Catching up with Norm Breyfogle and Chuck Satterlee

This past Sunday, CBR News caught up with artist Norm Breyfogle ("Of Bitter Souls," "Batman") and Markosia's Director of Operations Chuck Satterlee ("Of Bitter Souls") at the New York Comic Book Spectacular 4, held at the Holiday Inn on 57th Street. We spoke for a while with both creators about their work on "Of Bitter Souls," and take a trip through history with Breyfogle by looking back at his early days in the industry.

Chuck, thanks for talking with us today. I see you're here with Norm Breyfogle, the artist on "Of Bitter Souls." [Norm is busy sketching away for a throng of fans surrounding the Markosia table] How long have the two of you been working together?

Chuck Satterlee: We've been working together for over a year now and we're up to our tenth issue. We're starting to get a nice following.

What's the story behind the concept of the book?

Satterlee: I honestly wanted to write an Ultimate Doctor Strange book, set in New Orleans where I thought he belonged. But Marvel had some unknown writer, who did a little TV show called "Babylon 5." I think his name was . . . uh . . . J. Michael Stracynski. He wrote a Dr. Strange mini, so being an unknown, which I still am, it was nixed. My pitch was not looked at. So, I still wanted to do a book in New Orleans. I'm a fairly religious guy and I love New Orleans, so I put mythology and theology together and set it in New Orleans. And I called up Norm and asked him if he wanted to draw it and luckily he said yes, so it all worked out.

When anyone mentions New Orleans today, they automatically think of the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina. You conceived this story before Katria, right?

Satterlee: Yeah, way before Katrina.

Do you plan on working the events of Katrina into the story line at all?

Satterlee: We've never touched on Katrina at all. I wouldn't want to belittle the damage and destruction and the pain and the horror that the people of New Orleans have gone through by putting it in a comic book and profiting off of it. We've never ever touched on Katrina. We act as if it never happened.

Looking ahead, what's next for Markosia?

Satterlee: In December, we have Phil Hester's "Golly" coming out; we're doing a book with C.B. Cebulski. We have some great licensed properties coming out. And if our books get delivered on time, we'll have a ton of books out in the next couple weeks.

How did you get your start in comics, Chuck?

Satterlee: I did a book in 1995 called "Agony Acres." It was well received, made a lot of press. Not a lot of sales, though. George Perez liked it so much, he did our covers. And I've been hanging around by the skin of my teeth ever since.

What publisher was that for?

Satterlee: My own. It was called A Squared Entertainment. I've written a lot of fan fiction. I wrote some screenplays. Won a couple of screenplay contests. I kinda honed my craft before I got back into comics, so now I think I have a good handle on the process, the craft, and I'm making it happen.

I've got a couple books coming out with different publishers: one for Arcana and possibly one with Desperado. I'm doing "Thirteen Steps" which is coming out through Desperado/Image. By the time San Diego rolls around, I'll have 11 different titles on the shelves. I'm writing some books with Sal Cipriano, a couple with Brian Augustyn, Phil Hester. I like the collaborative process.

That's a lot of writing. How do you approach screenwriting as opposed to comics?

Satterlee: Well, with comics you have to tell a story: beginning, middle and end. Even with a story arc, you have to have a self-contained comic within like 22 pages. That's really hard. With movies, every page is like a minute of screen time, so you have like 120 pages to tell your story. Whereas, with a comic book you have to get it all in. And then you might have an artist who's mad at you for trying to fit too many panels on one page, so you have to be mindful of that. I think comic writing is much harder than screen writing. Just to do it right.

Which method do you prefer: outline or full script?

Satterlee: Oh, full script. I was mentored by Brian Augustyn and he used full script.

I see Norm has finally freed himself from the throngs of fans. Norm, tell me about how you and Chuck got together on "Of Bitter Souls."

Norm Breyfogle: Chuck originally interviewed me about 10 years ago for a comics news magazine, I forget which one, and he was self-publishing "Agony Acres" at the time and he wanted me to do a pinup, so I did a pinup. We've always talked about working together since then. And when he came across a financial resource that could allow it, he contacted me, so it was an ideal situation because I needed work. That was two years ago when I first started doing "Of Bitter Souls." Ironically, we came from the same town and didn't even know each other, Aurora, Illinois.

That's an odd coincidence!

Breyfogle: Certainly is. Makes you feel like the world's pretty small. We both ended up doing comics years later. We'd never have been able to predict it.

Let's talk about your early days. What made you get into comics?

Breyfogle: I always wanted to draw comics since I was about nine years old and I first saw Neal Adams' work in "The Brave and the Bold." I always thought it was something I would do as a hobby. I was actually interested in astronomy, the natural sciences. Two years of professional art lessons with a private instructor caused me to pursue it as a profession. So I went to college studying illustration and I would send portfolios out. Actually, I sent big portfolios of originals out. I did that once with DC Comics and it took me six months to get it back, [laughs] so I learned my lesson. So I started sending out copies instead.

Then, I moved out to the West Coast and started attending the San Diego Con and I won a couple of art contests there and picked up an agent [Mike Friedrich, from Star Reach Agency]. Actually, my very first nationally published work was just before that: I did a few short stories for "New Talent Showcase," for DC Comics. After I met Mike, I started getting regular work and within a year I was drawing Batman for DC.

That's when you started your long run on "Detective Comics," right?

Breyfogle: Yes, but "New Talent Showcase" came before that and I did books over at First Comics, too. They were publishing "Whisper," which is what I was drawing. They had a lot of titles. Steven Grant wrote "Whisper" and he's still shopping that around. I would like to see "Whisper" made into a movie or TV show; it's an interesting concept about a female ninja.

How long did you work with the character of Batman?

Breyfogle: About six straight years and a number of Prestige one-shots. Seven years total.

What did you like about drawing Batman?

Breyfogle: What's not to like? I enjoyed the stories from Alan Grant. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to draw the original Rogues Gallery, the classic Batman Rogues Gallery, but looking back on it, I liked it better that we came up with our own Rogues Gallery. And the reason that was done, Alan told me years later, was that he didn't know anything about Batman. He was living in London and he was a fan of the character, but he didn't know the continuity that well, what was going on at the time. So, he figured he'd come up with his own characters, his own ideas. And that's how he came up with The Ventriloquist, the Corrosive Man, Kadaver, The Fear and a bunch of others. And looking back on it, that was kinda neat, made it stand out more in the Batman runs because of all those new characters.

Do you feel you guys breathed new life into the character, to revive him?

Breyfogle: Well, Alan likes to say that. [Norm laughs heartily] And I let him. So, yeah I guess I felt that way to a degree. The first Batman movie came out when we were working on the character, so that helped a lot. But, we were already making waves and getting some good press. Alan's style of writing and my style of art were something different for Batman at that time. We were there for his revivication, you could say. Alan would say it a lot more vehemently than me, [laughing] but yeah.

After working with Batman for so long, you went over to then upstart publisher Malibu.

Breyfogle: Yeah, I was on Batman for a while and it was kind of a tough decision to leave. DC was really happy with me and I can't help but feel it hurt my relationship with them at the time, although it shouldn't have. And there was the upturn in the comics economy, so that probably influenced it more than anything. If I had stayed, I probably would have done Batman for years. Malibu drew me away from DC and Batman with a signing fee, just for signing a contract. I'd never had anything like that since. And the pay rate was better. What sealed the deal for me, however, was that Malibu was willing to publish my own miniseries which didn't even have a title yet. So they were willing to publish it sight unseen, which was really cool.

Are you referring to "Metaphysique?"

Breyfogle: Yeah, I was really proud of that. The story could probably have been told in five times as many issues. If I had a chance to redo it, to go back and do it over, I probably would. I put a little too much story into six issues. I'm still proud of it because it was the first major writing I had ever done and it said a lot of stuff that was personally important to me. And the full cover paintings were fun.

Talk about developing that concept a bit.

Breyfogle: That was a long time ago. [pauses] Well, for the basic concept I used the Chakra system, an ancient Chinese subtle energy system used by philosophers and medical practitioners in relation to the body. I used the Chakras in in the human body -- the characteristics for each energy center -- as a template for the characters.

Breyfogle: Yeah, pretty much. I was writing letters to Alan [Grant], We got into a lot of philosophical debates. We agree on a lot of things and we probably disagree on just as many. Back in college I did a lot of writing in my philosophy and other classes. But my convos with Alan did help wake up the fiction writer inside of me. I've done a lot of my own writing over the last few years. I've gotten halfway through a novel, I've written a lot of poetry and short stories and about 1,300 haikus.

And what do you like about writing haikus?

Breyfogle: Haikus are a satisfying thing for a writer. It's like a short story, a quick fix with a beginning, middle and end. And yet, it's trickier than it seems.

Would you ever consider publishing them?

Breyfogle: John-Marc DeMatteis, my writer on "The Spectre," suggested I turn them into a comic book graphic novel with the only copy being haikus. So, if I ever dopublish them, I'll probably do that, but it would be a massive undertaking to take 1,300 haikus and turn them into a story.

After Malibu, you ended up back at DC. What was that like?

Breyfogle: Yeah, that was right around the time of the comics' implosion, 1996 or so, when a lot of comic book publishers went out of business. And so I needed work and asked DC. Darren Vincenzo or Dan Raspler suggested Alan Grant and I do "Anarky," but Alan didn't think the character was strong enough to hold his own title. I had to talk him into it, because I needed work. [Norm smiles] We actually had a lot of fun on that and got a lot more out of it than we thought we would, about a year's worth.

So, if it wasn't for you, "Anarky" might not have come about?

Breyfogle: That's true. Or at least it would have been a lot different. I don't know if they would have approached him to do the book at that time if not for me; they might have later.

And now it's a pretty popular character.

Breyfogle: Well, in certain segments of the comic book industry, I suppose. It has some diehard fans. But, DC doesn't seem to want to do anything with him. Maybe it's because of his anti-authoritarian philosophy, a very touchy subject in today's world. Alan is very much anti-authoritarian. I don't know how familiar you are with some of the Anarky storylines.

Breyfogle: Anarky was modeled after Moore's "V for Vendetta." He wasn't created for the miniseries we worked on; he appeared in Batman titles first. He's got the same basic philosophy As V's, a similar mask, hat and cane. (I think the character in V had a cane.) That's another problem with Anarky: he's always gonna be in V's shadow. He's like the American version of V. They should have a team-up!

After returning briefly to Batman, you ended up at Marvel in 2000. You had never worked for Marvel before. How did that come about?

Breyfogle: Steve Englehart and I wanted to work together and I guess he made a proposal to Marvel for a Hellcat miniseries. We thought it was gonna be the beginning of a long relationship with Marvel, but outside of the miniseries and a couple of annuals (which brought the character back), they didn't show any interest in hiring Steve or I again, even though we were willing. I would make room in my schedule for either Marvel or DC anytime.

If you could draw any Marvel or DC character, would you have a preference?

Breyfogle: I think if I were a writer, I'd have more of a preference, but as an artist it's all all patterns on paper. I've enjoyed drawing all the characters I've worked on. I enjoy different styles. "Bob Violence" for First Comics was one of my first ongoing jobs and that was like a Road Runner cartoon, about as far removed from Batman as can be. I might be doing something in the Manga style for an English publisher, but that's in the early stages of development. I'm willing to try anything.

Breyfogle: Yep.

What else is coming down the pike for you?

Breyfogle: I keep pretty busy. I'm doing an ongoing title for a publisher that's been around for 15 years, situated in Bermuda. They're named First Salvo (Thad Branco, Anthony Cannonier, Garan and Dawn Madeiros) and they're utilizing artists Sal Velluto, Jason Armstrong, Kevin West, myself, and others. So, that's two ongoings and I just got a new agent in London (Debut Art) to do illustrations outside of comics. As a matter of fact, I might have to let go of something here pretty soon. I just don't have the time to keep doing it all. That's the problem with freelancing. You don't want to say no to anything, because you need the work and you end up overbooking yourself.

Well, sorry to see you so overworked, but glad you're keeping busy. Thanks a lot for talking with us Norm.

Breyfogle: Nice meeting you.

Thanks, Chuck.

Satterlee: No problem.

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