Monday, June 13, 2011

Interview With Jake Black

I am always thrilled when I get the chance to interview comic creators, sort of a dream come true for an old fan like me.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Jake Black, a comic writer and big Supergirl fan. Black has been involved in multi-media representations of Kara, a unique position for a creator, and also got to work closely with Helen Slater. So I there was a lot for me to cover. Hopefully, I got to everything.

Anj: Whenever I get to talk to a creator, I always want to get a feel for their comic background. Can you talk about your comic background? Any characters or other creators or arcs that stand out for you?

JB: I started reading comics about 25 years ago, beginning with Archie and licensed Star Trek comics, it wasn’t long before I started reading super-hero books, too. The first arc I remember reading was the Death in the Family story in Batman. I’ve loved the Superman family forever, though I took a little break from them in 1989, when Batman was what everyone cared about. I remember seeing Superman IV in theaters, and loving it. It was the Super Friends, and the Super Powers action figures that really spurred my interest in super-heroes lore. I was also a big fan of the Ruby-Spears Superman animated show. In my adult years, I started re-collecting the Super Powers figures, and had more than 20 of them. I also had the Ruby-Spears Superman show on DVD. I recently had to sell them for my cancer bills (as well as a good percentage of my comics collection), and that was heart breaking because of my lifelong love and background.

Anj: I ask some version of this question to most creators I meet and trust me, you are the first to mention Superman IV. I do think the Ruby-Spears cartoon is totally underappreciated. And as for Death in the Family, I can admit I voted for Robin to die. I have regretted that vote since then.

JB: I never said Superman IV was good! :-) I just remember seeing it in theaters, and I bought a Superman comic around that time. I was disappointed with the comic because it was all about Jerry White, Alice, etc. and almost no Superman.

Anj: You are clearly a Supergirl fan, being involved in a number of projects with the character. Can you discuss the appeal of the character for you? Is there a version of the character or comics run that is your favorite?

JB: What I love about Supergirl is the innocence/naïveté combined with ultimate power. I’ve always been more of a B-list or Sidekick guy. I like Robin over Batman. Supergirl over Superman, etc. I was really taken with the Matrix version from the Death of Superman saga, and her subsequent mini-series and monthly. I thought Peter David did a great job making her interesting. I’ve really enjoyed all of her appearances/stories. My favorite version/run, I guess, was her initial return in 2004. I loved the Jeph Loeb/Michael Turner run, and the whole thing with Darkseid. Really, though, I’ve loved all of it. Even some of the lesser-liked stuff I’ve really, really enjoyed.

Anj: Chronologically, it looks like the first Supergirl project you did was write the character booklet for the Eaglemoss figurine. What was the process behind that? Did you consider all the versions of the character? Did you have anything to do with the layout of the book or the artwork chosen?

JB: I’ve been working on the Eaglemoss magazines since they began, and in June will be writing my 40th issue. They are consistently my favorite projects. I have a degree in history, and as such have a solid background in historical research. I got through various officially licensed publications, like the DC Encyclopedia, and other books, as well as comics, and distill the character’s story down to its streamlined basics. The folks at DC Comics are heavily involved in proofing and editing, and approve the content. With this particular issue, I was told to focus only on the modern version of Kara, and her story.

I don’t have anything to do with the layout, and as far as the artwork, I provide a list of possible comics/trades and the brilliant staff at Eaglemoss pick and choose what will make the issue look the best. They’re really great at what they do!

Anj: Next, you were involved in the Supergirl:The Last Daughter of Krypton documentary featured on the Smallville Season 7 DVDs as well as the Superman/Batman:Apocalypse DVD. What was your role on that project? Was there any discussion to include the Matrix Supergirl in the production (a version of the character skipped in the documentary)? There are great quotes from a lot of amazing people in that featurette, including Gail Simone, Paul Levitz, Elliot S! Maggin and others. Were you involved with any of that aspect of the piece?

JB: I was actually working on the Eaglemoss magazine and the Smallville DVD piece at the same time. I had been working on various Smallville projects since season one, and had written and really assisted with a lot of the season 6 DVD feature on Green Arrow. When Kara was announced as appearing in the show’s seventh season, the DVD feature producers, the uber-talented guys at Retrofit Films, and I started plotting a history of Supergirl piece. It was great fun.

In the initial stages, we talked a bit about including the Matrix version, but elected not to for simplicity and time sakes. The piece was about Kara, the girl who would be on Smallville, and including Mae detracted some. We even had a discussion of Power Girl, the Supergirl from the future with the black tights and scratchy red S, Natasha Irons, etc. but just eliminated all of it in favor of focusing solely on Kara.

As we began production, we assembled a list of potential interviewees. I submitted several names, most of which were included in the piece. I also helped write the interview questions for them. Once the interviews were shot, I worked with the producers and directors and assisted in culling some of the soundbytes, and then wrote the narration for the doc. Several of the images in the piece were scanned from my private comic collection, too. It really was a fun, fun project to do.

Anj: I think that avoiding Power Girl and Cir-El makes good sense. And in retrospect, I suppose for the purposes of Smallville staying away from Matrix makes sense. But I loved the Linda Danvers/Matrix character so much I wish she got some screen time.

And again, just such a nice diverse group of people to interview about Supergirl.

JB: Thanks. I really put a lot of thought into who we could get for the best mix/diversity in the piece.

Anj: You also co-wrote Supergirl #50’s ‘A Hero’s Journey’ with Supergirl herself, Helen Slater. How did you get that gig? How closely did you work with Helen on that story? What was it like working with her? In many ways, that story felt like a defense of the character and how far she had come. Was that tone directly from the two of you or asked for by DC?

JB: I first met Helen in 2007, when we were both guests at the Metropolis, IL, Superman Celebration. (If you’re a Superman fan, you really need to make the trip there some summer. It’s held the second weekend in June annually.) At dinner one night that weekend, Helen, some of the promoters and other guests, and I started having a detailed discussion about Supergirl and developed a great desire to pitch DC on it. Helen and I hammered out an outline for a (I think) 4 issue story and submitted it to DC. It didn’t work, and that was fine.

A couple years later, when Sterling Gate’s first trade was coming out, DC contacted me to see if I could help them get Helen to write the intro. I help broker that deal, and she wrote it. We were then both excited a few months after that when DC approached us about doing a 6-page backup for Supergirl #50. Helen and I bounced several ideas back and forth and submitted a couple options. They liked elements of a couple of them, and after a couple group discussion with the Superman office and DC and Helen and me, came to the “Greet the Press” idea.

Helen had a lot of things she wanted to say about the Hero’s Journey from an anthropological perspective, and she got to do so in the story. We worked together on crafting everything. DC sent her a bunch of comics for reference, and we both wrote a lot of it. I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves on the story, because she really put a lot into it.

She and I both love Supergirl. Helen brings such a unique perspective to the character. It’s a lot of fun. We wanted to throw in a lot of Easter eggs for the fans, including things like Laura Vandervoort’s famous Smallville promo shot being on a TV screen, and stuff like that. It was really a lot of fun!

Anj: Of course Helen Slater has a special place in the hearts of all Supergirl fans. It is so wonderful that she has such affection for the character, really embracing her part of the fandom. I really thought that story was great (gushed about it in a review here) and definitely dove-tailed in nicely with the character progression that Sterling Gates was doing. I hope Helen knows how beloved she is to us Supergirl fans and please let her know we loved that story!

JB: I will!

Anj: I posted here about the fundraiser you are doing to help with your medical bills. Can you give us some background and an update?

JB: In 2009, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a blood cancer. I’ve been cancer free for just over a year and a half. Unfortunately, healthcare is expensive, and as a full-time freelancer, I was only able to afford health insurance with a higher premium and very high deductible. Treatment cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there are associated costs (like mortgage, utilities, and other everyday bills) that become extremely difficult to pay. Our insurance covered most of the treatment costs, but the associated costs and follow up treatments have not been covered, and we’re $25,000 in debt from the experience. I’m very grateful for my life, and I’m glad that I’m around to pay these bills…but I’ve got to actually pay them! :-)

So, the fine folks at are hosting a fundraiser for us. We’re trying to reach our $25,000 goal by July 12, which is my birthday. We’ve been giving away prizes for donations, and have a few more to give out. Helen Slater signed some pictures and she and I gave away a copy of Supergirl #50 signed by us both. Lots of cool stuff like that. As of this interview, we’re at about 26% of the way to our goal. My wife Michelle and I are so grateful for everyone’s support thus far. We’ve been battling to get on top of the debt for more than two years, and we’re really ready to have it behind us. To donate, or see what our next cool prize will be, visit

Anj: Hopefully the fundraiser is a success. Thanks so much for stopping by and chatting. Always great to talk to a creator with a love for Supergirl.

JB: Thanks for the interview, Anj. It’s always a pleasure to talk Supergirl with someone who cares as much about her as you do!


Martin Gray said...

Excellent interview, Anj. It's great to hear the story behind Jake and Helen's story.

And good luck with your target, Jake. It's heartbreaking that people have to fight to get well, then fight to pay the bills. We're so lucky to have free healthcare here in the UK.

Anonymous said...

First, best of wishes to Mr. Black. A good interview too.

I'm not really a big fan of seeing Supergirl as a "sidekick" or equating her with Robin. I don't care for seeing her as naive either. Too often, this results in making her look like the dumb blonde.

That being, I agree completely with his assessment of David's Linda and Loeb's Kara. Those were my favorite versions of this character. What's interesting is Supergirl was in no way a Robin figure or a sidekick figure at that time (she became that during Puckett and Gates). Loeb and David did the most to pull Supergirl out of Superman's shadow, allow her to be her own person, and, unlike in Palmiotti, Puckett, or in at least one early Gates issue, she never came off as the dumb blonde.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interesting and enlightening interview Anj! With all the reboot news going on, I needed that! :)


Anonymous said...

I've always maintained that inside the wreckage of "Superman IV, the Quest for Peace" there was always a good movie struggling to get out.
Adequate SPFX funds and a strong supporting appearance by Helen Slater as Supergirl would have helped.
Whose else but Kara would show up at Clark Kent's door with the last Kryptonian crystal with the power to heal him?

John Feer