Moritat on Comics, Process and Being an "All-Star"

While DC Comics' long-running "Jonah Hex" title may be gone in the New 52, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray continue to tell the gunslinger's stories in the new "All-Star Western" ongoing series. Joining them as the regular series artist is Moritat, best known to fans for his runs on "The Spirit" and "Elephantmen." The mononymous artist is known for his sense of design and attention to detail notably in crafting backgrounds in establishing shots or depicting breathtaking action sequences.

Moritat spoke with CBR News over e-mail in between deadlines, and though he spoke openly about his thoughts on escapism in comics, how we read them and the challenges confronting artists because of new innovations in color and technology, Moritat also took the time to poke some fun, make the interviewer laugh and threaten to kill his colorist.

CBR News: To start us off, why do you use a pseudonym? And why Moritat?

Moritat: It's my mother's maiden name. Her side of the family comes from Schaffhausen Switzerland.

For many readers, the first work of yours they recognize is "Elephantmen," which came out in 2006. After that there was your run on "The Spirit," which was gorgeous. How did you get involved in that book and what was the biggest challenge on the series?

Thank you for the compliment. You know, I really don't know how it happened. I have been meaning to ask Joey Cavalieri, Mark Schultz or Brian Azzarello. This is a real interesting question, because I'm dying to find out the answer myself.

I got a call from [DC editor] Joey Cavalieri one day, after I had worked on "Justice League of America 80-Page Giant" for Eddie Berganza and Chuck Kim. I'm assuming there is something in that eight-page story that channeled Eisner. Strange, because the story is set on a desert island.

The challenge was -- and continues to be -- the very large shoes I stepped in and will be continued to be judged on. The first several issues it was very daunting to work on, always expecting a rotten tomato thrown at my head, always second guessing myself.

From there, how did you end up working on "All-Star Western" and what was the appeal of the book for you?

After "The Spirit" was cancelled, I was filling out applications all over town. When Joey [Cavalieri] called up and asked if I could draw horses, I lied and said yes. He hung up and called me back in a few minutes and offered me the book. I thought it was a fill-in issue for "Jonah Hex." Ironically, I thought "The Spirit" also was a fill-in issue.

I have always been a huge fan of western comics. The period that I originally worked in comics was dominated by great westerns like "Red Warrior," "Crack Western," the original "All-Star Western," Se-bladene's Texas. I really enjoyed what Jack Davis was doing.

You've worked with the same colorist, Gabriel Bautista, Jr., on "The Spirit" and now on "All-Star Western." Do you think about the coloring and how your artwork looks after it leaves your hands?

I actually think about that very much. I visualize the finished product when I draw: lettering, color, paper weight, all the way through to shipping, retailer approval, placement, and display.

The coloring bugs me a lot. The industry went from 64 color options with some creative zip-a-toning to 253 million palette options! (And filters and special effects.) I think it'll be a while before we all wrap our heads around that artistically.

Now, you actually have found a sensitive nerve. I believe, now, that anybody coloring another artist's page is destroying the work. I will backtrack in a few paragraphs. For now, I'll just come out and say it; or rather, say some more.

There were, and are, times I want to murder Gabe Bautista. [This image] is a perfect example: the scene is a troop of cultists sneaking up on the Arkham house, where Jonah Hex and Arkham are holed up. The cultists' intentions probably are to kill everyone in the house and display the corpses in some macabre display. Most important, the setting is in Gotham City and it is four in the morning in a downpour.

I will let the artwork and my amendment to Justin and Jimmy's script speak for itself. I suppose I could have drawn the page without a colorist in mind but that would have taken hours and a better artist than me would be on issue #3, issue #4, issue #5. Again, no guarantees on how the colorist would color it. Also, I would be providing one artistic choice -- flat black -- in 253 million options of the finished page. It's like contributing one word to a 1000-page book. Does that make sense? I'm thinking this through for the first time while answering your questions.

Having attempted the murder of Gabe Bautista in print, what he, I, the whole creative team, editorial, the staff at DC, the fine workers at the printer, the retailers and most important, the person who purchases and hopefully enjoys the book, we all come together and create. The artwork you see from Gabe and me is teamwork at its best. Tight deadlines, un-balanced family lives, bitching and moaning, laughter and friendship. It's a team effort. It will always be a team effort.

Gabe and I continue to work together and probably always will. I would love for him to sue that traveling clown circus of an art school he went to, for lack of an actual art education. I would also love to read his rebuttal to this question. I would like to see the words "prima-donna" and "idiot" included. [Laughs]

"The Spirit" is a book very much defined by its urban environment. How much will "All-Star Western" be defined by its setting?

Thank you for this question. The idea of comic books [as a medium], as we know it, is escapism. The stereotype is a child reading it hidden between his or her textbook. All over the world a common sight is a commuter train and an unexpected double take as you notice a nun, or sumo wrestler, reading a comic book.

More common now, is a shell of a human being with a tablet or device playing a video game. If you observe the focus, the concentration, is on the urgency of the laser sight lining up with the zombie's head or the timer ticking down in the race for collection of gold coins. This is counter to escapism. It is regulating the brain to more calculations. With a comic book your brain is taking time off from left hemisphere of the noggin.

With comics, you are participating with Asterix and Obelix as they set off on a journey through rolling art scape of Uderzo's countryside. You are breathing the foul vapors of Apokolips as Desaad wanders the halls seeking his master. You are not initiated by digital sounds and perfect visual mimicry of a F1 cockpit when starting a journey with a Tezuka character in a convertible sports car, but rather a sense of a tingle and twinge in the spine of what happens next when you turn the page.

To settle the matter by third party meditation: How many good comic book movies are there and how many good video game movies are there?

Now, trying to bring it back to your question. I think we as comic readers lost a little bit of the wandering when the printing, writing and coloring shifted the focus to the foreground. We lost Kirby kontraptions, Ditko's depraved dimensions, Eisner's Lower East Side.

So I will draw no backgrounds in "All-Star Western." [Laughs]

How much freedom do you and Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have as far as designing Gotham of this period, and has there been much back and forth as far as trying to find the right look for the book and the characters?

An enormous amount. They were, and continue to be, very generous. Jimmy and Justin gave me several images in the script for issue #1. [Laughs] I drew one of the characters with a martini glass and was quickly schooled by Justin, since the origin of the martini glass was rooted in speakeasies.

For the characters, I studied what the "Hex" artistic canon provided me. DeZuniga, Garcia-Lopez, Truman, Cooke, and my favorite, el maestro: Bernet.

Have you done a lot of research as far as Victorian design and the period for the book?

I have. Not as much as I could -- or probably would like to. The reasoning is because it's a monthly book, with a tight deadline. I collect material a week or so before I begin drawing. When I start, I don't let anything interfere. I just keep the pace going and make changes after I finish the script. I really enjoy researching. It goes back to the prior question you asked. I want to convey a sense of place and atmosphere. I hope I am getting it across in the work.

How is the design and layout of Gotham that you're drawing in "All-Star Western" being echoed in other books? We've already seen the train station that you designed in the first issue appear elsewhere.

I don't know. I suppose that would be a question for the bosses.

I was in a very inappropriate place during the San Diego Comic-Con when Eddie Berganza tapped me on the shoulder and told me about Boss [Jim] Lee placing the "All-Star Western" train station in "Justice League." He paused, and turned around and left. I've seen him several times since then, but we've never talked about it again.

That's a great question, but I don't know.

Looking at your body of work from "Solstice" to the Robert Edison Sandiford books you did for NBM to "Elephantmen" and "The Spirit" up through "All-Star Western," some might scratch their heads looking for what unifies them. Is it as simple as the job was offered, or is there a common thread that runs through the work that points to your sensibility as an artist and storyteller?

I was standing on the Santa Monica Blvd. off ramp of the I-405 holding a sign: Will Work in Comics. [Laughs]

Jimmy Palmiotti pulled me aside recently and told me how lucky I was to be able to work on diverse comics projects. I just heard, "how lucky I am to be working."

That is the thread. I am working hard on sensibility, art and storytelling and a million other things. I am very, very lucky to have able to participated in some real interesting projects. I think at the time I wanted to be drawing some superhero team. Or a bad ass dude with two guns.

"All-Star Western" #4 is on sale tomorrow.

Ghost Rider RObbie Reyes
Ghost Rider Just Ditched His Hellcharger For a Bigger and Better Ride

More in Comics