may or may not know, The Dark Knight Rises hits movie theaters tonight at midnight. To capitalize on the general Batman frenzy, DC Comics released Batman: Earth One earlier this month from the superstar team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank. This original graphic novel is the second in DC’s “Earth One” line (after J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis’ Superman: Earth One) designed as stand alone, continuity-free stories with the general non-comics reading public in mind.
Earlier today I chatted with Gary Frank about Batman: Earth One, as well as his continuing collaboration with Geoff Johns on the Shazam! back-ups stories found every month in the pages of Justice League.
iFanboy: You must be really excited to have the work finally out there for everyone to see.
Gary Frank: Yeah, it was a long time just kind of waiting for it to be out there on the shelves. I finished the pencils, as you probably know, quite a while ago. We had a lot of the process still to go afterwards–the inks, colors, lettering, revisions and stuff. But then even when all that was done there was still a bit of time before it actually came out. It’s finally out there and it’s a huge relief, especially given the reaction–it’s been phenomenal–so yeah, I’m very pleased.
iF: It must be weird because, with a monthly comic book, you sort of have an instant gratification–at least more than most media–you draw it and it’s out there relatively quickly, whereas this one sat for a while and you had to wait for everyone to see it.
GF: It’s true. It’s very hard. To have that feedback when you’re doing a monthly… you’re getting encouragement and everything as you go, and you can see a product at the end of the day for all the hours that you spend at the drawing board, but with this it just kind of felt like I was posting the pages down a black hole. It didn’t feel like they were every going to see the light of day again. Yeah, when it finally came out it was fantastic.
iF: How long did you take to draw Batman: Earth One from start to finish?
GF: Oh god. I’ve got no idea. I was trying to calculate that myself the other day. I was asking my wife and she was saying, “I don’t know, was it two years?” And I said, “It can’t possibly be two years!” I really don’t know. But because the script also came in in chunks it wasn’t like I had the thing and I started and I grinded my way through it. There were pauses and breaks as well so it is very very hard to calculate how much time I spent on it. But what was it? Was it 138 pages in the end? So you know, it was a fair chunk of work. That grew by the way as well. It was supposed to be a bit shorter than that but there just kept being new things that Geoff [Johns] wanted to put in. So it grew and grew as we were working.
GF: Just from talking with Geoff. We were getting on so well with the Superman stuff and it was something we talked about for a long time before starting it. It was always going to be there when we finished the Superman stuff. Normally I don’t like to stick with a single character for too long, but I was enjoying the Superman stuff so much that it took a very, very exciting project to pry me off of that. Even at the end of Secret Origin I was still hungry to do more Superman stuff, in fact I’d still like to do more Superman stuff again at some point. But obviously this was too good of an opportunity to turn down, doing Batman, and doing Batman with Geoff as well. I had just a fantastic time working with him on the previous books. It was the perfect project.
iF: Let’s talk about that a little bit. You work a lot with Geoff Johns, how does that collaboration work? What is it about your relationship that works so well?
GF: I mean, apart from Geoff being one of the best writers in comics, he does things that I like, and I must do things that he likes. We both very much like to explore the character rather than having an over-arching theme or a high concept. It’s much more about getting down to the meat of the character. It’s the stuff that I enjoy drawing and Geoff just has an incredible talent for seeing what is at the heart of these iconic characters, many of which have accumulated clutter over the decades. He’s just got a real eye for sweeping that stuff away and getting to the heart of what makes a character likeable and sympathetic and interesting in the first place. That’s the kind of stuff that I like to do as well, I like the human element, I like to explore the personality and the nature of the character in terms of their facial expressions and body language, the way that they behave. So for me it’s a very rich area to explore.
iF: With a project of this size, and with this time commitment, did you have a lot of input on the story and how things would go or was that all Geoff Johns?
GF: Well we talked a lot when we were going through it, and there are bits and pieces in there which are mine. Obviously Geoff has the core story [in mind] and he knows roughly what he’s going to do with that, but I tried to throw in bits and pieces of my own as we went through. And we talk a lot as we work and we kind of explore ideas together. He works in a very collaborative way, Geoff. There’s no ego with him at all He will talk to somebody and whatever he thinks is the best idea at the end of the day, he’ll go with that, whether it be his or whether it be someone else’s. He just wants to do the best story that he can and I think it shows, you can see it. Like I said, there’s a richness to the characters that I think is very, very hard to find elsewhere.
iF: One of the things that jumps out immediately when you look at the book is that you’ve redesigned a couple of the characters. There’s Batman’s costume, but there’s also Alfred, who is an Alfred we’ve never seen before. How did these redesigns come about? What was the thinking behind them?
GF: The idea that Geoff had for the story–the whole point, kind of–what was going to be different about our Batman was that he was going to be assembled from the influences of the characters around him, the supporting cast they were going to effect how Batman developed. So for each of the characters in the supporting cast, there had to be something which they offered to Bruce in terms of helping him develop into the character that he became. So from Alfred’s point of view–Alfred’s obviously the first influence that he had, he’s the father figure and the parent figure–we talked about what we could do with Alfred and how we could make him relevant in that way. And the idea that he would be more of a bodyguard than a butler. The scene where he meets the young Bruce in the kitchen after the death of Bruce’s parents and he says, “I’m your butler,” he’s just reaching for a word, he doesn’t really know what to say. He never intended to be a butler but how does he explain what he does to a little kid? So that was kind of the genesis of Alfred and the nature of the character. It all comes from what they actually need to offer and how they can serve the story. All of the characters develop in some way which will allow them to serve the theme of the story.
iF: It must be nice to be able to put your stamp on a different version, and create something new out of a familiar character.
GF: Yeah. Yeah, it is. They’re some of the great icons and it’s great to be able to kind of be let off the leash when you’re working with these characters. The creative freedom that you get and the ability to be able to kind of come at them with almost a blank slate… or even know kind of roughly how “our Batman” will eventually become–because he’s not going to evolve into anything massively different to the Batman in the regular continuity–but at the same time how we get there, how we can kind of explore the humanity of the character is fascinating. And it comes out in the visuals as well–things like the costume–and everything is kind of designed with that in mind: taking that theme of “development” with the character and serving that story.
iF: Are you working on Batman: Earth One, Vol. 2 right now?
GF: Well, we’re talking about it at this stage, and I’m sure that Geoff is typing away, but at the moment I haven’t lifted a pencil for it. I’m still neck deep in Shazam!, so until I get that in the post and done and out of the way I’m probably going to be mainly concentrating on that. I’m already kind of thinking of some design elements and stuff [for Vol. 2] but a lot of it is going to depend on what I start seeing when Geoff starts getting pages in. So, we’ll see.
iF: Are you looking forward to returning to Gotham City?
GF: Yeah. Despite the fact that everybody keeps saying that it’s such a dark place and such a bleak place I find it quite rich. It’s a fun place as well. I mean, it shouldn’t be–it’s quite a dark place–but it’s just fun playing in that. I guess it’s like playing a computer game or something, it might take place in a dark setting but it’s a hell of a lot of fun cutting loose there. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
I must admit I’m thoroughly enjoying Shazam! as well. Doing the scenes in the zoo and things like that, and trying to kind of get a feeling of magic. I’m just trying to kind of help it feel a little different to a regular superhero universe and that’s fun as well.
iF: It’s sort of similar to Batman: Earth One in that you get to put your own stamp on a familiar character.
GF: Yeah. Yeah. This is all Geoff. It’s kind of just what he’s doing at the moment. He’s just trying to find ways to make some of these characters–I mean obviously, Batman, you couldn’t possibly describe one of the most successful characters in comics as being broken in any way–but certainly Shazam! is a character that hasn’t really been able to sustain a major series for a long time. And great though the idea–at the core of Shazam! is a wonderful idea–there are also elements that were very much of their time. You know, Geoff is obviously finding some way to tap into what made the character great and at the same time remove some of the stuff that might have been holding Shazam! back from appealing to a modern audience.