AICN COMICS SDCC 2013 Q&@: Ambush Bug talks about the light and dark side of drawing with BATMAN: EARTH ONE artist Gary Frank!
@’s by Artist Gary Frank!!!
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): So I’m here at the DC booth. I’m here with Gary Frank, and you are an artist that’s been one of my favorites for ages.
GF: Thank you very much.
BUG: So how are you doing? How’s the con going today?
GF: It’s going good. Yeah, I’m kind of feeling it a little bit now, especially in the throat. I’m hoping that I’ll survive.
BUG: So what type of things have you been doing here? What type of panels have you taken part in?
GF: I did an I demonstration, another one which is kind of a variation on that, talking about the process, some signings, some spotlight as well, which Geoff Johns very slightly stepped up at the last minute to host and moderate and a jury in which I got my Inkblot Award, which I was really shocked and pleased to have.
BUG: Well, let’s talk about your collaboration with Geoff. What’s going on with BATMAN: EARTH ONE?
GF: Well, what’s going on is that we’ve just started volume two, so that ball is now rolling.
BUG: What are you most excited about drawing out of that book?
GF: I think Geoff is maybe letting this one go, in fact I know he’s let this one go, so I no longer need to keep it a secret, but we are going to have Killer Croc in there, so that’s going to be fun.
BUG: Very cool. So this new version of Killer Croc, have they shown images of it yet?
GF: No, we’re not going to tell anybody what’s happening with it. It’s going to be a surprise for the book.
BUG: Okay; so when you’re going into a character like that and you’re thinking about reinterpreting the character, how much do you look at previous incarnations? How much do you want to adhere to that? Or how much do you just want to take it off on your own?
GF: Well, it kind of depends on what the idea is that we are trying to do with the character. I guess the idea is to try to bring something fresh every time, but exactly how fresh depends on the nature of the project. Luckily for us, most of our latest projects have been slightly outside of the existing DC canon, or you’re at least using characters which haven’t yet been too tightly meshed into the DC continuity. So we’ve had a degree of freedom, and I guess we use as much of that freedom as we can to try to make something interesting.
BUG: I’m just going on the first volume and Alfred turned out to be a really, really cool character. Do you get to do some cool stuff with Alfred in this new one?
GF: Yeah, Alfred and Bruce’s relationship is kind of the centerpiece of the book. Alfred…the idea that we have is Batman is Alfred, a lot of it comes from Alfred, so Alfred is going to be very important in this story from beginning to end. It’s going to be interesting.
BUG: How did you and Geoff get together before this project? What were the initial meetings like?
GF: Well, we worked together a few years ago on AVENGERS at Marvel and I was doing some other stuff at Marvel and Geoff moved to DC. We kind of stayed in touch and we talked about things that would be interesting to do in the future and one of those things was Superman. We had this idea of the way we would like to handle Superman and the things we would like to do with the character. Eventually I followed Geoff over to DC and we were fortunate to implement some of those ideas.
BUG: As far as page rates or pages per day, how many you do, what do you do within a week? What’s your speed?
GF: It really depends on so many things--whether I’m inking or penciling, the nature of the page, there are a number of things. I also have a family, so that can sometimes get in the way; as anybody with a family will appreciate, these things happen sometimes in regards to schedules. Yeah, it’s really hard to pin down one day. Sometimes you get on a roll and the pages come flying out, and sometimes you really have to work at them. It’s all different.
BUG: Do you have a personal record that you’ve hit?
GF: The personal record would have been finishing the running for SHAZAM where with inks I was kind of doing a page a day for I’m guessing it must have been about three weeks. It was a deadline that was so hard it couldn’t be ignored, because the character is going to be required in other books, so we really needed to get our story wrapped at the end. It was an odd thing. I didn’t really see my family much during that time. I ended up with cramps and headaches and I thought at one stage I was going to need to go to an optician, but you know, I came out at the other end of it and I was really happy with the result. The thing with these things is to maintain enthusiasm. If you can do that, then the whole thing becomes easier. Part of that, and this may seem kind of counter-intuitive, is still trying to maintain the level of art, because if you’re not satisfied with what you’re doing at the end of the day, then the next day you just lost that little bit of energy. So at the end of each day you have to feel not only that you’ve achieved your page, but you’ve achieved a quality which you’re going to be happy with.
BUG: One of the things that you’re really talented at is communicating those subtle little lines that Geoff has in there and communicating that through the facial expressions. Where do you draw that inspiration from?
GF: It’s the fact that that’s the thing which I enjoy the most about doing comics. I really like comics to feel well acted. I like them to feel smooth. I don’t like any kind of ambiguity either in storytelling or in the body language of the characters. I like to make sure that the reader is completely immersed and just get through the whole story and absorb it and get to the end before they remember that they were reading a series of scribbles on a page. So part of that is making sure that everybody acts properly in the book and that their facial expressions are appropriate and that they keep the whole thing moving.
BUG: The redesign to Shazam: how much of that was your input?
GF: Well I kind of did the design, but Geoff also told me what his ideas were for the character and he was very keen that the character shouldn’t feel just like another superhero. Every character was getting revamped, and we didn’t want just another revamp in the same way. We didn’t want to do Shazam in the same style as everybody else, and so Geoff’s idea was magic should be a much more important thing, so we had to have a character that felt like his power came from something timeless to reflect the magic nature of his powers.
BUG: One of the things that I ask a lot of artists about is that they tend to surround their work area with things that inspire them. What kind of things are around your desk?
GF: Most things are rubbish that I haven’t been bothered to stand up to the pen, so they’re in the trash can. I tend to create a certain amount of chaos around me when I work; then my pencils tend to come out quite tight. It’s kind of like I channel the chaos into my environment.
BUG: Any pictures or anything hanging on the walls?
GF: Not so much for inspiration--just more because I haven’t gotten around to putting them where they were supposed to be.
BUG: Okay. So what’s next for you after BATMAN? Are you working on another project? Can you talk about any of that?
GF: We are tentatively discussing something, so BATMAN will finish and then there will be something before I think we do volume three, but volume three is going to be contingent on people buying volume two. So if anybody wants to see volume three, they better go out and buy volume two when it’s finished.
BUG: And with SHAZAM, that’s obviously a fantastic pairing between the two of you guys. Are you guys planning on continuing that at some point? Can you talk about that?
GF: At the moment we have no plans for doing any more SHAZAM stuff together. I know that DC is going to be using SHAZAM. To the point where I might be involved in a SHAZAM project again, I’m guessing that the character would have moved on a little bit, so I don’t know. Let’s wait and see what the situation is and where it lays when that comes around.
BUG: There has been a trend of artists doing their own writing and writing their own things. Would you ever want to do that sort of thing?
GF: I dipped my toe in the writing water a few years ago, and although I love the ideas process and I like to narrate it with things, there are a lot of things which I find a little bit tedious about the actual process of writing a story. I’m very, very spoiled in it. Working with Geoff gives me a lot of creative input, and he’s very relaxed about letting me juggle things around when it comes to putting stuff down on the page. So I get to indulge my desire to do something in terms of conveying a story this way, but without actually having to do the hard work of writing the stuff out.
BUG: I want to wrap things up here, since I know you’re very busy and heading off to other things, but I did want to mention that MIDNIGHT NATION was and continues to be my favorite book of all time. Any thoughts back on that? I know it’s been quite a while, but looking back on that, what’s it like seeing that whole finished product?
GF: It’s odd. More than any other project people come up to me and tell me that that’s their favorite book, and I don’t mean people come up to me saying that’s their favorite thing that I’ve done, but it really seemed to touch people. I think it was a story filled with heart, and it’s a very personal thing for Joe. For me, much as I’m pleased with the final thing, it was quite a grim environment to spend day after day with. It kind of took its toll on me a little.
BUG: Do you find that often? Like when you’re drawing a darker thing, you embody that?
GF: Yeah, totally. It tends to get under your skin. If you have to get up at a drawing board and spend eight hours basically living in that realm, that environment, immersed in it, it can take its toll. I tend to listen to music and I tend to listen to audio books, which give me some balance, just have some kind of anchor, some kind of tether into reality, but still you have to channel a lot of that stuff.
BUG: Do you have a palate cleanser like after that?
GF: Exactly. A lot of my projects, I kind of look back and it’s interesting, I did MIDNIGHT NATION and then I did SUPREME POWER, still with Joe and it was…
BUG: That had a lot of dark stuff as well.
GF: It had a lot of dark stuff as well, but it was kind of like a stepping stone. It got me back to a point where I was kind of on the road back to SUPERMAN, I guess. I mean, there was still some HULK stuff in the meantime, but I look at a lot of the weirdness and the creepiness that crept into my artwork through MIDNIGHT NATION and I see it lingering through SUPREME POWER, and I guess probably right up to halfway through my SUPERMAN run there were still lingering elements of that. I guess the Brainiac story that we did was the last of the creepy stuff, and then we did SUPERMAN ORIGIN and it was such an uplifting story. It was just such a great project to work on. I have very fond memories of working on it, because I was very happy at the time when I was working on that.
BUG: Is there a favorite DC hero or villain or character that you would like to take on or you would like to do your version of?
GF: When I first started my career it was all about the character. I really wanted to do all of these characters, which I read when I was a kid. As I’ve grown older it’s much more about working with a good writer. That’s what gets satisfaction. It’s fun to draw characters that you really want to draw, but once you’ve done three or four pages of it, you’ve done it. You need a great story to keep you immersed, to keep you powering through the project.
BUG: Great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. Like I said, I’m a huge fan and I can’t wait to see what’s going on with BATMAN.
GF: Thank you very much. I hope you enjoy it when we finally get it finished.
BUG: Great. Thanks a lot. Look for BATMAN: EARTH ONE VOLUME 2 later this year from DC Comics!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel through Hermes Press). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
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