WWLA Day Two: TV Writer Geeks Who Also Write Comics

Sat, March 18th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
John Reha, Guest Writer

"Can someone from Wizard please tell Damon Lindelof and Jeph Loeb how to get to the room please?" That was the auspicious start for the "TV Writer Geeks Who Also Write Comics" panel on Saturday at Wizard World LA. A few minutes later, Loeb and Lindelof (the latter sporting an X-Statix shirt) joined Javier Grillo-Marx in the Christopher Reeve Auditorium.

The first was: Why do Hollywood writers want to write comics?

"The chicks," Javier responded.

However, for Lindelof, he's writing comics "for the love of it all." The first thing he remembers reading were comics books.

According to Loeb, "They didn't use paper when I started, they drew it on a wall."

He wrote a movie about the Flash, the fastest man alive, and it didn't go forward, but DC approached him and asked would he write a comic? And thus, Loeb started working on "Challengers of the Unknown."

"I was actually a Challenger of the Unknown." said Javier, one of his fondest memories as a child was a friend buying the original Black & White "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and I thought, wow that's the lamest thing ever."

How much are comics an influence on the way you write a show like "Lost?"

Very big, according to Lindelof. The creation of the show was very quick and "by the seat of our pants." He and J.J. Abrams got together at the 11th hour, especially for such a complicated show. "Javier was the first person I met and comics were a big part of the conversation." Loeb joined the staff halfway through this current season, "we need people who can think this way."

According to Javier, "this is like a real first generation of geeks taking over TV. With 'Lost,' the thing that's really challenging and innovative is we get to do a genre show but we get to take it out of the shackles of the conventional genre shows."

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Loeb described the writer's room for "Lost" as, "ten of the most talented people of the world in a room."

"Drunks," Lindelof sighed.

Loeb continued, "every moment, line, thought is there and discussed before the writer goes and makes it more magical. We'll create a whole thing and the challenge is 'what is the 'Lost' twist?' how can we make this something no one has ever seen before, unexpected? Besides, 'he's a ghost, he's a robot.'"

"Ghost robot!" shouted Javier.

Lindelof quickly replied, "I told you not to give anything away!"

"I didn't say it was Jack!" said Loeb, who then dropped his head into his hands.

"The thing about comics is it's so relentless." Loeb then continued, "Superman's been around for 60 years, people say there are no more stories to tell. And that's part of the challenge."

What's the transition from TV to comics like? Is it tough? Is it easier?

"It was very tough," said Lindelof, "because the collaboration is very direct between you and your artists." He continued that you can take the Alan Moore approach, and map it out down to the very last detail, "or you can take a step back and let the artist take it the rest of the way." For Lost, we trust people to take their best shot when they're translating your material, but in comics there are less people to blame for a screw-up.

An issue of a comic takes more time for Lindelof, "panel by panel, and I've gotten to page 15 and I have 7 pages left and overplotted it and I have to start over...I'm a bit of a perfectionist and control freak. Then I send it to Lenil Yu. In the time we've written 11 episodes of "Lost," I've written 3 issues of "Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk."

He then expressed his admiration for people like Brian Bendis and J. Michael Straczynski, doing 65-70 issues a year.

The first time Loeb worked with Tim Sale, he would make comments like, "could you move the camera in?" Sale would explain he needed to redraw the entire page. "Yeah, that's what I meant."

"It's amazing he didn't kill me." He likens his scripts to a letter to the artist.

"The Middleman" #1"The Middleman"
Promo Piece

Javier has two project currently: "Middleman" which started life as a TV pilot, and his creative partner Les McClaine can translate the TV script style to the comic page really well. But "Super Skrull" was difficult, because he had to learn to go panel by panel, and "it's really tough." But he hit on a winning idea: "every page ends with a question, somehow, which gives you a reason to turn the page."

It turns out Damon Lindelof has appeared in a comic book before: Brian Bendis' "Fortune and Glory." He was a Development Guy in Hollywood, and was working for the producer who Greenlit "Star Wars." He met with Bendis, promised him the production company' discretionary fund, but forgot to clear it with his boss before. The last panel of his appearance was the word, "Fucker."

Loeb added that Bendis talked about meeting people in Hollywood by saying, "I have to go down and meet with the Tornado of Stupid"

Then the floor was opened for audience questions.

"The Prisoner" was a huge influence on "Lost" and is ultimately what the show aspires to be. Lindelof would love for the show to end at the specific point it's plotted to. "We know the last episode of Lost and where that's supposed to be." Javier likens "Lost's" success to "a certain level of quality and mystery."

Loeb recommends the books "Comic Book Writers Talk About Comic Book Writing," and "Comic Book Artists Talk About Comic Book Art," for aspiring people wanting to get into comics. To him, "it's more interesting hearing how other people do it than you thinking there's a Robert McKee Final Draft formula." You'll see so many writers do it differently, you'll be able to do it your own way.

Lindelof's advice can be summed up in three words: "Story, story, story!"

When asked why it's so hard to make a good movie from a comic, Loeb replied that "if you knew what it takes to get a movie made you'd be astonished there's anything good." You sorta go, wow, how does Lost happen? "It happens as an anomaly, not something that's normal." Decisions in Hollywood are based on finance before story.

Lindelof has another point of view, "For a movie to be a hit, it has to appeal to a broader fan base." Spider-Man and X-Men movies are really good, both compared to other movies and as a fan. But sometimes you get something like The Hulk: meandering, philosophical, Nick Nolte turns into a big electro god and you're thinking, "Wow, I wish I was more stoned than I am."

Javier believes that origin stories play best as movies, because they're about a normal person who becomes what they become. With current comics, there are mutants, guy with claws, guy eats planets, and with each bigger "buy" the audience checks out. Look at the "X-Files," which is, in his opinion, the best genre show ever, and when you get down to it, it's "Law and Order" with Werewolves. Genre TV needs grounding in reality to survive.

Regarding his comments about the "end" of "Lost," Lindelof sees two options: "we keep going, or we walk. And if we walk, they're going to take over 'Lost,' and they're going to make it suck." The show doesn't want to go for 6, 7, 8, 9 years. The show is about answers. People ask him, aren't you afraid of jumping the shark? But really, it's the jumping the shark show.

"Do the thing nobody wants you to do, take risks."

When asked if someone could just stay true to the story, and that would make a good movie, Lindelof pointed out that "staying true to what it is is entirely subjective. What is the thing that makes it great? It's entirely subjective."

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Javier jumped in, "Batman and Superman are such endearing characters." They're both archetypal stories, Superman is an immigrant, Batman is about revenge. There are comic books that shouldn't be adapted because they're comic books, and they'll only work as comic books.

Lindelof is trying not to let the in-jokes get "too cute for their own good." They planned a lot of "easter eggs" this season, but so many people are using their Tivo to see if that's the Dharma Initiative logo by Walt in the plane that they're missing the emotional stories the writers are trying to tell.

"Even within the geeks there is a geek hierarchy." said Javier, "I'm in my office writing, there's a knock on my door - 'Javi come in here, please.' The whole staff is there, and they ask, what's a Jeffries' Tube? I answer and a gale of laughter goes up."

It turns out that Lindelof didn't know what a Jeffries' Tube was.

None of "Lost" is designed to screw with people. "Every time we come up with a piece of mythology we use it responsibly." It's the things the writers don't deem mythology that people glom onto and think, "oh that means this." One question that Lindelof is always asked is, "what do the numbers mean? " How do you answer that? It's like asking "what does the Bible mean?"

Lindelof also spoke about having a final panel when the show was over, where anyone could ask anything they wanted to about the show, and the creators and writers would answer honestly. That way, he could tell people, "nice insight" or just how far off they were.


CBR's coverage of Wizard World Los Angeles is Sponsored by Comics Unlimited.

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