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The Interview:
Todd Dezago!

by Louise Freeman Davis

Editor's note:Todd Dezago is the writer of the popular JLA: World Without Grown-ups, and upcoming series writer of Impulse, beginning with issue #50, featuring special guest-stars Batman and the Joker. He graciously agreed to an email interview this month with FANZING Fiction editor Louise Freeman Davis. Louise and the rest of the FANZING staff would like to express their thanks for his generosity in sharing his insights into the ups and downs of life as a comics writer.

Background and Biography

1) Where are you from, originally?

My family is originally from a small town in upstate New York called Rhinebeck, and really grew up there; school, friends, adventures! All my family is still here and we're very close!

2) Where do you live now?

About ten miles away, in an even smaller town (Rhinebeck has grown), on the grounds of an old Colonial estate, in the middle of an apple orchard. It's very nice, quiet, and great for my dogs--I can let them out to run and play and not hafta worry about them getting into the road!

3) Any family, special friends or pets you'd like to tell us about?

Well, you saw that coming, didn't ya? I currently live alone, with my "kids"--two dogs and a rabbit--Gretchen, Jake and Hank, respectively. They have people names so that they can get mail! Hank was approved for a Citibank Visa the other day, and if he only had a Social Security number…

As I said, I'm very close with my family, my Mom and Dad, my brother and sister-in-law, my 5-year-old niece and 3-year-old nephew. And lots and lots of friends!!

4) What educational background do you have?

I originally went to school for Theater and studied to be an actor. After spending a year and a half in Los Angeles (during a writer's strike; the whole industry shut down!), I came back east and shortly thereafter, started in comics. I also count the many and varied jobs I had as part of my education; I worked for many years as a counsellor with mentally and emotionally disturbed kids, did some construction, landscaping and lumberjacking, and sold building materials.

5) Do you always aspire to be comics writer? If not, what other careers did you consider?

Well, acting. I'd like to one day try getting into that again. As well as writing screenplays and maybe even directing. I enjoy telling stories and would like to do it in as many different forums as possible!

6) How long have you been writing comics? What was your first publication?

Well, I did my own mini-comics for years and count them as good experience. I've been writing professionally for 5 years now. My first book was X-Factor #103 and I stayed on that for about a year, before moving on to Spider-man

7) What have you written for DC, and what DC projects are in the works currently?

My first job for DC was on the Tangent books [a Dan Jurgens-inspired line of comics, set in an alternate universe, where the only similarities were the names of the heroes…] I did The Flash with Gary Frank, and we had a lot of fun! I was then approached to do what later became Young Justice, but we thought we'd kick it off with World Without Grown-Ups! We then decided to kick that off with Young Justice: The Secret. I also wrote the second Tangent Flash and am currently the regular writer on Impulse.

8) Did you read comics as a kid? If so, what were your favorites?

I was a real DC boy!! I didn't really start reading comics regularly 'til I was about 13 or 14, but soon became lost in the four-color world! I devoured them, fascinated, not only by the artwork, but by the fantastical stories as well!! I loved the Justice League, the Batman books, The Flash and Green Lantern!! I also picked up the occasional Marvel, but was really entrenched in the DCU!!! Soon, my Dad, Rodeo Frank, began bringing home boxes of comics from friends of his who owned antique shops and owed him favors!! My collection soon filled up with hundreds of comics from the 60's and 70's; all of Denny and Neal's Green Lantern/Green Arrow's were in there, their Batmans, all of Jim Aparo's Brave and the Bold's…so much more! I was gone!!! The Justice League of the 70's was my favorite book, I loved Dick Dillin's artwork, and I also enjoyed the Steve Englehart-Marshall Rogers-Terry Austin run on Detective! (sorry, I get carried away sometimes…)

World Without Grown-ups/Young Justice

1) How did you come to be involved with this project?

As I said, after being tapped to be involved in the Tangent books, I was approached by DC to do what would later come to be known as Young Justice (we were batting around a LOT of names at the time, so…)! I agreed and spent the next 7-8 months developing the series, writing up proposals and such! We had to shift gears several times in the actual tone of the book, due to Robin's involvement--The Bat-offices didn't want Robin involved in adventures that took place in space or involved silly magics (the Boys get turned into bugs or something…!)! I was happy to oblige and was very excited about our final plan/outline.

2) In retrospect, is there anything you would change about it?

About what I had planned…? I would have liked to have been able to tell those stories.

3) Given how secretive the Bat Characters are supposed to be with their identities, how was Robin able to bring Superboy and Impulse into the Batcave?

There was a scene or a bit (panel), where Robin is taking the blindfolds off of Superboy and Impulse, but somehow it got lost in the translation and no one caught it…

4) Speaking of Secrets, you also wrote the GirlFrenzy one-shot. Was the character Secret your own creation?

Yes, a character that I had had in mind for a long time. Todd (Nauck) did a wonderful job bringing her to life! I had originally planned for the Boys to have several issues to themselves, to establish a real Boy's Club atmosphere, and then bring Secret in as the fourth member, because she had no one else, nowhere else to go. The Boys would accept her, but there would be some resentment, 'cause now it wasn't just "The Guys" anymore… she would be the "little sister."

5) Does that mean you would not have brought in Wonder Girl and Arrowette as members, at least, not right away?

In my original plans, the team would grow out of necessity, out of the events that happened to them in the stories. I didn't want to just throw someone in just because it would be cool to see this character or that character in the book or because they happened to be teenagers in the DCU. I'd intended to give the Boys time to grow together and learn to be a team, and then really investigate that dynamic each time a new member joined. The Secret was to come in around Issue 5 or 6, a brand new character in issue 8, another DC teen (female) was to reluctantly join with issue 10, and Arrowette not 'til issue 13. All of this to grow out of what was happening with those characters. Although she would guest star in a big four-parter, Wonder Girl was not going to join the roster in this first 16 issue period.

6) "Little sister" suggests you hoped to avoid romantic entanglements… is that a fair assessment?

No. ; )

7)You spent a number of months working on the development of Young Justice, planning on being the writer. Yet, in the end, it wound up written by Peter David. How did that happen and how did you feel about it?

I always say that when you're in the middle of something, you can't really see it from the best perspective…This is especially true of relationships.When I left Young Justice, I cited my displeasure with one thing as the reason--a concern with the presentation of the stories--but in retrospect I can see that that situation was just the straw that broke the camel's back! After months of being continuously deceived and misled by Editorial on this project, I had had enough. The decisions that were being made were compromising the integrity of the stories that I had worked so hard on, and I felt that those stories--and the readers--deserved better!! I know that I must've come off as a prima donna saying that if you're not going to play my way, I'm going home!, but there's no point working with people if you can no longer trust them. It was a very difficult decision for me to make, I had invested a lot of time and emotion into those Guys, and I'm still sad that those stories will never be told…

Impulse

1) The good news is, you're soon to be taking the reins of one of the Young Justice characters, Impulse. Is it fair to assume you're pleased with this opportunity?

Oh, yeah! I've loved Impulse from the start! It's very obvious that when Mark (Waid) and Mike (Wieringo) created this character the emphasis was on FUN!!! Everything about this book is just laying a foundation to tell fun, sometimes silly, fast-paced stories without ever taking itself too seriously! Ethan (Van Sciver) and I are having a blast with Bart and his pals and I hope that the readers have as good a time reading it as we're having creating it!

2) How easy is it to "share" a character that is also a part of a team book?

So far, so good…We really haven't been on the book long enough to get involved in any crossovers or whatnot, but I'm looking forward to them! The cool thing about Impulse is, that while we're doing everything to tie into and reference the rest of the DCU, this is the one book where, really, ANYTHING can happen!! …and believe me, it will!!

3) What's the most fun about writing Bart Allen?

Well, really that…that anything can happen! Bart's perspective is one that's very easy for me to get to (and maybe that's a little scary…!). Out of the three Boys in YJ, Bart was the one that I could identify with the most. He was the 'Joey' of the group (I'm a big 'Friends' fan…); he was usually following what was going on, but not always coming at it from the same place. I loved writing him (and them) in the team dynamic, with most of Impulse's one-liners being reactions to what the other two were talking about! Flying solo in his own book, and not having others to always bounce off of, I had to get more into Bart, and find the things that he thinks are funny! He's helping a lot…

4) So, a life-long New Yorker is now writing one of the few DC series set in the South? Have you ever spent time in that area of the country?

Well, to clarify for all of those people who aren't aware that there's more to the state of New York than the city…I grew up in a very small, very rural upstate town--had to ride my bike miles to the nearest store, worked on a farm for a while, etc.

As for the South, I have cousins who live in Jay, Florida, right on the
Alabama border, and have spent time with them. It's not so much different than my own lifestyle, so I think I'll be okay… And of course, kids are kids
wherever they live, so we should be able to find some kinda trouble to get
into…!

5) I've heard Mark Waid quoted as saying (and here I'm paraphrasing) that as soon as Impulse learns to think, the character is completely destroyed. Yet usually, if there's any meaningful story to be told, the main character has to grow, change or develop in some way. What challenges does this present in writing Bart Allen?

Mark and I were talking about that a little while ago and I read somewhere that David Duchovny said that Mulder and Scully have no 'accumulated experience'; they confront a monster or solve the mystery, but they don't ever use that knowledge in future cases. That's the way we were seeing Bart…His methods, due to his very nature, have always been 'trial and error', it takes him four or five tries to get it right, (usually causing more trouble with his attempts)! When he finally does tip to the solution, the way to defeat whatever adversary he's up against, it's not always thinking as much as it's the next thing he was gonna try…By next issue, however, it's gone--just another video game that he beat…

6) Do you ever discuss your ideas for Impulse with Mark Waid, or any other comics professionals?

Sure. Mark and I are good friends and I always throw my overviews and outlines at him for approval--I don't wanna go anywhere with 'his boy' that he wouldn't want me to go! He's always very receptive and excited… and encouraging! I also throw all of my Impulse plans at Mike (Wieringo), my pal and partner on our new book, Tellos. He co-created Impulse and is always interested in what we're up to with that kid!

Of course, Ethan, L.A. (Williams, Editor on Impulse) and I are talking Impulse constantly, throwing out ideas and making sure that the book remains fun!

7) As far has genetics go, super-speed seems an incredibly dominant trait. Every offspring of a speedster seems to inherit the power, with one exception. Max Mercury's daughter Helen. Will this ever be explained?

Maybe…

8) What DCU character would you most like to guest-star in Impulse?

Well, I think it's common knowledge by now that Batman and the Joker guest- star in our first issue, Impulse # 50! I'm a huge Batman and Joker fan and, truthfully, being able to use them in this story was like a dream come true for me! I can't thank Denny and Joe Illidge and everybody in the Bat-offices enough for giving us that chance! As for other guests, just for fun, I'm really hoping for Plastic Man! We saw a quick bit of them in the JLA/Titans, but I'd love to see them together for a whole issue….! Who else…? The Atom, Arrowette, maybe the Tangent Flash…Young Justice…? And from outside the DCU…Hellboy. Maybe Marv from Sin City

9) Can you give us any sort of sneak peak into upcoming story arcs on Impulse?

I'm very protective of my stuff and the stories that I have planned, mostly because I love surprises myself! I find that I'm very frustrated by the current state of the industry where a Writer works so hard on creating a story that will hopefully thrill and surprise you, only to have the whole thing paraphrased and posted in the solicitations 3 months prior…?!?! I long for the days of my youth when the only hint that you got as to what was coming the following month was a blurb on the last page that read… "Next Issue…Clayface!!" Man, that was exciting…!

But I don't want to leave you with nothing…I will say that we'll see a bit more of Bart's interactions with his pals, his schoolmates, and some interesting developments with the home dynamic too! And as Impulse, look for Bart's adversaries to become a bit more dangerous, a bit more troublesome…

10) What age group of readers do you have in mind when you're working on Impulse?

I'd love for Impulse to be able to be enjoyed by all ages…I try to keep my stories upbeat and positive, so that they'd be good to read to even little kids, but I want to entertain all ages so I try to keep everyone in mind…! …but I really write everything with my father in mind…He reads everything I write and is my best critic! Not usually an avid comics reader, I want to make sure that he's completely informed, that I him all the information he needs to follow the story! We all know that Robin isn't Dick Grayson anymore…Dad, and any other new readers, needs to get the 411 on that sometime at the beginning of the story! That's what I'm thinkin'.

11) Are there any other DC projects you have planned for the future?

Not any that I'm at liberty to talk about just now…Until it's a done deal, I've learned not to mention anything new…things have a habit of getting jinxed in this business…so I'll just pull back on that one… : )

Tellos

1) In addition, you have a creator-owned project in the works. Please tell us about that.

After working together for about two years on Sensational Spider-man, Mike (Wieringo) and I realized that we were just in the zone together, coming up with story ideas and concepts for both new and already established characters! In presenting some of these ideas to Marvel and having them respond with the corporate apathy that has since become their standard operating procedure, we decided, Forget them! Let's do it ourselves!…

Tellos cover Tellos cover #2

Tellos is one of the many stories that we came up with while working on Sensational! It's the story of a group of mismatched heroes who find that the only thing that they have in common is the fact that they are all being pursued by a dark and mysterious villain! It is a high-adventure/fantasy that takes place in a magikal world populated by all manner of creatures from myth and legend! Dragons, giants, trolls, and gremlins…they're all here…somewhere…

It's also a mystery with clues given along the way…With my penchant for surprises, I'm hoping that readers will try to solve the mystery before our heroes do…but I'm also hoping that I can keep them guessing up until the last minute…! Since we control everything here, and since we don't have to 'protect' the characters because they're the cash cow of some big company (when have you read an issue of Spider-man and really worried that he was in peril? that he was gonna die…? But then how would Marvel make their money next month…?), don't be surprised if things don't always go as you'd expect…Characters are not safe here…

Both Mike and I are very excited about it, and the fact that it's all ours is giving us more energy and enthusiasm for Tellos than on anything we've ever worked on before!! I'm sorry that this is sounding like a plug, but…I'm really looking forward to hearing what people think about it…!!!

Other comics/ general questions

1) What were the high and low points, for you, in your run on Spiderman?

Well, obviously, the whole Clone Saga debacle; it's not what the fans wanted and it was definitely not what we (the Writers; Tom DeFalco, Marc DeMatties, Howard Mackie, Dan Jurgens, and myself) wanted!! Behind the scenes were as bad if not worse than the 'saga' itself! We argued constantly with Editorial about how wrong it all was, only to find that Marketing was calling all the shots! It was awful…and at some times, painful…!

On the flip, it was wonderful getting to work with, and become friends with, some of my heroes in the biz! As well as the fine gentlemen listed above, I got to work with Sal Buscema, one of the most personable and professional people in comics, a master storyteller, and, in my opinion, one of the most underrated talents in the industry! Ralph Macchio, a great teacher and to date, the best editor I've had the pleasure of working with! Rich Case, our inker on Sensational, my friend, and collaborator on a couple issues in there! And, of course, Mike…

2) You took a lot of heat, a while back, when a Jewish ethnic slur mistakenly appeared in an issue of Wolverine you had written. Can you give us the short version of how this happened?

I had been asked to write several issue of Wolverine, and had written the plot to three of them. When the second issue came out, however, with many editorial changes to my original script (without any rhyme or reason), I opted not to script the third issue, which was Wolverine 131. The editor then hired writer Brian Vaughn to script the story at the last minute, but where Brian had written "the assassin known as Sabertooth", the editor replaced assassin with killer, crossing assassin out on the script and writing killer in the margin. It was then faxed and the words were cut off and garbled when they came through. Because the book was late and never proofread by the editor in question, the slur went to print and actually made it onto the stands. The saddest part of this whole incident is that many people told me that they didn't even know what the word meant--we may have inadvertently re-introduced a hateful word back into a culture that had forgotten it…

3) All in all, were you satisfied with Marvel's response to the incident?

Publicly, yes. I believe that Marvel's efforts to apologize and make this situation right were well executed. Personally, I feel that the editor in question should have faced much more severe repercussions for his part in this.

4) What are the major differences in working for DC versus Marvel? And how do they compare to working on a creator-owned series?

Well, currently, it seems like Marvel is doing everything it can to alienate the freelancers…Corporate politics have made their way down into Editorial and Production, and it's very difficult to be creative when there's no respect or professional courtesy anymore. Don't get me wrong, I loved working for Marvel and have a great respect for many of the people who are still working there, but find that the current climate creates a very frustrating environment to work in! DC, at least for me, is like coming home! I grew up being more of a DC reader and look forward to being able to get to know these characters as a writer! The corporate politics are there, too, but I believe that DC is being very observant, watching Marvel and learning from their mistakes! I hope so!

I'm told, by friends who have been in the business much longer than I, that the tide is always shifting; that for a few years DC will be the best place to work, and then it'll shift back to Marvel. Ebb and flow. Ask me again in five years and maybe I'll have a better perspective…!

As for creator-owned…Well, aside from all of the 'business' aspects that we've had to learn in a hurry; putting together a schedule, when to get the solicits in, where to get it filmed, printed, etc…doing our own book is the VERB!!! Mike and I are still a bit buzzed from the total freedom we have on Tellos!!! I'm still not sure that I'm really taking full advantage of it, I'm still following some of the industry formulas…but I'll be breaking out of those very soon!!! I want everything that we accept and take for granted in our everyday comics to be twisted and shattered in this book! Characters will die and never come back, battles will be fought, and if there is a happily- ever-after, it'll come with a price…!!

5) How often do you attend conventions and what do you particularly like or dislike about them?

I pretty much go to any convention I'm invited to! I love comics and love the opportunity to talk with people who are as passionate about them as I am!! I love to hear what people think, if something worked for them in a story I told, and maybe more importantly, if something didn't work…I'm always trying to get better at this, and that's how I learn what I'm doing wrong! I wanna know, too, what other books people are reading, what they like or dislike about a character or story, what do they think we can do to make the Industry healthier, stronger.

I also like to buy stuff there…!

6) For you, is the internet a professional tool, a personal diversion or both? Do you ever visit comic-related newsgroups, message boards, fan sites or chat rooms?

I find that the net is more of a professional tool for me, a place to talk with and touch base with readers and other professionals. Most of my e-mail is from readers and people that I've met through comics. On the other hand, I've made quite a few friends on this thing too… People that I've met in comics room chats and found that we have much more in common than these escapist fantasies! You, for example! (As of this writing, Louise and I have been aggressively corresponding for months, and have become good friends. Check out her Fan Fiction in the Archives section of FANZING--especially "A Friend In Need" and "Not My Kid"--there's one scene in "A Friend In Need" that actually had me laughing out loud!!! She's prouder of "Not My Kid"…)
[Editor's note: Thanks! Can't accuse you of just plugging your own stuff, anyway! ;) ]

So I guess the answer is--both. I check out the Impulse message board on a pretty regular basis--and will be doing the same with the Tellos site/message board as well, so if anybody ever has a question or needs to get a hold of me for recipes or directions, you can always post me there…

7) What is the best response you've ever gotten from a reader?

A kiss from a girl in San Diego who told me that she loved World Without Grown-Ups

8) Have you ever considered writing for any other medium (novels, TV, movies)?

Sure. Actually all three. I've written a few short stories (horror), but have yet to submit them to anyone for publishing. Being an actor, I'm constantly coming up with stories or episodes where I could write myself into a sitcom or TV drama. And I've written several screenplays, but again, haven't seriously shopped them around. Who knows, if Tellos does well, maybe they'll let me take a crack at the screenplay…?

9) What professional advice would you give someone wanting to write comics for a living?

Learn story structure; take a course, read some books on it, dissect (good) movies.

(Film-making courses wouldn't hurt either…) Read. A lot. Books, not comics. Study storytelling in comics--this is as much the writer's job as it is the Artist's!! Understand the rhythm and pacing of a story and all of the elements required for you to communicate to the reader in this medium/artform.

Most importantly, have fun!! Your love and caring (and fun!) will show through because this is an art, and although a uniquely collaborative one, it's still an expression of you and what you bring to it!

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Louise Freeman Davis.

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