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Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale on the anatomy of 'Batman: Long Halloween Special'

Comic Books

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale on the anatomy of ‘Batman: Long Halloween Special’

Plus, more on the story, characters, and its development.

DC Comics is making history this week with Batman: The Long Halloween Special, which sees Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale return to their beloved Batman story. This new 48-page special builds on Batman: The Long HalloweenBatman: Dark Victory, and Catwoman: When in Rome.

In the massive new chapter, Loeb and Sale are joined by original letterer Richard Starkings, and for the very first time, color artist Brennan Wagner and editor Ben Abernathy. With a tale featuring Two-Face and Robin, not to mention a few big surprises, it’s a great addition to this larger narrative that’s sure to delight fans.

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After speaking with Loeb and Sale last month, I was able to get a few more minutes with the creators to discuss the special even further. We dig into more specifics, like the incredible opening, Loeb’s love of Two-Face and Gilda’s relationship, and how this project’s development was different from the classic Batman: The Long Halloween, among other tidbits.

AIPT: I was stunned the first few pages are almost like classic black and white movie and it actually reminded me of Rebecca where we see scenes inside the asylum and then a woman running out to this water. Is this opening inspired by any specific piece of media or memory or anything like that?

Tim Sale: Well, I’m on the one hand, all the noir influences are all over the place all the time for us. For me, particularly the double-page spread, I had a comic book reference in my head.

It doesn’t really look anything like it but that was what the inspiration was and that was pages two and three of Steranko’s Nick Fury Agent of Shield #3. It’s a “Hellhound Rise Darkmoon Kill” or something like that. It’s a splash followed by a double-page spread, the splash page is somebody running scared on the Moors. It’s all red. There’s a castle in the background. And the next two pages are all white with a little blue. And it’s the guy lying in the Moors dead.

Nick-Fury-Agent-of-SHIELD

A page from Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #3 by Jim Steranko. Courtesy of Marvel.

Jeph Loeb: That in itself is something that comes from the Hound of the Baskervilles.

TS: Yeah, very much takes from that.

JL: So in that world, when I first started writing it, I sort of like the idea of starting off with a prison break. Not being entirely clear who this person was, which was important, I kept saying to Tim, we can’t see her face. And then, I generally don’t call out color, I usually leave that to Tim. I said, I just want the first three pages to just be blue. Sort of set a tone that is different from the rest of the story. So that as you open the book, you go, oh, this is a prologue without me having to say this is a prologue.

AIPT: Sort of like having some stories. flashbacks or in sepia, or something like that.

TS: Yeah, pretty much. Or in our case, eggwash.

Jeph Loeb Tim Sale Batman: Long Halloween Special

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: I grew up on Cape Cod and so when I saw Nantucket, I was like, wait a minute, hold on. And it made me wonder you don’t see locales like this mentioned, in big two comics very often. Did you need to get approval to use Nantucket proper in the story?

JL: No. First of all, it’s a big shout out to Ben [Abernathy], who’s our editor who sort of let us just get away with murder. And also Marie Javins, who’s the editor in chief who really encouraged us to tell the best story that we could. I’ll pick places that I know. I grew up and knew Nantucket well and one of the things that I loved about it, is the trees grow horizontally, not vertically. And I love the idea of sort of these hands stretched across the page that were actually branches and that’s all it came from.

TS: Unfortunately, I covered up the trees. I actually spent quite a good deal of time drawing them. I wanted to use a grease pencil otherwise known as the China pencil for the grainy cloud effect. At first, I just had it at the bottom panel of page one and Jeff fell in love with it and said just use it wherever you can, just has to be in the flashback only.

AIPT: Having written Batman for quite some time now has the appeal changed since when you started the very first Batman Long Halloween to today with Batman Long Halloween Special?

JL: No. This is one of the things that Tim tells me is unique. But it’s the only way I know how to do it. I’ve always written for the artist, getting an opportunity to write a Batman story for Tim, it just feels great. It’s the most natural thing in the world because of the way that he draws faces and mood and emotion and movement, it’s just a different thing than when I would do it with [Ed] McGuinness or Jim Lee, or Arthur Adams. It was always a different tone of story.

TS: And lots more black on the page.

JL: Yeah, and with Tim, we’re going to do noir. That’s what we’re doing. And we’re both huge fans of that kind of storytelling of people who are trapped by their own desires. And that will eventually destroy them. One way or the other. And that includes Batman.

Jeph Loeb Tim Sale Batman: Long Halloween Special

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Having read the issue, it feels very much like a redemption story in a way. It definitely suits this special extra-sized issue, 48 pages, coming back to these characters. Was there an itch you felt like you needed to scratch when you started working on this project?

JL: The greatest gift that came out of it was the redemption of the friendship between myself and Tim, which had been sort of on hold while I was not writing comics. We were in touch but not like we are now where we’re talking every day. And with Richard Starkey, who’s our letterer who was always part of the team, and so it was like getting the band back together again in a lot of ways. In general, there were some secrets that we had left as secrets in The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. And this was an opportunity to address some of those secrets, but create new ones.

TS: Hopefully more.

JL: People will read it and go. “Okay, so when it says the end for now, does that mean there’s more?” And we should be so lucky.

AIPT: After this book sells a million issues, can you safely say you’re done with these characters? And when DC Comics gives you a bag of money, can you resist?

TS: [laughs] I’m speaking for myself, I’ll never be done.

JL: It’s really not about a bag of money, it’s really about being able to tell the best story that we can and if there’s a story to be told. And what’s amazing is that it’s not just about Batman. There are characters that, at least I myself have fallen in love with, that no one would ever tell a story. Who’s gonna tell a story with Calendar Man? What would be the point of that? With all due respect to everyone that has written a Calendar Man story. He just fascinates me and this issue gave me an opportunity because Tim sent to me what do we know about him? And I was like “That’s a good question.” Who decides to make crime on calendar days?

I went and I read a whole lot and it just was sort of like why does the Riddler do riddles? Why is Catwoman got cats all over? And I was like, but maybe there’s something underneath all of that and so it’s funny it’s for me because it’s as much as I enjoy writing Batman it’s about Gilda it’s Gordon it’s Barbara Gordon it’s the other people that are out there. It’s the relationship that Bruce has with Dick, that to my memory that was not a lot of time spent with that. He was Robin and then he went to college and then he became Nightwing. So what happened, how did he grow up? What was that like? And that just gives really good stuff beyond what a lot of people believe or what comics are about which is bit-bam-boom you know? Pow!

I’m more interested in when Harvey and Gilda are having dinner at the table and the doorbell rings and Two-Face suddenly growls “Who else knows we’re here?” After he’s so confidently said I got the house back. Those are the moments and those are the things that Tim draws so beautifully and not a lot of people can do. They would just draw a big close-up to people’s faces, Tim’s run the entire kitchen down to what’s on the table and what they’re having and it just creates a mood in an atmosphere that, look if you’re going to buy a comic enjoy it.

TS: Yeah, that’s what gets me going. To fill out the world.

Jeph Loeb Tim Sale Batman: Long Halloween Special

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: There are a lot of little details I loved, like just seeing a coffee container in Two-Face’s layer or what looks like a Hulk mask in a window.

JL: Oh, I don’t know about that. That’s just a Frankenstein-looking thing.

TS: Jeph had mentioned the Hulk mask and I say “What no love for the Hulk mask?” and he said “What!?” And I said, “It’s right there man.”

JL: Except it’s Frankenstein, it’s actually Frankenstein.

TS: Yeah yeah yeah.

AIPT: Seeing that made me want to see if there was a Spider-Man Easter egg.

TS: I don’t usually do that kind of stuff. I do stuff like the coffee pot. He lives here what’s gonna be here you know? It was Jeff’s idea for instance that the bed in that scene is only slept in on one side. One side is immaculately made the other side is all rumpled.

AIPT: There really is like a color story going here. I think Brennan Wagner did a fantastic job as well.

JL: He did. Thank you for mentioning it.

Jeph Loeb Tim Sale Batman: Long Halloween Special

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Is there a back and forth there as far as atmosphere mood when using color in the backgrounds?

JL: This is the first time we’ve done a Batman comic where we had the opportunity to see the colors as JPEGs before publication. On Dark Victory and Long Halloween, we didn’t see anything in the colors until we were holding the comics in our hands. So we drove Brennan kind of crazy with notes about this kind of thing and that kind of thing. And he’d never worked in that kind of way before, I’m pretty sure, and on a book this sort of big as well. His color sense is terrific. And we helped along with the storytelling. It looks quite different than, but Long Halloween looks very different in color than Dark Victory did. So they all have very much their own color schemes.

JL: But because this was a 48-page story, I really wanted it to have a more cinematic sense to it. And so I wanted to have the chance to be able to change the color palette. And so that when you’re with Harvey, there’s a lot of purple. And when you’re with Gordon it’s a lot of brown. So that as you’re reading the story you recognize with your eye, you may not be aware of it. But as you’re going you’re you’re suddenly going, “Oh, I’m in a new scene” without me having to then say we’re in a new scene. It helps the writing flow.

AIPT: I do think that fans will gravitate towards this, too, because there are a lot of cool character appearances. I mean, we’ve got some trick or treating going on in here. Were you able to pack in everything?

JL: Oh, there always is for me. As Tim knows, I’ll write a scene, and then realize we don’t have room for the scene. But that comes from television. You write a script, and the show has got to be basically 41 minutes and 17 seconds. And if that doesn’t mean 42 minutes. And so at some point you go through and say, “Do we need this scene?” And hopefully, you can do that before you’ve shot the scene. And in the case with Tim, hopefully he’s not drawn a scene that I then go, we got to cut the scene.

TS: Yeah, that hasn’t really happened.

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