From his early work with 2000 AD through his first American work in the Vertigo title “The Losers” to his run on “Detective Comics” with Scott Snyder, from providing every cover to Jason Aaron’s “Scalped” and on to concept work for films and acclaimed poster designs for Mondo, the mononomic auteur has brought his gritty, design-oriented style and distinctive flair. Weiland and Jock spent an hour before a rapt audience, unpacking this diverse body of work, looking to future projects like his upcoming Image title “Wytches,” and speculating on the struggles of Judge Dredd in America.
Weiland opened up the conversation with Jock by asking about the cover of “Detective Comics” #880, which features a surreal portrait of the Joker whose face fades into a swirling swarm of bats. The image went viral the instant the book hit the shelves. “When I did the cover, I thought it was okay,” Jock admitted. “I sent a progress shot to my editor at the time, Mike Marts, and I said, ‘How is this looking?’ and he said, ‘Like the best cover I’ve ever seen!’ and I said, ‘Oh, um, that’s nice Mike, thanks,’ but didn’t really think that much of it. And then I put it on Twitter and my feed for two days was just a constant either comment or a re-Tweet. I’d never known anything like it. Now it’s on bathing suits, cups t-shirts, towels… I’ve never had response like that before.’
When pressed for more details about the famous cover, Jock was nonchalant. “I was doing ‘The Black Mirror’ with Scott Snyder, the Batman story that we did together with Francisco Francavilla, and the Joker was going to be in one episode, maybe two, and I knew that if we were going to do the Joker — and Scott felt this as well — that we had to make him as freaky, and as scary, and as twisted as we could, and I just had to represent that on the cover. The Bat-symbol pupils were inspired by the Nintendo video game. I think Jim Aparo had given him Bat-pupils and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ and I just ran with it.” Jock claimed to have no idea it was going to be as big as it was. “You can’t kind of go, ‘Oh, yeeaah!’ That’s not how you’re wired, or not how I’m wired any way.”
Weiland then shifted gears to Jock recent run in Marvel’s “Savage Wolverine,” the first thing that the longtime artist has ever written. “You have a comfort zone with your art,” said Weiland. “I imagine you didn’t have that same comfort zone with your writing.”
“You’re absolutely right,” Jock agreed. “Every artist I know, and I’m included… I can’t be particularly confident with what I do. I just go in every day and try to do the best job I can with the thing that I am doing. But what was particularly interesting about when I was working on ‘Savage Wolverine,’ I think that, as humans, we have like 20% of our brain that always questions yourself. When I was working on that, all of that went on the writing. The artwork was just a breeze! I just didn’t worry about it. I just got on with it.
“I think you’ve got to question yourself,” he continued. “You’ve got to push yourself, you’ve got to worry about what you’re doing. Because otherwise, why would anyone else care what you’re doing? If you’re not putting everything you’ve got into it? It was a really interesting experience, literally the first thing that I’ve ever written. I’m happy with what I was going for, but I’d like to do more to improve.”
The conversation moved on to Jock’s first American work on “The Losers,” his Vertigo collaboration with Andy Diggle.
“We had no clue what we were doing. Literally, no clue,” Jock exclaimed. “But we were really hungry for it, and we just put everything we had into it. If that hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”
Jock reminisced about missing the Los Angeles premiere of the “Losers” movie because of the 2010 eruption of the Icelandic volcano EyjafjallajÃ¶kull, which grounded all transatlantic air travel between Europe and the US. “It was like five days out of all of history that aviation goes down in the UK. And I had already bought my nice suit that I was going to wear! [Andy Diggle and I] ended up seeing it with Idris Elba instead, because he couldn’t go either. We ended up seeing it in London, which was still nice. Not quite the same. I break that suit out at any opportunity now. I paid a lot of money for that suit!”
“You don’t really need to dress up for work or anything,” Weiland quipped.
“I should! I should walk down my garden looking like a million dollars. Or at least, you know, a hundred quid,” Jock replied.
The conversation turned to the trend of other people “borrowing” Jock’s aesthetic, especially in Hollywood. “You did an interview with us, and you talked about going out to Burbank and meeting with the marketing team [for ‘Losers] and they admitted to you that they stole one of your covers for an ‘Ocean’s 12’ poster,” Jonah said.
“Yeah, they did, just as if it was no big deal. And I was kind of flattered at the time! But then I thought, ‘Wait, am I flattered?’ But they did! They took a ‘Losers’ cover of them walking across the numbers and used it for ‘Ocean’s 12.’ To be fair, though, we definitely had ‘Ocean’s 11’ in our minds when we were thinking about tone for that series, so I guess it’s all just cross-pollination.”
After citing a couple more examples of work that other people had thought he had done but hadn’t really — a ‘World War Z’ cover and the first teaser posters for ‘The Wolverine’ — the artist got philosophical about influence. “It’s funny, I just work in a room all by myself, but of course this stuff does go out there, and people do see it. And of course designers in offices are going to be keeping their eye out for stuff. Fortunately, in comics, people do see what we’re up to, which is great!”
Shifting gears to the upcoming Image title “Wytches,” Weiland read a quote from writer Scott Snyder about the series: “I want ‘Wytches’ to be the book that I feel terrible about at my kid’s soccer game. I want this book to be like, you read it and say, ‘They let this guy write Superman?!'”
“If you’re going to go for it, then go for it!” Jock said in response to the quote. “Scott has clearly got a big horror influence on his writing. The Batman story we did was a horror story, and I was quite surprised they let us do it. I remember being fifteen and reading ‘Pet Semetary’ and I remember actually being scared of turning the pages of a book. That’s kind of an amazing thing to do! That’s our goal: to make people scared.”
Weiland asked about some of the non-comics work that Jock does — his film posters for Mondo and other concept design work — and what that work offers Jock creatively. “It’s just sort of flexing different muscles,” he replied. “Comics are really, really hard work. Drawing interior pages can be a grind, it’s a real commitment. I just have a different speed on the other stuff. When you’re doing the film concept design stuff, you’re getting a weekly rate, so you’re not getting paid per page. You can just take it steady and really get into what you’re doing. Same with the poster stuff. You’ve got generally pretty generous deadlines, so it’s just a different kind of speed. But that’s also what makes comics so good! They’ve got a rhythm. Good storytelling should have a pace and a kind of overall tone of it. It’s not just about the one image, but the overall thing. So it just requires a different kind of mindset I suppose. It’s nice to balance all those things.”
One recent film that Jock had done considerable amounts of design work on was “Dredd,” which received an effusive response when footage premiered at Comic-Con International in San Diego, but which failed to connect with a larger audience in the theaters. Weiland wondered why the Judge Dredd character seems to be so difficult for American audiences. “It’s disappointing that it didn’t do better because it would have helped the chance of a sequel,” Jock said. “But I feel like that movie will hang around for a long time and will have a special place for people. People seem to love it. The fact that it didn’t do the money you might want it to do is a shame, but it’s still a good movie.”
Jock polled the audience to see how many people there had actually read any Judge Dredd comics, and got only a smattering of hands. “2000 AD and Judge Dredd in particular was a satire on America by British people, for British people. There’s a lot of comedy in it as well, but black comedy. And the other thing, with the movie of course, is mainstream America might think that it’s a sequel to the Sylverster Stallone ‘Judge Dredd’ movie…”
“Do you guys all hate us for making that movie?!” Weiland asked, to a laugh from the audience.
“But it was a British guy, the director, Danny Cannon, grew up a Dredd fan!” Jock offered, leaving the mystery of “Dredd’s” disappointing turn for another day.
A member of the audience asked a question about Jock’s distinct design sensibilities and his influences outside of the world of comics. “Design-wise, I’ve always liked things outside of comics, as well as comics. There isn’t a lot of great design sense in comics, so maybe if you have even a little bit you stand out. I haven’t had any formal training, I just try to do what looks good. I’m totally aware of design and totally aware of how that’s a strength, but that’s not something that I’ve done myself. I want to make a comic that I can give to anyone, even if they’re not a comics fan.”
“You have such a strong design sense, have you ever thought about directing a movie?” Weiland asked.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it quite a lot, actually,” Jock said. An audience member chimed in with “Dredd 2!” which brought another big laugh. Jock mused about all of the skills that are similar between making a comic and directing, and remembered sitting in the editing room on “Dredd” and thinking, “I could do this…” He hasn’t pursued anything yet, but assured the audience that the thought was there.
Weiland asked about a long dormant project — “Nelson” — that Jock had been working on with actor Peter Serafinowicz of “Shaun of the Dead” fame. Jock explained being contacted by Serafinowicz, who had a script for a movie that he had been thinking about turning into a comic book. Jock was in conversation with Serafinowicz around the time of Mark Millar’s Kapow! Comic Convention, and when Millar heard the news he convinced Jock to make a public announcement about the project… before he had even read the script. “In reality we’d only just talked about doing it. To cut a long story short, we’re still doing it. I just spoke to him about a month ago and said, ‘Is this going to be our year?’ It’s about — he’s not really a superhero, he’s a kind of slightly genetically altered guy, so he’s bigger and stronger, and he’s got a really bad Iron Man suit that he’s got to plug into the wall to charge himself up. He’s given the greenlight to like take care of pedophiles and like really awkward elements. And he just goes and beats the shit out of them.”
Another audience member asked about Jock’s reputation for being a fast artist, and wondered what was the least amount of time he’d ever spent on a cover was. “I sort of thought I shouldn’t tell people this, but it’s actually true: I’ve done three different covers that have taken me 45 minutes. One of them was the last issue of ‘Batman,’ the Black Mirror story, which is a cover that I still really like. I did a sketch in 5 minutes, penciled and inked it in about 40 minutes, and colored it in 45 minutes. And there are a couple of ‘Wolverine’ covers that I did in 45 minutes.”
Acknowledging Jock’s dark style, Weiland asked if there were any characters that he just wouldn’t take on. “I’ve just drawn Superman and it was really hard! It was the Superman/Joker story with Max Landis,” for the digital-first title “Adventures of Superman.” “I found Superman really hard. There were like three or four panels where I felt like I really got something, but I’m just not that guy. Jim Lee is amazing at that and his style is so suited to that, but I’m just not that guy. You give me Batman with a lot of black and big shadows and rain and I’m there! Superman has to be perfect, and I like Wolverine when he’s all messed up with cuts and bruises.”
Finishing up, Weiland asked about the industry’s swing to creator-owned work, and wondered if Jock saw himself moving in a more strictly creator-owned direction, with his recently completed “Snapshot” and the upcoming “Wythces” both out from Image. “I’ve always liked the mentality of directors who speak about ‘one for them, one for me.’ It’s a great honor to work on something like Batman. It’s amazing thing to do. But there is something about doing your own stuff. It’s really rewarding, and I think it’s more rewarding in the way that really matters. I’d like to do more of it, but I’m talking about doing another Batman story, too, funnily enough. It’s a balance, like anything. If you’ve got all those elements and if they’re balanced with one another then you’ll always, hopefully, be plain sailing.”