Interview: Sholly Fisch on Scooby-Doo Team-Up
The 1972 iteration of the Scooby-Doo cartoon, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, teamed the mystery-solving teenagers and their Great Dane with a different guest star each episode, some of them cartoon versions of real-life celebrities, others cartoon characters themselves. Among the most fondly remembered episodes were the pair in which Scooby and the gang teamed up with Batman and Robin to take on The Penguin and The Joker (team-ups recently celebrated in the 2011 Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode “Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases!”).
DC Comics, which currently publishes the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? comic book, have just launched a new series, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, that seeks to replicate the Scooby-Doo-plus-guest-star format of the old Movies series. The first issue was released in late November, and the second one is scheduled for January. Both of those issues, as well as the third, will feature team-ups with Batman and members of the extended Bat-Family. And from there…?
Well, we thought we’d turn to Team-Up writer Sholly Fisch for more info, and while we failed to get the names of the next half-dozen guest-stars out of him, we did talk a bit about writing such diverse characters. We also talked about the challenge of writing for readers as diverse as Scooby and Batman’s many fans, who range in age from those who are just learning to read to the guys on both sides of this interview.
GC4K: I understand the format of the book changed a few times before the first issue came out, in terms of whether or not it was going to be an ongoing, and how often it would be published.
Sholly Fisch: Yeah, the story behind the series is a little more involved than usual. When editor Kristy Quinn first approached me about the project, she asked if I’d like to submit pitches for a Scooby-Doo Meets Batman one-shot. Naturally, since I’m not entirely an idiot, I said “Sure!” and sent in about a half-dozen ideas, figuring they’d pick the one they liked the best.
What I didn’t expect was that, when the Powers That Be saw how many ideas I came up with, they’d decide to expand it into a six-issue limited series…or that they’d later expand it again, into an ongoing series with team-ups beyond the Batman family too. But, hey, I’m not complaining.
GC4K: Yeah, the first two issues are Scooby-Doo/Batman team-ups, but since the book isn’t called Scooby-Doo and Batman Team-Up, I assumed we’d be seeing more non-Batman characters in the future. I understand you guys probably can’t spill this sort of thing before the books are solicited, but can you give us any sort of idea of what kind of pool of characters you’re looking at? Other DC superhero characters? More Super-Pets, like Ace the Bat-Hound? Other Warner Bros-owned Hanna-Barbera characters, of the sort that occasionally teamed-up with Scooby in past cartoons? “Celebrity” DC creators, like, I don’t know, Jim Lee or Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns…? (You did write an issue of Scooby-Doo a few years ago in which the gang visits a castle belonging to a “Lord Geoff,” and help him find a ring being sought by a Blackest Knight).
Fisch: Yup, I did indeed turn Geoff Johns into a Scooby villain—and his identical twin cousin—in a not-quite tie-in during Blackest Night. I hadn’t really thought of teaming Scooby up with any other comics creators, but hmm…
Really, though, I can’t say too much yet about future guest stars—not because the issues haven’t been solicited yet, but because the approvals are all still being worked out. Let’s just say that my wish list includes a whole bunch of characters from the DC Universe—and outside the DC Universe—and there are more than a few surprises.
In the meantime, though, I can tell you that the first three issues focus not only on Batman and Robin, but on some other familiar faces from the Bat-family too.
You already know the first issue teams Scooby and the gang with Batman and Robin as they take on Man-Bat. The second pairs Scooby for the first time with Ace the Bat-Hound and also features the first-ever meeting between Mystery Inc. and Batman’s Silver Age allies, the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City. To add to the in-jokey fun, I’ve also expanded the roster of the Mystery Analysts to include some classic DC detective characters—including one in particular who’s a natural fit with Mystery Inc., although they’ve never met before.
Then, issue #3 cranks insanity up to 11 when the mischievous, magical imp Bat-Mite comes to visit…and Scooby gets a Fifth Dimensional “biggest fan” of his own!
GC4K: Part of the reason I’m so curious about future teamup-ees is that one of the recent Scooby-Doo original movies, Mask of the Blue Falcon, was set at a comic book convention, and the opening credits made use of various Hanna-Barbera superheroes who were The Blue Falcon’s contemporaries, and all the cosplayers at the con seemed to dress up as, say , Herculoids or Mightor and so on. At the time I remember thinking how cool a comic book teaming up all those guys into a Hanna-Barbera Justice League would be.
I guess this one’s more of a statement than a question, huh?
Fisch: Maybe so, but that does sound cool. Not quite the line-up I might have come up with, but still pretty cool. “Like I said, let’s see which approvals work out,” he said mysteriously…
GC4K: As for the first issue, it refers to a previous, cartoon team-up, but I noticed your Batman and Robin weren’t the exact same Batman and Robin from the original cartoons. They didn’t call everything “Bat-” something or other, for example, and Robin didn’t do that “Holy Blank, Batman!” thing.
How did you decide on your particular take on Batman and Robin, given all the different versions of them that exist now, even in just animated form?
Fisch: Initially, Warner Brothers made the call as to the look of the characters. They wanted to go with the classic Scooby look, as opposed to any of the more recent TV versions, and to keep Batman and Robin consistent with their TV appearances ‘way back in The New Scooby-Doo Movies. That look suggested the Silver Age Dynamic Duo, although I’ve mixed in aspects of other versions too—nods to everything from the Adam West TV show to Grant Morrison, with a little Batman: The Brave and The Bold attitude thrown in too. In fact, if you pay attention during issue #2, you might even spot a touch of Dark Knight too…
GC4K: Did you have to do much research before working on these scripts? Did you get to spend an afternoon watching old cartoons and count that as ‘work” for the day…?
Fisch: Yeah, well, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.
Whenever I write comics based on a cartoons, I do periodically re-watch the cartoons to make sure I’ve got all the speech patterns down, the pacing and rhythm of the stories, and so on. I’ve written so many Scooby-Doo stories over the years that I didn’t need to watch them again this time, but while I was writing the first issue, I did re-watch the more recent team-up from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Even though I’ve seen it several times now, it’s still really funny.
GC4K: Was it difficult marrying the tones and the voices of the characters of the two franchises?
Fisch: Not so much, when you consider that Robin and Shaggy were both voiced by Casey Kasem. But I suppose that’s not really what you meant by “voices.”
Working with a Silver Age-y version of Batman made it relatively easy to mesh the tones of the two series. It would’ve been a lot harder if I was using the Dark Knight version—but, like I said, I’ve snuck in just a touch of that too.
GC4K: The Penguin and The Joker were the only previous Bat-villains Scooby-Doo has encountered, but for your first two Batman issues you’re using Man-Bat and The Scarecrow. How did you arrive at those particular characters, and why did you eschew repeating The Joker and Penguin?
Fisch: The reason I skipped over the Joker and Penguin is precisely because they were the villains every time Batman and Scooby have met before. In the interest of being a little different, I decided to go with some more monstrous villains instead. After all, those are the guys who are the most obvious fits for Scooby and Mystery Inc.
As you saw in the first issue, the characters do mention their past battles with Joker and Penguin, but I purposely kept things ambiguous as to whether they’re talking about the couple of meetings in The New Scooby-Doo Movies or the more recent Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
GC4K: And if you’ll indulge a fan-ish question, why no Catman or Catwoman? As folks dressed as cats, those might be the only Bat-villains Scooby wouldn’t be afraid of, right?
Fisch: Heh. Could be, but I think you’re understimating Scooby’s ability to be scared.
Since I’m focusing right now on the more monstrous villains, there are no immediate plans for Catwoman or Catman just yet, but you never know…
GC4K: So the second issue will feature Ace the Bat-hound, an old comic book character who never appeared in Scooby-Doo cartoons but did appear in Batman: The Brave and The Bold and the Krypto the Superdog cartoon. Are you looking to any previous incarnation of the character for the comic, or will it be a more original take?
Fisch: I’ve loved Ace ever since I was a kid. I mean, come on, Batman’s dog who puts on a mask to fight crime? How can you not love that?
This take on Ace is pretty much the same ballpark as when I wrote my super-pets issue of Super Friends a few years ago. It’s sort of a mash-up of the original Silver Age version with the “Batman-as-a-dog” version from the Krypto cartoon. He and Scooby make for a pretty formidable pair when they take to the streets as the Canine Crusaders.
GC4K: I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but when you’re writing a comic book like this, how conscious are you of audience, in terms of their ages and so forth? While there was certainly nothing inappropriate for kids in this, as a grown-up I felt a lot of the gags were directed at me, and some of them I certainly wouldn’t have gotten if I weren’t watching Scooby-Doo cartoons and syndicated Batman TV shows in the 1970s…although I suppose the advent of cable and the DVD means today’s eight-year-olds have seen all the same old Scooby-Doo cartoons I have.
In other words, are you writing for grade-schoolers or grown-ups or both, and is that always in your mind while writing, or do you write what you personally find well-constructed and funny and worry about who is reading later in the process…?
Fisch: Well, to really answer that question, I have to back up a bit and explain some of the other stuff I do for a living.
When I’m not writing comics, I’m a developmental psychologist who helps make educational media for kids—TV shows, interactive games, things like that—and I worked for years and years at Sesame Workshop, where they make Sesame Street and other things. To encourage parents to watch with their kids, Sesame Street has always been written on two levels, with plenty of gags and slapstick to appeal to kids, plus parodies like “Monsterpiece Theater” for the adults.
The Adam West Batman series did something similar too: When I was a kid, I loved Batman for its super-hero action and adventure, and it was only years later that I realized how funny it was. From that point on, I started to appreciate it on a whole other level.
That’s the same sort of thing I go for when I write kids’ comics. If you’re a kid, there’s action, adventure, and jokes for you. But if you’re a longtime older fan, there are assorted in-jokes that most kids won’t even notice but, hopefully, will keep you entertained too.
GC4K: You’ve recently done some writing for DC’s New 52 line, including Action Comics back-ups during Grant Morrison’s run and some Villains Month issues, stories that obviously skew much older. Is it difficult switching gears back and forth between all-ages comics and comics for older readers, or is it pretty much second nature?
Fisch: Actually, I kind of like keeping a foot in both worlds. Apart from the fact that it keeps me from getting bored, it also gives me the opportunity to take advantage of the up sides of both. Writing the DCU stuff gives me the chance to work in continuity and add my own little footnotes to these characters’ history—like the time I got to reveal the real-life location of Krypton, which was very cool.
On the other hand, the kids’ comics give me the freedom to write what I want without being tied down by continuity, and to come up with more lighthearted stories. Not to mention that writing the kids’ comics is just plain fun!
But hey, how cool was it that I got to write stories for Action Comics—the series that launched both Superman and the idea of super-heroes as a whole? And to do it because Grant Morrison was a fan of one of my kid comics? Hard to beat that.
GC4K: Likewise, how difficult or challenging is it to work with characters like Scooby-Doo and the gang? I imagine that, in one way, it’s probably easy in that there are so many hundreds of examples of how they talk and act that a writer can know what they’d say or do in any given situtaiton, but, on the other hand, I imagine that might be more restrictive than writing an original creation, where you have to decide those things for yourself with nothing to reference save your imagination.
Fisch: To tell you the truth, the trickiest thing about writing Scooby-Doo is that it’s been around so long, and the classic TV series followed such a clear formula, that the challenge is always to keep finding something new to say. So, when I write the regular Scooby comic, I often work in things like parodies of Hitchcock movies, science fiction, or the “Blackest Knight” story you mentioned. I’m always proudest of the stories that play with the formula to surprise readers while still maintaining all of the elements of a classic Scooby-Doo story.
That’s part of the what makes Scooby-Doo Team-Up so much fun for me. It’s like a mash-up that lets me tell completely different kinds of stories while having fun with some of my favorite characters. What more could I ask for? Well, except maybe a raise and some ice cream.
GC4K: I know it’s still early—the first issue just came out a few weeks ago—but do you have a sense of how well Scooby-Doo Team-Up is being received yet?
Fisch: From what I’ve seen so far, the first issue has been gathering lots of positive reviews—including your own (and thanks for that) As you’d expect, that’s all very gratifying and makes us feel good. But the real test of the series’ success depends on how kids react, so I’m looking forward to hearing from them. After all, we’d have gotten away with it, if not for those meddling kids…
Filed under: Interviews
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
SLJ Blog Network
One Star Review, Guess Who? (#184)
Review of the Day – Trees: Haiku from Roots to Leaves by Sally M. Walker, ill. Angela McKay
Review: Nat the Cat Takes a Nap
Here Be Monsters: On Horror, Catharsis, and Uneasy Truces with Yourself, a guest post by author Rebecca Mahoney
The Classroom Bookshelf is Moving