I had the chance to do an exhaustive interview with the author Max Allan Collins about his new book from Mickey Spillane's manuscript, The Consummata. It's a fantastic read and a sequel to the top selling Delta Force.
For the portions of our interview regarding Spillane and The Consumatta, those will be appearing on The Huffington Post. For the portions of our conversation that had to do with writing, the ebook industry, and Spillane's writing habits, they are on my writing blog. You can read that here.
Big Shiny Robot!: Sort of the last thing I wanted to talk to you about was that I had gone back to the Batman books, I’m a big Batman fan, and you are sort of the architect of the revamped origin of Jason Todd.
Max Allan Collins: That was very unpopular incidentally!
BSR!: I remember that! These are the comics I remember coming out, and as a kid I loved Jason Todd, I was 7 or so when these started coming out and 8 when they killed him.
MAC: I always tried to do Batman… I had a problem with the editor.
I had an unfortunate situation where during my tenure there was a revolving door of a artists, I had no continuity, a lot of times I’d be doing a two-part story and one artist would do the first part and a different artist would do the second part with no reference to how the first artist drew the characters.
It was absolutely frustrating but I always tried to write it, the best thing I think I’ve done with Batman is I did a graphic novel called Batman: Child of Dreams that was derived from a Japanese Manga. I had a lot of freedom on that, they let me do whatever I wanted with the script so I feel that I didn’t just translate that, I don’t speak Japanese, It was just my take on that material. I tried ot make it accessible to younger and older readers, I tried to walk the line so it wasn’t silly or campy but that there was someone 7, 8, or 9 at the age I was when I started reading Batman could enjoy the book.
What a lot of people, the Batman show is despised by a lot of comic fans, particularly Batman fans, the dirty little secret of the Batman TV show is that it was extremely accurate to the comic, it was exactly how the comic was. It worked in a similar fashion; it worked for kids who liked a fun adventure story and if you were older you could see some of the irony. If you were under 12 you didn’t know it was campy, so it worked for a huge wide audience. A lot of the stories are based on comic book stories, some written by Bill Finger who was the co-creator of Batman, so this thing they hate was actually extremely accurate for the 1950’s batman. No one would cop to that because they wanted him to be a dark knight, they wanted him to be oh-so serious but now they’ve got Batman screwing Catwoman, which is like the Tin Man doing Dorothy doggy-style.
It’s crazy! It’s just crazy.
These things began as comics for children, that doesn’t mean they have to be childish but trying to make Batman and Robin realistic, that’s grounds for commitment.
BSR!: There is a fine line there, like if you see what Chuck Dixon did with Tim Drake after they killed Jason Todd, they basically made it kind of a Peter Parker novel where he had to deal with high school and…
MAC: That’s the way to do it, I think Stan Lee was the guy that figured it out. I was in a really cool place as a kid, I read comics throughout my childhood and the comics code came in so when I read old comics it had to be from a used book store or something. MAD magazine was around, Batman was still being published, thre were a lot of newspaper strips. I read Dick Tracy as a comic strip, but I also read Uncle Scrooge and all that. By the time I got to junior high, there was Stan Lee who said here’s comics for teenagers. He really found a way to really have fun with it, people forget how tongue-in-cheek Stan Lee was.
In an early issue of Fantastic Four, they get evicted because being a superhero doesn’t pay very well. That’s hilarious. Definitely spoofing the material, he opened the whole world up so I could continue reading comics throughout junior high and high school. It wasn’t like they said in MAD magazine where you’d have to hide it in another book so people wouldn’t see that you were reading a comic.
The Batman show happened when I was a senior and the camp thing came in. All of that stuff, for whatever negative aspects it has for some comics fans because they think the comics are being made fun of, that opened the culture up to everyone and took the stigma away. I bet if the Batman show had never come along, none of this stuff would have happened; graphic novels, underground comics, none of this would have happened. It brought attention to the medium in a brand new way. Comics fans and I never saw eye to eye on how Batman should be handled. I never thought it should be campy. I have been told most of the Jason Todd stuff that they didn’t like was after I was off the book.
Also, it wasn’t my idea! I was hired to do a new origin, people act like an author can go into DC with a gun and make them do Jason’s origin again.
BSR!: I think maybe… I love all that work you did there, I think Jason’s story starting with #408, with him boosting the tires off the Batmobile
MAC: Yeah, which a lot of comic fans don’t like because, surely the Batmobile would have better security than that; I just want to say THERE IS NO FUCKING BATMOBILE! Will you just get a grip?
BSR!: My favourite run starts there and ends with A Death In The Family.
MAC: That’s really nice to hear, I’ll tell you what my revenge was.
The ultimate freelancer’s revenge, although some people say this proves the point of why some fans didn’t like what I did, Toys R Us came to DC and asked to do 3 or 4 packets of toys when Batman was still hot, and they want to sell them at Toys R Us. They looked at 5 years of the Batman comic book, they looked at Year One and Dark Knight and all this stuff. Guess what they picked? Only my comics! That’s all they did, and I got royalties off of it.
While the comic book fans were talking about how terrible what I did was, I was getting incredible checks in the mail for all the comics that were sold at Toys R Us.
BSR!: I didn’t realize until you just said that, but that’s probably where I got some of those first books, I still have my Robin action figure...
MAC: A lot of that has changed because they do have Batman humping Catwoman now, but there’s
been more attention in recent years to providing entry level comic books for kids now. Of course kids are hipper now, and probably more debauched than they used to be so it doesn’t have to be watered down much, but my friend Terry Beatty was involved with a long run of the comics that were based on the various Batman cartoons. That was much more in line with what Bob Kane and Dick Sprang intended.
I’m not saying that you can’t do a somewhat serious Batman, you certainly can, Batman is after all essentially Zorro which is something adults can enjoy. I‘m not preaching any type of dumbing down but I honestly don’t think … it’s what I said about the Wizard of Oz, the door these came in through was for kids and I’m a big preacher … I mean you read Return to Perdition, have you ever read a comic more violent than that?
I put zero blow jobs in my Batman comics I promise you.
BSR!: It’s interesting there are different writers who take it different ways, I think Scott Snyder who just relaunched Batman has a more measured approach to it like you’re talking about
MAC: It is a great character, it’s a great concept with great villains and I, Child of Dreams is definitely
not for kids but it was in that graphic novel sort of format. I really loved being ablt to come back to Batman after some of the trashing I got. It was very tricky, I had to work from a Japanese version and I had a rough translation and they were flopping all of the pages because of the Manga, you have no idea how much time I spent in front of the bathroom mirror holding up the Japanese book to the mirror so I could see how the page would look in the American version because it played differently. It was just an interesting thing. Kia Asamiya is a talented guy, I met him at San Diego Comic Con after the book came out and he was very nice about it, very sweet.
Well, we got off on Batman didn’t we?
BSR!: Yeah, and I have so many more Mickey Spillane questions...
I'll let you know when the Huffington Post portion of the interview about The Consummata goes live. Until then, you can read the writing portion of the interview on my writing blog.
And be sure to check out The Consumatta. It's a fantastic read.