Exclusive: Mark Doyle And Bob Harras Discuss Plans For Doyle’s Second Year As Batman Group Editor [Interview]
Batman's 75th anniversary came during an incredibly eventful year for the Caped Crusader, and not just in terms of celebratory publications and commemorative events.
After former Vertigo editor Mark Doyle took over as Batman group editor in February, things changed, and not just for Batman himself. Supporting characters such as Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon shifted into new roles. The world of Gotham expanded with books that focused on unexplored corners, like the GCPD's supernatural unit, or the city's mysterious prep school. Even the mainline Batman titles, Batman and Detective Comics, told bold stories that weren't typical Batman fare. Creators pushed into new territory and took chances with their books, and as a result the Batman line looks much different than it did at the beginning of 2014.
Mark Doyle deserves the credit for steering the line and bringing in the creators who made these changes. Comics Alliance sat down with Doyle and DC Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras to look back on Doyle's first year as Batman group editor, and to look ahead to 2015, as DC relocates to new offices in Burbank, California.
ComicsAlliance: Mark, you've been on the Bat family of titles for around a year now, and you've really brought a lot of life and change to those books. Will you be sticking with the Bat family as the move to the West Coast takes place?
Mark Doyle: I'm happy to say yes, I'm going to be continuing as the Batman group editor and I will be relocating to Burbank.
Bob Harras: Mark will be suffering having to be with me out there in Burbank.
CA: Will any of your responsibilities change? I know there's going to be some consolidation happening with the move. The digital comics side of things is out there, and there are quite a few Batman related titles under that umbrella.
BH: I think part of the move out there is going to have a much more synergistic relationship across all the ways we create our characters digitally, in print, so Mark and all the group editors will be much more involved with their characters.
MD: I think things are in sort of a state of flux -- figuring a lot of stuff out still. No duty changes. It's still all Batman all the time for me.
CA Let's talk about the creative direction that the Bat family of titles has already taken. Over the past year the Bat books have spread out to so many different styles. Batgirl has changed into something new. Nightwing has become Grayson, which is a spy book now. We've got Gotham Academy, we've got Gotham By Midnight. What was the philosophy behind branching out like this, and how will that continue into 2015?
MD: It is a big question. I think the idea was that the marketplace has shifted to a large degree. The philosophy, as you put it, was to try to reach different audiences by trying to make different types of books within the Bat line. I feel like, myself, and as a company, there were more audiences out there that we weren't reaching. The idea was to try and reach out to people and put some bait out there and see if those audiences that we think are out there actually are out there.
"Bait" sounds like a bad word! But [we wanted] to say, "Hey, we think you're out there and we think you want to read this stuff. Let us know if you're out there." They definitely responded.
CA: You came over from Vertigo, which certainly makes an effort to cater to different audiences. Is that part of the inspiration behind the varied Bat line that exists now?
MD: Maybe in a subconscious way, because when we're shaping the Vertigo line, there would be 10 or 15 books at any given time, and you never wanted to overlap. For example, American Vampire, that's our vampire book. If I get more pitches for vampire stuff, I'm probably not going to do that. We'll look at the line and say, "Hey what aren't we doing? We don't have historical fiction. Where's that solid crime book? Scalped is ending, do we have another crime book." Know what I mean? 100 Bullets was that crime book and then Scalped carried that torch. How do we find that next thing?
So I think, maybe yeah, either in a conscious or subconscious way, I look at the Batman line the same way. You don't want the same flavor every month or week. Maybe we'll put different flavors out there so you can scratch different itches.
CA: With Batman Eternal, you've got your weekly book that focuses a little more on the police and the day-to-day. Scott Snyder's Batman is your big superhero book that tells epic stories; Gotham Academy is your teen book; Grayson is your spy book. Are you going to be looking to plug more holes in the year to come, or is it more of a time to foster and grow what you've built in the past year?
MD: That for sure, we've put a lot of stuff out there and we need to help foster that stuff and help it grow. But for 2015, our plans are less about genre and more about character; taking characters that are already out there or aren't out there right now and finding the best teams and people to tell the best stories with these characters -- a lot of characters that I love. I came into this with a deep love of Batman characters and DC characters in general. ... Great stories come from great characters so that's what we're trying to do next year.
BH: You mentioned Grayson earlier; that shows the strength of the Batman characters. Dick Grayson evolved from Robin to Nightwing, and now, because of a major event in his life -- that his identity was exposed -- we took him in a totally different direction, and it came out of who Dick Grayson was. We took a risk and we put him in the spy genre and it really connected with readers, which is great, but it comes from who Dick Grayson is.
MD: It's funny. When people look at the year, they like to cite Batgirl or Gotham Academy, but people forget that Grayson was the bellwether. That was the first one we took a shot at, and people just blew up. They loved it.
I think the reason that book worked so well is exactly what Bob said. [Dick is] a great character. ... I was just reading a script last night and the art direction was basically, "And why does he do this? Because he's Dick Grayson, that's why."
That sentence makes no sense, or it makes all the sense in the world, if you get the character and if you know exactly what they're talking about. That's the point with the book. Every issue they try and take him and put him into a situation, and strip everything away from him that people know or think they know. We're still going to prove he's a superhero no matter what. So they set up these impossible situations and he always gets out of it, because he's Dick Grayson, that's why.
CA: A moment ago you mentioned focusing on characters and making sure that they get a place to shine; do you think there are some characters who are not getting that right now, who are maybe under-served? Who do you think deserves the spotlight in the year to come?
MD: The short answer, honestly, is stay tuned.
We can't say too much right now. I will say that there are some characters that we haven't seen yet, and some who are definitely out there walking around who I think are ready for the spotlight, and we're ready to shine it on them.
CA: There is so much fan opinion online, and Batman fans in particular feel a real ownership of the characters they love; Stephanie Brown, for example. How much do you take into account that sort of fan outcry and passion in terms of determining which characters should get more screen time?
MD: It's not like there's a reader opinion poll and we find that, oh, it looks like 80 percent of people would like to see more Stephanie Brown. I honestly think it comes more from -- I hate to go back to this -- I think it comes from character.
It's more about discussions we have internally and yes, seeing the fan response, seeing how many people are posting fan fiction of this character, that character, or who gets the biggest applause at panels when we talk about certain characters. Often, it comes from the stuff that comes across our desks, whether it's a pitch or just reading an issue and seeing how a writer or an artist really surprised us or something. Maybe it's a supporting character, and we say, "Man, I really like how you're handling this character. Maybe there's more potential there." It comes from that, as opposed to, well, because you demanded it, we're doing this.
BH: I'll refer to a conversation [Doyle], Scott [Snyder] and I had a few weeks ago where we were talking about characters in general. We were just talking, and all of a sudden we surprised everyone and each other with this direction for this one character.
I think it's one of those things -- and remember, this is Batman's 75th anniversary, and people are still so passionate about this character after all these years -- that shows what a strong and effective character he is; that we could surprise ourselves about certain directions and get excited, I think that's where a lot of these things come from, and what characters we are going to be spotlighting and where we're going to take them. I think that's part of the process, part of getting readers engaged month in and out with the entire Batman world.
CA: What has shone through in the past few months of Batman comics to me, is very distinct creative voices. Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith really come through in Gotham By Midnight. The creative team of Batgirl really comes through in that book. You have a creative history with Scott Snyder and his voice has been evident in the Batman title since he started there. What is your take on how to relate to these creative teams? Do you give them free rein?
MD: No one can have free rein when it's a shared universe. Everything that everyone does, we all have consequences and we all have played with the same toys. It's never a case of, here, take this character and just run with it. It's more like, "Give me your angle on this character," and then we say, "Oh that's good. Yeah, let's do this."
Bear in mind, there's this history in making it all work together. I think that if you approach creators that do have a strong voice, then the voice comes through. That's just a way to work with people and find that medium of, yes, you have a strong voice and a creative vision, and now let's make it work in this cohesive universe that we're all working in.
CA: I guess the question is then, about lines of communication. How often do you step in and tell a creative team on a book, "Keep this in mind," or, "This is a direction that we're going in for this book. You can't use this character because this character is going to be in this comic, or this title, and they can't be in yours"? There's got to be a lot of coordination there.
MD: Maybe I have a creative team working this title over here, and a creative team working on that title over there, so they can't know what's going on in every book, but that's the point of editorial, so that we know, oh, this character is going to die over here, so you can't use them over there. Then in terms of getting everyone to work together, that's why we try to get everyone in the same room to talk about stuff. In fact, the first week of January, we'll be having our first Bat summit of 2015 to get everyone in the room to start talking about the books for June and beyond.
CA: Do you think the move to the West Coast is going to have an impact on getting everyone in the same room?
MD: Nah, I don't think so. It's funny. People make a big deal of the geography of where the offices are, and yeah, I guess it matters. It matters when you talk about people's families and personal stuff... but I don't know. Ever since I've started working in comics, the creative teams are all over the place. There can be a writer in New York, an artist in Brazil, and the colorist is in San Diego. The editor is in L.A. Whatever, we're all over the place. Whether you're emailing, calling, or texting, you don't feel the geography as much. So I don't think moving the offices will stop any collaboration. We're not moving to Antarctica. There are a lot of flights to L.A. It should be fine.
CA: One title that was a big deal this year that we haven't really talked about is Batman Eternal. A lot of seeds have been planted in that book that show up in other Bat books. The other two weekly books seem to be coming to an end with Convergence; I don't get that sense with Batman Eternal. Can you tell me about plans for that title, and what you've learned from doing that book?
MD: We are going to be doing it again next year, but there's going to be a break in between this season and next season. We've already started the post mortem of, OK, what worked and what didn't work? We'll definitely be making some adjustments in terms of format and structure of it, but the biggest thing we've learned is that this is a great format for telling stories with all of these characters, because Gotham is a big, crazy place and there are so many great Bat characters that you just can't shine the spotlight on all of them all the time, so this is a great way to make a big tapestry and weave everyone together.
CA: Has the planning already started for the second season of Batman Eternal? How much do you need to know way in advance before you jump in on a weekly title like that?
MD: Yes, the planning has already started, and that's going to be the big topic of conversation at the summit. The story is already sort of taking shape, and now it's getting everyone in the room to talk about looking at all the threads and start pulling them. You're right, it takes a ton of planning and work ahead of time. That's why we've already started.
CA: One thing I've noticed is how a sense of playfulness has seeped into the Batman comics in the past few months. The Bat titles have had a reputation in the past for being very grim. Mark, I don't know if that's entirely your influence or the creative team's influence, but I appreciate the more playful approach. I wonder how much of a conscious decision there was to inject that into those books?
MD: I don't know. I think maybe it's just a reflection of the attitude around here. We have a lot of fun here. [laughs] The offices are fun, the people we work with are fun, and it's kind of hard not to. We're not all brain surgeons. We're making comic books and we're having fun. Especially with a character like Dick Grayson. He's the guy who laughs in the face of danger. It's hard not to put the fun into that.
It's funny, you said the Batman books in the past, they've been so grim, but not if you go far enough back. There's 75 years of history. You can put Batman in a spacesuit and somehow he still kind of looks cool. It doesn't matter what the situation is. And all these characters kind of hold up to it because they're such strong characters. If you can't poke fun at the characters or yourself, then you're gonna fail.
CA: Mark, did you just reveal that Space Batman is coming in 2015?
MD: You gotta kill that! Batman Eternal is all in space, all right? [laughs]
Honestly, it's an interesting time because it's the end of the year and we're all reflecting. This was a huge year for Batman, as his 75th anniversary, and a huge success for us with Batman Day back in July. That kind of started spinning into the launch of all the stuff in October, and it's been such a strong year for us.