Superman on Television
Exclusive Interview with Stephan NilsonBy Steve Younis
[Date: May 1, 2007]
Stephan Nilson is the writer on the current 5-part "Justice & Doom" animations playing with the final season 6 episodes of "Smallville", he also recently wrote "Justice League Unlimited #32" for DC Comics. Stephan took time out from his writing to talk to the Superman Homepage about these two projects.
Q: Can you please tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
A: No problem, it's one of my favorite topics [laughs]. I was a military brat. Born and died in Okinawa, Japan and that was just the first six minutes of my life. I wish I could say I had some memories of the event...it would make a great bar story, but alas I'm stuck with recapping the eye witness's testimony. Anyway, back on track, I was pretty set to be a lifer in the military, but government cut back and a damaged knee had something different to say about it. So around 1995 went back to college and started writing. I wanted to be a television writer (still do in a way), but I love comics and decided to start out with that medium. My first attempt at a comic was a short lived mini-series called Government Bodies. It was pretty well received but the numbers were low so it was difficult to keep the book going. I'm going to collect the original series and re-launch the new title later this year, but when I'm not working on the comic books I write web content for one of Florida's water management districts. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Q: You've written all 5 episodes of the Smallville "Justice & Doom" animation being released with the remaining Season 6 episodes, while also having written "Justice League Unlimited #32". What other Superman related work have you done?
A: Unfortunately none, yet. The big guy is one of the hardest characters to get a chance to write. I'm working on a couple of pitches at the moment and waiting to hear back about them. I have another JLU story line that has the big guy in it. Not to give anything away but it focuses on his weakness to magic. It puts him in a bad spot, but gives him the opportunity for the readers to really see just how mentally and physically tough Superman is when he continues the task at hand even though he's in a vulnerable position.
Q: Are you a fan of "Smallville"? Have you watched all 6 seasons of the show?
A: Yeah. I've watched every episode of Smallville, with a small interruption with season five. We lost our local WB station early in the season, but I've been catching up thanks to some Sunday reruns. I was hooked from the very beginning. I was impressed with how they handled Clark's powers and didn't shy away from him using them. I can't wait until he flies on a regular basis though.
Q: Can you talk us through the process of the "Justice & Doom" animations? How did they come about? When were you first contacted to write it, and by whom?
A: Sure, I have to admit this was the best case of "right place, right time". I was talking to Michael Wright, who had now moved from editing to the creative services offices, about his band and other comics when I mentioned I was finishing up the work on the Ghost Whisperer web comic. Michael asked me to embellish a little about what I was doing on GW but that was the end of the conversation. A couple of days later he called me back and asked me if I was available to work on a new type of animated comic for Smallville. It was a no-brainer... I was definitely working on this project.
The project was pretty crazy at first. Basically, I was told that the plot for Justice & Doom would come from the show producer (and one of the writers) Mark Warshaw and they wanted me to script out a story and pacing for a two and a half minute animation. I was a bit nervous but very excited. I've never had the opportunity to script for animation. It was different than anything I did before. Not only was I breaking down the pages for the artist I was to plan what was animated and figure out how long the animation should last. And if that wasn't enough I received the first plot breakdown on a Monday night with the editors asking me if I could have the script to them the next day. A twelve pack of Diet Code Red and three broken pencils later I finished the first episode [laughs]. From there the artist and Motherland Animation worked their magic to create the visuals you saw on screen last week.
Q: Is the process of writing for a 5-part animated story different to writing a comic book? If so, what are the main differences?
A: Oops, already answered this didn't I? The two biggest differences is writing in the pacing of the animation and figuring out how much dialog can actually fit in the episode. Since the story is all visual dialog (no voiceover) I had to make sure to not overload with too much dialog that the viewer wouldn't be able to keep up with the animation. Instead of writing static panels for a comic I had to think about things like, "What would Impulse do in this panel, and how can we make that happen visually?"
Q: What are you most proud of in regards to the "Justice & Doom" animations? Is there anything in particular you're hoping "Smallville" fans will get out of the 5-part series?
A: Oh man this is a tough one... I'd have to say episodes four and five are my favorites. I was really able to cut loose with the fourth episode and expand a bit on the characters. While that was great, I think the fifth was my proudest moment because I got to take part with the teaser for season 7. I can't say more than that at the moment, but I wouldn't want to miss the last episode of season six.
Q: In regards to the Smallville "Justice & Doom" animation... are there any plans on releasing it in paper form at any time, like a comic book?
A: I don't believe there is. With all the animation and action panels I don't think it would translate well to print, but it will be part of the special features on the Season Six DVD collection.
Q: I believe the initial run is for 5 episodes... any plans on doing anymore after this first run?
A: That's up to Mark, WB and DC Comics. I know there is a lot of talk about doing more with the Justice League. If they ask me to work on it I'm pretty sure they know the answer already [laughs].
A: Not sure on that part of the project. I knew from the beginning that this was a cross promotional deal with Smallville and Toyota but that's as much as I know.
Q: "Justice League Unlimited" has since finished its run on Cartoon Network does this mean you have far more freedom with characters and the direction of the book or do you still have to follow the series bible? Will any of the loose threads left behind by the series finale be resolved or played upon further in the comic book?
A: There are certain restrictions; the editors want the book to stay true to what was established with the cartoon. An example of that was the first draft of the story had Captain Marvel instead of Superman, but then I remembered that CM quit the JLU so I drafted Superman into the story, which was very cool for me. I got to put three of my favorite DCU characters (Supes, Guy and Darkseid) in one book.
Q: I notice heroes like Guy Gardner and Natasha Irons and villians like Zod and the Millenium Giants are coming to the forefront in future issues can you tell us of other characters to be featured in the future? Any chance you'll touch on Kara and her future with the Legion of Superheroes, Terry McGinnis, Warhawk and Static?
A: LoS are a bit off limits at the moment because of the new cartoon. Once the first season is completely out there they should open up. The biggest hurdle with writing a comic that has a current show airing is a lot of story ideas become off limits because of what is planned for the show. I learned that the hard way with The Batman. My first few pitches were responded with, "This is great but I believe this type of story is airing later in the season."...d'oh!
Q: Working on a book restricted by both its "children's" label and its television "source" must be difficult given that the show often pushed the envelope in adult themes and Johnny DC is intent on a very young readership... With such opposing directions how easy is it to write a story you think will appeal to these very different audiences?
A: The television source is the bigger obstacle. I've written all ages stories before, and I approach each one with the same thought, "Would I let my niece read this?" I was a bit hesitant at first about using Guy in an all ages book. He can be a bit of a jerk, shall we say, but in the end this is my favorite book of mine to date.
Q: Did you have a favorite episode of the show or an issue of JLU? How do you personally feel they differ from one another?
A: I have two favorite episodes (technically three if you count one as a two parter); The Once and Future Thing because it had Terry (Batman Beyond) in it. I'm a huge Batman Beyond fan, and my second is Clash because of Captain Marvel. I thought the dialog between Cap and Supes was just phenomenal. They really put drama in the show with that episode.
Q: What is the process in putting together a book when it is firmly linked to a resource in another medium ie; television?
A: It's about the same as writing any other book. You just research your resource so you don't make too big of a continuity blunder [laughs].
Q: Given the positive feedback we've received on issue #32 will we see more of your work on JLU? What are your current projects for DC and plans for the future?
A: I'm waiting to hear back from the editors about that. I'm currently working on a Batman Strikes story and if all goes well some Looney Tunes and more JLU, and my down time is consumed with working on my own titles.
Q: JLU and the recent Krypto miniseries are seen as "kiddie-fare" often unfairly neglected by readers of the regular books and television shows, what can you tell fans who aren't reading JLU about the book and why they should give it a chance?
A: Yeah it's a shame and especially with JLU. It surprises me that so many adults watch the cartoons but don't give the books a chance. They really should because the writers, artist and editors do a bang up job making sure the books have the same vibe as the shows. I collect both JLU and Batman Strikes regularly. I'll be picking up the LOSH at free comic book day next week, and will most likely be adding that to my pull list.
Q: Are there any other projects you're currently working on that you'd like to plug?
A: [Laughs]...thanks, I'm working on the second series of my title Atomik Mike (Desperado Publishing). It's about a captain of a space transport who has been turned into a monkey by his arch-rival. The stories follow Mike and his crew as they track down Tariq (the man responsible for his transformation) all while keeping their transport business operational. It's a great book because I really get to flex my imagination with the stories. It's currently being adopted for its own animated show, but that's a conversation for another time, but you can always here more news at our web site AcrossThePondStudios.com.
Q: Thanks for allowing us to interview you.
A: No problem, it was fun. Keep up the great work on the website.
This interview is Copyright © 2007 Steven Younis. It is not to be reproduced in part or as a whole without the express permission of the Superman Homepage.