REFLECTIONS #214: Matthew Clark

You aren't going to find many quips or long-windedness from me in this week's edition. I know how shocking that is, but it's for a special reason, and I promise to be back to my old self next week.

Instead of my normal witticisms, let's get right into my interview with popular comics artist Matthew Clark, whose work you've seen on DC Comics titles like "Outsiders," "Teen Titans," "Adventures of Superman" and "Superman/Batman." Last year, the 37-year old Clark suffered a heart attack, and he speaks to us now on the one-year anniversary of that life-changing experience.

Art from "Adventures of Superman" #634

Robert Taylor: So, I heard you just had an anniversary. Why don't you tell us about it?

Matthew Clark: I did, and you missed quite a shindig.

RT: If only you weren't in a different time zone I totally would have been there.

MC: I celebrated a one-year anniversary from my heart attack. Had a Bill Pardy Party at a local ale house, where friends wore name tags saying that their name was Bill Pardy. It's a tip of the hat to [the film] "Slither." See the commentary for why.

One year later. A lot of friends came out and toasted a glass of wine with me. Since I'm only allowed a glass I had to sip it slowly for the night. But it felt great to be celebrating.

RT: What is your health like today? No "still kicking" jokes, please. [laughs]

MC: It's good. I passed my heart stress test, but they found a problem. I have a weak spot on my artery where it meets up with the heart. It tends to be sluggish and slow at times, which is not the best news. It could have been a lot worse. It's a side effect to the attack and pretty much means I will get dizzy from time to time if I stand up too fast or something along those lines.

RT: Such a major event must have had some major impact on your outlook on life over the past year.

MC: I'm a lot more relaxed. I put in my time at the board. I work a normal workday. Stress-free, or trying to get to that point. It's a consent struggle with deadlines and work. But I have to make sure I follow my doctor's instructions. I work out every day. I have a routine I follow: Hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays for Cardiac Rehab stage 3; seven mile walk on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I stick to it. It's now become a ritual; get up, take numbers, take pills, grab iPod and start walking. It's a good life. I'm in better shape now than when I was in middle school.

RT: What's on your iPod right now?

MC: I have been listening to Leftfield's "Phat Planet." I have downloaded the complete "Buffy" and "Angel" song list. It's about 550 songs from the shows. "The Drive" soundtrack, all 6 songs. A lot of soundtracks, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Currently mixing it up with "The 4400" soundtrack.

I have several movies and shows on it as well. From "Bones" to "Enterprise," with a lot of "Deep Space Nine." Audiobooks also, "Kitchen Confidential" and "Secret Empire," but my fave to listen to is "Snow Crash."

RT: How do you think the heart attack affected your artwork, both on a literal basis and how you approach it?

MC: It's a tough balancing act. I now put in my time eight hours a day, six days a week. I now take one day off a week and relax. I know my editors wish I was the old me, working 14-18 hour days and pulling all-nighters. Unfortunately, I can't and won't do that anymore. No matter what, when the clock hits 11:30pm it's quitting time. I make no apologies for it because I won't put myself back in the hospital.

RT: How do you think your artwork has evolved over the past two or three years since you became a big superstar dude?

MC: Holy shit--I'm so not a superstar.

RT: I disagree.

MC: Trust me.

RT: If you insist, but I'm still disagreeing on the inside.

MC: I think my art is constantly changing. I think it's been getting better. I'm always working on fixing the problems and working out the kinks. I like challenging myself with the projects I chose to work on.

RT: Still on "Outsiders" for the foreseeable future?

MC: I'm working on my last issue.

RT: Oh.

MC: Issue #49 was going to be my last issue, but [editor] Joan [Hilty] asked me to help out with #50, a kind of passing-of-the-torch to the new artist. So, I'm drawing some of that issue.

It's been the longest one-issue gig. Ups and downs. Good times and not so good times. But it's time.

RT: And I cheer for your dedication to the book. Why do you think you fit in with the book so well?

MC: Thanks for the applause. Did I?

RT: I think so.

MC: I found them, most of them at least, very interesting characters to draw. One editor told me I draw the hottest Nightwing; he's all sex appeal, hair blowing and looking rugged. There was a swagger to his walk.

If I fit so well it's because I wanted the fans to enjoy the book and characters as much as I did. I don't know if I did my job as I finally was getting Thunder down and making her look cool and her body language was changing as well as her outfit. Katana, I think, works better now, but I'm in the minority on that on. I like the costume I came up with but most fans don't--oh well, and not to be rude or anything it's just that story wise the Outsiders are modern day pirates and their costumes should reflect that. So she went back to a more basic look. Closer to her original look with out the fur cuffs. Metamorpho was easy, leather pants and a touch of the gruff.

RT: What's the difference between drawing a solo hero book like "Adventures of Superman" and a team book, other than lots more pencil strokes?

MC: It all comes down to the action. For the most part, when the heroes are talking, it's easy. Do some lighting, mix up the camera angle, shoot it from between characters. Easy. Team books -- fighting their villains is way more difficult than a solo character.

Things I always kept in mind are simple things. Batman fights in close and the entire fight takes place within thirty feet from beginning to end. Batman is efficient. Superman fights in city blocks start to finish. If the fight is a good one, several cars and buildings have gotten destroyed and streets torn up.

Team books are different animals, depending on the characters. Comparing Nightwing and Metamorpho, Nightwing is Batman-esque in his fighting, close in and efficient, but with a touch of the flying Grayson thrown in. Rex is a shape-changing, stretching powerhouse. When he gets mad he's a giant acid cloud raining down upon your villainess ass. Now add five more characters plus the villains and, well, there's the day.

RT: Who's your favorite character?

MC: Hands down Superman, got the shield tattooed on my arm.

RT: Who's your favorite character to draw?

MC: In the Outsiders? Metamorpho, with Thunder creeping up. I like drawing her. Most other artists, when they draw her, tend to make her to old. She's only 22. Make her 22.

RT: Who's your least favorite character?

MC: In the 'siders it's Captain Boomerang, Jr .

RT: I like that. "The 'siders." [laughs]

Now, who's your least favorite character to draw?

MC: That would still be Captain Boomerang, Jr.

RT: Poor guy. Oh well, I don't like him either.

Did you read "Checkmate" before the big crossover commenced? If so, what did you like about the book?

MC: Are you trying to get me into trouble? Greg [Rucka's] a friend of mine.

RT: Just a little.

MC: I did read the book before the crossover. Greg and Jesus [Saiz] worked really well together. It was a good, gritty book. Nice and moody. Something that Jesus excels at is lot of good down-to-earth action .

RT: How did you alter your artwork, if at all, for the crossover?

MC: I didn't. I tried to add a touch of Jesus finish to my work, but it never came across in the finished product. But it's tough when dealing with a crossover and a lot of people are working on the same story. Coordinating everything.

Plus, I'm drawing the superhero side of the book, so it needs to look it. These are the bright costume characters to help contrast that everyone dresses the same normal guys in "Checkmate."

RT: Do you feel like the crossover, as a whole, was successful?

MC: It's tough. We were behind for a lot of it. Time just gets lost a lot of the time. I was drawing the final pages of a issue so Joe [Bennett] would know where to start the next issue. But he was coming on late to the party, he was working on a book called "53" or "52" or something like that. I heard it was a big deal.

Jesus had left just before, and Joe was wrapping up "52," so I was working on my issue of "Outsiders," then Joe comes in and starts working on "Checkmate." Then he changed the costumes on characters, which I understand. He wanted to make a mark. You want to make them your own, but really--during the middle of a crossover? Wait 'till its finished then make the changes. Several of my pages were penciled and inked with the Saiz costumes for "Checkmate." So, that part was frustrating.

It was one of those projects that had moments of good times and bad. In the end, I'm proud of my pages and how they came out. There were several pages I wanted to draw for story purpose as I thought it was the best part. But had to pass them over. Life during a crossover--sigh.

RT: Alright, tell me about working with Judd [Winnick].

MC: What would you like to know?

RT: Everything.

MC: Judd writes the script. I get it and draw on it. Spill coffee on it. Do my thumbnails on it. Draw the pages so they closely resemble what the script was calling for. Send jpegs to the [editors] Joan and Rachel and Judd and wait to hear how brilliant I am--still waiting. [aughs]

Seriously though, it's pretty close to that. We're both pretty hands-off with the other person's stuff. I don't tell Judd how to write. He really doesn't tell me how to draw. It's nice that way.

RT: How is getting a script from another artist different than any other 'ol script?

MC: It's less wordy, but more typos. [laughs] It's fine. I'm reaching a point where I want a plot and not a full script.

RT: What other writers are on your "Must Work With" list?

MC: Let's see. There's Joss Whedon.

RT: Who?

MC: You may have heard of him. He's a television writer. Did a show called "Buffy." Oh, and "Angel," Oh, and "Firefly."

Also, there's J. Michael Straczynski. I've been reading his "Amazing Spider-Man" for a while now.

Let's see--Geoff Johns, check. Greg Rucka, check and check and another check. ["Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "The 4400" executive producer] Ira Steven Behr, if he worked in comics I'd love to work with him.

RT: I love "The 4400."

MC: Grant Morrison, because he's Grant Morrison. Mark Waid would be interesting. Gail Simone .

RT: Why'd you decide to fill in for a bit on "Superman/Batman"?

MC: Because it was "Superman/Batman." Eddie called me and asked me to do it. It had Ultra the multi-alien! I got to work with Eddie Berganza again, who's always been nice to me about my work and has helped me grow as an artist. A chance to work on a really high profile book. I got to work with Andy Lanning again, which is always fun.

RT: Alrighty, ready for the lightning round?

MC: Lets do it, baby!

RT: What was your first comic book?

MC: "Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes," unknown issue, as it was missing the cover and I was very little.

RT: What comics can you never miss?

MC: "Nextwave"--crap, it was cancelled. "Planetary"--crap it ended .

RT: Biggest strength as an artist?

MC: Attention to detail, absurd amount of detail.

RT: Biggest weakness?

MC: Moments in which the storytelling is a bit unclear, giving too much room to a establishing shot and sacrificing the big money shot.

RT: What is your favorite comic book of all time?

MC: "My Greatest Adventure" #80, featuring the Doom Patrol in their first appearance. Great Story and fantastic art

RT: What advice do you have for artists trying to break into the biz?

MC: Draw. Buy books on design and figure work. Look at everything with an open eye. Look at other artists, comic book and masters, and try to dissect them. Find out why their stuff works, but not to copy them but learn from them. Get feedback from strangers and professionals. Look around your environment. See what makes up the world and draw that.

Don't be afraid to fail, you'll never learn if you don't try.

RT: Has there ever been a comic book that touched or changed your life? What was it?

MC: "Legion of Super Heroes" #38. It's the final issue to feature a Superboy trying desperately to save his Smallville. It's a very touching story.

RT: If you could only draw one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?

MC: "Doom Patrol." It's one of my dream projects to work on.

RT: Who would be your writing partner?

MC: Ira Steven Behr. If not Ira then Russell T. Davies, the producer on the new "Doctor Who" series. Neither of these guys I know but, hey, I can dream right.

RT: What's the best comic book movie ever made?

MC: That's a close one. It's a tie for me with "Superman: the Movie" and "The Rocketeer . "

RT: What is your weirdest convention experience?

MC: Someone coming up and telling me that he likes girls in comics because "they're better than the real ones."

RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

MC: Making Mr. Mxyzptlk fun and cool. I still have fans coming up and telling me how much they enjoyed "Adventures of Superman" #638. Specifically, the Lara and Mxy tribute to "Calvin and Hobbes" page. The Fumetti was fun also.

Next week: Jimmy Palmiotti!

Now dicuss this story in CBR's DC Comics forum.

Marvel: Busiek & Co. to Retell Key Character Moments With Snapshots

More in Comics