Interviewing a comic book artist.
Rather recently I was reading some of the Batman Detective comics by one of my all time favourite comic book artists; Dave Johnson. Then I began to plot and ponder… (as only a woman can do at 3am in the morning; in a pair of fluffy slippers, completely hungover and dosed up to jittering effects on coffee after working at a weekend music festival – going on a business trip to London and babysitting a 2 year old toddler fueled up on jelly babies and e numbers- all in the same 3 day block).. back to the plotting and pondering..whilst flicking through my comic book. Insert bubble cloud over Linda’s tired head : wouldn’t it be extremely cool if Dave Johnson agreed to do an interview with me for Yay.ie?
Now I must take the time to expand upon the actual events that followed…
Via the realm of twitter:
Linda to Dave: Your work is awesome man, would you do an interview for a site I contribute for in Ireland?
Dave to Linda: Sure. But I’m of Nordic origins not Irish.
Linda to Dave: My Grandfather has Germanic roots….
And so it came to be. I interviewed one of my all time favourite comic book artists.YAY- Insert massive exclamation mark here > ! But first let me digress; a bit of information on the man in question before we embark on the aforementioned interview in question.
Dave “The Reverend” Johnson is widely regarded as one of the most significantly brilliant comic book cover artists (FACT). My fellow geeks will know his work immediately as it usually sets itself apart from all the others; either by striking propaganda poster-style images or by his ‘less is more’ approach. if you are only discovering Dave’s work, sit back and enjoy.
For now, however, check out Dave’s work on Deadpool; his covers, the closest things in comics to well-designed movie posters, defined the feel of that book as much as Eduardo Risso’s interior artwork did. In October, 2009, Johnson provided the cover to Deadpool #900. The cover (below), with the ‘in the action packed’ silhouette of a curvaceous woman and Deadpool facing beret-wearing mimes, pointing their fingers as if they had guns is just Bond-delicious. Don’t you think?
Blending humor and design is another part of the artist’s panache and style. With the flat white space and the strong green silhouette the image jumps out from the usually-too-busy mass of comic book covers. This cover does what any good cover should do– it makes you want to grab the book off the shelf and flip through it.
So it is damn straight up right and fitting that in 2002 Dave won Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Best Cover artist for both Detective Comics [DC] and 100 Bullets [Vertigo/DC]). Dave is also the principal founder of “Drink and Draw” as well, a get-together of professional artists that spawned an art book by the same name.
Other comics he has worked on include Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters and PunisherMAX covers. Some of his most famous work includes Superman: Red Son or his 100 covers (plus trade paperbacks!) for 100 Bullets. Personally, and me being a Batman fanatic, I am prone to be biased and regard some of his best work to be a series of covers Johnson created for Detective Comics in the early noughties.
The striking propaganda poster-style images Johnson produced for this run will always remain with me as ‘super deadly’, despite the fact that a decade has passed since their publication. It’s just timeless perfection and showing of his most ever relevant artistic stance in the comic world.
Paired with the bold trade dress of Chip Kidd, Johnson’s Detective Comics covers made Batman the most well designed austere and kick ass and take no bullshit superhero that graced the shelves in 2001-2002. The two-toned interiors, primarily by Shawn Martinbrough only augmented the book’s overall style.
SUPERMAN: RED SON
Now, intros out of the way, lets get on to the actual interview. The above is for any readers who are new to the comic world. For avid fans it’s just a small reminder on how significant Dave Johnson’s artistic offerings are.
The Interview: ( hope you enjoy ! )
LINDA: What age did you start putting pen to paper? Your style is bold, compelling, and most importantly unique. Where you Self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)
DAVE: As early as I can remember. I’ve always had a pencil in my hands. And for the most part I’ve been self educated. Went to two different art schools but dropped out of both of them. I realized mostly what they were doing was babysitting more than actual teaching real techniques.
LINDA: At what stage did you graduate to creating comics?
DAVE: In my early twenties I realized that you COULD possibly make money drawing comics and went in that direction. Before that I was planning on being an illustrator for hire.
LINDA: What artists inspired you and continue to do so?
DAVE:Some many it’s hard to list a few. I pull inspiration from so many different fields of art. But with comics it’s all the usual suspects, Kirby, Golden, (early) Byrne, Mignola, Toppi, Toth, Bernet, Steranko, Moebius and many, many more.
LINDA: What was the first professional comic you ever worked on that you were excitably happy with? and maybe a quick story behind it… Followed by your own favourite piece of work you have done.
DAVE: Probably SuperPatriot. The second series. Why? Well the money was great, and I really got to design a lot of cool stuff. Erik Larsen just got outta the way and allowed me to have fun with the visuals.
LINDA: What was the process you went through with creating your Detective Comic Covers? (Which subsequently made Batman the most well-designed superhero on the shelves in 2001-2002? (Well done, what an achievement!) The decision on the two-toned interiors really augmented the book’s overall style. Was this an easy decision to make when designing and working on them? What was the thinking behind that?
DAVE: When Mark Chiarello asked me to do the covers, I was thrilled. I really didn’t want to let him down. I love the mysterious iconic nature of Batman more that the action hero side of him, so the covers reflected that. Less is more. I was just starting to spread my graphic design wings and having Mark as my cover editor really helped. He understood the power of simplicity more than most editors do being he’s a fantastic artist himself. The two tone interiors I had nothing to do with. That was as Chiarello. I loved it AND the Chip Kidd logo treatment. But alas, a lot of fans didn’t. Force fed 4 color crap for all their lives, it’s hard to accept a change of pace. It’s the worst thing about a lot of comic book fans. They want their McDonalds, and they want it to taste exactly the same way every goddamned wednesday!
LINDA: In your cover work, sometimes you propel so much with just a well-placed silhouette rather than getting granular with hyper-realistic detail. How important do you think layouts and cover concepts are, and is this something that’s overlooked with newer artists who try to fit in as much as possible? Some artists treat the cover like a billboard, and by that I mean, if you don’t get the message/vibe from a billboard in 10 seconds or less you’ve failed. Do you agree with that thought?
DAVE:I’ve been saying that line about billboards for years. Too many artist get caught up with the thought process that detail=quality. Don’t get me wrong, detail can be a good thing if the overall design is simple and bold.
LINDA: You have been at the comic book game a long time now, despite the more recent and most excellent workings of Uncle Sam, the Freedom Fighters and PunisherMAX covers, (not to mention my all time favourite Detective Comics and the noir Vertigo series, 100 BULLETS) what would you surmise was your life changing piece of work? The one that set up all that followed?
DAVE: 100 Bullets cover No. 21. Was going to paint it, but at the last minute realized it wasn’t going to work, had to scrabble in the 11th hour to get something done before the FedEx deadline, and did the whole cover using a rubber-stamp that said “Loser”. Sent it off and expected to get fired because I was getting a painted page rate and there wasn’t a drop of paint on it. Well, the opposite happened. They loved it! So much so it showed me that a great idea doesn’t need to be overworked or over rendered to work well. The idea is king. Execution is secondary.
LINDA: Tools of the trade: Taking a quick glance over at your pens, brushes etc…what tools have you mainly been using over the last few years? Have you any favourite brands? What are your thoughts on Digital, do you prefer traditional methods? Do you draw your covers with a pencil and paper first, or do you just draw directly on to your computer with a tablet?
DAVE: Japanese pens and brush pens mostly. Pentel makes a great one called the GFKP. As far as digital goes, I love it. I use a cintiq every day. Mostly for coloring. I still prefer to draw and ink traditionally.
LINDA: You have worked with Marvel, DC and Deadpool to name but a few; Once a client has handed off an illustration job to you, how do you first tackle the job. Could you give us a quick overview of your process?
DAVE: It’s problem solving mostly. They need to convey an idea of what the issue will be about and I figure out the best way I know how to solve that problem. In the most direct fashion available to me.
LINDA: Have you ever done an autobiographical piece, or would you?
DAVE: Not yet. I’m waiting for something interesting to happen to me first.
LINDA: What is the best comic book movie ever made?
DAVE: Thought Spider-Man was pretty spot on. Also the 1977 Superman. Both got the tone of what the character was all about perfectly.
LINDA: If you could do a cover for any comic that you haven’t done yet, what would it be?
DAVE: The next one.
LINDA: What steps should aspiring artists take to do what you do, to get themselves going?
DAVE: F*ck art school. Everything you need to know is in a book or is online. Save your money. You’ll need it if things don’t turn out well for you. It’s hard to make money in comics. And getting harder everyday.
LINDA: What are you currently working on?
DAVE: My last Lobster Johnson cover for this mini series. Some animation work for WB and some for myself. And more covers like Spaceman, Punisher, Deadpool.
LINDA: Lastly, The GREATEST Graphic novel is…..?
DAVE: I’ll be boring and say Watchmen.
Now I can rest easy this weekend as I just got to chat with one of the coolest men in the comic book industry.