Q&A: Brad Meltzer

Our impromptu Justice League of America week here at Doomkopf chugs right along with the thoughts of the man pulling all the strings. Yes, Brad Meltzer checked in for an exclusive interview. He’s the writer of JLA from issue 0 to present (his arc ends in a couple months at #12) and Identity Crisis and a whole bunch of books without pictures (apparently there are uncouth folks out there who enjoy such things). Brad shed light on how he got into comics, his writing style and who would win a geek-off between him and Geoff Johns.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFor a review of the trade of Meltzer’s first JLA arc, The Tornado’s Path, click over to here. Now, without further ado, Brad Meltzer:

Jean-Claude Van Doom: I read that you grew up reading the Justice League. Did you ever imagine you might end up writing it?

Brad Meltzer: I certainly wished it, but I never for one second thought it was going to happen. It’s like saying I want to be a baseball player. These are childhood dreams, but eventually childhood dreams fall under reality. Only an egomaniac would ever think he would be able to do that.

JCVD: So, how did you end up getting into comics?

BM: The truth is, this was back when The Millionaires was published, the DC editors approached me when they realized that for four novels I’d been hiding comic book references in my novels.

So, I had to write four books [novels] to do it. That was how it happened. Kevin Smith was leaving Green Arrow. They thought about bringing in somebody else from outside of comics. They said, “You’re a guinea pig.” At that point, it’s just up to your writing. [Meltzer began with issue 16]

After that I wrote this very emotional, character-driven story. And then 9/11 happened. The editors came to me and said, “Before 9/11, people in the fire department were out of a Norman Rockwell painting. After 9/11, we realized these men and women, when they put on their uniforms everyday, they could die.” That’s something we’d gotten away from in comics.

I set out to do Identity Crisis as a small emotional story. I did the whole thing all at once. Then the people in charge saw it and liked it and promoted it a lot. We never set out to create Identity Crisis as we now know Identity Crisis.

JCVD: All your work in comics seems to have a more emotionally driven feel. Where does that come from?

BM: I think, in my novels and in my comics, all I want to make you do is make you feel that it’s true. My goal is to convince you that my lie is absolutely real. I arm you with things that make you think it’s real. I try to write characters that aren’t cookie cutters, I do tons of research. I don’t want to read a coloring book.

I don’t know how to tell any other stories. That’s how I tell my stories.

JCVD: So far, you’ve worked exclusively with DC. Is that where your interest is, or do you see other projects with other companies in your future?

BM: I’ve spoken to Marvel too. I’m going to be doing a Buffy series for Dark Horse. The question I have to ask is, “Can I find the time to do these projects?”

JCVD: How long does it take you to write a comic?

BM: It takes me about, the first issue, about two weeks, three weeks to crack it. It takes months. I treat it like a novel. Say, for JLA, I wrote all 12 issues together. I write it like a story.

I hope the sum is greater than the parts. It’s meant to be read in one sitting.

JCVD: One thing I noticed was that the first arc of JLA read more smoothly all at once. When writing comics, how can you adjust for that monthly gap?

BM: There’ll be a little more recap, just for that purpose. You know the saying, that every comic is somebody’s first comic. But I’m a believer that people will figure it out.

JCVD: Something that I read about recently that really interested me was the idea that DC’s major commodity right now is its continuity, that everything ties together incredibly tightly. Does that make writing difficult? And how much organization goes on?

BM: One, I always will talk my ideas through with my friends. Geoff and I talked when JSA launched. We talked when JLA launched. I love doing that. In the Lightning Saga, you’ll see in the ending.

It really does take a lot of people steering the ship. You have to make sure that gets out and that doesn’t get out. There’s a lot of pieces on the board. You have to expect that with Justice League, because there are so many characters who are a part of the team and they’re all major heroes out in the universe. You can’t expect nothing else will affect everything.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketTo be honest, DC makes it very easy. We all have the same goal. We love that character too. We’re all trying our very best to give you the very best story. Geoff and I are both geeks, so we do it [organize continuity] ourselves.

With the scene from JLA going into Countdown, we got a call on the phone from the Countdown editors and talked about the scene with Karate Kid in the batcave. They said, “Ooh, we’re going to use this here.” It became a big part. When they realized our intention, they decided to make it a big part of what they were doing.

JCVD: So, who knows more about DC between you and Geoff? If we had a competition, who’s going to win?

BM: Ooh, that’s a good question. I would say it would be like that final rematch at the end of Rocky 3. It’s close, and you know it’s going to be close. He knows the current DCU… I think Geoff would take me. I say that with sadness.

It would definitely be a good geek off.

JCVD: Do you two still talk a lot about what’s going on?

BM: I’m out of the game at this point. He doesn’t need me. He does great stuff on his own.

JCVD: When you did talk, would it be a lot about the history of DC, because so much of that goes into both of your writing?

BM: We really tend to say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if this happens now?” You don’t want to be a slave to it [history], because there’s no growth. With some readers, any change becomes an affront to that character.

JCVD: Is it strange at all, going from the world of novels to comic books?

BM: The fun part for me is watching all the other novelists respond to it. At first, they’d say, “Why’re you slumming in comics?” But, later, one guy leaned over and said, “Does he still have speedy?” Suddenly, all the comic book geek novelists were coming up to me. It’s always fun to learn you’re not alone.

JCVD: The fan base for novelists is a bit different than that of comic books, I imagine. Was that anything of an adjustment?

BM: Nobody’s screaming for my head 40 pages into a novel, saying this better end how I want it to.

JCVD: So, what’s the biggest adjustment in going from novels to comic books?

BM: I’d say that, as a novelist, you have to learn how to shut up when you write comics. In a novel, if I want to show you something, I have to put it on the page. In a comic book, I can say, “Panel one: a tight shot of Superman, who looks concerned. Panel two, even tighter, we see a bead of sweat rolling down his face. Panel three, even closer on the bead of sweat.” Without a single word on the page, you know Superman’s worried about something. I really had to do what I don’t do every day.

JCVD: Many thanks to Brad for taking the time.