Recently I got the opportunity to talk with one of the writers behind Cartoon Network’s comics, John Rozum. John shed light on his passion for horror as well as his ability to write comedy and so much more.
Andre Lamar: You’ve been on both sides of the writing spectrum, by writing stories for Clive Barker’s Hellraiser to scripting Cartoon Network comics. What prompted you to switch from one extreme to the other?
John Rozum: It wasn’t really a matter of switching. I feel at home writing both. From childhood on, I’ve been a big fan of horror and animation, so the language for both is ingrained in me. The real challenge was finding a way to make stories whose strengths lie in media other than comics work in comics. Horror that succeeds in novels, and short stories, relies on the imagination of the reader to amplify what’s on the page. Horror that succeeds in movies relies on music, sound, and control of where, and for how long the viewer gets to look wherever they want and for however long they want, giving them power over the story.
Animation is about timing; movement or lack of movement, often in time with music. These are the tools which make it’s visual gags work, or not. Again, comics don’t have those tools, so you have to find some sort of parallel to create something that suggests a close approximation of the source material, but without the ability to truly replicate it. This is why the Looney Tunes comic book stories are more verbal, with lots of wordplay, while the animated cartoons are more visual.
The real prompt for me was the opportunity to do these varied kinds of stories.
AL: How did you get involved with Cartoon Network?
JR: My involvement came in 1998, when Dana Kurtin, who at the time was editing the various Cartoon Nertwork comic books, asked me to write some Scooby-Doo stories for her. All the other Cartoon Netowrk related work grew out of this.
AL: Who decides which cartoons are featured in the Cartoon Network Action Pack?
JR: As far as I know, it’s the folks at Warner Brothers.
JR: Yes. It may happen. It may not.
AL: Do your children give you any suggestions for your stories in the Cartoon Network books? Are they your toughest critics?
JR: Occasionally. Sometimes it’s an incident or something very broad. I don’t know that I’ve ever used anything they’ve suggested. Sometimes, I’ll see what appeals to them when they watch the animated shows that the comic books are based on, and incorporate more of that type of thing into the story, such as Fiskertons’s antics on The Secret Saturdays.
They’re no tougher critics than other kids who read these comics. I don’t run my stories past them before I submit them, or anything. They see the stories the same way everyone else does, in the printed comic book. I find kids in general to be much more honest as critics than adults, and I also find their criticisms to be more useful. It’s hard to concern yourself with adult criticism because so much of it these days seems to be in the form of snarky comments to impress their peers or complaints that you aren’t some other writer.
AL: Are you interested in writing more mature comics, opposed to the likes of The Secret Saturdays and Scooby-Doo?
JR: I like doing them both. I think a lot of people would be surprised at how much skill it takes to write a five page Dexter’s Laboratory story. I’ve probably found more satisfaction in some of the Cartoon Network stories I’ve written than some of the more adult oriented titles I’ve written. People are often surprised by this, but those people have probably never read one of the Cartoon Network stories I’ve written.
AL: How has your experience working with Cartoon Network differed from writing stories with Marvel, Dark Horse, etc.?
JR: It’s not too different. I’m writing characters I didn’t create and have to do everything in my abilities to keep the characters true to their established personalities and objectives, and to keep the tone of the comic book series the same as the source material it’s based on.
AL: I understand Forrest J. Ackerman played a major role in your life with shaping your career in comics. On your blog you stated he was “accessible” and you would call him, at the age of 12, on Friday nights. Initially how did you get in contact with Mr. Ackerman and what questions did you ask him?
JR: His phone number, which I still remember even though I haven’t dialed it in years, was no secret. It was available so people could call about touring his home and his collection. I simply called it one Friday night, and he answered. I don’t recall the specific questions. I’m sure they were all inane questions he’d answered a million times, but he answered them all patiently and never tried to get me off the phone. It made me feel welcome to call him again.
Now, with the internet, you have access to pretty much anyone, but it wasn’t anything like that back then. It was a big deal, to me at any rate. Through him I had access to people like Vincent Price, who mailed me his autograph. There’s a reason so many people so fondly regard Forry Ackerman. Most of the people I knew didn’t understand my attachment to horror and science fiction movies, and he did, and he encouraged it. He was about the only adult who did.
AL: My experience with comic book writers/artists are they seem to be more accessible, and down to earth, than nearly anyone else in the entertainment industry. What do you believe distinguishes your peers in comics from others in entertainment?
JR: I think the egos of people in the comics industry can only grow so large, though there are a few exceptions. No one is putting comic book writers on the cover of Entertainment Weekly or Vanity Fair. No one cares whether we have cellulite. There are no paparazzi hiding in the bushes of our front yards. Even the wealthiest among us make very little compared to any c-list star. Even the biggest stars in the comics are completely unknown to anyone who doesn’t read them.
I think so many of us have overlapping interests, and the people that read comics share many of the same interests, so there’s one overlap that makes it easy to connect. I also think people who are making comics now, remember what it was like trying to break in and are very helpful and honest when it comes to advising others trying to break in.
Of course, the most pragmatic answer would be that unlike someone like Tom Hanks, or U2, the comics industry is not a thriving industry and we all need to keep and expand our audienc
e. The best way to do that is to keep the fans we have happy and to keep them excited about our next projects so they’ll keep following our work. The best way to do that is to continually engage them in conversation. I don’t mean to sound flippant by any means. We’re not being nice to our fans because we have to. I truly like to hear from people who’ve read something I’ve written. I’m lucky to have a, mostly, very smart audience whether it’s for my adult comics, or my kids comics. I even like negative criticism as long as it’s well thought out. I don’t expect my work to appeal to all people.
AL: If you could make one wish to change one particular thing in the comic book industry, what would it be?
JR: The long lag time between pitching and approval, or even dismissal, of a project. It’s really hard to keep enthusiasm for a project going when it’s sitting somewhere for months and months. It also makes it less appealing to continue pitching new projects.
I also wouldn’t mind seeing the industry embrace other types of stories to tell in comics besides the one we see. One could argue that places like Fantagraphics and Pantheon Books publish a variety of stories, but it‘s not so great for those of us that require an artist to draw our stories, or artists who need writers.
AL: Finally, what other future projects can fans expect from you?
JR: Most immediately, I will be writing The Hangman for DC. This is more adult oriented fare than kid friendly. I’ll continue with The Secret Saturdays for Cartoon Network Action Pack and Scooby-Doo (issue #146, out in July, marks my 100th Scooby-Doo story to see print).
AL: It’s been a pleasure to interview you Mr. Rozum and I will stay tuned for the Cartoon Network Action Pack #39 in July.