With Further Ado #022: The Bat and the Matt: Batbooks and the Holiday

On several Christmases, Santa gifted me a plethora of Batman toys. My favorite Bat-gifts? Well, I especially loved the Trans-o-gram Batmobile.  My dad and I even built a cardboard Batcave for it!  (#BestDadEver) I always yearned for the Batman Captain Action set, but Santa could never find one. My (wonderful) mother ended up sewing one for me. (#BestMomEver) And I am pretty sure I looked quite dashing pedaling during rush hour in the living room, riding the Marx Batmobile.

(By the way, the commercial for that one is classic. Check it out here!)

After a few more Christmases, I still like Batman but I’d graduate from toys to books. The quintessential Bat-book for me is still Batman from the 30s to the 70s, a collection of stories wrapped up in that gorgeous Infantino & Anderson dustjacket.  But many subsequent Batbooks would follow on many subsequent Christmases. And now I really love giving Bat-books too. It’s never too early for brainwashing, after all. 

So on the day after Christmas, it’s only fitting to speak with a guy who writes Batman books!  Matthew Manning is a great guy and a gifted author, who has developed quite the niche for himself as a bat-author. “Who is he and how did he come to be?”, as they say? We had quite the conversation and he reveals it all in this week’s With Further Ado:

Ed Catto: You’ve carved out such a unique corner of Geek Culture for yourself, Matt. How would you describe it and how it did all come about?

Matthew Manning: I’m calling myself a comic book writer, historian, and fan, since I write both comics and books about comics. I got into this business by studying Cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. While I was there, interned at DC Comics, and afterwards, I kept visiting the offices, showing writing samples and the like. Finally, Dan Raspler (who was editing the Justice League titles at the time) suggested I pitch to Justice League Adventures, an animated tie-in book. After a few rejected pitches, he found one he liked, and I had my first comic published. I kept plugging away at a comic here and a comic there until my good friend working at Marvel Comics, Mark Beazley, passed my name on to DK Publishing to write an update to The Ultimate Guide to Spider-Man. DK liked it, and I began doing regular work for them and several other book publishers in addition to my comic book writing. To date, I’ve written over 75 books and dozens of comics and magazines.

EC: I love your Batman research, specially your Bat-Costume research. What’s your favorite one? Can you tell me a little about that Deluxe Cowl Light-Up collectible from last year?

MM: I’m a big fan of super-focused books. So when I got the chance to write a small hardcover book to accompany Running Press’s Batman Deluxe Cowl, I was happy to have it just deal with the Dark Knight’s many wardrobe changes. The book talks about as many Batman costumes as I could fit into it, from his first costume from 1939, to the days of the 1950s that gave us Rainbow Batman and Bullseye Batman, to his latest costume in the “Rebirth” event. Running Press liked these little gift books so much, they recently released a four-pack slipcase of them called Batman: Chronicles of the Dark Knight. Shades of Black: The Many Costumes of Batman is included, as well as three of my other books, The Batman Villains, The Batmobile, and Bat-Signal: Lighting the Dark Knight’s Sky. But for me personally, nothing beats the 1970’s bronze age look with the capsule utility belt, yellow oval, and blue and gray costume. It’s a piece of my childhood and really the iconic Batman.

EC: For me, the first Batman ‘researched” book was Ulsan’s Batman Encyclopedia. Did you read that as a kid? I wouldn’t be surprised if that inspired you.

MM: I do have that book, but I never had a copy as a kid. Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe was a big part of my continuity comic book knowledge. I read those comics cover to cover and was at just the right age to remember way too much of them. Also Les Daniels’s books (DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes and Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics) were a big deal for me as a kid, and still to this day. Love the behind-the-scenes stuff.

EC: You’ve written so many cool Batman research books. Which ones are your favorites?

MM: I love a lot of what I’ve written, but my favorite two are probably The Batman Files from Andrews McMeel and Batman: A Visual History from DK Publishing. The Batman Files is written from Batman’s perspective and gave me a chance to streamline all his many decades of continuity into one faux journal of sorts. Plus, it’s always fun to write in Batman’s voice. Batman: A Visual History is a month-by-month chronicle of every important bat-related comic and the people responsible for them. I only wish that book was twice as large, as we had to cut quite a lot from my original outline due to space/time constraints. 6. How do you go about doing the research? And are there cookies or tortilla chips involved? Plenty of dark chocolate and coffee, that’s for sure. But for Batman projects, they actually require very little research. I started reading comics with Batman, and have gone back to read most everything I can find. My Batman comic collection contains over 13,000 issues, so everything Gotham comes pretty naturally to me.

EC: You’ve had experience working on other characters like Green Lantern, Scooby Doo, Teen Titans and Groot. Did you enjoy those characters? What other Marvel or DC are on your bucket list?

MM: I have a natural inclination towards humor in my writing, so I really enjoy mixing up what characters I write or write about. I’ve had the good fortune to write dozens of iconic superheroes over the years, and am currently writing both Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Marvel Action: Avengers for IDW, so that scratches off plenty of my childhood favorites from the list right there. I do hope I get the chance to write plenty more Batman and Spider-Man, though, as those are my two favorites. As for as other character I haven’t written yet? ThunderCats and Dick Tracy top that list.

EC: I love all your IDW work on properties like TMNT and Batman. How did this all come about.

MM: I was writing Beware the Batman for DC a few years back, and saw an artist I’d worked with was drawing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all-ages cartoon tie-in book. I was a big TMNT fan as a kid as well, so I dropped a line to the editor of the series, Bobby Curnow. Bobby approved a few pitches, and I began writing for TMNT: New Animated Adventures and then TMNT: Amazing Adventures. That led to me writing the Batman/TMNT Adventures miniseries, paired with artist Jon Sommariva. Jon and I got along great, and we’re launching Marvel Action: Avengers together this month (scheduled to release December 26th). I’m also have another great collaborator in artist Chad Thomas on Rise of the TMNT, a comic set in the world of the current TMNT cartoon. These really are dream projects, and I having a blast working on both.

EC: What kind of stories are you trying to tell in this format?

MM: For both Marvel Action: Avengers and Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, we’re really trying to make comics for all ages. Rise of the TMNT should appeal to kids with the crazy villains and big action, but adults will hopefully enjoy the humor. For Marvel Action: Avengers, Jon and I are trying to make a book that longtime readers and new fans will both equally enjoy. I don’t believe in talking down to the audience. We’re trying to find that sweet spot where comics from the 1970s and early 1980s thrived. Something not too adult for a young audience, but intriguing and exciting for an older readership as well. 10. What has the reader reaction been? Rise is still finding its audience, as the show is brand new and quite a departure from previous TMNT incarnations. I’m getting lots of kind messages on twitter and such, so that’s always a plus. Marvel Action: Avengers hasn’t debuted yet, but so far readers seem pretty excited for it. I know Jon and I are!

EC: Bonus Question – Batman’s rogue gallery has so many fantastic villains, and so many lame ones. As an expert on the subject, what’s your favorite “Lame Batman Villain”?

MM: I really have a soft spot for minor villains in general, as I see so much potential there for new stories. I’m not sure Calendar Man is considered lame (I like him, at least!), but he’s up there as a favorite. I even gave him a hint of an origin when I wrote a short story about him in Batman: 80-Page Giant 2010. If I could make a living only writing about characters like Signalman or Black Spider, I’d do it in a heartbeat!

EC: Thanks and keep up the excellent work. By the way – I really enjoyed your Nightwing retrospective magazine that came with Eaglemoss’ Nightwing bust.