Longtime Teen Titans Go! Comics writer Sholly Fisch reunited with the gang for their first long-form graphic novel story - and it's set inside a summer camp organized by Darkseid.
While that might sound a bit too dark, Fisch has found humor in this nightmarish summer camp.
Fisch, who wrote DC's long-running Teen Titans Go! Comic book series and even an episode of the Cartoon Network series, is back for Teen Titans Go! To Camp - a new OGN illustrated by Marcelo DiChiara, Agnes Garbowska, Leila del Duca, Franco, and more.
With the book now on sale, Newsarama spoke with Fisch about the teen heroes, this foreboding summer camp experience, and how he's finding fun in the fires of Apokolips and subverting some classic bits of comics lore such as just what is 'Darkseid is.'
Newsarama: Sholly, why do you think Teen Titans Go! is so appealing to people?
Sholly Fisch: Obviously, the main attraction is Trigon the Terrible's sweater vests. What else could it be?
No, no. Honestly, if I knew the answer to that question, I'd create a top-rated animated series of my own. But I'd guess it has a lot to do with the over-the-top energy of Teen Titans Go! and the fact that it’s just plain funny.
Nrama: This OGN finds the Titans attending an Apokalyptic summer camp. How tricky was it to find funny things about Darkseid and his minions?
Fisch: Really, that was probably the least tricky part of the whole thing, thanks to my long-standing philosophy that you can make anything funny by dropping Darkseid in the middle of it. Difficult roommate? Pop quiz in algebra? Long lines at the DMV? Change one person to Darkseid, and it immediately becomes infinitely funnier.
In fact, though, Darkseid only makes a cameo in the graphic novel. But, considering that the Titans' camp director is Granny Goodness, their counselors are Kalibak and Mad Harriet, and that’s just scratching the surface, we've got plenty of Darkseid’s super-villain minions on display.
We even have ridiculously obscure villains from Apokolips like Devilance the Pursuer, whom I think gets more space here than he's gotten since 1972. Getting to turn them all into the Apokolips equivalents of swimming coaches and bus drivers was a whole lot of fun.
Nrama: Can we expect any fun winks and nods to other Titan adventures in this story?
Fisch: In one of my stories? Always.
Actually, the Titans references are probably more about ongoing plot elements in Teen Titans Go! than individual stories. Things like the rivalry between Robin and Speedy, Robin's crush on Starfire, and stuff like that.
But there are much more specific winks, nods, and in-jokes about the world of Apokolips and its denizens, ranging from the old days when Jack Kirby first created it all to elements that have been introduced more recently, like a running gag built on the whole 'Darkseid is' trope for the Anti-Life Equation. Y'know, someday, the folks in Apokolips really should finish that sentence…
Nrama: Teen Titans Go! has a very loose relationship with DC canon, is it fair to say this graphic novel has the same?
Fisch: Well, unless the nightmarish world of Apokolips really does have a summer camp, and Darkseid's fearsome lieutenant Mantis really is a lunch lady, I’d say yes, you could probably say we’re taking a few liberties.
Nrama: Who has been your favorite character to write for?
Fisch: I don't think there's any one character who's my favorite, since each of them gives me opportunities for different kinds of humor, from Raven’s snarky sarcasm to Starfire's wide-eyed innocence (or is it always so innocent...?).
I genuinely enjoy all of them, and especially the chemistry among the team. But, in the graphic novel,
I have had a whole lot of fun with Cyborg, who's so disappointed that they didn't go to band camp that he keeps bursting out in gala song-and-dance numbers at the drop of a hat.
Too bad singing is forbidden in Apokolips. Not to mention jazz hands.
Nrama: Teen Titans Go! also has a very unique comedic sensibility, was it difficult to try and translate that onto the page?
Fisch: When I first started writing Teen Titans Go! comics several years ago, the answer probably would have been 'yes.' But, now that I've written a couple dozen Teen Titans Go! comics, as well as an episode of the TV show, I’m pretty used to capturing its manic sensibility in comics form.
A much bigger challenge was that most Teen Titans Go! stories are pretty short - ten pages in the comics or eleven minutes on TV. So I had to find a way to make a full-length, 128-page graphic novel work equally well, with a story that would be substantial enough to be satisfying but still feel like an episode of Teen Titans Go!
To help figure out how to do it, I re-watched the feature film Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, paying attention to how they tackled similar kinds of challenges of balancing plot, subplots, character arcs, and gags while moving from 11-minute cartoons to a full-length movie. We did it differently than they did, but it was very helpful to be able to dig into the movie’s structure as an example.
Nrama: The Titans also have a sort of built-in shorthand dynamic with one another, was there any special way you tried to access that on the page?
Fisch: Fortunately, the main artists for the graphic novel, Marcelo DiChiara and Franco Riesco, are remarkably talented - not only in drawing action and humor, but in capturing subtle nuances of character too. So all of the Titans' interpersonal dynamics from the TV series are equally on display in the graphic novel.
Sometimes it comes across in just a few words or a facial expression. At other times, it's dropping a heavy anvil made of dark, mystic energy on someone's head.
Nrama: Speaking of, what did your script actually look like? I'm sure somewhat zany knowing the source material, but were there any sequences that required special attention or care just to sell the joke?
Fisch: Well, first of all, you have to bear in mind that, in general, a lot of the stories I write pull in lots of influences and cultural references - both from comics and elsewhere --and I can’t reasonably expect an artist (or even an editor) to hunt them all down on his or her own.
So my scripts almost always include visual reference that I paste in at the back, to make it easier on the artists and make sure we're all picturing the same thing in our heads. It's a lesson I learned the hard way many years ago, when I wrote a script where, for one panel, my art description said the lead character transforms into a Smurf. It was only after the comic was published that I discovered the artist apparently didn't know what a Smurf was, because (to my utter surprise) the character turned into a middle-aged man in a suit instead.
To add to the mix, although Marcelo, Franco, and I have worked together a bunch of times, neither of them lives in the United States, so I realize that they may not always share all of my cultural references.
Plus, in between each chapter, we have letters that the Titans write home from camp, each drawn by a different surprise artist, most of whom haven't drawn Teen Titans Go! before. (Which is actually quite an understatement. Some of the artists are huge surprises for Teen Titans Go! -- we've even got one of the artists who drew Sandman: The Dreaming!)
So, when you put all of that together, I erred on the side of caution by digging up even more art reference than usual, from the fire pits of Apokolips to Busby Berkley musicals to the proper way to short-sheet a bed.
Beyond that, I just tried to make the script as clear as possible in setting scenes and mood that capture the power and sheer dread of Apokolips, and use them as a backdrop to juxtapose with the Titans' goofy humor. And, of course, I loaded up the script with lots of sight gags. But Marcelo is always great about adding tons of additional sight gags that I hadn't even thought of, and he and Franco went above and beyond in creating some striking visual effects and double-page spreads that really make the graphic novel stand out from our usual Teen Titans Go! stories in the comics.
They took all of that stuff and ran with it, to create a graphic novel that looks great and is lots of fun to read. Whether you're looking for a fun time for kids, in-jokes and Easter eggs for grown-up comic book fans, or just the occasional army of savage parademons, you'll find them all in Teen Titans Go! to Camp! But then, aren't fun, excitement, and parademons what summer camp is all about?