Between the Panels: Writers Jeffrey & Susan Bridges on Their Creative Partnership, Choosing the Right Story Format, and Someone’s Love for Superman

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

Married duo Susan and Jeffrey Bridges wrote their way into the comics business via Top Cow’s Talent Hunt. But comics aren’t their only game; they also oversee the audio drama company Pendant Productions and, as Jeffrey says, have written “anything else you can write outside of poetry and prose.”

First, the particulars…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writers

Your home base: Los Angeles, CA

Website:
http://www.pendantaudio.com (for their production company) and http://www.birdguest.com (for their personal writing work)

Social Media:
Instagram: @susanlbridges
Twitter: @susanlbridges and @jeffreybridges and @pendantweb

Current project title:

Killswitch (Action Lab) — debuting in October




Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: First, the big question: Why comics? What attracts you to writing for the comics form specifically?

Susan Bridges: [We’ve] been writing as a team for quite a while, and something that’s always a concern when writing television pilots or screenplays is the budget. People were advising us to write smaller, cheaper stories. Eventually, we realized that we love to write sci-fi and we love to write genre, and some of those stories just couldn’t be told with those kinds of limitations.

Jeffrey Bridges: Comics are so unique. It’s just a series of still images, in sequence, that tell a story. So, finding the right moments to capture from panel to panel, the right spot to put page breaks… they’re things you don’t have to think about in any other format. It also lets the audience completely control the pace, which they don’t generally get when watching something on screen. People can stop and study a panel for five minutes if they want. Killswitch is such a visual story, and when you have an artist like Walter Geovani who will give you impressively detailed views of this cyberpunk world, comics just felt like the right fit for this story.

KS: Were comics an important part of your lives growing up?

S: My first real exposure was through a college class on The History of Comic Book Art. Some of the reading materials for the class included Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Watchmen, and Sin City. I learned to appreciate them both for their words and for their artistry, and I tend to examine both aspects equally as a result of that.

J: I was all-in on comics from the time I was probably four or five. It was all Spider-Man all the time back then. In my early teens, I gravitated more towards X-Men, and then I got into Superman comics and I was hooked for life. There have been ebbs and flows, and times when we couldn’t afford to keep reading, or had to scale back, but the love of the format has been with me forever.

KS: Looking back, was there a moment when a comic put the “I want to try doing that” bug in your head?

S: Sin City. The art was just amazing. After that, I think Danger Girl was the first time I saw how layouts could really elevate a story. Comics is its own thing, and those were some of the books that showed me that it wasn’t just the art and it wasn’t just the words; it was a combination that really told the story.

J: One hundred percent the “triangle number” days of 1990s Superman comics. Four monthly titles, sometimes growing to five or six, all telling a cohesive story from one book to the next with entirely different creative teams on each book! A single comic is already such a collaboration between the entire team, writers, artists, inkers, colorists, letterers, editors… they all bring something new and great to the table that combine into something greater than the sum of their parts. That’s when I really thought it’d be something I’d love to do someday.

Especially for Superman… you know, if DC is reading.





KS: Whether it’s screenwriting or comics, competitions are one way for an unknown creator to get their work noticed. Talk about the process (from your perspective) of the Top Cow Talent Hunt — what was it like going through that?

S: For the Top Cow competition, we ended up winning the second time around, and that’s partially because we paid attention to what [Top Cow President] Matt Hawkins said after the first competition. He said that a lot of people just wrote something that would naturally come next in the comics that they had, and as a result a lot of entries came across as the same. I hadn’t thought about what it would take to stand out. So, when we entered the second time, we used Witchblade but came up with a completely standalone one shot that was different from any of the Witchblade comics we’d seen. And it worked.

KS: Any advice you’d offer to others interested in exploring writing competitions?

J: The trick was not doing something expected. We were reading the comics and seeing where character arcs were going, and thought by showing we could spot that and write something else along the same arc, that’d show we knew what we were doing. But that’s not what they’re looking for, no matter how well executed it is. They want to see the ideas no one else had, see what makes you stand out. That advice doesn’t apply to most writing competitions where you’re entering an entirely original piece, but it worked well for [Top Cow] where you’re using pre-existing characters in a pre-existing world. For any other competitions… not a lot of them are worth entering, so do your research first. Find the ones the pros actually respect. And whatever you do, be you on the page. Let your voice out. It’s what’ll make you stand apart from everyone else.

KS: Comics collaboration typically occurs among a writer, artist, inker, letterer, etc. In your case, though, there are two writers at work before it ever gets to anyone else. What’s your process like when it comes to actually putting words on the page (or screen)?

S: In general, we put an outline together first and talk out the various points of it. Then, one of us does the first draft. After that point, we pass it back and forth. We then decide on a final draft — which isn’t actually final, but it’s final enough to go to an artist. The artist then does thumbnails and we go through those together with the script. We send notes back to the artist at this point.

When the final art is done, we send the pages to the colorist. At this point, we start cutting down the script and making minor changes for the lettering draft. We review the panels to see if what we’ve written is actually going to fit, or if the art has brought something new that means we can remove some of the dialogue, or even adjust dialogue across panels depending on how the artist laid it out. At the end, we do a line by line read of the script against the panels to finalize it and then we send it to the letterer.

J: That’s how we write comics, yes, though more broadly there’s… a lot of discussion. One of us does the first draft based on who has the time between various stages of other projects we’re working on — we’ve usually got three or four going simultaneously. Then, the other rips it to pieces, and we discuss and revise, rinse and repeat until we reach a point we’re both good with letting it stand. We each have weaknesses where the other has strengths, so it works out well.

KS: Since you two work in multiple writing disciplines, how do you know when a story is more right for one format over another? What makes it an obvious fit for comics instead of, say, audio drama?

S: Comics are in many ways the flip side of audio drama. In comics you can only see; in audio drama you can only hear. Killswitch makes a good comic, because there are a lot of strong visual elements and big action scenes. A “Zero G” action sequence wouldn’t make much sense in an audio drama.

J: Yeah, that would be… very difficult to convey. Killswitch is a very visual story, so it easily lent itself to visual mediums. There are some stories and projects that can work amazingly well in a multitude of formats. And I don’t want to say we couldn’t adapt Killswitch to an audio drama if we wanted to; it would just take a lot more work and might lose something in the translation. Color plays a big part in the story, as well, and our colorist Brittany Peer has turned in some truly phenomenal work. We just recently adapted some prose stories to audio drama, and also did the official audio drama adaptation of Valiant’s Archer & Armstrong... which, as a comic, obviously started out being very visual. It actually adapted really well, but that’s why we chose that for our first project with them.




KS: If you look back at your earlier writing, what was different from the work you produce now?

S: For a long time, I think we resisted the idea that we were sci-fi writers, which is really odd, because we both love sci-fi and met because of sci-fi. I think it took longer than it probably should have for us to come around to that.

J: When we started writing as a team, it was weirdly straight comedies. But comedy is so hard, because everyone has a different sense of humor. So, we moved to sci-fi, which we also love, but only recently did we really settle into the lightly-comedic action sci-fi/outright sci-fi comedy genres. Which is also interesting because Killswitch is not funny! But this particular story didn’t lend itself to that.

KS: What’s one word that sums up an important trait for being successful in this business? By “this business” I don’t only mean comics, but any creative arts.

S: Maybe reliable? The most important thing is to do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. We have always been deadline-oriented and even when we don’t have a deadline from an outside person, we make our own deadlines. The second most important thing is to realize that you have to be good at writing and also make connections. One or the other is not going to cut it.

J: Perseverance. You have to persevere with your writing. You have to persevere with your submissions and keep trying rejection after rejection. You have to persevere with making friends in the industry, to help lift each other up. Don’t try to “network” just to help your career… find the people you respect and would want to work with and genuinely form friendships with them, people you’re happy to celebrate the successes of, to be there for when the latest rejection gets them down.




KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with awe?

S: Maus by Art Spiegelman, because while comics are great for huge action sequences and big visual elements, they also don’t have to be that way to be hugely impactful.

J: I think what Joëlle Jones did with Lady Killer is absolutely extraordinary. Comics can — and should! —  be about anything at all, and if you’d told five-year-old me one of my favorite comics of all time would be about a housewife who was also an assassin, I’d have thwacked you with a rolled up Spider-Man comic. (Yes, I rolled them up, stuck them in my back pockets… my comics were loved and went places with me.) But here we are, and that book is wonderful in every way.

KS: Finally, can you tell us a little more about Killswitch?

S: Killswitch is about a woman who has done everything the way she’s supposed to do it and has finally figured out that all of that is wrong. It’s about her trying to figure out how to make things right, and it’s also about her figuring out who she is, and who she wants to be.

J: I’m usually the one who gets all philosophical like that! Now I don’t know what to say. It’s… well, it’s a cyberpunk sci-fi action story about the insidious ways society deceives us, the way we as a society take the contributions people offer to better ourselves and our own lives, without concern for the people we take them from. The four issues tell a complete story, and we ask some big questions that maybe nobody has the answers to, because life is messy and a lot of it is complicated. But it’s about choosing kindness and hope, choosing to do the right thing, even when no one else will. But it’s also about a prison break on a comet orbiting the sun! Think Blade Runner meets Mad Max Fury Road.


*Cover art (below) by Sozomaika





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