Chris Daughtry refuses to be pigeonholed. The “American Idol” Season Five contestant may be an American Music Award winner and Grammy nominee with millions of albumbs sold, but rocker is only one title on his resume. He’s also acted in “CSI: NY,” “Studio City” and landed his biggest role to date as Judas in last week’s musical event on FOX, “The Passion.” However, Daughtry recently fulfilled a childhood dream when DC Comics tapped him to pencil a cover for “Batman” #50, a special variant celebrating the release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
Daughtry recently spoke to CBR News about his love affair with comic books, his artistic influences — including what he picked up from Jim Lee — and the pressure of delivering a dynamic Batman cover.
CBR News: What was your first exposure to comic books and how did it blow your mind?
Chris Daughtry: My first exposure to comic books would have had been a little comic book that came with the “Super Powers” action figure in 1984. That cartoon, and mostly the toy line, got me obsessed with comics. It was primarily DC, and more specifically Batman. Then I found cousins that had comic books lying around. They had old ’80s “X-Men” books. I think I really got into comics in ’94, around the death and return of Superman storyline. That kind of drew me back in. It was perpetuated with “WildC.A.T.s” and “Spawn.” I remember walking into a comic book store and seeing Image for the first time. My face almost exploded. It looked way more vibrant and dangerous in a way. I was pretty obsessed around those teenage years.
Then I got into music and drifted a little. I think after “Idol,” I wanted to get back into comics. I picked up “Hush,” with my favorite comic artist, Jim Lee, and with my favorite character [Batman]. To this day, it was one of the most beautifully drawn books in Jim’s entire catalogue, even though he seems to up his game every issue. Going back before that is “The Killing Joke.” I remember a buddy of mine letting me read something to do with Jack the Ripper. I remember that this was a Batman story and it intrigued me. I didn’t know at the time that a darker version of the books existed. At that time, I didn’t know about “The Dark Knight Returns.” That stuff definitely showed me there is some seriousness to comic books and the storytelling. It could be earnest and cool to read.
What ignited your passion to draw and how did you nurture those skills?
I remember being around five and I was on the floor drawing a picture of Captain America. I remember that very vividly and my dad saying, “Are you going to be an artist?” And I was like, “Wait. What’s an artist? I didn’t know what that is.” He said, “Someone who draws.” “Yeah, I want to be an artist.” Then I went on to say, “I want to be a famous artist.” I didn’t even know what that entailed. Then I found music and I was going to be a rock star.
What did I do to nurture it? I would try to emulate every amazing comic that I was into. A lot of Jim Lee’s work in the “X-Men” books was huge references for me. Dan Jurgens’ “Superman” books, too. To this day, I would have to credit this guy’s art for getting me into comics, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, because his “Super Powers” art to this day is the Batman that drew me in as a kid, even more so than Adam West. I would try to emulate different artists and figure out what my style was. I still have quite a bit of Jim’s influence in my art. But, I tend to pull from David Finch and Tony Daniel. All those cats out there are huge inspirations for me. Greg Capullo is probably one of the most-versatile comic book artists out there. His style changes depending on the book he’s doing.
You went on to sell millions and millions of albums. What do you recall about initially contacting Jim Lee and why was that the right time?
It was hilarious. I had just picked up “Hush.” I was getting that itch to pick up a pencil again. It had been a while at that point, probably a few years, since I had really done anything. I didn’t realize how hard it was to get back into it. What I was seeing in my head and what I was doing with my hands was completely different. I realized I had to start practicing. I was stumbling through the books and sketching out certain pages or panels from “Hush.” I was thinking one night, “Wait. I’m me now. People know who I am.” [Laughter]
This was before Twitter really took off as well. This was in the dinosaur age of social media. When I was on “Idol,” we couldn’t use social media, so I had no access to it anyway. I logged onto my MySpace page and I found Jim Lee. I was like, “What the hell. I’ll send him a message, tell him I’m a fan and would love to hang out.” He hit me back within minutes. I gave him my number and he called me. I was yelling downstairs going, “Hey, babe. I’m on the phone with Jim Lee in case you care.” She’s like, “Who?” I’m like, “Never mind. I’m on the phone with Jim Lee.” We met when I was in Los Angeles and we hit it off. He did some of the album art for my second album. We just started hanging out more and became good friends, family friends. He became a mentor/have-you-over-for-Christmas-party kind of friend.
He’s been a huge help. I’ll send in sketches and he’ll shoot me back corrections. “Remember your eye line and how that relates to perspective.” He reminds me of a bunch of things that I supposedly learned in high school that for some reason, I have a very difficult time retaining. It’s pretty cool to have the dude that made you want to do comics — and make you not want to do comics because you’ll never be that good — also be the guy to help you do your first comic.
That first collaboration with Jim was a Batman sketch for 2012’s We Can Be Heroes campaign. You provided the pencils and inks and Alex Sinclair colored the piece. How did the current “Batman” #50 cover come about?
We were at a Halloween party. Jim had kind of mentioned it in passing before, like, “Hey, would you ever be interested in doing some variant covers?” “Yeah, that would be cool. Let me know if anything comes up.” And, so he said, “Would you be interested in doing a variant cover for a Batman/Superman run we’re going to be doing in March?” I was like, “Ah, hell yeah, dude. When do I need to start?” Jim was like, “Oh, you have plenty of time. We won’t have the final details for another month or two.” December comes around. Then, I’m at his house for a Christmas party. I’m like, “Any word on doing that cover?” “Oh yeah. We have to figure out which book they are going to put you on. Eddie [Berganza] will probably send you the details next week.”
New Year’s Eve comes along and I’m still waiting. Then it’s the middle of January and I text Jim, “Hey, man. I don’t mean to bug you, but I’m way slower at these things than you are. I know you said I have plenty of time, but I don’t even know if I’m doing it right now.” “Yeah, man. I’m sorry. I’ll get you the details tomorrow.” So, I get the email and it’s like, “Here’s what you are doing. This is the book you’re doing. It’s due in two weeks.” I was like, “Holy shit.” I didn’t even have a layout, so I started playing with action figures and posing and visualizing.
I did a few different layouts and basically, after Jim made a bunch of suggestions, it ended up being my original pose, but with a twist on the angles. It had way more energy and definitely way more impact. I did a background that was like a silhouetted skyline. Jim made an executive decision to demolish the building, which created more of an environment and made it way cooler. Of course, I’m not going to say no to Jim Lee. “You want to change my work? Absolutely.” It was so cool. I remember getting his inks back. It was a surreal moment. Then, in turn, to get the full color from Alex, who had done my work, but this was something completely different. It’s definitely the best work I’ve ever done.
Now that you’ve tackled Batman and Superman, what other members of the DC pantheon do you want a crack at?
Visually speaking, I love Firestorm. I love the costume. He’s always been one of my favorite characters to look at. I know his origin, but I never followed the book. I loved the Jerry Ordway Firestorm back in the day. I still have those old annual books. It’s in ratty condition, but I use that a lot for reference sometimes. I just love that costume. I would totally do Firestorm or Martian Manhunter. Any of the Justice League characters that I grew up loving would be great. I would love to draw Darkseid. That would be amazing.
Have you had discussions with Jim or DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns about making it happen?
No. We’ve definitely talked about the possibility of future covers. I have zero interest in any interiors. That’s a completely different ballgame all together. The way they capture poses, gestures and tell the story — that requires about 15 more years of me at the table, every day, doing something. I would love to do a few covers a year, anything DC-related, preferably Justice League related. I’m all in.
How does creative expression in art differ than song? And do you get the same kind of rush from both?
With drawing, the best feeling for me is when I look at it and it looks right. I can’t really explain how I got there, but it just looks right. Proportions and perspectives were always some of my weak points back in the early days. That’s always a gratifying moment when I can look at it and I can show people what I’m proud of.
For a song, it’s a completely different thing. I’m visualizing performing it and all these other aspects of how to make this song work in other formats and how it’s going to sound with the acoustic guitar stripped out. When you get it to the core and it still makes you feel something, that’s when I know it’s a great song.
Besides singing and drawing, you also act. Last Sunday you starred in Fox’s musical TV movie, “The Passion.” Going back to comic books, what superhero would you wish to portray on TV or the big screen?
Give me Jason Todd. As a kid, I always dreamed of playing Robin, but, unless they go with a shaved-head Robin, that’s not going to work for me. Let’s go with Jason Todd. You can probably believe that he shaved his head at some point. There are some future Batman movies coming up. Zack Snyder, you have my number. Give me a call.
“Batman” #50 is on sale now from DC Comics.