GCE Exclusive: Interview with IDW’s Erik BurnhamJune 27, 2014
I had an opportunity to sit down and talk to comic book writer Erik Burnham, who currently writes for IDW, penning their very popular and successful on-going series, Ghostbusters! We talk Ghostbusters and other great works he’s had his hands on. He ‘aint ‘fraid of no ghosts!
How did you start writing comics?
We put together Shooting Star Comics and the Shooting Star Comics Anthology. The first 80 page anthology was done and printed August 2002. We did 6 of those anthologies and I was in several of those. Writer in some, artist in others. I did a one shot with a character that amused Tom Waltz, who was also working at that same little publisher. That publisher published his first book, Children of the Grave as single issues and IDW showed interest in it. They then brought Tom on to edit, and it snowballed to him becoming a full editor. The first thing he edited was the Gene Simmons House of Horrors books. That is where my first book at IDW came from, I did a short story in the Horror anthology and it went from there.
How did you start writing IDW’s Ghostbusters?
When I found out they had the licence and that Tom [Waltz] became the editor of the book, I was interested in writing it. I figured I had an in, so I called him and asked him what was going on with Ghostbusters and if I could pitch. They were just about at that point to start the year of one-shots they did, the Haunted Holidays. He said I could send him a pitch and get it pre-approved and maybe roll forward with it after the one-shots were done the year after. Around January of 2010, he [Tom Waltz] mentioned Infestation to me and asked me to pitch for the Ghostbusters part of it; the two issue part. We talked about that back and forth, he finally told me to send him the pitch around March 2010. I wrote it that summer, it came out and 2011 and when It did really well with the reviews, he asked me to pitch an on-going.
Does it make you more nervous or excited working on such an iconic title?
Well it always makes me nervous when I turn in the script because I’m worried someone will say no or we don’t like this or this is or this isn’t what we enjoyed about what you did before, or we just changed our minds about you working on it. I’m nervous every time an issue comes out that the fans are going to say “Well, it sucks now!” So, I’m always a little bit worried until the book has been on the stands and people have gotten past it and then its time to worry about the next one. But, yeah, I’m always nervous on that level because that’s just the way I am about my work.
But as far as working on the Ghostbusters, I am comfortable with their voices since working on Infestation. The actors voices, I mean. I’ve seen them in so many movies outside of Ghostbusters, that the voices are in my head and they’re very clear. That part was never uncomfortable.
I hear the actors voices too when I read it [the comic]
That’s been the goal since day one; when you read it you hear the voice of that specific actor as that character. I always felt that the best stuff, when based on something else, brings in the voice of that other property. Even Batman comics now, people are hearing the animated series because Kevin Conroy’s voice is stuck in your head, or Mark Hamill’s. Anything that comes with an audio element based on a cartoon, I want people to hear the voices in their head clearly, so I do try to write with a cadence and a rhythm based on how they talk. That’s not necessarily how I would write if the character had never appeared anywhere; I might be a little more terse, but I aim to put the voice into peoples heads as the voice they recognize.
Is there anything special planned for the 30th Anniversary of Ghostbusters?
An 8 issue arc for Mass Hysteria; that was the big thing that we planned on for the 30th anniversary. Somethings changed behind the scenes because I actually would have written the story a little differently. I had to change the way I was writing based on some of the things that happened. For example, I had it all plotted out and then Dana [Barrett] and Louis [Tully] were approved to use, so I rewrote some stuff to fit them in. Or some other things change that had absolutely nothing to do with the creative bit of it but caused me to do some other changes, or Dan [Schoening] wanted to draw something to fit in, or he hadn’t been able to draw yet and so I would rewrite to accommodate that. All that takes up space in the book, so I probably could have done 12 issues of this story line with all the extra stuff that popped up. Ideas were being generated. It’s only 8 parts and I wrote 7 out of the 8 parts, and the 8th and final part is in my notes to be started here pretty quick. The last issue of the arc should be September or October.
For people who only know you for your work on Ghostbusters, what else have you worked on?
The other stuff that I have done… well there is my creator-owned stuff I did, Which is ridiculously hard to find right now. And to be honest while I love the writing, some of the art could be done better, because I had a day job at the time. I rushed it. The one-shot I did; I want to find the time to re-do it one day because I was working 60 hours in retail during Christmas, and this is when this had to be done and drawn. There was the Gene Simmons House of Horror that I did that at IDW. I mean its not a huge bibliography so I’ll just go through the list.
Nanovor was tied into a portable, playable, Pokemon type, battling monsters thing, that was in 2009. Then I did the A-Team, prequels to the movie. Well I did half of them; I did B.A. And Murdock. Pretty much everyone’s 2 favourites. I was pretty happy to get those two. After that I hoped right into [Ghostbusters] Infestation, then the on-going. While I’ve been doing the Ghostbusters on-going for the last 3 years, I’ve also been doing some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; I wrote three of the micro-one-shots. Splinter, Karai and Baxter Stockman. I co-wrote the secret of the Foot-Clan mini-series. I just co-wrote the Turtles in Time mini-series, I wrote two of the four issues. I’ve done a couple with the animated series as well, the Free Comic Book Day issue from last year from the new animated adventure. Then there was Johnny Bravo which is coming out next month, I did a one-shot with that. Oh! I’m actually kinda forgetting a big one. I co-wrote Scarlet Spider at Marvel for 6 months. That was the other thing I did. That is the entirety of what I’ve done thus far.
Do you have any tips for anyone looking to get into writing comics?
These are the things that I tell people to do. The first thing to do is to write script and the first script they write, try to draw it. Not a publication or anything like that, but it helps you learn what you can do better on the page. It helps you visualize it, even if its stick figures. You get a better idea of pacing and what you can do on the page. I saw that because I did used to draw and I had a friend once send me script and asked if I would be interested in drawing it. The first page had 6 panels on the page and was along the lines of, ‘he walks through the bar making eye contact with everyone in the room as he passes’. This is one panel of six. You don’t necessarily think of that while you’re writing, but when you try to break it down it just becomes obvious. So, I do recommend that for writers because you got to have the visual component in your head and its easier if you’ve done it once. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be shown to anyone, but it really helps get it through your head.
The second thing, I advise finishing. A lot of people… and I am guilty of this myself… are gung-ho. They get half way or two thirds of the way through it and then something else comes up. Finish whatever you do before moving on to something else. Getting to the end is also a good way to gauge your progress. Let people read it after its done to see if it makes sense. These are obvious things. And its even more valuable in the case of a comic because the components of describing the image that you are showing and then giving the dialogue have to go hand in hand. If someone is reading that script and they’re confused… you are going to get a badly drawn comic. Just things like that. Those are the bits of advise and like I said very obvious bits of advice, total beginner bits of advice, but that’s the stuff that I like to tell people.
Also, do a short story first. Do eight pages. If you can get a good eight pages done, you’ve got it wired. You can expand and you can go on from there. Do something that makes sense; beginning, middle, end. Its hard to do eight pages but its really valuable to learn how. Having a really small space to tell your story forces you to economize and prioritize and that skill comes in really handy when you’re writing something bigger.
A big thank you to Erik Burnham for taking the time for the interview. Head to your local comic book store and pick up the on-going Ghostbusters series before it’s too late. It was recently announced that issue #20 of the Ghostbusters on-going series (Issue #8 of the Mass Hysteria story arc) will be the series finale and the last of the on-going series.
Erik Burnham had this to in a press release from IDW:
“Ghostbusters has been, bar none, my favorite job in comics. I was in sync with my collaborators from day one, working on characters we all love.
And I was happy that so many readers got what we were going for: fun, pure and simple. In fact, since news of the announcement, many have come forward to tell me that this book got them into (and back into) comics, and that means a LOT to me. It’s good to be the gateway to a medium.
While #20 is the end of Mass Hysteria and is billed as the final issue, the world is a funny place. Final could mean the end, or it could simply signal a mere break before the universe surprises me with another chance to hang out with the boys (and girls) in grey. I won’t know until something happens… or doesn’t. The suspense is killing me.
If the call comes to return, I’ll be ready. If it doesn’t, I’ll be grateful to Sony and IDW for allowing me to enjoy my work THIS much. I’ll also be grateful to Tom Waltz, Dan Schoening, and Luis Delgado for putting up with me for so many years. I don’t want to go, I admit it. I loved this plan – er, book – and I was excited to be a part of it!”
For more information on Erik check out his website www.burnhamania.com