Heath Corson is coming fresh off of the release of Bizarro #1 for DC comics, recently making an appearance at Phoenix Comicon to record a few episodes of the Nerdist Writers Panel: Comics Edition podcast– as well as grace the con goers with his presence at some panels. I got the chance to talk to Mr. Corson about his work on DC’s animated features and some other neat stuff that is relevant to your interests. So enjoy the wisdom he had to empart, fellow geeks!
Ryan “Salvation” Scott: You’re sort of becoming the guy who is known for doing these DC animated features.
Heath Corson: I’ve done three of the direct-to-DVD, the mainstream features. I’ve done two of the Batman Unlimited’s and coming down the pipe I think I’ve got a LEGO Scooby Doo and something else happening, like a Tom & Jerry.
The DC animated stuff has been received so well and you’ve been responsible for the last three, so how did you get in with them initially?
I did a project called Aim High for Warner Bros. proper, which was a web series that I did with them and Wonderland Vision and Sound and that went really, really well. It was a big hit, won me a WGA award and they sort of said “Who do you want to meet?” in Warner Bros. and I said “All I wanna meet is the guys doing the direct-to-DVD DC movies.” And they said “Really? That’s it?” So they introduced me to Alan Burnett, I had a meeting with him, who’s sort of the executive who’s in charge of hiring the writers for all of those movies. I gave Alan a bunch of material that I had written and he really liked a Disney XD series that I was trying to do. He really liked that and he liked my dialogue and he was like, “You’re really good and I would love to used you.” Then I didn’t hear from him for a year, but like every three months I would send him an email. He finally called me and he said “I think I have something for you, it’s Scooby Doo.” I was like “great,” but then a week went by… He called me back a week later and said “Scooby went away but I have something else I think you would be great for and he said it was Justice League. So I did Justice League: War — and they really liked it — so they turned around and gave me another script right afterwards and that was Batman: Assault on Arkham. That’s sort of how I broke in, and now they know me and what I do. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of great opportunity from it.
Do you think that it helped that the response to those movies was generally very positive?
Yes and no. I mean, here’s the thing. Because were doing animation so far in advance, what you’re seeing and what you’re responding to is a year-and-a-half after me getting the job so I’m already in the process of the next thing. I think it’s helpful for them to go “oh good” because they’re already packing the pipeline for another two years. So it’s good that, internally, they liked me as well as the great response.
To that point, Marvel is clearly running the show right now at the box office, but the DC animated stuff is on a level that Marvel can’t seem to touch and it has been for a very long time. Did you feel a weight taking that on?
Absolutely! It’s a little like playing for a team that’s won the championship over and over and over again. It’s like playing for the Yankees and you don’t wanna be the guy to lose for the Yankees. It’s hard enough being a fan but now you get to write Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. Don’t mess that up. But now we have this huge, long history of doing all these great things. Don’t be the guy who screws that up. Depending on if you believe Twitter, I either am or I’m not. You never know. There’s a huge responsibility and I feel that and I love it.
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis has been received very well, but Aquaman is one of those characters that was a bit of joke. Through some ret-conning though, he’s been able to not be such a joke and is almost not even the same character anymore. When you’re writing for Aquaman now you have to honor that more recent version of the character, but how does the legacy factor into that?
I think in a sense we needed to have a sense of humor about it and we needed to be able to accept it and embrace it and roll with it and make it part of what we were doing. I think you see that in the movie. There are nods to Aquaman being a joke. There are nods to the bright orange shirt. We make it part of his legacy. We make it part of that Atlantan heritage that he has got to take over. One aspect of it was we wanted to back into that whole rich tapestry and still be able to embrace it all and make him a cool character. I have to give full props to Geoff Johns on that and his run on Aquaman when he just started the New 52. He loves Aquaman and he really worked to make that character cool and accepted and awesome.
Can you talk about Aim High a bit?
Aim High was a project I wrote with a buddy of mine from college and we did it as a passion project. He’s a big John Hughes fan and I’m a big superhero fan so we thought, what could we do that we would both have a lot of fun with and I was like “let’s do a Peter Parker-ish kind of character who’s job made him go to all of these awesome places and do all of this awesome stuff but in the end he just cares about taking the girl to prom or getting a good grade on this paper.” That seems like a really cool, fun thing but we knew nobody was going to want it. But we wrote it and we did an hour long version of it just as the writers strike was hitting. So the only person who could actually read it was a buddy of mine who was just starting at Warner Bros. Digital and we gave it to her, and that was the thing that sort of opened it up. It made sense to do it on the digital side because nobody else was going to do this and it gave a voice to that department that said “we are going to do the stuff that nobody else will do.”
Do you specifically have a passion for animation?
I have a passion for character. I love these characters. I love animation. I’ve always loved animation and cartoons because I love what we can do with these characters that budget wise you couldn’t do in live action. Justice League: War would be a $500 million movie. In that sense imagination was able to run completely rampant but my love is to get to play with these characters wherever I can whether it’s comics or animation or live action. It’s fantastic and I’ve been super grateful for the work I’ve been able to do in animation.
There’s a ton of DC and Warner Bros. live action projects now because the superhero stuff is the biggest stuff on the market. You are one of those guys who is sort of in with the people that do this sort of thing. Would you be willing to take on the weight of a live action feature if you had the chance and who would you like to do?
Sure. That Aquaman movie sounded pretty cool. I would love to do a live action Aquaman movie. That would be really fun. I’m also super pumped for the Suicide Squad movie. I’m so excited for that after getting a chance to play with Suicide Squad and I’m so excited about the casting and the characters they’re using. That’s going to be great. I have pet stuff that I would love to do that doesn’t fit into their tone. I keep banging the drum of Justice League: International because I like the fun tone that is nowhere near the kind of stuff that they are doing in live action right now, but I would love the chance to do that as like a workplace sitcom.
You do a lot of work such as the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast that is about helping out upcoming writers. What is it that makes you want to do that sort of thing?
I do it because I had mentors that helped me growing up and it’s that kind of thing that, if you are going to ask you have to be willing to give back. Period. End of story. I am more than willing to help absolutely anybody with the caveat that when they get to this point that they turn around and do the same thing. I think that’s helpful and I think that’s necessary. I’ve found that animation and comic books is such a good hearted industry and that people are absolutely willing to help you out.