Author Showcase: Batton Lash
Bennet Pomerantz

If you haven't read Supernatural Law , you should. This series is an amazing blend of satire, humor and in-jokes regarding modern day issues and monsters in graphic novel form. I met writer/cartoonist Batton Lash at Book Expo America in June. We shook hands and I mentioned doing this author showcase, he agreed to do it.

About a month passed and I hadn't heard from him. So I took the risk and I called him. He, like many, felt overwhelmed by the show. He accommodatingly agreed to this author interview, and I am grateful for his time.

Bennet Pomerantz: Tell me when you first considered yourself a writer?

Batton Lash: I'm not sure I ever considered myself a writer per se; I always considered myself a cartoonist, telling a story with words and pictures, thereby having the best of both worlds! I've been writing and drawing for as long as I can remember, so I guess I always considered myself a cartoonist.

BP: How did you first create Wolff & Byrd Counselors of the Macabre?

BL: In 1979, I had an opportunity at The Brooklyn Paper (a local weekly newspaper) to create a comic strip. Since The Brooklyn Paper was, at the time, distributed mainly to the downtown Brooklyn area where all the courts and small law firms are, I thought I'd do a weekly strip that had a legal angle to catch the attention of The Brooklyn Paper's main readers.

BP: What other newspapers carried the Wolff & Byrd comic strip?

BL: It appeared in The National Law Journal for fourteen years, as well as a long run in Comics Buyers Guide. The strip also appeared such periodicals as American Fantasy, Monsterscene, and Pop Art Times. I phased out the strip in the late '90s, to concentrate more on the comic book version of Wolff & Byrd.

BP: What was the advantage to turning a comic strip into a comic book? Did that affect the writing of the series?

BL: I believe it did; going to a comic book format gave me the room to develop a larger supporting cast as well as explore and expand on the characterizations of the leads. I was also able to use storytelling techniques appropriate to a story that I might not have been able to utilize properly in a weekly strip format. Needless to say, I never looked back after going to comic book format!

BP: When did Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre become Supernatural Law?

BL: A few years after I turned the comic strip into a comic book, it occurred to me that the title of the comic needed to be more concise and had to give the potential buyer a better idea of its concept. I believe the title, Supernatural Law, fits the bill. Plus, it's a pun on "natural law", so I'd like to think it works on all levels!

BP: Explain to me your writing process, do you write and draw at the same time or write the script first ?

BL: Whenever I get an idea for a story, I immediately jot it down. The idea is usually just one line written on a post-it note (for example: "mad scientist sells souls on black market") and I put in the "to do" file. Of course, some one-liners are better than others! Looking over the many notes, I decide which idea might be interesting enough to develop into a story, and I expand on it by writing, in longhand, an outline, something that would take the story from A to Z. From there, I begin to do a rough layout, writing in (very) rough dialogue in the margins. I continue to refine the copy as I refine the pencils (by the way, for anyone interested, the Black Market Souls story was done and appeared in Supernatural Law #26, collected in The Vampire Brat trade paperback).

BP: How much time does it take you to write a story line?

BL: It takes about two weeks. But I'm constantly fine-tuning and revising the dialogue throughout the eight weeks it takes to do an entire issue.

BP: What or where do you gather inspiration for your stories or characters?

BL: I think inspiration is everywhere . . . anyone who says they don't know what to write about needs to just look around. Ideas are everywhere! A lot of characters are based on people I've known. The news is fodder for a lot of material.

BP: Of all your different story lines of Wolff and Byrd, do you have a favorite?

BL: That's tough to say, because they're all my babies . . . but if pressed, I have fond memories of doing the stories that are collected in the Mr. Negativity volume and I very much enjoyed doing the Mavis spin-offs.

BP: Who are your favorite writers, cartoonists or illustrators who inspired you?

BL: Here is a partial list: Writers: Real favorites are Damon Runyon, George S. Kaufman, Roland Dahl, Donald Westlake, Peter DeVries, S.J. Perelman, Tom Wolfe, Woody Allen (he is a master at structuring a story). Cartoonists: There are many, but Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Steve Ditko, Milton Caniff and Johnny Craig are the top guys in my book! Illustrators: Ed Sorel, Charles Dana Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg, Rafael DeSoto, Andrew Loomis, Mitchell Hooks (not sure if you can see any of those illustrators' work in my work, but they are faves!)

BP: Will Eisner once said to me, 'What drives and inspires me is being a storyteller', so what drives you as a creator/writer?

BL: I'm compelled to tell stories, so I agree with Eisner. It something I've been doing for as long as I can remember, so writing and drawing is more like a vocation than a job to me!

BP: You self publish your work, would you suggest that for others?

BL: Yes I would. It's all about being your own boss. Admittedly, there are the added chores of marketing and promoting your work, but then you don't have to worry about being fired! It's a little tougher to do it yourself, but you are in total control of your property and not just another title on a publisher's list. That can make all the difference in the world.

BP: What is your future plans for Supernatural Law?

BL: The immediate plan is the launch of an online series, It will feature new stories. The main purpose of an online Supernatural Law series is to reach a wider audience beyond comics shops and hopefully satisfy the Supernatural Law comic book readers between issues. This fall will also see the release of Tales of Supernatural Law, a quality trade paperback collection of the first eight issues of the Wolff & Byrd title. The stories have been "remixed and remastered" (to use DVD parlance!). The stories have been retoned, relettered and in many instances, panels were redrawn and dialogue was tightened. And the regular Supernatural Law title will continue. There's always updates on the official Exhibit A Press website. Please check it out!

BP: Other than Wolff & Byrd/Supernatural Law, what other projects have you been or are involved with?

BL: I write (and occasionally draw) the Radioactive Man feature for Bongo Comics, the fine people who publish The Simpsons (I hope everyone knows Radioactive Man is Bart Simpson's favorite character!). I've done nine single issues of the Radioactive Man title, and now the feature will be part of a new Bongo title, The Simpsons Super Spectacular. Outside of that, just keeping up with writing and drawing Supernatural Law takes up almost all my time!

BP: In twenty years from now, what would you want others to say about you and your work?

BL: I'd like to hear people say they got their money's worth when they picked up Supernatural Law, Mavis or even Radioactive Man. I hope that if people discover my work twenty years from now, they'll be pleasantly surprised to see that there's a "timeless" quality about the stories. Although I do spoofs on current events and popular TV and movies on occasion, I try to write stories that revolve around universal concerns. Those concerns never get dated!

BP: How does it feel to win an Eisner (named for Will Eisner, who created The Spirit) Award for Best Humor publication?

BL: It felt great! I should point out, though, that the Best Humor Publication award was for Bongo's Radioactive Man, and I shared it with the various artists on the title, as well as editors Bill Morrison and Terry Delegeane. Supernatural Law is not eligible for any Eisner Award, because my wife, Jackie Estrada, is the Eisner Award Administrator and her duties on the Supernatural Law comic, serving as editor and co-publisher would be a conflict of interest. However, Supernatural Law can be and has been nominated for several Harvey Awards. The Harveys are named after Mad creator Harvey Kurtzman, who, along with Eisner, was my teacher at the School of Visual Arts. So I'm very proud of the Harvey nominations!

BP: Do you ever hope that Supernatural Law would be a cartoon (or live action) series or a film?

BL: Sure- but it's not a real priority. Making a movie is a time-consuming, political undertaking . . . imagine swimming in molasses with weights on your feet! Of course, it's exciting if it gets done . . . but the road to a green light can take quite a toll! There's been steady interest in turning Supernatural Law into a movie or a TV show over the years, but as time goes on, I appreciate the glorious low-tech world of comics, which enables one to "fly under the radar". I'm able to write, draw and produce new Supernatural Law comics and get them out there for public consumption pronto, while film and TV projects tend to get tangled in red tape and petty studio bureaucracy. Maybe some day there will be a Supernatural Law movie or TV show and that would be just fine with me . . . but in the meantime, the comics are here to stay!

BP: Your wife Jackie (the lovely Jackie Estrada) is your editor and co publisher at Exhibit A publishing, how is it like working daily with your wife?

BL: I like it just fine! Actually, I'm usually working by myself most of the time. I read Jackie the plot I want to do for a new issue to gauge her reaction. I can tell if I've got a winner by whether she laughs at the situation the client is in and if she's intrigued by the various plot twists (if there's any plot holes or things that are inconsistent in the story, this is where Jackie will point it out). I then go and do the writing and artwork. A couple of weeks later, Jackie sees the finished art and begins to letter it (via computer). My "script" is written on Post-It notes on same-size Xeroxes of the original art, to approximate where the character's word balloons go. This is where her editing comes in, as well as finessing my grammar and fixing my twisted syntax along the way!

BP: Any advice for future illustrators, cartoonists and/or writers?

BL: If you are compelled to tell stories, do it. Don't let anything- or anyone- get in your way. Listen to advice politely, but go with your gut. And it's important to read, read and read- especially non-fiction. Ideas for stories are everywhere. Even the mundane has a story behind it; a good writer can make it interesting. Don't let compliments go to your head, but don't take the criticisms to heart. Finally, the only way to be a good writer is to keep writing. The only way to be a good artist is to keep drawing. If it were so easy, everyone would be an artist or a writer (it just seems like everyone is!). I'm still working at getting better and having a ball in the process!

Thank you, Batton Lash

Any comments, questions, author inquiries, etc....Please contact me at [email protected]. And put Author Showcase in the subject line.

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About the Writer:

Bennet Pomerantz is a media review columnist in 175 newspapers with his weekly column AUDIOWORLD. His fiction and reviews have appeared in the pages of Affaire De Coeur, Gateways, Mystery Scene, Power Star, The Hot Corner, Washington Entertainment Magazine, and many others. He is also known for his review appearances on the MCN Forum. View his web site at Audioworld.