Emru Townsend: Actually, again going back to Batman Animated, you're a big Batman fan from way back, so it must be just great being able to help define some of the mythology of one of your favorite characters.
Paul Dini: Well, I was always running home from school so I could see reruns of the Batman '60s show in the afternoon. As I mention in the book, I groaned every time I had to go to confirmation class, because I had confirmation class Thursday afternoon and I'd miss whatever part of Batman they were running that afternoon.
Aside from Batman, what would you say influences your work?
There's the whole wealth of the character to choose from, but I'm also a longtime comic-book fan, and I've always loved comics that said something more than just the adventure of a hero chasing a crook across the page and beating him up. There were certain comics that I really treasured as a kid, that I kept all the way through adulthood, that I just felt were terrific and good examples of just fun fiction writing. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Marvel super-hero characters.
Oh, no, we don't see any Jack Kirby influence in the cartoons at all, no no. [laughs]
No, no, no, no. [laughs] Visually, that's all through there, but I look at the way Stan Lee would write the characters of Spider-Man or the Avengers, or something like that, and there always seemed to be a bit more there, they weren't just characters in masks sitting around talking. They seemed to have a bit more substance to them, so I always thought that would be cool to try and bring a bit more of that into Batman's world, to get inside of the heads of not only Batman, Robin, and Batgirl, but some of the criminals who they fight. One of the things I've learned to do in writing, and this comes from writing all sorts of different things, is that you really take your inspiration from real life, to some degree. I think it's really important to do that when you're doing cartoons, that you look around at real life, and you take it that one weird step beyond. You take something that happened to you, like sometime when you were upset in your personal life, or something that happened to you a long time ago, and maybe you have a fear from childhood and your bring that into your adulthood or something. But you take what's basically a real-life instance and then you just cartoon it a bit. You just put it in the realm of the fantastic. Then everybody can relate to it. And then it doesn't matter if you've got superheroes experiencing the same problems, or funny-animals; if there's something emotionally at stake that propels your story, then you've got a good story, and virtually any character can perform that story, whether it's a cartoon character or a live actor.
A good point. It's also one of the reasons Batman works so well. I find a lot of modern cartoons--obviously not action/adventure in this case--tend to spend most of their time riffing off of old cartoons. It's fun, but on some shows, like Johnny Bravo, which I do find to be funny when I watch it, half of its jokes come from other cartoons. It's sort of self-referential, and eventually it's going to get to this big feedback loop.
Well, I watched one cartoon show just the other night, and I was thinking, This is garbage, because it's characters that are so, so--for one thing, the design style of the show is terrible. It's derivative of a number of different sources. And the characters are just not funny in and of themselves. They sit around going, "Boy, I'm having a problem. This reminds me of that old episode of that TV show I was just watching a minute ago." And then they just animate a clip of an old TV show. And then it's like, "Yeah, that's really terrible. Boy, I'll never forget that time where..." And then they go [into another clip]. The show had nothing to offer in and of itself, it was just cutaways to other shows to--to have threadbare gags on other concepts, on other shows. It was just a show that was just groveling in the swill of popular culture. And at the same time, I'm wondering, God, why did they put this on the air? The show doesn't have a laugh in it. If I want to look at a clip of an old show, I'll watch that old show.