Monday, March 26, 2007

Aquaman Shrine Interview with Dan Mishkin - 2007

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In the newest Back Issue! (#21), there's an interview with writing team Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn on their creation Blue Devil. As I read (and enjoyed) the interview, I recalled that Mishkin & Cohn were responsible for at least one Aquaman tale--the Aquaman Special from 1988, the first follow-up to the excellent mini-series by Neal Pozner and Craig Hamilton.

I then did a little more research (i.e., digging through my Aquaman comics) and found that they also wrote DC Comics Presents #48, starring Superman and Aquaman! I figured that was enough to justify contacting Dan (whose myspace page was listed in BI) and begging him for an interview. Luckily, Dan generously agreed:

The Aquaman Shrine: What comics have been the most fun to write? Were books like Amethyst or Blue Devil for instance better/more fun because you were in from the ground floor?

Dan Mishkin: Working on the characters that I've created has always tended to be the most enjoyable for me, both because the connection with the characters is so strong and because the possibilities of where there lives can go are a lot less limited than with an established character. But I have to say that my early opportunities to write Superman (with Julie Schwartz as my editor) and Batman (with Dick Giordano) were very exciting because, hey, they were Superman and Batman and for some reason DC was letting ME tell their adventures.

AS: How did you write with your partner Gary Cohn? Did one of you do dialogue, one do plot, or did you mix it up?

DM: We pretty much mixed it up. Generally, we'd talk over plots together--we're able to bounce ideas off each other extremely well--and then one of us would write a first draft of a full script or a plot and the other would revise it. Gary tends to be a better at the big idea stuff than I am, and I'm probably a better detail person, so we had some complimentary skills, but looking back at any particular comic I'd be hard pressed to say which one of us did what.

AS: You wrote DC Comics Presents #48 with Superman and Aquaman. How did that come about? Did DC come to you and say "we want a Superman/Aquaman story" or did you have any input as to the guest star?

DM: This is getting to be a pretty long time ago, and my oldest child was born in the middle of scripting the issue, so it's hard to dredge up a lot of the details (though I do remember calling Julie from the hospital to explain nervously why the script was going to be late).

I think it was probably Julie who chose the guest star in this case. As for how Gary and I got the opportunity in the first place, it was kind of a natural progression from having written a lot of one-shot stories for the House of Mystery-type books and then moving up to a superhero book that also had self-contained stories and no regular writer. I think I wrote or co-wrote about half the issues of DC Comics Presents during that next year.

AS: Was it more/less fun writing a self-contained story without any connection to ongoing storylines?

DM: Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, but I probably like doing self-contained stories better because they force you to get things right rather than letting you tell yourself that you'll figure it out eventually--although sometimes the same tendencies that can lead to sloppy plotting and pacing in continued stories can push you to a brilliant stroke when you realize you've written yourself into a corner.

The ideal for me--and I think we did this well in the early issues of Blue Devil--is the Silver Age Marvel books that had self-contained stories with a new villain in each issue and a beginning, middle and end, but that also advanced a larger arc in the life of the hero.

AS: Back in the late 90s, Grant Morrison had Aquaman use his mental powers to basically "shut the brain down" of an opponent. I thought that was incredibly inventive and expansive view of Aquaman's abilities, so it was with shock that I see that you did it first in DCCP #48, with Aquaman pulling the same trick with Superman! Did this "thinking outside the box" idea occur to you as you were writing it?
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DM: I don't remember any of the details of writing this story, and rereading it didn't help, unfortunately. But I do remember that Julie was very involved in working out plots with writers, and this would be especially true with writers he was working with for the first time.

The important details of the story would probably have been worked out in Julie's office after Gary and I pitched some one-sentence idea (it might not even have been a sentence, but a phrase like "super-octopuses from outer space"), and which parts came from me and which from Gary and which from Julie I don't think we'll ever know. But Julie was also a big believer in thinking outside the box--in coming up with the twist we've never seen before--so he should probably get credit as instigator even if that particular bit wasn't his.

AS: How did you end up writing the Aquaman Special in 1988?

DM: I think it came our way because I was already doing work with the editor, Barbara Randall. I'm not sure how Barbara ended up with the character.

AS: Had you read the Pozner/Hamilton mini-series to that point? Were you instructed in any way to follow in the direction that story had been going?

DM:I'd read the miniseries--in fact, I read everything DC was putting out in the 80s, and would have done so even if I hadn't been on their comp list. And I think the instruction was just to find a way to move forward with the character, not necessarily to stick with Neal's sensibilities (in fact, I'm pretty sure that the decision to put the character back in his orange and green costume -- which definitely went against the miniseries -- did come from higher up).

This is of course a running story with Aquaman, Green Arrow, and some other longtime DC characters: they hold some interest for readers and are even much loved by some of those readers, but they can't seem to make it as lead characters; and since no one really knows why that is exactly, editors and writers are always trying to find a way to portray the characters that exploits whatever it is we love about them while sharply defining them in a new and hopefully appealing way.

I suspect there's a lesson to be learned from the fact that it keeps happening and keeps not working. For myself, I'd be happy if somebody would bring back the Aquaman of the Steve Skeates/Jim Aparo days (preferably Skeates himself).

AS: Was there any indication you would do more Aquaman if the special was successful, sales-wise? Would you have wanted to?

DM: Nobody said that to me, but I think there's always an assumption that if you can light a fire with a character in a special, there would be interest in doing more. And I certainly would have given it a try. Once I invest my time thinking through a character so that I can write a story about him or her--and Gary and I certainly looked at Aquaman's past and what made him tick in preparation for this particular story--I feel like I have an ongoing investment in that character and an interest in writing more.

AS: Who were some of your favorite artists who you've gotten to work with?

DM: I've loved working with Kubert School grads like Tom Mandrake, Jan Duursema and Ron Randall, and the experience of working with Ernie Colon on Amethyst and Paris Cullins on Blue Devil was great. I also had the thrill of having the great Steve Ditko draw my very first published story, and working with other long-established pros like Curt Swan, Jim Aparo and Don Heck, who impressed me with how much energy and heart they put into their work even late in their careers.

AS: What are you working on now?

DM: I'm writing the sequel to The Forest King, my children's prose novel that was published by Actionopolis last fall, and I'm doing research for another young adult novel that's not an action-adventure genre story. I have a some comics pitches and proposals in the works or being looked at by various publishers, but I expect to spend more time with prose in the near term.

Thanks so much to Dan for his time and to him and Gary for their great stories!

1 comment:

Glenn Walker said...

Great interview!