Artist Mat Broome is best known to comics fans for his recent work on “The End League” for Dark Horse as well as stints on “Stormwatch,” “WildC.A.T.S.,” “Shadowman” and “X-Force.” For much of the past decade, Broome has mainly been working in the video game industry, specifically at Sony Online Entertainment where he worked as on DC Comics Online in the role of Art/Visual Director.
In the first of two major announcements coming out of San Diego, Broome spoke with CBR about his new comic and animation project “Defcon 2055: Patient Zero” which he is showing off at Booth #2002 in the Independent Publishers section. A spiritual sequel to the 1996 Wildstorm miniseries “Defcon 4,” the new project was envisioned as both a graphic novel and animated film. Broome discussed the learning curve required to create animation in a mainly solo capacity and what we can look forward to from the project when it launches in September.
Mat, you sent over the animated preview for “Defcon 2055: Patient Zero” for us to watch and, while I know there are other people involved in this, it’s an impressive animated project, especially for something that’s practically a one-man show.
Mat Broome: Thank you. I’ve been working on this stuff for years. When I did “The End League,” I did a trailer, and it was right in the middle of all this work I was doing with “Defcon” and this dot com. I wanted to take comics to the next level. For me, the way to do that was to animate them every thirty to sixty days, but I knew that it was going to take years to figure all this out. It’s been pretty insanely exhausting. There are people who are going to read all this press coming out going, “There’s not one guy doing this.”
There is one guy doing this.
You started in comics and then from there worked on video games for years before doing this. Has it been a major learning curve just as far as learning the technology?
As I worked my way up through the ranks at Sony, there was a lot of cross pollination that goes on. You’re working with the managers at the movie division and seeing what they’re doing with technology. You learn a lot about managing IP content. When I was going on this journey, I was still drawing, and I started figuring out I have this really weird, blessed career. I’m sitting here learning how to pitch movies and I’m drawing comics every night. It was just unbelievably technical learning, all this stuff about different versions and packages and compatibility and localizing things around the world and other regions.
If you draw like I do in a comic, with crazy detail, it just doesn’t look like animation. I had to go in and build the models, like Disney or Pixar does, and then I had to paint over them, just like Disney or Pixar does. It’s the exact same process that you would do for animation, but when I roll out the graphic novel, it’s going to have completely new panels that you would not see in the animation. They’re two different animals. I’m not trying to treat them the same way.
I think, and we’ll see if I’m right, but trying to make these the same thing is what’s been wrong about the equation. I don’t think they can be the same thing. I think these have to be born to live in two different places. Playing to what they do best in those two different places. It’s more work, but I think the graphic novel feels like more of a companion to the animation as opposed to a regurgitated, cutting up.
It’s been many years since your “Defcon 4” came out from Wildstorm. What is “Defcon 2055,” and what’s the relationship to the earlier comic?
Very little outside of the name. I think that the style is going to resonate with a lot of people, to some extent. Back when I did “Defcon 4” with Wildstorm, I was really trying to bring Eastern culture, pacing, storytelling and the environment being a fifth character to the Western marketplace in a way I thought American fans would accept instead of thinking, “Yuck, manga.”
With “Defcon 2055,” it’s not so much the same story, as the same spirit. In the original “Defcon,” I really wanted to tell a hero’s journey story. It really became more about this group, because during that time, everything was about team books. Now, I can tell a hero’s journey story from a singular character’s perspective and use the supporting characters as the subplot to really drive the main character in the story. It still has the name “Defcon,” but it’s a completely different tale. I think there’s enough of the familiar that people are going to go, sounds like “Defcon,” feels like “Defcon,” but holy cow, this is a much more mature take on this big science fictional world.
You mention that hybrid of manga and American comics influence, and it was there in the original “Defcon,” but in the new one, I can see the same influences, but taken in a slightly different direction.
I agree with everything you just said. It’s funny. “The End League” was the first book I got to do where I was coming out of video games, learning much more about the business side of managing projects. Because these games take years to make and you really learn how to run a triathalon. “The End League” was interesting because it took a year of sketches to design those characters, but they didn’t have to move. [Laughs] “Defcon” was tremendously harder. Anybody who sees this stuff and wants to take this path, it is difficult.
There’s a plan for all of this. I knew it would require me to fund up front the full production of the animation, which is what I’m doing. I have no problem with that. I think it’s what comics needs. For me, it just took a long time to figure out how I could take my style and animate it, produce this myself, to some extent. I have a fantastic audio director, Chad Mossholder, who’s outstanding. I have an assistant director, Charlie Hatley.
My wife walked in one day and said, “Holy cow, you’re going to pull this off.” It was a lot of failure leading up to being able to where I can produce about two minutes of animation in about five weeks at this level. That was the thing. I didn’t want to put “Defcon” out and have two minutes come out every year. I think that what’s magical about comics is that these come out on a regular basis. Fans follow you. They see you at conventions and go, “Hey you sucked on ‘Stormwatch,’ but I’m loving what you’re doing on this.” They grow with you. I think making “Defcon” hand drawn, not tracing 3-D characters, personalizes it again. Fans can see me doing this and they can go online and say hey I loved this last episode but you know…and I can try it again six weeks later.
How did your style change for this to work as animation and how you wanted it to work as a graphic novel?
[It was] painstaking. [Laughs] There were a lot of drawings where I started off with these incredibly deep rich detailed characters. Heavy blacks, like I’ve always done in my career, to give weight to the characters. On graphic novel pages, they looked fine. This all had to go away when I started animating these characters. It made me really attack my weaknesses. I tried to have coloring work done with my wife Wendy, who’s a fantastic colorist, but ultimately, so much happens in the color stage of animation, only I could do it. Because all my detail in “Defcon” is in the coloring and in the effects, it painted me into a corner on the style, and I’ll be honest with you, I felt naked.
It was a challenge to get designs, test those designs, do animation tests to make sure they would move well and really sell the gestures of the characters and then animate them. There was a point where I was making super detailed characters, taking them and animating them, and it was not pretty. The stuff looked, and I don’t mean this as a slam, but it looked very, very motion comics. It was black shapes moving on black shapes. That’s when I was like, I’m going to have to draw these characters to live as animation and come up with a style that is detailed enough that, when you look at the graphic novel with the background, it’s acceptable. It just took some time. I don’t think it’s perfect, by any stretch, but for something that can live in both places, it’s acceptable and was by far one of the hardest things to do in a year of pre-production.
An artist once made the point that what we think of as an artist’s style is developed in part in response to obscuring the artist’s weaknesses. Here, it sounds like you couldn’t play to your strengths and you really had to develop a new style to make it work.
Absolutely. I really thought the challenge was going to be production. It wasn’t. [Laughs] It was a challenge, but doing this was like completely redoing my swing in golf. It was that frustrating. It was going and looking at my biggest weaknesses. It was going back and looking at the original “Defcon” and seeing that, even though characters were “animated,” they really weren’t. It’s always been about graphic detail, but when I went to animation, all that was gone. It made me look at my stuff and go, “Holy cow!” Every art career is a journey, but the things that I spent the most time developing when I did comic art were gone. It was a soul searching experience and it still is.
It’s easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’ve been watching some of my biggest heroes, like Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, do it all. I’ve been thinking about these guys and trying to tap into that kindred spirit to get me through it. There are guys out there doing this on a much bigger level. Robert Rodriguez is writing his own music. You’re not doing that, so finish the sketch! [Laughs] I consider myself a hardworking disciplinarian, but this is a mental exercise like no other.
Let’s wrap by talking about the release dates, because people will read this and say it sounds very cool, but when are we going to see it?
The release date is going to be September 1. I’m going to launch all this stuff on CreatorSafe.com exclusively. CreatorSafe is basically this huge virtual studio. Me and my friends, like Cory Edwards, the director of “Fraggle Rock” the motion picture, Kevin Grevioux of “Underworld” I, II and III, all of us are releasing stuff on CreatorSafe where we can own it and control it. We can work with the media that we want to, to promote our media the way we want to. There’s other top creators that I call, literally, the one percent who make film, animation and comics and movies. We’re all doing our own thing. “Defcon” is the first one that’s rolling out. It basically lets me put this stuff up and lets me interact with my fans in a way that I promise you, I can’t do anywhere else.
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