Monday, June 21, 2010

Artist Profile: Dan Johnson

Re-writing the classics? How dare!, some would scream. How about mixing traditions? Ghastly, eh? Well writer Dan Johnson is the guy who dares to rewrite claasic stories, and take long-established traditions and turn them on their ear by mixing them together! This Winston-Salem writer has penned stories fro graphic novels like Thor & Herc and is working diligently with Campfire Books taking classic literature like teh Jungle Book and bringing it to a new audience. Dan heard about The Return of Mini-Con and asked if we had room for him. I replied, "Of course!" (duh!). With the mini-con just a few days away now, here is another artist profile for you to enjoy!

1) Do you remember the first comic you read or bought? What hooked you about comics?
My godmother, Dot, was the one that hooked me on comics when I was about four or so. She read comics all the time and was always bringing me her old issues of Superman, Shazam! and World's Finest. I knew Superman and Batman from Superfriends, so I loved seeing them in comic book form. I also loved the idea of heroes going out to defend the weak and the innocent. The idea of good men and women out there fighting for what was right just inspired me to always try to be a better person. I lost my dad when I was thirteen, so superheroes gave me role models to believe in as a young man when he couldn't be there.

As for the first books I bought myself, that is easy. They were Superman Family #189, Super Team Family #15 and Fantastic Four Annual #12. Actually, those were the first books I picked out for myself. My dad picked up the tab. He and my mom figured they would help with my reading and be cheaper than toys. If they could only see how expensive comics are now!

2) Most people aspire to be the penciller, but some become writers. How did you decide to become a writer?
Well, I originally wanted to be a penciller as well. The turning point was in high school when my art teacher let me do comic book pages for an assignment. I still remember her critiquing my pages. She said I needed to work on my shading and my anatomy was okay, but I needed to pay more attention to details on things like buildings and the like. But then she said that she really liked the story I had written and it really kept her hooked. At the same time, I had an English teacher, Mrs. Shores, who started pushing me to write more and more and she really encouraged me to develop that skill. Thanks to her, I realized that my real gift was writing.

I also figured that if I became a writer, I would be in good company. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Cary Bates and Gerry Conway. As I got older, I discovered Stan Lee, John Broome and Gardner Fox. Also, around the time my teachers were redirecting my professional goal in comics, I was getting into Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and Watchmen. So, in the end, it is all good. Besides, I haven't given up on my artwork totally...

3) What's tougher- writing a Manga(eastern influence) about Norse and Greek gods(western influence) or re-writing classic literature for comics? My guess is the latter since many people feel great art shouldn't be toyed with and others feel comics are not a worthy avenue for literature?
I would have to agree that the latter is tougher, but mainly because of the challenge it represents. Greatest challenge of my life was taking a 400-plus page novel like Oliver Twist and boiling it down to an 80 page comic. Feats of daring and acts of the impossible? Superman ain't got nothing on me!

4) What is involved in taking a classic and converting it into a script?
The big thing is deciding what the important elements are. It is deciding what needs to stay for the story to remain in tact and what can go. Usually I will take Cliff Notes of the novel and use them to help determine what action needs to be on each page. The Campfire process is to turn in a page by page breakdown of each project before we start to script it. This way the editor will know what action will be on each page. It certainly helps me to keep on task. From there, it is a matter of deciding what dialogue can be used and what might need to be edited to gloss over those events or characters that might have been cut from the original novel.

5) Have you ever considered writing a script for TV, movies, or a play?

Actually, I have written a few screenplays. One was for a horror/western short movie that was produced a few years back. I also wrote a couple more screenplays for the same producers, but they were never shot. I also did two screenplays and a rewrite of an existing script for a friend of mine who wanted to start a film company here in North Carolina. Finally, I have written episodes for the Nashville, TN horror host show, Creature Feature, starring Dr. Gangrene (better known as my good buddy, Larry Underwood).

6)What would be your dream writing assignment- writing stories of something iconic like Superman, or creating a world of your own characters?
I would love to tackle Superman and several other heroes I grew up reading as a kid, but nothing beats the feeling of creating your own characters and seeing your own plots take shape and come to life on the page. Playing in someone else's universe can be fun, but controlling your own universe is awesome!

7)What projects are you working on now?
I am working on several projects at the moment, some of which I can not go into too much detail about. For Campfire, I'm currently writing my first biography for the company and I'm developing a series that will be a modern retelling of one of the great literary classics. I am also developing a web comic for Viper Comics. The plot for the first story was just approved and I'm working on the script now. I am still writing for Dennis the Menace, and I will be working on a new batch of gags after I complete this interview, as well as Back Issue magazine, which is published by TwoMorrows. I just did an interview with Herb Trimpe about the mid-1980's Rawhide Kid mini-series, and that will be our Wild West issue that should be out in the next few months. And remember I said I had not given up my artwork just yet? I am working on a comic strip that I would love to draw myself. It is just a matter of time of working it in around my other gigs.

8)What has been your best convention experience? Worst? Weirdest?
I am happy to say I have never had a bad time at any comic book convention. It is like I tell people when they stop by my table and ask how I'm doing, "It's the weekend and I'm at a con! It doesn't get better than that!" I can share my first and most recent best experiences though. My first, best experience at a comic book convention was when I got to go to my first show ever. It was a small show that was held at Hanes Mall on Labor Day, 1982. My dad took me to that one, and I was in sheer Heaven! At the time, I loved it because I was surrounded by old comic books as far as the eye could see! I look back on that day even more fondly now because it was one of the last things my dad and I were able to do together before he got too sick to get around on his own. God love him, he knew I wanted to be in the business, but he never understood how I could make a living drawing "funny books". None the less, he and my mother indulged me at every turn.

My most recent, best experience was at Heroes Con and it was on Sunday when the show was winding down. After several of the other guests had left, I had a chance to talk with Alex Saviuk, the artist on the Spider-Man comic strip, for about thirty minutes. I grew up on comics that Alex drew for, like The Flash and Superman, so it was a thrill to sit and just talk shop with someone who I had admired as a boy and was now treating me like a peer. Before I had to start packing up, I made sure to tell him how much his work meant to me as a kid and thanked him for the great memories and for giving me something to shot for when I was growing up.

9) Are you a Marvel or a DC (or something else entirely?)
I'm a DC boy all the way when it comes to comic books. When it comes to movies, I gotta admit that Marvel has the edge.

10) Celebrity death match! Ernie vs Bert, and what would the outcome be?
My money is on Bert. He has a lot of anger and rage in him (you can see it in his eyes). Heaven help Ernie, and us all, if Bert ever has the chance to unleash his fury.

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