THE BAT SIGNAL: Capullo Tackles "Batman"

While most fans were first introduced to him as the longtime penciller of "Spawn," Capullo actually began his comic book career at Marvel Comics drawing "Quasar" and "X-Force" before McFarlane brought him to Image Comics in the early '90s. After drawing "Spawn" and his creator-owned miniseries "The Creech" for the better part of a decade, in the early 2000s Capullo took a break from comics, working instead as a commercial artist for Blizzard Entertainment and bands such as Korn and the Chemical Brothers. Returning to the comic book biz two years ago to co-illustrate Image's "Haunt" with Ryan Ottley. His name having become synonymous with Image Comics, Capullo's announcement as the new penciller for "Batman" took many by surprise.

After speaking with Scott Snyder about the relaunching series, THE BAT SIGNAL felt it was time to chat up the art side of "Batman," and Capullo happily obliged. Below, the incoming Bat-artist talks about the reasons behind his decision to leave "Haunt," his vision for the Dark Knight, redesigning the Joker and why he often finds himself more excited drawing supporting characters than the hero.

CBR News: While you have longstanding ties and a history at Image Comics, as of September, you're going to be known as the artist on "Batman" for DC Comics. How did you get involved with the book -- did DC approach you or vice versa?

Greg Capullo: I forgot which came first, if they initially gave me a jingle in the email or if I put the word out that I wanted to go back into mainstream for a bit. Either way, it happened when I was talking to Bob Harras who was my editor on "X-Force" back in the day at Marvel. He straight off the bat mentioned "Batman" -- and maybe some "Superman" in there -- but either way, it was "Batman." As I continued to talk to DC, it became more zeroed in on, "This is the project we want you to do." It's Batman, so how do you really say no?

True! Were you always a big Batman fan?

Batman was probably the only DC thing I gravitated to. I mean, I had some "Superman," some "Aquaman," some "Justice League" and "Green Lantern," I had some of that stuff for sure, but growing up, the vast majority of my comics were Marvel Comics. But certainly, every kid on the planet loves Batman! Actually, my mom has a drawing I did of Batman when I was four years old, so it's like this is destiny!

You're doing the penciling and covers for "Batman," and you mentioned you were working on a cover for "Flash" as well -- are you doing the covers for any other DC titles?

Well, they had me do a "Green Lantern" cover, which they had me edit, and now they asked me to do a "Flash" cover. It's cool, it's part of the relaunch, though the "Flash" cover won't be for issue 1 -- I believe it'll be for issue 2, a variant. But the "Green Lantern" cover will be for the first issue.

Having spent so much of your career at Image, did you find you had to modify your art to fit in with the DC Comics universe and style?

A lot of stuff you've seen me draw, especially in "Haunt," is not really me, but the job. It's what the writer is asking for and it's what that group of fans expect. Really, one of the motivating factors for me getting off "Haunt" was, I've got a nine-year-old stepson and I can't really let him look at the book; he certainly can't bring it to school and show his friends. I'm not really a gore-fest guy myself, you know? So, to tone that aspect of [my art] down is not really any kind of a challenge for me. With "Batman," surprisingly, there's still some pretty sharp edges, so it's not devoid of blood, but I don't have to show evisceration. I don't think there's going to be much trouble, especially with that particular title, "Batman," because they talked to me saying it's detective/horror. They even tagged the name horror to it. So, no problems that way.

What are the things you actually do like to draw, since you say you're not a fan of gore?

I'll tell you, my favorite part of drawing is supporting characters: the nondescript guys, the non-hero guys. I really love drawing body language and facial expressions and portraying subtle emotions. I mean, I'll go crazy sometimes to get just the right subtlety in the motion in the way a hand is gestured or a body is posed. That's where I get off. When I was learning how to draw when I was a kid, I used to go to the downtown area and sit across from a bus stop wearing shades and have my little sketchpad and just doodle people, quick gesture drawings. Anyways, that's still my very favorite thing to do. Even when I was doing "Spawn," every time I got to do Sam and Twitch, that, to me, was more fun than drawing Spawn. That's the thing I really, really like to do.

That's interesting, as I just saw some of the "Batman" images of Nightwing and Joker -- was doing the sketches of Joker and those "Batman" supporting characters your favorite part of working on this book?

Well, who doesn't love the Joker? The challenging thing was modifying him. Scott Snyder was saying, "As much of the nose and chin as we can get rid of, lets." We didn't want him to look so much like a woodenhead carved dummy with the absurdly elongated nose and chin, because while that looks very cool and it's certainly a ball to draw, the chance of you running into that cat in an alley is pretty remote! We wanted to make Joker somebody that you can actually run into, somebody who might be your neighbor -- well, hopefully not your neighbor! [Laughs] But somebody more believable and reality-based, which is something Scott wants to do with a lot of the characters. It's been a tough one because people don't like change and are very personally tied and emotionally invested in these characters. Just the fact that I've given him crinkly hair has driven a lot of people insane! That was the biggest challenge, but certainly, it's still a lot of fun.

What has it been like working with Scott Snyder?

It's cool; Scott's a really super, super, super nice guy. He was a little apprehensive coming in, because I like to do the directing and the wave of writers these days pretty much go, "Draw this, draw that," and do a little film directing so to speak. I've never worked that way. It's not that I think I'm the better director, but you give me a script and, just like in the movies, you turn in a screenplay, now let me get behind the camera and tell your story. Scott, understandably so, has never worked with me before, so he was a little nervous. He's handing me his baby -- don't want to drop the baby, you know! [Laughs]

So it was a little rough early on, where he was very nervous. I understood and I'd just go, "Let me show you what I'm going to do, and if you don't like it, we can work from there." And it turns out, he loves everything I hand him. Now, our relationship is much more relaxed and he's adapting his writing style around the way I like to work, I'm adapting the way I work around what he likes to do with his work -- because it's not cool to make anybody completely change the way they run. He and I are finally starting to get in sync with each other. We're just getting ready to go into the third issue, and as Scott has said himself, we're going to be turning ourselves into a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine. It's working great now.

I know the "Marvel way" of doing comics is similar to that, where the writer provides more of an outline and the artist does the directing and layout -- since you started your comics at Marvel, is that one of the reasons you prefer doing the directing yourself?

Well, certainly. I mean, when I was trying to get into comics, that was what I was told I had to do. So I studied directing via books and studied film and took all the advice on becoming a good storyteller, and I've always been praised from early on as being a good storyteller. That's the way I've always done it. Now, the funny thing that you mentioned about Marvel, because I was also talking to them before signing with DC, is, a lot of the writers now are doing what used to be DC's way of doing it, which is, the writer does a full script and tells you where to put the camera and how many panels on a page. It seems like this has been a change in the industry. I've heard through the wind that DC is actually trying to turn it the other way, to get writers to loosen up and give more artistic freedom to the guys who are actually drawing it. It's not to say that writers can't do a brilliant job, but as the visual end, [artists] have a very keen understanding, at least I do, of what things are going to translate onto a page. If I can pace it out myself, I can let it breathe where it needs to breathe. Sometimes a writer will go, "I want this!" and you say, "Well, that equates to twelve panels, and that'll be adventures in Tiny Town!" I think the artist can do pretty fair job if allowed.

Turning to your artwork, what struck me immediately about your cover to the first issue of "Batman" is the fantastic lighting, with the beams of sun filtering through the buildings, shadowing Batman's face. You've played with lighting in your work before, but is light versus shadows a theme you are playing with in "Batman," at least for the first arc?

Well, "Spawn" was very dark and shadowy, and "Batman" is a lot like that. But one of the things I want to do with "Batman" -- which, by the way, let me just say, and I've said it before, but your first one or two issues, you're still trying to find yourself. In issue one, I started it kind of cartoony and it got more serious as I got my feel of the book. Even my concept of how I'm going to light the book has changed. What I want to do is, even though it's a color book, give it a film noir [feel] in spots. So what I've been messing with is doing secondary lighting. Even when something is in shadow, in some cases have a soft up-light that's coming into the shadow, so you have a strong light coming from the one side and you have a soft up-light, even within the shadow. I'm definitely experimenting with the way I want to light the book. We have FCO [Placencia] on colors now, and I've been talking to him about what I'm trying to achieve. I'm sure that we're going to produce something that looks pretty cool!

We spoke to Scott about the book, and he had a lot to say about the psychology of Gotham and the darkness of Batman, but for you, as the artist, what are you trying to emphasize with this Batman? Are you trying to make him look significantly different than the Batman we've seen pre-September?

You know, the one good or bad thing is that I haven't follow "Batman," so I don't know what the "Batman" artists preceding me have been doing. The stuff I used to see was obviously Neal Adams and David Mazzucchelli and I've seen a couple of images that Jock has done, and you go, "OK I'm digging that, it's all cool." But I'm really not following any of that stuff. It's my turn to do "Batman." Love it, hate it, I'm going to do it my way. For me, it needs to be a Batman I would be afraid of. I want him to be big and imposing so he gives the impression that if he hit you, you'd feel like you got hit by a truck; like if he rammed you with his body,, it's a slab of meat pounding into you. But I also want him to appear sharp, as if to cut you. So the cape is very sharp and he's got the blades on his gauntlets and he's got the pointy ears. But I smooth him out. Unlike [David] Finch who does the bodybuilder sprayed with gray paint look, which is very cool, I don't have the shredded, razor-sharp abdominal muscles on mine. He's more of a slab who'd be hitting you. That's my interpretation of Batman and sort of where I'm going with it: a big, monolithic, imposing, character who can just plow you over and cut you to ribbons.

We touched upon this earlier, but I want to get a little more into it. "Batman" is your return to mainstream comics. Why did you feel specifically that this was the time to work for DC Comics rather than develop a creator-owned project?

Well, I've been writing the third story arc to "The Creech;" I'll finally, finally get to it, so that's not to say I won't do that again. But where I was at, I had taken quite a bit of time off. I was like nine years outside of doing comic interiors, working the whole time, but doing other things. Then Todd [McFarlane] all of a sudden calls me up and goes, "I need you to come back and do 'Spawn.'" I was groaning, because I had done so much of that and I was really burnt out on the character. But he's my buddy and so I said OK. Then, at the last minute he goes, "Or you could do this new book 'Haunt' with Robert Kirkman." I go "OK! Anything but 'Spawn!'" [Laughs]

I hadn't had in my head at the time to commit to doing comics at all, again. But then I started getting into it and excited again. It had been a long time off and I forgot I really like doing this! So I had high hopes, but there was so much prejudice against early on with [fans calling "Haunt"] "Spidey-Spawn," and I go, "I'm working real hard to reach a very limited audience -- which, God bless the ones who love what Rob and I were doing on the book -- but if I'm going to work this hard I'd really like some more people see my work." So that was one of the motivating factors. Certainly, with a larger readership there's more money to be had, and I got married to a lovely woman who has kids, one of which I'm ready to help go through college. I never wanted kids, and here I am paying for college tuition already! [Laughs] So, family played into this, and wanting to show your work to a broader audience -- those are the two main factors.

You're working at DC and you've done stuff with Marvel, like "X-Force," but for a lot of people, you're an artist firmly married to Image. As you said, you've done a ton of work on "Spawn." Do you feel that your current art style has been greatly influenced by years of working on and off with Todd McFarlane on "Spawn?"

I would say, certainly, any time you work with anybody you're going to influence each other. I still think at the core I'm the same guy who has the same sensibilities I had starting out working at Marvel. The thing that happened during those years on "Spawn," as I look back through the books, Todd really was cool as cool could be in never restricting or directing me to do this or that. What that enabled me to do was a lot of experimentation with my own work. You go, "OK -- Todd has thrown reality out the window long ago," so I, at times, bent reality to places where I now can't believe I was that wacky! Still, it gave me a chance to explore my own artistic abilities.

You know, a lot of people go, "Greg looks like Todd in some ways." Let me tell you, anybody who works for Todd and he puts his ink on it, Todd steps on your work very hard with his inks, Being as his inking style is so distinctive, it's very easy for people to conclude that you're looking like him, which is not really the case. He's making your work look like him! [Laughs] His new guy, who just took over "Haunt," Todd was telling me, is complaining because Todd gets in there, he can't resist. Even when you hand in inked work, he can't resist going in there and adding his stuff on top, and the guy's going "It doesn't look like my work anymore!" And you go, that's Todd! [Laughs] I would see this early on, going, "Christ, when I give it to him, he does this!" I wanted control over my own work, so I would go, "OK he wants to put a lot of detail there, I'll put a lot of detail there," so I would have some control over the way the detail would end up looking. And it was still a lost cause; he would still get in there and do his own thing. In that respect, I guess that's the extent of his influence over me. Other Image guys, I've never studied their work, so I can't say I've been influenced by them. I kind of like to pursue my own artistic sensibilities.

Since we're talking about inkers, what has it been like working with Jonathan Glapion, the inker for "Batman?"

Jonathan's just turned into a monster -- everybody's heard me say "Danny Miki! Danny Miki is God!" and Danny Miki is God in my book, but Jonathan is following right in the footsteps of Danny Miki. Danny started on me, and he seemed to instinctively know what I wanted. It was just magical. I was talking to Danny before signing up Jonathan, because I've seen a lot of good stuff with Jonathan on "Haunt." I was thinking he could be the guy, and Danny is going, "I promise you -- he's the guy. He's monstrously talented he's getting better every minute and he'll let you shine through, he won't mask your stuff like some of the other guys!" We had a couple of conversations going in, and I'm very impressed with what he's doing. He's the guy to watch, in my view. Jonathan Glapion's going nowhere but up.

Are you working on anything else besides "Batman?" Any other comics or other commercial work?

The last thing I did was for some mouse pad they're going to give away at BlizzCon, but you can always find some of the trading cards there that I've done for "World Of Warcraft." I've been getting calls from Random House Publishing for more paperback covers, but I don't know if I have the time to do it. Right now, people should just be looking at "Batman;" that's where all my focus is, I've been closing the door to other things so that I can solely focus on that and make it the best I can possibly make it.

Finally, what part of the book are you most excited to work on? Is it getting the chance to draw Batman, or working with Scott or returning to mainstream comics?

It's Batman! [Laughs] Like I said, the little kid in you screams! I was talking to Marvel Comics at the same time, and they offered me a most spectacular assignment. So every night, I'm going to bed trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life, which course I'm going to take. When I was lying in bed at night trying to figure it out with a logical mind, the little kid in me just kept kicking and going, "It's Batman! It's Batman!" Finally I just said, "Yeah, Batman!" It's just so exciting to do the Caped Crusader and I had to get my hooks on him. It's all about the Bat and it just happens to be good fortune I'm hooked up with Scott, who has written an incredibly great story, and I have a great art team next to me.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Batman" #1 hits September 21

Detective Comics Turns Bruce Wayne's Orphanage Into a [SPOILER]

More in Comics