Scott Lobdell: Some People Are Going to Like You and Some People Aren'tA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
I didn't know what to expect when I set up an interview with Scott Lodbell. I'd read a lot of analysis of the man's work, especially focused on the now notorious first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws, and I was concerned that Scott would, honestly, be an obnoxious raging ideologue or something. It turns out I didn't need to worry. Scott was a really nice guy to talk to -- an interesting and honest interview subject who was completely candid.
Below is an excerpt from our conversation, the full extent of which you can check out in a special edition of our podcast, Comics You Can Dance To. If you have the time, please give it a listen. Most importantly, please leave a comment here and let us know: how does this conversation affect your perception of Scott Lobdell and his comics?
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: One of the things that's interesting about Superboy is that there are all those promo pieces featuring him with the tattoo and the piece of paper cape that he wears. But in the comics, of course, he's still wearing the TK suit. Is he still evolving into being the character that we saw hyped before the New 52?
Lobdell: As of right now, my understanding is that with issue 11, Superboy makes it back to New York and, rather than move in with the Titans. gets a place on his own. In this issue, he's hanging out with Bunker in his new loft and, as they're talking, he kind of expresses to Bunker that he's not really sure who he is or what he's gonna do now that he's on his own. So Bunker's gonna be like, "You know what? Just own it. When you're different, you own it. There's not anybody else like you, so you should celebrate that instead of mope about it." And so they go out and they wind up getting tattoos. Superboy gets the tattoo that we saw on the promo art for Teen Titans. Bunker's gonna get a little pink brick on his butt cheek.
The plan is to get him that tattoo. The other thing is that the paper cape was really just Bart being a jerk and leaving a piece of paper on his back. It's Bart's version of "Kick me," so I don't think that the paper cape will ever make another appearance. But it's Bart, so you never know.
CB: It's kind of funny now thinking how serious everyone took that cape. It's like, "What's going on here?"
Lobdell: "Why's he wearing a piece of paper?"
We seem to live in a time where a single image infuriates people; it sends them into blind rages. When we all used to go to a comic book store when we were kids… I always remember being more fascinated to share in the sense of things being fascinating with my friends or whoever happened to be at the comic book store. But this whole notion of name calling, people writing these huge essays about how I must not have gotten over my relationship with my ex-wife and that's why I wrote Starfire the way I did, and [that] I need to see my kids more (which is odd because I don't have any kids)…
I still am not used to the heat that is generated on the internet over just a single image.
CB: What do you make of this kind of reactive approach that a lot of people have? We see it in politics and other areas of life these days, too.
Lobdell: The Internet just is fascinating to watch. It's almost like if I type something onto my computer and other people click "like," then my worldview must be the right worldview.
For example, I'll read all these things about Red Hood and how Scott screwed up and that nobody's buying the book and [that] it was a disaster and Lobdell really had to backpedal to make it all work. I'm thinking, "Okay, the sales for one came out and then the next issue, the sales went higher." People [who] know comic books know that that almost never happens.
So to me, I'm thinking, "Okay, well I know the reality." The reality is that more people read it, not less. So I know what the reality is, but you can type "Scott Lobdell Red Hood Sales" [into a search engine] and there will just be people lamenting about how bad it was, how he ruined it and [that there are] no new readers.
I don't know what to do, because I know what reality is and I see what people say about it. If I had enough hours in the day, I could go on message boards and refute everything. It's like Superman in Bizarro World; you'd have Metropolis and then you have the Internet where "Me Unhappy." It's interesting.
I've created so many characters that weren't straight white, and suddenly, because I decide that Crux didn't fit in with Red Hood and the Outlaws, I'm a racist. I'm like, "Okay, I guess today I'm a racist." And tomorrow I'll be a misogynist. But, again, people write what they want on the Internet and it becomes true because people have written it.
CB: You obviously feel a lot of frustration with what people said about you.
Lobdell: I have to say it's more a matter of fascination. I'm just fascinated. It would be like if I was walking down the street and somebody said, "Here, hold this sign that says, 'I'm a racist'." I'd be like, "I'm not, but if you want me to hold this sign, I guess I will."
And then I come to the next block. I invent Bunker and suddenly I'm a champion for gay and lesbian rights, and they hand me a sign that says, "You're a champion for gay and lesbian rights." And I'm like, "Okay, I'm not, but fine."
And then I'd walk a block and somebody says, "Bunker's too flamboyant, so you're a homophobe. You can't deal with a real gay person, so instead you have to stereotype him. Here, hold this sign [that says] you're a homophobe." It's like, "None of those things are true, but if that's how you see it, then God bless." So I don't find it frustrating, I find it fascinating.
Lobdell: I get that some people don't like Red Hood and the Outlaws, but, you know, some people do.
I found it is almost impossible to respond to what people write, because people can say what they want daily and they can post it and all their friends can go, "Yeah, Lobdell is a misogynist, blah blah blah." They can write whatever they want, but if I respond in any way, I become a bully. Or I'm obnoxious and how dare I talk to a fan that way.
Somebody will say, "I didn't like this issue, and I don't like this comic and what he's doing. If he were smart, he would write for me, because I want to read this book and because he's not doing it, other people aren't reading it." I want to say, okay, other people are. As a writer, I can't write for an individual; I have to write for the title that I'm writing for.
If 30 or 40,000 people read an issue of Red Hood, I can't imagine a world in which I would contact 40,000 people and be like, "Hey how was that? Can I change anything for you? What do you think of this, and that was funny wasn't it? Or what do you think about this? Do you think that scene was too much?"
You can't write for individuals, and yet we live in a time and a place where the individual has become the center of their own movie. You sit in the audience and you see yourself projected onto the screen and the whole world is you. I guess that's the time we live in.
CB: To be honest, we actually ran a couple of pieces about Red Hood #1 saying, "Oh my God, this is horrible, it's the worst thing ever." I'm an engineer by training. I work in software and I like to think of the larger picture, and my approach was, "Is this really this bad?"
And, okay, the scene in Red Hood #1 knocked me back a bit, but then as I read more and more of the books and saw how the whole universe fit together, what I felt was that Starfire's portrayal was very specific to her and very specific to the trauma that she went through on that slave planet. There's a whole other back story that's underlying this that really puts all the stuff in much more context.
So what I came out of reading 20 issues was this real clear feeling that people love to rush to judgment and love to make a decision about a character from a first issue, but it's just as invalid as making a decision about a TV show from a first episode or a movie after 10 minutes. What I liked the most, honestly, was the fact that my preconception based on the endless buzz on the Internet was eventually proven completely wrong.
Lobdell: You know it's funny, too, because people write and say, "He should have had it all in the first issue. He wouldn't have alienated so many people." But you and I are talking now and you've learned that I don't have any kids and you learned that I have an ex-wife. You haven't really talked much about yourself, but I imagine that the longer we talked, the more I would learn things about you. And if we became friends I would learn more, and it's the same with these characters.
In my head, Kory in the first issue is an outsider. The guys don't know much about her. Consequently, I felt we shouldn't know much about her. So on the page or two that she spoke or thought about life on earth and how she liked it and how she wasn't quite welcome, in my head I was like, "Okay, I want her to be the outsider, so I'm not going to discuss her much."
That was my goal, because I wanted her to be mysterious. I wanted her to be like, "Why is this? Why is she thinking this? Who is she?" Then I would read something and someone would be like, "We barely even saw her in the first issue, and we didn't know anything about her." And I'm thinking, "That was the point, though." That was my whole point of doing it that way -- to kind of spend the next few issues pealing back the onion that is Kory. It was funny because we're treating it like it was this tremendous oversight and that I don't know how to write. You can't go onto every messageboard and be like, "You have to read this all in context." So instead, you just sit there and go, "I'm sorry you didn't get it."