Adventures in Cryptozoology: The Paul Dini Interview
Some are aware that Barb and I started out as a long-distance relationship, writing to each other in the early 90s after we found each other through a SANDMAN-related newsletter. We liked Classic Vertigo, sure... but what we talked about at least as much was the timelessly art-deco, Fleischer-inspired, WELL-WRITTEN... Batman The Animated Series.
Batman, Superman, Harley Quinn, Jingle Belle...
This is the Paul Dini interview.
Park Cooper: Now, I know that Jingle Belle is very close to your heart... Tell me a bit about where JB stands right now. What's just been done, and what's coming up?
Paul Dini: I created Jingle Belle in 1998. She made her first appearance in a one-page comic ad that December, but owing to a scheduling problem, her first story did not appear until summer, 1999.
Dini: Since then I've done a number of one-shots and mini-series with her. The latest special will be released this December and it is a team-up between JB and Kyle Bakers' THE BAKERS characters.
Cooper: Can you tell me about THE BAKERS for just a moment?
Dini: THE BAKERS is Kyle's strip that features a caricatured version of himself and his family. He's done several collections of the cartoons. It's the ups and downs of married life with kids. It's very funny.
Cooper: Now, from what company will this be published?
Dini: Dark Horse. In stores Dec. 6th.
Cooper: And has Jingle Belle always, so far, been with Dark Horse?
Dini: No, she started at Oni Press. She was there from the beginning, 1998, through 2003. The next year I took her to Dark Horse where she has been ever since.
Cooper: You created Jingle Belle, and she belongs to you. Are there any other characters (outside of JB's world I mean) like that? Which you created in a creator-owned way?
Dini: Well, there are characters who have appeared with Jingle who now have identities and books of their own. Like the MUTANT, TEXAS characters. That was another book I published through Oni in 2002/2003. Also a supporting character from Jing named Polly Green, a young witch, has had some solo stories published. I hope to do more with both characters.
Cooper: At a certain time, if I went up to 100 people at San Diego, and said "Paul Dini," I think the response I'd get the most might be, "Paul Dini, sure, Batman Adventures, right?" And when I stared at them for a moment, might very well continue, "And, of course, Superman Adventures. And Batman Beyond, ey?" Do you ever meet, or still meet, fans who know you from something but aren't really aware of the sheer variety of projects you've worked on?
Dini: Oh sure. I never presume every comic book fan knows who I am.
Cooper: Or has it become this Shatneresque thing that most fans... yeah. Sure, but I have this idea that _most_ of those who do know your name don't really grasp everything you've been involved with.
Dini: I've had fans point me out to various comic book store dealers when I've been in their stores only to have the dealer shrug blankly and return to his Warhammer discussion.
Cooper: Let's totally switch gears for a second, just because I'm dying to... have you tell me about cryptozoology!
Dini: Oh God...
Dini: Now we're into flying saucerland. No, I'm a huge follower of Cryptozoology. It's the study of animals that have not been formally recognized by science.
Cooper: Well that was my next question... if you go more for the biological species stuff or if it's the whole Springheeled Jack Jersey Devil thing, or both. Some extend cryptozoology in a scientific way, and some are just... oh, monsterologists. You know what I mean.
Dini: That includes things like variations of already recognized species, like the new species of mouse discovered recently on Cyprus, right up to Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.
Cooper: Which isn't to disparage monsterologists. Somebody better know about... yeah. You know what I mean. I read, first on your website I think (though someone put it in your wikipedia page too), and I was like, "Ahh... another guy who knows who Charles Fort is." Does cryptozoology ever creep into your work?
Dini: Oh sure, I use it all the time. It's fun to draw on, whether one believes in the monster aspect of it or not. The monster stuff I raise an eyebrow at simply because there are few smoking guns, e.g., corpses.
Cooper: Yeah, isn't it great when another blob that was probably a giant squid-if-you-squint washes up...? [shakes fist at insufficiently-identifiable washed-up corpses]
Dini: If Sasquatch was a large primate, as it's often described, it would be vulnerable to predation, the way gorillas are sometimes killed by leopards. You'd figure after all this time someone would have shot a cougar or a wolf that had the remains of a young one in its belly.
Cooper: Check. My wife likes the Scottish panthers... I have thrilled her with tales of cryptozoology... she comes to me when she needs a monster...
Dini: I've seen some big stuffed black cats in Scottish museums. Not panthers, but I guess a hybrid of a feral cat and a Scottish wildcat. They look like they could do in a US bobcat with little trouble.
Cooper: Oooh. Oh that's right, you're partially from up there yourself, aren't you? Or am I thinking of someone else Yes, I know I'm thinking of you, because of the M., right?
Dini: Nah, I'm half Scot. Never lived there, but I have relatives from there.
Cooper: Yeah... What's it like having your own wikipedia page, anyway?
Cooper: Yeah, I hear ya.
Dini: Riddled with inaccuracy and hokum, but fun to look at now and then.
Cooper: What's a typical day like for you? What's the studio-meeting-to-sitting-at-the-computer-writing ratio like? Do you tend to feel like there's always so much to do, or is life a smooth, relaxing ride?
Dini: It's more like a landslide. Lots of stuff to deal with quickly. I try to give time to everything on my plate. If I can't finish, I know I've at least put in some time on the things I'm doing.
Cooper: Okay, it was fun asking this of Keith Giffen... how many different projects are you working on, right...... _now_?
Dini: My answer probably mirrors Keith's... Lots of stuff.
Cooper: Heh. The way I remember it, he thought of four or so instantly, and then tossed on three more, and then after a second remembered a couple of others, and finally it slowed to a one-at-a-time trickle before it stopped. Although, you know, everything's more dramatic in my head...
Dini: Detective Comics each month, as well as an upcoming Black Canary/Zatanna hardcover GN. Jingle Belle is done for the year, but there is a lot of potential movie and TV stuff with her looming, so I have to stay on top of that. Also animation and movie pitches, a few screenplays I'm finishing up --- it's busy.
Cooper: Is your wife into the comics and the animation and all the rest? Does she, as such, read comics?
Dini: To some degree she is. Well, she read ZATANNA: EVERYDAY MAGIC. That was the Vertigo GN I wrote three years ago. A friend of Misty's gave it to her and said "Look, here's you on a comic book." She read it, liked it, e-mailed me to tell me so and that was the start of everything. She also loves a lot of the Adult Swim shows, some anime, and strips like CALVIN & HOBBES and THE FAR SIDE.
Cooper: Grant Morrison would probably say that the work called out to her...
Dini: He might at that.
Cooper: And you? Big on the Adult Swim?
Dini: Oh yeah. I like most of those shows. I'm hoping for a Harley Quinn-Dr. Girlfriend throwdown. A Battle Royal of the henchwomen.
Cooper: Let's go through some of my usual questions... is the comic book industry "in trouble?"
Dini: I can't say. I don't follow the economics of it closely enough to make a call. Certainly there have been times when books have sold better, but I don't think things are as dire as they were say, five or six years ago. I think the classic comic book superhero characters, Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, et al, have a tremendous all-ages appeal, but I find less and less kids interested in the books. Part of the reason is that kids are exposed to the characters through cartoons, movies or toys. All of those places, a movie theatre, toy store or their own living room, is a more welcoming environment for a kid than a lot of comic book stores.
Cooper: Can you remember the first comic you ever read? I know that, like my wife, you know and respect the value of Will Eisner... But that probably wasn't the _first_ comic you can remember...
Dini: I'm sure the first comic I read was a Disney book of some sort. Most likely Uncle Scrooge.
Cooper: Is Jingle Belle all-ages?
Dini: No, kinda Simpsons-age.
Cooper: Ooooooh talk about that distinction you just made for a sec.
Dini: I've had her make out with guys and swear.
Cooper: My wife Barbara and I just had an hour-plus conversation about "all-ages."
Dini: I didn't want her perceived to be an Archie-type of character, squeaky-clean. She has some flaws, she can be bratty and selfish. I'm not interested in creating a role model, I want a funny character. Sometimes I don't even have that, but I'd rather her have an edge than wind up with a lifeless character that tries too hard to appeal to everyone.
Cooper: THANK you
Dini: Most teen characters are all the same, pseudo-hip wise-cracking kids who have to balance a special power or ability (saving the world, being a superhero, spy, etc.) with school. Boring. I'd rather have Jing be a little shit than try and force her into that role.
Cooper: What comics do you currently read? Does that include any manga/manwha, or webcomics? How do you feel about manga/manwha and/or online comics?
Dini: I don't really read a lot of them. Fifteen, twenty years ago I read some manga, like LONE WOLF AND CUB and URUSEI YATSURA, but I lost touch with it. I read some on-line comics like James Burks' MARTIN'S MISDIRECTION and David Alvarez's YENNY. I think the internet can be a great tool for getting your work out there. Not sure it pays well yet, but some day it might. Eight years ago everyone was fighting to get their animated cartoon on the net.
Cooper: Ah, Those Obnoxious Aliens.
Dini: That faded quickly when the studios realized there was no way to get their money back. At least, not as much money as they wanted. I still think the internet is a viable portal, though the business end needs to be thought out better for creative people.
Cooper: Okay, so what non-manga non-web reg'l'r ol' comics are you reading? If any?
Dini: Oh, I check in at the comic book store once every couple of weeks. I have no set reading list but I'll pick up whatever looks interesting.
Dini: Books I've been enjoying recently include JONAH HEX, Alex Ross's JUSTICE, some CIVIL WAR, my pal Javi's Viper book THE MIDDLEMAN and Stan Sakai's USAGI YOJIMBO.
Cooper: In getting ready for this interview, I was reading another one you did and Austin caught my eye because that's where I am now... you mentioned a record convention that you attended which I think my wife and I have been to (not the same year or anything). So is music important to you? Do you listen to it while you write, as I do, or is it just important to you the rest of the time, but you have to have quiet when you write, like wife Barb?
Dini: I have no set rules. Sometimes I like quiet when I write, other times I'll put on something I like to be comforting in the background. When I was finishing the BAKERS/JINGLE script recently, I had Bert Kaempfert's CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND and CHRISTMAS PARTY WITH EDDIE G. cranked up loud for inspiration.
Cooper: Not A CHRISTMAS GIFT TO YOU FROM PHIL SPECTOR?
Dini: Uh, no.
Cooper: Barb incidentally is reading that other interview you did on her computer while I talk to you and she's going crazy because you met Vincent Price... "Eeee Theater of Blood! Eeee Dr. Phibes!"
Dini: Vincent Price -- a very nice man.
Cooper: What are you looking forward to more than anything else these days?
Dini: Sleep. Time off.
Cooper: And what do you do then? (The time off, not the sleep)
Dini: Brainstorming new projects with Misty. She routinely comes up with amazing imagery for her show. I think it would be awesome for us to put together a project for ourselves.
Cooper: Speaking of projects, tell me about dinicartoons.
Dini: That's an on-line home for my characters like Jingle Belle, Ida Red and some new ones. I'll be adding more to the site as time allows.
Cooper: Well you've been very generous with your time... I think this'll work. Anything else you'd like to add mention pitch plug or talk about?
Dini: Well there's MONKEY TALK, the on-line interview series I do at Kevin Smith's quickstopentertainment.com
Cooper: Yes... now it's been you and the monkey a lot lately, is that correct?
Dini: Yes. Rashy is our sock monkey "son" brought to life by Misty.
Cooper: Will Misty be back in it anytime soon though?
Dini: Yes. I think she will take more of an on-camera role in the next few we do, as our production capability has become better.