Episode 26: Being Format Agnostic with Michael J. Tanner

June 29, 2016

Today on the show we have Michael J. Tanner. Michael is a writer of TV, movies, and comic books. You probably know him from his Oni Press book Junior Braves of the Apocalypse. Here’s a bio of him and his book from his website www.bymichaeltanner.com:

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Michael Tanner is a graphic novelist and writer living in the Los Angeles area.

He has also been an improviser and sketch comedian, as well as food blogger back when that was a thing.

The Junior Braves of Tribe 65 return from a camping trip to find swarms of bloodthirsty mutants have overrun their town, bringing death and destruction everywhere they go!

With their families missing and their homes destroyed, these plucky kids must use all their scouting talents, combined smarts, and teamwork to survive the end of the world!

JUNIOR BRAVES: A BRAVE IS BRAVE is the beginning of an exciting new young adult graphic novel series that is one part GOONIES and one part THE WALKING DEAD, full of zombies, adventure, and handy tips for wilderness survival!

I met Michael a while ago and actually interviewed him for my first live show here.

I’ll be honest, I had him on the show because of one story. It’s the story he tells about him pitching and landing Junior Braves with Oni. I won’t spoil it, but I will tell you that it’s one of the most amazing and aggravating stories I’ve ever heard. It’s quintessentially Los Angeles, and proof that you may not have to live in LA to catch a break, but it definitely helps.

Michael really delved into the creative process with me, being a tv and movie writer. His story is a lot like mine. He moved to LA to work in movies and tv, then the writer’s strike happened, and he found a new love in comics. But also like me, he is format agnostic. Whether it’s tv, movies, comics, or books Michael just wants to tell a good story.

And that’s where we really focused our attention in this episode. We talked a lot about structure. Being from movies and tv myself I love structure. I believe that structure is the basis for everything, and in the world of books it’s something that you don’t hear enough about. Everybody is focused on the story, but because of the nature of novels there is no formula.

Movies, tv, and comics don’t have that problem. There is a strict formula wWith those formats. And knowing that formula makes it easier to live within those confines. With a book, it’s a whole different animal.

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We also talked a lot about working with a publisher or a studio. I believe that the great narrative of writers standing up to studios is a flawed one which hurts the collaborative nature of the business. I believe the Shane Blacks and Joe Eszterhases of the world do a disservice to the medium by talking about how they fight studios. While it’s important to dig your heels in, it’s equally important to understand they have financial stakes on the line and also want to make a great project. Michael related a great story he heard from an editor which boils down to them needing to love your book enough to stake $50,000+ on getting it out the door. That’s a lot of money, and it’s peanuts when compared to movies or TV. But publishers deal in volume, right? Image puts out a lot more book a year than Sony does movies.

So we talked about how you can trust your publisher, and also how you can trust your artist. The bond between an artist and writer is a sacred one, and learning how to deal with the artist and make them comfortable while still giving them freedom and getting what you want is one of the tightest ropes to, walk in comics. But it’s also very easily applied to any creative endeavor. You need to be equally kind and stern. You need to give freedom and know how to reign it in to get the best result for the project.

Michael is a friend of mine, and more than once we talk about my upcoming monster anthology which he’s working on with a new artist. I love how he relates working with his new artist to working with his established artist. Those sorts of dynamics make me giddy, and they are great to see. Some of the best work comes when we can trust all our collaborators.

Go check out Junior Braves of the Apocalypse, Book 1 from Oni and find Michael online at www.bymichaeltanner.com or on twitter @mikeisernie.

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