Wednesday, February 17, 2010

DC 75: BEHIND THE FANSITES: Interviewing Bill Walko of The Titans Tower (Part 1)

In paying tribute to DC's 75 year history, IADW is going behind four of the best DC fan-sites on the internet, to find out about the passions, dedication, and people behind them. Previously The Superman Homepage, and The Aquaman Shrine have been in the spotlight, this week it's the definitive website for all things Teen Titans; The Titans Tower, and it's driving force, creator; Bill Walko.

In doing justice to a cast and history as expansive as that of DC's premiere teen team, the interview is as extensive as it is insightful. To that point I decided to brake it all down into three easily digestible parts, with the second issue to be posted Friday and the third Sunday, right here on IADW. So, let's get stuck into it, here is Bill Walko, architect of the Titans Tower.

IADW: It's the book that used to rival Marvel's X-Men for the industries #1 spot, but what memory or moment made the Titans #1 for you, and drove your passion to create something as definitive as the Titans Tower?

Bill: It all goes back to how I first discovered the New Teen Titans. My dad used to come home from the newsstand Sunday mornings and he would have a handful of comics for us. My brother usually grabbed the Marvel stuff. By default, I became a DC guy. And my little sister would get the Archie Comics or Wonder Woman. We all read each others’ comics anyway, but that’s the way it went down. We got whatever my dad picked up. In addition to that, I would get those “Whitman” comic 3-packs that were available at various stores. It was very catch-as-catch-can.

So as a kid, I was only vaguely aware of the Teen Titans through the Filmation cartoons (in reruns) and various mentions in DC Comics. But one day, at the newsstand, I spotted New Teen Titans #2. The cover was very intriguing. Some mysterious villain claiming, “You’re too late to save your precious Titans, Raven! I just killed them all!”  But another mysterious figure taking the credit, “Wrong! You didn’t kill them.. I did!” Now, I knew with issue #2, there was no way the whole team was slaughtered ... But something about this book completely caught my attention. I read it and I was instantly hooked. Not only was it a great story (Deathstroke’s origin, in case you didn’t know), but these characters... wow. I just instantly loved them and wanted to know more about them. What was the deal with Raven and her demonic dad? Why can Starfire never return home? Would Cyborg resolve his feelings for his father? Would Starfire’s bloodlust destroy any chances of a romance with Robin? There was a sort of “soap opera” intrigue, the way the characters had issues with each other and with their parental figures. And it was all packed into that one issue!

And the brilliant art by George Pérez caught my eye as well; As a budding artist, George quickly became my idol. He drew pretty people, but he also knew how to “sell” each moment. The incredible influence of George’s art was something that I didn’t fully process until years later. It's like, if New Teen Titans was a movie, George Pérez was the director, the camera man, the casting director, the cinematographer and the prop stylist. And he was a master at all of them. There was so much story, character and detail on every single page, every single month. And that was all George. And George's characters acted. They emoted, looked distinct, and each carried themselves differently. It gave the series a verisimilitude missing in other monthly comics. It made the characters more relatable because they weren't just stock-looking heroes. They seemed more real than that.

PICTURED: The issue that started it all The New Teen Titans #2.

So, New Teen Titans #2 made a huge impression for all those reasons. And I also credit that issue for turning me from a comic book reader into a comic book collector. I no longer just relied on my dad’s occasional comic grab. I began to go with him to the newsstand because I HAD to get the next issue of New Teen Titans (and later, Legion of Super-Heroes and Uncanny X-Men). But New Teen Titans was the first book I actually collected, hunted down, and even counted down the days until the next issue. It was really special that way.

And Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, God bless them, gave me something to look forward to, month in and month out, for about 5 years straight. What an amazing run! And I think for a lot of kids reading comics in the 1980s, both New Teen Titans and Uncanny X-Men focused on characters and stories that honed in on those adolescent things we all go through. We the readers lived through these characters. And since they were so diverse, you could identify with one or two of them quite easily (for me is was Changeling, then Robin/Nightwing). Plus, books like New Teen Titans and Uncanny X-Men helped the comics medium move beyond one-off stories; These characters went through changes and evolved in a way the Justice League and the Avengers never did – or could.

For me, New Teen Titans was revolutionary. I literally grew up with these characters (even though they were older than me at first – and now younger than me by more than a decade). At the time, though, Robin becoming Nightwing was a huge, huge, HUGE deal. I was watching the seminal sidekick character grow up. I didn’t think they’d allow that sort of thing. It felt very important – and it felt like “anything can happen.”

So for all those reasons, the Titans became something special to me while growing up.

PICTURED: The original Robin, Nightwing is Bill's top pick for 'Best Titan' with the fact he graduated 'on camera', one of the defining moments that helped cement his passion for the team.

IADW: Titans Tower was one of the first fan-sites I ever discovered. Since then it's always being my one-stop-shop when it comes to Titans news, information, and imagery, or even just for a hit of nostalgia. How long exactly has the site being around for, and what aspect of it excites you the most?

Bill: Well, thanks. It’s a pleasure to hear how people use the site and enjoy it. I started the site in 2001. It has a sort of interesting genesis. I’m an artist but also a graphic designer. After college, I leaned more towards graphic design because it was easy to get a job and start earning an income – enabling me to move out of my parents’ house and all that fun stuff. But I still drew comics and read them. But my full time bread-and-butter job was graphic design, working at various marketing agencies. Now, when you’re working in this field, you have to stay competitive. You have to keep up on the latest trends and software. At the agency where I was working at the time, they sent us to class to learn web design through a software program called Dreamweaver.

Now, these classes are two-day things. You go in and learn, and can easily forget it all unless you apply it. Looking at the future of graphic design, I knew learning web design would be an important skill. So after taking a two day class, I decided to put the knowledge to work before it faded from my mind. “I’ll create a web site,” I thought, not even knowing what the content would be. I knew it had to be something I loved, otherwise I might not follow through in building the entire site.

It wasn’t hard to settle on a short list. I quickly pared it down to two possible themes: It was either “Teen Titans” or “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” Ah, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That show was as influential and meaningful to me as the Marv and George run on New Teen Titans. I just loved it to pieces. At the time, there was a huge internet fandom behind Buffy, with tons of fan sites. So, I gravitated toward the Titans, which only had two sites of note: John Prill's excellent “Unofficial Titans Website” and Bonny Dotson’s fun “Titans Lair." (Both those sites are extinct now, by the way.) So there you have it; If Buffy fandom was a weaker lot, there may never have been a

PICTURED: Of all the writers to script the Titans, Bill picks icons Marv Wolfman and George Pérez as his favourites.

The Titans Lair site was built largely by the members of the Titans Talk APA (Amateur Press Alliance). Many of the members submitted bios and information, which I used as a basis for with Bonny’s permission. Some I had even written myself (Donna Troy and Dick Grayson, as I recall). And then I just dove into it. Flipping through Who’s Who issues, scanning interviews, retyping others, writing new bios, and scanning images from all the old comics.

One thing that excited me about was the research. Setting up the site propelled me to buy the entire run of the original 60s series and all the various early appearances. It also meant I had to read and re-read various comics from my own long boxes. And while I already loved a lot of the Titans characters, it also gave me an appreciation for a lot of the lesser-known Titans. I didn’t really understand why people liked Joker’s Daughter, Red Star, Golden Eagle, Aquagirl, Gnarrk or Flamebird... I thought some of those guys were kinda lame to be honest. But after doing research, I grew to love them all in different ways. There’s a great deal of charm in that original run of Teen Titans, and I don’t think it gets nearly as much credit as it deserves.

But the biggest thing that excites me about the site are the experiences that have come out of it. When people realize I’m the guy behind, some of the reactions are really amazing. The creators at DC Comics and Warner Bros. use it as “the” Titans resource, and I take that as an incredible compliment. I’ve learned that many writers, artists and editors have frequented the site for research and fun. So it’s led to a lot of spirited conversations with some amazing talents. I get e-mails from fans who discover the site, and just thank me for putting everything up there. It enables people to discover or rediscover all the the wonderful things about the Titans. Maintaining the site takes time and work. And there are times when it almost feels a little thankless. But then you get some sort of inspirational experience – a fan e-mail, a kid who discovered the characters through an animated series, a mother who watched the show with her kids, great conversations with creators at conventions – it keeps me going. When I think of all the experiences I’ve had through with fans and pros, and the people I've met because of the site, it’s really paid itself back and then some.

IADW: Right on the intro page you have a quote from writer Marv Wolfman that reads "I went through Titans Tower and thought it was an incredible site. You have things in there I didn't even remember I knew" How amazing is it for a 'fansite' to have that kind of respect, and recognition of it's content, from one of the top creators ever to touch its subject franchise?

Bill: It’s beyond belief. I’m surprised, humbled and delighted at the response the site was elicited over the years. The response is just so far beyond anything I’d ever imagined when I first started building If you told “little kid” me in the 1980s that I would get that kind of recognition from Marv Wolfman, I think my head would have exploded.

And I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with so many wonderful Titans-talents, forging some friendships along the way, with the likes of Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Mike McKone, Jay Faerber, Devin Grayson, Todd Dezago, Karl Kesel, Todd Nauck, J Torres, Frank Pittarese, Jonathan Peterson, Adam Beechen, Sean McKeever, Karl Kerschl, Nick Cardy, Jose Garcia-Lopez, Eduardo Barreto, Sergio Cariello, Matthew Clark, Tony Daniel, Eddy Barrows, Mark Sable, J.T. Krul, Sam Register, Glen Murakami, David Slack, Amy Wolfram, Rob Hoegee, Derrick Wyatt, Ben Jones and probably a bunch of others I’m forgetting at the moment.

PICTURED: Original artwork, by Phil Jimenez for the Donna Troy VS Systems Trading Card.

The response from creators in general has been astounding. They’ve been exceedingly gracious with their time, amazingly trusting with information, genuinely supportive, and supremely generous with artwork and sketches. While he was on the book, Geoff Johns was incredibly supportive of the site. Mike McKone has done lovely sketches of the entire team, in appreciation for the site as an art resource. And Phil Jimenez gave me this incredible gift: the original artwork from the Donna Troy VS Systems Trading Card. Does anyone draw Donna Troy as wonderfully as Phil Jimenez? Just jaw-droppingly stunning. There’s so many creators that have been so wonderful and gracious... I’m just running out of words here. And this is beginning to sound like some sort of Oscar acceptance speech. [laughs]  But it’s really been quite amazing.

I completely agree, Phil is the man to draw Donna Troy, but The Titans Tower almost a Buffy site? I didn't see that one coming! Still thanks have to be made to Bill, who was more than generous with his time, and as you'll see in Friday's second part, there's more great stuff to come, as we pick up on the core of the Titans, the teams 'X-Men' similarities, and those famous Titans relationships.


  1. Thanks for running this, Dan. It was a lot of fun to answer these questions!

  2. No worries Bill, running these behind the scenes interviews has been a lot of fun, not to mention really interesting.

    The stories behind the blogs are amazing, but also the similarities that everyone seams to share as both comic fans and bloggers.

    Looking forward to posting the other two parts up later this week!

  3. GREAT INTERVIEW! I'm loving this series, Dan!!