I enjoy getting letters to this column that ask interesting questions, especially when they’re about things I’ve been mulling over myself. For example:

From: sayeedul islam <thetendril@lycos.com>

Dear Mr. Wolfman,

I've enjoyed your work over the years. I liked your run on Fantastic Four they were the first issues I read out of my brother's collection. I also enjoyed the issues I've been able to find of the Man Called A•X. I'm a semi-regular reader of your column (meaning that sometimes work gets in the way of the important stuff) and I had a question about your most recent column.

How do you feel the internet has affected the relationship between artist and audience in comics? In your column on the Teen Titans plot you posted you noted that a writer needs to give his audience what he feels they need rather than what they want. I think that part of the reason for the more explosive storytelling you spoke about in your column is due to the increased fan-creator interaction over the internet. Creators are now more apt to get into flame wars with fans over points of continuity, character development etc. I don't know whether this happens as much but it's a possibility. I also find that it has affected the relationship between the heads of different companies. Do you feel this has hindered the production of comics? Do you feel that it's better to have this sort of instant access to creators? Or is it useful for fans to be vocal about an idea even before it's come out (ie the Captain America: The truth mini-series)?

I’ve mentioned this before, but I was pretty much the first comics professional to be on the net, way back when Compuserve was just beginning and was the only computer service available, and access was done with a 1200 (yes, twelve HUNDRED) baud modem and therefore graphics were a no-no. These were the days of computers when everything was done with a single or, if you were lucky, double disk drive and nobody ever heard of a hard drive.

There were no comic sigs (Special Interest Groups) on Compuserve back then. There was an entertainment sig and there was one part of the sig where a very few fans discussed comics. I signed on and was deluged with questions. One of the sysops (System Operators) started a literary sig with a comics section and asked me to come over there. After that, another sysop opened the first all-comics sig. I say this because even as these things began, within eye blinks there were flame wars, fighting, etc. until I left and never returned. Most professionals who followed me pretty much did the same. They’d haunt the sites – it is always fun at first even when you were paying by the very expensive hour instead of a flat fee as it is today – but then, after awhile, they’d invariably flee for their lives.

Why? Because as I mentioned a week or so back, fans like to argue. I’m the same when I go into fan mode, which is too often. Let’s face it, most professionals are fans, too, and the good ones tend to be good because they, like non-professional fans, are passionate about their beliefs. You have to believe in yourself if you ever expect to have anything to say to others.

But, there are fans, and some of them – there’s always a few in the crowd of generally good folk – who want to tell you… no, they want to SHOUT at you, that they’re right and (fill in the blank) is not only wrong about their subjective beliefs but an idiot for having a belief that is counter to their own. You’ve all seen this so you know I’m right. At some point the good people who outnumber the flamers tend to stop arguing because, well, they’ve got a brain and they realize stupid fighting gets you nowhere. So sigs or usenet groups or web rings or what have you tend to degenerate into shouting matches unless the moderator shuts people out.

What does this have to do with your question? Well, I think the internet is a great place to find others who enjoy pretty much the same kind of things you do. It unites people over a long distance. It’s great for that. But it’s bad when you, as a professional, cater to it. I enjoy writing this column because, frankly, I control what goes on. You will notice there is no name-calling. No publisher bashing. No “I hate yous.” I don’t write about behind the scene horror stories or how so and so has been screwed over. Even though I know there are other professionals out there who like to vent over any real or imagined slight that’s affected them for a microsecond, that’s not what I’m about. These people often get a large website following because, let’s face it, it can be fun to hear someone bashing another guy. I was told that I’d probably generate more work for myself if I bad-mouthed the companies to the point that they’d try to ‘buy’ my silence by giving me work. Well, even if that’s true, it’s not worth it. We are a rumor loving society but it’s like watching a train wreck. So let them bash and rumor monger. It’s not going to happen here.

But, getting back to your letter, I think it’s easy to get sucked into saying bad things about others, especially when A: you believe you’re better than anyone else, and B: you really do hate the other guy. So, of late, some top professionals on the corporate side have been getting into shouting matches with each other, which is just so wrong. Yes, it makes for a nice wrestling match, because everyone likes to cheer as the big shots go after each other, but, you know, in the long run the people who are watching this travesty come out of it believing the fighters are all nuts. In the end, they have no respect for them. Even while you’re snickering you start to believe you’re watching little kids fighting, and eventually, if you’ve got half a brain, you get tired of that and walk away. With apologies to Stan Lee, with no respect comes dwindling interest.

I don’t think you get anywhere tearing the other guy down. I don’t think you can convince people you’re good by saying the other person is bad. A good Barnum-like salesguy might get you to sample their wares, but if all you get is a freak-show, it’s ultimately going to wear thin.

You need to shout to make yourself known today; there’s just so much damned input that you need something to be seen. But before the shouting begins, just make sure the work is there. Then shout about how good you are, not how bad they are.

Lastly, you ask about fans complaining about series before they come out. I know I’ve said this a million times. Before The New Teen Titans came out, we got lots of mail attacking us – based on the ad that appeared in all the DC Comics – for daring to change the Titans and taking out beloved characters like Bumblebee and Harlequin. These letters were dripping with hatred. Then the first issue came out and we got tons of mail telling us how great we were.

From the same letter writers.

‘Nuff said?

From: Bill Walko <bwalko@optonline.net>

How was it writing the Aqualad TEEN TITANS episode? How do the animated characters compare and contrast with the way you wrote the comic book? Did anything in the series bible surprise you? Was anything done to Titans characters that you either liked or disliked, from a personal writer's standpoint [knowing these characters for 16 years]?

The Teen Titans animated show, which I believe begins July, stars all the heroes and villains George Perez and I created way back when. Trigon, Deathstroke, Kommand’r, etc. But despite that, the series is not at all like the comic in any way. Where the comic was for High School to college age people and up, the Titans show is for very young kids. Because of this, I actually have no ‘creator’s’ opinion on the show at all. Although it is, it’s also not my and George’s Titans, and thus has its own life and purpose and approach. I’m of course hoping it will be lots of fun and successful and last for several years at least. I want everyone to support it and buy all the toys which I hope they’ll make as George and I will see a small percentage of every buck spent.

Starfire is still an alien who flies and fires starbolts. Cyborg is the swiss-army knife character he’s always been. Raven is still the daughter of Trigon, Changeling the joker and Robin the leader. But their attitudes and beliefs come from a different sensibility so when I was asked to write an episode, I approached the show as I would any animation assignment as opposed to writing my Titans. Because of this, even though the characters didn’t sound like my characters, I had no problem writing them. I used, as best as I could, their speech patterns and not the ones I set up. If the show had been closer to what I did but different it would have been harder to write it. Because it was so far away from the comic I wrote, it was actually easier to do.

I briefly met the people behind the show and they, I’m sure, were at first worried about what I, the creator, would have to say since they changed the series so much. I think they were relieved when I said this is their show and the comic is my comic and though they share some common ground it doesn’t mean that I’d come in and tell them they were doing everything wrong. They have a definite view point for the show they are creating and, as I say, I’m hoping when it’s all put together, that it works on their level. If it succeeds, we all succeed. If it fails, well, it won’t affect the hundreds of issues of the Titans I wrote. They’ll still be out there exactly as I did them.

Would I have wanted to see a series that 100% reflected what I did? Sure. If I was the story editor and head writer and had control over the show, which would never happen. I think my Titans can be done, but it would have to be done for a very different audience than the one they are aiming for or, frankly, that they’d be allowed to do. The series as I’d envision it would probably be a prime-time show written for an older teen and adult audience. It would owe more to anime than to Batman Adventures.

So, like everyone else, I’ll watch and hope for the best. As I said, the guys there have a viewpoint, which immediately puts them ahead of 80% of the other people doing animation out there in cookie cutter style. Because the show is so singular in concept and execution, if it works it’s going to be big. If it fails, you’ll be able to hear the explosion on Tamaran. I’m hoping for the former.

That’s it for this week. Keep your cards and letters coming.

See you in seven.

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