Toyzilla Interviews Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer
The hottest double act in comics is the team of Sarah Dyer and Evan Dorkin, whose "House of Fun" empire includes comics like the Action Girl anthology book and the infamous Milk and Cheese, but ranges far and wide to include jazzing up TV shows like Space Ghost: Coast To Coast, Batman Beyond ("Splicers") and Superman: The Animated Series (Supergirl's origin episode). A complete list of their print and broadcast work appears at their House of Fun website.
They've been interviewed on-line and in the press, but we at Toyzilla thought we'd throw them a few questions as only we can. (And by "we," I mean, as usual, me.)
Toyzilla: Now that you guys have a foot in Hollywood, why stay with low-paying, low circulation comics? Are you gluttons for punishment, or are comics a great way to get more "personal" stuff out to an audience?
Sarah: All of the above!! Truthfully, the main reason to continue to do comics is because in TV (and of course film) there's really no such thing as a pure personal vision, there's always tons of people involved. You might get a lot across, but it's going to be diluted. Also, there's some things that just would never get made for a larger audience, but in comics you can afford to take risks and do things that only a few thousand people might want to read.
Evan: I keep doing comics because they're in my blood, for one thing. Unlike Sarah, comics are something I wanted to be part of from an early age. The comics medium is pretty much my medium of choice, for a variety of reasons, the main one being the autonomy I have when I do my own books and strips. It's just me and a piece of paper, and anything I want to put down on that sheet of bristol board is what gets to the reader, without obstacles, budget restraints, focus groups, committees, etc. Most people in film or TV are stuck if they have a story or idea that they can't get produced, nobody likes it or they can't find millions of dollars or whatever -- I don't have that problem, I write and draw my ideas and make comics and they're out there in front of an audience. Basically, TV gives us a nice paycheck, a larger audience and usually something fun to do, but I'm happiest when I'm doing what I want to do, and the work completely reflects my personality and thoughts. And comics allows me to do whatever I want to do. What more can you ask for? (except a health plan and an audience)
Toyzilla: How did you wind up writing for Warner Bros Animation?
Evan: This is dull, so I'll try to keep it short. A quick backtrack first -- Someone gave Mike Lazzo at the Cartoon Network a copy of "Fun with Milk and Cheese" in, I guess, 1993. Mike created the Space Ghost Coast to Coast show, was looking for writers, and contacted me, based on the Fun book. I was hired to do a try-out script, which Sarah ended up co-writing with me, and we ended up doing steady scripting work for the show (that lasted the entire series run). Meanwhile, I'd met Paul Dini at an early-90's San Diego con, where he bought a page of Milk and Cheese art from me. Over time we got to know Paul more socially, and basically, when Superman started up he took us to dinner and asked us if we were interested in doing a script for the series. His take on hiring us was that we both knew and liked the superhero genre, but weren't so fanboy-blinded by it that we could (hopefully) do some interesting things with the characters. Our SGCTC work gave us some footing as "animation writers", and I guess they liked what we did on our first script because we did three more, including the two-part Supergirl origin, and we did a Batman Beyond later down the road. We were asked about doing more "Beyond", but unfortunately our schedule wouldn't allow it. Told you that was boring! Basically, comics got us into animation, not my degree in film/animation from NYU. Go figure, I coulda saved my parents 40 grand.
Toyzilla: Speaking of writing for animation, what's it like to "write" for SpaceGhost Coast to Coast? Do you supply plots and gags or do you also write the interview material? How far in advance do you know which guests will be available? Or do you? I was always curious, what with the lag time in animation between writing and finished product.
Sarah: The episodes are written long after the interviews are shot, actually. Occasionally, we might ask for a specific guest (for example, we asked specifically for Emeril and Martin Yan for "Cookout"; and for a lawyer for "Lawsuit") but usually you actually just pick someone off the list of available interviews and get a tape and transcript. A full script is then written, using whatever lines you want from the interview,and it's recorded by the voice actors and put together from that.
Evan: The show is done quite differently from something traditional like Superman or Batman, in that we have no director. The writers and the editors, with the producers overseeing, really rule the show. Which is why SGCTC was such a great experience, in that the writers were really respected, and given a lot of leeway and encouragement. We were allowed to do shows of varying lengths, just so the script could be produced "as is" -- we had 11 min standard shows, as well as an 18 min episode and several half hour shows. They just let it go, which is unheard of in TV. This really created an air of experimentation and I think it shows in the series on everyone's part. As far as the scripting goes, it got pretty tricky after a while because of the non-budget of the show, basically trying to come up with new material with the same shots and premise. We stuck to the talk show format perhaps more than the other writers as the series went on, and we also liked to build most of our shows around a throughline premise, fitting guests and dialogue into a loose storyline or format, like a Telethon, or the episode all about Zorak's life. The main thing was to try to be funny, throw in as many gags as possible, provide some honest-to-god bizarre or uncomfortable moments, embarrass or attack the guests (especially if they were obnoxious or we just didn't like them) and script it all as organically as possible with the cut up method so the celebrities and guests all appeared to be actually involved with the animated (barely animated) characters. It was harder than it looks on screen, believe me.
Toyzilla: How did you parlay writing a Supergirl TV script into a Supergirl comic? (Boy does that sound backwards!)
Sarah: Basically, we'd come up with so much stuff for her origin that wouldn't fit into a TV episode -- and we liked a lot of the material (some of it was actually cut from the episode). So we pitched it to DC as an accompanying book that would complement the episode and fill in missing info.
Evan: I don't have much to add there, it was Sarah's idea to pitch the one-shot, and we just spun off the existing material with new stuff to expand on Supergirl's origin and life in Smallville. We were kind of annoyed at the amount of material cut from the two-parter and thought her character development was unfortunately quashed, and the giant-size special allowed us to really round out the character and have some fun with some of Kirby's cast of lunatics. Plus I got to introduce an "animated" style General Zod and design him, which was fun for me. We're hoping to do some more material with the animated characters as time allows, right now we have a Livewire/Luthor/Darkseid two-parter we're hoping to finish for Joey Cavalieri ASAP.
Toyzilla: Why do many CD covers for ska bands? Is ska a particular passion?
Evan: If you've ever read my Pirate Corp$!/Hectic Planet comics then you know I'm a longtime ska fan, back to the 1980 2-tone revival days and up. I went to a ton of NYC ska shows during the "Dead" period when 2-Tone was gone, and the MtV revival of recent years was way off. I got to know a few bands and band members, and I had put a lot of ska and punk references into my work, from Bill and Ted's Excellent Comic for Marvel and my own series Pirate Corp$! (which had a full-on ska/punk background) and eventually was asked to do the art for an anthology album by the guys from BimSkalaBim. Eventually I did a few more, and when I met Sarah we both worked on them. We've done over a dozen I guess, the most recent being the "Mash it Up 2000" comp which'll be out this spring. The funny thing is, I rarely listen to any ska stuff these days, but I still consider myself a fan of the genre. That was boring too, sorry.
Toyzilla: You want boring tales of genre music, ask me about Spanish-language pop. Make sure you're in a comfortable chair, though! Anyway... Was Action Girl always conceived as anthology or were there/are there plans for a more straightforward book, with continuity and "story arcs"?
Sarah: It was planned as an anthology, but one of the reasons it happened was because Elizabeth (Watasin) and I wanted to do a more straight-forward book -- I also wanted to do an anthology and I decided to combine the two ideas.
Toyzilla: Action Girl is promoted as being "boy-friendly." Do you think there is too much of an anti-male trend in "girl" art these days, I mean, music, writing, film, etc.? I think there is an anti-male trend. I hate surfing past Lifetime and catching a scene in a movie where the male character is "good" because he's merely ignorant or weak, as opposed to outright abusive. Was the "boy-friendly" comment an attempt to address that trend?
Sarah: I don't know of specific examples, or if it's as bad as it was when I first started doing the book, but I do think it's a common thread in many "women's" movies/books/etc. I do think there is a need for stuff that is aimed at girls, where they know they will not encounter any material that is going to insult them -- but I also think that there needs to be material that is female oriented that is accessible to male readers and viewers. You shouldn't stereotype or bash men any more than you should do the same to women. I come from a family with lots of strong women, and I was raised to believe that I could do anything and that gender was irrelevant -- but I also come from a family with four brothers and three stepbrothers, and I know for a fact that any "all men are jerks" idea is a lot of bunk.
Toyzilla: What's this whole "World's Funnest" thing I keep hearing about?
Evan: Oh god, this could take forever, so let me just say that World's Funnest is a 62 page Elseworlds one-shot for DC comics, revolving around a feud between these two retarded little imps with god-like powers -- the much beloved/despised Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk. The book is broken down into 18 segments, each drawn by a different artist, and I wanted to go after an eclectic and monster heavyweight group of cartoonists, which is what I somehow ended up getting, don't ask me how. The roster right now consists of Brian Bolland (cover artist), Dave Gibbons, Mike Allred, Frank Miller, Alex Ross, Jaime Hernandez, David Mazzucchelli, Jim Woodring, Phil Jimenez, Glen Murikami, Stephen DeStefano, Frank Cho, Scott Shaw, Dick Sprang, Jay Stephens, Ty Templeton and Stuart Immonen. Part of the "high concept" will be evident when you see what exactly each artist is doing, because all of them were chosen very specifically based on the story segment. We still have one more artist to "cast", and there's a possibility Bruce Timm might be inking Glen Murikami's pages (not definite now), and there's always the possibility someone might drop out -- but most of these folks have already turned in pencils, and some have completed their segments. Everything looks fantastic right now, and as I keep saying, even if the script stinks, this book will be worth getting. That was a bit long, but perhaps not too boring considering the people involved. Who needs me, when you have creators like that around?
Toyzilla: I like the mix of styles and the inclusion of some people best-known for animation. With the story possibilities, it's obvious the art team is wide-ranging enough to match them! And speaking of comics, what's the future for "classic" Dorkin properties, like Pirate Corp$! and Milk & Cheese? Outside comics, as well?
Evan: I'm currently working on Dork #8, and have started selecting material to draw for Milk and Cheese #8, which might be done for this year, but then again might not, based on my schedule. After I finish the next M&C I plan to get back to Hectic Planet (PC$!), because I've missed the characters and M&C will be going back into hibernation, maybe for good, who knows. Eight issues is seven more than I ever thought I'd be doing back in 1991. As far as "outside comics" goes, I can't comment on that right now, but I might have a major announcement (major for me, at least) soon regarding something along those lines.
Toyzilla: You guys love spy stuff. What do you think of the 1966 Modesty Blaise movie?
Sarah: Um... well, it's pretty horrible, but I still enjoyed it -- although I don't think I need to see it again. The actress is terrible, if she'd been played by someone better it might actually be a decent movie. The scene at the end where she and Terence Stamp sing is so painful -- it's like a car wreck, you just can't stop looking. I'd rather sit through a Matt Helm marathon than see it again, I think. I like the comics and the novels, though.
Evan: It has one or two nice bits, but yeah, the actress is all wrong, all untalented, and I have no idea what they were thinking when they cast her. It just comes off like they didn't know whether they were making a parody or a satire or a farce or a straight spy flick. And when the singing starts, your brain cells start committing suicide like lemmings.
Toyzilla: Too true. Monica Vitti, the star, was a hot property for about two minutes in the mid-1960s, sort of a female, bargain basement John Richardson. If they had cast, say Daniela Bianchi (from From Russia With Love) things might have turned out better. Well, if they dropped the singing, anyway. Anything you guys want to plug? What's new from the House of Fun?
Evan: World's Funnest ships in November, supposedly. Dork #8, Milk and Cheese #8... who knows when I'll get those done? We just put out a color Devil Puppet T-shirt through SLG. Other than that, we did a Nutsy Monkey strip for an upcoming issue of Nickelodeon magazine. I did the second issue cover for Chynna Clugston-Major's "Blue Monday" series from Oni, she's a regular Action Girl contributor, and I'm slowly working on a pin-up for Sin City. We've been pretty quiet comics-wise, between moving recently and the animation stuff.
Toyzilla: Thanks for giving the interview. One last, super-relevant question: In a Japanese Monster cute-off, who would win, Booska or Pigmon? And why?
Sarah: No contest, Booska hands down. Pigmon is cool, but he's not what I'd call cute. Booska is the cutest. Someday I hope to replace our lost ramen-eating Booska...
Evan: Booska is lord, everyone knows that. (See, I can write a short answer!)
Toyzilla: Pfft! And up 'til now I thought you guys were cool. I'm outta here!
DON'T FORGET TO VISIT THE HOUSE OF FUN WEB SITE FOR ALL YOUR DORKIN AND DYER NEEDS!