Newly minted Los Angeles resident Chris Burnham made his first visit to the CBR Speakeasy, sitting down with Jonah Weiland to discuss the impetus for his move, the beginnings of his work with Grant Morrison on Batman to their upcoming creator-owned collaboration on “Nameless” at Image Comics. Burnham also talks about branching out beyond comics and being inspired by stories in other medium, his dark side and fulfilling a dream with a backup story in “Savage Dragon” #200.
On what made him move from Chicago to Los Angeles: I’m having a great time with comics but I imagined, after I get the next couple comic projects under my belt, I would like to see what storyboards are like, can I work in video games or movies or whatever. Might just be another fun thing to try. You know, any way to get paid doing drawings — that was my goal leaving college was I wanted to get paid money — paid adult money — to draw robots and shit. It’s working out pretty well.
On his working relationship with Grant Morrison: It’s a little different from issue to issue. Sometimes he’s more specific and sometimes he’s more, “Go for it, kid!” It’s somewhere in between straight up Marvel style, which is just like the writer gives you a plot and then the artist draws everything and the writer does the dialogue — so it’s somewhere between Marvel style and a full script sort of style. It kind of depends on the page in question. Sometimes it’s very specific, sometimes [it will have] half the dialogue and, “Here, go watch this movie and make this page feel like this scene from the movie,” which I think is always kind of a fun challenge.
I think the reason we work well together is he’s very conceptual and crazy and I’m very almost Asperg-y in my storytelling rules. What is it? I’m left-brained, he’s right-brained, if you believe in that sort of thing. I think we’ve got the yin and yang covered. Maybe I ground his crazy ideas and he makes my grounded storytelling a little bit crazier.
On dealing with the pressure of working on “Batman, Inc.”: The first little story I did for “Batman and Robin” #16, the last issue of Grant’s “Batman and Robin” run, the deadline was so tight and it was so “GET IT DONE! GET IT DONE!” I didn’t really have time to freak out about it. But then my first issue of “Batman, Inc.”, which was #4 — which was three stories in one… That I had months ahead of time to worry about. That was a really stressful month or two working on that. I was working, and Yanick Paquette was drawing issue #3 at the same time that I was drawing #4. We were all on this one giant e-mail thread and I would see his pages coming in as I was turning mine in and I was all, “Good god, people are gonna hate what I’m doing.” I was really, really terrified this was my one shot at it and everyone was gonna hate it — my one shot an d then, “Bah, back down to the minors for you.” It was a really, really stressful month. People like the comic and looking back on it I think that comic is pretty awesome. … After that, the work kind of becomes so all-consuming that you can’t really stress about, “Oh, does Batman look right?” It just kind of becomes your job to do it.
On what he can share about “Nameless”: What I can say is that the first e-mail Grant ever sent me was, “Let’s do ‘Batman, Inc.’ for a while and then we’ll do our own creator-owned thing and take the world by storm.” Like, the first e-mail I ever got from the guy. Seriously, it validated my entire life or whatever. [Laughs] Your favorite writer basically handed you the keys to your career. It was amazing. So we’ve been talking on and off for the last three years about what sort of thing we want do and I always told him that my favorite comic of his is “The Filth,” and I’d like to do something that crazy. … I just love his creepy stuff. He’s never — I guess he did a couple issue of “Swamp Thing,” even though Mark Millar took all the credit Grant was really co-writing the book the whole time — there’s a little comic book gossip for you. But after “Swamp Thing” he’s never done a straight up horror book. He has horrible things happen in most of his comics but that’s not really the driving force. I said, “Let’s just do the worst, most horrible comic ever,” and that’s what we’re going for.
On doing a story in “Savage Dragon” #200 and the appeal of Erik Larsen’s long running creator-owned series: “Dragon” is one of my favorite comics ever. It’s maybe the only comic I own every single issue of, all 192 issues or whatever. I love it. I’m gonna get to draw Dimension X. … I really like that it is entirely [Larsen’s] world and he has complete command and mastery of the main character all the way down to the stupid little supporting characters that only show up once every couple years, and he just does whatever he wants with them. The stakes are always super high in “Savage Dragon.” He killed people at the drop of a hat, so when they’re going on a mission to fight the Doctor Doom guy, that Doctor Doom guy is probably gonna kill someone.