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Monday, January 17, 2011

Aquaman Shrine Interview with J.E. Bright - 2011

J.E. Bright is a name new to most Aqua-Fans; but it won't be for long--he is the author of two new solo Aquaman entries into the mass market, both from Capstone Books: DC Super Pets: Heroes on the High Seas and the upcoming Aquaman: Deepwater Disaster.

Thanks to the fine folks at Capstone, I was able to ask J.E. about an interview; I was thrilled to learn he used the Shrine as reference when writing the books! He was also kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk some Aquaman:

The Aquaman Shrine: Did you read lots of comics growing up? What were some of your favorites?

J.E. Bright: I've always loved comics, and I'd read whichever ones I could get my hands on. One of my favorite books was a chunky hardcover collection of vintage Batman comics that I read and reread constantly. (I wish I could find that book again -- it vanished.) I didn't follow any comic series regularly until the Uncanny X-Men in the 1980s, when Chris Claremont was writing his incredibly relatable stories.

Then I collected The New Mutants and Teen Titans, too. I have a tendency to read single-issue comics too quickly, so I love collections and graphic novels, like Frank Miller's Daredevil: Born Again, and his amazing Batman: The Dark Knight Returns; Alan Moore's books Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell; and most especially Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, as well as his The Books of Magic titles. My younger brother was a big comics collector, so I occasionally dipped into his Bone and Cerebus the Aardvark titles. I'll still read whatever comics and graphic novels come my way, although I admit that I find it difficult to pick up the threads of the comics' storylines now.

The Aquaman Shrine: You and me both. Did you always want to be a writer? What were some of your influences?

J.E. Bright: Yes, I've never wanted to do anything else but write. I was an obsessive reader throughout my whole childhood (and still haven't slowed down much), and at some point, that switched over to wanting to write stories myself. The first major influence point was certainly L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz books, but I read everything around me, especially any science fiction or fantasy novels. I leaned toward more officially literary fiction while studying writing in college and graduate school, but I've never stopped reading all the fiction genres.

I'm also a collector of comic strip books, and those have been a major influence, especially the strips of G. B. Trudeau, Lynda Barry, Charles M Schulz, Walt Kelly, Gary Larson, and Bill Watterson. And Edward Gorey, however you want to classify his stuff. Now I read a lot of children's and young adult fiction, too, as my career has taken me there willingly.

The Aquaman Shrine: You mentioned using the Shrine when researching these books (had to get that in!). Were you much of a fan of Aquaman before writing these books for Capstone?

J.E. Bright: I've always admired Aquaman, but I never read his comics regularly, as I mostly missed the classic DC Comics superheroes' comic books. But the TV show Super Friends was a must-watch during most of my childhood. I caught them in their original first-run showings on Saturday mornings, which dates me, I know!

So Aquaman's always been around, and I certainly knew the basics. When I was hired to write these two Aquaman books, I fully immersed myself in research, which is when The Aquaman Shrine was invaluable. We were aiming for a rather classic Aquaman experience at Capstone, but I didn't want to contradict any of the current canon, either, so I dug as deeply as I could into the archives in the time I had.

The Aquaman Shrine: Did Capstone come to you saying they specifically wanted an Aquaman book for each of these series or did you pitch them?
J.E. Bright: For the Super-Pets books, I chose Aquaman and Wonder Woman's pets from a list of available pets that Capstone provided. For Aquaman's pets, I liked the idea of doing an underwater story, and I liked the story possibilities that writing for his three pets, Storm, Ark, and Topo, offered. I got a short story outline approved for DC Super-Pets: Heroes of the High Seas before I started writing the book. For Deepwater Disaster, Capstone approached me with a paragraph that pretty much outlined the whole story, already approved by DC Comics.

The Aquaman Shrine: How closely do you work with the individual artists on each of these books? Do you indicate which moments from the stories should be illustrated, or is that more up to them?

J.E. Bright: I didn't work with the individual illustrators at all. I wrote the text in chapters to a specific word count, and then my manuscript was edited by Capstone and approved by DC Comics before it went to the artists. I didn't supply art notes or anything, and I didn't see the illustrations until I received the books myself. (I still haven't seen Deepwater Disaster; I hear it's coming soon.)
Perhaps Capstone gave the artists notes, or maybe they just drew whatever sparked their imaginations. Whatever the process was, I loved the final result of Art Baltazar's illustrations for DC Super-Pets: Heroes of the High Seas, and I'm sure I'll love the art in Deepwater Disaster.

The Aquaman Shrine: "Deepwater Disaster" is clearly, sadly, based on real events. In the book, you have the unusual turn of Aquaman and Black Manta working together to address the problem. In a very divided political culture, is this a bit of wishful thinking--trying to show kids that even the most bitter enemies can get along for a common cause?

J.E. Bright: Everyone was so horrified by the oil spill in the Gulf, and I think we all felt so powerless to do anything about the terrible ecological disaster. You even posted that image of Aquaman dead on the beach, covered in oil, on May 22, 2010. It really felt like we needed a superhero to help us at that time. So the concept of the whole book was based on wishful thinking and a response to that terrible sense of powerlessness.
Maybe all superhero stories are a response to those things, but in this case, the desire was very specific. So, yes, certainly, having Aquaman and Black Manta tentatively team up to fight the disaster was a way of saying it will take all of us working together, no matter our affiliations, to save our oceans.

The Aquaman Shrine: I've been saying on the Shrine for years that, of all DC's characters, Aquaman is the most suited to addressing real-life environmental issues which are so part of the culture nowadays. Do you think superheroes can be used to introduce kids to complicated, difficult concepts like the Gulf oil spill?

J.E. Bright: Absolutely. Our oceans are in terrible danger--polluted and over-fished, with awful damage to reefs and other habitats--and Aquaman is in the perfect position to bring attention to these critical issues. Like the rainforests, our oceans are barely explored or catalogued, and we're destroying things before we even know they exist. And it's comforting to think of Aquaman being around with all the impending scary changes to our water levels, too.

I tried hard in Deepwater Disaster to show that even a superhero like Aquaman can't handle all the damage on his own. There are no easy answers, and it will take all our efforts to slow the destruction. Superhero stories have always been an excellent way to encapsulate larger issues and present them to younger readers, and hopefully doing so inspires some of the leaders of the next generation.

The Aquaman Shrine: Aquaman rarely gets included in mass-market projects like this, and almost never as a solo star. Now that you've written two books starring him, do you think he's just as viable as a headliner as Superman, Batman, etc.? (Note: the answer to this question is "yes.")

J.E. Bright: Yes! I do see a lot of "Aquaman sucks!" negativity out there, but I think that Aquaman is a deeply beloved character, and the anger is really disappointment in the lack of exciting mass-market stories he's been given. I think part of the problem stems from mixing him together with the land- or air-based super heroes, like in Super Friends. We as readers are land-based, so of course our stories are going to be mostly land-based, and it's quite difficult to create stories that feature multiple environments, so Aquaman is often marginalized.

Our frame of reference suffers with Aquaman, too, as he's sometimes confined to undersea fantasy worlds, so it's hard to relate directly as we can with Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man in the cities. Aquaman just isn't awesome enough when he's on land, so I think he should stay underwater. If I had to create a new milieu for Aquaman, I would push him into the future, when we have scientifically realistic underwater colonies for him to protect, rather than keeping him in the fantasy kingdom of Atlantis. I personally love Atlantis, but I think the fantastic elements turn off some potential readers.

The Aquaman Shrine: Absolutely! You've written a lot of projects featuring licensed characters. What are some of your personal favorites?

J.E. Bright: I have great fondness for some the DreamWorks characters I've been lucky enough to write about, particularly Shrek, Po in Kung Fu Panda, and Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon. Writing the Incredible Hulk movie tie-ins was quite cathartic, too. I've always dug G.I. Joe, so writing for those guys was cool. I enjoy the girl stuff, as well, like the Sweet Valley High books and some upcoming Barbie titles. But writing for classic characters like the DC super heroes is in a class of its own. I'm a total pop-culture junkie, so any time I get to write for beloved characters, I'm thrilled.

The Aquaman Shrine: What are you working on now? Do you have more Aquaman stories in your head?

J.E. Bright: I'd love to write more Aquaman, for sure, and I know stories would come easily for me if I get hired to write more for him. I just finished a bunch of Barbie storybooks, and there are two more of my Capstone books coming out in 2011 starring Green Lantern and the Flash. I have a pop-out book coming out in August 2011 called DC Super Friends: Heroes in Action, from Reader's Digest Children's Books. I'm also working on some original adventure stories that I hope to see released soon.

If anyone wants to know more about my Aquaman books, DC Super Heroes: Deepwater Disaster, and DC Super Pets: Heroes of the High Seas, or any of my other books, they can find out more information at www.jebright.com.

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me, and keep up the great work with The Aquaman Shrine!

The Aquaman Shrine: Thank you, J.E.!

We all knew that 2011 was probably going to be a pretty good year for Aquaman, what with his high-profile return via Geoff Johns and Brightest Day. But Aquaman is also making major in-roads outside of the comics world, as these two great books will attest. Let's hope there's more to come, both from Aquaman and J.E. Bright!


Joe Slab said...

WOW, what a scoop rob!

And how cool is it that JE used the Shrine to do his research on Aquaman?!?

He seems to understand the character well and his comment about Aquaman being marginalized when he's in multiple environments is spot on. And across multiple platforms (comics, animation, DCUO) I see steps being taken to address this issue. Very cool!

Outsider73 said...

Nice interview Rob. I'm looking forward to reading these books with the kids.

Wings1295 said...

Awesome! On all counts! And you are so right, Aquaman is hitting on (almost) all cylinders right now. Let's hope it just keeps on getting better and better.

Thanks for this!

rob! said...

Thanks guys!

J.E. was great to talk to and I thought he did a great job on these books. And that he used the Shrine in his research thrills me to no end!