Interview: Alan Grant

Dodano: 9 December 2013

An interview by Łukasz Chmielewski, you can find out more about him here.

Alan Grant (born 1949) is a Scottish comic book writer known for writing Judge Dredd in 2000 AD as well as various Batman titles during the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. He is also the creator of the character Anarky.

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- You were a Batman story writer for over ten years. What is your recollection of those times, what was the DC Comics atmosphere, what changed over the course of that decade?

- I thoroughly enjoyed my years on Batman. Denny O’Neil was a great editor, Norm Breyfogle was a great artist, and both of them became my good friends. The atmosphere was pretty “up” most of the time, and the editors were very supportive.

There were perhaps two main changes over the decade – in latter years Denny took more of a back seat and allowed his minions more of a say in what was going on. The second change was that marketing/merchandising became more important than they had previously been.

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- How do you remember the Batmania generated by the success of Tim Burton’s film in 1989? In all likelihood it had a tremendous influence on your place in comics showbusiness.

- I was writing Detective Comics at the time, and sales went up from about 75,000 a month to 675,000 a month. Because of the film, a lot of people who hadn’t been Batman comic readers discovered the comics. So when we attended conventions or signings, they were always sold out. And using limousines rather than taxis became a way of life – at least for a couple of years.

We were treated to a tour of the sets for the Bat-movie, and got to meet Anton Furst, who I remember as a really, really nice guy.

- How did you start in the industry? What made you choose comics and not something else?

- I’d been a comics fan since my grandmother taught me to read when I was 4 years old. She used British humour comics as her teaching aid, but I soon discovered American comics – particularly Batman, who became my favourite character (still is!).

Aged 18 or 19, I got a job as sub-editor with a Scottish publisher. I hoped they’d put me in their comics division, but someone senior decided I had a flair for “teenage romantic fiction” – and that’s where I ended up. I had quite a successful career writing, basically, love stories. But I felt the genre was rotting my brain, and left publishing to do other stuff. Eventually I wrote a short story for the UK comic 2000AD. When I travelled to London to meet the editor, he offered me a job as his editorial assistant on the spot.I was sharing a house with Judge Dredd creator John Wagner at the time, and when John became ill he asked me to help him out with his scripts. It was a short step to resigning aand becoming a freelance writer. I’ve been with comics ever since.

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- How did you get under the DC Comics wing? Was it difficult to switch from creating comics for the English audience to stories for Americans?

- Wagner and I were working on a story one afternoon when we received a telephone call; it was from Batman editor Denny O’Neil, who told us they were trying to toughen up Batman’s image, and offered us a 2-issue try-out on Batman. We got the job, but Wagner – who was never a superhero fan – bowed out after a few issues and left me to it.

I didn’t find it hard to switch from British comics – which are usually anthology comics, featuring 5 or 6 stories of 5 or 6 pages each. I’d been reading US comics for much of my life, so had a good idea of the different pacing required.

-  For me the Grant/Wagner/Breyfogle group and later the Grant/Breyfogle duo have for years remained in the top tier among the creators of the Bat’s adventures (alongside Miller, Starlin, Moore, early Loeb). In your storylines for Batman comics you touched on important social issues, especially in earlier years. You weaved the analysis of this world’s problems and sensational intrigues together. Where did this socially engaged approach stem from?

- One of the things that always irked me about superhero comics was that they were always fighting invaders from space, or foes whose only real in tention was to steal stuff. Despite their superpowers, they never used their great abilities to improve the lot of Mankind. So I decided that, wherever possible I’d include some sort of social problem slant in my stories.

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- Some of the issues signed as Grant/Wagner were in fact based solely on your storylines…

- We both signed a contract to write Detective for a year. A few months into our run, John decided he didn’t really want to write Batman, preferring his own British characters like Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and RoboHunter. I decided to go on writing Batman on my own, but kept John’s name on the credits in case we were in breach of contract.

- Together with John Wagner you created an unforgettable Ventriloquist/Scarface duo. How was this character invented? Was it inspired by William Goldman’s novel Magic?

- We created the character as a newsreaders with a dummy for the 2000AD comic strip “The Mean Arena.” But we decided the character was too good to use in that story, and filed him away…until we needed a new villain for Batman.

To the best of my knowledge, neither John nor I ever read Goldman’s novel. I stopped reading novels 30 years ago, after a leading British sci-fi writer accused me – in front of around 30 people – of stealing his ideas to use in Judge Dredd.

- If Ventroloquist and Scarface were made into film characters, who in your opinion should play them?

- Danny de Vito and Tom Cruise (or maybe Johnyy Depp.)

- You developed at least a few excellent villains (Mr Zsasz, Mortimer Kadaver, Ratcatcher, Tally Man, Anarchy, and Scarface), who quickly joined the classic notorious Batman enemies’ hall of fame. Which of these characters do you have the fondest memories of? Which one was the best to write?

- I liked Kadaver because he so arch, like a 1930s movie villain. I actively disliked Cornelius Stirk – because his voice spoke to me when I was floating in my isolation tank, and near scared the shit out of me, But my favourite has to be Anarky, which in retrospect is how I’d liked to have been at age 15 rather than drinking, fighting and chasing girls.

- Considering how interesting the villains of your creation are as well as the fact that the Batman: Shadow of the Bat series (prepared pretty much just for you) focused on them, one can suggest a hypothesis that you like to write about dark sides of human psyche (similarly to J.M. DeMatteis in one stage of his career)…

- I’m flattered to be compared with JM DeMatteis. I can’t argue with the fact that I like to write about the dark side of humanity…but it scares me, because I can often see pieces of myself and my friends and family in the villains I create.

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-  How did the Batman: Shadow of the Bat series come to be?

- We used to hold regular Bat-conferences in upstate New York, every 4 or 6 months or so. All the writers, artists and editors would attend to talk over how things were going and figuring out future issues. One time Denny announced they wanted to publish a new Batman comic, and Norm and I would be the creative team on it. He already had a name for the comic, but I didn’t much like it and came up with Shadow of the Bat.

-  One of the best, darkest Batman stories is, in my humble opinion, The Last Arkham. Could you say a few words about the circumstances surroundings its origin?

- I wanted a powerful story to open the series…and what could be more powerful than Batman in a lunatic asylum? I spoke to Denny about it, and he came up with several good plot points for me.

-  One of my favourite characters is private investigator Joe Potato that you developed. What was his genesis?

- I don’t know. He just popped into my head one day and that was that.

-  What did your part in 2011 DC Retroactive initiative look like, especially your teaming up again with Norm Breyfogle? Did DC Comics propose anything else?

- It was great to work with Norm again, though it felt a bit strange to be working for a Batman editor who wasn’t Denny O’Neil. Norm and I proposed a couple of mini-series to them, but they were totally uninterested.

-  For years I have been waiting (and I know I’m not the only one) for a collected edition of Grant/Wagner/Breyfogle and Grant/Breyfogle issues from the Detective Comics and Batman series. Were you or they approached by anyone from DC Comics to discuss that?

- No Not at all. One of the most frequent questions I get from fans at conventions is – When are they going to release a collected edition? You’d need to ask someone at DC why they haven’t done it.

-  Do you read Batman comics?

- No. I never read characters I’ve written after other writers have taken over.

-  After so many years of working on the Dark Knight character, what are your thoughts about him? Is he still a source of inspiration or is he past his prime?

- Batman will never be past his prime. Denny used to say it was necessary to re-invent the character every 10 – 12 years or so, to make him accessible to a new, young generation. And he’s still an inspiration…to me at least.

-  Who is your favourite character in the Batman universe?

- Anarky.

-  Which film version of Batman do you prefer: Tim Burton’s, Christopher Nolan’s or perhaps Bruce Timm’s?

- I’m sorry, but I haven’t really enjoyed any of the Batman movies. Each of them had good points, but didn’t seem to hang together in the final analysis. In many ways I preferred Adam West’s version back in the 1960s!

-  In Poland your work acquired cult status in part due to your version of Batman, but most of all because of Lobo. Poles love your sense of humour…

- I loved Lobo almost as much as I loved Batman. Lobo is the kind of story which goes down well in 2000AD, adventure and humour and lots of action. Unfortunately, US comic fans don’t like humour so much and I was really disappointed when they told me they were closing the title down. Lobo was selling twice as many in Latin America – he was big in Argentina, Chile,and Mexico – as he was selling in the States. I proposed switching things around, so that the Latin Americans could publish the comic first, then reprint it in America. DC were horrified. They don’t do things that way!

- Did you receive royalties for using Mr Zsasz character in Batman Begins and Ventriloquist, Scarface, and plot point from The Last Arkham in cartoons Batman – Animated Series and The Batman?

- I received a modest payment for a couple of these, but not a lot and not for most of the ones you mention.

- Reading your comics which featured Anarchy I was under the impression it is him and not Batman who is closer to you despite him balancing on the thin line between an antihero and a villain. So, how much of Alan Grant is there in Anarchy?

- There’s a lot of the way Alan Grant would loved to have been at 15 years old. I don’t side with political parties – I was thrown out of the Scottish Young Socialists for being too right-wing, and I was thrown out of a branch of London conservatives for being too left wing. And when the British anarchists saw what I’d done with Anarky, they decried it for being a capitalist rip-off. I guess I just like arguing with people.

-  Which writers of books, comics, and films gave and give you inspiration in your work?

- I think I said earlier – I haven’t read novels for 30 years or so. Stan Lee inspired me as a teenager, Denny O’Neil a decade or so later. It’s probably true to say that John Wagner was the biggest influence on my work, at least from the humour point of view. John and I are very similar in that.

-  Which method do you use: full script or so-called Marvel style?

- Full script, definitely. I’ve done several stories for Marvel – Silver Surfer, Incredible Hulk, Robocop – but I’ve never liked just plotting with dialog added later.

-  What are you working on at the moment?

- ‘Canada’s Part in the First World War”, book 1 of a 4 graphic novel set from Canada’s Renegade Arts Entertainment.

I’m still writing Judge Anderson for 2000AD and The Judge DRedd Megazine (after 30 years). I’m currently working on the final episode of a series called DeadEnd.

My daughter illustrated and published a book I’d written for her 35 years ago – “The Quite Big Rock.” It’s selling quite well, so she wants me to write another for her. I’ve got all the ideas written down, but no script yet.

If Poles like my sense of humour, they’ll enjoy “Tales of the Buddha (before he got enlightened)” – adult humour, sex, drugs and rock n roll. The first collection is out from Renegade and is a barrel of laughs (if I say so myself). Artist Jon Haward and I are working on Book 2 now.