|Edited by Brian Saner Lamken||Comicology, the highly-acclaimed magazine about modern comics, recently ended its four-issue run, but back issues are available, featuring never-seen art and interviews.|
The "revamp" Batman. Batman ™ & © DC Comics.
The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Timm!
Bruce Timm Interviewed by Brian Saner Lamken
From Comicology #1
Bruce Timm's a busy guy.
He dabbles in comics, his first love, whenever time and opportunity
allow. Mostly, however, Timm is known as one of the world's finest
animators, a man who helped build the modern DC Comics cartoon franchise.
When he, Paul Dini, & Alan Burnett introduced their Batman, fans
across the country embraced the series for the ways in which it distilled
a narrative and artistic purity from the complexities of the Dark
Knight mythos. Later came Superman, and later still Timm & company's
vision of a future Gotham City in Batman Beyond, which at this writing
occupies most of the crew's energies. Timm was, in fact, making
preparations for a trip to Japan to oversee the latter series'
first home-video feature when I finally caught him in his office long
enough to roll tape for this interview. Stefan Blitz, Comicology's
senior contributing editor,
Bruce Timm's a busy guy. For the next 34 pages, though, you get him all to yourself, and you're going to have a blast.
The Early Years
Lamken: What year were you born?
Lamken: So you were the perfect age when the live-action Batman series hit.
Timm: Yeah. My first exposure to superheroes was the Adam West show. Of course, I was 5 years old, so I didn't realize that it was a parody; I thought that it was straight, and I took it seriously. The weird thing is that my parents really liked it, but they were liking it on a completely different level than I [was]. I thought that it was real. I didn't understand that everything was high-blown and camp. I'll never forget this one episode — The cliffhanger was Robin being eaten by a clam. [Laughs] Normally, the cliffhangers wouldn't actually show Batman & Robin getting killed; that was part of the rules, that they would always be trapped, but in the next episode they'd get out. But in this one particular episode, you saw Robin getting eaten by a clam, and when his foot disappeared inside the clam, I thought, "Oh my God! They killed Robin!" The next day in school, we were all talking about it; that's how seriously we took it.
When we moved to California, one of the local channels here was running the old Marvel shorts, those really ultra-limited animation things. I really loved those when I was a kid; I watched them, like, every day. That was around the time that I was exposed to Marvel comic books. The first superhero comics that I actually saw were Superman & Batman comics that we had around the house, and I really liked 'em. Then my brother brought home a Spider-Man one day, a Ditko Spider-Man, and it just kinda freaked me out. There was something about it — it looked really dark and creepy; even Spider-Man looked creepy. And from that moment on, I was just a Marvel kid all the way. I could just tell, even at that early age, that there was something really different about what Marvel was doing than what DC did; it just had that weird edge to it. The DC stuff was fine, but it was really kinda bland [in comparison].
Lamken: You said that there had been Superman & Batman comics around the house. Was that also because of your older brother?
Timm: It's funny, considering how obsessed
I am with comics now, but we didn't have very many comics in
the house when I was a kid. It's not like we were poor or anything,
but we didn't have a whole lot of money, so comics were really
a luxury. If you're only getting 25¢ a week allowance, it's
like, "Do I buy a comic book and a candy bar, or do I save up
for two weeks and buy a Hot Wheels?" [Laughs] I very rarely spent
my allowance on comics. Usually, I would just get comics when I was
sick. If I had to stay home from school, my mom would say, "Do
you want some comic books?" and I'd say [groans] "Yes...
Get me some Marvel comics..." And of course she'd always
come home with, like, Charltons,
Lamken: Were you drawing and making your own comics at that point?
Timm: Oh, yeah. I mean, I'm not one of those guys who made my own comics like Erik Larsen, but I would draw [my favorite] characters over and over again.
Lamken: How did animation end up as a career path?
Timm: I kinda fell into it. I was [working] a 9-to-5 job at K-Mart, and just hated it. And _I'd always planned on doing comics, but from talking to people and reading all the fanzines I knew that comic-book artists didn't make a lot _of money. It was still what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I was aware enough of my own work to know that I wasn't really good enough to draw comics. There was a local animation house fairly close to where I lived, Filmation Studios, so just on a whim I applied there; [I] took their test, and failed the first year, but the next year I tried again and got my foot in the door, and that was my first animation job.
Lamken: If you were reading fanzines while working at K-Mart... Had you really snowballed as a comics fan by that point?
Timm: Yeah. When I was a kid, as I said, I didn't really have a lot of comics, but when I was 13, there was a kid on my street whose cousin had given him this big box full of comics — it was this huge box that he kept in his dresser drawer. And he didn't really have any use for them, this friend of mine, so he said, "If you want 'em, you can have 'em." It was a little bit of _everything, some DCs & Marvels & Charltons as well; it had early issues of Marvel Team-Up, and some of the reprint books, various issues of Batman and Thor, just kind-of all across the board. And it was like an epiphany: I got this big box of comics and I started poring over it.
So I started spending my lunch money. [Laughs] My allowance was up
to like a buck a week, but I'd get like a buck a day for lunch
money, so I starved all the way through junior & senior high school
spending my lunch money on comics.
Lamken: Was going to [Filmation] just an alternative to comics, or had you gotten into...?
Timm: It was just a way of drawing for a living. It was kinda cool and it was hell at the same time. Back in the '80s, working in the animation industry was just god-awful; the level of quality was [very] poor.
Lamken: What were you working on there?
Timm: The first show that I worked on was a third-rate Conan knockoff called Blackstar, a sword-&-sorcery thing that they did. It was a kick, because it was drawing for a living, and I did learn a lot of the rudiments of what goes into a cartoon from being there. The downside of it was that it was really disillusioning, because everything was such a factory back then. They actually didn't encourage you to do good drawings; they wanted you to do passable drawings — "Don't bother making it good. Just get it done." But I shared a room with Russ Heath, so it was fun. He was working on The Lone Ranger at the time. I'd pester him with questions about comics all day.
The World's Finest team. Superman & Batman ™ & © DC Comics.
Lamken: Did you start out doing in-betweens?
Timm: I actually did layout, which is a stage between storyboard and animation. We would take the storyboard panels and... Again, at Filmation, things were so limited that you didn't have to do a whole lot of drawing, because a lot of the stuff was so stock. You would get folders with Xeroxes of stock [poses] in them, and the most that you'd ever get to draw was maybe moving the arm from one place to another. Occasionally you'd get to draw a completely new scene, but they really frowned on that.
Lamken: How did you end up doing the He-Man comics?
Timm: That was a couple of years later. I went from Filmation to Don Bluth, and did assistant work there, in-betweening on The Secret of NIMH. And I think that from there I went back to Film-ation and worked on He-Man, the Masters of the Universe show, for about a year-&-a-half.
Then I went back to Don Bluth, and worked on the videogames, and I think from there I went to Marvel Productions, doing character designs and prop designs for GI Joe, again with Russ Heath, and then from there I went back to Filmation and worked on She-Ra. I actually got out of the animation business for a couple of years in there, because while I was at Marvel Productions, a friend of a friend of mine was doing those little He-Man comics for Mattel. That stuff paid really well; it paid better than the regular comic-book rates at the time. And I was doing enough of those that when I left the She-Ra show I basically just did freelance for Mattel for a couple of years working out of my house. I did about 15 of 'em.
Lamken: I didn't know that they made that many. I remember the Alfredo Alcala ones...
Timm: There was a ton of 'em. Like you said, Alcala did a bunch of 'em, and a guy who used to work for DC, I think his name's Todd Smith, he did a bunch. Then when Lee Nordling took over the [packaging] of the stuff from Mattel,we did, I don't even know, 20-25 of those things altogether.
Lamken: Now, it's not just Russ Heath; Jack Kirby worked at Ruby-Spears for a while.
Timm: Yeah. I never worked with Jack, and I never worked at Ruby-Spears; that's one of the few places that I never worked. I never worked at Hanna-Barbera, never worked at Disney, never worked at Ruby-Spears.
Lamken: What I'm wondering is what these guys were doing toiling away in some office at an anima-tion studio.
Timm: For the money. Totally for the money. Russ would make no bones about it. I mean, Russ was a great artist — he's one of my favorite comic-book artists — but he was a terrible animation designer because his stuff was so realistic that it didn't animate. He didn't care. They loved his work there; they hired him [for GI Joe] because of Sgt. Rock, and they wanted to basically make the show in his style, but they didn't have the [money] to get that level of quality into it. And he didn't care. The pay was so good, compared to what he was getting in comics, that he would just crank the stuff out. He could do it in his sleep; and sometimes he did. [Laughs]
When I say that, I'm not disparaging him — I would literally catch Russ falling asleep at his desk in the middle of the day. He'd be sitting straight up with his pencil on the page, and suddenly you'd hear him snoring. [Laughs] He was amazing, though. Watching him draw was a kick. He would never do roughs; he would sit down with a sheet of paper, and he would start at the head, and when he got down to the feet it was a full, tight, beautiful drawing. But it was _actually really good experience, because by the time I got to the Batman show, I knew that a lot of the reason why shows like GI Joe looked so poor was that it wasn't being designed for anim-ation. Russ would do these great drawings — wrinkles all over the clothes, realistic facial features, every bolt on the gun — and from having to draw this stuff myself during the Don Bluth days, I started developing the quote-unquote Batman style, kind-of applying more of a classical animation technique to more of a comic-book style.
Lamken: When Batman came up you were already at Warner Bros., doing Tiny Toons.
Lamken: I know that you've told this story a thousand times before, but...
Timm: Don't make me do this. [Laughs] It's in every interview I've ever done. Everyone knows this story...!
Lamken: Okay. It's in Batman: Animated, so we'll just tell people to get the book.
Lamken: So how did you end up doing Superman? That I am curious about because, with Batman being such a runaway success, I could see why you guys would want to quit while you're ahead. Was there lots of arm-twisting from Warner Bros. to go on to Superman, or...?
Timm: At the time there wasn't [much] interest in Superman. I don't really know why. It seems like a natural. We weren't interested in doing it at first. Nothing really happened, and then — _It's a really weird left turn. Steven Spielberg, of all people, liked the Batman show, and said that he wanted to do something with us, but he didn't know what; so we had a meeting with him, we talked about a bunch of different ideas for what we could do as an action-adventure show, and the one that he really liked was this one called Freakazoid.
Lamken: I'd forgotten about that. Sorry.
Timm: That's okay. I don't mind that it's not on my résumé. [Laughs] I bailed on it really early. It started out as an adventure show, but it ended up turning into more & more of a comedy show; every time we'd have a meeting with Steven, the concept would kinda change, and it kept leaning more & more towards zany comedy. It really started out almost like Spider-Man, on that level of, like, a teenage superhero. And it reached a point where it became a comedy _with the Tiny Toons/Animaniacs kind of humor.
I don't have anything against that; I just don't have a flair for it, so I bailed — I just hung out here while my staff had to do the show. [Laughs] At one point there was talk about a Superman movie. That's probably what started the ball roll-ing [on the animated series]. So one day I had a meeting with my boss, Jean McCurdy, and she said, "Do you want to do Superman cartoons?" And that time I said "Yes!" [Laughs] After Freak-azoid, it was like, "Yes! I want to do Superman cartoons!" I didn't even have to think about it.
Lamken: Then pretty unexpectedly, Batman started up again.
Timm: Yeah. What happened was that the original deal with Fox was up, or was going to be up — they had a deal to run Batman for 5 years or something, and they weren't going to renew it. And in the meantime, the WB had started — [Warner Bros.'] own network — and they were really hot to get Batman on the WB, because it did so well for Fox, and they wanted to sweeten the package with new episodes.
I wasn't interested in doing new episodes at first. "What am I gonna do that we haven't done?" But then I started looking at some of the old designs, and I thought, "Y'know what? I draw a whole lot better now than I did back in 1992. So if I was gonna design Batman now, what would I do?" And [we were] just kind-of extrapolating from some of the design theories that we'd come up with on Superman. If you look at the old Batman show, and look at the Superman show, the Superman show is a lot more graphic and angular. So we took that more angular Superman style to the next level, and that sparked my interest in doing Batman again. Of course, the problem with that is that if you start redesigning some of the characters then you have to redesign all of them, and that's eventually what we ended up doing.
For a while, we were rotating both shows, doing Superman and Batman at the same time — actually, at one point, when we were finishing up on Superman and Batman, we got the order to do Batman Beyond, so for a while there we were doing three series, all at the same time, which was a nightmare. [Laughs]
Lamken: When I first saw that one figure of Batman [from the original run] in, I think, Entertainment Weekly, I thought, "Oh my God. This is it. Somebody gets it." And then when I saw the new stuff, it was, "Forget that other stuff. This is it. They got rid of the blue and now it's perfect."
Timm: Honestly, I can't even look at the old shows anymore. It seems like every time I go back to an episode from the first two seasons I end up regretting it, because the shows that I had fond memories of — I look at them now and I can't believe how ugly they are, I can't believe how slow they are. I've been doing this for a long time, and, fortunately, I've been learning [all along]. Not only that, but we edit stuff on the Avid now, which is a computerized editing system that allows us to take bigger chances with editing — whereas, in the old days, any time that you'd make an edit you had to do it on the Moviola; you had to literally stop, cut the film, splice it together, feed it back through the Moviola, and if it didn't work you'd have to undo the edit... It was really time-consuming. Nowadays, on the Avid, we'll say, "Try takin' out that frame," and if it [doesn't] work, hey, push a button and it's undone.
So now the shows are faster-paced. And they're still not MTV-style; I won't sacrifice storytelling on the altar of "faster-paced," but — I look at the old shows and I'm just thinking, "Cut. Cut! Cut!" The shots just last too long, and characters are just endlessly walking from one place to another. "Why did we do that? Just get it over with!"
It's apples and oranges. Some people like the old Poison Ivy; some people like the new Poison Ivy. Some people like the old Joker; some people like the new Joker. But I think that the newer style is infinitely superior; all across the board, it's better. We could look back on what we thought were our mistakes and fix 'em. Like Bruce Wayne's face — I never liked the way Bruce Wayne looked in the old series. I tried to give him a Dick Tracy nose, a big, sharp nose, but the way that they interpreted it overseas was, like, this big, ugly, broken nose. And there were just too many folds on the clothes; everybody looks fat and baggy. By giving it that really streamlined, angular style, suddenly everything looks sharp and elegant and it's just animated better. That's another thing: If you look at the newer shows, they're a thousand times more consistent than the old ones. The new style forces the animators to be more consistent, so no matter where [an episode] is animated, it's going to look the same [as the others]. The old ones were also animated all over the place; we had Japanese studios, Korean studios — and every studio had a different look. I can look at each individual episode and say, "That was animated here; that was animated there."
Poison Ivy as she appears in the "revamp" episodes done for the 1997 New Batman/Superman Adventures series, in one of the many commissioned pieces of Timm's being printed here for the first time.
Poison Ivy ™ & © DC Comics.
Lamken: Just briefly: How did the "Legends of the Dark Knight" episode come about?
Timm: I was just sitting around one day at home, and it just kinda came to me. I was thinking about how there's all these different versions of Batman, and they're all valid, but — The Adam West show all the way up to The Dark Knight and the movies, you may have a favorite version of your own, but they're all still Batman. You couldn't get any more different than The Dark Knight and Adam West. So I just came _up with this idea that if we did an anthology [episode] that showed the different extremes, it would be a lot of fun and a challenge, and we just took it from there.
Lamken: Were you surprised that you got Frank Miller's blessing, and that the WB actually let you do an homage to The Dark Knight Returns?
Timm: Uh... Yes to both questions. [Laughs] We hadn't actually thought to get his permission until quite late in the development process. It was actually [DC Comics Publisher] Paul Levitz who found out that we were doing the episode and said, "You'd better call Frank," 'cause they like to keep him happy. Sure enough, I had to make that phone call, but he was all for it.
Blitz: I was really surprised at what you guys got away with in the Dark Knight scene. ["This isn't a mudhole. It's an operating table. And I'm the surgeon."]
Timm: If we'd tried to do that episode this year, after Columbine, it would've been a different story. But they were fairly lenient on most of it.
Blitz: Do you have an episode of any of the series that you'd single out as your favorite?
Timm: There's a lot of 'em. I'm really proud of a lot of the episodes. I think that the "Apokolips Now" two-parter [from Superman] is dynamite. The Batman Beyond pilot works really well. The revamp episodes work really well. It's hard to nail down even five that are my favorites; there's too many that I like bits & pieces of. "Over the Edge" [from the revamped Batman, which opens with the apparent death of Batgirl] is another dynamite episode that just fires on all cylinders.
Lamken: This is one of those questions that everybody asks you, I know, but there have been rumors of doing Captain Marvel, of doing the whole Justice League... Is there anything that you'd really wanted to do that either you didn't get to do or is in the planning stages right now?
Timm: We really did want to do the Captain Marvel/Superman fight. And since we're not going to be doing any more Superman episodes, that doesn't seem likely to happen. That's one that I'll kinda miss doing. I won't miss doing the Justice League. I've said this before, but one of the reasons why I will never do a Justice League show — that's not to say that one won't ever happen with somebody else — is that there's just too many characters in one series. We found that out even with the revamped Batman shows, that having Batman and Robin and Batgirl fighting a group of thugs in a fight scene — it's literally too many characters to keep track of; it's hard to stage, you don't want to spend too much time with any one character because then it's "What's Batgirl doing?" And, of course, with the Justice League, you're talking about characters who all have the powers of gods, so you can't just have them fighting thugs, fighting guys robbing banks; they have to be fighting, y'know, huge criminals every time, so you're talking huge set pieces. One look at the new Avengers cartoon will show you exactly what I'm talking about.[Editor's Note: Timm ended up doing a Justice League episode after all, for Batman Beyond. Check out the mini-article that follows our sketchbook section for more.]
Lamken: When [your first] Batman series came out, X-Men had been running on Fox?
Timm: It debuted the same year that X-Men did.
Lamken: So the next most recent superhero animated series was, like, Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends.
Timm: That was probably the closest chronologically, yeah. For some reason, the networks were really leery of superheroes for a long time. I don't know why. Adventure cartoons were primarily all toy-based anyway, throughout the '80s, like GI Joe, He-Man, TransFormers, and things like that; they were all just half-hour [ads] for toys, and there wasn't really a superhero-toy franchise at that point, so there was no interest in doing superhero cartoons. I know that Margaret Loesch, before she became president of the Fox Kids division, was one of the executives at Marvel [Productions], and she'd been trying to get an X-Men show going for years, and she just couldn't get any interest in it. So by the time Batman and X-Men came on, yeah, there probably hadn't been anything since Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends. The Hulk show was after that [paired with new, solo Spider-Man episodes], but that doesn't count, because it was really lousy.
Lamken: And that sort-of leads into my next question. [Laughs] There's no way to say this without seeming mean-spirited, but... Do you look at the X-Men & Spider-Man stuff and just think that, geez, they did well [ratings-wise], but somebody needs to do this right?
Timm: I watched the pilot, the one with the Lizard. I thought that the pilot was really good, and by [the next episode] the quality had just plummeted. I didn't watch it every week, but they sent me these Academy screeners for the Emmys — They sent me a Spider-Man episode from, I think, the 2nd season, and I thought, "Well, I haven't seen it in a long time, so I'll pop it in and see what they're up to." And it was god-awful. "This is the one that they're sending out for Emmy considerations?" And right around that time they had the FF show and the Iron Man show.
Lamken: That's right. The Marvel Action Hour.
Timm: Yeah. The FF show just killed me, 'cause I love those characters. What's sad about it is that, the guys doing those shows, their hearts are in the right place; they're all comic-book fans and they really want to do a good job, but... I'd love to be able to take a stab at those shows, but with the current creative regime at Marvel, it ain't gonna happen.
Lamken: You want to say, "It must just be the suits." Except that you guys did Batman right.
Timm: I know darn well that it's not the suits. I mean, the suits, that's a part of it; Marvel's in bed with Toy Biz, and I'm not even sure who owns whom anymore, but that is a big part of it — that's why Spider-Man guest-starred every single character in the Marvel Universe, just so they could sell action figures. But I don't want _to build myself up by slamming anybody else, but they make some really wrong creative choices on the shows, everything from the art direction to the voice casting. I'm really proud of all the Batman shows, the Superman shows, I think that we do a really good job on them, but I think that one of the reasons why the shows do look noticeably superior is that the competition is so weak. I'm always saying that we're the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. It's not that our show is so exceptionally well done; it's just that it's well done, it's just competent and well made, and the other shows can't really say that. I'm gonna get hate mail from the X-Men fans now.
The old Kirby splayed-hand trick! Here is Bruce's rendition of Spider-Man.
Spider-Man ™ & © Marvel Characters, Inc.
The Future on-screen
Lamken: It's been in the news lately that the WB network is thinking about this live-action Bruce Wayne series.
Lamken: Wasn't that something that you considered before Batman Beyond — with the young Bruce Wayne globetrotting, studying to be Batman, like The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles or something?
Timm: That was something that was pitched to us; we didn't come up with that concept. We had a meeting, like, 2 years ago now, with Jamie Kellner, who's the head of the WB network, and there was some concern that Batman had just been around a little bit too long in its current incarnation, even with the revamped look and everything. The shows did really, really well ratings-wise, but [the WB execs] kinda felt that we'd been riding that train for a long time, and there was also a concern that the show was skewing a little bit older than they would've liked, 'cause the advertising is aimed at children. So they were just talking about ways of freshening the show and, y'know, the words "teenage Batman" came up — "Is there some way that we can get a teenager into the Batman suit?" And, of course, our first reaction was horror. "Teenage Batman? Aaaah!!!" But they had a couple of ideas that they were throwing around that had come from outside sources, which I won't name, one of which was very much like The Phantom. It was kind-of an Elseworlds Batman, where Bruce Wayne was the latest in a long line of Batmen; there was a Revolutionary War Batman, there was a pirate Batman, all of that, and [Bruce Wayne's] just the 20th Century Batman. And we said no, we don't want to do that, that really steps on the legend; Bruce Wayne is the only Batman, at least up until that point. Then one of the other concepts was, like, Speed Racer, basically; it was young Bruce Wayne jet-setting around the world before he became Batman, and the problem with that is that there's no Batman in it. [Laughs] And then there was Batman & the junior Justice League, which we didn't like.
Lamken: He'd be training a whole new...?
Timm: He'd be training Aquaman Jr., & Wonder Woman Jr., &... By the time we got to that one, our heads were spinning, and we were thinking, "We don't want to do any of those. What do we do? We gotta come up with something quick." And kind-of on the spur of the moment, I said, "What if we set it in the future?" Because the two things that we didn't like about the proposals were (A) they stomped on the legend and (B) they stomped on our continuity. I was all for kick-starting the show, or starting a spinoff show, but I didn't want to totally throw out the continuity that we'd established. So I said, "What if we set the show in the future, when Bruce Wayne's too old to be Batman anymore, and he has to find someone new to be Batman?" At first we were all aghast at the whole thing; we really loved the show that we were doing at the time, we really loved the revamped Batman. But the more that we started talking about [a new show] — The idea of setting it in a futuristic Gotham City was really appealing, getting to do something different than just the deco/mysterious stuff that we'd been doing for 10 years. I think that Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, & I all hit on the same idea at the same time: "Y'know, Spider-Man was a teenage superhero, and he was really cool." And one of the things that the WB specifically wanted was more of a soap-opera element, they wanted to get that Melrose Place/Beverly Hills 90210 kind of feel to it. And again, you think, "How does that work with Batman?" But we all realized that the soap-opera stuff in Spider-Man was at least as interesting as the [action] stuff. When I go back and reread a stack of Lee and Romita Spider-Mans, that's the stuff that I actually like the most, all the interplay between [Peter Parker] & Mary Jane Watson & Gwen Stacy & Flash Thompson. So if they've proven that it can work, we just have to figure out how to make it work for us. The more that we started talking about it and fleshing things out, the more we really fell in love with the idea.
Lamken: The Melrose Place/Beverly Hills 90210 soap-opera thing I can see, I guess, but when I heard that Warner Bros. wanted a younger audience I was thinking younger younger. Batman Beyond looks less for kids than the old stuff.
Lamken: And Batman Beyond has probably the coolest opening to an animated series that you've seen in a long time.
Timm: It's really edgy. I'm really happy with it. That's what we wanted to do; we wanted to hit the viewer right between the eyes and say, "This is not your grandpa's Batman."
Lamken: But you have Grandpa Batman.
Timm: [Laughs] Yeah.
Lamken: And you have Terry McGinnis, too, but I think that the conceit works because they're Batman.
Timm: Right. That's what we wanted. I can see why some purists don't like it. I'm that way myself; whenever I see somebody revamp a character in comics, I go, "Why'd you do that? If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Lamken: But you're not stepping on the history. You didn't do young Bruce Wayne. And it's this hypothetical future thing...
Timm: That's our out. You just say, "It's a poss-ible future." But, to us, it is what happens to Bruce Wayne; it fits our canon.
Lamken: Is that important to you guys?
Timm: To a degree. I'm not as continuity-crazy as some people. A lot of people will say, "Why did you recast so-and-so?"
Lamken: "If Melissa Gilbert isn't Batgirl, this must be Earth-Two!"
Timm: [Laughs] Right. So we're not that picky
about it. We'll contradict ourselves sometimes. [But] we'll
try to keep it consistent — we try to play fair with the continuity;
we try not to do anything in Batman Beyond that contradicts the original
Batman show. I think that we got lucky with Batman Beyond. Like I
said, I'm kind-of a traditionalist myself,
A commissioned piece of the Gotham Guardian whacking the heck out of the Clown Prince of Crime.
Batman and Joker ™ & © DC Comics.
The Future off-screen
Lamken: What's up with the Harley & Ivy miniseries?
Timm: It's currently in the hands of the inker, one of the main character designers on our series, [who's] a brilliant artist in his own right, a young gentleman named Shane Glines. And he works on it when he has time, in-between all the stuff that he's gotta do for the show. So I keep on him about it; I want to see it in print, [but] he has his day job and a 5-year-old daughter. I think that he's probably close to halfway done with the whole thing. I may have to jump in at some point.
Lamken: Paul wrote it?
Timm: Paul & I came up with the story together. Paul wrote it, I penciled it.
Blitz: Any unrealized comics projects that you'd love to do?
Timm: [Laughs] If you've got a couple days, I could go through my entire list. I was talking — just to name-drop a bit here — I was talking with Steranko a couple of months ago, and he was saying that he wanted to do one of everything: He wanted to do a cowboy story, he wanted to do a South Seas adventure thing. I'm kind-of the same way. Maybe out of nostalgia more than anything else, but I think of plenty of things from my childhood... I'd love to do Conan the Barbarian someday, but I don't think that there's any interest in having me do that sort of thing.
Lamken: You've mentioned a Kamandi [animated] series, which you'd wanted to do as straight-up as possible...
Timm: I'd wanted to do an adaptation, literally, of [the comic-book series].
Lamken: Is it just dead in the water?
Timm: At the moment. If I'm really interested in it, there are a couple of avenues that [I could pursue]. We actually pitched it to the WB, and they were kind-of intrigued by it, but, y'know, they wanted to mess around with it a little bit. The first thing that they wanted to do was change the art style; I said, "This is what I want it to look like," and they went, "Really?" If you're not a comic-book fan, some of the Kirby stuff can look a little bit weird. And they were concerned that there's not a really strong female character in the series; you have Flower & Spirit, but they're, like, half-naked dumb girls. So they said, "Could we invent a new character that could fulfill that function?" But I didn't want to tamper with it at all.
Lamken: A lot of fans, online particularly, have said, "If you want to do a Superman or Batman movie right, live-action or not, get Dini & Burnett & Timm & those guys." Would you have any interest, and is there any chance in hell of that happening?
Timm: I would love to do that. Are you kidding? [Laughs] My pay scale would get a significant bump, so I'd owe it to my family to say yes, and, yeah, I'd love to direct live-action. But, no, I don't think that there's a chance in hell. In the scheme of things, I'm small potatoes, unfortunately.
Lamken: If Warner Bros. said that it just wanted a new animated series from you, they didn't care what it was...?
Timm: Glen [Murakami] & I have been having lots of talks about that. We're kind-of Batmanned out, and we want to do something different, but... I would kill to do Conan the Barbarian: The Anim-ated Series. If I could do it my way, that would be my dream project. I would go out of my mind if I could actually bring the Robert E. Howard [stories] to the screen.
Blitz: Obviously there's the name recognition of anything that's an adaptation, but is there a chance that you'd do an original project?
Timm: They've been after me about it. And I have a bunch of ideas, but I have to figure out (A) what I could really get it up for, 'cause it takes, like, 2 years of prep to do any of this stuff, and (B) what I could sell, because you have to have somebody to pitch it to and you have to hope that they're on the same page as you are. If I pitch something to the WB, for instance, I'm not gonna waste my time and theirs by pitching them something that I don't think that they'd be interested in.
Blitz: What about doing stuff direct-to-video? Is that a possibility?
Timm: The nice thing about animation right now... A couple of years ago, there was all that heat about animation because The Lion King made all that money, so everybody invested in animation and was going big guns on it. But as I predicted would happen, the minute that two or three movies came out and bombed suddenly everybody backpedaled. So feature-film stuff is not quite as hot as it used to be, but there are more markets for animation now than there were, say, 5 years ago; things like the Batman Beyond home video would've been unthinkable 5 years ago. There's that market, there's cable — We've talked about pitching something to the Cartoon Network or HBO, so there's all kinds of possibilities.
Lamken: If you develop and pitch something to Warner Bros. Animation, do they automatically own the concept and licensing?
Timm: That was the case in the past, which is why I was reluctant to even think about pitching them a new idea. I'd gladly develop things based on [characters] that DC Comics already owns, that Warner Bros. already owns, but there's no way in hell that I was gonna pitch them an original idea if I wasn't gonna own a piece of it. They're actually changing their corporate thinking about that, so I don't know what the details would be, but...
Blitz: What do you get out of each medium?
Timm: Working in cartoons, I get to flex all of my movie muscles. It's a blast getting to be there at the recording sessions, working with the actors; it's a blast working with the storyboard artists & the directors & the composers & the sound guys. I really enjoy the editing process — we're editing on the Avid system now, and we can do things that we wouldn't have had the patience or the balls to do back when we were editing on the Moviola, so that's a real kick, messing around with the film in the editing room. I just get to do all of the stuff that I've always wanted to do in movies; in a way, it's even better than live-action, because we don't have all the down time between takes.
Comics is completely different. There are filmic things about comics, but people who think that comics are just films on paper are completely missing the point. There are things that don't translate from one medium to the next. In comics, because you don't have music and sound and voice and motion, the image has to carry so much more than it does in film — and you have the option of sitting there and looking at the drawing for as long as you want, so it'd better be pretty damn nice. You'll find that, just like me, a lot of guys who work primarily in cartoons have always wanted to do comics. When you do a storyboard, your work is translated; nobody ever gets to see your storyboard. When you do comics, this is actually your work, so it's your moment to shine; a lot of people like that aspect of it. I have to say that a big part of it for me is that seeing my actual drawings on a piece of paper with my name on it is a real kick. Does that make any sense? [Laughs]
Blitz: Any interest in doing a live-action film?
Timm: Definitely. It'd be tough, admittedly. [There would be] a whole new learning curve, and I do have a short attention span, so all of the down time would kill me, but... [Laughs] I've been thinking live-action since I was a kid. Whenever I used to read books, I was always visualizing, "How would this work as a movie?"
Superman vs. Captain Marvel in the fight scene that Timm never got to animate. Alex Ross got "a big, full-color version" of this piece as a gift from Timm, who finds it a bit ironic that Ross likes his style.
Superman and Capt. Marvel ™ & © DC Comics.
Lamken: Have there been any live-action superhero movies that you've really thought have worked?
Timm: I thought that a lot of the first two Super-man movies worked — the first one moreso than the second one. There were big parts of the first Tim Burton Batman movie that worked pretty well. There are even parts of the the second one that I like; everything with Michelle Pfeiffer in it was great, but Danny DeVito was just terrible — no reflection on him, he's a fine actor and everything, but they just went so over-the-top with his character, made him so repulsive, that every time he was on the screen you wanted to leave the movie theater. Other than that, boy, I don't know. I kind-of liked the Flash Gordon movie... [Laughs]
Blitz: Dick Tracy?
Lamken: Dick Tracy's pretty good, I think.
Blitz: The musical numbers slow it down too much, but...
Timm: Yeah. And [Warren Beatty's] too old, and he's a little bit too bumbling and shy, and there's too many villains in it, but it does have a good feel to it, and it has a great look.
Lamken: The primary colors work.
Timm: Yeah. They shouldn't. I kinda get mad when people do that — "We'll make a comic-book movie, with all of these bright colors and stuff" — but when they had one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, Vittorio Storraro, doing it...
Blitz: Favorite movies?
Timm: There's so many to list: Bride of Frankenstein. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of my all-time favorite movies. [Laughs] I watch it about once or twice a year.
Lamken: That's not usually people's favorite Bond movie.
Timm: I know. It's... A lot of people say, y'know, "If only Connery had been in it, it would've been my favorite [Bond] movie," but I actually think that Lazenby's really good in it. It's like "City on the Edge of Forever," the Star Trek episode — The ones that you remember the most [are] the ones that you can't do every day. [The Batman & Superman episodes] "Over the Edge" and "Apokolips Now" are the ones that hit you right in the heart, the ones that break the mold, and that's why I like On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's got a great cast, it's got a great story, some of the best action scenes in the entire series to this day, I just love it.
Another of Timm's 'retro'-ish renditions of a classic Marvel character.
Thor ™ & © Marvel Characters, Inc.
The alex story
Lamken: Once you started working in the animation industry, did you get a crash course in what really good animation was?
Timm: Yeah. It was amazing going from FilmMation
to Don Bluth. At the time, Don Bluth was, like, the only guy in town
who was interested in doing quality animation. Even Disney wasn't
doing quality animation at that time; the Nine
So Don Bluth was really trying to bring back classical animation.
He was putting everything into it, and that really got me all fired
up — even though what I was doing [there] was not really an artistically
challenging job. But I did learn
On Secret of NIMH, when we were done with character animation, all of the clean-up artists had to help out with the effects work; there was a ton of effects work left to do, and that was a killer. There's a scene at the end of Secret of NIMH where this big cinderblock floats up out of the water, and all these fireworks are going off around it, and this cinderblock is slowly rotating; the scene is on the screen for probably about 10-15 seconds, and it took me & two other guys two & a half weeks to in-between that one scene!
Lamken: Did you ever get to meet Alex Toth or Doug Wildey?
Timm: I never met Doug Wildey, not once; I would love to have. I corresponded with Toth for a while through Mark Chiarello, a mutual friend of ours from DC Comics. Toth & I exchanged letters once a week for almost a year or so. It was a blast. Unfortunately, I had a big falling out with him over the Superman show, so he's not talking to me anymore. [Laughs] I never even spoke to him on the phone. I had his phone number, and I had the special code — you're supposed to dial and let the phone ring a certain number of times — but I never got the balls to talk to him on the phone.
Lamken: Were they those hand-written, stream-of-consciousness...?
Timm: Oh, yeah. Just wonderful. I'd be disappointed [when] I only got a postcard from him. You just wanted him to go off on a tear. If you'd write to him about something that he would either be infuriated by or interested in, then he would write you these 10-page, single-spaced, crammed-lettering diatribes about any given subject. He'd just go on and on and on, like you said, stream-of-consciousness, just wonderful screeds. I hope that somebody will compile a book of his letters someday. That's the thing I miss the most. I'm upset that we had a falling-out, 'cause I genuinely liked the guy; he's a cantankerous old guy, kind-of a grouch, but deep down inside he's a wonderful human being.
Lamken: What did he have against the Superman series?
Timm: When we started corresponding, he was very complimentary about the Batman show. He really loved the first series of Batman that we did. So that was cool; I wrote him a fan letter, and he wrote me a fan letter back, [which] just blew me away — I was floating on Cloud Nine for a week. But when we did the Superman show, he got all bent out of shape that we didn't do it exactly like the Fleischers did; he thought that we updated the character too much, which is kinda bizarre, 'cause we really didn't.
If I had it to do over again, I'd update the character more — I think that the show would have been more successful if we had reinvented [things] a little bit. Superman's just not as intrinsically cool as Batman. Superman makes a lot of sense in 1940; he doesn't really make a whole lot of sense in 1999. The DC guys'll tell you the same thing — they have a very hard time making him seem fresh and exciting. He's just been around for so damn long. I'm proud of the Superman show. It's very traditional. We did incorporate all the Kirby stuff, and we gave Jimmy Olsen baggy pants, and we had mecha-style robots instead of 1940s-style robots, but other than that it's very true to the old-fashioned Superman. The reason why we didn't make it Fleischeresque is that I didn't want anybody to literally put it side-by-side with the old Fleischer shorts and say, "They're just doing a third-rate knockoff of the Fleischers." Because we can't compare with that.
But Alex got really bent out of shape about it. I'd write back
to him explaining why I did what I did, and it went back and forth,
two or three exchanges, and then I just stopped hearing from him.
I didn't hear from him for about a year &
Lamken: "Go to Hell. Merry Christmas."
Timm: Yeah. It was really strange. That's the last I've heard from him; I didn't dare write him back after that. And I really regret it, 'cause like I said, I really loved getting his letters.
Lamken: Maybe it's easier to say this because the Fleischers never did Batman, but it almost seems as if your Batman has more of a Fleischer influence than your Superman.
Timm: Definitely. Y'know, I think that even the Fleischers recognized way back when that Superman was just an intrinsically dull character, to a degree, so they threw in all that film noir stuff. It's the same stuff that we were trying to put into our Batman show; it actually seems to be a better fit for Batman than it was for Superman.
(For the rest of the Bruce Timm interview, plus a huge portfolio of unseen Timm art, be sure to order Comicology #1!)
To make subscription and back issue orders easier for our readers (especially those overseas), we now accept VISA and MASTERCARD on our secure web store! (Phone, fax, mail and e-mail accepted, too!)
Sign up here to receive periodic updates about what's going on in the world of TwoMorrows Publishing.
Click here to download our new Fall-Winter catalog (2mb PDF file)