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Who The #*&% Is Allan Heinberg? - Part 1

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With Marvel’s summer release of Young Avengers, a new name was introduced to comics readers around the world: Allan Heinberg. Though he’s new to comics, Heinberg has been writing for prime time television dramas like The OC and Party of Five for years. Neil Figuracion, longtime television viewer, asks Allan questions that only he can answer.

Part 1 - Things You Can Learn From A Naked Man

Broken Frontier: If I remember correctly, you were an actor before you became a writer. What kind of plays were you involved in?

Allan Heinberg: I actually started out as a kid actor when I was ten years old, believe it or not, doing regional theatre, commercials, and hosting a children's TV news program called "The Who, What, How-Do-You-Know Show." I continued acting at Yale, then moved to New York after college to do an off-Broadway musical called "Hannah...1939." I spent the next ten years or so in New York acting in regional, off-Broadway, and Broadway plays and musicals -- most notably Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor.

BF: What aspects of story-telling did you bring to comics from the Theatre?

AH: I think acting and dramatic writing have a tremendous amount in common actually. As a writer you get to play all the parts, all the voices, and to figure out the objectives -- not just for the characters -- but for the story itself.

The questions I ask myself as a writer are pretty much exactly the same as those I used to ask myself as an actor: Who are these characters? How did they get to this point in their respective journeys? And, most importantly, what do they WANT -- both in the short and long-terms? Their objectives set the story into motion. Without them (and the requisite obstacles to their getting what they want) there's no story.

BF: What is the Naked Man Test, and where did it come from?

AH: The Naked Man Test is something I came up with while I was a writer and producer on Party of Five. It was born out of my desire to differentiate between the (sometimes frustratingly similar) members of the Salinger clan. I wanted to figure out exactly how Bailey was different from Charlie, and Julia from Claudia, etc.

So, I thought about putting the Salingers in an extreme (or at least extremely awkward) situation, hoping their reactions would reveal the essence of their characters. For example, what would happen if you put Charlie Salinger in a room with an utterly naked man. Would he look? Would he laugh? Would he be embarrassed? Hostile? It turned out to be a pretty useful exercise.

Over time, I've used the test to determine how well I know the characters I'm working on. If I immediately know how he or she would react to the Naked Man, chances are that character is fairly well defined. If not, I know I have to dig deeper to figure out who he or she is and what he or she wants.

BF: How would Patriot react if he were locked in a room with a naked man? How would Hulkling or Hawkingbird react differently?

AH: Patriot has a very take-charge, no-nonsense demeanor. He is not easily intimidated -- even by a naked man. He'd probably take a quick look at the goods, judge them accordingly, then look the guy straight in the eye and firmly suggest he think about finding himself a pair of pants. Then Patriot would go about doing whatever's next on his to-do list.

Kate's reaction would probably be similar, though she wouldn't be able to resist having a little fun at the Naked Man's expense, comparing the size of their weapons, etc…

Hulkling would be intrigued by the Naked Man -- and even a little envious of the guy's obvious confidence. He'd nod approvingly, give the guy the thumbs up, and say "Good for you, Naked Man." And though he'd try his best to maintain eye contact at all times, he'd fail miserably.

BF: As a former producer of The O.C., and as the creator of Young Avengers, what is it about teenaged characters that make them interesting?

AH: I think it's because the experience of being a teenager is all about change and growth and the search for identity. I love writing about teenagers. Probably because I never really got over being a teenager myself. I don't know if anyone does. It's such a tumultuous, deeply felt period in a person's life: you're struggling to define yourself in relation to your family and friends -- you're expected to behave like an adult, but you're not permitted to enjoy any of the rights and privileges most adults take for granted -- and you're falling in love for the first time. There's so much about being a teenager that goes unsaid and so many wounds that never heal. It's an incredibly rich experience to be able to write about. And as a teen who grew up reading comics, I always loved teenage characters. The X-Men, the Titans, the Legion -- these were my favorite characters growing up. And I still love those characters.

End Part 1

Coming next: Part 2 - In Between Days

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