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Building the mystery: Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb discuss ‘Batman: The Long Halloween Special’

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Building the mystery: Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb discuss ‘Batman: The Long Halloween Special’

The iconic duo return for another chapter of this essential Bats story.

On October 12, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale will reunite for a new extra-sized Batman: The Long Halloween Special. Following the stories from Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Dark Victory, and Catwoman: When in Rome, Loeb and Sale are building even more goodness in this daring corner of Gotham’s story.

There’s no denying the impact of the “Halloween canon;” the story launched way back in December 1996 with Long Halloween, and it’s lived on in other formats (like the recent Batman: The Long Halloween movie). It’s a story so seminal that it’s even synonymous with Halloween itself.  Equal parts superhero movie, hard-boiled detective novel, and a great, pulp-esque adventure, it’s certainly a jewel in the DC Comics library.

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To peer behind the cowl, Loeb and Sale spoke candidly about the series and the new special in a press roundtable earlier this month. The two not only reminisced about what it was like to write the first issue — one of Loeb’s first comics works — but also how it fits into the larger narrative, whether we’ll see new Bat-family characters in the special, and much, much more.

These are edited excerpts from the larger conversation.

DC announces 48-page 'Batman: The Long Halloween Special' for October

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: How long has the Batman long Halloween Special in the works?

Jeph Loeb: It started at the end of spring, the beginning of summer, that kind of thing. It has been a few months. It started out as an idea and because we hadn’t done a Halloween special in literally decades. With the video coming out and the anniversary coming out, we said, “How would you feel about doing another Halloween special.” Immediately [DC Comics editor-in-chief] Marie Javins was incredibly excited and enthusiastic and [Editor] Ben Abernathy was on board and it came together very quickly. The most important thing was that Tim was comfortable with the time that we had and the amount of work that it was going to require because it is 48 pages, square-bound, prestige format.

Tim Sale: The biggest thing for me is working together with Jeph again. It’s been a long time since either of us had done any interiors. Well, for him to write and for me to draw interiors. And Jeph has been obviously elsewhere and on other media. This was a good way to kind of jump back into an area that we were comfortable, and we’re just really excited to work together again.

JL: That was really the big draw, no pun intended. Believe it or not, he did my first comic book and is currently doing the other end of the rainbow. In complete honesty and no hype, I think what he’s doing on this book is the best work he’s done in years. Every time I see new pages, I just turn into a 10-year-old fanboy that used to go to the comic store every single Wednesday. I would have liked to have been that 10-year-old buying this following special. It’s just so much fun.

TS: I felt just the same way about the script. And then actually, it transforms for me also when I’m drawing it because reading it, Jeph writes full-script, it’s all there, except he leaves a lot for me to interpret. But as I’m interpreting it, I’m seeing it again, and that makes it so much fun.

JL: My background is as you guys know is mostly in film and television. So I write it as though it’s a movie and very often say things like “the camera moves in for close up.” And then Tim will call me and go, “the cameras not moving anywhere. It’s me drawing. If what you want is closer, you have to break it down that way.”

And even though we’ve worked together for more years than either one of us wants to admit, I still will say things like, we move in closer, as though he’s somehow dollying it. But that’s the magic of working with Tim is that he figures that out. And it means adding an extra panel or saying to me, “I can do this without doing that.” It’s a lot of communication between us. We’re both, basically, teenage girls talking to each other, we can turn a five-minute conversation into a three-hour conversation, mostly about Jack Kirby or something like that, that has absolutely nothing to do with what we’re working on. But in many ways, has a lot to do with it.

TS: The way we began was exactly that. Except that there was no script. Jeph would call, I was in Seattle, Jeph was in LA. We would talk for five hours. And he would say on page one, here’s this on page two, here’s this. And I really distinctly remember doing that on the first Halloween special. All the stuff that we’d done before. What that allowed was for us to know each other better. I mean, we’re very two distinct personalities, but somehow it is a part of our brains that is just so inmeshed. And all that has helped immensely by talking on the phone, talking through layouts, going back over movie references, other comic references to the point where it became a full script.

JL: We had to go backward. Because, this is a true story, Archie Goodwin who was our editor, the late great Archie Goodwin. He would call me and he would say, I need the script in order to get you paid. And I would go, “but the script is what Tim and I talked about.” So then I would get the pages from Tim and then write what he had drawn and then turn that in, in order to get paid. And then eventually, Archie just said, “you have to write this. So even if you’re writing down what you’re talking about, please do that.” And so that’s how it got turned around. We just didn’t know any better. We were just kids having fun.

Building the mystery: Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb discuss ‘Batman: The Long Halloween Special’

Courtesy DC Comics

The original Long Halloween left a little bit of doubt as to the true identity of the Holiday killer. How will or won’t this special revisit this mystery?

JL: There’s a two-part answer to that. One, as I have often said, it’s there. And I know it’s there because people have written to me and said “this is what happened.” And so since they didn’t make it up, it’s purposely written as a place where there is some doubt.

The second part is, this special very much takes into account some of that mystery. It’s part of what fascinates me about that time in Batman’s career, although it does take into consideration everything that happened in Dark Victory as well as what happened afterward.

It’s a progression of time. The fans will tell us what year it takes place in but for all intents and purposes, the order of the stories is The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, and then Catwoman When in Rome takes place during Dark Victory. And then this happens after those stories.

The original The Long Halloween took place right around the time like right after Batman Year One. Dark Victory took place around the time that Dick Grayson came into the picture. And what part of Batman’s continuity will this new special take place?

JL: I think the short answer is it doesn’t take place present day.

TS: I took a lot of both pleasure and influence in my work from Year One, just in drawing and the approach. Not so much the breakdowns, but just the approach of how powerful and how simple it was. And yet how complicated it was all at once.

JL: David Mazzucchelli never gets enough credit for writing it.

TS: Yeah, no. Once you get Frank writing, you’re not going to get the spotlight on you as much. Although I’ve heard Frank tremendously complimentary to him as he should.

JL: They take place in between the pages of the stories that you already know. For those that care, it’s canon.

TS: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes.

TS: It didn’t take place on Earth 2.

Building the mystery: Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb discuss ‘Batman: The Long Halloween Special’

Courtesy DC Comics

When people contact you and tell you what they took away from the ending are you thinking that is what you wanted people to take away from it?

JL: Absolutely.

TS: Yeah.

JL: The Long Halloween and then subsequently Dark Victory are murder mysteries. Where in the first case there was a holiday killer who was a serial killer and then the answer is to who that person or persons were was something of a mystery. It wasn’t a mystery for the entire story when you get to the end of it. There was enough material there for you as the reader to be able to have the answer that you needed.

What’s interesting, at least to me is, what does Batman know? There’s certainly in his mind that it’s Alberto Falcone and, the aftermath is very much what Dark Victory is about. But is that the answer? If it isn’t, then there’s still more story to tell. And that’s why we’re very grateful that DC came up with this idea which is “no secrets remain buried forever.” And so this will be the beginning of peeling back the pumpkin skin, to mix my metaphors, and start looking at what happened during those killings. But hopefully, it’s a story that you can read, and not know anything about the Long Halloween although I think if you’re buying Batman: The Long Halloween Special you’ve read Batman: The Long Halloween.

DC announces 48-page 'Batman: The Long Halloween Special' for October

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: So it’s been about 25 years since the first issue, has this felt like a reunion for you? How’s the experience been working together again?

JL: For me, amazing. I haven’t written a long-form story in about 10 years. Wanting to make sure that it was something that Tim liked, that DC liked, and hopefully, the fans will love was daunting. But almost immediately talking to Tim about some story ideas and then bringing in our editor Ben Abernathy gave me the confidence to move forward.

I’ve always loved these characters and there are certain favorites that I have. Which Tim knows, and they’re really Batman and Bruce Wayne, who I consider being two different characters. Alfred and, Jim Gordon. Their relationship, Batman’s and Jim Gordon’s is one of the most special things that are in all of comics. That a man, Jim Gordon, who lives with this terrible problem of having to trust a man who’s clearly breaking the law. And Batman knows that in order for him to do the job he needs someone who will trust him. And that’s just something that’s incredibly challenging for him. And being able to play with that. And then you add Harvey Dent to that and Two-Face and you have almost the perfect cast for a Batman story.

The way that Tim draws them in the way that that very much became the way that Chris Nolan interpreted the characters in the Batman movies. David Goyer, and Christopher Nolan and Matt Reeves, and even Christian Bale have all been very generous in their praise of the work that Tim and I have done on the character. Given the absolute might of people like Frank Miller, and Danny O’Neill, and Neal Adams. Everybody that came before us, to include us with those people is, it’s an honor.

I really do think it’s our best work. It’s not to say that we haven’t done really great work. And, you know, Spider-Man Blue certainly jumps right out there. And I love the way he draws the Hulk. And, it goes on and on and on. But somehow when we’re doing Batman, and he gets to lay down a lot of ink, and there’s a lot of shadow and Gotham City comes alive. It’s unlike anybody else that I’ve worked with.

That includes Jim Lee because I think Hush is an extraordinary artistic endeavor on his part, as well. It’s just very different. And they’re very different stories. And I wrote them very differently. Because the two men have such different talents, both enormous, gigantic talents. But when I write for Tim it’s deep noir. Less superhero.

TS: Well, thank you. Yeah, I think the noir aspect of it, there’s something very unique about this. The noir aspect is something that I’ve sought out in pretty much everything I’ve wanted to do. And that was part of what was so fun about working on Superman was that that was going to be completely opposite, but I knew I was going to come back to Batman with Jeph. And I work in a very expressionistic way. So, like expressionism in movies and other arts, not just Noir, but you know, giant diagonals of black and that kind of thing. Not getting too fussy designing with shape, designing with emotion or from emotion. That kind of stuff is so easy to do with a noir aspect and so easy to do with Jeph’s writing. Or the way writes for me.

JL: And also, I think we’d be doing all the service if we didn’t mention that there is another member of the band. Richard Starkings has been with us from the beginning as the letter and the designer, and Richard is not only just a lettering designer, he’s an extraordinary writer and editor. And helps me, he’ll get the script and before he letters, he and I will have long talks about what I intended and how that compares to what Tim’s expression is because one is done after the other and then I go back and place the balloons. Because Richard knows both of us so well he instinctively knows where to put the balloon, where the narration box goes, so that your eye flows on the page. It’s a very symphonic kind of feel to it.

I can’t do my job without Rich I just don’t know how to. I’m like a singer and he is the piano player. He makes everything better. And, and while we’ve had different colorists along the way, Brennan Wagner joined us for this special and he brings his own style to it. You can see how extraordinarily gifted he is but he’s new to the team so that brings in energy that’s unexpected and wonderful.

TS: Terrific guys, terrific artists. And all you got to do is look at Brennan’s work, if you have seen some of the pages and certainly the covers, and he worked with me for a year or two on covers on Batman and Batman The Shadow and things like that. So we got to know each other that way, but interiors is a very different animal. And he has a very distinct, strong point of view.

JL: It is very mind-blowing to step back at times and realize that this story runs, when you put it all together, runs over 1000 pages. The fact that Tim and I have done anything for 1000 pages is amazing. This story was meant to be collected together and to really live under the Long Halloween banner. It really is its own story of how Gotham City was once ruled by criminals and eventually became ruled by the freaks. One of the real questions to ask is, whose fault is that?

TS: Or how does that happen? Yes, I guess we have to look for fault. Is it Batman’s?

JL: Is it the nature of Gotham City?

The Long Halloween

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Dark Victory introduced Dick Grayson to the world of the Long Halloween. What are the odds of the new special introducing more familiar faces? And are there any particular characters you’d like to see in this world?

JL: The odds are very good. And without doing any spoilers we used the people we really wanted to, in some surprising ways. And there are more than a few times when hopefully, the reader will turn the page and go, “Oh, I didn’t expect this at all.” And that was really our intention. Reimmerse you back into a world that you might not have seen for 25 years.

TS: Yeah, there’s a lot that’s familiar and a lot that’s new. It’s not a year-long murder mystery. And all the previous three Halloween specials were all very, very different from each other. But also worked really well as a collection. But you know, as a special, you have to focus, it’s a smaller cast.

AIPT: How do you guys feel about Halloween the holiday? And how it has influenced this comic?

JL: For me is it’s the Jerry Seinfeld routine where Jerry Seinfeld talks about learning about it as a kid. He basically can’t even comprehend it. So we get dressed up and we ring the doorbell and they give us what? They give us a candy? All we have to do is ask? It’s this incredibly joyous thing that is sort of a Christmas for kids. But the other side of it, which is that it’s also terrific and meant to be scary and a night in Gotham City where crime would really flourish. Because you don’t know who’s behind the mask. Particularly while we’re living in a world where we all wear masks. That has not gone unnoticed by me. And that’s just been a lot of fun. I’m a big Halloween fan of the holiday and of writing about it to me.

TS: I want to say, that sidetrack into Seinfeld is exactly what it’s like having a conversation with Jeph about what are we going to do next. Just something from somewhere else that adds two pictures in my head but also maybe “Oh yeah, well, how about this.” That kind of thing. So it’s one of the joys of it. That’s why it took us five hours to go for three pages of talking about stuff.

I have no fondness for the holiday now. I had a big fondness as a kid as one might expect. And some of that was playing dress-up. The way that things work now so often is that it’s so much bigger than it was when I was a kid. Parents never came walking around with you, for instance. I had my candy stolen more than once. But I still loved it. But the important thing is that how much fun it is to draw and how much it brings out. I love spooky stuff. I love drawing costumes. I’ve been very fortunate that DC has allowed me to change or modify, or completely reimagine all these characters that have existed long before I was drawing them. So I’m endlessly thankful for them. DC has given me pretty much free rein to have that fun with costumes in a very different way. It freaks me out to see grownups in costumes.

Building the mystery: Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb discuss ‘Batman: The Long Halloween Special’

Courtesy DC Comics

I was curious about Two-Face; he’s such an important facet to your Gotham. Would you say he’s as important as Batman is to a Batman comic?

JL: It certainly is to my stories. But the tragedy of who Harvey Dent was and how that story mirrors Bruce Wayne’s life in a very cracked mirror is part of why I enjoy writing him so much. They really could have been very good friends. And it’s a real tragedy that it didn’t happen that way and it may have changed Batman’s success at being able to be who he is. And Tim’s depiction of him is so horrifically brilliant.

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