We recently were able to sit down and chat with writer Landry Q. Walker after randomly “meeting” him on Reddit.
We spoke about his long career in the comic book industry; the idea of being, perhaps mistakenly, known as a “children’s” writer, his work with DC, Disney , Slave Labor Graphics and touched on topics such as madness, misconception, business, collaboration, Dick Grayson and She-Hulk.
CA: How long have you been in the Comics game?
LQW: My first mini-comic was released in January of 1993. The first work I actually got paid for was probably 1995.
CA: How did you “break in” and how long did that arduous process take you?
LQW: It depends on what you count as “breaking in”. My first work for DC wasn’t until 2008. But before that I spent years working on Disney Adventures Magazine and before that had a very successful series with SLG and before that some well reviewed mini-comics.
In a way, I’d say there is no such thing as breaking in…. especially these days. You have an idea, you do it. I published my own comics in the early 90’s and that qualified me as a professional. Because people with money saw my work, I became a paid professional. Some day, they’ll stop paying me for work – and then what will I be? The arduous process never ends.
CA: Most of your work is done under the auspice of being “kids” comic books, has that stigma been something that has dogged you in a negative way through your career? Do you feel relegated, as though you sometimes aren’t taken seriously in the industry because of some of the genres you write in? Does your past body of work make it difficult for you to write more, generally, “adult” books?
LQW: My earliest work was extremely adult, and I met a fair bit of skepticism that I could write kids stuff. Then I started writing Little Gloomy and people immediately associated me with kids stuff. You are whatever your last project is. So in a way, the answer is yes. I know for a fact that some major editors have expressed extreme skepticism over my ability to produce serious work. I’ve also received a lot of work because of my all-ages writing. No matter what you do, someone will doubt your ability to do something even slightly different.
Thing is, my goal has never been to do good all-ages comics or good adult comics, but instead to do good comics. The basics of storytelling are the same no matter what age group you attempt to reach. And often times the difference between all-ages and adult is much slimmer than most people believe.
CA: Do you even want to write “adult” comics or are you happy writing for the younger set?
LQW: I don’t think I’d ever be happy doing only one kind of story or aiming for one audience. The all-ages work I have produced has always had a true “all-ages” audience in mind. But then you look at my issue of the Joker’s Asylum series… very adult. Not what people seemed to expect of me.
CA: Ah! I actually have that book in my collection- and I must admit, embarrassingly, that I didn’t even recall that you had written it! But I love that story; I still think it is one of the best modern Mad Hatter stories out there. Very dark. You managed to capture an alarmingly authentic feeling of utter madness there; Jervis was just unnerving in that story. Apologies, but I have to gush a bit and just tell you, great work! Now why the hell has DC never hired you to write another “adult” Batman story?
LQW: Glad you liked it. It was an interesting story to write – partially because of the aforementioned expectation that a Mad Hatter story from me would be silly. With certain Batman villains, I like the idea of exploring a truer form of madness than what we often see. Actual insanity is rarely theatrical or glamorous or whatever – and that’s how “insane” Batman villains are often portrayed. All too often like slightly different themed versions of the Joker.
As for me doing more Batman…Unsurprisingly I’d love to do more. That particular ball is in DC’s court.
CA: Do you ever find yourself slipping, very subtle, subversive elements into your ‘age appropriate’ work?
LQW: Well, yes and no. The best writing will always have subtle and subversive elements – no matter what the age group. Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures is a good example. The entire series ends up being about Lena Thorul having been raised to hate and learning tolerance – but we try not to hit the reader over the head with it.
CA: What is something you may say to someone who have never read a “kids” comic before to get them interested, to convince them to pick one up and give it a try?
LQW: There really isn’t any one thing anyone can say, particularly if the person is prejudiced about the material in question. People tend to want things in their lives that reaffirm their opinions. If they don’t want to like something – then they won’t like it.
The funny thing is that most comics fans these days trace their fandom back decades, and will praise the work of Kirby and Ditko and Lee. But if any of those guys were producing the same comics now – except that it was all new – no one would give it a second look. It would be “kiddie”. Of course, there are a lot of really bad “kids” comics out there, and they give a bad name to the rest of the “all ages” endeavors. If what you picked up before WAS dumbed downed pablum for barely literate children than why would you ever try reading all-ages comics again?
CA: Is it difficult to find the balance between making something funny and engaging for children, yet not talking down to them?
LQW: Not really. Kids are smart and they want to be challenged, and humor knows no age limits. I mean, the darkest moments of our lives are often colored with humor. It’s just human nature. The biggest problem is adults, presuming something is “kiddie” without taking the time to consider the depth of what they might be reading.
CA: You’ve worked quite a bit with Slave Labor Graphics, most notable (probably) creating the character “Little Gloomy”. How has that experience been and what is the status of the “Little Gloomy World” now? I read that the property had been optioned for a film, did that get stuck in development hell or will we still see a Little Gloomy film someday?
LQW: Little Gloomy/The Super Scary Monster Show has been translated into an upcoming television series titled Scary Larry. There’s a trailer for it on Youtube and I expect the series will begin airing internationally sometime in the next year.
CA: You’ve worked quite a lot with Disney as well, working on some of their big-name properties, such as “The Incredibles”. Now, obvious differences aside, how dramatically does the creative process differ when working for a behemoth like Disney as opposed to smaller, independent label?
LQW: Well, I’ve really found it to be no different. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but every editor I have worked with at Disney (and there’s quite a few of them) has been interested in the quality of the project first and foremost. I’ve never had anything rejected or ever been asked for any serious re-writes. Basically, I’ve been left alone to do what I want, same as on my creator owned material.
CA: Speaking of The Incredibles, you worked on part of that series with Mark Waid, tell us all a brilliant anecdote about him, please.
LQW: I would love to tell about this time that Mark and I were drinking in at a bar in some small town and ended up in a brawl with a one-eyed prostitute or some such – But it would be a lie. We’ve emailed each other several times; he’s been incredibly helpful and supportive outside of our work together. I absolutely loved collaborating with him and was very sad when scheduling issues forced him to step away from the book. But the sad truth is I’ve only met him in person three times – and each of those times lasted only a couple minutes. I will say that he has a much more casual approach to his plotting that scares the hell out of me. Mark writes in a very challenging way… and I think that’s what makes him who he is.
CA: You’ve actually done a few series with DC; your run on Batman: The Brave and the Bold (at least what back issues I could find at my LCS) was fantastic, great fun. I found them to be just as tongue-in-cheek and smartly written as the cartoon series. It seems like an incredible amount of fun to be able to play fast and loose with the world and continuity. Are there strict rules that DC will not let you violate, or are you given free reign to go crazy?
LQW: The only thing I was told was to not use Robin – which just about killed me. Dick Grayson Robin has been one of my favorite comic characters since I was two years old and I am dying to write him.
CA: That’s a bit odd, why is it they didn’t want you to use Robin? Dick Grayson has actually had a surge of popularity these past few years; his profile in the DCU has increased quite a bit since he took over as Batman for Bruce.
LQW: I think it had to do with the fact that Robin hadn’t (at that time) appeared on the show. We had a few problems related to what the TV people planned. We weren’t in the loop, so for example we went ahead and did a Catman story – issue nine of the first Batman: The Brave and the Bold series. It was a version of Catman I had wanted to explore since I was twelve years old. We finished up the comic and then the character appeared (in a very different form) on the show. What can you do?
A funny one in that same vein was Mister Camera. That villain had appeared once only – all the way back in the early 50’s. I had wanted to bring him back for over twenty years. I finally got the chance, the chance to use a character unseen in over fifty years, and two days before the book came out Mister Camera showed up on the show. Total freak-show coincidence.
CA: I also managed to find “Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade” – again, a lot of fun and the art style was very engaging, almost a John K. Stuff /Spumco feel to it. How much do you collaborate with artists on your work?
LQW: Well, most of the work I have done since I started in comics has been with artist Eric Jones. He drew the mini-comics I wrote in the early 90’s, he co-created little Gloomy with me, we worked on Disney Adventures together, he was the artist and co-creator of the aforementioned Supergirl series and the artist of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He’s also the artist and co-creator on our upcoming Image series: Danger Club. So, in his case I collaborate heavily. We work out concepts and plots and character designs together, I write full scripts and he makes changes where he sees it necessary and I take care of most of the production end – scanning art work and communicating with editors.
Other artists I’ve worked with have either been very involved or very distant. Queenie Chan and I on the upcoming Odd Thomas manga, as way of an example, never had any direct communication. That made me a little sad as I like to be able to work closely together on solving any script problems. I’m a firm believer in the strength of collaboration. Not that the lack of communication ended up affecting the work. Queenie is very skilled and I’m really happy with the end result of our work together.
CA: What is the status on Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade? Is it coming back or is the six issue mini all we will ever see?
LQW: That’s up to DC. Eric and I would love to produce a new series. It’s plotted out all the way through 12th grade. After High School ends, the skies go red and the anti-matter wave begins to… well, I’ve said too much. Anyway, Eric produced sample art for the 9th Grade series that’s up on my blog. There’s also a Facebook page; a fan created petitioning DC to move forward with a sequel. So what I tell people is, don’t stop asking DC. Ask online, send in letters ask on panels at conventions. If fans go quiet it will never happen.
CA: I read that you were working with Dean Koontz on an “Odd Thomas” Graphic Novel, how did you find that experience?
LQW: It was great. I finished over a year ago and really wish I could keep working on it. Dean and I come from very different places ideologically. My job was to write in his voice and, according to my editor, I seem to have succeeded. I feel like those kind of creative challenges make you stronger.
CA: Where does the Odd Thomas project currently sit today? What will we see next?
LQW: I heard the book comes out in March. There’s also an Odd Thomas film in the works and I hope that brings extra attention to the comic we did.
CA: All the reviews I’ve ever read of your work have been extremely positive, albeit, a bit hard to come by. Is it difficult to get mainstream outlets to regularly review your work?
LQW: I think it’s difficult to get any significant attention on any project that isn’t part of the mainstream continuity of DC or Marvel. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “This Supergirl book is great, too bad it’s not the real Supergirl”. It’s sad, because not only does it make it much harder to get good work out there, but some of the fans seem absolutely determined to limit their reading experience.
CA: Out of everything you’ve worked on in the comics industry, what is your personal favorite project?
LQW: I tend not to look backwards that much. I really don’t like much of my work after the fact. All I see are flaws. Supergirl is something I am immensely proud of, and I think one of the bodies of work I am happiest with might by my Incredibles series – but that would have to include the last four issue arc I wrote that was never published. That’s the chapter that pulls everything together – all the way back into the movie itself. It was an absolutely brutal end for many characters and a good example of how “all ages” does not mean “soft”. I wish people had had a chance to read it.
CA: When did you start reading comic books, were you/are you a collector or just a casual reader?
LQW: I started reading comics by the age of four. I became interested through re-runs of the Adam West Batman. I moved into Harvey Comics (Casper/Hot Stuff/Richie Rich) and back issues of the Charlton Blue Beetle/Question (my grandmother found a huge collection of at a thrift store) stuff when I was around even or eight years old.
CA: Who is your personal favorite Superhero and if possible, tell us what your favorite comic story is.
LQW: The original Robin. The Question and the Ted Kord Blue Beetle as seen in the 60’s, when published by Charlton. As for favorite comic story? I don’t know… my opinion on that might change on a day to day basis. I tend to follow certain writers more than I follow specific characters. Peter David, Kurt Busiek, Kieth Giffen… You put any one of them on any character and you can expect something good.
CA: If you had carte blanche and could pick any character, from any publisher to write an arc for what would be your choice?
LQW: Right now I am dying to work on either Ms. Marvel or She-Hulk. She-Hulk is (to me) one of the best and most interesting Marvel characters and I’ve had a story with her in mind for years now. Maybe someday I’ll figure out who at Marvel to talk to about pitching stuff and it will happen.
CA: To delve into personal anecdote for a moment, I must say, I never was much into She-Hulk, but just recently I was going through some comics I have in storage and I ran across a few issues from the early 90’s series The Sensational She-Hulk. I read through a few again (which I had completely forgotten) and I was shocked to find that She-Hulk was basically the original Deadpool (in his current incarnation). Self-aware, meta-jokes and fourth wall shattering dialog was rampant in the series. Is that the She-Hulk you’re interested in or are you more interested in the standard, “serious” version of the character?
LQW: Probably less of the meta aspect of the character (I think others have tackled that better than I could), but keeping her “fun” aspect. She-Hulk LOVES being She-Hulk. That’s a very important part of who and what she is.
CA: And now for the big one: What advice do you have for young ‘uns trying to get started in the Comics Industry? What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your career about surviving in the Industry?
LQW: Make comics. Create your own characters and write stories and if you can’t draw, get them drawn. Don’t wait for someone to hire you, just make comics. In this industry, you swim or you die. That’s it. Keep working and do not stop.
We want to extend our sincere thanks to Landry for finding the time to speak with us.