Published in the Summer 2005 issue • Features
An interview with Devin Grayson
A Shameless web exclusive
Can you talk about your very early days with DC? How did you find the culture? How did you find the work?
The beginning was thrilling. For the first year and half or so I worked from home in California — I’d never seen the offices or met any of the people I was sending scripts to. I spoke to them on the phone sometimes and exchanged a good many e-mails, but mostly I was just sitting across the country from them trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. And the guys I first started working with — Scott Peterson, Denny O’Neil, Darren Vincenzo, and Jordan Gorfinkel — they were amazingly supportive and trusting and absolutely able to talk me through the problems I encountered early on, which mostly had to do with script formatting and learning how to effectively communicate with artists.
Scott was the one who had been tutoring me on the industry long-distance; recommending books worth reading and classes worth taking and people worth trying to get to know, and also the person most directly responsible for introducing me to the work culture. One of the things I learned from him right away was how important it is to respect the people with whom you’re working. He is so funny and so deliciously irreverent in his day-to-day dealings, and yet when he talked about Denny or DC Publisher Paul Levitz or an artist he was introducing me to, like Brian Stelfreeze for example, he was able to communicate reverence more authentically and clearly than anyone else I’ve ever met. That has had a tremendous influence on my career. Going in to it, you barely understand what you’re supposed to be doing, let alone what the other people around you are responsible for and how difficult their jobs may be. To have someone pointing that out to you early on is terrifically valuable.
Darren gave me my first two assignments and walked me through my first finished script over the phone with tremendous patience and kindness. These guys all had a great sense of humor and were always so much fun to talk to and learn from. The first thing I remember Darren explaining to me was the idea of static action. I had a tendency in my early scripts, which he thoughtfully assured me was a common mistake, to overload the action for a single panel, writing something like, “Batman pulls out his grapnel hook and shoots it at the roof.” In a movie that’s no problem, but in a comic there’s no way an artist can draw Batman both pulling out a grapnel hook and also aiming and shooting it simultaneously, those are three separate actions (four if you want to show the grapnel connecting). It took a while for me to learn to break panels up properly and Darren really helped me on my pacing and the mechanics of communicating effectively with the artist, always in a tremendously encouraging, patient way. He was very good at figuring out what it was that I was trying to achieve and helping me translate that into proper comic script format.
Denny, who gave me my first series (Catwoman), was the first person to really talk me through judicious use of text — I had a tendency to be pretty wordy early on (partly, maybe, because I was trying to prove how “literate” I was) and needed to learn to trust the artist to communicate his or her part of the story. Denny’s one of the best writers the medium has ever had, and also a stunningly warm, generous, and interesting person. He’s really interested in how writing works and how we develop and communicate ideas, and is very much a Zen master of editing. I remember going to him several times with story problems and he’d listen and then come back at me with one incredibly simple, pure question and I’d suddenly know exactly what I needed to do. The one that really stuck with me — this was for a Catwoman script in which Batman was guest appearing — was, “well, whose story is it?” I had been stuck for a week and the second he uttered that question and I let it into my brain, the last seven pages, or whatever it was, of the book just came to me in full right there. It was Selina’s (Catwoman’s) story, and suddenly I knew what to do.
Jordan, or Gorf as he is affectionately called, helped me launch my first creator-developed series, Relative Heroes (or The Weinbergs, as we called it), and that was an amazing journey unlike anything I’d done up to that point. Gorf really encouraged me to think my ideas all the way through and trust but also clarify my instincts. He’s a genius when it comes to high-concept ideas and taught me not only how to work an idea all the way through, but also how to not lose interest in it during that process. There can be a point sometimes when you’ve kind of thought through and plotted out a story to a degree that you don’t even care about writing it anymore, you’re sort of done with it even though there’s no product. Gorf got me to that point with The Weinbergs and then showed me how to move through it... it was the first time I went into writing a script totally knowing where the story was supposed to go page by page but also totally open to the developing “voice” of the project and the internal energy it was starting to generating as it came into actual (fictional) being.
Another lesson I learned early on was script specificity. In my very first script, a 10-page Dick and Donna story that ran in The Batman Chronicles, I was amazingly blessed to have the artist Rodolfo Damaggio. I cannot say enough about his work, it is absolutely thrilling and beautiful and crystal clear and I was so overwhelmed by and appreciative of it. But the story called for Dick to be “bike jacked” by a couple of street cons, who in my head I imagined as Caucasian stoners. I did not specify that in the script though, and when the final version came out, I realized that almost every character in the story was white, except for the bad guys, who were black. And I was mortified. But it was entirely my fault, because I had not clearly stated otherwise. Since then, I’ve been very careful about specificity.
I moved to New York about a year and half after I started really writing for that first Bat-office, and finally getting to meet and truly befriend those guys remains the high point of my career.