Scott McDaniel Tells His Side Of The Static Shock Story

John Rozum recently talked about his problems as writer of Static Shock, citing that he was hardly writing the book, the actual work being split between artist Scott McDaniel and editor Harvey Richards, which is why he chose to walk off the book with issue 4, not wanting his name to be associated with work he was unhappy with, calling it a “total turd.”

A few weeks later, and Scott McDaniel has replied, telling his side of the story. Here are some excerpts. The original is long, very long, and you can see why he took so long to respond. It also includes some examples of John Rozum’s script, which is rather rare for New 52 books, as well as how certain ideas were generated, and DC’s decision making process for which books are published and which are not, and how he really doesn’t like Rozum describing the comic as a “total turd”

I’m not sure if McDaniel is breaking any of the infamous DC Comics NDAs with this, but if so he’s doing it in style. I urge you to read the full article, these are merely excerpts for flavour, and noting important elements wothy of archiving.

 

Before the relaunch, Comic Book Resources ran a survey that attempted to measure the reader anticipation of the coming DCnU relaunch titles… STATIC SHOCK ranked 46 out of 52. This is a SERIOUS challenge.

Around the first or second week of Oct 2011, the first sales data (of the Sep 2011 #1 issues) was published from DIAMOND. DIAMOND ESTIMATED SALES data is freely available online – anyone can get it for themselves. According to this report, STATIC #1 came in at 34,004 units sold. Oh, my goodness.

  • ANTICIPATED SALES for Static # 4 or 5:
    (34,004 units)*(0.60) = 20,402 units.
  • ANTICIPATED SALES for Static # 12:
    (34,004 units)*(0.40) = 13,601 units.

Uh-oh. Any title selling less than 20,000 units will be considered for CANCELLATION.

To me and Harvey, the best chance for STATIC’s survival was to plan big, exciting stories. Create solid story that QUICKLY grew to important and dramatic climaxes for Virgil and Static. There was no time to play it safe, or to do slow-burn stories. Time was our enemy. We needed something nearly geologic to upset the repeat of history in order to keep the book alive.

John dismissed this information, and our strategy, entirely. In his opinion, Harvey and I were too concerned with sales and gimmicks and not legitimate story.

I was frankly stunned by his reaction.


Harvey called and invited me to participate in a story conference he was going to have with John. Harvey shared that he was having some trouble getting John oriented to the type of exciting story he wanted in STATIC’s relaunch. Harvey was impressed with my work in the past (limited to instances of my discovering a few plot holes that somehow slipped by the writer and editor before getting to me, and he was impressed with my ideas/comments offered during the initial planning for STATIC with a different writer months earlier). Harvey suggested that I might help brainstorm ideas to get STATIC rolling in a strong, new direction.

Besides, DC Editorial was generally encouraging teams get their artists more involved in the story creation to make sure the stories were as visually interesting as possible. So this seemed the natural thing to do for STATIC.

This is important. Let’s be very clear here. I was INVITED by editorial to join the story meetings and INVITED to bring story ideas to the table.

Contrary to John’s public statements, our collaboration began amicably.John shared that he was a bit frustrated because his earlier material (set in Dakota) was rejected once it was decided to put Static in NYC. I never saw that material, so I don’t know what it was, or how fully developed it was. But to his credit I thought John handled the unexpected turn quite well.

Harvey tried to set out the context for the initial relaunch story. He wanted us to think NEW. He wanted us to think EXTREME. Go crazy, and he’ll pull us back from the edge if we go too far. Harvey was very interested in exploring WHY Virgil would continue being Static as he matures. And Harvey was very interested in creating a sci-fi themed mystery involving his sister that could become a long-term, driving motivation for Static to remain being Static. Harvey was very interested in seeing new growth in the character, in his personality and also new growth in his powers.

We talked some more. We talked about creating a criminal alliance that would be stealing tech (like the kind available from S.T.A.R. Labs), and the type of high tech mercenaries that would be pulling off these jobs.

Our brainstorming session seemed cordial, with a lot of friendly flow of ideas coming from all three of us. The session was called to a close, and John was tasked to take all our collaborative ideas and put them together in another script draft.

Page 4, panel 3
VIRGIL, HIS BACKPACK SLUNG OVER ONE SHOULDER, PINS THE LAMINATE PASS TO HIS SHIRT. HE WALKS ALONGSIDE DR. SLAVINSKI. IN THE BACKGROUND A GROUP OF MEDICAL DOCTORS IN HAZMAT SUITS (WHITE WITH A RED CROSS ON THEM) RUSH A GURNEY ACROSS THE LOBBY. ON THE GURNEY IS A MAN IN AGONY AS WHAT APPEAR TO BE HOLOGRAMS OF CARTOONY ZOO ANIMALS IN PRIMARY LOLLIPOP COLORS DRIFT UPWARDS FROM A WOUND IN HIS CHEST. SOMEONE INA YELLOW HAZMAT SUIT ACCOMPANIES THEM, GESTURING TO SAY IT’S NOT HIS/HER FAULT.

My first reaction upon reading this: It’s perfectly John Rozum, but perfectly NOT the type of imagery Harvey wanted for STATIC.Here’s another example cut-n-pasted from the same script draft:

Page 11, panel 1
WE ARE IN A LARGE DARK ROOM WITH EXPENSIVE FURNISHINGS. IT CAN BE DECORATED TO RESEMBLE A GENTLEMAN’S CLUB, OR JAMES BOND VILLAIN’S HIDEOUT. A GROUP OF POWERFUL MEN, WITH A FEW WOMEN THROWN INTO THE MIX ARE GATHERED HERE. MOST OF THEM ARE SEATED AROUND A HUGE TELEVISION WHICH SHOWS FOOTAGE OF STATIC FIGHTING THE PLASMA ENERGY BEING. THE IMAGE ON THE SCREEN HAS A LOT OF DISTORTION, ALMOST LIKE WHEN YOU COME ACROSS IMAGES ON A CABLE CHANNEL THAT’S NOT PART OF YOUR PACKAGE. EVERYONE LOOKS SERIOUS AS THEY WATCH. AMONG THEM, A CRIME BOSS WHO LOOKS LIKE A HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL WITH MORE EXPENSIVE CLOTHES, HIS LIEUTENANT, A SHIFTY LOOKING GUY WITH DARK CIRCLES UNDER HIS EYES, A VERY PALE MAN WITH A SMILE AND A COMPULSIVE LAUGH LIKE TOURETTE’S SYNDROME, WHICH IS ACTUALLY THE RESULT OF MILD EXPOSURE TO JOKER GAS, A WOMAN IN A TAN LEATHER COMBAT SUIT, A YOUNG MAN IN A LEATHER JACKET WHO LOOKS ALMOST LIKE A SILHOUETTE OF A YOUNG MAN (THIS IS TARMAC) AND A MAN WHO LOOKS LIKE HE’S AN ALBINO IN A WHITE SUIT, BUT IS ACTUALLY MADE OF SOME SORT OF GAS.

Again, this is perfectly John Rozum. Creative. But it just didn’t quite deliver the high tech sensibility, in feel or in visual description, that we talked about in our story conference. These characters just don’t quite ‘feel’ like the type of threatening gangsters we were talking about in conference who would be capable of ripping off S.T.A.R. Labs. That was Harvey’s impression as well.Here’s a final example cut-n-pasted from the same script draft:

Page 20, panel 1
INSIDE A GARAGE A HIP LOOKING MAN IN HIS MID-20s WEARING EXPENSIVE COOL CLOTHES SHUTS THE DOOR OF A PRISTINE BADASS CANDY APPLE GREEN EARLY 1970S MUSCLE CAR AND APPROACHES A GROUP WAITING FOR HIM. THE GROUP INCLUDES THE CRIME BOSS WE SAW EARLIER, HIS LIEUTENANT, THE PALE MAN COMPULSIVE LAUGHER, KILLER FROST AND A BIG GUY HOLDING A HUGE DOUBLE BLADED AXE. THE NEW ARRIVAL’S NAME IS DROPSHADOW. HIS SHADOW CAN MOVE INDEPENDENTLY OF HIM, BUT IS ALWAYS ATTACHED TO HIM VIA HIS FEET. THIS SCENE SHOULD INCLUDE LIGHTING SO THAT EVERYONE ELSE’S SHADOWS BEHAVE APPROPRIATELY EVEN WHEN HIS DISREGARDS THE LIGHT SOURCE, OR WHAT HE IS DOING. READERS MAY NOT EVEN NOTICE UNTIL WE TELL THEM.

Once again, this is perfectly John Rozum. It’s creative. But once again, it just didn’t deliver the modern, edgy sensibility, in feel or in visual description, that we talked about in our story conference.

..

This is John’s creation. John wanted Pale Man to be a survivor of Joker gas. His rationale: Joker is a murderous psycho, so by association, other story characters will perceive Pale Man as a murderous psycho as well. That’s fine. No problem.I suggested it might be better story for STATIC if Pale Man was a survivor of a failed Q-Juice event. This would tie more directly into Static’s own continuity, and possibly provide more story potential to reach back to Nemo and Dakota. Besides, I didn’t want readers to think we were sucking from the “Bat Teat” unnecessarily. Not that we WERE – I just didn’t want to give the impression to readers that we needed to skim off the Batman franchise to create interesting, dangerous characters.

John insisted on keeping the Joker connection. Harvey agreed – he saw it as a connection to the wider DCU. Batman Group Editor Mike Marts OK’d the idea (this reference to the new Joker had to be approved – it’s not that I ran to Mike Marts seeking a veto!).

Fine. No problem. Joker gas it is! I made my argument TWICE, and TWICE I was turned down. (Hey, I had to see if I could change their minds!)

I moved on without hesitation or second thought, without any wound to my ego. The question now before me was how to best use Pale Man to tell STATIC’s story.

Just off FDR Drive, on Pleasant Ave. in East Harlem I found the real “Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.” Perfect! THAT’s where Virgil should go to school! I suggested it to Harvey, and he loved the idea. However, DC legal department said we couldn’t use that real school (party poopers). So I intended to create a parallel fictional school with a slightly different name, mirroring the real school but instead placing it on the West side of Harlem, using a montage of actual schools in Harlem as the exterior design. In fact, I used Google Earth to accurately render the buildings that really exist on west 115th street for the establishing shot of the school (Issue #2 page 14 panel 1). This is the kind of subtle detail I put into my art all the time that NO ONE ever knows but me (and, now in this particular instance, YOU!).

John suggested naming it the “DWAYNE G. MCDUFFIE CENTER FOR SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS.” PERFECT! That’s collaboration!

At this point, I think John was becoming a little tired of me constantly examining and challenging his ideas. I didn’t do it in the spirit of crushing his ego – I was constantly looking at EVERYTHING on the table, looking for better alternatives, to shape characters and ideas to best meet STATIC’s needs, not anyone’s egotistical needs.

┬áDespite some other, minor debates on some ideas, our collaboration up to this point in time had been mostly positive, from my point of view. I was having a BLAST talking story and character and conflict and the like with John and Harvey. I sensed John was getting irritated having to justify all his decisions as I kept examining things from different angles, but I was having great fun and learning a lot!In all the discussion of having Virgil running around S.T.A.R. Labs, it seemed to me that we were actually taking Virgil out of a key element. While Virgil’s “S.T.A.R. Labs internship” is an interesting idea, it seemed to me to unnecessarily take Virgil OUT of high school, away from his peers, and instead place him into a predominantly ADULT environment.

I suggested to John and Harvey that we make the “Dwayne G. McDuffie Center for Science and Mathematics” a charter school, entirely funded and staffed by S.T.A.R. Labs employees, as a way to give back to the community, bringing excellence in math and science to the urban inner city community of Harlem. It was great – we could bring the S.T.A.R. Labs to Virgil, and keep Virgil surrounded by a fun, youthful supporting cast.

This is important, and it rings like a bell in my memory: John literally laughed out loud at this idea, and muttered something like “that’s ridiculous” as he laughed.

This isn’t meant to be boastful, but I thought this was a brilliant idea. It hooks all these various elements together in a fun way: the Labs, the tech, the teen supporting cast. And John literally laughed in my face.

I became angry. REALLY angry. I stopped our story conference dead in its tracks, demanding to know what John found so funny about that idea. After a moment of awkward silence, John replied, “Nothing.”

The topic quickly changed, the conversation moved to another subject, and that was that.

I admit, this angered me like few other experiences in my professional career. I was DETERMINED to prove to John that I had good ideas to bring to the table.

To be clear, my anger took the form of a professional prosecutor going after a guilty man in a formal courtroom. I hurled no expletives. I hurled no insults. No name calling, or wailing to the heavens. I became fiercely determined to get an answer to my question.

And I admit, from this moment on, my impression of John Rozum turned decidedly negative.

I’m just thinking about what “might have been,” had my colleague John Rozum not laughed in my face.

John’s script draft iterations had consumed all the time off the clock. Time was running out, deadlines were approaching. Since I created nearly all the characters, and their interrelated conflicts, in the current set up, Harvey gave me the go ahead to plot at least the first issue. I honestly don’t recall how it grew to me plotting the first three issues. However, Harvey made it CLEAR to me, early on, that John was to resume FULL writing duties with issue #4.

I remember John stating how eager he was to resume full control over the writing reins. I remember being disappointed at not earning at least a little co-plotter role for those future issues. I thought I could really help keep things moving in the story. But I understood Harvey’s decision. John’s the experienced guy here.

So here was my window of opportunity to write the best, most interesting action-oriented intro I could to prove to John that I could bring something of value to the table.

….

I quickly produced a second draft, and that one was approved. At no point during this process did I hear John utter the word “turd.” That would have been useful to consider at the time, so we could possibly make some corrections.

John writes in his public comments about the impossible scenario Harvey laid on the table concerning the Sharon clone concept. In hindsight, I think that must be why he never offered a story solution for it.I thought it was a very interesting concept: a family tragedy, possibly resulting from some error actually committed by Static that had horrible repercussions for his own family. That has the potential to be a very powerful character story. We talked a lot about it, trying to get some substance on Harvey’s initially blurry impressions.

Let me repeat: John admitted that my idea was better than his.

At this point, our collaboration really soured. For all his talk of his expertise with character, he seemed to limit his involvement to trivial dialogue.This REALLY bothered me, but at this time, I couldn’t figure out exactly WHY this bothered me so much. I couldn’t articulate it. I did later on. More on this in a moment.

We found ourselves embroiled in petty arguments concerning dialogue. I thought his dialogue was overly wordy, passive and weak. He thought my dialogue was obtuse and clunky. Ahh, Crom, those were some days!

I asked him why he never brought his ‘character’ expertise to the plots. I took his initial plot and built upon it, keeping what worked and creating new stuff where needed. Why didn’t he do likewise? Why didn’t he take my plot, look for opportunities to shape and sharpen it for CHARACTER issues?

I asked him why he never looked to shape this material to compare and contrast the situations of characters: like STATIC and PIRANHA, each transformed, but one becomes a hero and the other a monster. Or compare and contrast VIRGIL and PALE MAN, each essentially an undercover personality (Virgil in some ways can act undercover for his role as STATIC, and PALE MAN is actually an undercover cop).

There was a silent pause in the conversation. It wasn’t an awkward one. I sensed almost a light coming on from John over the phone line. This idea seemed to spark his interest, because we talked about a few more examples. I found an opportunity he had never considered before, but it was essentially too late to act upon because he kept the plots at arm’s length.

I have no idea what the higher ups must have been thinking about all this, but issue #4 was fast approaching and John would resume his role as lead and sole writer.

….

 

Again, Harvey and I were very concerned about the sales trend on STATIC. Please recall this topic from earlier in my statement. This historic sales trend is no joke. It’s real. Sales cool. Harvey and I feared that, as retailers were preparing to order #4 through #6, if they didn’t see evidence of real story momentum and something important and cool happening that would attract additional readers, they would not change their historical ordering patterns and the book would simply slide into cancellation, if not by issue #6, then maybe by #8 or #10. Again, John expressed a contrary opinion. To him, that stuff wasn’t worthy of consideration – only story mattered. And he was gonna bring the story.

When I first read the John’s first script draft for #4, I was confused and concerned. REALLY confused and REALLY concerned.

I shared this stuff with Harvey first, who asked me to remain SILENT while he worked on this with John. John is the writer. Harvey had his own concerns, and quite frankly, I don’t know what they all were. He said he shared many of my concerns, but I think he had more to say to John.

A short while later, John’s second draft arrived. Nervously, I opened the file and began to read.It was filled with a lot of other detours and weirdness that I didn’t really understand.

Static is hailed from the street by a citizen. The citizen gives Static the address where people are supposedly printing counterfeit cigarette tax stamps. Static, suspecting a trap, goes there anyway. And guess what – he’s right! It’s a trap! Guillotina is waiting for him!

Cigarette Tax Stamps? Cigarette Tax Stamps? This has to be the most BORING superhero trap lure I’ve ever encountered. But, at least the fight is ON! Guillotina vs. Static!

They fight for five pages. Static traps Guillotina under a heavy piece of machinery, and then….

… Static runs away!

Excuse me… what?

It was pretty clear that John was upset at the constant critiques of his work. He was flustered, angry and irritated, not understanding why Harvey and I were constantly attacking his work.

I told John to forget Piranha. This isn’t about him. I kept hammering at the same question, “What is your plan for Static? What are you going to do with him?

John said he was writing issues #4-6 kind of simultaneously, writing bits of each in turn.

Again, I asked him to simply state what he planned to do with Static. Just describe what challenge he’ll face, or what he’ll learn. How he’ll grow.

John replied that he didn’t know yet. He hadn’t yet written that part of #6.

I reached for my bookcase, grabbed my copy of Syd Field’s SCREENPLAY, and read to him the following passage. For those of you who wish to read along, turn to page 56 and read the following:

So – what’s the best way to open your screenplay?KNOW YOUR ENDING!

I admit to becoming extremely angry. I couldn’t believe what John was saying. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t already figured this out.

STATIC sales are sliding toward cancellation, and he can’t say what he wants to do with the LEAD CHARACTER.

I reminded him of the volumes of material I wrote and presented to both he and Harvey during my time in the lead, so that they could actively participate in shaping the story or manage what I was doing. Virgil conflicts, Static conflicts, character backstories, and on and on. By contrast, there is nothing much in writing from John at all.

Again he reminded me that he was the writer of the critically-acclaimed series Xombi and I hadn’t written a thing before this, but he thanked me personally for having the genius to point out what escaped everyone else’s attention until this very moment – that he was a terrible writer (his words, not mine).

John was furious. I was furious. Harvey mercifully ended the conference call!

That’s when Harvey challenged me to put my money where my mouth was. He suggested I put something together, in writing, along the lines of what I was demanding from John.

Harvey actually liked the ideas, too. He showed them to John.

And that was that. In John’s eyes, my arrogance and incompetence grew to such enormous and egregious heights that John was forced to resign.

In his eyes, nothing he contributed mattered. In his eyes, I disdained his every stroke from the very beginning, and got my own way in every matter.

In his eyes, he did everything he could to prevent STATIC SHOCK from becoming a total “turd.” But he could not withstand the scope and power of my incompetence.

And I am left frankly bewildered, wondering how our experiences can be perceived so differently.

I conclude this section of my reply with this last observation.If, as he claims, John really tried to do everything he could to prevent STATIC SHOCK from failing, WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD HE PUBLICLY ANNOUNCE HIS RESIGNATION IN THE VERY MIDDLE OF THE FIRST MONTH’S ROLLOUT OF THE NEW 52?????

Surely John knew that the company had been meticulously planning this relaunch for a LONG time, investing much time, talent and money to carefully build positive buzz that was FINALLY being realized with the rollout of the new #1’s.

More to the point: there is no way under heaven that John’s sudden, public resignation announcement could POSITIVELY impact STATIC SHOCK. His sudden, public resignation announcement could ONLY HURT STATIC SHOCK. And he did it anyway.

Just an observation. You figure out what it means.

When I first learned of John’s resignation, I called him right away, and left a detailed message asking him to call me back, that I wanted to convince him to stay on board, promising that we could find SOME way to make this work. I told him he was expert with these characters, and STATIC needed him.

He didn’t pick up, and he didn’t call me back.

I certainly understand.

So I will make my apologies publicly. I hope he will find them.

 

Scott’s account is full, verbose and quite painful in places. I’ve enjoyed Scott’s work a lot, from his early days of Daredevil to his modern, looser, more confident work. ┬áBut I can’t help but hear an editor or a penciller, when seeing the script for Swamp Thing #21 saying “but it needs a fight scene.”

John Rozum is a wonderful, introspective writer who takes flights of fantasy that have delighted me as a reader and I was looking forward to similar on Static Shock. But if Harvey did want a focussed, simpler, more action packed book… he probably shouldn’t have hired Rozum in the first place.

I look forward to the next work from each creator.

 

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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