On the heels of last week’s news that Gene Ha stepped in to draw “Justice League” #20, DC Comics revealed exclusively to CBR News that “Nightwing” artist Brett Booth is also be taking part in the best-selling franchise by drawing “Justice League of America” #4 and 5, replacing previously solicited series artist David Finch.
Focusing on the JLA’s escalating battle with the mysterious Society, issue #4 hits stores on May 29 and features the return of classic Justice League villain the Shaggy Man. The battle that continues into June’s #5 paves the way for “Justice League of America’s” participation in writer Geoff Johns’ “Trinity War” crossover between that series, “Justice League” and the Jeff Lemire-led “Justice League Dark.”
CBR spoke with Booth about the move, how it impacts his future on “Nightwing” and his recent wave of character redesigns for the publisher. Below, the artist explains the madness of deadline management, the tricks of the trade that come in handy when designing characters from the Joker’s Daughter to Bronze Tiger, the irresistibility of a Geoff Johns request and his hopes for his WildStorm co-creation Backlash.
CBR News: Brett, you’ve become quite the “go to” artist at DC of late, working on multiple books, character designs and covers. What are you working on today?
Brett Booth: “Justice League of America” #5! #4 is done by now. It’s coming out next week, I think. It’s a five-week month, so I’ve got my days and weeks all mixed up. I’m just going from deadline to deadline right now. [Laughs]
Both Geoff Johns and David Finch talked when “JLA” series launched about a heavy character focus on the book, and in the pages of #4 that we have, things seem very action-oriented. How’s that balance been for you?
It’s a little weird. Originally, I was just going to do issue #4, and in the first half of the book we get a lot more character stuff — we get to the action stuff by the end of the story. That’s a lot of fun to do, but I actually haven’t drawn a lot of these characters before — some of them, not ever, so it’s given me some practice to do more with them later on. The people talking pages are easier to do, so I try to save some of them for last so the deadline isn’t killing me at the end.
The story focuses in part on a battle with the Shaggy Man, who seems like a draw for you because it’s just like putting a big sasquatch into the series.
I thought we shouldn’t have him exactly like that. If I was doing a sasquatch, I wouldn’t have drawn it this same way. He’s what people think a sasquatch might look like from ’70s television show with Steve Austin. There was a Bigfoot on that, right? [Laughter] It’s kind of reminiscent of that — what people would expect a Bigfoot to look like. I’m not Bigfoot-ologist, but I think that’s about right. He’s basically got a slightly Neanderthalish face with long hair all over the rest of his body. And that’s great, because I don’t have to worry about drawing a costume. [Laughs]
Have you tried to match things to David Finch’s style for your two issues?
I was trying to match up a bit. There are certain things, like a couple of locations, I left a little vague. I’m not going to be the main guy on the book, so I didn’t want to make anything absolutely canon if I didn’t have to. So when Doug Mahnkhe comes in — and I’m not sure if he’s the regular guy or if he’s just doing “Trinity War” — he can nail down exactly what he wants. This is what it is to be the fill-in guy.
Like I said, you’ve been the go-to redesign artist for DC of late, with their blog being a stream of your stuff, from Joker’s Daughter to Dr. Phosphorus. What’s your main goal when you sit down to give an older character a facelift?
Well, I love doing character design. I did a couple for “Batgirl” originally, and then that moved into “Nightwing” and it started really earnestly with the “Earth 2” stuff. They’ve asked me to do some other character designs that I had to turn down because of the “Justice League” stuff. It’s like, “Dammit!” because I love doing those designs and always have. You take a look at the character and see what they want — because they don’t come to you and say, “Here’s a character. Redesign it.” A lot of times they have parameters they’re looking for. But sometimes after the first version maybe they go, “No, I didn’t want that.” [Laughs] Then they tell you what they want, and you do the second version.
With the Joker’s Daughter, they had a pretty clear view of what they wanted. They sent me a composite image of some different things. I was working on “Justice League” #4 then, going, “I don’t have time!” But they just needed me to look at the composite image and put it all together. With Cheshire, they’d had a couple of designs already that Eddie [Berganza] didn’t think worked for what they were going for. But it’s Cheshire, so I took a stab at it. Then they said, “Can you do Bronze Tiger, too?” They wanted him to be more like Thundercats Panthro-y, so I pushed more for the full tiger because that’s kind of what I’m known for. I’m assuming he changes back, but I don’t know. [Laughs]
I just did one about a month ago where they gave me this giant sheet [of info], which is great because then I have all this reference information. That makes getting it right the first time a lot easier. And when I do one for “Earth 2,” I just call up James [Robinson] and we talk about it, which is great.
Do you design with an eye towards making the characters easier for other artists to draw?
Sometimes. There are times when, like with Dr. Fate, I’ll go really complicated, but I know they’ll have to take things off. I’ve done some designs where I lay it out, they say cool, and then I sit down to do the final pencils and go, “Wait. Someone has to draw this.” I’ll call up the editor and say, “Who’s drawing the book? I have an idea, but I’m not sure if it’ll work.” And sometimes I’ll do it or not do it, depending on who’ll be drawing it. Because I’ve done some character designs where the artist has simplified them a lot, but other times they’ll add stuff, which is really cool. Ivan Reis has done that with some of the “Earth 2” designs, which is great because he does such an awesome job.
Well, you’re known for your detail work on the page, so I’m assuming that’s your natural sensibility. Have you ever had a design where once you’ve had to draw it in action, you go, “There are too many lines on this!”
Yeah. When I worked at WildStorm, there was a comic like that. Jim [Lee] did the original design for this character, Taboo, and I really liked the design. I drew it in the first issue of the “Backlash” book and thought, “Oh my God. This costume is waaaaaaay too complicated. I’m going to simplify for issue #2.” But it was WildStorm, so everyone’s costume was constantly changing.
With Skitter’s costume — and I don’t know when or if they’re going to bring her back to “Teen Titans” — we had another design which was simpler, a little more humanoid and less buggy as she was getting more in control of her powers. That was the plan, but I don’t know what’s going on now.
Lastly, you’ve been drawing “Nightwing” of late, and Kyle Higgins talked with me recently about how you guys worked to nail the feel of Chicago in the book. Was there a different kind of prep work for that series?
There was some. For Chicago, Kyle basically sent me a ton of pictures from Google stuff, but in the end, it’s not actual Chicago we’re doing. We call it “Chicago-plus” because we originally had things like Dick’s apartment being right next to the train. The editors thought that was too close, so we moved it over, and I put an extra building in between. Then the buildings were too short [for actual Chicago] and there was too much greenery and trees. No real city is actually perfect for what you need. Some people complained that I didn’t draw the right train, but it just says “a train” in the script. So I Googled it and picked the one I liked. [Laughs] There’s a bus in #21, and Kyle didn’t specify a specific bus. I could have been a tour bus. I just picked one I liked! And if it’s a tour bus, it’s just driving through town. Some people are really sticklers about this stuff. It’s pretty funny.
I got the feeling that you were aiming to stick on “Nightwing” for a longer run. Is that still in the cards?
That’s kind of changed now. Because of the “Justice League” stuff there wasn’t enough time, so I probably won’t be doing many more “Nightwing” after #21. There just isn’t time for all this stuff. I was behind the eight ball when I finished #21 last week, and now I’ve got this issue of “Justice League” to finish by the end of the month. It’s tight. I’m doing a “Trinity War” cover after that, and I turned down two other covers and a character design for another Bat book. It’s like, “If I had another month!” But that’s how things work in comics. You have to role with the punches. Stories change and schedules change. So it looks like “Nightwing” #21 will be my last issue.
It must be nice to be in demand like that, though.
Yeah. I’m so used to it now, that if I don’t get a call for a week or two, I go, “I guess they don’t want me to design anything anymore.” And then I’ll get four or five in a row. I just did Dr. Phosphorus, Joker’s Daughter, Cheshire, Bronze Tiger and another one. I did a design for Relic — actually two or three of them — and then they wanted some more changes to it, and I just didn’t have the time. Hopefully next month I’ll have some more time.
That’s the whole reason I went from “Teen Titans” to “Nightwing.” I wanted a single character book that would give me more time for character designs because I knew they were asking me for more and more of them. But when Geoff Johns calls you up — actually, I got an e-mail from him going, “Hey, I tried to call you.” I thought, “How did I miss that?” [Laughs] He calls me up, and I didn’t know what he was going to ask me. Then he asked me to do “Justice League of America.” I had just turned down ten pages of “Teen Titans” earlier that day thinking, “Ten pages is a lot.” But when Geoff Johns calls you up, you go, “Okay, I have to do this.”
As for the future, I guess there are those of us who will have to cross our fingers for a New 52 “Backlash” revival.
[Laughs] There are no plans for Backlash right now. I actually had to talk Eddie out of putting him in “Team 7.” I didn’t want him tied to Team 7 because it’s still so tied to the WildStorm Universe. I had an idea for him that would push him out more, but I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. It’d involve both the WildStorm stuff and the DC Universe, but the WildStorm stuff doesn’t seem to be doing really well right now. I asked Sean Murphy if he wanted to do some “Backlash,” but he decided to do “The Wake” instead. [Laughs]
“Justice League of America” #4 ships May 29 from DC Comics.