I was incredibly fortunate to get to interview Tracy Hickman for Terra Incognito. He was gracious with his time and his advice for new authors. Our Skype interview went over two hours and we probably could have kept going, but what was initially going to be one column wound up sprawling over into two issues. When we put Terra together as a book, unfortunately, we simply couldn’t fit all of his interview into it, so we decided to take a snippet of the interview and save it for the readers of this blog.
So, without further ado: Tracy Hickman
RW: You have a new book coming out called Wayne of Gotham. Is this your first time doing work with DC Comics? (Note: Wayne of Gotham was released on June 26, 2012, a few weeks after this interview was conducted.)
TH: Yes, this is my first foray into doing work with DC Comics.
RW: Two questions come to mind. One, can you give us a quick synopsis of the book? And two, since we’re talking about world building, Batman is a pretty iconic character. How much research did you have to do into Gotham City and the whole Batman mythos to be true to the character? Admittedly Batman has been through several reboots since the 1930s, but how do you stay true to the feel of Batman?
TH: Wayne of Gotham is a hugely exciting thing for me. Wayne of Gotham is a book about Batman, and Bruce Wayne coming to grips with the reality of his own father. We’re reopening and reinvestigating the deaths of his parents. Mostly, when we think of Thomas Wayne, we think of him being dead. We think of how he died. But we really haven’t examined who he was and what he did in his life. I think this is a journey all men have to take to come to grips with the reality of their father. Especially in the case of Bruce Wayne, where his father was such an enormous catalyst for his life. I felt it was important for us to take a look at who Thomas Wayne was and more importantly, that Bruce Wayne take a look at who his father was, aside from the marbled figure who’s up on the pedestal.
The story actually opens with his grandfather Patrick Wayne, who’s drunk, dragging Thomas into the caverns underneath Wayne Manor with a shotgun and forcing him to kill bats. We see that Patrick was an abusive and violent father to Thomas and bullied his son—trying to make a man out of him. That is the start of this journey for us.
The story takes place in two periods. In the modern day, Batman is confronted with a series of crimes in the city that mirror events from the late 1950s involving his father. Then we jump back in time and visit Gotham in the late 1950s and we see Thomas and what made him tick, how he met Martha Kane and how Thomas may have been the foundation of many of Bruce problems and many of the problems that confront Gotham City in the time of the Batman. It’s a thrilling journey and one I’m just so excited to tell.
Plus, I got to write characters I’ve always wanted to write. I got to write some obscure characters, but I also got a chance to write iconic characters. I loved writing Harley Quinn. Harley was a delight to write and yes, the Joker was a thrill. But all these characters are caught up in the investigation into Thomas Wayne and why he really died. That’s basically the story we’re telling in Wayne of Gotham.
RW: I think this one is definitely going to have to go on my “to buy” list.
TH: I cannot recommend this book enough. This is a joy to read. I have a copy of it here with me—one copy of it. I wish I could share it.
RW: It’s obvious to do the old Gotham versus the new Gotham; a lot of research had to go on. Did you get a chance to go through some of the Golden- and Silver-Age Batman material to help with your research?
TH: DC sent me a copy of The Essential Batman Encyclopedia, which is now so used, the spine is broken. I’m going to have to go take it in to have it rebound. When approaching an iconic character like Batman, you walk a really fine line. My first reaction after we proposed this story and they accepted it was, “Oh man, I get to write Batman.” And then the second reaction was, “What have I done? I have to write Batman!” Because everyone has an idea of who Batman is.
RW: And everyone loves to tell you about it if it’s not quite right in their eyes.
TH: It’s going to be an interesting [San Diego] Comic Con, this year to see how the fans react to what I’ve done.(Laughter) [DC] actually said to me, early on, “you can do anything you want to with Batman. If you want to redesign the suit, redesign the suit. If you want to redesign the Batmobile, redesign the Batmobile. You want to put Batman in a leather jacket, let’s do that.”
Now, my first thoughts were, “Cool, I can redesign the suit and the Batmobile.” The second thought I had immediately after that was, “Don’t! Don’t do it.”
RW: I think you made a wise choice.
TH: You gotta have the cape. You gotta have the cowl. He’s Batman. The Batsuit has to be the Batsuit. Batman has to be Batman. It has to be iconic. So, what I had to do then was provide something original, something that’s new, but I have to do it in such a way it feels like Batman or what we already know he is. Plus, it has to pay homage to every previous iteration. He has to be a part of what everyone believes Batman to be. So, it was a very difficult line to walk because you need to do something new and interesting, but at the same time, it has to be familiar. It has to ring true organically as Batman.
So, I had to do a tremendous amount of research on the history of Batman. I had to go through the multiverses and the multiple iterations of the Batman down through the years. Everything from who was Batman in the 1930s to who Batman is today. For example, Vicky Vale is so many different people, depending on which series you’re dealing with. Which Robin are we talking about? So, it was really important, to me. I need to be able to touch on the iconic moments that are Batman and to weave all these pieces into a single cloth to pay homage and honor the vision of everyone who’d come before me. That was the biggest challenge I had in this book—to produce something that rang true to what everyone wanted Batman to be.
RW: The very first time I ever did media tie-in work, the basic advice I got was you can do whatever you want as long as you put all the toys back on the shelf where you got them from. In other words, I could have the character do X, they could do Y, but in the end, I couldn’t change the fundamentals.
TH: I’m really excited then, because in this book we do make some fundamental changes here. But I think they’re very satisfying in terms of defining who the character is. My hope is when people read the book is they’ll say, “Yeah, that makes sense.” I’m really anxious to get some people out there reading it so I can get some feedback and see what people think of my take on the Batman.
To read the rest of my interview with Tracy, which includes his insights on world building, you’ll have to purchase a copy of Terra Incognito: A Guide to Building the Worlds of Your Imagination, available from StarWarp Concepts.