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Celebrating 3 Years of Teen Titans Go!
October 22, 2006
In honor of the 3rd-year anniversary for DC Comics' "Teen Titans Go!", we sat down with its writer, J. Torres, to discuss his work on the comic that's based on the Teen Titans animated series. We queried him about TTG's contributions to the Titans' universe, what's coming up, new characters due for appearances, and what he'd like to tackle next for the series. And of course Wonder Girl, who makes her full debut this week in TTG's third-year issue, #36's story entitled "Troy".
A multi-talented scribe of entertaining comic stories, worldly and cultured, and a looker too! Sorry fan-girls, J. Torres is taken. Let's get to our interview...
TitansGo.net: Great to have you here with us, J. To start off our questions...what lead to you becoming the writer of "Teen Titans Go!"?
J. Torres: I was basically doing my thing in the indy comics scene, and I think I had done a few things for Marvel by that time, when former DC editor Lysa Hawkins asked me to contribute to the series.
If I recall correctly, they were thinking of having rotating creative teams, and even Todd Nauck [ed: main "Teen Titans Go!" interior artist] was only supposed to draw for the series part-time, but somewhere along the way we hijacked the book and became the regular team. I'm sure our current editor Tom Palmer, Jr. had something to do with that. He's sweet on me and Todd.
TGn: So with you on regular duty for the series, what would you say you do as a writer for "Teen Titans Go!"? Do you have a general process?
J. Torres: Do you mean like a routine or something?
TGn: Yea, basically how you tackle an issue when just starting it off.
J. Torres: Actually, what I've been doing for the last... year and a half, maybe longer now is come up with the basic plot ideas for three to five issues at time. I write up short one-paragraph descriptions of my story ideas, submit them to Tom, and then we talk about them and he says "yes" or "no" or how about changing this or that, and finally we tentatively decide which story will be for which issue. So, after that I've got my "blueprint" for the next few months or so. Tom and I figure out a deadline for each issue, usually based on who's drawing it and what their schedule is like, and I take it from there.
As for how I write the story, I just start with that one-paragraph write up. Generally, I'll go to a page-by-page outline, which I write out in a notebook. Then I use that outline to guide me as I flesh it all out in script form.
TGn: So is writing "Teen Titans Go!" much different from your other comic projects, such as "Ninja Scroll" or "Love As a Foreign Language", and does it depend on other factors like genre and reading audience?
J. Torres: Yes, definitely. All of the above. I mean, both TTG and "Ninja Scroll" are action oriented books but obviously operating at different levels and each audience expects something different. As do my editors. (smiles)
But the key to doing these comic book tie-ins, in other words doing them right and servicing the property and its fans, you obviously need to respect the style and sensibilities as established by its creators and understand who your audience is. I guess you can say it's like playing a different genre of music on the same instrument. Some people think it's easy, but I think it can be a real challenge sometimes.
TGn: Given that, are there any particular genres or "maturity" levels you enjoy writing for most?
J. Torres: Well, I tend to gravitate towards the "younger readers" stuff. I'm told I'm good at it, and I do enjoy it a lot. It comes as no surprise to some of my family and friends who know me as a big, immature kid who loves cartoons and comics book too much. And then there are the people who know me as a cynical, jaded, sometimes potty-mouthed adult who are surprised that this is the stuff that I like to do the most.
TGn: So "Teen Titans Go!" is a natural gig for you?
J. Torres: I've said it before and I'll keep saying till I die I bet you, TTG was the best book to offer me as my first monthly series. Not only is it all-ages and fun, but it's based on a cartoon that I love which is based on characters and a comic series that I loved as a kid myself, a comic that really got me into comics, so it comes around full circle rather nicely.
TGn: What would you say influences you? Do you draw inspiration from anything when writing a story?
J. Torres: For TTG, it's really the characters and the world they're in. I'll watch an episode and get an idea from something someone said, or a new character that was introduced, or something we didn't get to see on screen... that sort of thing.
Sometimes, ideas come from Titans lore of "old" so to speak, or stuff I see in the DCU, so basically again it comes from the characters and their world.
TGn: Since TTG is based on the show, have you worked closely with its production crew to write issues, like for backstory? Do you still touch base with them even after the show's been cancelled?
J. Torres: Actually, at the beginning of TTG, I did pick the brains of people like David Slack and AJ Vargas [ed: Teen Titans story editor and associate producer, respectively]. I truly appreciate all their help and would've loved to chat them up even more, but they're busy people and I didn't want to impose too much. So, I tried to bug them as little as possible and maybe ask questions if I felt no one else could give me answers. The last time I really had any contact with anyone from the show was when we talked to Glen [ed: Murakami; Teen Titans producer] about the cover and Wonder Girl design for #36.
TGn: What stories and ideas in particular did you, David, and AJ discuss for "Teen Titans Go!"?
J. Torres: Hmm... I remember talking to David about the Wildebeest story [ed: TTG #15, "Beauty & the Wildebeest"]. He's the one that gave me the idea to go with "Baby Wildebeest." I think I may have also asked him about Terra and doing the story we did in #12, which elaborated on that Mumbo flashback in...
TGn: Aftershock Part 2, I think.
J. Torres: Thanks (smiles) I was looking it up to double check. I'm old!
I think David also tipped me off to some Speedy stuff, but I don't know if they ever went there with the show. I remember him saying something about making him gruffer or rougher, like a "young Wolverine" I think he said, more intense and maybe even brash. And because of that, I made Speedy a little more hardened in TTG. I don't know if anyone noticed, though. I think it was the Garzilla, er, Garsaurus Rex issue where he threatened to feed Chang to Beast Boy [ed: TTG #21].
I don't think I ever talked story with AJ, but he was my pusher for scripts and model sheets and reference material like that whenever I needed it and it was faster to go through him than DC.
TGn: Did you ever get to make suggestions to the show's crew yourself? Perhaps even for Teen Titans' sixth season and beyond?
J. Torres: No, not really. But I did put it out there that I wanted to pitch a story idea or two for season six. I wanted to do this almost from the start to be honest, but I didn't have any experience writing for animation at the time.
It wasn't until after the fact that I did get my shot at writing for cartoons, and the man responsible for that is actually Teen Titans writer Adam Beechen [ed: for CN's "Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi"]. See how that works, folks?
Oh, I just remembered something! I did suggest one thing: use the Titans Go Bot 5 in the movie!
TGn: That's right. I forgot about that.
J. Torres: I heard about the movie being planned or developed one day, and I think I was e-mailing back and forth with David around that time. When I found out it was going to be set in Tokyo, I was all, "Hey... what about using our anime-inspired robot?"
TGn: ...and it's perfect!
J. Torres: David said that it was actually considered, because around the same time Bandai was making a toy out of it, but I can't remember if it was a budget thing or script/story thing that prohibited that. So, we almost got in there! Oh, well. At least we got the toy, which I love.
TGn: That perfectly segues into our next question. What's the story behind the Titans Go Bot 5, or is that the T-Robo?
J. Torres: Well, it just seemed like a natural thing to me. Here we had an anime-inspired show, and these cool vehicles, and a character who is part robot who likes to invent things. One day it just hit me, "Titans Together!", which is the classic Teen Titans battle cry before "Go!" for those of you young'ns out there. I called it the Titans Go Bot 5 because I thought it sounded "Japanese" and someone at Bandai came up with T-Robo, I think.
TGn: So you and Todd got to work constructing a towering, Voltron-esque mech built from all of the Teen Titans vehicles.
J. Torres: Yeah, my job was easy. I said, "Hey, Todd, draw a giant robot using the R-cycle as the head, the T-ship as the body, and the T-car split in half for the legs." He did all the hard work. That's why he gets all the girls.
TGn: Todd is pretty awesome. He ended up designing quite alot of additions to the Titans' universe in TTG, such as Kwiz Kid and the Rock/Paper/Scissors trio. What lead to them being created by you and Todd for TTG? And will we see them again?
J. Torres: Actually, Mike Norton [TTG's fill-in interior artist] designed Rock, Paper, Scissors. But Kwiz Kid was Todd's. As was Mr. Wolf, Gill Girl, The Agent, The Lanista [ed: TTG #16, #15, #2, #10, #19, and #32, respectively. Phew!] ...I'm trying to think if I'm forgetting anyone...
TGn: two oddly familiar characters named Todd and J...
J. Torres: Oh, yeah those dudes. Actually, there's a whole bunch of new Todd-designed characters coming up in TTG. I don't want to spoil anything but... does anyone else think we need more girl villains in the Titans-verse?
TGn: I think there's always demand for that.
J. Torres: Plus, we're also bringing one or two old characters back, as well as one or two old/new characters from the DCU into TTG.
TGn: Some of the show's crew provided cover art for "Teen Titans Go!" issues themselves, like Dave Bullock [ed: Teen Titans storyboarder], Chu-Hui [background painter], Ben Jones [director] and Derrick Wyatt [character designer]. Have any of them pitched ideas for your series?
J. Torres: Dave was our cover artist for the first year and half, and I know Derrick helped him out with colors, I think, but I don't know about the others. [ed: actually, Chu-Hui colored Dave's covers, and Derrick and Ben helped with designs]
TGn: Does DC give you much freedom for writing TTG's stories? Were there ever any ideas you had to toss out?
J. Torres: So far no. And yeah, they've given me a lot of creative freedom. But it's not like I've tried to do anything too violent or crazy, you know? I've tried to keep TTG true to the cartoon.
There have only been two or three occasions that I can recall when my editor has said "let's tweak this". One had something to do with me writing a line for Starfire about eating toothpaste, and another was an appearance by Arella that he didn't think fit in with the story. But don't worry, we'll finally be seeing her in TTG shortly.
No eating toothpaste though, kids!
J. Torres: Precisely.
TGn: Recently released was a sort of multi-part story focused on Private HIVE [ed: in TTG #32 and #35]. Any chance we'll see more like that, or "actual" multi-parters spanning several issues that let you tackle bigger stories?
J. Torres: We're going to see more "sequels" like the Private Hive one, but no multi-parters. The single-story-issue mandate on the series still stands and probably will be there until the very end. But we are trying to tackle a couple of "bigger" stories next year. That's about all I can really say about that for now.
TGn: What's the single-story mandate?
J. Torres: No multi-part, multi-issue stories. One reason has to do with the main demographic for the book: young kids. I think editorial thinks it's best to give them standalone stories in each issue, so they get the whole adventure in one shebang.
The other is that it's easier to sell single issue stories to magazines for reprint, to foreign publishers for reprint, to places like Toys R Us, Burger King, etc. to use as promotional material.
TGn: The show's fifth season offered up a whole bunch of new characters and possibilities, and already Argent, Kid Flash, the Brain and Mallah, and others have showed up in TTG. What characters or loose ends from season five would you like to write next?
J. Torres: Well, we're working on a Kilowatt story next. We have to make up a lot for him because we didn't even hear him speak and only saw him use his powers for a few seconds. I'm referring to the DCU comics to guide me in my writing for him, so that might give some ideas about what or even who you may see in his upcoming issues. Yes, he's getting a "sequel" a la Private Hive. TitansGo.net exclusive right there!
Another character I'm dying to use is Phobia. Ideas are brewing but I don't have a plot just yet. Psimon is coming up, though. He's going to be part of the Fearsome Five issue.I'm trying to think of who else...
Jericho! How could I forget.
TGn: I smell a Slade...
J. Torres: Wow, those are some olfactory skillz there.
TGn: It's cool how a lot of character doors have been opened up for you guys.
J. Torres: Oh, yeah. I was like a kid at Christmas when I saw who was going to be in "Titans Together" and "Calling All Titans". I immediately started thinking about ideas and villain match-ups and all sorts of fun.
TGn: That finale and "Homecoming" were such a rush.
J. Torres: Yeah, I didn't want it to end.
TGn: I really oughta ask...any plans for Red Star?
J. Torres: He makes a cameo in an upcoming issue, but I really want to do more with him. Especially his friendship with Starfire. I have some ideas for that, but our schedule's so full right now that I have to shelve it for later.
Too many Titans, not enough time! And I think Red Star owes Chang a butt whooping.
TGn: In just a few days' time, the Fab Five will finally be rounded out with Wonder Girl appearing in "Teen Titans Go!" #36. What led to her being allowed to appear in "Teen Titans Go!", and how does she fit in its universe?
J. Torres: You know, I just asked! I guess it was that easy because she had appeared albeit briefly on the show. And there were no licensing issues or conflicts with other books like there are with other characters and why we can't use them in TTG.
The way she's introduced in #36, it's as if she's always been there. So, she just jumps into the action with the other Titans. And it's obvious from their interaction that this is not their first meeting.I want to do more with the "fab five" if I can. It was fun playing with that configuration of the team.
Incidentally, I've already put Wonder Girl in three scripts, so people can look forward to another appearance after this one at the very least. She had a cameo in #34.
TGn: Cool. Kinda odd how she's allowed minimal appearance in the show, but can show up even by name for TTG. I guess that's DC rights versus WB rights for ya.
J. Torres: Yeah, pretty much.
TGn: Where do you see "Teen Titans Go!" in a few years from now? Can you tell us what's coming up in its future?
J. Torres: Well, I hope we're still around in a few years! Because I do have a lot more stories to tell.
But as for the near future, TTG #37 is another Christmas issue. In it, Silkie ends up with Mumbo's hat and everyone remembers what happened to Frosty when he got ahold of a magician's hat! Cheeks [ed: Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, TTG cover artist and interior fill-in] drew that issue and I'm really proud of how it turned out. We're doing something a little different and I hope fans like it. All I have to say is... stocking stuffers, people! You're going to enjoy reading this one by the fire (smiles)
And then we finally get to see my Mad Mod story! I wrote that script over a year ago but I wanted a specific artist, Chynna Clugston [ed: artist & creator of "Blue Monday" and other Oni Press comics], to draw it and I was willing to wait until she was free.
The thing is, the story is an homage to one of my all-time favorite movies "A Hard Day's Night." It's also a fave of Chynna's and if you know anything about her, you know she's the mod queen. So, this was a perfect fit. It's a fun, wacky story befitting of Moddy I think.
After that is our Valentine's issue. One word: Larry. Three more words: using Cupid's bow. Uh-oh!
TGn: I saw the cover for that, I think I fan-squealed.
J. Torres: #40 is another Titans-two-in-one like #22 and #30 [ed: "The Book/"Listen", and "Slings & Arrows"/"The Battery", respectively]. First, Johanne Matte, who worked on the Teen Titan video games, draws a Hive Five story which is another homage. This time it's a tribute to Paul Dini's "Almost Got 'Im", an episode from B: TAS [ed: aka. "Batman: The Animated Series"].I bow down to Dini. He's so good at what he does.
The second story is drawn by Sanford Greene and that has the return of Thunder and Lightning.
I could get into the next batch of TTG issues, but I don't want to spoil too much. But let's just say that between issues #41 and #45 we get Raven's emoticlones, the Fearsome Five, and... a couple of origin stories!
TGn: One issue a month? What a gyp.
J. Torres: Maybe we should go weekly like "52" [ed: DC's post-"Infinite Crisis" 52-issue series]. Todd could probably keep up that pace, but I can see myself having a heart attack around week eight...
TGn: That about wraps our questions up. Thanks so much for your time, J! Is there anything you'd like to add?
J. Torres: I want to thank you and everyone at TitansGo.Net for all your support these past three years. Hopefully, we'll be celebrating a fifth anniversary or beyond together as well. Please keep reading TTG, folks!
TitansGo.net would like to thank Mr. Torres for his graciousness and for being an all-around super guy. Congrats to him and the rest of the "Teen Titans Go!" team for keeping the series going strong into its third year, and here's to many more. We can't wait to see all the stories coming up next, it just keeps getting better and better!