Since he grew up in Ithaca, New York, "Action Comics" artist Aaron Kuder had a certain advantage when he agreed to moderate a panel spotlighting the career of writer and artist Dan Jurgens: he is friendly with Jurgens' fellow "Death of Superman" architect Roger Stern. Kuder opened the discussion, which ranged from Jurgens' involvement in DC Comics' "Convergence" event to his run on "Thor," with a question provided by Stern.
"How was it to bowl with Curt Swan?" Kuder asked. With a laugh, Jurgens recalled that Swan -- an iconic Superman artist from the Silver Age of comics -- a would often come to Minnesota to visit his elderly brother. "He dovetailed it with a convention and we went bowling," he said. "He'd often wear a Superman tie or shirt. It was fun to bowl with him and listen to the stories he had of working on Superman and in comics for as long as he had."
The topic then shifted to artistic process, with Kuder sharing that he often begins a project by producing quick doodles. Kuder asked if Jurgens used a similar method, to which Jurgens responded that it is one of the methods he uses, but is not necessarily the go-to technique. The question reminded him of 1960s DC Comics covers, which often featured a shocking scene. "Those cover ideas were sketched out long before the stories. Carmine Infantino would sketch a cover and they'd assign someone to write around that cover," said Jurgens.
"I'll doodle an idea, but it'll be more like page 17 or 18 of a story," he continued. "Creation is not a linear process."
That informal sketching process came into play when Jurgens, Stern and others plotted the 1992 "Death of Superman" storyline. "We were sitting around and I had a legal pad and wrote down two ideas: 'death of Superman' and 'monster comes to Metropolis.'" While the discussion at the story conference focused on killing Superman, Jurgens began to doodle a monster for his other story idea. Once the other writers and artists saw the initial sketch of Doomsday -- which you can see on his website -- the two ideas became intertwined.
"We just had a moment like that on 'Future's End,'" said Jurgens, referencing the recently concluded DC storyline. "I was trying to describe what a character might look like, but I didn't want to sketch it out and influence the design too much. Ryan Sook starts sketching. He has this intricate style and he says, 'like this?' And, boom, that was it."
Both artists agreed that while sketching during story meetings can yield results, it also had a few pitfalls. Kuder said he tries to keep his cover-sketching to two concepts, but usually ends up providing six options to his editors. Jurgens said he usually winds up with four. "Inevitably they'll want the one I don't want to do," he said.
Similarly, providing sketches of costume designs can lead to trouble down the line. According to Jurgens, costume designs are often considered and approved with the character in a static heroic pose. "People don't necessarily account for what the design will look in motion or in a foreshortened form," he explained. He added that a few recent costume updates have tripped him up while drawing battle scenes.
The discussion moved onto "Convergence," the DC Comics event that replaces the regular DC titles in April and May. Jurgens recounted how the project began. "About a year ago, we were working on 'Future's End' and [DC co-publisher] Dan DiDio told us the [New York] office was moving [to Burbank] and they needed something to cover them," he said. Jurgens suggested that the event be a celebration of DC's rich history and the various versions of its iconic characters. He recalled that writer Brian Azzarello likened it to a kid in a bathtub playing with various toys from different brands, making all the characters come together in playtime.
"Convergence" picks up on the "Futures End" notion of an ultimate, Multiverse-spanning Brainiac. In the series, the Superman villain has stolen cities from the various DC realities and timelines for a secret purpose. The premise allowed Jurgens and other creators to mix and match characters and have fun with the possibilities. Kuder asked if the character selection process was random or carefully planned.
"It's yes/no/all of the above," Jurgens answered. The "Futures End" team jotted down any idea that sounded fun on a whiteboard. The initial plan included 65 tie-in titles, but in pairing it down to 40, some ideas -- including a "Kubert world" for Sgt. Rock and other characters classically rendered by Joe Kubert -- fell by the wayside.
Besides picking which realities to focus on, Jurgens and the team also needed to choose which characters should meet when the barriers between realities began to break down. While some are whimsical, he pointed to his choice of the "Flashpoint" Batman meeting up with the pre-"Flashpoint" Superman and Lois in "Convergence: Superman" #2 as one that came out of the practicality of the situation. The book sees Lois near the end of her pregnancy and who better to deliver the baby than Dr. Thomas Wayne? "I thought about putting them together," Jurgens explained. "There's a good story there."
Opening the floor to questions, a fan asked where "Convergence" takes place. Harkening back to Jurgens' own Linear Men and their base at Vanishing Point in the pages of "Superman," he explained that Brainiac's world "exists outside of time."
When asked if the stories that did not make the cut for "Convergence" could resurface later, Kuder said, "You always put stuff back in your toolbox."
"Aspects might end up in there," Jurgens added. He used the example of how "an 'Infinity Inc.' idea and a 'Justice Society of America' idea could merge very easily." Though both ended up with their own titles, Jurgens said ideas were more often merged than discarded entirely. "Just about everything we put on the board ended up in the project, just not [always] as its own book."
On the flipside, Jurgens was pleased the nature of "Convergence" allowed them to have the Charlton Comics version of Blue Beetle exist in one title while the Giffen/DeMatteis "Justice League" version laughs it up in another. "We can have two Blue Beetles and write stories that are appropriate to each of them," he said.
When a fan asked if he enjoyed drawing Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, Jurgens mentioned he was scheduled to do a "Blue and Gold" title three separate times, but plans fell through each time. As the fan and Jurgens discussed that era of "Justice League," it inspired Jurgens to consider the particular joys of drawing the books he writes.
"One of the differences between artists and writers is that artists want fun stuff to draw," he said. "We want big, visual. Writers are oriented toward 'this is everything to me!' and they want to hone into characters or build a [plot] pyramid." He then joked, "And now a lot of writers are going to be mad at me."
From Jurgens' perspective, a writer/artist is better suited to the demands of superhero comics. "Even during the Marvel Age, Stan Lee would give the guys a 15-minute talk on what the story should be and they'd go and draw it. That's why they were so visual," he explained. "It didn't matter if it was Jack Kirby or Gene Colan or Steve Ditko." He also said being the sole creative force on a project made him significantly more invested, adding, "My name is on it and I'll live and die by it."
Asked about his post-"Convergence" titles, Jurgens offered a few details on "Batman Beyond" and "Bat-Mite." He said the former will explore the various DC futures from "Kamandi" to "Legion of Superheroes" and everything in between while Tim Drake takes over the mantle vacated by the recently departed Terry McGuiness. He also teased that the cover of the second issue will feature "a certain female villain that everyone loves."
"Bat-Mite" is what Jurgens calls an "all-ages" book. "It's meant to be a crazy fun sort of read. There might be joked in it that kids might not get, but they'll still enjoy it."
A fan of Jurgens' run on "Thor" asked if its themes exploring the distinction between deities and superheroes had its origins during his time on "Superman." He replied the themes were very specific to Thor. "On 'Superman,' the thing I always rejected was him being an outsider. He grew up on a farm near Smallville and he had this classic Americana [childhood]. He's Clark Kent. He became Superman later. He was Kal-El after that," he explained. "None of [the god parallels] would be something he gravitated toward."
Conversely, Jurgens noted that "Thor shows up on Earth and says 'I'm a god.'" That was an aspect of the premise he wanted to explore and therefore created a story in which Thor was actually perceived as a god. "It was a very natural evolution," said Jurgens. "We were going to do it as a graphic novel and the sales on those were starting to slump [at the time] and we put it in a monthly and it became a four-year story."
Jurgens was also asked about the brief period he spent simultaneously working on "Spider-Man" and "Superman" -- which at the time coincided with the infamous Clone Saga in the "Spider-Man" titles. "He's about the best fun to draw, but Marvel was wrestling with who they wanted him to be," Jurgens said. "He was in his 30s and married, and they wanted to make him younger, which was the point of Ben Reilly... they found their way out of it. But at the time, the books felt old."
That statement prompted a fan to ask if marriage has a place in superhero comics.
"What does that evolution say for the character?" he responded. "As soon as you get there, you block off certain stories. For Superman, you have to be aware you can't have him fall in love with different characters. There aren't rules, but you have to be aware of the parameters."
He added that reviving the youth appeal was part of the idea in DC's rumored "no marriage" rule in the New 52. "They wanted to make the characters feel younger. We don't see a lot of younger people getting married. I think that's what was happening," he said.
When another fan asked if he felt he took away the impact of death in comics after the success of "The Death of Superman," Jurgens said, "There might be some accuracy in that, but not because of what we did." Though the Superman creative team always intended to bring the Man of Steel back, they were unprepared for the media sensation around the event. As the story went to the presses, the team was still unsure just how to bring him back. That led to the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline and in its wake, the comics industry was rejuvenated financially.
"Later, people saw how well that sold and when anyone wanted to goose sales, [they'd] kill the character," Jurgens said. He suggested it might be "time to tear that method out of the book" for awhile.
Lastly, when asked if he could offer any insight into the post-"Convergence" status quo, Jurgens said, "There is an endgame in mind and a particular destination and it'll be one that pleases fans." He added that the stories are about opening up doors. "DC has this rich history of characters," he explained. "The New 52 won't be invalidated, but we're saying everything at DC has a great deal of value."