C2E2: Art Masters Draw DC Panel

At C2E2 2012, three artists took the stage for the Art Masters Draw DC panel discussion featuring some of DC Comics' top artistic talent displaying their skill on a projector. Moderated by DC Vice President of Art Direction Mark Chiarello, the panel included "Batman Incorporated" artist Chris Burnham, "Batman: The Dark Knight" artist David Finch and upcoming "World's Finest" artist Kevin Maguire in an open discussion about influences, methods and the challenges they face working in the DC Universe.

Chris Burnham arrived before the panel's official starting time and kept the crowd rapt and ready by answering a few audience questions, opening things up by saying he had an amazing convention and this year's C2E2 was the most amazing show experience he's had yet. Next, a fan asked if Burnham listened to any podcasts. "Yeah, but I don't listen to any comics podcasts because I find they're not really made for professionals," he said. "They're speculating about Batman and I already know what's going to happen and I know all the guys writing the books, so there's not much there for me." Burnham went on to describe his fondness for "Planet Money" and the show "Forensic Files" because he finds technical details fascinating. Burham's temporary geeking out about non-comics led Chiarello to humorously question just what kind of panel they were running. Soon afterwards, Gleason, Finch and Maguire arrived and the panel kicked off into full swing.

The artists began taking questions while Burnham started a sketch on the overhead projector. Burnham was asked his favorite artists and he immediately recommended Deighan, also known as Frank Quitely (All Star Superman). "I'm sorry for using his name," Burnham laughed, "But once you know it, it's hard to refer to him as Quitely." He continued to stay that he finds James Herron inspiring to the point of jealousy and joked about using his "Forensic Files" knowledge to hide Herron in a lake.

The artists were next asked about objects or characters they dislike drawing. Finch cited Iron Man's armor as one of his greatest challenges. "Iron Man's armor is a commodity -- it has to be perfectly drawn and so you spend a long time getting it down and then they change it again!" Finch said, noting that buildings and cars provided less difficulty as long as they were grungy. Hospitals, according to Finch, are the hardest buildings to draw because of the clean and sterile environment. Maguire spoke about the difficulty of drawing real objects, like cars and strip malls, noting how he uses basic elements when he draws them. Burnham agreed with the difficulty of drawing cars, saying he usually resorted to drawing either Volkswagen bugs or SUVs as placeholders.

Burnham further said that drawing realistic muscles is determined more by the universe you're drawing for than realistic body shape. Finch stated his difficulty with drawing backs, as they're mostly flat regardless of strength and the artists agreed the most important element of musculature is keeping the muscles all connected and to draw with a general football shape.

One fan asked if the artists drew in studios alongside their peers. Maguire said he finds drawing in a studio fun, due to the presence of other artists and people to bounce ideas off of. However, Maguire's commute to his StudioFunk studio is a somewhat prohibitive hour long while Finch said he has a studio leased, but lacks the time to regularly commute. Burnham has an option to go into a Chicago studio a few times a week to draw on an open table, but doesn't draw with other artists on a regular basis.

Burnham finished his drawing, moving aside for Finch to display his technique. While Finch drew, the panel discussed facial consistency and the difference between drawing youth and age. Burnham said maintaining likeness and progression for a character page after page is one of the most difficult parts of the job. Finch said he has trouble selling youth with his characters, saying, "When drawing older characters, you just add lines and wrinkles in the face. With the young, every line has to count."

While Finch drew his Batman, the artists discussed how they felt about writing. Maguire enjoys leeway with his work and mentioned his sensibility and humor are more satisfying than trying to bring another's vision to the page. He said there is incentive to create characters to increase the chances of a residual, but that he enjoys being in the DC Universe and contributing to a universe that will hopefully last a century. Burnham said he occasionally writes, but ultimately enjoys drawing scenes how he wants. Writing is a muscle he enjoys flexing, but he feels that writing and drawing a script decreases the collaborative aspects that make a successful comic. He says Grant Morrison gives him the leeway he enjoys in the "Batman Incorporated" scripts.

Chiarello asked the panel how much time they need to complete their pages. For Finch, it takes three weeks to do the pages and then a week to do covers. To Burnham and Maguire's shock, Finch said he finishes three pages every two days. He said having children changed his work schedule dramatically and that he draws as much as possible while his children are at school or in bed.

Moving on, the artists discussed their methodologies. Burnham said Google image source is an incredible source, although "No matter what you type, you're going to end up getting a lot of pornography." He said he photographs himself posing to use as photo reference and that many of his characters are really just versions of him holding a pillow or two. Maguire said he uses Adobe Studio, but has yet to go entirely digital. Of his last comic, he used the computer for seven pages and four were completed on paper. Although he's interested in going digital only, maintaining productivity while also conquering the steep learning curve is proving prohibitively difficult. Burnham also sticks to traditional pen and paper, although he finds the possibilities on the digital frontier fascinating. According to Burnham, digital is "A completely different style with new expression, so I can appear a different guy when I draw with digital." Finch loves the classic method of drawing and that he feels it helps foster a relationship with fans. However, he believes all art will eventually go digital. Chiarello said he feels drawing by hand is still a special art form.

Finch completed his sketch and ceded the projector to Maguire. Maguire chose to break the pattern and draw Blue Beetle. The artists turned their discussion to the use of perspective and framing. Burnham suggested watching Sergio Leone films to understand proper framing of shots. He said creating proper framing and perspective required planning for future placement of word balloons within the shape of the overall panel.

The panel concluded with the quintessential question: what do you wish you had known when starting out as an artist? Burnham imparted to the audience his wish for knowledge to draw at least one panel per page without a background to provide the reader's eyes some rest. Following the same track, the artist wished he had known not to waste time drawing backgrounds that would eventually be covered by balloons and now plans the balloons strategically within his panels. Maguire wrapped the panel on a slightly humorous note, wishing he had known feet are impossible to draw without reference.

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