Jonathan Barron wrote (with Joe Kelly) issue 374 of DD. Here he talks about his issue and his subsequent efforts to get more comic work.
Kuljit Mithra: What initially got you interested in comics and what titles got you hooked at the beginning?
Jonathan Barron: I've been reading comics for over twenty years. I'm pretty sure I got my first comic book when I was around four years old; Detective Comics 476, "Sign of the Joker," which was eventually turned into an episode of Batman: The Animated Series (the one with the Joker fish). I still have that comic book. Marshall Rogers' artwork was terrific. I've gotten The Incredible Hulk every single month since I started reading comics, but, God, has it been lousy since Peter David left. I hope Paul Jenkins can save the book. His Inhumans series was brilliant. I read Uncanny X-Men for about ten years, from the early '80s when Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith were the artists until the early '90s when the storylines got tired and repetitive. I was a huge Spider-Man fan during Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr's run back in the '80s. "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man," issue 248, where he reveals his identity to the boy with leukemia, still chokes me up. I think it's one of the greatest Spider-Man stories.
Mithra: What was it about Daredevil that made you a fan, and who do you consider to be the best creators to work on the title?
Barron: I started reading Daredevil right before Elektra died. I can still recall being totally stunned when she was killed in 181. But without a doubt, "Born Again" is unbeatably the best Daredevil story ever told. Besides Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, "Born Again" is my all-time favourite comic book story. It's also a wonderful example of comics as literature. Just look at Miller's characterization of Matt Murdock -- the changes he goes through over the course of the story, how the nature of his relationships with Karen Page and Foggy Nelson are turned on their side. Phenomenal. "Born Again" is the quality of writing I aspire to. And, hey, whatever happened to David Mazzucchelli? He was terrific.
Mithra: What kind of educational background do you have?
Barron: I have enough degrees to choke a Tauntaun. Essentially, I spent the '90s going to college (or university, as you Canadians call it; we Americans don't distinguish between the terms). All my degrees come from New York University (once I find a place I like, I tend to stay there). I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film & Television and my Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing from Tisch School of the Arts, which are excellent programs at NYU. I had so much fun there while also greatly improving my writing ability. Actually, it was in grad school that I met Joe Kelly. Then, after a few years of struggling to make it as a screenwriter and comic book writer, I went back to school yet again and am now on the verge of earning my Master of Arts in English Education.
Mithra: Any particular writers that influenced you?
Barron: Loads of 'em! Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, James Robinson, Alan Moore, Jeph Loeb.
Mithra: When did you decide to have a try at writing comics?
Barron: I've wanted to write comics since I was a kid. Actually, ever since I saw Star Wars when I was five, I've been inspired to tell stories in some form or other.
Mithra: How did the Daredevil issue come about for you?
Barron: As I said, I became friends with Joe Kelly (or Esquival, as he likes to be called for some reason unknown to me) while we were in grad school. He was writing Deadpool and, I think, X-Men, at the same time he was on Daredevil and his schedule just got too packed, so he hunted me down at the local supermarket where I was panhandling, trying to scrape together enough to make my next student loan payment... I'm kidding. Joe called me up and asked if I'd be interested in helping out on an issue of Daredevil. I said yes, of course.
Mithra: Joe Kelly is credited along with yourself for issue 374. Did you work from his plot, or did you do half the issue? Etc.
Barron: Joe had an outline of what would happen in 374; he knew he wanted the story to get from point A to B and that a few key events would occur throughout, like Rosalind would encourage Karen to buy a gun, planting seeds for the next issue. I wrote the plot hitting those key points while putting in my own ideas, Joe looked it over and made any changes he felt were necessary; for instance, Joe would tell me, "Look, you can't have Karen say, 'And that's why blind men make better lovers, Foggy!'" Then, I'd say, "But that's the soul of the Matt Murdock character! Don't you get that?!" (Okay, maybe we didn't have an exchange exactly like that.) We did the same thing when it came time to script the issue.
Mithra: Did you have to write in the 'Marvel Method', where you plot, the artists pencil, then you script it? If you did, was this method limiting for you? Would you rather do a full script method?
Barron: We did work in the Marvel way, plotting and scripting as two separate stages, which I think is a fine way to write a comic. I think full scripting is great, too; and, actually, when I first heard about the Marvel way, I thought it sounded like an awkward style, but it quickly grew on me. One thing I'll say about plotting, you can never put in too many details for the artist. In my plot, I never addressed wardrobe, but I assumed all the characters would be dressed for winter weather. Well, I found out later that the artist, Ariel Olivetti, who does terrific work, lives in South America or some place where it's warm all the time, so even though 374 took place in February, Ariel had Matt and Karen walking around Manhattan like it was spring. That's no fault of Ariel's, of course; it just shows you how much detail you have to put in your plots so that all your bases are covered.
Mithra: I think even Kelly would admit that the '3' storyline was rushed and not up to par with some of the other issues he did. Were there other plans for the '3' to show up later, because the story pretty much is condensed in 375.
Barron: I'm not sure if Joe had future plans with the 3 storyline. Perhaps he simply left it open for another writer down the line to pick it up and run with it, but I can't say for sure. I do think the 3 idea was probably unnecessary since he had a fine storyline going with Mr. Fear messing with the lives of Daredevil and his friends. And there is definitely an odd gap between the end of 374 and the beginning of 375. Originally, I believe Joe wanted to take two additional issues, 376 and 377, to wrap up his run on the book properly, but the powers that be wanted 375 to be his final issue, which is traditionally a milestone issue, so it's neat and tidy to end there. Now, Joe's a talented writer (as his success clearly demonstrates), but I think that was asking too much of him, and that's why there's that awkward gap where we learn in 375 through exposition that between issues Karen obtained a gun, shot and killed the psycho Charlie, and is now standing trial for murder. I noticed on your impressive website that the reviews of 374 liked that Ian seemed to be a genuinely nice guy who really was developing a crush on Karen. I'm glad because I particularly like the scene where he tells her a joke and she says she hasn't laughed in a long time (echoing the beginning of the issue where Matt attempts a joke and Karen tells him he's not funny). It seemed more honest and true to life to have Karen simply be drawn to Ian and have to resist that -- because that's how real relationships are -- without clouding the scene with Melrose Place clichés that might hint towards sinister motivations on Ian's part.
Mithra: You had mentioned to me before the interview that you were supposed to do more issues of Daredevil as well as other projects. As it stands now, DD 374 is your only writing credit, so what happened to those plans? Did the switch of editors have anything to do with it, from Jaye Gardner to Tim Tuohy?
Barron: I don't believe it had anything to do with the switch in editors. If Joe had been allowed to extend his run two more issues, I probably would have assisted him on those. (Now, here's where I might start to sound bitter, but I'll try to reign it in.) They were also looking for someone to take over Daredevil after Joe left and I was looking like a likely candidate until Scott Lobdell agreed to write his four-issue arc (and Scott Lobdell is a much more well-known name than Jonathan Barron). I was then told that I could write a couple fill-ins after Lobdell, but that's when Daredevil was licensed to Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, who, along with Kevin Smith, have done a superb job (although I can't believe they killed Karen Page -- you bastards!). I was also offered the chance to write a back-up story for Strange Tales, which was the Werewolf By Night and Man-Thing revamps combined into one book, but it was canceled after the second issue (I think my story was to appear in the third issue). Other projects that never went anywhere was a new take on Alison Blaire, aka Dazzler. Go ahead and laugh; almost all the editors to whom I pitched the idea did. But I loved the character when she was with the X-Men and in her own series, and I feel I could have done for her what James Robinson did for Starman. Anyway, I never heard anything back on my proposal, except for some informal feedback from Jimmy Palmiotti, who's an extremely generous and kind fellow. Anyway, I heard a rumour that Claremont might do a Dazzler relaunch of his own. Well, that's how it goes. She-Hulk is another character I'd love to get my hands on (you know what I mean). Over at DC, one of my favorite characters is Firestorm. Geoff Johns in the recent Day of Judgment limited series started something interesting with Ron Raymond (Firestorm's alter-ego) as a character, with him receiving a crash course in science from the Atom. And Ron's alcoholism is something I'd love to explore. Too often I think addiction is used simply as an attempt to give a character some depth and angst, but it always comes off as melodramatic and lazy. But I think Firestorm's alcoholism could be made to work since he's certainly got enough reasons to hit the bottle. Firestorm's smarter half, Martin Stein, was supposed to be the fire elemental (and is currently off roaming the galaxy as a super-Firestorm); Ron Raymond is just some kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, he's got these powers he doesn't really understand and no Stein to help complete the Firestorm persona, but he's slowly learning how to become a healthy, balanced soul while not self-destructing. There's incredible potential with a character like that. (I'm all tingly just thinking about it.)
Mithra: Do you remember what your other issues of DD were going to be about?
Barron: Daredevil vs. Galactus! 'Nuff said! Just kidding. If I had written a couple issues after Lobdell, I would've concentrated on Matt and Karen's relationship. I would've gotten them out of Manhattan for an issue and taken them on vacation where, of course, they get into some sort of trouble. And my good friend and fellow writer, Dave Back, who also went to NYU with Joe and me, had a terrific idea that we were going to write together had we been given the chance where Daredevil has an all-out action-packed encounter with SHIELD and the Constrictor. It would've read like a John Woo movie. Very slick. It's a shame we'll probably never get to write it.
Mithra: Did you try to get work at other companies? How did that go?
Barron: I sent a few ideas out to DC and Vertigo. Heard back from a Vertigo editor, but nothing happened with that, which is how it goes most of the time. One day I'll finally get around to writing some proposals for my own projects and send them to Dark Horse or someplace like that.
Mithra: At what point did you decide to give up your efforts?
Barron: I haven't given up; I've simply reordered my priorities, like getting a job that paid an actual salary. Writing is a passion of mine that I can't stop doing -- it's in my blood -- but for now I've had to put it on the back-burner.
Mithra: What do you think is wrong with the industry?
Barron: You mean besides the fact that the cover price on comics is obscene and that there's now only one comic shop in my town because all the others have gone belly-up? I've never worked for any publisher other than Marvel (and even that was for the blink of an eye), but I think the problem over at Marvel is that they've lost so much of their market share that they're afraid to take the necessary risks that would attract new readers. When I was a kid, about three-quarters of the comics I read every month were Marvel books. Now, it's probably less than a quarter, if that (and that's mostly Marvel Knights books). They're also poorly managed, but that's pretty obvious.
Mithra: Do you think you would have had an easier time getting work if you tried in the early 90's?
Barron: The problem is that there aren't any chances for new writers to get their feet wet. The days of Marvel Comics Presents, where an editor could take a chance on a new writer and see how he or she handled an eight-page story, are gone. Also, since they cut down the length of annuals, there are no more back-up stories for new writers to try their hand at. And my friend, the aforementioned Dave Back, believes that editors are doing a poor job developing new talent. James Felder was the Marvel editor who discovered Joe Kelly. Unfortunately, James left Marvel, but the remaining editors do almost nothing to find fresh talent. It's criminal, and it's killing them, but they don't seem to be able to see the forest for the trees.
Mithra: What advice do you have for people currently trying to get work in the industry?
Barron: A professor of mine while I was in grad school (the first time) told me one should try to be a presence, not a nuisance. With that in mind, I recommend bothering the hell out of editors. Submit your ideas to them at conventions or through the mail, then call them up. We're always told to never call an editor; you should write them nice little letters reminding them you're still out there somewhere, waiting for their Heaven-sent phone call. That's complete bullshit. Call the freakin' editor! You're starting at rock bottom, so what've you got to lose anyway, right? I seriously doubt you will ever hear, "Well, I was going to offer you a shot at writing an issue of the Avengers, but then you called me, so forget it! You blew it!" Chances are you're going to end up leaving a message on the editor's voice-mail anyway since none of them ever answer their phone. (I wonder what editors did before voice-mail.) And definitely be prepared to have your ego bruised. Nowadays, even veterans are having huge trouble finding work. Also, submit proposals to Dark Horse and other independent publishers. I certainly wish the best of luck to anyone willing to give it a go at a career in the arts (whether that be writing, directing, acting, sculpting, whatever).
Mithra: Now that you're out of the industry, what are you currently doing for a living?
Barron: I wouldn't say I'm out of the industry as much as I'm simply not making a living as a writer right now. Instead, I'm finishing up my Masters in English Education and I'm student-teaching high school English. I also spent a brief spell writing movie reviews for Kozmo.com. (Sure, why not give them a plug. They're good guys over there.)
Mithra: And the last question: Do you have any plans to try to write for comics again?
Barron: I would absolutely love to have a career as a comic book writer (or screenwriter, for that matter), so I do plan to beef up my ego and one day re-enter the fray. The thing is, I'm not a unique case. I'm one of thousands, maybe even millions of people who dream of being this or that, but eventually fall back on something more practical, which is a fine and noble thing to do. I'm a good writer who will also be a good teacher. And I'm sure there are many writers and artists who went away after one or two issues of some obscure comic book, so I'm quite lucky to have had the chance to write one of my all-time favorite characters. (I shudder when I think what my reaction would've been if I was offered a fill-in for A-Next.) But here's an example of what I'm talking about: Anyone know what became of Michael Fleisher and Vince Gerrano, who created Haywire, this gleefully violent late '80s DC series that lasted thirteen issues? Anyone even remember Haywire? It was about a guy with multiple personality disorder, one of whom was an armored man-mountain that trounced roomfuls of bad guys. Interestingly enough, Kyle Baker was the inker for some issues, and he's the only one, as far as I know, who is still working in comics today. That's how it goes.
(c) Kuljit Mithra 2000
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
Black and White
Roberto De La Torre
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Fall From Grace
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Devin K. Grayson
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