With the final issue of DC Comics' "Superman: Secret Origin" shipping last week, comics artist Gary Frank is now fully engaged in his next project with writer Geoff Johns, the first book of an expected multi-volume series of graphic novels featuring a re-imagined Dark Knight entitled, "Batman: Earth One." Before his recent work on "Superman: Secret Origin" and "Action Comics," both with Johns, Frank was best known for penciling "Midnight Nation" and" Supreme Power, " both written by J. Michael Straczynski.
CBR News spoke with Frank last weekend at Fan Expo in Toronto, Canada, where he was featured as the convention's International Guest of Honour. The appearance was the British Frank's first in North America in more than 10 years.
CBR: The final issue of "Superman: Secret Origin" arrived in stores last week and it truly was something to behold, visually. Are you a longtime fan of the Man of Steel? The level of detail and craftsmanship in all six issues certainly suggests tremendous passion for the character.
GARY FRANK: It's funny. I was always more of a Batman guy. I didn't really like Superman, in terms of the comic book character. I don't know, he just really never resonated with me. That said, there were a couple of things that I always liked about him and I always felt it would be nice to find a project one day where some of those things could be explored. And when I started talking with Geoff [Johns], it just became so clear that he and I felt exactly the same about the character. We felt exactly the same about the things that needed to be brought to the fore, which needed to be concentrated upon, and so it just became a very, very exciting project.
And now as I said during the DC Universe panel, I've moved onto "Batman: Earth One." But in the last couple of years, I've become so involved in Superman, it was real hard to leave him as a character, so when I finished those last few pages it was quite an emotional thing. And I'm hoping in a couple of years time, I'll be saying the same thing about Batman. At the moment, the Batman we're doing is obviously not the regular Batman so as a character, it's going to take some time to explore it and for it to grow. So yeah, hopefully I'll feel the same way, but at the moment, I still really, really love Superman and I don't know if that will change.
The influence of Christopher Reeve's iteration of Superman in your work is very obvious. Did you go back and watch his movies again and again for inspiration and to study specific details, like facial expressions and physical traits?
I did watch them again but I just remembered virtually every scene. There were a lot scenes where Christopher Reeve didn't appear that were completely new when I went back and watched it, but the actual things that he did were just so memorable. It felt like one of those movies which you've watched 100 times. And I've probably watched "Superman: The Movie" three times. Or four times, maybe. But it's just that the performance he gave was just so... it just really resonates. It's such a wonderful performance and impossible to forget.
Did you make subtle changes or nuances when drawing the pages and panels that featured Superman versus those that featured Clark Kent? And is that part of the fun, getting to draw both sides of the iconic character?
Completely. The eternal war which is raged on forums about whether Clark Kent is the real Superman or is Clark Kent a disguise is all rubbish. There is one character and there are different elements of this guy and in some circumstances, he will play up certain elements of his character for specific reasons but it doesn't mean that awkward Clark is a fake character. He's a guy that goes to a big city, he's grown up in the country, he works in a big office with office politics and back-biting and yeah, he can juggle tractors and things like that but that doesn't help you in that situation. To that extent, he is a fish out of water. He's nervous. The fact that he could demolish the Daily Planet building is irrelevant when you take the character out of context. He's never going to use any of his feats of strength against an ordinary person so how he's going to get confidence from that? He's still a fish out of water, he's still suffering the same problems that anybody gets in an environment with which they're not familiar.
I know you can't talk too much about it just yet, but how far along are you on "Batman: Earth One?"
I have 21 pages done so far.
You mentioned you were more of Batman guy than a Superman guy but have you learned anything new about Bruce Wayne and Batman over those first 21 pages that you maybe hadn't considered before?
At the moment, out of Bruce, nothing really, as you'll see when you get this thing in your hand. Bruce at the moment is still a spoiled child. He's not a particularly likable character. But the character that is the most fascinating at the moment is Alfred. We have a completely new Alfred. And he is going to be much, much more central to the character of Batman.
What is it about Alfred that has changed so much? He has a military background, correct?
Yeah, instead of being a glorified butler, we find there is much, much more to Alfred. He is much more of a man of the world and a much wiser character. Well, I guess Alfred is normally fairly wise but I don't know, I just never really felt entirely convinced by the current Alfred taking out swords and battling ninjas and things like that. So we have a character in Alfred, in the early days at least, who is quite an intimidating character for Bruce. Bruce is slightly over-awed and slightly frightened of him in the early days and the most interesting thing about the book, I think, will be the way that the relationship develops between the two of them.
We have seen some of your early design sketches but can you talk about the look and feel of your Batman? Specifically, are there some major changes that you've made to the costume?
There is but it's going to be a progression. We're not regarding this as a finished, archetypical Batman, so everything is in development. And when you see the first issue you'll see what I mean. He starts out with quite a primitive costume. He hasn't thought a lot of things through. He doesn't really know what he's supposed to do. He's a young man, he's an angry, young man and obviously for some strange reason he's decided the best way to go about making himself feel better is to dress as a bat creature and go and solve crimes.
Perfectly normal, exactly. But, you know, the point at which we're dealing with him is at point where maybe a lot of people who have become unhinged as a result of a terrible event find themselves in. It's a crossroads event and the reason he doesn't end up as a crazy guy in a suit, getting arrested and stuff like that is because of the way he interacts with the characters around him. So in as much as the character will actually develop, so will the look of the character, so will the costumes and so will everything around him. We'll see the character develop further with every page. And I think that's going to be very exciting.
You referenced Christopher Reeve when drawing Superman, are there any Hollywood versions of Batman you are channeling for Batman? Or any artists who have worked on the character in the past?
I don't think there is any other actor playing any other superhero who has ever so completely embodied a character in the same way as Christopher Reeve did Superman. But there have been a lot of great actors to play Batman. Obviously, Christian Bale has done some wonderful stuff and I still really, really enjoy watching the Tim Burton ones with Michael Keaton. I love his version of the character. But no, there is not really an actor who has played the character in a way that has dominated Batman in my imagination in the same way as Christopher Reeve has in doing Superman. So I didn't really see where I would go to get that kind of inspiration, so I'm just trying to feel out the character and come up with a look and a body and a set of facial expressions which are kind of relevant to the character rather than someone because I liked them from a previous portrayal.
Can you talk to us briefly about technique? You have such a distinct look and I wanted to ask you how you create a hero like Superman or Batman on the page?
I use pencils. I try not to think too much anymore about the kind of ciphers and stuff I'm using. I've found over the years - I'm quite an old guy now in the industry - that it's very easy to get led down slightly negative paths trying to concentrate too much on the kind of ciphers and the kind of style and the line that you're using. So I just try and use whatever line I feel is appropriate to the image or images that I'm doing.
I know you're just getting into "Batman: Earth One," but do you know what you're doing next or is there anything else you're working on concurrently?
I am not thinking about anything beyond Batman at this stage. It's going to be a big, big project. Hopefully.
Because you've signed on for multiple volumes, correct?
Yeah, I guess until one of us gets bored or fired, we'll keep going. I suspect if it's going to be getting fired, it will be me before Geoff .[laughs] For now, there are no plans to stop or do anything else.
Is there an ETA on the first volume?
Well, I don't know. That`s an ETA. [laughs] But seriously, I don't know. I have no idea yet. I know we're going to make it so that we have a good wedge of pages done before we start talking about a release date.