DANIEL BEST: How and where did you start in comics?
NORM BREYFOGLE: I started as a gleam in my fatherís eye. <laughter> Actually, he liked to draw, too, but never pursued it professionally as far as I know ...
In comics, the first thing I had published was a drawing for a ĎDesign Robiní stunt back when I was 15. I sent it to DC and they published it in Batman Family along with a bunch of other Robin costume designs from fans.
The next thing came a few years later when I was a senior in high school. I wrote and illustrated, pencilled and inked, and did the cover for a comic published by the local college (Michigan Technological University) to advertise it to Michigan High School students. They printed 10,000 copies of that, so thatís really my first published material of any real length. I think I only have one copy of that after all these years; it was titled Tech Team.
The next thing was in DCís New Talent Showcase, after Iíd moved to California upon graduating from Northern Michigan University in 1982. I attended the San Diego Con and Sal Amendolaís comics seminar and got a couple of jobs inking stories in that book.
At the same time Mike Friedrich - who was the president of Star*Reach (a talent representation agency in comics) - saw my work hanging in the San Diego Comics Con Art Show. I had a number of pieces in there, some black and white unpublished work (including a Batman story) and a couple of paintings. One of them won second place behind the French artist Moebiusí first place that year. Mike Friedrichís girlfriend Lee Marrs saw that stuff and pointed it out to Mike. A couple of weeks after the Con I got a letter from him. I was in the process of moving again but once I was settled I gave him a call and he started representing me.
Thatís when I got my first regular work: Bob Violence, a six to eight page back up story in First Comicsí American Flagg, back in 85. I did that for a few months while I was still working full time as a drafter at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Bob Violence wasnít full time; it was just an on-going, the first one Iíd done.
My first full time ongoing gig was First Comicsí Whisper, which I did right after Bob Violence. I was pencilling, inking, lettering and hand painting the covers. Itís kind of amazing - when I look back at it now - just how much work I was putting in every two months. <laughter> I did that for two years, then an opening came up on Detective Comics, and I took DCís offer.
DB: When it comes to Batman, yours was very different from a lot that came before it. The closest I can see to it previously would be Gene Colanís, with the shadows and darkness. How did you come about such a style and was there any resistance to it at the time?
NB: No, there was no resistance. (Thanks for the comparison to Colan, by the way; heís a fav of mine.) It was before the Batman movie and there seemed to be a little more freedom; I guess the market wasnít as tight. Batman was definitely selling much higher than it is now on a monthly basis, and they pretty much let me do whatever I wanted. Denny OíNeil was a very hands-off editor, which I like. I only remember getting editorial guidance for little things. For instance, after designing a bunch of different batmobiles - every time the batmobile appeared Iíd design a different one - Denny said, ďYou should really settle on one design.Ē
Shortly after that the Batman movie came out and there were more stipulations. We were supposed to draw Gotham City like Anton Furstís designs, and the batmobile like the movie batmobile. Soon we started drawing Batmanís costume like the movieís as well (all black). But beyond that there wasnít much editorial input. As a fan Iíd internalized a lot of the conventions of comics so I kind of knew instinctively how far I could I go, and how far not to go. There are certain unspoken rules ... as an example: you can have gore in the DC mainstream superhero titles but - especially back then - it couldnít be very wet gore. And you could draw blood, but to get it coloired red - and this is an interesting little quirk that I think is still true to this day - if I draw blood in any comics I always have to note Ďbloodí in the margin, otherwise it gets coloured green or something!
NB: Yeah, even if itís obviously blood! Itís as if the colourist is hesitant to colour it red, maybe because of the traditional fears brought on by Werthamís witch hunts in the 50s and the comics code and all that stuff. Things have definitely opened up a lot since then. I mean, boy, the stuff weíre seeing in comics now, itís just ...
DB: Do you think thatís a good or a bad thing? I donít know if you saw the last issue of The Avengers, which showed the Wasp and Ant Man having oral sex, along with domestic violence, all in a mainstream book on sale for kids.
NB: No I havenít.
DB: Is it necessarily a good thing though, or does it reach a point where you say, ďbring it back in for a whileĒ?
NB: Itís not necessarily a good thing of course; itís all in the handling. Blanket rules about what you can see or not see are only good up to a very small point. I donít think creators cross those barriers too often. I donít know, itís a really hairy area, obviously.
First off, I think things are definitely a lot better now in terms of censorship compared to the 50ís; thereís more creative freedom. At the same time, Iíve a very liberal mentality and I can see that a lot of people might disagree with me on this issue.
Whatís really curious to me - and itís something that everyone else notices too - is that throughout western culture there seems to be no limit to the amount of gore and violence we allow in our entertainment but when it comes to sex there are big no-noís. Itís very strange ... almost as if pleasure is more taboo than pain!
I didnít see that issue of The Avengers, so I donít know exactly what was depicted. I donít know how graphic it was, but if itís handled tastefully then I donít see why ... Thatís just it, that word Ďtastefullyí is apropos; itís all a matter of taste. You asked me my opinion, though, and my opinion is that itís generally a good thing. As a creator, I love having more freedom as well.
DB: Back to Batman. Primarily on Batman, you worked with Alan Grant. What sort of a working relationship did you have with him?
NB: I really liked Alan from the first time I met him. Heís got a heroic personality and a tremendous sense of humour. And yet we exhibit different philosophical viewpoints in a lot of ways. A large part of our relationship, especially when we got into doing Anarky, became a friendly philosophical debate over politics and conspiracy theory; mysticism versus scientism and all this other stuff. We came to really enjoy those debates, even when they (rarely) got a little heated. I didnít have a computer then, so we were doing it all by fax. In fact, I didnít even know how to type back then; <laughter> my side was all handwritten fax. So a large part of our relationship was taken up by that.
I hardly suggested any writing points at all. I was given a lot of freedom as the artist, so I designed the pages and designed the look of the characters, and pretty much let Alan create the stuff. When people say he and I are the creators of characters like Scarface (the ventriloquist mobster dummy), I tend to balk at that because I think of Alan as the more creative one there. When he came up with that idea and I saw it in the script I said, ďWow! How come nobodyís done this before?Ē I mean, the ventriloquist dummy is a classic frightening figure in horror stories. Some of the scariest movies I saw as a kid had to do with that. But it hadnít been done in any Batman books before and when Alan pulled it out of his hat it was like, ďAhhh, this is great!Ē I consider it completely his creation, but because I was drawing it at the time - by sheer coincidence - I get credit as well.
DB: You stayed on various Batman books for about six years or so. What prompted you to leave?
NB: For a few years there was a speculation market where people - collectors - were buying and selling huge gobs of highly marketed issues. Of course that market deflated, but I got a little bit out of it. There was some money to be had. Malibu Comics offered me a signing fee to draw their new title Prime and - this was the most important thing - they offered to publish Metaphysique sight unseen. I donít know if I even had a title in mind at that point, but that offer lured me away from the Batman. So I said, ďYeah, sure!Ē How could I turn down the opportunity to have my own story and artwork published without even having to sell the project? It was a lot of trust they were putting in me, and I took advantage of it. And Iím glad I did because Iíd been on Batman books for a long time - like you said, six years. I enjoyed drawing Batman. Iíd love to draw him again in fact, but Prime was so different that it was really fun. It was a big change, going from a dark icon to a bright icon. Thereís so many differences between the characters.
DB: Whatís the status of Prime these days?
NB: It was bought by Marvel with the rest of the Ultraverse. Marvel apparently isnít interested in publishing those characters, so why did they buy 'em? Weird. I heard recently that they donít want to pay the creators of the Ultraverse their Ö I forget what our contracts call it, but itís a certain percentage every time an Ultraverse character is published.
DB: Does that frustrate you? Have you ever thought of going to Marvel and saying, ďHow much would it cost me to buy back my creation and do something with it?Ē
NB: No, Iíve never considered that. If I had the money I might! <laughter> Iíd be curious to know just how much they would want. Thatís a possibility; I hadnít really thought of it before. It is a little frustrating you know, because Iíd love to draw Prime again and I think thereís a market out there for the character.
DB: Youíre considered to be very outspoken. You wrote a letter to Wizard back in 1993 about the formation of Image in response to Jim Valentino challenging you about your Ďproblemsí with Image. Was there any fall out from that?
NB: Nope, at least none of which I was aware. Iíve met Jim Valentino since and he doesnít even seem to remember it. <laughter> Iím glad that saw print, thatís great; I didnít know it had! As I recall, I wrote something like, ďJust because Alan Moore and Frank Miller work for Image why does that necessarily mean they have no problem with Image?Ē I wrote that I have some problems with every publisher I work with. I stand by the words of that letter as I remember it, sure. You thought that was pretty outspoken? I thought it was just obvious. <laughter> If a person makes their opinions known, why is that necessarily so outspoken? I grew up believing in freedom of speech. Itís not like I was cutting anyone down, I was just making what seemed to me an obviously rational clarification of my own personal tastes.
DB: I suppose at that stage Image wasÖ
NB: Kind of sacrosanct.
DB: Yeah. There werenít that many people who were coming out with anything overtly negative ≠ not that your letter was negative, nor indeed positive. You summed it up best by saying that the best thing that happened in comics in 1993 was Image and the worst thing that happened in comics in 1993 was Image.
NB: You could say the same thing about all of modern culture. In fact, everything has two sides to it in every realm. You have light and dark even in terms of wavelengths of light. Youíve got morality and immorality; youíve got pain and pleasure. Everything has polar opposites and Iíd be very surprised if we could find any area of human endeavour that didnít have them. So if you can find good qualities in anything, youíre going to be able to find bad qualities too. I think itís inevitable.
DB: Do you take co-credit for the creation of Anarky?
NB: Yeah, sure. Anarky evolved as we worked on him, and Iíll take some credit for it, sure.
DB: I ask because earlier you were saying that Alan Grant ...
NB: I had more input on Anarky than many of the other characters we developed because we spent so much time on it and because we were involved in discussions concerning Anarkyís philosophy - which is really Alan Grantís philosophy. I learned a lot from those discussions and of course I see lots of truth in objectivity (Anarky is an objectivist); Iím a modern western male, after all! Alan was calling his philosophy ĎNeo-techí but itís basically a modernized version of Objectivism, which was Ayn Randís philosophy.
Now, I think the very term ĎObjectivismí implies an outlook thatís kind of one sided because thereís also Subjectivism, and theyíre both true in their own realms; they both exist. In our discussions I was always trying to balance Alanís arguments with the opposite point of view, which in my view also has merits. That did feed its way into the stories to some degree, especially near the end when I had more ideas for Anarkyís life.
DB: Of everything youíve done, which character was the hardest to draw?
NB: Itíd probably have to be some female character. Iíd think itíd probably be the lead character in Whisper (for First Comics) because sheís female. Women, especially pretty women, are difficult to draw because you canít put in a lot of lines as it tends to make them look less pretty. Less lines means each line carries more weight, so you have to be more careful and decisive. Plus, Whisper was at the beginning of my career. I look back at that stuff and I wince, just like any other artist might. I look back on the Batman stuff, particularly on close ups of faces, and I also wince at a lot of it. I wish Iíd taken more time. Actually I wish Iíd gotten the Batman gigs about five years later, I know I wouldíve done a better job.
DB: More than a few people consider your Batman to be one of the definitive versions of the character.
NB: Thatís very flattering. Batman was really very much in my heart when I was growing up. Batman and Superman were some of the only comics characters that I really cared about when I was a kid, probably because they were also TV shows. Then Iíd go out and buy the comics because of the shows. I was aware of the Marvel characters but I had very limited funds so I could only buy a couple comics.
DB: Did you ever have a desire to work for Marvel on some of the icon characters there?
NB: Sure! Marvel and DC: I donít see a big difference between them. I know there are supposedly differences but when it comes right down to it theyíre producing interchangeable types of universes. Thatís why they can interact so well, as in JLA / Avengers. They even have counterparts of each other - similar spandex superheroes - and theyíre all living in big cities, jumping over rooftops and fighting super villains. Thereís not a lot of difference, kind of like the secret similarity between competing political parties behind their opposing rhetoric. <laughter>
DB: If you could pick a character that you havenít worked on before, who would it be?
NB: Thereís so many characters Iíd like to draw, I really donít feel too particular. I definitely would enjoy drawing the Hulk. But I hesitate to limit myself in any way. I enjoy drawing ALL superheroes. And much more.
DB: So whoís inspired you in comics?
NB: Iíd say the first big name was Neal Adams. There was an issue of DC's The Brave And The Bold that Adams drew titled The Angel, the Rock, and the Cowl, wherein a young Batman met Sgt Rock during World War Two. This was obviously a while ago, <laughter> like 1969 or so. That was the first comic that made me realize ďI really wanna do that!Ē In fact, one of the few pieces of my life that I ever copied line for line was the cover of that book, where Adams drew Batman holding an apparently dead Sgt Rock.
DB: Itís unusual because your style is so different from Adams.
NB: Itís been influenced by a lot of other people too, but people have noticed the Adams influence in my work.
I appreciate classically illustrative styles. Jim Aparo in the Ď70ís was also a big influence. Jimís drawing had similarities to Adams, but with a greater fluidity in his figure drawing. There were a lot of other influences too: Joe Kubert, Nick Cardy. I was a big fan of Nick Cardyís work. Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson on Superman.† Gil Kane was a pretty big influence. Frank Frazetta as a painter as well. Bernie Wrightson. Basically all the big stars in the 70s were my influences. <laughter>
DB: Goes with the age doesnít it?
NB: Yep. Frank Miller was another influence too, probably the last big influence. It was just when I was coming of age that I saw his†Daredevil stuff. I loved the storytelling, the economy of line and of words too.
DB: The Dark Knight Returns, that came out just before you started doing Batman books.
NB: Right. In fact, I received some indication from my agent Mike Friedrich that itís possible DC was having difficulties finding anybody to draw Batman titles because they felt theyíd be in the shadow of Miller. That kind of surprised me. I wondered why anyone would turn down the opportunity to draw Batman? <laughter> That concern didnít even enter my mind!
DB: Where did you go from Batman?
NB: When I was working for Malibu doing Prime and Metaphysique, I was still getting stuff from DC. Mr. T came along about then, too: my best paying gig in comics to this day!
Then the bottom of the industry fell through when I was halfway through Metaphysique and I had to re-negotiate my contract and do the last three issues for free, otherwise they wouldnít have seen print. I accepted that because I wanted to finish the story.
Even though Iím proud of Metaphysique, I wish Iíd done it differently, taken more time. Again, Iím always wishing I had more time; on Metaphysique I crammed what amounted to three years of story into six issues. I didnít realize how dense it was while I was writing it - and I should have because Iím an artist and I was writing the story for myself! - but once I got down to drawing it, I was like, ďWow, these are crowd scenes and Iíve got six panels per page. What have I done to myself?Ē <laughter> Nevertheless, Iím proud of how that story is orchestrated and what it says. It expresses a lot of me.
But like I said, the speculation market collapsed and it was the first time in my career that I had to scrounge for work. And I could hardly find anything! Everybody was clinging for dear life to their jobs. Prime had been cancelled because Marvel bought it and stopped publishing it so I went back to DC and Anarky was the only thing that was offered. Alan Grant pretty much had to be talked into writing it by our editors. Donít get me wrong; we both love the character but Alan didnít think it could do well in the market. Actually, it probably did do a little better than Alan expected because we got almost two years work out of it.
DB: How did you feel going through those lean times? Youíd worked on Batman and you couldnít find a job.
NB: Iím still going through lean times.
DB: Why is that? Youíre an exceedingly talented artist?
NB: Why, thanks! You're too kind. Simple, short answer: Iím not a marketer and Iím not a schmoozer. I think a large part of getting the best jobs in comics has to do with who you know and although I know some people, I donít really know them; Iím not good buddies with many of them. Those I did form friendships with are either out of comics now or theyíre in the same boat Iím in. Which isnít a bad boat, really. I mean, Iíve got fairly regular work from Angel Gate Press right now and Iím getting a reasonable rate. Itís not the same rate I was getting at DC, but it actually comes out to more per month because I get to ink my own pencils as well. But the jobs are ... I donít have two years of work lined up for me anymore; Iíve only got a few months and then Iíll be looking for work again.
DB: That puzzles me, it really does. Youíre not the only person in that boat and when I look at some of the stuff thatís coming out now, I sit there and think surely they can find better artists?
NB: A lot of artists feel the same way. A lot of writers, too; I mean, Alan Grant basically gave up trying to find work in American comics. For some reason he got the cold shoulder at DC after Anarky was cancelled. And after he had to be talked into writing it!
I think a lot of it is political and not just who you know or how well you get along with the editors. Alan does have a pretty controversial outlook. You either really like Alan or you donít, I suppose, just like with me. I donít know ... I just know that I love the guy! Most people really like Alan, but there are people I think who see him as problematic because heís got such strong political views. Heís kind of like Steve Ditko in that respect. He has a similar philosophy to Ditko too, though heís not nearly as eccentric as Iíve heard Steve is. I don't know; Iím just saying that there mightíve been a similar political reaction towards each. We donít have any conclusive evidence, but Alan and I canít help but feel that Anarkyís philosophy grated on somebodyís nerves; somebody got a look at it and didnít like it.
In fact, Anarky isnít appearing anywhere anymore. He doesnít even appear as an extra, you donít even see him in the backgrounds of any books. I think I saw him once, just after Anarky was cancelled, in Teen Titans or Young Justice, but that was all.
When I was working on The Spectre I suggested to John Marc DeMatteis (the writer) that itíd be a great story if the Spectre were to enlighten Anarky, because Anarky is so one-sided - heís so objective, so rationalistic - and the Spectre is just the opposite; heís very mystical. (In fact, Alan used the word Ďmysticí almost synonymously with the words Ďevil parasitesí ... it was one of his neotekian terms. It was odd to me because I considered myself a mystic and it made me rethink a lot of my own terms. Itís all semantic differences mostly, anyway; when you get down to it the characters of Alan and I - and the characters of both the Spectre and Anarky - are all good guys. Weíre all on the same good side; we just look at things from slightly different angles.) Anyway, it would have been a really great story. I had it all worked out and DeMatteis was game for it. We proposed it to our editor and got the word back in a few days: no, it couldnít be done. I asked why and he said, ďWell we donít think Anarky is a big enough character to guest star in The Spectre.Ē Meanwhile, we had a whole story going on about Abin Sur! I suppose any comics geek might remember Abin Sur, but I donít think heís bigger, or more dynamic or well known than Anarky. I did mention that and what I got back was, ďWell, Abin Sur has his own website!Ē Now, I never checked on that but I couldnít help but feel maybe thatís just bullshit. <laughter>
So Iíve generally gotten the impression that Anarky was nixed because of its philosophy. Especially in this age of post 9/11, Anarky would be a challenge to established authority. Heís very anti-establishment, thatís why heís named Anarky!
DB: I would have thought that they would have jumped at it, if only so they could squeeze Batman in there as well.
NB: Well, yeah. I was more than happy to put Batman in there too.
DB: I canít understand that line of thinking, but then Iíve given up trying to find logic in most things.
NB: Well, thatís the birth of conspiratorial thinking. Iím big on conspiracy speculation for what happens on the world stage.
DB: Letís test your conspiracy theories. <laughter>
NB: Theyíre not mine, theyíre just theories that I pick up from elsewhere. Some do jive with what Iíve felt Iíve learned about human nature over the years, however.
DB: Whatís your favourite conspiracy theory?
NB: My favourite? <laughter>
DB: Yeah, everyone has a favourite conspiracy theory.
NB: Boy, thatís very different from which one I think is most likely.
DB: Which one would be most likely then?
NB: Well, first letís start with my favourite. My favourite conspiracy theory is that this is all a dream, that weíre plugged into some kind of virtual reality ≠ kind of like the Matrix ≠ and that the worst horrors that we see are explainable because theyíre just part of the game. Theyíre part of the fun. And when you wake up you go, ďWow! That was exciting!Ē Thatís my favourite, and itís actually been the reality view of Eastern mysticism for eons.
DB: Thatís a good one. <laughter>
NB: Apparently the pop cultureís cottoned onto it too and the Matrix is really big.
DB: Whatís the most likely?
NB: Boy, thatís a lot more difficult to answer, a lot more difficult. Itís a matter of probability levels. There are different levels, or layers, like an onion; in fact, there are probably infinite layers to reality. (You could say there are infinite layers in an onion, too, although youíd eventually have to get down to the sub-quantum level.) <laughter>
I guess the most obvious one thatís pretty undeniable can be summed up by the phrase Ďfollow the moneyí which asserts that itís all a financial conspiracy of the rich to keep the money flowing towards them, while keeping the populace unaware of that fact as much as possible through their increasing control of information. In other words, itís the financial elite versus the common man. I think thatís the most obvious one, one thatís pretty much undeniable to anyone whoís got half a brain and their eyes halfway open. It might be the real reason Anarky was cancelled.
The weirdest conspiracy book I ever read was titled The Biggest Secret by David Icke. The title Ďsecretí is that the ĎIlluminatií that control everything at the top of the economic pyramid are actually the Sumerian Annunaki: shape-shifting astral lizards that live in the inner earth and come from the tenth planet in our solar system that has a very erratic orbit. Every three thousand years their planet gets close enough to Earth for them to visit us and take over again.
Crazy, right? So crazy, in fact, that I suspected while reading it that Icke was putting the far out stuff in there so he wouldnít be considered a real threat or become a target as quickly, so people could just brush it off with ďOh, thatís just quackery.Ē Meanwhile he was able to get a lot of information published about the financial connections between the elite families throughout human history, and it was very well documented. It was like he was hiding the truth under a mantle of insanities.
The Annunaki stuff is all based on literal interpretations of the oldest writing we have on the planet, the Sumerian Cuneiform Tablets, which contain myths that pre-date Christianity and Judaism. They have crucifixion and resurrection myths, they have flood myths, they have all the myths that got into the later religions. But the question is, are they only myth or is there some history there? They even have the creation of the human race by beings from Heaven. If you interpret it literally - and it could very well be either literal or mythological, we donít know one way or the other - if you interpret it literally then reality is indeed much stranger than we realize.
DB: I have to admit, I do like hearing conspiracy theories, but not for the right reasons that theorists might think.
NB: What do you mean by that exactly?
DB: I tend to look at some of the theories that Iíve seen over the years and say ďNo, thatís just too far off the boil.Ē
NB: They canít all be true because they contradict each other. For instance, I read two books at the same time; one was titled We Discovered Alien Bases on the Moon and the other was titled We Never Went to the Moon. They canít both be true! <laughter>
DB: Exactly. The whole moon landing thing, the documentaries and the like, well a friend of mine whoís into conspiracy theories said, ďWe never went to the moon,Ē but my response was ďYou pick that theory because you canít either prove or disprove it. The only way to prove it is to go there and find the space ships, but even then youíd say it was all planted there.Ē
NB: Well, if they planted it that means they got there.
DB: I told her that and her reply was ďNo, they could have sent that stuff up and pin pointed it onto the moon at a later date.Ē
NB: Iíd like to know whether the power of the Hubble telescope - which can pin point the most distant galaxies - is strong enough to pick up any of the Apollo landing sites? Because we left enough material there.†
(After the interview was done I thought I'd check this out, mainly out of curiosity - this is the official line: From www.hubblesite.org the official NASA site for the Hubble Telescope:†
Q: Can Hubble see the Apollo landing sites on the Moon?
A: No, Hubble cannot take photos of the Apollo landing sites. An object on the Moon 4 meters (4.37 yards) across, viewed from HST, would be about 0.002 arcsec in size. The highest resolution instrument currently on HST is the Advanced Camera for Surveys at 0.03 arcsec. So anything we left on the Moon cannot be resolved in any HST image. It would just appear as a dot.)
DB: I have thought about it but I donít think they have done that just yet.
NB: They probably would have already if they could.
DB: But then I remember saying that to my friend and her reply wasÖ
NB: Theyíd be fake photos right?
NB: Of course; they can fake anything now! Anything we see on video could now be faked. I mean, Bush might not even be a human being. He might not be a physical object. <laughter> He could be computer generated, not that it makes any difference one way or the other to his administrationís policies.
DB: Isnít that a Frank Miller concept? The president is on the TV and is shown to be a CGI?
NB: Yeah, I think so. I think that was Miller. Wasnít that DK2?
NB: Weíre entering an era now were the technology for image production is so complex, so multi-layered with so many different ways to generate it, that we really canít trust anything we see anymore, except with our own eyes. And even then itís a matter of interpretation! If an angel came down to you in your backyard, or say even the figure of Christ himself and started proving that he could perform miracles and other people saw him and everything, itís still open to interpretation. It could be an alien or magician or demon playing tricks on you. Or you may just be nuts! If I die and Iím standing before the throne of God, and itís judgment day, and it matches all the stories and thereís angels and pearly gates and all the traditional crap, I would still be questioning just what exactly is going on! I donít take things at face value.
DB: I know if I were in that situation Iíd be looking around and thinking ďHmmmm ok, next?Ē
NB: The most important judgments Iíd make in that situation are moral judgments. Whatever this being is that claims to be God is sending people to eternal damnation? I guess I'd have to rebel against that! Thatís the most immoral concept possible: eternal damnation. How can anything anybody does, the worst evil ... Letís say you could destroy the whole known universe in a horribly slow and torturous death. Thatís still a limited amount of time and suffering and in eternity itís just a blink. How could even that crime merit eternal burning and suffering? Itís clearly and totally whack!
DB: My problem with religion comes with the christening. If judgment day does come then the light gets shined down and everyone with that little cross on their head, be they mass murderers or whatever, automatically ascend. Anyone without the cross enters purgatory, and they might have done no wrong in their lives, but thatís whatís going to happen.
NB: I have some of my most interesting conversations with Christian believers, partly because when I was in high school I was a born-again Christian. Basically I kept an open mind and I thought my way out of it, thank God. <laughter> And I now see a lot of metaphorical meaning in it all; itís largely symbolic and only when you interpret it strictly literally do you get into really illogical snags.
I love talking to Christians. If I talk to somebody who has my same outlook on life we quickly run through the whole universe and have little more to say. Then we have to go out and party! <laughter> With a Christian I can go on and on for hours and still have an interesting conversation. Or at least I can with the few that want to debate.
DB: Iíll admit that at times I enjoy bailing up the ones that come door knocking.
NB: Youíve got to choose your targets. The best people to argue with are the ones that come to your door and want to talk to you, actually want to debate. <laughter> ďHa! Well, youíre begging for it arenít ya?Ē <laughter> I sometimes think these people would debate the most idiotic points until judgment day! They just wonít give up, thatís whatís so fascinating about them. And thatís the potential for their own evolution too, because they can be engaged, just like I was. If they can be engaged in rational conversation then it may slowly open their minds.
NB: Very much so. Thatís what art is all about. I mean true Art with a capital A is about subversion. Thatís what real thinking is about, too. True thinking is not memorization; itís really more a subversion of memorization. Memorization or indoctrination is information coming in and thinking is information coming out, literally the reverse! So thinking is like the subversion of simple rote memorization or indoctrination. Funny, Iíve never looked at it quite that way before, but it seems appropriate.
DB: Do you think your art is subversive?
NB: Well, Anarky was. <laughter>
DB: Deliberately so?
NB: Oh yeah. Definitely. Definitely deliberate. Did you read Anarky?
DB: Iíve read some of it.
NB: It was quite obviously subversive. But as an artist I was just drawing Alanís stories. I wouldnít say that I was being particularly subversive, although I was a bit when I put graffiti on the walls in the backgrounds.
DB: Thatís what I was thinking.
NB: Yeah, that was kind of subversive. Actually there was a letter to the editor in Shadow Of The Bat that complained about that, about my left wing leanings. <laughter>
DB: You canít win.
NB: If youíre asking about my being subversive I would consider Metaphysique†my most subversive artistic statement yet because I wrote it as well as drew it.
I love writing;†in fact, Iím working on a novel now and I have been for a long time. Itís touch and go because Iíve got to make money as well, and Iím a very slow writer. My storyís couched in exciting science fiction terms but the real basic motivation is a kind of oblique subversion. A subversion in the sense I put it before. Itís an attempt to reverse the tendency to accept whatís given and bring forth something new creatively. Creativity is the subversion of its opposite. <laughs>
DB: This is going to generate a bit of talk, in the sense that I havenít seen too many interviews where you talk about this kind of stuff.
NB: I tend to think about this stuff too much, if anything. Maybe thatís one reason Iím not a great schmoozer. It depends on who you talk to, though. I mean, weíve got real divisions in our countries and in the world. Some people donít want their world rocked; they want everything in its place and they want to believe that authority, even though thereís problems, is basically good. And then there are people who are very much the opposite. Most people are in between.
DB: Where do you think you sit?
NB: Well I would sit, physically, right in the middle ... for safety. But I would mentally be far left probably. Depends on what you mean by far left. See, when you start labelling things, you get into trouble because itís all a matter of semantics and how people interpret it. Like the word God, or the word love. The common person thinks the question ĎDo you believe in God?í is kind of a rational question. They assume that the word God is commonly known to be something universally agreed upon and exact, but everybodyís got different versions of what ďGodĒ means. Thatís why I tend to focus on the ultimate qualities of God when I discuss him: omniscience, omnipresence, etc. I mean, heís obviously not this ectomorphic character with a beard if heís omniscient and omnipresent. He exists in and as every atom, every plant, every animal, every person ... well, Godís not even a ďhe,Ē thatís ridiculous. We donít even have the words to discuss this stuff!
So Iím very leery about labelling myself because words are just not adequate to describe transcendence, and the ultimate quality of a human being is a transcendent quality. I guess I would therefore call myself a transcendentalist. Traditionally thatís more left wing, obviously, which is why I almost said Iíd be far left. I am far left in a lot of ways. I do believe in progress, in ideals. I believe we can make a much better world that is physically possible and yet free of fascism and bigotry. So I guess Iím pretty far left.
DB: Have you ever thought about putting all of this down into comic book form ala Steve Ditko?
NB: Well thatís what Metaphyisique was to be. Yeah, thatís what Iíd love to do.
I got myself into a situation when I moved to California with regular comics work for fifteen years or so where I basically got onto a treadmill. It was an expensive area to live and I was supporting a family. I was also supporting my girlfriendís business and when the industry fell through (when the speculation market disappeared) I was caught with a lot of debt. I tried to make it for the longest time out there and all I did was build up a heck of a lot more debt. I ended up having to move to Michigan, where Iím living now. Sold my house and even that wasnít enough to eliminate the debt!
Neotekians say that the chief means by which the elite keep us under their thumb is through debt, and it kinda happened to me. I considered just declaring bankruptcy, not paying the bills, or even just maxing out my credit cards (because Iíve got a lot of credit as Iíve paid off a lot of debt) and using that to finish my novel and do whatever I want artistically. But I guess Iím not really that much of a radical. I think like a rebel in a lot of ways, but when it comes right down to it, I consider myself an artist and philosopher first. I want the freedom and safety of stability so I can create.
DB: So youíre a pseudo rebel.
NB: Well, no: Iím a spiritual or inherently artistic rebel. The pen can be mightier than the sword. Itís all just a matter of priorities and Iím still working those out. I see the possibility of being debt free soon. Iíd like to go that far and get some money in the bank so I could concentrate on my own stuff. But if it stretches out for years and that just doesnít happen, Iím going to have to re-evaluate what Iím doing. It seems that as soon as I get close to eliminating my debt a job ends, and thereís a period where I build up more debt. Itís almost like ... <laughs> if I was a real nut I would think that itís planned that way to keep me, personally, in debt. Of course, generally speaking I do think itís generally planned that way;†thatís how capitalism runs. It runs on debt, the chief means by which the elite maintain control.
The depth of contradiction and unknowability of conspiracy theories are the main reasons they ultimately remain just mind-games to me. Itís why, near the end of our conversation yesterday when you asked me if I felt liberal or conservative, or where do I sit in terms of the subversiveness of art and my own art, itís why I didnít want to label myself. Well, thatís just self-defence for one thing of course. But it also makes rational sense because I donít really have almost any hard and fast beliefs.
Itís difficult to come to final beliefs about historical or physical facts that we canít verify for ourselves personally. More and more weíre being surrounded by a whole edifice of reality that we didnít create and we canít even verify. So why take a stance against any of it in a very overt manner unless Iím really sure of what Iím doing? And frankly Iím just not that sure. The only areas that Iím really sure about are basically personal, psychological, spiritual realms. I do have certain beliefs but theyíre based on the essence of what being human is all about and what justice and morality is about. But when it comes to actually taking stands on issues that are composed of facts that are remote to me and that I have a difficult time verifying? Iím very queasy about doing that. Thatís why Iím a philosopher, I tend to think and speak about things in very general terms. Conspiracy theory is more or less just mind play for me, itís not like itís going to lead to any kind of social action on my part (unless you include art as social action, of course!), because Iím not sure whatís true and what isnít. I also believe that the world will only change for the better - if it ever does - by inner evolution, not through violent confrontation.
I'll only physically fight if I'm certain I have no moral choice. I'd never kill strangers on the orders of strangers, as military enlisted men are trained to do.
DB: I was speaking to a friend of mine last night who doesnít read comic books but feels that your Batman is probably the best Batman that sheís seen. So I chatted to her about what you and I spoke about and she pointed to an issue of Detective where you had an American flag with a red line through it - like a ĎNoí sign - as graffiti in the background of a cover.
NB: Actually that was a very traditionally patriotic statement and not one that the right wing conservatives would complain about at all. It was a burning American flag with a ĎNoí slashed through it. The conservatives would love that because theyíre against burning the flag.
Now, personally of course, I think one of the greatest symbols of freedom possible is a burning flag. If youíve got true freedom in a country you should be able to burn its flag. I mean, youíre not hurting anybody physically. Itís just a piece of cloth! Itís an example of freedom of speech.
Of course thereís limits on freedom of speech too, I can understand that. I guess if youíre surrounded by a populace thatís ready to get physically ballistic over a word or flag or some other symbol, then youíve got to take that into account. I mean, you donít go into a brood of male apes with one female there and stand in front of the female ape and try and prevent them from doing their business without getting into a fight. You donít even have to attack the apes ≠ theyíll attack you! I donít know if thatís a very good analogy, I probably should come up with something better than that. <laughter>
DB: Youíre taking commissions via your website. How is that going?
NB: Slow. Itís not something that Iíve been able to live on by itself. Iíll pile up a few over a period of a six month run on an issue when I donít really have time to do 'em, then Iíll do 'em when thereís a break between jobs. I havenít been advertising my site or anything either, though. The only place I have been advertising is in the CBG.
DB: Why is that? Iíve seen the ad in the CBG.
NB: Yeah, itís the only ad Iíve got running. Iíve been getting published work, so Iím not really pressed to advertise the commissions that much. And I donít want to get so much commission work that Iíd have to tell people I probably wonít get to theirs for a year or something. But then again, having that much work ahead would be nice I suppose. I guess Iím just saying itís better to get published; more people see it then. Commission work is almost like drawing when I was a child, for only friends and family. Almost no oneís going to see the stuff (except when I post it on my site). It just doesnít have the prestige of getting into print.
DB: What kind of commissions are you generally being asked to do?
NB: Mostly Batman, but some others as well. Iíve put together a sketchbook filled with commissioned work and convention sketches Iíve done over the years. Iíll be advertising that on my new website, along with a bigger sketch book thatís more my fine arts stuff, with a lot of full colour plates. The bigger sketch book is going to be $50, and the smaller one is going to be $15.
DB: Itís odd that a lot of artists of talent and ability are treated so poorly or generally ignored.
NB: Most artists have traditionally been treated as hired hands, easily interchangeable, like a janitor or something. For every example of a Jim Lee or a Frank Miller or somebody whoís treated really well, there are probably hundreds of examples of those thatíve been Ö not that theyíre always treated overly bad per se, itís just that theyíre not treated with the respect they probably deserve if theyíve really developed a skill.
I remember when I was drawing Batman I would notice people in pop culture that make it really huge on relatively little skills and I would think that considering how much time and effort I put into being able to do what I can do, it seems thereíd be a little more compensation than Iím getting. <laughter> Of course, that was before the bottom fell out of the market. Now I look back on those days and I realize those were pretty darn good times for me.
DB: That must be as frustrating as all hell. Itís almost like the Orson Welles syndrome, where you have this great talent but no-one will let you practice your skills, instead they hire people with far less talent.
NB: Makes you wonder, you know? Brings us right back to conspiracy theory. If you donít get satisfactory answers for your questions then youíre left with more and more questions without satisfactory answers, not just in comics but also in life in general. And weíre then forced to create our own answers. I love the equation I made yesterday, of the subversiveness of creativity, that itís subverting the conventional flow of energy coming from the outside to the inside. When you become creative you reverse that flow; itís then coming out from inside. If you donít receive satisfactory answers, then create your own! Be an artist.
I can understand the danger of having it too cushy, of always having a job and being spoiled. Thereís a danger in not really having to challenge yourself. And if nothing else I started my novel and simplified my life because of the slowdown in the comics industry.
Before that, for about nine months in California I looked for work in comics. It was quite clear to me that the jobs just werenít available and everybody was entrenched in what they had. They were hanging on by their fingernails! So as the debt piled up and I got more and more worried, I had free time on my hands. I had to be creative, I had to do something, but Iíd been drawing for so long that I didnít really have a desire to unless I was getting paid.
So I started writing this novel that Iíve been working on. It probably wouldnít have happened otherwise. Iím sure it wouldnít have if Iíd been getting regular work in comics all that time. And itís going to be something I own entirely and created as a multi-media concept. Itíd make a good movie, itíd make a good comic book. After Iíve written the novel Iíll illustrate it and then Iíll shop it around. If I have to, Iíll publish it myself. Then Iíll write a comics version of it as well, or maybe hire a writer. And none of this would have happened if I hadnít been pressured into it economically.
DB: Everything with a downside also has an upside if you look at it the right way.
NB: Yeah, thatís true. I mean, if youíre going to be really creative then whatís the most creative thing you can do? Create something out of nothing rather than just having it handed to you.
(At this stage we started speaking about a certain person who shall remain nameless, hence the transcript jumps a bit. Iíve left this bit in as Norm makes some damn good points on artwork and artists in general.)
DB: As it was told to me _______ was told to draw like Rob Liefeld.
NB: Oh God! Oh man! Thatís incredible!
DB: Which to me was interesting because Iíve spoken to a few artists from the Silver Age of Marvel and they always said that Stan Lee would show them Jack Kirby pages and say, ďLook at that, study it ≠ thatís what I want you to do. I donít want you to draw like this but get the feel, the layoutsĒ so what he meant was that they should absorb the dynamics but not swipe or directly copy the art. But along the line ______ was told by an editor that Liefeldís stuff was selling at the time so _______ should draw exactly like him ≠ directly swipe the art.
NB: But of all people to chose to name as somebody to followÖ Rob Liefeld?
You know itís funny that you mention Kirby in the same paragraph with Liefeld because my former agent (Mike Freidrich of Star*Reach) did the same thing. When the subject came up, he immediately equated the phenomenon of Liefeld in a lot of ways with the phenomenon of Kirby. He didnít mean to cut anyone down, but to point out that there was something about both Liefeld's and Kirbyís work that was very appealing to a popular percentage of the comics buying public at certain points.
I was never a fan of Kirbyís when I was a kid because the drawing wasnít up to the ďrealisticĒ standard I was looking for. It wasnít expressing the type of illustrative qualities I wanted to see. And a lot of more naturalistic artists, those that were more into illustrative styles (rather than into the cartoony drawing style that Kirby had developed by the '60s) were kind of offended that they were encouraged to draw like Kirby. At least this is what Iíve heard. Of course there are big differences between his work and Liefeldís.
As an adult I see great qualities in Kirbyís work - like you said: the story telling ... thatís one of the greatest things he brought to comics. In fact he was the quintessential storyteller, thatís why heís the King of comics! And that includes not just the layout of the page and the energy and the vitalism in his drawings, but also the amount of creativity that he brought. The amount of characters that would just trip off his tongue, or off his pen, however you want to put it. I donít know much about Rob Liefeld but he must have been doing something right otherwise he wouldnít have been hot for whatever amount of time he was.
Rob was trying to draw in a classically illustrative style but it came across as kind of naÔve. And thatís how Kirbyís work looked to me when I was a kid, in terms of his figure drawing and such: kind of naÔve. But Kirbyís other qualities are better, theyíre much more sophisticated: the story telling, the lay-outs, the energy, the vitalism ≠ all thatís very sophisticated. I suppose Leifeld probably had some of that too, I donít know, but even if he did, Kirby originated it!
I think Iím belabouring the point because itís obvious youíre a big Kirby fan. I didnít want to make the equation between he and Leifeld too strong but I can see a connection there.
DB: I think when I was younger and growing up I wasnít overly taken by Kirbyís work as much as I was people like Neal Adams, John Byrne, Gene Colan, Frank Brunner, Jim Starlin or Gil Kane, but that was the era when I grew up. It was only as I got older that I started to fully appreciate his work and what heíd done.
NB: Same here, but I think weíre probably more like exceptions than the rule. Marvel comics and Kirby in the '60s were obviously selling. So there were a lot of young comics fans who liked what they were seeing.
There are different tastes, with different people looking for different things in their comics even within the same genres. Thatís why weíve got a range of stuff out there.
DB: I think you hit the nail on the head. I didnít grow up in the '60s, I grew up in the '70s and '80s so I generally gravitated towards the artists I was seeing at the time, and Kirby wasnít that active by then. I wasnít a huge fan of Rob Leifeld, thatís for certain. I could appreciate the fact that he was selling millions of copies of his books, but I couldnít understand why.
NB: Me neither. I hate to be too negative, especially in interviews and such, but one of the main experiences of becoming an adult for me was a complete disillusionment and disappointment with many of my childhood ideals. As kids we just accept whatís handed to us as gospel truth, whether itís about religion or politics or whatever, and that's been largely crushed.
When I was a kid I believed, generally speaking, all the patriotic slogans about my country: that our leaders were really good guys and they were the pick of the crop. I wanted to be Abraham Lincoln; he was one of my biggest heroes. Now, of course, I realize he presided over one of the bloodiest massacres in human history. <laughter> Iím not saying heís not a good man either per se (Iím certainly not a confederate!), it all really depends on many things, and when you get into politics ... again, itís such a quagmire of conspiracy; maybe he was a robot. <laughter>
I think Grant Morrison could do a great story about Abe Lincoln being a robot. <laughter>
DB: And itíd sell.
NB: Is he the one that did, what was it called, 1900? Or 1899, I forget what it was called. A couple of years ago. Actually, that was Bill Messner-Loebs, wasnít it?
DB: I think it was, yeah.
NB: I thought that was a brilliant idea.
And of course thereís the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. Isnít it amazing how badÖ did you see the movie?
DB: Not yet. People keep telling me to avoid it.
NB: It was terrible! Thereís no pacing. There was no respect for the quality of the story, the literary quality of it. It was just one high-energy ďBang!Ē scene after scene. Itís like they were trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
DB: Itís funny, because a lot of people I know who donít read comics are telling me I should see it, yet people I know who do read comics are telling me to avoid it like the plague.
NB: Thatís interesting.
DB: What do you think about comic book movies in general? What did you think of the Batman movies when they were released?
NB: I didnít really like Ďem. Everybody cites the first Batman movie as being the best and I suppose it was, but thatís not saying much because there were such majorly bad editorial and production decisions made that it ruined it for me. And Iím not talking about Michael Keaton being Batman. Actually, when I heard that I thought, ďYou know, heís got the quirkiness and the unpredictable creativity to be a great Batman.Ē But, of course, he didnít have the build so they gave him the fake muscles and they even immobilized his neck! One of the best characteristics of Batman for me when I was a fan was his ninja-like, understated quality. The fact that he could be in a locked room with you and you wouldnít even know it; heís in a shadow over in the corner. They eliminated that entirely!
The Joker heard Batman coming after he crashed his plane; God where do I start? I could go back further: Batmanís firing missiles into a crowd at the Jokerís parade. Even if heís not aiming at the parade ... those are explosive missiles! And all the Gothamites were standing around like tenpins; itís ridiculous.
And earlier, Batman dropping the bomb with his remote controlled batmobile inside the chemical factory with the Jokerís henchmen. He killed all those guys! Batman doesnít kill that readily.
DB: The one that always bothered me was Batman walking through the streets, stuffing dynamite down some guys pants and throwing him down a man-hole and walking off as he explodes.
NB: That was in one of the later ones. Such careless disregard for the characters ruined the movies.
Then they took it all too far out of the real world. They went overboard with creating a memorable Gotham City, but basically they created a Gotman City that didnít really look like any human city. It doesnít even feel like itís on Earth! And one of the best qualities about Batman is that he was the most realistic of the superheroes, if thatís not a total oxymoron. <laughter> He had no super powers and he was a detective, living in realistic environs.
DB: Do you think that a Batman could exist in the real world?
NB: Oh, surely not. If Batman exists heís a computer hacker today.
DB: So he'd be more like the Oracle character?
NB: Oh, yeah. Well, weíve really got Oracle characters around. I donít know if theyíre as proficient as sheís supposed to be, though ...
To survive and not be arrested or killed, Batman would have to have technology superior to the rest of humanity. He might be a member of the CIA. Maybe we do have Batman but he doesnít necessarily have our best interests at heart. Yikes!
Or maybe there are rogue elements in the most black budgeted programs on the planet that do have our best interests at heart? Maybe there is a Batman, but weíll probably never know. Thatís the thing: If there were a Batman then we wouldnít even know about it! He certainly wouldnít wear a mask and cape and go out and physically risk his life unless he absolutely had to. I suppose itís possible to have a Batman today, but generally my answer to that would be no way.
When I saw the Zorro movie (starring Antonio Banderas), it actually brought tears to my eyes because I felt like that was the last time in human history that it was possible to have a real Batman-like character. It was swords against swords, maybe a musket here and there, but they were relatively easy to avoid compared to a machine gun or a silent CIA helicopter. They didnít have traffic jams, everybodyís on horses.
Zorro is actually a lot more believable than Batman. Batman driving the batmobile through Gotham City; how come he never gets stuck in traffic jams? It doesnít make any sense. And if heís trying to keep a low profile, why would he decorate his car and body to be such outlandish eye-catchers? None of it makes any sense when you look at it rationally. And Batmanís supposed to be the most rational of the superheroes!
Thatís why I felt the Batman movies totally failed. And itís because they were going for the lowest common denominator. They wanted to please everybody who thought of Batman from the '60s TV show and please all the violent video game fans at the same time. When youíre trying to please everybody at once the end result is that you get American big budget movie cinema. <laughter> Itís gotten to the point now where if itís got a really huge budget and itís really hyped I can be almost certain Iím not going to like it. I have to say ďalmostĒ because there are exceptions. I really liked the Spider-man movie. That was fun. And the Matrix.
DB: The X-Men movies?
NB: Yeah, they were neat, too. And the Hulk. I liked the Hulk a lot, although I think Ang Lee tried too hard to make the Hulk a sophisticated movie. I think he should have zoomed to the action faster because my favourite parts of the Hulk - and this contradicts almost my whole tenor in this interview - my favourite parts of the Hulk were just the slam bang fun of it all, seeing him in CGI action. It was great when he was trashing those tanks and taking quarter-mile leaps. I wanted to see a lot more of that.
The Hulk is not a high brow concept but Ang Lee tried to make it a high brow concept. Okay, the closest connection to a literary example would be Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde, of course. But the problem with the Hulk is that he isnít a bad guy. Theyíre both basically good guys, Bruce Banner and the Hulk; thereís no contrast between them morally. The only real contrast is that the Hulk can chew steel and Banner canít. (Okay, so the Hulk is also an idiot; wow, lots of depth there!) So it's automatically in the realm of Ďwell, this is just for the fun, just for the muscles, just for the battles, just for the comic book fights.í Thatís really all the Hulk is for, and it should be left that way. Itíll never compete literarily with Jeckyl and Hyde and it shouldnít try.
DB: I think one of the best comic book movies Iíve seen in recent years was The Mummy, and that wasnít based on a comic.
NB: At least thereís a reason to fear The Mummy now. When I was a kid it was difficult for me to understand why people were so afraid of him. I mean, heíd only shuffle. <laughter>
DB: I used to sit there and watch the movies and think ďWhy donít you just run ≠ heís not gonna catch you.Ē
NB: Thatís right. The problem is, youíre going to have to sleep sooner or later and itís possible that The Mummy might catch up to you while youíre sleeping. Heíd probably have to disguise himself and get a plane ticket to find you. <laughter>
DB: When you started with the Batman were you ever told to follow a style?
NB: Not at all. In fact, looking back on it now Iím kind of amazed how completely free I felt to do my thing. Maybe thatís because I wasnít really challenging things in any particular way. Like I said earlier: without even trying, over the years of reading comics Iíd pretty much internalised what was allowable and what wasnít, so I just had fun with the parts that I knew were allowable. I suppose the most radical thing I did was some of the graffiti that I put in the backgrounds. But that was very little and later on.
DB: Do you think itís possible for someone to enter the field and leap straight onto a high profile job, and rise as rapidly as you did?
NB: Thatís too big a question for me to answer with any confidence, but I would assume itís possible. I donít know how likely it is though. I think itís possible because comics companies are still entranced with the idea of finding somebody thatís fresh; someone whose art hasnít yet been seen by many people. Itís not necessarily a question of how good they are, although thatís part of the equation. Itís more a question of how well they follow the present trends in the editorsí eyes. Freshness in comics is an important quality.
Iíve seen ads for new comics now, featuring artists Iíve never seen before, and right in the ad they call the artists Ďfuture superstars!í They didnít do that <laughs> back when I got into comics. Itís ridiculous; it would have seemed absurd. You know, who can predict the future? But theyíre actually doing that on a regular basis now.
DB: But is it predicting the future or telling you what youíre going to buy?
NB: Itís coming down to the same thing when itís in advertising right?
DB: When they sit there and say Ďthe next big thingí I always think thatís just the next big thing theyíre going to be pumping down my throat.
NB: Thatís right.
DB: Weather itís any good is moot.
NB: Well weíve got a fresh crop of new consumers being born all the time, and lack of discernment is one of the shortcomings or unfortunate qualities of youth. Theyíre going to see whatís plopped in front of them first. It might be why we havenít been given immortality yet, because it wouldnít be economically feasible for our elite masters; theyíd have to raise the quality of culture every year! Iíve often said the cure for all inadequacies in pop culture and art would be for everybody to be granted immortality. Within a hundred years the whole culture would change, itíd have to.
DB: If everybody were immortal weíd soon run out of spaces to be.
NB: Well, thatís what Iím saying, both physically and mentally.
DB: Either that or weíd have to stop breeding.
NB: Right. If we did stop breeding I would assume even the numbest skulls would become more sensitive over hundreds of years.
DB: Now, you worked on Mr T.
NB: Nice segue! <laughter>
Yeah, that was the best paying job I ever had in comics! And that was because they wanted me for some reason; they really, really wanted me, and I was really busy on Prime and I didnít really have the time, but they kept coming back with a better offer so I ended up saying, ďOkay, okay, Iíll do it.Ē
DB: Did you ever meet Mr T?
NB: Yeah, actually. I met him at one of the cons. It wasnít like it was a private meeting. He was in front of a crowd of fans signing his comics and I was introduced to him and he was all in Mr T mode, ďHey, howya doiní?Ē He didnít even know who I was, he was just treating me like I was a fan. I told him I drew his comic book and he said, ďHey, thatís great.Ē I was hoping Iíd be able to sell him one of the Mr. T cover paintings that I did, but it didnít really feel like the appropriate place to ask him ... or that heíd even be interested.
DB: How do you go about getting the likeness down on something like that?
NB: Mr T is pretty easy to do because heís got such obvious characteristics that donít relate to his genetically determined features. As long as youíve got a relatively muscular black guy thatís got the same haircut and the chains, youíve got Mr T. <laughter>
Heís not a very good example for what youíre asking, but I do know what youíre asking. I guess it would come down to the quality of the artist. Iíve done portraits and caricatures in the past, so I can do it fairly easily myself, but another artist might have difficulty with it.
DB: Iím surprised that Mr Tís comic book even got off the ground.
NB: It probably didnít make any money, considering the rates he was paying me, and Iíd bet Neal Adams got more than I got for the first issue or two.
I think the comic was an advertisement for another of his comebacks. I donít know if he was disappointed with the results or not, but I assume he probably was. I mean, I doubt he knew anything about comics. Because heís the centre of his world he mightíve thought they were going to be the greatest selling comics in history. <laughter>
DB: As an artist, what do you look for in an inker?
NB: I look for an inker who can draw, whoís an artist in his own right. Theyíre almost invariably the best inkers. Other than that, I guess Iíd tend to prefer an inker that would follow my lines - but I would adjust to the job if he didnít. Whatís a good example Ö Alfredo Alcala. With his inks he made everybodyís pencils look like his own work. Now if I had somebody like that working on my pencils, I would probably simplify my pencils.
In fact I did just that; I remember a specific job. It was Batman: The Abduction.† I forget the artistís name ... James Hodgkins. Heís a good inker, but he was changing so many of my penciled shadows that halfway through the book - when I started seeing the inks - I asked my editor Denny OíNeil if I could simplify my work to contour drawings (outlines) for the rest of the book and let James handle the shading. It was kind of a protest statement because I was a little upset at the time, but looking back on it, it was also a very rational thing to do because the inks werenít following my shading anyway. So we did the rest of the book that way and it turned out fine.
Iím really flexible. If Iím getting paid for a job - this comes back to how subversive my art is - if Iím being paid for a job by a company Iím not going to be subversive. Iíll just be getting the job done. And Iíve had very little chance to produce stuff thatís entirely my own since I started drawing comics eighteen years ago. I havenít had much of a chance to really explore that, except in my own mind. As an armchair philosopher, however, Iím very subversive.
DB: What traits do you look for in a writer?
NB: One of the basic things I look for in a comics writer is an understanding of the conventions of comics. Somebody that can write for comics specifically, who knows the form well. Somebody who wonít put in too many words or too many panels per page and will realize when it clashes with some dynamic action going on.
Iíd also prefer a writer being wedded to a character that he enjoys writing.
DB: When you work is it Marvel method or full script?
NB: Full script is considered DC and Marvelís more of the plot first method.
DB: I presume youíve worked with both methods. Which do you prefer?
NB: Iím asked that question a lot and my answer used to depend on which way†Iíd been doing it for a while; Iíd get used to doing it one way and tend to prefer that. But Iíve worked both ways so many times now that I donít see it as much of an issue anymore.
Instead, the salient point for me now is the amount of copy per page. If thereís a lot of it, if thereís a lot of dialogue or narration, then I prefer going full script because the copy can take up as much as 50% or more of the space on the page. And I design my pages with the copy in mind.
All that said, In general I prefer full script even if itís got less copy because then I can design where the word balloons and narration fit in; I can blue line them into specific areas. I think in the final analysis full script is a superior form and way to work. Its success is more dependant on the writer being really good, so it encourages good writing from someone that understands comics well. And that also encourages getting a really good artist that understands comics well and can do the script justice.
DB: If thereís one piece of work that youíd be able to look at and say, ďThatís completely representative of me,Ē what would it be?
NB: My pat answer would be itís the piece I havenít done yet, but my best real example thatís been in print so far would be Metaphysique. But I was just at the tail end of a long period of drawing comics very quickly where, if anything, Iíd gotten my formula down too well, and I felt rushed through it. I also should have told the story in at least three times as many issues. Nevertheless, I guess Iíd say Metaphysique is most representative of me because I put the whole package together; I wrote it, pencilled it, inked it, painted the covers, and inserted my own philosophy into it.
If youíre referring to artwork alone without my writing, one of my top answers would be Batman: Birth Of The Demon, the fully painted origin of Raís al Ghul, written by Raísí creator, Denny OíNeil. But even that one was rushed. I was basically adapting drawing techniques to colour to give a fully painted effect. It wasnít what I generally consider to be truly fully painted. Ideally it would have been all oil paintings, every page. But that takes way too long.
DB: Alex Ross manages to get away with it.
NB: Yeah, but he takes a long time. He does like one or two pages a week. I was doing a page a day on Birth Of The Demon!
DB: How fast do you normally work?
NB: Well, itís easiest to break it down by page. On average, the design part of the page - where I do it as a small thumbnail sketch - takes about half an hour. Then I blow it up with a light box or by eye and that takes maybe another half an hour to an hour. And then the inking - ironically, although the pencilling pays more for me the inking takes me longer - probably takes another three hours on average. So weíre talking about four to five hours on average per page.
When I was working on Prime, I was able to pencil and ink two pages per day. Now, however, Iím always striving to do something unique on the page, to do something better, so I would say itís more like a page a day.
DB: Youíve an incredible amount of artwork for sale on your site. Did you ever have any problems getting your artwork back from publishers?
NB: Iíve had a problem with getting it back promptly, but I generally donít even bother with it; I just wait for them to send it. No, I always get it back, or almost always. Thereís such a small number of examples where I didnít that I probably couldnít even remember them now. A page here or there inevitably gets lost in the shuffle. But no, theyíre pretty good about that since what happened with Kirbyís stuff.