Open Your Mouth: Issue #9

Thu, July 3rd, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
J. Torres, Columnist

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Our virtual comic convention continues this week for those of you who can't join us on the convention circuit at shows like Wizard World Chicago or Comicon International San Diego this summer.

We're taking a couple of cues from "Inside the Actors Studio" here with me playing James Lipton asking the "Bouillons de Culture" questions at the end, some OYM readers in the role of the students with questions of their own, and doing his best Alec Baldwin, none other than "Green Lantern," "Green Arrow," "Exiles" and "Outsiders" writer Judd Winick.

Least we forget he's also the cartoonist of "Frumpy the Clown," "Barry Ween, Boy Genius," and the Pulitzer Prize nominated "Pedro and Me." Plus, he illustrates the "Complete Idiot's Guide to…" series of books. And then there was that other series on MTV, "The Real World."

It all began on the OYM message boards. I started a "Probe Judd Winick" thread. People posted their questions about process and publicity, drawing and diversity, writing gay supporting characters and "straight" superhero stories. We start with Judd's responses to the ten questions I chose from those posted, and close with ten questions borrowed from a TV show borrowing from another TV show...

ON WRITING COMICS

"I guess I'm saying that doing this story made me a better artist. I owe Pedro for that too."
Justin Davis of Gulfport, MS asks: "How long does it take you to write an average script? Do you work out a story bible first or just go issue from issue?"

WINICK: It depends on the book. With your standard super hero fare, I submit a loose six-month overview to my editors. This let's them know where we're going, we can discuss the generalities, and red flag anything that may pose a problem. These outlines may take only an hour to type up, but months and months to plan. These are the stories that roll around in your head. The ones that you come back and think about all the time.

The author and screenwriter William Goldman, when talking about his screenplay for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", said: "It took two weeks to write but I'd been planning it for five years." For me, comics are much the same way. I think about them for months and then when it comes to writing them, it may take anywhere from two days to a week. Now, "Pedro And Me" took two-and-a-half years of writing, drawing and rewriting and redrawing. Barry Ween takes anywhere from a few days to a week to write and about a month to draw. It varies.

Scott Shaw! of Sherman Oaks, CA says: "I'd like to hear more about Judd's artistic struggle in finding the right 'tone' for his drawing-style in 'Pedro And Me.' As a 'funny' cartoonist, it was pretty apparent to me that Judd was entering new artistic territory with this particular graphic novel, one that definitely wasn't the same kind of "wacky" material his other strips and series have displayed."

WINICK: It didn't feel like the complete departure that it may have seemed. I was, for the most part, learning a new style. I literally drew the book three times. Each time fine-tuning the look. I knew I could draw "more seriously," but it was simply about finding those muscles and giving them a workout. Prior to "Pedro And Me" I had always considered myself a comic strip cartoon guy. But working on the book allowed me to really explore another type of rendering. I'm not going to be beating Alex Ross out of gigs, but it made me a better craftsman. I still have a lot to learn. I guess I'm saying that doing this story made me a better artist. I owe Pedro for that too.

On a sidebar, I'd LOVE to see Scott Shaw dive into that pool as well.

B. Curran of Harlingen, TX asks: "What character have you had the most fun working on as writer?"

WINICK: As a writer, it's a constant toss up. You fall in love with whomever you're working on the most. But if I had to choose, I'd say: Green Arrow. Morph and Mimic From the "Exiles." Grace from "Outsiders."

I've been reading "Green Arrow" forever and I just feel like I know how Ollie thinks. The first six issues I wrote just came on hard and fast. For me, he's just one of the best-flawed heroes there is. He's different from most guys in tights. He's tough, moral, but still chases women, doesn't turn down a drink, and has a temper. His personal life is disastrous at times. I just love him.

Grace just kills me. She's tough, she curses like a sailor, she can topple a building with one hand, she's, well, sexually adventurous, and she seems to be "in it for the paycheck." I guess I like bad girls and among the good guys, she's a very bad girl.

And then there's Morph. He's just a stitch. But we were able to flesh him out. He's not just jokes; he's got an internal life to him. And Mimic, I wanted to do this character since I was a kid- exactly the way we're doing him. I love that he's a fan favorite.

ON AGENDAS

At the end of the day, I just write stories."
K. Singles of Beloit, WI asks: "I've heard a lot about your 'agenda', referring to you adding a gay character or making someone into a gay character. I realize that diversity is a great thing, and I am completely for it, but what is the point if… it just kind of sits there?"

WINICK: I had to ask for clarification on this question. I wasn't sure what the question was getting at and I never want to put words into people's mouths.

Here was the clarification:

"In my question I was trying to ask him whether or not he feels that perhaps changing characters or adding new ones that are gay or black or some type of minority has any importance to the stories in which they play a part. And if the character's sexuality, race, etc. doesn't have any sway over the direction of a story, then what is the point?"

Ugh. That doesn't help much either, I was hoping for specifics, but I'll try.

Again, I'm putting words in the questioner's mouth and I'll have to break the question up because it goes the four directions.

"…whether or not he feels that perhaps changing characters…"

I can only assume, since we're not being specific, that you are referring to Green Lantern/Kyle Rayner finding his father. As I wrote it, his dad turned out to be of Mexican descent. Many folks cried foul. One reason for the "foul" was a "Secret Files" story where we supposedly got a glimpse of Kyle's dad. A man came forward pretending to be Kyle's father, but it turned out to "maybe be his uncle," and then we get a shot of some guy in a military setting who, we "may assume" is Kyle's dad. So, in that story, none of it was nailed down. I talked with Ron Marz about this and he actually wasn't putting it in stone, hence the intentional ambiguity.

That being said, when I first saw Kyle Rayner (after Hal Jordan became Parallax and Ganthet gave Kyle the ring) he looked to be of Latin descent. To me, he did. I don't know why, he just looked like he was drawn that way. I went on reading for years thinking that he was. When it fell on me to bring Kyle's father into the picture, I added that element. Did I change the character? Not in my opinion. Did it directly affect the story, or the trajectory of this character? Not in this story. But it may. Does it hurt, disrupt, invalidate or malign this character? No one seems to think so.

"...or adding new ones that are gay or black or some type of minority has any importance to the stories in which they play a part. And if the character's sexuality, race, etc. doesn't have any sway over the direction of a story, then what is the point?"

Uh-huh. You wouldn't have a problem with blacks, or gays, or "minorities" as you call them, would you? Or is it you just don't want them in comics? Anyway…

1) I think as creators of comics we should create a universe that is as diverse as the one we live in. That includes, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, people of Middle Eastern descent, and gays and lesbians and many, many more. If we have guys with super powers and aliens of all shapes and sizes, I think we can tolerate a few gays and people of color here and there. Comics have been too homogeneous for too long.

2) I get tagged all the time for creating Terry Berg, the gay teen in "Green Lantern." The complaint is that he's a one-dimensional character, that all he is is gay. Well, that was an ongoing part of the story, so I suppose you had no problem with it.

3) But if your problem is characters whose race isn't a direct part of the story, like John Stewart from "Green Lantern," Heather Hudson from "Exiles," Annissa Pierce and Grace from "Outsiders," and few dozen other non-white characters I write about, I'm sorry they upset you. I guess Batman should examine his life as a white man in America. I mean, he's been white for years and never talked about it.

Justin Davis also asks: "Okay, only because someone else brought it up first, how do you react now, and when it first started to happen, when people say you had an 'agenda' in your comics?"

WINICK: I'm surprised. And I'm not surprised. Frankly, it's almost all about people getting upset with Terry Berg from "Green Lantern." I'm sorry they don't like Terry, or gay people, or the fact that Terry is a gay person in "Green Lantern," or that they think it's inappropriate for young readers, or that they don't want real life issues in your comics, or they think I'm trying to curry favor with the gay community. Or any of that crap. At the end of the day, I just write stories.

ON DRAWING COMICS

"I grew up drawing King Kong over and over again."
Scott Shaw also asks: "When [you] write 'straight' super heroic stuff, [do you] draw thumbnails for [yourself] or the artist?"

WINICK: Never. When I draw, I don't like people micromanaging me, so I never get in their way. But seriously and more importantly, I really stick to the writing of the book. The artists aren't part of the plotting process, meaning, I don't kick around my story ideas with the artists. So, getting rigid about the art seems to buck the collaborative process form me. For the most part, my scripts are like personal letters to the artists. I'm writing it for them. After awhile, I know I can get into "shorthand speak" for what we need. Sometimes, after the scripts are written, we talk, we discuss the direction. I don't really like telling them exactly what to do. That's the collaboration for me. I have the idea, they bring them to visual life.

Buzz Dixon of Los Angeles, CA and James Lucas Jones of Portland, OR both want to know: "When's the next 'Barry Ween'?"

WINICK: Soon. "Barry Ween in Space" is being written right now.

B. Curran also asks: "Who's your favorite character to draw?"

WINICK: I grew up drawing King Kong over and over again. Then switched to Hulk. Mostly I draw "Barry Ween." But in general, I like to draw fat people.

ON BEING IN THE SPOTLIGHT

"'Exiles' was a turkey of a concept."
B. Curran has a third question: "Do you ever get tired of being referred to as "Former Real World Cast Member Judd Winick," or does that sort of thing not faze you?"

WINICK: I couldn't care less. It was an amazing experience and the place where I met my wife Pam. I don't begrudge it at all. That being said when folks say that any success I may have is merely due to being on that program or state that any of my publishers are "just hiring me as a publicity grab" because I was on the 'Real World', I must remind said individuals that the show was on nine years ago. That's a long time…

Justin Davis has another question as well: "You tend to come on books that have some high-profile connection in one way or another. Does that put stress on you?"

WINICK: I don't know if that's true. "Barry Ween" came out in a vacuum, "Exiles" was a turkey of a concept. But I guess "Green Lantern" and "Green Arrow" have prestige, and DC has been hyping "Outsiders" a bunch. But still, no matter what I write I try and do the absolute best I can. Regardless of hype or readership. Frankly, "Barry Ween" sells the least of these titles and most of the work I'll be doing in the next two years comes from people reading it.

ON BOUILLONS DE CULTURE

TORRES: At the end of the interview section of each episode of "Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton asks his guest ten questions from a questionnaire developed by Bernard Pivot for the French program "Bouillons de Culture." Since I envisioned this column to be a cross between "Inside the Actors Studio" and "Comics Interview" let's close this interview by having some fun with those questions... What is your favorite word?

WINICK: Monkey.

TORRES: What is your least favorite word?

WINICK: Sop. I fucking hate sop.

TORRES: What turns you on?

WINICK: Music. Laughter. And my wife Pam.

TORRES: What turns you off?

WINICK: Meanness and misplaced superiority. And a combination of the two.

TORRES: What is your favorite curse word?

WINICK: This is hard. If I had children it would be like picking a favorite. Most cursing is about the delivery. I'm a huge fan of the exhausted "fuck." Just sigh and say "fuck" real slow. "Fuuuuuu-uuuuuck." I love that. At the same time I get attached to certain expressions that I itch to use in some form, i.e. in my writing. I'm looking for a spot for, "antelope shit" and "Captain Fuckle-berry." To be used like, "If you'd get the antelope shit out of your ears for five fucking seconds we could get out of here." And, "Well, if we weren't following Captain Fuckle-berry's lead over here, we wouldn't be sitting around holding our joints." But at the end of the day, I suppose my favorite is "moose dick."

And I hope Scott Shaw forgives me for giving a longer answer to favorite curse than both of his art questions.

TORRES: What sound or noise do you love?

WINICK: A roomful of people laughing.

TORRES: What sound or noise do you hate?

WINICK: A select few people crying. I'd rather get hit in the nuts with a shovel than hear some people in my life crying. Laughter and tears. How very clichd.

TORRES: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

WINICK: Your general narcissist occupations. I'd love to act. If I had any musical inclinations I'd love to be a musician. But, in a more realistic context, I'd love to sculpt. I guess someday I will.

TORRES: What profession would you not like to do?

WINICK: God, where do I begin? Lawyer. Accountant. Retail work of any kind. Physical labor of any kind. Physician. Toll booth operator. Law enforcement. Veterinarian. Hairdresser. Most forms of office work. Religious counselor or leader (rabbi, priest, etc). Politics on most forms. We can go all day on this one…

I've never done anything but write and draw. I worked part time in bookstore for a year and life guarded for eight summers. Aside from that, I know no other kind of work.

TORRES: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? I have two answers, one I've thought about since I was about 5 years old and Alec Baldwin said something similar on the very first "Inside the Actor's Studio."

WINICK: When I die, I'd like to see a film that explains the mysteries of the world. By now, it's a DVD with chapter selections. I don't mean the BIG "meaning of life" ones, just the major bullshit ones. You sit down and there on the screen you can select the subject:

"Bigfoot!"

"UFOs"

"The Kennedy assassination."

"O.J. SIMPSON."

"Nixon - the REAL fucking story."

And so on.

But meeting God is also very specific. I mostly would have to act it out, but I will do what I can to describe it. I'll have to write the scene.

Judd knocks on God's office door, somewhat timidly.

God is behind his/her desk, rather busy. "Yeah?" God says without looking up. God's a tad annoyed.

Judd leans his head in as he opens the door, still timid, "Hey… it's me."

God's face lights up with recognition, "Hey-HEY!!! Get the fuck in here! Get your ass in here RIGHT now!"

Quickly getting up from his/her desk God grabs Judd around the shoulders and bellows, "Let me look at you- you son of bitch!! Look at you! Look at YOU!!"

God Grabs Judd in a bear hug, lifts him off the ground, and laughs a fat person's laugh, "How the fuck are you? Dude!" and then proceeds with another hug.

MY God is a happy loving God.

This is a very similar to an exchange I had with the owner/manager of Steps of Rome, a killer coffee house in North Beach, San Francisco. He also looks the way I want God to look. Big man, roundish, shaved head, incredible tan, giant hoop earrings in each ear, a couple of tattoos, and looks like he could crush you with one hand if he wanted to. But he's a Teddy Bear.

Next week: The first of three "Inside Image Interviews," starting off with "Noble Causes" creator Jay Faerber.

Meanwhile, drop by the Open Your Mouth message boards to share your favorite curse words, what noises you love, or what you want to hear God say when you get to Heaven.

Thank you for your attention.

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