A Father And Daughter Writing Duo Part 1: Interviews With Russell And Meredith Lissau

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lissaubiophotoWriting is an art and it can be passed from father to daughter. At a recent convention, I met Russell Lissau and while he was regaling me tales of his comic adventures (pun intended) he told me he wrote Strawberry Shortcake. How did he go from writing serious stuff to sweet and innocent? Russell told me his secret weapon was his daughter, Meredith. This was too good of an interview opportunity, so father and daughter shared their stories with me.

Whitney Grace (WG): Why do you like comic books?

Russell Lissau (RL): I got my first comic books as a gift when I was 6 years old, and I suppose I’ve been hooked ever since. I like the costumed adventures, the battles of good vs. evil, and the different types of stories you can tell in the medium. And once I discovered that comics are more than stories about capes and cowls, it really opened up the medium to me as both a fan and a writer.

WG: You’re currently a journalist in Chicago, what topics do you write about?

RL: I generally cover small-town politics – schools, villages, libraries, a county board and related governmental units – in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs.

WG: How did you segway from journalism to writing comic books?

RL: I wrote a lot about comics and their creators as part of my day job and as a freelancer, writing for Chicago Magazine, North Shore, Wizard, CBR, and many other magazines and webzines. I got to know people in the comics biz, and I became friends with a few, and some encouraged me to consider pitching stories to their editors. Eventually (in 2004) I started doing that, and the editors I met were very encouraging. That led to my first assignment, the lead story in Batman Allies Secret Files And Origins 2005.

RL: How do you approach writing both non-fiction informative pieces and action/fantasy fiction scripts?

WG: Both types of writing are very similar. I do a ton of research for journalism and a ton for comics. I plot out journalism pieces and comics scripts in terms of the three-act structure. I decide what characters I need in the story and what information is necessary to tell the story. I self-edit as I write. And when the piece is as close to perfect as it can be, I send it to my editor.

RL: We both agree that Batman is awesome. What do you like about the character and what incarnation (either live action, animated, or comic book) do you like the most?

WG: Batman has always been my favorite superhero. As a kid, I was attracted to the hero-without-powers, the thought that with enough training and money, I could be Batman. As I got older, I loved the Shakespearean tragedy that is Bruce Wayne’s life. And as I got even older and my tastes drifted to crime fiction and film noir, the Dark Knight Detective side of Batman – the crime-solving detective, as opposed to the brawler with the toys – became even more alluring. That’s the Batman I like to write the most.

WG: How did you get to fulfill every Bat fan’s dream by writing The Batman Strikes?

RL: The assistant editor on Batman Allies, Nachie Castro, was the editor of The Batman Strikes. I liked reading that series quite a bit and started pitching stories to Nachie once I got the groove of the series – once I figured out the characters’ voices and motivations.

WG: What was The Batman Strikes about?

RL: First and foremost, it was the all-ages comic book that tied into the cartoon called The Batman, but it became more than that. The book really hit its stride around issue thirty and it became something very special. They were done-in-one stories that examined Batman’s relationship with his friends and enemies in Gotham City during the first few years of his career. It was an exciting series, full of energy and humor and pathos. I’m proud to have been part of it.

WG: Oddly enough, you moved from writing Batman stories to the very fruitful Strawberry Shortcake. That is quite a jump. What was your reaction moving between the two?

RL: I took the Strawberry Shortcake job so that I could write stories with my daughter, who was then nine years old. That was actually part of my pitch to the editorial team at Ape Entertainment. I had experience writing all-ages comics, having done The Batman Strikes and Shrek. I could tell stories for kids, but I didn’t care much about the Strawberry Shortcake characters or their world. They didn’t interest me as a reader, but they did interest me as a dad with a daughter who herself is a talented storyteller. Of the four Strawberry Shortcake stories I wrote, two were co-written with Meredith Lissau. And they’re by far the strongest of the bunch!

WG: Which version of Strawberry Shortcake do you prefer: 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s?

RL: Gotta go with the modern era on that one. In preparation for the gig, we watched every episode of the series available on DVD. We drew a map of their town and did extensive research into the characters. I came to love those gals berry much.

WG: If Batman met Strawberry Shortcake, how do you think that crossover would pan out?

RL: If any comic book characters could get Batman to lighten up, it would be Strawberry Shortcake and her friends. I see a tea party with pies and cakes in the Batcave.

CoverWG: Tell me about some of the other titles you have written.

RL: I’ve written a few dozen comics during my nine years in the biz. The most recent one is the zombie story Survival. Others include short horror and crime comics in the Omega Comics Presents anthology and self-published volumes. Coming in August is Field Trip, in Reading With Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter; later this year we’ll see the first chapter of the crime thriller Old Wounds. I’m also contributing to Aw Yeah Comics, an all-ages anthology launched by award-winning comic book creators (and store owners) Art Baltazar and Franco. My second story for that series – with art by Tom Kelly — will come out this summer, I hope.

WG: What makes Survival a good read and different from other zombie stories?

RL: It’s a personal story about a family on the run at the beginning of a zombie outbreak. It’s less about the monsters and more about the choices the mom, dad, and daughter make under pressure. It was drawn by Mark Stegbauer, an old friend. It’s the first time we’ve worked together, and if you ask me it’s the best artwork of his career.

WG: What is Hard Time about?

RL: Hard Time is a short comedy piece in Omega Comics Presents. It’s the second story in a planned trilogy about a D-list costumed villain named the Devastator and what happens to him while he’s in prison. It was drawn and co-conceived by Justin Castaneda, a tremendous young artist.

WG: What are some differences writing a comedy and action?

RL: Uh, comedy is funny? To be honest, comedy is a storytelling element that should appear in any story – romance, action, horror, whatever. Humor is an emotion, and blending emotions creates a more developed story. It also helps define your characters.

WG: When you write a comedy bit in a comic, how do you imagine it so that it’s humorous in words and visually?

RL: I say the lines out loud. Actually, I read everything I write out loud to make sure it sounds natural.

WG: Old Wounds sounds like an exciting series. What is it about and who published it?

RL: Old Wounds is a four-issue mini-series to be published starting later this year by Pop! Goes The Icon, my independent publisher. It’s a thriller about a man whose past has come back to haunt him, and the secrets he’s hidden for decades. It’s a police procedural, it’s a mystery, it’s an action story – it’s got it all. Old Wounds is drawn by John Bivens, who is getting some pretty big attention right now with the Image comic Dark Engine.

WG: Please describe the process you went through to get it published.

RL: Pop! Goes The Icon has published several of my stories, and publisher/editor PJ Perez has become a good friend. When it came time to find a publisher for Old Wounds, John and I knew we wanted to retain the rights to the story and the characters but also work with a company with a solid track record that would support the project. That’s PGTI.

WG: What other projects are you working on?

RL: A whole bunch! Let’s see: there’s a sci-fi story called Stranger and another called Will; a horror piece called Terror Over Teplinsky-91; a sci-fi romance called Rubicon, and quite a few others.

WG: Lastly, do you have anything to declare?

RL: Let’s see, I’m going to my first foreign comic-book show later this year, so that’s a question I ought to prepare for. I’ll say that you can learn more about me at facebook.com/russell.Lissau and follow me on Twitter at @rlissau ! Thanks for the interview!

Look for our follow up article with Meredith next week.


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