Interview: Frazer Irving on BATMAN AND ROBIN (and Professor Pyg too)

Pressed for one word to sum up the most recent story arc in Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin, I'd probably go with "crowbar." Two more? How about "Frazer Irving?" If you didn't already know his work from 2000 ADGutsville (with Simon Spurrier over at Image), Seven Soldiers, or even the recent Return of Bruce Wayne #2 (puritans, tentacles), issues #13-15 of B&R definitely should've left a mark. It certainly roughed up the Joker a bit. 

This week I had the opportunity to ask Irving a few questions about the run and his artistic aproach with regard to character and atmosphere.

Paul Montgomery: Let's talk about "Batman and Robin Must Die." B&R was only twelve issues old when you came to it, but already had a pretty impressive pedigree. Did Frank Quitely's original approach have any bearing on how you designed the book? How specific was Grant Morrison with regard to the visual style and language of the arc? How much room did you have to play here?
Frazer irving: I tried to avoid being influenced too much by any of the previous artists outside of using their work for reference on details, as that would have caused conflict with the visual language I was using overall. The problems that would have arisen would have been like one character resembling Quitely's arc, another resembling Tan's, another looking like the mutant drooling offspring of Cameron and Andy etc. Deciding on how to draw the costumes was tricky, and I sorta followed Quitely's lead on that with the seams and everything but overall I aimed to keep it as clean as possible.
Grant's scripts are more evocative than prescriptive. There are some very specific details that he insists are included to further the plot, but the real magic lies in how he provokes imagery in the artists mind by using dialogue and description of mood/flavour. The scripts are always way spicier than the art, but I think that's a good thing as opposed to a dull script which needs perking up with lots of explosions. I only ever manage to get 50% or so of what the script conjures up onto the page in my art, which always brings me down but judging by the reaction it's had I assume any more and the pages would ignite.
PM: When I think back on this arc, I still marvel at the bold color choices. There's at least one dramatic scene, a conversation between Batman and Jim Gordon in issue #13, rendered in vibrant pink. It seems like such a left field choice, but it totally works. Can you talk a little bit about color choice and atmosphere in scenes like this?
FI: That scene in particular was dictated by the lights in the tunnel, but the mood it created ended up being contrasted nicely by the blues later. I often deal with overall page hues to simplify stuff, and then deal with what goes on inside later. It helps to break scenes up and to create a rhythm with the action, and sometimes one hue is all it needs. Strong colours work well in scenes where there is limited action, as the richness becomes an activating factor, much like the colours in Watchmen or Killing Joke did.
PM: Let's get down to the disturbing stuff, because there's whole heaps of it in this arc. You got to put the Joker through the ringer in this one. He's obviously more than just a scary clown. What's your take on the character, and how does that influence the way you draw him?
FI: The Joker has never really interested me as a character, mainly due to me not having read any stories that really hit that nerve…Killing Joke was more about Batman for me, as was The Dark Knight and so on. I liked what he *could* be, in that the ingredients really had a lot of potential, but it didn't really click until I read Grant's version in the script and all of a sudden I knew this lunatic. Drawing characters often brings them far closer to you than if you're just reading them, and after all these years I finally think I dig the joker properly…or more specifically, I dig Grant Morrisons joker 🙂 As for drawing him, well I get the Joker grin when doing the doodles and the ache in my face sort of influences it, but a lot of this stuff is instinctual so i find it hard to back trace the origins of specifics.
PM: And as sadistic and unsettling as the Joker is, Morrison's unleashed Professor Pyg upon the world. A character who takes pleasure in horrendous pain. But with the mask, he's also a bit of a mystery. What's your take on his design? Does the mask make him even creepier? Do we even want to know what's going on behind it? 
FI: I know who he is, but I'm not telling. The mask is awesome, as it's so stupid yet it makes him so pervy. Masks have always been good at enhancing horror as they never change whilst the rest of the scene distorts wildly around them…it's that calm evil static face staring during moments of insanity…kinda like the Joker's smile I guess…but the fact that Pyg is such an outrageous sleaze makes it even more disturbing. Quitely's take on him really appealed to me but I knew I had to make him even greasier when it came to my turn.
PM: Depending on the individual artist's interpretation, it's often easy to forget Damien Wayne is around ten years old. You took him to some pretty bleak places in this story, and part of the reason those scenes were so effective (and affective) was that he really did look like a deranged little kid. Was there a challenge there in balancing him? One moment he's torturing and the next he's being tortured. 
FI: No, Damien acted perfectly in my head. My only challenge was trying to keep his physique consistent yet still work within the activities he was supposed to play out. Grant writes him so well that he was one of the easiest things to work with…so much that I barely noticed any problems drawing him when all the others had constant challenges.
PM: Hopefully this isn't the last we've seen of you in Gotham. You've already shown us your vision of Joker and Pyg, but are there any other rogues from Batman's gallery you're itching to draw? 
FI: Poison Ivy. Hey, I never get asked to draw the semi-naked characters. I can draw a mean glistening skin!
PM: What's next?
Gutsville until January, and then another DC gig which I am forbidden to mention at this point, but it contains no picnics.


  1. Great interview! I always find it interesting to hear from artists, and their take on things.

  2. Interesting interview. Big fan of Frazer Irving

  3. Cool interview Paul.  I’m not a huge fan of Irving, but I appreiciate his perspective on how he constructs comics and figures out characters.

  4. I find Mr. Irving’s art to be incredibly interesting.  It isn’t always my favorite, but it is generally worth taking the time to enjoy.

  5. I enjoy Irving work on BnR. 

    It’s a great visual acid-trip that works very well with this arc.  

  6. Fans of Irving should definitely check out Necronauts, Charles Fort, Arthur Conan Doyle, HP lovecraft and Harry Houdini battling an occult Illuminati all rendered in some honestly amazing Black and White artwork by Frazier.