman, there’s Bruce Wayne and Alfred and that’s it.
NB: Wasn’t it your idea to bring back Ace the Bat Hound?
AG: Oooohhhh no it wasn’t. That was Denny’s suggestion.
NB: Oh that was Denny’s too was it? [laughter]
AG: I mentioned it to Denny as a kind of joke and he said yeah, I could do that.
NB: I could see the same thing happening at that point too: the cave was getting full up. We had Harold, we had a dog, and we had Robin, of course…
AG: Yeah, and they started referring to it as the Batman Family again. And I’m thinking, “Well fuck, how did he get a family? I don’t want him to have a family!” [laughter]
DB: Outside of one issue of Shit The Dog, you guys haven’t worked on anything outside of DC. Have any other companies approached you like Marvel or Dark Horse for example?
AG: This is going to sound quite wussy Danny, but I’m not what you’d call an ambitious person and my entire career has depended upon fortuitous phone calls out of the blue to say do you want to work. I got a fortuitous phone call from John Wagner, “Hey, I’m not well. Do you think you could come and help me write Judge Dredd?” I got a fortuitous phone call from Denny O’Neil saying, “Write me a two part Batman” and I was there for thirteen years. I got a fortuitous phone call from a TV producer called Rick, who said, ”Can you write a TV script?” and I said, “yes” although I’d never written one at the time. He’d been out for dinner with Denny O’Neil and happened to mention he was working on a new TV series. But the BBC were insisting that he had a British writer on board to justify their part of the investment. So Denny gave him my number. For the next three years I was the only non-Canadian writer working on the Ace Lightning kids TV show. Maybe it never even got shown in the States, but it was the number one kids show in Britain when it was shown here and we got three seasons worth of it, something like seventy or eighty episodes. I wrote an animated movie called Dominator, a full length 90 minute movie that was directed and animated by a guy called Tony Luke, who had a lot of friends in the acting and music worlds, so the music was done by cult metal bands like Cradle Of Filth. Dominator was given a proper release by Salvation Video and it got into the British top 50 at number 50 for one week. That was enough to get noticed by some venture capital company and the upshot was they’ve given us the go head for the sequel to it, which is called Dominator X, which is in production at this very moment. They even paid me a proper script fee for doing it. (This has got nothing to do with the question, but I promised Tony I’d give Dominator a mention.)
NB: Is that why you’ve never worked for Marvel or Dark Horse?
AG: Yeah and that’s why I haven’t been doing a whole load of comics. Generally speaking, I work for the guys who call me. Marvel didn’t call me and Dark Horse didn’t call me. I lie! Dark Horse did actually call me and I agreed to do some major series for them and the next thing I knew it was being done by the editor who’d called me. [laughter]
NB: Remember that Evil Ernie story you did last year?
AG: Oh yeah, Evil Ernie. Again they sent me an email saying would I like to write Evil Ernie. I’d never seen Ernie before although I’d heard of him.
NB: I wish I’d said yes to that one when they approached me to draw it but I thought I was going to be way too busy and then halfway through when they’d already gotten another artist I realized I could have said yes after all. It was too bad because I’d have loved to work with you again.
AG: Yeah, that would have been real good. They asked me to pitch for a second five part Evil Ernie story, which I did, but I haven’t heard from them since then, so I don’t know if they’re going with it or bringing out another one or what. I’m the sort of guy who is so laid back that I can’t be bothered calling them to find out. [laughter] As long as I’ve got something else to do that’s alright with me. If they want me to do it they’ll call me, if they don’t then they won’t and that’s that.
LINKS FOR FURTHER READING:
Norm's own web-site. Read previous interviews/articles, see loads of artwork, get a commission, buy original art and interact with Norm at his forum.
Back Issue Magazine will also be publishing an interview with Norm and Alan that'll cover their Batman work in an upcoming issue.
All images courtesy of Norm Breyfogle. All images and artwork are © copyright 2006 DC Comics unless otherwise noted,
All other artwork © copyright 2006 Norm Breyfogle - used with the express permission of Norm Breyfogle.
Content on this page is © copyright 2006 Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle and Daniel Best and cannot be reproduced, reprinted, stored, transmitted (electronically or otherwise) without the express written permission of all relevant parties involved. Interview conducted via phone in May 2006 and edited by Norm Breyfogle, Alan Grant and Daniel Best.
Some names have been deliberatly omitted from this interview at the request of Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. However the narrative remains due to the context of the interview.