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Art and Franco on Arkhamaniacs | Interview

Cover of Art and Franco's Arkhamaniacs

After they finished Superman of Smallville, the Tiny Titans team of Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani turned their comic energies to a new DC Comics titleArkhamaniacs, in which the young Bruce Wayne and his butler Albert visit a most unusual apartment building. The denizens of this building are the Joker, Poison Ivy, Clayface – all the classic Batman villains – but to young pre-Batman Bruce, they are just new friends. 

Art and Franco are a lot of fun to talk to, so I was delighted to be able to interview them about Arkhamaniacs, which is available now.

First of all, I’d like to ask about the title. Is this book somehow related to the Animaniacs cartoon?

Art: We didn’t really think of that when we made Arkhamaniacs. It was kind of the same name but didn’t have anything to do with those guys. I don’t know how we came up with the name. We wanted to go off with the maniacs, and Arkham, and what could make the name longer. We knew it was a spoof of the name [Animaniacs], but it didn’t tie in too much. It was more like Hulkmania or Beatlemania.

Why did you decide to have it be all villains? 

Franco: Any writer knows the villains are always fun to write. We just took it to the extreme and wrote about all of them.

Art: They are not really villains. We just like to write the crazy, wacky guys. We don’t think of them as evil. Batman’s rogue guys are the coolest villains of all time. The Joker is the number one villain of all time. We love the Joker and the Riddler and the Penguin and Killer Croc. We wrote a lot of Penguin stories where we don’t want him to wear shoes so when he walks around, he slaps the floor with his flippers

The cool thing about a silly bad guy is they don’t know they are wrong. They don’t know they are weird. They think they are normal and they don’t really care about what other people think. It’s like the bad guy always thinks he is right. They aren’t evil, they are just silly. 

Was there a reason you broke it into short chapters?

Art: We found out that teachers and librarians assign students to read a chapter before they go to bed, so we broke it up into chapters. You could actually read Arkhamaniacs for homework and it would take you five days.

Detail from Arkhamaniacs showing Bruce and Alfred in the rain, Alfred holding an umbrella over Bruce

How much did you think about what Bruce Wayne’s life was like before his parents were killed?

Art: Everyone knows Bruce Wayne’s story, that his parents get killed when he is 10 and he grows up to be Batman because he has anger for the criminals that killed them, but this is before that happened. He’s just the stuffy little rich kid. [His parents] protect him. They keep him home. They don’t want him to mingle with other kids. He’s got a strict schedule at home, and his parents are kind of closed off to the rest of the world, because he’s so rich he can’t identify with other people. So Alfred is like his best friend. Alfred is more like his parents than his parents are, but in a friendly way. He is just there to have fun with the kid, babysit him, like his big brother but also his buddy

Franco: But ultimately, it’s a story about exploring. When you’re a kid, you don’t know about the outside world, so this is him learning about that.

Art: When Bruce wants to go swimming, Alfred says “We have six pools at home!” Bruce goes “Yeah, but they’ve got penguins!” Alfred says “Yeah, go ahead.” He has a soft spot for Bruce. We have a lot of gags for Alfred and Bruce. We talk to each other and then Franco will write it out in script form and send it to me. In the end we had over 200 pages of story and we had to condense it down to 120, so we had a whole bunch of gags and stories [we didn’t get to use]. Hopefully we will get to do a lot more. 

There’s a lot about Batman that’s dark. How does it feel to be making it into something funny?

Art: We just know the characters so well. Franco and I both grew up with cartoons—Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry. I’m a big Hanna Barbera fan. That kind of humor is just built into us. We can look at anything and turn it around and make it fun. We don’t think too hard about it—it just happens naturally. We’re just funny guys. Even when we are juts sitting alone 

Franco: My wife says I’m hysterical, but I think that’s just sarcasm.

You must really know your DC characters.

Franco: We grew up on that stuff. The first things I learned how to read were comic books, and they were DC comics. That’s how I learned to read and speak English. My parents didn’t speak English very well. I was born here but I grew up in an Italian household. I didn’t get a lot of exposure, kind of like Bruce, so I learned to read from comic books. 

Art: I was going to say the same thing: We both grew up reading comics. Comics and superheroes have always been there. Like tying your shoes every day.  I don’t remember a time when they weren’t there. I’ve done 40 years of research—with 40 years of research you could become a surgeon, but we just have a degree in knowledge of comics stuff.

Franco: Do they have a degree in that? I would like one.

Art: Yes, I’m going to type that up: PhDC.

Detail from Arkhamaniacs showing Joker surrounded by flowers and rainbows, Bruce and Alfred still in the rain

How did you come up with this idea? 

Art: When we started doing Tiny Titans, we started coming up with more and more ideas for other characters, and Arkhamaniacs suddenly became its own thing. It kind of developed over the years, and we kept molding it and sculpting it and making it better. Bruce was the final character. The original story was that Batman was the adult, and he was taking care of these younger villains. But then I thought, kids are not going to like Batman. He’s not going to be cool. We needed that one guy to have as a focal point, and we said why not Bruce Wayne? We can make him young. Then once we had a young Bruce in there it all fell into place.

Technically this kind of is a spinoff of Tiny Titans. It’s its own thing, but in me and Franco’s minds all our creations are in the same universe—even Itty Bitty Hellboy or Action Cat. It’s like we are making soup: Franco adds some salt, I add garlic, it’s a concoction.

Detail from Arkhamaniacs showing Alfred, Bruce, and Joker; the rain ends but Alfred and Bruce don't seem to notice the rainbows and sun

In the story, the Joker is surrounded by rainbows but Bruce doesn’t see them till the end. How did you come up with that?

Franco: When we started reworking this from our original pitch, Joker is the only one who can see the house talking and being animated. Why is that? We started talking about this whole thing about imagination. We are doing this for a younger audience, but it’s kids using their imagination, so it’s like how do you see things, how do you view things through the world? You have all these villains who have their own identities, all these colorful characters, and Bruce is like, “How do I get to be that?” It’s about exploring your imagination.

Art: It’s like when a kid is learning to read, they don’t know what it means and then it clicks.

Franco: Exactly. When they crack the code.

Art: That’s why the Joker can walk around with rainbows and birds chirping and all the other guys can see it, and at the end it’s like “Welcome to the club!” That’s unlocking the imagination. Every kid has it, but you need something to open it up.

I’m looking forward to the convention when that one kid says “Can you draw the house?” That’s the hidden character—Arkie!

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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