Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Justin Gray, writer of BATWING, ALL-STAR WESTERN and other popular comics, stopped by the Recondite Pictures lot to give us a peek into the mind of the superhero scribe who writes well with others!

Here's what he had to say:

Why do you write?

JG: The simplest answer is it makes me happy. I have had a number of jobs and a majority of them were miserable experiences. I was writing before I was getting paid for it because it is part of who I am.

How long did it take you to get good?

JG: I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

Tell us about the fights you have with Jimmy while trying to write.

JG: We have disagreements not fights. Neither of us cares for personal drama and we’re both very demanding of our selves and the people we work with. Sometimes to a fault, but when our names are on a project we are willing to push each other. We’ve collaborated on projects for almost 14 years and obviously we’re very close friends first and collaborators second.

How do you guys manage to keep writing together without killing each other?

JG: For one thing Jimmy is like a brother. Another thing is our personality types are very different on a number of levels. One of the greatest things about Jimmy on a personal level is that he is very accepting of people. I know it is a stereotype to say some creative people can be eccentric or difficult and I have my own issues, but most people don't have it in them to be accepting. It might also help that we’re in different states. Maybe if we shared an office it would be different.

How long does it take you two to write an issue?

JG: It really depends on the content, the momentum behind an idea. It can vary from two days to two weeks. The objective I try to set for myself is ten pages a day.

Walk us through the process.

JG: That varies as well. Creator-owned books tend to take longer to script because we usually don't have deadlines or a scaled editorial approval system that needs to be built into the process. Because there are two of us we rotate duties depending on who decides to take the lead on any given script. Once a first draft is completed we kick it back and forth looking for ways to improve, alter or slim down the story.

Do you guys ever get burnt out? What do you do?

JG: It isn't so much a question of getting burned out. I think Jimmy will agree that part of a healthy writing regiment, at least for us, is to juggle multiple projects that are very different from each other. If you look at the books we’ve done both as work for hire and creator-owned we cover a wide variety of genres and styles. We mix genres all the time and that helps. Trailblazer is a time travel western, Retrovirus is a horror thriller, Weapon of God is a faith inspired superhero, Deep Sea is a pulp sci-fi Kaiju tale. We tend to embrace the things that excite us or that offer the opportunity to branch out and try new things.

Do you ever write comics by yourself? Is that easier? Is it quicker? What differences jump out at you about writing alone versus with a partner?

JG: I do. In fact our Sex and Violence Volume 1 kickstarter features two separate stories one written by each of us. I’ve done some small work for Marvel and DC on my own. The differences are somewhat minimal and are usually related to personal taste.

How do you come up with new and compelling western stories?

JG: A good deal of it is motivated by character and exploring different types of stories and styles within the western genre. We also have a love of the genre. I personally have around 80 spaghetti westerns in my collection and have seen dozens more.

How do you get people to feel something emotionally?

JG: You hope the audience connects emotionally and you strive for it, but it isn’t something you can dial up every time. Hopefully you have hooked them enough that they care about the characters and share their experiences. There are basic human emotions and experiences we all either share or hope and fear. Tapping into those things is an art form in itself.

How do you create cool characters people want to follow?

JG: By drawing from cool people you like to hang out with or want to meet.

What elements of comics scripting are too often ignored?

JG: Being aware of the colorist’s needs and helping to make his or her job easier. Simple things such as time of day go a long way. There are different ways of writing a script and you have to know your artist’s strengths and weaknesses and try to make them comfortable. I tend to script minimally but sometimes you work with a person that needs you to be more specific and detailed. Other artists prefer you’d leave them alone to interpret the script.

How can people get better?

JG: Probably by being less self centered would be a good place to start. Start caring more about the world and their place in it, focusing their energy on positive outcomes, living healthier, being more open minded and understanding about the differences in all of us. Less hate that kind of thing, but I bet that wasn’t the question you were asking.

How do you write a good scene transition?

JG: Leave people hanging and excited to turn the page. Easier said than done. Harder still in 20-22 pages.

Is plot really important?

JG: People put a lot of emphasis on it. People only seem to notice it when it is bad. Bat plotting can be overcome with character and style only to a point especially if your story is plot driven as opposed to character driven. Plot driven is pretty much what we’re getting in theaters. Character driven is what we’re getting on TV and to be honest as much as I love a killer plot finding original ones is rare.

What are the secrets of writing good dialogue?

JG: Having your characters say unexpected things at unexpected times, having an honest voice, but not writing exactly the way people normally speak. Dialogue to me is a lot about style, timing and delivery. There are writers that if you have nothing but audio to go on that you can identify immediately. I love writing dialogue and strive to create unique voices in characters.

What does every comic issue story need to deliver to be satisfying?

JG: Different people find satisfaction in different things and I think this is an interesting question for a different kind of answer. The difficulty we face is in the fact that these monthly periodicals feel like artifacts. I know this is going to rub some people the wrong way. I know it is a topic that will bring up a lot of debate. When you step back and look at monthly comics in comparison to the rest of the entertainment industries, the danger isn't just in not getting new readers, or video games or availability, it is in the basic format that has sustained the medium for its entirety. Comics have got to find a way to evolve and adapt to new formats and delivery systems. To do that, there needs to be an incredible influx of imagination both at the creative and executive levels. The entire architecture has to be reimagined and rebuilt. I‘ll give you a very clear example of what I mean because comics aren’t the only medium facing change. Kids are growing up with a level of instant gratification that would be unthinkable for anyone that grew up just three decades earlier. Adults are also impacted by this social change in the entertainment delivery system. Mobile apps with in game purchases are an incredible example of appealing to impulses with a profitable business model. Any publisher would kill to move units in the same volume as an Angry Birds or Candy Crush. Jimmy and I worked on an in game comic for a mobile app called Blood and Glory: Legend a sequel to Blood and Glory. At the time we were working on the game the first had already moved half a million units and was not slowing down. I have no idea what volume ours sold at, but even if it came in at half of the original it still sold more than the vast majority of comics listed on Diamond’s charts.

People in an economy like this are also gravitating heavily toward entertainment with a clear perceived value. The number of people that “steal” Netflix or pirate their original shows is staggeringly low compared to HBO’s Game of Thrones and the reason is that the perceived value, the worth of the service is deemed fair enough that it isn’t worth stealing. Think about that in relation to pirated comics. Also Netflix is also a major player in the revolution of how we watch TV. The simplest example is producing and releasing an entire TV series all at once. Network execs must have been praying that plan crashed and burned but instead it delivered 14 Emmy nominations: 9 for House of Cards, including 1 for David Fincher, 3 for Arrested Development and 2 for Hemlock Grove.

Networks are facing a reality where waiting a week between episodes may well be unthinkable in 30 years. Imagine now waiting a month for a $3.99 comic book at 22 pages of content when Nextflix offers an entire library of content for $7.99 a month. I’m not judging the quality of the content only the perceived value and instant availability. Networks are changing their delivery system because the audience is essentially forcing them to do it.

Why do you read comics?

JG: My main interest is to be entertained and experience things I cannot get in any other medium. I like the escapist nature of comic books. I like art and storytelling working in conjunction to create a unique world.

What comics do you read and enjoy?

JG: Obviously I read nearly everything DC publishes and there is a lot of great work coming out from both the major publishers, but DHP is an amazing anthology, Image is putting out some amazing books. I buy my comics digitally. I’m a big proponent of the delivery system.

Why do you write comics?

JG: I love them. I love working with artists from all over the planet and by artists I mean everyone from pencils to letters although I need to verbally state how important letterers are. They are too often overlooked. I love the fans and the passion – good and bad – that they bring to the medium.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

JG: Everything and being able to spend time with my daughter.

What advice do you have for up and coming comics writers?

JG: No one owes you anything. You have to work for it and when you get it don't get lazy or you’ll lose it only it will happen much faster.

What comics should people look for in the back issue bins to introduce them selves to your work?

JG: My creator-owned work is available through Paperfilms.com. There are I believe seven Jonah Hex trade paperbacks, two Power Girl paperbacks with Amanda Conner.

What do you have coming out?

JG: We’re in the process of releasing Weapon of God, which was made possible by our inspiring kickstarter supporters. Monthly DC Comics is publishing All-Star Western starring Jonah Hex and Batwing, which is part of the Batman family of books. Lots of exciting things are happening in those books including some stellar guest appearances.

What's coming up in the future?

JG: Jimmy and I are launching a new Kickstarter called FORAGER during the first week of September with art by Steven Cummings and lettered by our man Bill Tortolini. It is a science fiction story that centers on a family making first contact with an alien race and how it changes the direction of our people and planet. It is inspired by the frustrations I have with the way nearly all alien life in fiction is trying to kill us.

Keeping with the science fiction theme Jimmy and I are adapting Hugh Howey’s amazing Wool Omnibus as a six-part series exclusively through Amazon’s Jet City Comics. James Broxton is the artist. Those that read my Sex and Violence story will recognize his amazing art. Wool a fantastic book. If you’re not familiar with the Novels I urge you to check it out. Aspiring writers will find inspiration in Hugh’s success. I know I did.

Scott Amundson writes comics for Bluewater Productions, Heroes Fallen Studios and Recondite Pictures.

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