Justin Tyler is one of the hosts of Comic Book Club and a member of the comedy sketch group Side Car. He has a thinking place with a long poster.
Amor: So the idea for this volley came from our initial chats to eventually collaborate on a comic, with the intention of chronicling the foolishness that the project began with. I guess we can say for now that we are slowly working on a comedy comic together and safely leave it at that.
Tyler: I love the secrecy. We ARE working on a comedy comic together and I will leave it at “Hurray!”
Amor: To get the ball rolling, let me ask you this — what are some of your favorite funnies in mainstream comics? As a comedian, your standard for junk like that might actually be pretty high, no?
Tyler: I love the comedy in the first half of the Bone series. It’s so fun and innocent and does such a good job of making you fall in love with those characters. I loved the joke-to-page ratio of the Formerly Known as the Justice League series from 2003. Peter David always manages to sneak some smart jokes into X-Factor. Early Invincible was really fun. Starman had some great jokes and was also an amazing series. Having some level of comedy, just like the real world, makes a comic a fully rounded experience.
As a comedian, I don’t think I have a higher standard for what is funny, it’s just more exposure to it. It makes me crave original humor. You can only hear so many Aquaman-is-useless-on-land jokes before you think “Check. Got it. Let’s give him a hand made of water, that’ll do it.”
Is there a difference on the artist’s end when it comes to comedy? Do you have a special joke pen?
Amor: Man, I wish I did. Not a lot of illustrators will freely admit it, but the skill to render the wide range of emotions needed to make a comedy comic work is pretty challenging to develop. Pros will tell you to look in the mirror, yeah well that doesn’t necessarily make it universally simple. You mentioned Formerly Known as the Justice League as one of your favorites — my love for the BWAHAHA stuff goes back to the JLI, when I used those books as a gateway drug from Archie. Kevin Maguire’s a complete genius at conveying the emotions needed to make Talking Head Books work. Other favorites of mine include the genre-bending stylings in Next Wave, and the fourth-wall breakage of any Adam Warren book.
The Aquaman jokes are all good at the start, I guess… but after a while it gets stale and overdone, which really only makes it attributable to lazy writing. And since no character would actually freely mock Aquaman to his face, it’s really just the writer mocking the character vicariously — know what I mean? Which brings up the relevance of voice…
Tyler: Well, to be fair, there are ways of mocking Aquaman to his face. He speaks very little French, for one.
Voice. I love talking voice. Voice is essential to good storytelling. When you think of all of the most distinctive, popular characters in comics, what they have in common is a clear voice: Wolverine, Captain America, Batman, Deadpool, Joker, there are others. These are the characters that jump off the page: you can almost hear their “voices” as you read, especially the bubs.
But giving voice to a character is hard. It’s a combination of language, attitude, worldview, accent, emotion, motivation and on the artist’s end, design, look, movement and a ton of other small details that make up the character. It’s so easy to miss one or two of these or over-emphasize others and then the character ends up out of balance and bland or fake.
Aquaman is a good example of this. In many writer’s hands he just doesn’t have a strong voice: he just seems like an underwater superman. Or dying secretly dying with an octopus face. But you look at a mini-series like Peter David’s Aquaman: Time and Tide and he has a clear character, a strong voice and it’s just amazing work. It’s a must read, even though he’s just a bâtard poisson muet…. you know what I mean.
Amor: Hehah! Indeed, I do. In contrast to that though, something that annoys me a lot, is when a writer will inject too much of himself into a character. And though it may still be funny in the context of the story, certain characters simply don’t say certain things. In Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, Wolverine tells Armor to step up her game or else she’ll be transferred to Excalisuck, or something to that effect. That’s a funny joke… but Wolverine doesn’t say that. Xander says that. Buffy banter does not a good X-comic make.
Tyler: Yeah, definitely. Wolverine is not great with banter. He’s got a great stand up comedy act though. Sort of a gruff Carrot Top.
Every writer brings their personal take to the character but the best writers explore the voice through the character rather than laying their personal voice on top of the character. But Wolverine saying “Excalibullshit” would be pretty cool too.