BATMAN ON FILM: So, tell me a little about that trip to the U.N.
MICHAEL USLAN: Well, I went there with one of my idols -- my buddy Jerry Robinson -- and it was just an amazing experience! Jerry and I spoke to political cartoonists from all over the world. And actually, I’m not allowed to say anything more about it (laughs)! A wonderful experience.
BOF: Your book, THE BOY WHO LOVED BATMAN. When we visited at the New York Comic Con a few years ago (CLICK HERE TO READ THE 2009 INTERVIEW), I told you that someone needs to write a book about your story -- the story of bringing Batman to the big screen. And you told me that you were actually in the process of writing it. So I’m guessing this was what you were talking about?
MU: Yeah you bet. I actually had to go into isolation to write this. Where I could concentrate on this and get it done. And I went away for three months, we’ve got another place somewhere else, and I went there and I cut myself off from civilization. I took emails and calls about stuff that had to be addressed and that’s it. And for three months I worked on a seven day a week writing schedule, eighteen hours a day.
BOF: It’s called THE BOY WHO LOVED BATMAN, while it could have been about me (laughs), it’s actually about you…
MU: (breaks in) Yeah that’s the point. It could be about anyone who grew up in America loving these characters.
BOF: Obviously you talk about the story of getting a dark and serious live-action Batman film made. How much of the book is that story and how much is it about you growing up and your love for Batman?
MU: It really is my story, my version of A CHRISTMAS STORY. Jean Shepherd was an idol of mine…his radio show was on five nights a week on WOR in New York City when I was growing up. And he was Garrison Keeler before Garrison Keeler was “Garrison Keeler.” I also read all of his short stories and A CHRISTMAS STORY was my favorite movie when it came out [in the early 1980s].
So in that vein, it’s my story of growing up, how I became infected by comic books -- actually addicted to comic books -- like you and all of us did growing up. It’s the story of a blue collar kid from New Jersey, who did not come from money -- my Dad was a stone mason and my Mom was a bookkeeper.
So any dreams I had -- and mine was to bring a serious, dark, and mysterious version of Batman to the silver screen -- could not be accomplished by buying my way into Hollywood. It couldn’t be accomplished by my relatives in Hollywood because I didn’t have any. It couldn’t be accomplished by people I knew in Hollywood because I didn’t know anybody.
Yet, because I had this burning passion and because I was willing to get up off my butt, knock on doors ‘til my knuckles bled, even though they kept slamming them back into my face, that you keep going. Like I say in my lectures, when that happens to you, what do you do? Well, you’ve got two choices. One, you can go home and cry about it, or just pick yourself up and go back and knock again, and again, again, ‘til your knuckles bleed even more.
People ask me all the time about luck magic, and having good timing. My answer to them is that there is no magic. It’s all about having a high degree of relentless frustration and staying with it. That’s how you make your magic, good timing, and luck.
So when it came to my passion -- a dark and serious Batman movie -- I was turned down by every studio in Hollywood when I pitched my idea to them. I was told that I was crazy, that it was the worst idea that they had ever heard. I was told, (in a mocking voice) “You can’t do a serious comic book movie!” or (in a mocking voice) “You can’t make a movie out of an old silly TV series!” It was continually “No, no, no, no, horrible, horrible, horrible.” And this was the answer I got about something I thought was a total slam dunk!
I was shocked. I figured I’d quit my job, go out to Hollywood, and people would be lining up at my doorstep! I just knew they’d see the potential for sequels and toys and cartoons and games so forth. Instead, I was faced with a ten year human endurance contest until BATMAN (1989) was made.
BOF: I don’t know if I’ve asked you this before -- now we’ve talked about “The Story” (getting a serious Batman movie made), and it’s a great story -- but was there an “Ah Ha!” moment for you? Do you remember when the light bulb went off in your head and you said “We’ve GOT to have a dark and serious Batman film!”
MU: Good question. It was one moment, it was an epiphany, and it was the night that the 60’s BATMAN TV show first came on the air. I think I was in the 8th grade or so at the time, and I couldn’t wait ‘til that show came on! I was watching ABC television morning, noon, and night just waiting for anything to air about that show. And as I say in the book, I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified by what I was seeing. I was thrilled because, “Batman’s on TV!” I was horrified as a Batman fanatic because I knew the world was laughing at Batman -- and that just killed me.
So that’s when I think I had my own “Young Bruce Wayne Moment.” I made my little vow that night that somehow, someway, someday I’d wipe three little words out of the consciousness of the world when it came to Batman: “Pow. “ Zap.” “Wham.” Now you can’t jump the Grand Canyon on a whim -- you’ve got to prepare, take little steps. And that’s what I did. And that’s part of the message in the book and what I tell young people all the time. Find your passion, work hard, and stay with it.
BOF: Now that we’ve had BATMAN ‘89, BATMAN BEGINS, and of course, THE DARK KNIGHT -- which I believe is the greatest comic book film of all time -- can you look back on the 60s BATMAN without contempt now that you’ve reached your goal?
MU: My moment reconciling that came at San Diego Comic Con a couple of years ago. I was doing a Batman panel with Jerry Robinson, and at the very last minute they let us know that Adam West was going to be on the panel too. When Adam showed up -- we had never met before. Adam said something about Batman that I had never heard or read quoting him for saying. He said, “There’s always room for different interpretations of Batman. Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong.” With that, I turned to him and said, “Right now, I’m going to let twelve year old Michael out and put dark, serious Batman producer Batman away.” And I said to him, “ Adam, you were the definitive Batman of the swinging 60’s. And sitting next to you right now, next to the great Batman of the swinging 60’s, all I can say is ‘Holy Shit!’
CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 where Mr. U talks a bit about his upcoming appearence at San Diego Comic Con (2011), the "digital" future of comics, the three "Geniuses" he's been privledged to work with, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and the future of the Batman film franchise.