When it comes to his work on the creator-owned Dynamite Entertainment series “The Boys,” Darick Robertson never really left. Over the course of the occasionally over-the-top superhero satire, the artist has been in on every issue at least providing covers even when writer Garth Ennis has worked with artistic collaborators ranging from Peter Snejbjerg to John McCrea. However, since the book’s move from its original home at WildStorm necessitated Robertson’s splitting time between “The Boys” and a slate of books like “The Authority” and “Prototype,” there have been days when the artist missed drawing the depraved and dastardly actions of superheroes that Butcher, Wee Hughie and the rest of the Boys deal with on a daily basis.
But for 2010, Robertson plans on returning to the fold in full force. Kicking off with the new “The Innocents” arc landing in stores this March, the artist explained to CBR that he plans on making more and more time to spend with he and Ennis’ creations from defining the look and feel of the new, honestly good team Superduper to deepening the lives of mainstays like Annie January and The Female.
CBR News: Darick, before we got into the ins and outs of the new stories on the book, I wanted to take a step back to talk a little bit about your whole run to date. When it comes to taking on a task like “The Boys,” you go into the game knowing it’s a “Glorious Five-Year Plan” so to speak, and that you’ll be working on one big chunk of story over a long period of time. What’s the attraction for you in doing that with a series like this?
Darick Robertson: Well, a funny thing happened on the way to achieving my five year plan. It reminds me of the old proverb about how to make God laugh: tell him your five year plan.
I was attracted to the idea of doing this whole series from all the components involved in the very beginning, 1) My successful collaborating relationship with Garth Ennis, 2) my great relationship with Wildstorm, and 3) My then exclusivity to DC Comics. It seemed a no-brainer. Garth is one of the most consistently reliable and brilliant writers working in comics, so I knew I could count on him, and Wildstorm was enthusiastically behind the title and our agenda, so I was set and was ready to devote myself to “The Boys” 100%. Then we got canceled at issue 6. The transition to Dynamite was a fortuitous one as DC was great about coordinating the transition over and Nick Barrucci was even more excited about getting the book.
Now, that being said, we all know that the whole “working on one book for five years” idea didn’t quite line up the way you thought it would…
Not at all. [Chuckles]
What has it been like for you to end up swapping new pages with your DC work? Obviously, it put a lot on your plate, but did you get energized in some ways by shifting between groups of characters and kinds of stories?
To be honest, it was an seemingly great opportunity on the surface. My exclusive was extended, and I got benefits my family needed, like health insurance, and a continued working relationship with DC/Wildstorm. But I had decided going into “The Boys” it would be my only book, and that got derailed as I tried to balance out my schedule with everything I ended up being obligated to do. Best laid plans of mice and men and all that…
I’m pretty good at handling more than one project at a time, but the end of 2009 was so stressful I have once again cleared my immediate schedule to focus on getting “The Boys” and various Boys covers done and in place so I’m not “up a tree” anymore in 2010. Wish me luck!
On the flip side of that, what’s it been like watching other artists like John McCrea and Carlos Ezquerra play with your characters?
Well, with all due respect to both those guys, as they’re great at what they do, it was a little like seeing your girlfriend out with another guy because you had to work on a Friday night. But like the Who sings in “The Kids Are Alright”: “I don’t mind, other guys dancing with my girl. It’s fine, I know them all pretty well” John and Carlos are top artists.
It’s more that I really wanted this series to be just a whole, pure run, like on “Transmetropolitan” when I was able to draw all 60 issues, but this was going to be the one I penciled and inked every single one, and if I had time, all the side mini series. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to work as steadily as I hoped to, and fill-ins have become a necessary reality for a monthly book. I was a unmarried guy in my 20s for most of the “Transmet” run, and I’m nearly ten years older since that ended. Now I’m a father and have two young sons that need my time, so I’m not the same guy I used to be and don’t have that same time to devote solely to my career anymore.
Do you have a kind of “Boys Style Guide” that you share with people who help pitch in either in terms of actual, physical art or just a verbal set of ideas you like to impart on them?
Just the existing issues and some character designs I sent to John so he could move ahead. So far I have been able to keep the design lead which has been good for my pace. Carlos tweaked the Seven’s outfits for his issues, but I don’t know that I’ll have to adhere to them for the story to move on when I draw them again.
We have decided that John McCrea will be our reliable go-to fill in artist. My obligation to the monthly book will be 8 issues a year and he’ll fill in at strategic story points so it’s less jarring in the transitions between us. I had every intention of being the sole artist on “The Boys” but reality dictates otherwise, and I’d rather see the title remain steady than the pressure of issues being late because of me. My work will look better too!
One of the things that I think makes the series work is your ability to convey how the characters are thinking and feeling.
Thank you! That’s where my effort goes.
A lot has been made of your modeling Hughie after Simon Pegg, but regardless of where the visual inspiration comes from, what about this series works your “on-page acting” muscles so much? Does having real faces in your mind help accomplish that effect?
Yes, very much so. There was a practical reason I based Hughie on Simon. It gave me something to look at for consistency. Butcher and Frenchie’s faces keep evolving because they’re these phantoms in my head that I’m chasing, and until I see it appear on the page I’m challenged by their looks. I want them to look this way I see, and sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But the deadline is always looming and good enough has to be.
The other big selling point that Garth brings to the table for the book is the over the top nature of each new “case” the Boys look into. For you as the artist, does the largely satirical nature of the series make drawing some occasionally gruesome, occasionally perverse stuff easier, or do you have to constantly brace yourself to have some rather uncouth reference materials on hand while getting into a new script?
I think people have a perception that I’m much nicer than I really am. I’m friendly and good natured, but I have a really sick sense of humor. I love dark humor. Go back and look at “Space Beaver” and you’ll see these cute animals cutting up each other with guts pouring out, brains exploding out…This was long before I met Garth! I think it’s why Garth, Warren Ellis and I connected and made these comics what they are. I think Garth is brilliant, and if he makes me feel something when I get a script, then I try to convey that to the audience. I want my characters to perform that dread or awfulness I feel reading about a kid being sucked out of an airplane and his mother screaming in futility or the dying moments of a woman torn in half. I want to bring that drama to the page as best I can. The fact that Garth has a point behind those punches is what makes me want this series to be the best it can be. While our first half of the series was fraught with rough scheduling I am hoping the second half can be the series I wanted it to be artistically.
Do you have a favorite moment you’ve drawn in the book so far?
I would say it’s still “Terror” in issue two, seeing what he does on command. Getting that dog just right and drawing the little dog’s reaction was fun and gratifying to get the reactions. But the book is full of moments I’m proud of pulling off, and I think the road ahead is going to be full of even more.
“The Boys” seems to work your design muscles quite a bit as well, both in terms of specific character design and in terms of cover design. Do you spend a lot of time sketching out bits and pieces of what finally comes across on the page after seeing what next level Garth is taking the story to, or do you do a lot of your composing on the page as you work?
Both. There’s not much time for sketching as every issue is being waited for at this point, but I have a different way of working on this series with Garth than any other project, including what we’ve previously done together. I show him everything at the sketch stage and work it until Garth is happy with the end result. I think the key to the success of the book is our close collaboration and my devotion to bringing his vision to the page and delivering the best Garth Ennis book I can draw. Dynamite has given us free reign, so I am hopeful it will be a great run when it’s completed.
Getting into some of the recent stories, your return to the book on a more full time basis coincided with the origins of characters like Frenchie and The Female. Had telling those stories been something you really wanted to get back in time for?
Yes, and I took as much time as I could to make them just so. Those were crucial stories in the arc, being the origins. So I stressed out my publisher more than I wanted to, but these books live in print a lot longer than their monthly release and I wanted those particular stories to look as good as I could make them.
How did drawing each of the origin stories put you back in the swing of the series full time?
I was finishing those last two origins, Frenchman and Female, as Convention season was upon me, so it was still a challenge. John will be filling in on issue #39, and I just finished #40 as I write this and am devoting myself to getting ahead this first part of 2010 so fill-ins can happen smoothly instead of suddenly as they’ve been.
Up next is “The Innocents” which promises to both take the bigger character story for the team forward and introduce some new fun elements for the Boys world. To take the latter idea first, what were your goals for Superduper as a team?
My main goal is to make them lovable.
Did you want them to look and feel different than someone like The Seven because of their “strange” outlook on heroing as opposed to what we’re used to seeing in the book?
Yes, and since it’s about the heroes in this universe that aren’t wicked, like the Seven and Teenage Kix, I want to reflect that in their ways and being. They’re kind to each other and really want to be good at what they do. They’re true believers. It should be a viable contrast to what we’ve seen so far from the Supes in the Boys world. There will be big revelations within the Boys team as well, and that will change things moving forward. Walls are going to come down. I drew one of the most disturbing pages ever for “Boys” #40, so not that the gloves were on before, but they are off for this opening issue.
As we get closer and closer into the home stretch on the series, elements like Butcher’s background and Hughie’s relationship with Annie are becoming more important and more complicated.
Indeed and this arc deals with that relationship.
How does it feel to be this far into the characters lives?
I feel close to the characters which makes it difficult not drawing everything they do.
Do you have moments or arcs that you’ve been wanting to get to on the long term front, or do you still play most of this series as a “what’s in front of me now” kind of process?
Honestly I have no choice since it’s a work in progress, and I don’t always know what’s next. Like the first issue, I read the script, and felt like a reader, then realized “I get to DRAW THIS!”… I still think it’s all a great unfolding story.
“The Boys” #40, part 1 of “The Innocents” ships to comic shops this March.