On June 28th moviegoers will once again believe a man can fly as “Superman Returns” hits theaters. Since the Man of Steel began his adventures in the four-color world of comics, it’s only fitting that his latest silver screen adventure be adapted for the comic page. Matt Haley is the artist who will be bringing to life the comic book adaptation of “Superman Returns,” which hits stores July 5th from DC Comics. Haley also recently illustrated a special “Superman Returns” movie poster which ran in last weekend’s edition of Gannett Newspaper’s “USA Weekend” magazine. CBR News spoke with Haley about both projects.
Both of Haley’s Superman assignments came about because of a discussion at last year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. “Richard Bruning at DC had asked me if I was interested in coming back and doing something fun at DC, as I was largely out of comics with the exception of my ‘Firestorm’ covers,” Haley told CBR News. “I honestly was happier doing commercials and videogame art – I like being able to draw, ink and color my own work these days, but it sounded like he had something up his sleeve. Naturally, I had no idea it was ‘Superman Returns!’
“As for the poster, Larry Daley at DC knew I was doing the adaptation and must have thought I was doing a good enough job, so he called and asked if I’d be interested,” Haley continued, “I knew it was probably my one chance to do a really iconic image for the film, so I jumped at the chance and just lost sleep until it was done, as I was doing the comic at the same time.”
The “Superman Returns” poster was Haley’s one chance to depict an iconic image from the film, but Warner Bros. had the final say as to which iconic image he would do. “Warner Brothers jealously guards the look of ‘Superman Returns’ and rightly so,” Haley said. “I was given a sketch to work from, done by Jock, and I was asked to fine-tune it. Then I had to get the reference for the various actors, which was the hardest part. The poster art is all pencils – I fiddled with them a bit on Photoshop, but I liked the illustrative look. Then, when I found out Alex Sinclair was coloring it, I knew it was at least going to be colored well!”
In coming up with the design for the poster, Haley had to balance real world and four color world elements, which proved to be the most difficult aspect of designing the poster. “It was trying to hit that middle ground between photographic likeness and comic-book dynamism. I had a couple of shots of Brandon as Superman flying towards the camera, but you can’t just trace a photo, it looks flat if you do. However, I couldn’t just draw a stock superhero figure; it had to look like Brandon looks in the suit. I do wish I’d been able to draw Parker Posey a bit larger on the image — she seemed happy with her likeness, though, and I heard through my editors that Bryan Singer thought the image was ‘very cool.'”
Bryan Singer has seen Haley’s finished poster, but Haley has yet to see Singer’s film. “I’m a consultant, they don’t show me anything,” Haley explained. “No, I wasn’t shown any footage, and I kind of prefer it that way, I’m looking forward to experiencing the film for the first time, even though I know the plot. I think audiences are really in for something special with this film.”
Not being able to see the finished film was one of the challenges Haley faced while illustrating the “Superman Returns” movie adaptation. “You’re basically being asked to adapt a film they won’t let you see, which is why most movie adaptations look pretty different from the final film,” Haley stated. “Everything in every panel has to come from reference, there is very little wiggle room, I think more so on this than on other WB film adaptations because they have so much invested in this property. The bar for quality was set for adaptations by Jerry Ordway’s ‘Batman’ movie adaptation which is just beautiful.”
While Haley was unable to see “Superman Returns,” he was given some reference material from the film to use while working on the adaptation, but noted it was never enough. “They were rightfully concerned about security, so all the reference I was given was heavily watermarked, which makes drawing someone’s likeness much more difficult,” explained Haley. “I tried to find what I could online, but ultimately it was down to finding the few things about an actor’s face that makes them unique. Kevin Spacey’s likeness was by far the most difficult as I had very little to go on, and he’s such a chameleon, he looks different in every shot, depending on the lighting and his expression, so I’d like to publicly apologize to him for not doing a better job!”
Illustrating the adaptation proved to be a challenging job at times, but Haley feels writer Martin Pasko, who adaated the screenplay for the comics format, had the more taxing gig. “Marty had the tougher task by far, trying to cram 160+ pages of shooting script into 72 pages of comic script, and have it still be a compelling story, and I think he accomplished that,” Haley said. “Bryan Singer clearly loves Superman and all he stands for, it’s the kind of film for people who complain that ‘kids don’t have heroes anymore.’ Sure they do, and they can catch up with him on June 28th.”
People will be flocking to the theaters on June 28th to see “Superman: Returns” and those who want to experience the film’s full story should head to their local comic store on July 5th to pick up the comic adaptation of the movie, which contains some deleted scenes that did not make it into the final cut of the film. “That’s the biggest reason to grab this book,” Haley stated. “I assume most of them will be on the eventual DVD version, but I don’t actually know. The opening sequence alone would have been majestic to see on the big screen, so it’s kind of a treat to get to depict it.”
Working on both Superman projects was not always easy for Haley, but it was a labor of love to be part of such a reverent film with a star-studded cast. “I lost a lot of sleep and got a few new grey hairs,” Haley said. “I took this gig not just because it was a chance to draw Superman, but because from early on it was clear Bryan Singer and company were investing a lot of love and respect into the production, and it’s hard not to want to be a part of something so special. Plus, this film has some of my favorite actors in it, like Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, and of course, Kevin Spacey!”
Those who want to see more of Haley’s work should head over to his website. Beginning July 27th, Haley’s work will hit the small screen when “Who Wants to Be a Superhero” begins airing on the Sci-Fi channel and on June 28th, like the rest of comic book fans worldwide you’ll be able to find Haley at his local movie theater. “DC Comics has been very good to me over the years, and I was flattered to be asked to do this for them,” Haley said. “Now, if I can just score tickets on opening day…!”
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