How Comic-Con Made Me a Paul Dini Fan

 

I first “met” Paul Dini at the San Diego Comic-Con, so I guess you can blame that festival of cool nerdiness for my little obsession with his work. Our meeting looked something like this…

 

ME (walking randomly down a crowded aisle): Well, I think I’ve seen enough. Maybe it’s about time for us to head back to—

 

MY SON: Dad?

 

ME: Uh…Uh...

 

MY SON: Dad? Are you having a stroke or something?

 

ME: Hold on. I have to look at this…

 

Paul Dini & Me

 

And that’s where Paul Dini and I became acquainted (at least in spirit), because displayed beautifully on a corner of a random booth sat Superman: Peace on Earth, the oversize graphic novel he co-created with Alex Ross. Next to it was an equally beautiful copy of Batman: War on Crime. I started flipping through the stories and found myself mesmerized, both by Ross’ art and by Dini’s skill at telling tales.

 

I remember spending agonizing minutes trying to decide which of those books to buy, cursing my career choices over the years that left me able to afford only one of those two. (Superman: Peace on Earth it was.)

 

After that day, I became a loyal fan of both Paul Dini and, of course, Comic Cons pretty much anywhere in the country.

 

I wasn’t able to interview Paul Dini at that San Diego Comic Con, so you can bet the fanboy journalist in me jumped at the chance to talk with him when the opportunity arrived recently.

 

We talked about comics, cartoons, and how to nurture creativity in kids.

 

Care to listen in?

 

The Interview

 

PopFam:

 

To start off, tell us “The Paul Dini Story” – how a kid from New York City grew up to be a Comic Con hero, an animation screenwriter, and a magician?

 

PAUL DINI:

 

I grew up loving cartoons, comics, magic, and writing. I always felt those things were important and that they defined me as a kid. Naturally I wanted to keep them with me throughout my life, so I made a profession for myself where I could do all those things. Sometimes it was hard to keep going, but I knew I'd rather be a storyteller and cartoonist than anything else, so I was not about to give up.

 

PopFam:

 

In what ways did your parents encourage your creative growth, and how did that lead to a career in comics and cartoons for you?

 

PAUL DINI:

 

My dad wanted to be a cartoonist and still is a very good artist. He and my mom both encouraged me and my brothers and sister to follow our artistic bents, whether it was ballet, acting, music, or drawing and writing. Our house was filled with our classroom drawings and sculptures.

 

Sometimes our creative desires didn't work out as we kids had planned. I remember one summer in high school I had lined up an internship with ACT, San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. I couldn't wait to start, but then my grades arrived and I discovered had failed math. Well, that was it for my internship. Dad said it was summer school for me - theatre wasn't an option until I pulled up my grades. I was pretty disappointed, but I bit the bullet, opened the books and passed math class that summer.

 

In addition to teaching me algebra, the experience taught me to not take things for granted, and that if I wanted to be creative at that point during my teen years, I had to finish my school work first.

 

PopFam:

 

Tell us about your animated feature film, Tom and Jerry’s Giant Adventure. What was memorable for you while working on this full-length cartoon?

 

PAUL DINI:

 

My good friend Alan Burnett, with whom I worked on Batman The Animated Series, asked if I had any interest in writing a direct to video movie for Tom and Jerry, and I couldn't "yes" fast enough.

 

I love classic cartoon characters, and Tom & Jerry have always been big favorites of mine. Writing for them is like writing for one of the last remaining great movie comedy teams. Everyone knows them the world over, so there's some nervousness, too. Tom and Jerry have seventy years of great cartoons behind them, so I wanted to try and live up to the tradition of the cartoons I had watched as a kid, and still do.

 

One of my most favorite things about "Giant Adventure" is I got to cast all the other great MGM cartoon characters as the movie's supporting players. During the course of the story, Tom and Jerry and their human friend Jack take a trip to Fairyland where they meet Droopy Dog, Spike and Tyke, Red, Screwy Squirrel and Barney Bear playing famous Fairytale characters. Kids know those characters from having watched the old MGM shorts on Cartoon Network, and older animation fans like me get a kick out of seeing them again. It was so much fun writing for characters I had loved since I was a kid. I hope I did a good job!

 

PopFam:

 

Describe a typical day for you while your team was working on this movie.

 

PAUL DINI:

 

In addition to Alan Burnett, I got to work with two very gifted directors, Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone. We've worked together many times in the past and every time we team up is always a lot of fun.

 

When we started working out the story, we knew we were going to do a version of Jack and the Beanstalk, but we didn't want to just have Tom and Jerry running around in the same old fairy tale. We discussed the idea of making it a contemporary story, and when I brought up old fairy tale amusement parks I loved as a kid, Spike said, "Hey, why don't we set it there?"

 

So instead of setting Jack on a poor medieval farm, we set him as the son of the owners of a small park called Storybook Town. As we worked out the story, we decided that Jack's father has passed on, and Jack and his mother are struggling to keep the park open. We made Tom and Jerry the last two critters in the park's petting zoo, both friends with Jack, though they don't particularly care for each other. We have to keep their age-old feud alive you know, and we agreed that when they are not helping Jack, the cat and mouse would usually be annoying each other. That gave them very strongly defined roles in the story, and from that point on, it got a lot easier to write.

 

What was hard was we had so many fun ideas that there was no way to make them all fit. So some of the byplay with Tom and Jerry got cut, as did a lot of business with the Fairyland folks. It's great to see Screwy Squirrel in a cartoon again, but he's so crazy that I had to force myself not to let him, or Droopy or any of our other classic guest stars, run away with the picture.

 

PopFam

 

Some of our readers have children who want to grow up and write then next great Superman comic, or the next great Batman cartoon, or the next great “whatever.” What advice do you have for those parents? And for their kids?

 

PAUL DINI:

 

Kids, start writing and drawing now! Take all your ideas and jot them down on your computer or in a notebook. The earlier you start thinking up ideas the better. And in addition to writing stories about your favorite characters, try and come up with a few of your own. You could create the next "Tom & Jerry," or "Spongebob," or whatever! I still take characters out of old notebooks, dust them off and use them, even though it might be decades since I first thought them up. Good ideas never go away if you save them.

 

And folks, encourage your kids to be creative. When you see them tracing a character from TV or a comic, say something like, "That's nice, now how about you create a character yourself?" Keep kids curious and excited about creating and experimenting with art.

 

And don't throw anything away! Once you magnet a finger painting onto the fridge, it stays up at least until high school graduation. That's the rule.

 

PopFam

 

You are a creative role model for many, but who are your creative role models?

 

PAUL DINI:

 

I'd say my earliest influences were the people who created the characters and stories I first enjoyed as a kid. That would be Walt Disney, Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and so many more brilliant film makers and cartoonists.

 

A few years after that it was Jim Henson, who once allowed me to visit the Muppets on set and spent an entire day showing me how he and the other puppeteers performed Kermit and all the characters. After that, I was lucky enough to work with both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on many fun animation projects, and learned so much from them.

 

My wife, magician Misty Lee always says, "Once you set your mind to doing something you love, a mentor will appear." And she's right, once you put your passion into what you really love, you will find yourself working alongside people just as passionate and creative as you are, and in some cases, they could be your own childhood heroes!

 

PopFam

 

Any last words you’d like to share with parents?                                                                                                

 

PAUL DINI:

 

If your child has something creative they really want to do, it's up to you, their parent, to help make that happen.

 

Sometimes it can be a hassle, like putting up with piano rehearsals, or driving a child to a dance class. But if the kid is willing and excited about spending time to learn and create things, the least a parent can do is be supportive and see that the child has every opportunity to make their dream come true.

 

We all know life is filled with distractions, especially these days. But remember when dad waited for you during guitar practice and mom brought every relative to see you in the school play? Those gifts of time, attention and encouragement are the greatest things you can give your child. So come on, folks. Put down Angry Birds, get off Facebook and stop Tweeting photos of your lunch to celebrities you don't actually know. Instead, spend that time encouraging something wonderful in your kids. It pays off, believe me.

 

--MN

 

All product-related graphics in this article are standard publicity/promotional shots and are owned by their respective publisher.

Superman: Peace on Earth

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