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BACKSTAGE - J. TORRES INTERVIEW

Launching mere months after the series premiere, Teen Titans Go! was originally not supposed to exist. DC Comics revamped it's Young Justice title into a new version of Teen Titans, featuring most of the super-teens, albeit in much more mature forms. However, once the show premiered and became an instant hit, DC decided to make a comic title based on the series. Since it's launch, the series has been consistent in it's great art, wonderful stories and ability to be enjoyed by both adults and kids. The following interview delves into J. Torres work on Teen Titans Go!, as well as his other workings in the DC and Comic worlds.

World's Finest (WF): First off: Thanks for taking time out to do this! For many, getting started in the comics business is either a life long dream or by accident. How'd you get started?

J. Torres (JT): It started with a minicomic called "Copybook Tales."

J.T.: My friend Tim Levins and I made this little photocopies comic book that we sold on consignment at local shops.

J.T.: We also sold them over the Internet, which was a new thing for most people.

J.T.: Plus, we sent copies out to different publishers, editors, etc.

J.T.: One those publishers was Dan Vado of SLG Publishing. He liked what he saw and offered to publish "Copybook" as a real comic, and that's basically where we got our start. We eventually went on to do a miniseries for Image called "Siren", and not long after that Tim got work on "Batman Adventures."

J.T.: Somewhere along the way I hooked up with some freelance work at Nickelodeon and did some creator owned stuff Oni Press, which led to other opportunities including stuff at Marvel and eventually DC.

WF : Did you go after "Teen Titans Go!" at DC, or was that your first project there?

J.T.: It was my first DC gig ever, but I was actually contacted by an editor about it.

J.T.: I had sent a number of editors over there samples of my published work over the years, so I guess that's how they heard of me.

WF: "Teen Titans" ballooned out quickly as a massive hit show for Cartoon Network. DC hadn't originally planned an animated comic based on it, so the announcement of it was rather sudden. Did you feel any pressure at all in the beginning?

J.T.: Yes and no. I think I was too excited to be nervous to be honest. It was kind of a dream job for me. I was a big fan of "New Teen Titans" and I'd done all sorts of all-ages work prior to this and ever since Tim got on "Batman Adventures" I'd always wanted to do something for DC's cartoon books. And when I got the tapes of the first few episodes of the show, all sorts of ideas ran through my head and I was good to go.

WF: Speaking of the show, how hard is it to line up with the continuity the show itself has established? Do you get a heads up when a major plot element is coming up so you can work stories around or in it?

J.T.: Yeah, they let us know what's going down of course. And I am fortunate enough to have contact with David Slack and Adam Beechen if I have any questions. But the thing is, no one's really concerned about continuity. I think I'm probably the biggest stickler of the bunch! They keep telling me not to worry about that kind of stuff too much and just tell fun stories...

WF: The comic certainly has had its fair share of fun issues. This leads into the next question: What's your take on comics current "shock syndrome" in which it seems writers feel it more necessary to shock a reader with the story, rather than simply entertain them?

J.T.: Like almost anything, it's fine when it's done well. Of course, it works better if it serves the story and has a purpose. But shock for shock's sake usually comes off as such.

WF: Most comics feature storylines that are anywhere between 3-6 issues long. How difficult is it to compress a story into a single issue and still feature 5 characters and the villain(s)?

J.T.: Not really. And I'm not sure why I get that question so much. It's a different type of writing from "most comics", sure, but it's also a different kind of comic book and a different audience. But I don't see it as any more of a challenge than, say, the 1100 word article I have to write for a magazine this week or the third volume of the 66-page quarterly series I write for Oni Press called "Love as a Foreign Language." The size and format is less of a challenge than, say, turning off the TV or resisting the urge to go outside because the weather is warming up.

WF: I think it's due to the number of characters per story. People see a larger number and think it's harder; though if the chemistry's right with the characters from the get go...

J.T.: I don't know about that. I'm on a twenty page book with 5 main characters. Now, go look at Avengers or Justice League...

J.T.: Especially if George Perez is drawing!

J.T.: :-)

WF: heh heh, yeah. Speaking of drawings--any favorite artists on the "Teen Titans Go!" title? I know there's at least three that have penciled your stories.

J.T.: We've had... four now.

J.T.: Hope I'm not forgetting anyone.

J.T.: Six if you count cover artists Dave Bullock and Lary Stucker.

J.T.: Anyway... no disrespect to the other dudes but I'd have to say Todd.

J.T.: He started on this project with me and he's brought so much to it. He's just so good at what he does.

WF: All of the artists are great, but I do agree on Todd Nauck. He's delivered some beautiful art over the course of the title...the double-page spreads are a true sight to behold. The one in issue #15 with all the Titans on the Moths was awesome...

J.T.: Yeah, he's great at those big melees! And he loves drawing them. I try and give him room to flex his muscles in every issue and he never disappoints. He's done some great splash pages too, most of which I think would make great posters.

WF: Definitely. Something I found that has never disappointed me (and a lot of fans of the book) is the consistence in the writing on the book. The characters are always dead-on in their actions there's almost always an underlying message to every issue. And it's always stated in a way that's not in your face. Is it hard to be subtle when writing or does it all just flow out of the pen?

J.T.: Aw, shucks. Thanks. The thing is, these kids are so well-developed and fleshed out on the show, plus there's my experience with them in the original comics, that makes it easy to keep them "in character." And there are so many toys to play with in this sandbox that coming up with story ideas isn't that difficult. So, you have the plot, you have how each of the heroes will react in certain situations, and it goes like that. But thanks, I appreciate the compliments.

WF: How has fan response (well, besides mine) on "Teen Titans Go!" been? Does negative criticism from the fans (or you own criticism of the way the issues turn out) phase you much?

J.T.: Well, it's never fun when you read that someone didn't like what you wrote. But you have to take the good with that bad, especially if the negative stuff rings true on some level. A smart writer listens to what his audience is saying and tries to take something from the criticism, learn from it. Luckily, for the most part, fan reaction has been very positive so I'm happy about that. I especially dig it when moms and dads come up to me with their kids at comic shows and signings. It's always fun to meet your readers, and doubly cool to see a family sharing the love of comics.

J.T.: I think that...

J.T.: ...a lot of the bad "reviews" from readers are coming from people who want the book to be something else, something it's not. So, the thing to remember is that you can't be all things to all people and do your best from there.

J.T.: I think the same can be said about critics of the cartoon.

J.T.: It seems to me a lot of people's complaints stem from them wanting the episode or the whole show to be something else.

J.T.: Some people wrote off the show and the comic because they thought it was just "kids stuff", and they're right to a degree, but some of those people eventually gave both a shot and realized that they like it. So, it's good to keep an open mind. As a fan and a creator.

WF: The show definitely took it's fair share of punches (especially before airing). It's hard to keep it at a level where everyone enjoys it.

I want to backtrack a bit, to where you said that whole families have come up to you at signings. How difficult is it writing a comic that everyone can enjoy when comics seem to becoming more and more graphic and violent?

J.T.: Well, as I said before you have to remember that you can't be all things to all people. Plus, there's the fact that this world, this package, comes to me with its own sets of rules and parameters regarding what I can and can't do in terms of violence, for example.

J.T.: So, it's not that difficult to keep it rated "G." But now and then, my editor does have to tell me stuff like "no decapitated zombie heads" or that line's a little too suggestive :-)

WF: Aw. Decapitated zombie heads has got to be all-ages fun...

J.T.: That's what I said!

J.T.: We've got zombies in issue #19... but no severed body parts, alas.

WF: Nice. Can't wait for that one...even if body parts aren't flying across panels.

J.T.: Yeah, we had to keep the zombies whole but they do still fly across panels.

WF: Well that should still be fun then...

WF: Teen Titans Go! has been on the shelves for over a year (hitting year #2 in November). There's certainly a load of great issues in the bunch; any particular favorites?

J.T.: Hmm...

J.T.: I always look back at my work and find something I don't like about it, or wish I could change, but... I'd have to say...

J.T.: #2 turned out nicely. It was a simple story, a borrowed "classic" plot, but I think it works in context.

J.T.: I also liked #9 because we got to introduce the Titans Go Bot 5 and that had my little anti-war message.

J.T.: Our first Terra issue #11 is another one I like because it had Terra in it, plus it was the first issue we did that filled a "gap" in between eps.

J.T.: But you know what seems to be a lot of people's favorite issue?

J.T.: #5 where Raven gets a zit! Whenever I go to a show that's one that a lot of people, including other comic book creators, bring up.

J.T.: I guess a lot of folks can relate to the zit thing :-)

WF: I remember picking that issue up. The cover certainly grabbed your attention (as does all of Dave Bullock's covers) and the story was really entertaining. I still have a soft spot for #4 (Valentines Day issue) and the semi-recent #12. The way #12 was told was great, with the little puzzles thrown in...

WF: And the riddles in the issues! Those are always a lot of fun to try and figure out...

J.T.: Thanks. I enjoy that kind of stuff. My nephews and I exchange knock knock jokes all the time. I love that they let me do that stuff. I think it adds more fun to the comic. It's the best when a kid comes up to me and repeats one of the jokes in the issues. More times than not, the parent with that kid will look at me and sarcastically say something like, "Yeah, thanks for that. He says it five times a day."

WF: The jokes definitely add enjoyment to the comics. The drawings that accompany them are always cute to look at as well...

J.T.: You know, I recently go to work on some Teen Titans activity books for Scholastic and I'm convinced they gave me that job because of the marginal gags and activities we put in the book.

WF: I read about those. The two (one dealing with Beast Boy and one with Raven, as I recall) are due out sometime soon I think...

WF: Were they any different to write compared to the comic?

J.T.: Actually, the Beast Boy and Raven books are chapter books. Novels. The activity books are different. I don't know when those are scheduled to come out, but the chapter books are due sometime in March.

J.T.: The chapter books were a challenge simply because of their length. About 6000 words each. I haven't written any one thing that long since... I don't remember. College maybe?

J.T.: The activity books were really easy and fun but time consuming. It was fun to come up with all the puzzles and games, but it just time to organize and order and format everything.

WF: Ah, I hadn't heard of the activity books. I might have to pick those up...erm...for my younger cousin of course...

J.T.: So, again, for these things it was about generating ideas or working within formats being the difficult part but rather having the discipline to sit down and do the work, and not let myself get distracted by other work or, you know, play :-)

J.T.: Hey! I "collect" a lot of Batman and Justice League stuff, you know, based on the cartoons, and that includes sticker books and activity books made for people much younger than I ;-)

WF: Collecting! I forgot I can do that without strange looks from the cashiers...

J.T.: Heh.

WF: Diverging from the Titans, how goes the work on "Cannon Busters" and "Love as a Foreign Language"?

J.T.: Well, Cannon Busters #1 should finally be off to the printers this week. And I'm actually working on Love #3 today.

J.T.: #2 is already at the printers and should be in stores in a couple of weeks.

WF: Excellent. Anything else we expect see the Torres name on in our comic shops in the future?

J.T.: My first-ever Batman story comes out in April. It's the first of a two-part Mr. Freeze story in "Legends of the Dark Knight."

J.T.: I'm working on a new graphic novel for Oni called "Lola, A Ghost Story" which is, well, a ghost story of sorts set in the Philippines.

J.T. : Other than that, more TTG from me. Todd's drawing #18 as we speak and I should start scripting #20 sometime next week.

J.T.: And I've already mentioned the chapter books coming out in March. "Blinded by the Light" and "Raven's Secret."

J.T.: Oh!

J.T.: And I wrote a story for the "Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi" show!

J.T.: I don't know if I can talk about that yet, so let's just say it's coming...

WF: Wow. Can't wait to read the Freeze story and the other works you've got going on. Sounds like you've a full plate coming our way...

J.T.: Life is a buffet, my friend. You have a try and little bit of everything and go back for more of what you like. Just stay away from the red stuff it looks too spicy.

WF: I want to thank you again for taking the time out for this interview! It's been great talking with you.

J.T.: My pleasure!

The above was conducted on February 7th, 2005 by James Harvey. For information on where and when J. Torres's aforementioned works are hitting, contact your local comic book retailer.Plus, check out J. Torres online via his website, J. Torres Online.

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