Scott McDaniel has one of the sweetest gigs in the entire Comic Book Industry. His early work at Marvel on titles like Daredevil and Elektra helped land him his current job penciling BATMAN over at DC.
McDaniel's art is some of the most vibrant, stark and original in the comics realm today.
Keith Giles hounded Scott for many moons to get this in-depth interview, so listen to McDaniel's take on what makes Batman tick, why DC and Marvel are different, what's wrong with comics and much, much more in this hard-boiled interview with the Dark Knight's resident artist.
Keith Giles:: Scott, most of the titles you've worked on so far, from Daredevil, Nightwing and Batman, is it safe to say that the "dark, mysterious crime fighter" is your superhero of choice?
SM:: That's a pretty good observation! I would modify it a bit, though. As a fan, I enjoy a wide range of superhero types, but as an artist, I have found that my natural artistic instincts lend themselves better to the shadow-dwelling lone hero. My art works best when I can balance positive and negative spaces (creating a shadowy atmosphere), and this balancing is better accomplished when the number of elements is reduced (hence the lone hero). Some artist's work shines in the details, and some artist's work shines in the composition and design. I would say that my work shines in its composition and design.
KG:: How well do you work with Chuck Dixon?
SM:: Arrgh! I HATE that guy! If I EVER hear his name again......Ha! Just kidding! I love working with Chuck! Not only is he a great guy personally, but he manages to pack the most testosterone-per-page into his scripts compared to any other writer I know! When you want to draw action comics, he's THE man to work with!
KG: What new projects do you have on the fire right now? Where can the McDaniel-Addict expect to get a fix this year?
KG: What do you think makes Batman such an enduring and universally appealing character?
SM: That he represents that which is attainable for ordinary humans given enough desire, dedication, motivation, study and training; that he represents justice we secretly desire to administer in the unjust world we live in. That he cares for the uncared for, the victim and also the villain. And we empathize with him over the loss of his parents. The hero always sacrifices or risks something, and he has sacrificed a great deal.
KG: Are there any titles or characters you'd love to take a crack at in the future?
SM: Sure! For now, though, I am focusing on Batman. I haven't nearly accomplished what I set out to do on this book, so I have a lot of Bat work left to do!
In the future, I would love to try my hand on Superman. I had a great time drawing him when he appeared in Nightwing, and I think I could do something really terrific with him. Green Lantern has intrigued me -- I always wondered how I would do with a more cosmic character! I think it would be great fun to draw him! Of course, I would certainly love to revisit the 'Haven in the future, as I am certainly not finished with Nightwing!
Also, I would love to try my hand at characters like the Hulk. You know, the big, dumb, green, "Hulk wants beans" Hulk! I think I could do cool things with a character like Wolverine, for the reasons you noted in your first question! I would love a crack at Spider-Man (how could anyone resist the aerial acrobatics and cool rogues gallery??). I would also love to return to Daredevil and accomplish what I attempted to accomplish, but didn't, the first time.
I'd also love to write and draw my own characters. I've started studying writing, and started doing some writing already! My interest is in creating a contemporary Christian comic.
KG: I understand that you've signed an exclusive contract with DC. When that runs out, would you be interested in going back to Marvel and work for Quesada?
For example, I was quite happy working on Nightwing for the first 40 issues. I felt I had accomplished the goals I established for myself when I first began on Nightwing. Those goals were (in no particular order): To infuse my art with ENERGY, so that everything looked like it had life, energy and motion; To render objects and people clearly and with roundness (my previous art was often extremely angular and often vague/obscure in detail due to it's very high contrast); To be a bit more conservative, yet still creative, with my page layouts (often I would do intricate border designs, or very aggressive panel layouts, that detracted from the story being told INSIDE the panels).
Toward the end of my run, I simply felt I wasn't bringing anything NEW to the book. I needed new artistic challenges to force me to create new artistic goals, so I could continue to grow as an artist. At that time, the Bat office was preparing for the post-Cataclysm teams, and I threw my hat into the ring for Batman, who is in fact my all-time favorite super-hero character. And I got the job!!!
But, to return to your question, I would say that I would certainly entertain the idea of working again for Marvel in the future. However, I simply haven't come close to meeting the goals I set for myself for my time on Batman. I feel that there is something powerful lurking "within me," and until I can find a way to free that energy into my art, I'm not going anywhere!
KG: Which of your published works are you especially proud of?
SM: I really loved Daredevil #325, the conclusion of the "Fall From Grace" story line. I think everyone involved produced at or beyond their capabilities for this one issue, and I look back on it fondly.
I love some of the work I did on the "Elektra: Root of Evil" mini-series. I was experimenting with gray tones on the inside cover art, and some of it turned out quite nice.
I love quite a few of my Nightwing issues, where I think I was really "clicking" (story-telling, action, detail, composition). Artistically, that's a pretty good "zone" to be working in! I couldn't list them all, but a few off the top of my head are Nightwing #1/2, 13-15, 19-20, 35-38.
I "like" a few of my Batman issues: #575-576 (I worked like a maniac on the art for these two!), and #582-583 (the first two with writer Ed Brubaker). However, none of these books capture what I want to express in my Bat-art, so I KNOW the best is yet to come!
KG: Would you like to return to penciling Daredevil one day?
SM: Yes, I would love to return to drawing Daredevil. Daredevil was my first monthly work, and I was pretty awful when I started! I just wasn't in sufficient command of the requisite skills to accomplish what I deeply desired to accomplish. Maybe someday I'll get a chance to do it right.
KG: What is it about Daredevil as a character that appeals to you?
SM: If you can set aside the radar, he is just a guy. That has major appeal to me. Given enough dedication, study and training, you or I could be like Daredevil (or Batman!). He represents an ideal that is attainable in our human condition, and that's exciting! Further, Daredevil (and Batman) aren't just interested in beating the tar out of the next bad guy to walk down the street. They are interested in redeeming the bad guy, to make him cross over to be a good guy if possible. And that is appealing to me because it speaks to the implicit understanding that each person has value, not just the "good" ones.
KG: Are there any artists whose work you especially appreciate?
As a boy, the list would include: Jim Aparo, Mike Grell, Jose Garcia-Lopez, Bernie Wrightson, Gil Kane, Kurt Swan, and a host of others.
As a teen, the list would include John Byrne, Marc Silvestri, Rick Leonardi, John Buscema, Frank Miller, among a host of others.
Early in my pro career, I became overly influenced by Frank Miller's graphic work, as I'm sure you could tell from my later Daredevil work.
As a "seasoned" pro, I try to avoid looking at the work of my contemporaries, to eliminate any conscious and subconscious influences. I am trying to develop and grow my own style, creating a unique one-of-a-kind look.
I don't have to tell you that there are a tremendous amount of extremely talented artists working in comics today, and I admire many of them for their awesome talent!
KG: How did you break into the comics field?
|Panel from Nightwing: The Target|
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (BSEE) from Bucknell University in 1986. During those years, I met my best pal, Glenn Herdling.
After graduation, I went to work for Kearfott Guidance and Navigation Corporation, based in Wayne, NJ. I was a systems engineer for the inertial reference packages they made for satellites. These packages were about the size of a shoebox, and contained two gyroscopes and accompanying electronics. My claim to fame is that my name was among those microfilmed and placed onboard the Magellan spacecraft, whose mission was to take radar images of the surface of Venus. It has since burned up in the Venutian atmosphere.
After graduation, my college pal Glenn went to work for Marvel Comics, in editorial (lucky dog!). Glenn and his family helped me get started on my own in NJ, and we remained very good friends. I would do my engineering thing during the day, and draw comics at night. It was pretty exhausting, with a wife and infant son. Glenn would take my drawings with him into Marvel, and get them critiqued by other editors and whatever pros happened by that day. Then, it was back to the board to incorporate the pro advice I was given. After several years of this, I finally was offered my first pro work, a Prowler back-up story in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #9, thanks to the story's writer- Glenn Herdling. He was instrumental in me getting that first work.
I was offered some small work in Marvel Comics Presents, but it was very infrequently, and I had tried to get work from other sources (all while still working full time as an EE). I did some "SuperCops" work for NOW comics, but the company went bankrupt, and I was not paid for the work I had done, nor was it published. I did a little work for Innovation Comics, but I was fired for not being good enough.
Glenn to the rescue! We did an issue of "What If...?" together ("What If Spidey Never Lost His Cosmic Powers?"), and that got me active with Marvel. I was offered 4 Spider-Man annuals (the "Hero Killers" story). I completed the 3 main Spidey annuals, and before beginning on the last part, the New Warriors annual, Ralph Macchio (editor of Avengers, Daredevil, and others) offered me a 5 month try-out stint on Daredevil! How did this come out of the blue?? Glenn's assistant editor, Pat Garrahy, had just moved over to work with Ralph Macchio. Pat was familiar with my work through Glenn, and he saw a lot of potential in me. It was Pat who convinced a very reluctant Ralph to give me a shot on Daredevil following the departure of Lee Weeks. I suppose the opening sentence should read "Glenn and Pat to the rescue!"
I jumped/leapt at the DD opportunity by quitting my engineering job and going into comics full-time! (Sorry again to Danny Fingeroth for not completing all 4 annuals!)
From this point, the broad stroke of my career is as follows:
- Daredevil monthly series
- Elektra Limited Series
- Green Goblin monthly series
- Nightwing monthly series
- Batman monthly series
And I'm having a blast!
KG: Warren Ellis has written quite a bit about the need for comics that break the typical Superhero mold and how the market can be expanded without the use of the typical spandex themes. Do you think that the future of comics lies in this direction, or will there always be a dominant Spandex Market?
SM: I have always looked at comics the same way I look at film. You would never say, "Film is only good for spy stories! It'll never work for children's fantasy stories, and certainly not for comedy!" I think comic books are a story vehicle, plain and simple. If you can think of a genre and a story, you can make it a comic.
KG: Do you feel that the Internet, with Online Comics, Flash Animation, etc. will produce the next big thing for comics?
SM: Call me old-fashioned, but I just don't think that the Internet and e-books will ever replace the charm of sitting in your most comfortable place with a paper-printed book for a night's reading. There is a connection between holding a physical book in your hands and the actual experience of reading that these electronic media just cannot capture.
I do think the Internet and other electronic media may make very good companions to printed material, though.
KG: Some critics recently have commented that the current wave of ultra-violence in mainstream comics will soon be followed by an increase in sexual content. Any thoughts on this?
SM: Hard to predict, but I wouldn't be surprised if that happens. Society in general tends to push the envelope of accepted behavior. We always want "more" (faster and taller roller coasters, faster "fast food," more racy videos, more vulgar comedy, more action-packed movies, etc.). In search for the next thrill, accepted norms are pushed back, and the new levels are explored. In terms of story media, it seems that sex and violence are always mentioned in the same breath, so a marked increase in one may very well herald a marked increase in the other.
KG: In comics there seem to be two main camps of thought. One side feels that comics are mainly collectibles and buy multiple copies, foil covers, Dynamic Forces special editions, etc. The other side feels that comics are mainly to be read and enjoyed as a form of entertainment. Where do you fall on this classic issue?
SM: I suppose I'm old-fashioned again, but I feel that comic books are meant to be read and enjoyed. The real value of the comic is the content of the STORY (verbal and visual). As a child, I began reading comics for escapist entertainment. I wanted to experience life in a way I never could, and feel as if I was living through these adventures with my favorite heroes. I began to see in those heroes positive qualities that I wanted in ME, and it helped me figure out who I wanted to be as an adult. As a teen, reading comics let me experience joy, pain, suffering, sacrifice, that emotional roller-coaster that we as a story-culture all crave. To me, that's where the true value of a comic lies, in the story.
I really can't stand purposefully creating collectible merchandise (anyone remember Beanie Babies?). This artificially created rarity is nonsensical to my mind. Genuine value is created by an object's impact on humanity, or with true rarity.
If I could only keep one box full of your "stuff", and all the rest was to be burned up, what would you keep? Would you keep a poly-bagged comic you never read, or would you jam into the box an old comic you read as a kid that first taught you about heroic sacrifice, or helped ease the pain over your first break-up?
KG: What were some of your favorite comics as a kid?
SM: I loved mostly Superman and Batman as a kid. As a got older, I began to really love X-Men and Iron Man and Hulk and Daredevil and Conan. As I got older and found the world to be increasing complex, I began to enjoy more complex characters and stories.
KG: What are some of your favorite comics now? (Other than the one's you draw).
SM: I always use the donut example. If you were a baker, and you baked donuts 12 hours a day, would you come home and eat a dozen donuts for fun?? And when you did eat someone else's donuts, you'd probably find yourself thinking "Yuck! I wouldn't have put jelly in this one! This one needed a heap of jimmies on the top! And this one isn't even round!"
So, I don't read comics nearly as much as I used to when I was younger! But I read all of the Bat books. Greg Rucka is doing some really interesting and powerful things in Detective Comics right now, and I skim read a lot of other super-hero stuff. I like a lot of what Mark Waid does, and of course Chuck Dixon can do no wrong in my book.
It's frustrating to read through comics and agonize how I would do the visuals differently! That's not to say that I'm better than everyone else doing comics! Not at all! There are plenty of guys out there that can draw circles around me, as the saying goes. I'm talking about choices/preferences, not right/wrong. It's just hard for me to simply enjoy the work as created without thinking "That's not how I would have done it!"
KG: What is a typical day like for you?
|Panel from Nightwing: The Target|
KG: Recently, Frank Miller made some rather negative comments about Wizard Magazine. Do you feel that this self-named "Guide To Comics" fulfills its purpose, or does it fail to cover all the bases?
SM: It's hard for me to form an opinion about trade press. I don't go out of my way to read any of it on a consistent basis. I am much more concerned with having my work speak for me, not a trade reporter.
Concerning Wizard Magazine, I have done 2 covers and a Drawing Board article, and I have only read about 25 issues of the magazine.
Our industry is entertainment and artistic, and thus it is inherently subjective. There is no way around it. If we were making toasters, trade reporters could make much more objective comparisons, like, what are the physical dimensions of the slots, can they hold bagels, how many BTUs are delivered to the bread, etc. But, we are making art, and there are far fewer objective standards to fall back upon. Is the story told in a proper manner? Is enough information given to understand the thesis? Can you tell what is happening in the art? When there are dozens of DIFFERENT ways a thing can be accomplished in art, who can really tell which is the BEST way? Art evokes emotion, and you have to be willing to accept trade reports that rely on those subjective responses.
There are some positives concerning Wizard. There have been good bio articles on creators, and some historical ones about comics too. I think Wizard's Drawing Board article has been a good way to share pro insights with aspiring artists.
The negatives concerning Wizard? For me, I never understood how hot books, hot creators, or hot picks are determined. Do the people making the choices actually see all the material from which to base that decision each month, or do they rely on insights from others? It seems to me that as a trade magazine you want to COVER all the material, not CATEGORIZE it for the readers. Let them make up their OWN minds. And personally, I just never cared for it's irreverent tone. I'd prefer to have trade reports be pretty straight, but I understand that the magazine is also trying to be "entertainment," in the style of ESPN's "SportsCenter."
KG: Recently Brian Bendis announced his new Marvel Mature title, ALIAS, would include scenes of graphic sexuality. Do you feel that this is going too far? Aren't there certain lines that should be drawn in the comic industry when it comes to explicit themes?
SM: The phrase "scenes of graphic sexuality" probably means something different to Bendis and me. I don't know specifically what he is planning to do, but I would offer extreme caution and responsibility in response to it. I understand that sexuality is a part of adult life, and there are life lessons to be taught and learned about sexuality. However, I think you can do those things implicitly in a story. To do it in a graphic way seems to me to be just another in a long line of gimmicks to get people's attention. The master storyteller Alfred Hitchcock often relied on the viewer's mental extrapolation of a scene to supply the missing graphic elements as opposed to creating the graphic scene on film, he felt the viewer's mind created the more powerful picture. If it's good enough for Hitchcock, why not for Bendis?
KG: Do you ever feel that you have to compromise your beliefs in order to be successful in the comic book industry?
SM: I am a Christian man working in a predominantly non-Christian industry. Have I had to compromise my beliefs? Short answer: "no." The long answer follows!
My "break-in" into my faith occurred almost at the same time as my "break-in" into comics. One of my first attempts to get into comics was with Innovation Comics doing a Freddy Krueger comic. I had to draw a toothless prostitute getting disemboweled by Freddy, and I did it to the absolute best of my ability. It was gross, to be sure, but not so offensive as to keep me from doing it. I was struggling with my faith and Christianity at that time, and it wasn't until I showed the art to my pastor who was interested in what I was working on. I showed him the art. He didn't say a word. He didn't have to. That was the first time I felt absolutely embarrassed and ashamed of the work of my hands. There was absolutely nothing redeemable about that story and that art, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that God had given me this talent for a better purpose.
So how do I square up comics with Christianity?
I love action and adventure, good versus evil stories. In fact, you can find a lot of action and intrigue in the stories of the Old Testament. It's all there - murder, betrayal, adultery, greed, envy... you name it, people have done it and it shows up somewhere in the Bible. The real point is how we RESPOND to all these things, and what it teaches us about our relationship with each other and with God. So, the key is finding work that is at least compatible with my Christian beliefs.
This is why I love characters like Daredevil and Batman. They represent justice and fairness, the "good" that conquers the "evil." They are honest, sincere and trustworthy. They are passionate in what they believe, and I think they both believe in the tremendous value of life and in the tremendous value of the individual, even if he is a "bad guy." All these traits are definitely compatible with Christianity!
And the superhero story structure sets the motivations of the good guys against the motivations of the bad guys, plays out the conflict, and counts the consequences in the end. And this is the story key -- as long as the consequences for the actions taken are proper, then there should be no incompatibility with Christianity. After all, good people have done bad things in the Bible... and they paid for it too.
Let's not forget the art key here, to create visuals in a respectful and tasteful manner. Some pretty gruesome events are described in the Bible, but not in a gratuitously graphic way. In like manner, my work should be accurate but not gratuitous in any way.
To fully answer your question, I have turned down work in the past that I felt would go against my beliefs (an experience at Marvel). I have also changed work that I felt went too far over the line in a way that maintained the thesis of the story and eliminated the objectionable parts (an experience at DC). Did my career suffer for those decisions? I don't know! Would I make the same decision if I had it to do again? You bet!
I believe that God has given me my talent, and I am to use that talent in a way that honors Him. I am to be a part of the world, sharing Christ's influence on my life with others. That's all I'm trying to do.
KG: In your opinion, is the comic industry healthy or is it in trouble? What can be done to increase sales and the appeal of comic books?
SM: Tough question!
You simply have to compare sales figures from 10 years ago with today's numbers to see that the sales levels have dropped dramatically. Now, is that caused by all the new books published now compared to then? I don't know. I'd be interested in that comparison. That is, if it is possible to add up the total number of comics bought in a given month then and now, that would be a better indicator of the change in readership than simply seeing how the one top selling comic numbers have changed.
How to increase comics appeal and sales? First... you have to ADVERTISE! If you have a product that no one knows about, what do you do? TELL THEM! They might like what they see! Next, something should be done to control the price of the books. I often wonder if we're not pricing ourselves out of existence. Just look at the computer market. When personal computers first arrived for the masses, you could get a personal computer sporting a 486 processor priced around $2500. Now, you can get a computational Ferrarri in the Pentium IV for $2500. Computers have gotten more sophisticated, and a bit cheaper (adjusting for inflation). Comics, on the other hand, have gotten more sophisticated and much more expensive.
KG: You've worked at Marvel and DC both. In your opinion, what are the major differences between the two companies philosophically as well as in a business sense.
SM: Another tough question. Remember, I worked at Marvel during the boom and bust, and at DC during the bloody aftermath, so that is going to drive a lot of the differences! Also, when you work for Marvel or DC you don't work with a machine or corporate identity, you work with PEOPLE. And people are different. So, the experience of working with nuanced people often overrides any sense of company philosophy.
While at Marvel in the early 90s, I remember nearly everything being late! I always did what I could to work in the monthly time allotment, but when you start 2 -3 months late, there wasn't much to be done to improve the situation! Everything just felt rushed and "last-minute." And the offices seemed to be a zoo! There were antics-galore! It was like something out of a Jerry Lewis movie! During the bust phase when layoffs abounded, it was literally dangerous for a book to be late, and most staffers seemed to be in fear of losing their jobs. The cages seemed to be locked in the zoo. There was no sense of a company publishing plan, and books were started/canceled in short order. Creatively, it seemed a bit stifling at times, but mostly I was preoccupied with simply trying to do MY best work. But I also had the pleasure of working with some absolutely terrific people at Marvel, and they will always have a special place in my heart.
While at DC, I've noticed that there was much less chaos and impending doom. Staffers could relax enough to actually enjoy what they were doing! And they were sticklers for schedule - as they should be! After all, this is a publishing business, and you can't make money if you don't publish any books! In general, they seemed to me to be a more professional bunch. Fun, but definitely not a zoo. I also had the pleasure of working with some absolutely terrific people at DC, and they will always have a special place in my heart.
KG: If you couldn't be a full-time artist, what would you do with your life?
SM: All I ever wanted to be was either an astronaut or a comic book artist! I gave up a career as an electrical engineer to work in comics, but I can't see myself returning to it. I would love to be a physicist, but I'm not smart enough for that! When I was a kid, a Bazooka Joe comic told me that I'd be the first man on Mars, so maybe I should touch base with NASA every now and then!
KG: What's the best thing about working in comics?
SM: Being able to work in a creative field, and getting paid to do what I love to do! It's demanding work, but the reward it pretty immediate. A few months after I finish a book, it is available to everyone, and the feedback comes in pretty quickly!
And working at home is a definite bonus! The only rush-hour traffic I face is stumbling over the dog or cat on my way to my home office!
KG: What's the worst thing about working in comics? (Didn't see that one comin' didja?)
SM: Wondering about the fate of the industry. Not worrying -- wondering. I ask God to direct my career path, and I know He'll always provide what I need.
The next thing would be the sheer amount of hours it takes to draw comics! Last year I worked over 3100 hours - which averages to over 60 hours for each of the 52 weeks of the year! The year before that one was similar, and so was the year before that!
I just thank God that I work at home, so I can make time for my family and church commitments. I couldn't do it if I had to work out of the home this much.
KG: Do you ever get attached to your characters, to the point that seeing them drawn by others becomes difficult or annoying?
SM: Great question! I never thought it'd happen to me, but it did on Nightwing! As you may remember, I was onboard Nightwing from issue #1. Each and every new supporting character had to be visually designed by me, and there were TONS of supporting characters! I did character turn-arounds (views of the characters face from the front, 3/4 front, side, 3/4 rear, and rear) just to keep them all unique and consistent. When I left Nightwing, the awesomely talented Greg Land stepped in to continue the series. Most of the characters that had only been drawn by me were now being interpreted by someone else, and to me they felt like strangers! None more than that kook Tad "Nitewing" Ryerstad! He was designed to look like he had something wrong with him, but Greg drew him like a Hollywood hunk! He just felt like a total stranger to me. Weird!
KG: Ten or twenty years from now, Scott, when you look back at your career in comics, what is it that you hope to have accomplished?
SM: I would hope that people will look back fondly over my body of work and remember it as being special in some way to them. I hope to make a lasting, positive contribution to the characters I choose to work on. I hope to inspire others to reach their own dreams and goals. I hope to have created a body of work that brings honor to God.
KG: Any final thoughts or messages you'd like to send to your fans out there?
SM: It is extremely satisfying and rewarding to learn when someone really enjoys the work of my hands. It's like getting a pat on the back and told "Great job!" All the time! So, to everyone that has enjoyed my work, I say "Thank you!" and know that I do my level best to create the most exciting art I can! And especially to those that have taken the time to e-mail or snail mail me with a personal note, or to stop by at a convention and personally say "Hi!", I can tell you that you all make those brutal 12-15 hour days worth the extra effort! Again, "Thank you" to all!
I believe that God has created each of us for a specific work, and that He has given us talents to enable us to accomplish that work. I hope you discover what your talents are, and how to use them in the right way.