IN-DEPTH: Darick Robertson

Fri, August 28th, 2009 at 8:58am PDT

Comic Books
Bill Mitchel, Contributing Writer

Perhaps best known for his work with Warren Ellis on “Transmetropolitan,” Darick Robertson has worked for publishers big and small, on icons such as Wolverine and the Justice League, and currently tackles the controversial “The Boys” ongoing series with Garth Ennis for Dynamite Entertainment.

Robertson talked with CBR News about his small press beginnings, what brought him to “The Boys,” and everything in between.

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CBR: Take us through a day in the life of Darick Robertson.

DARICK ROBERTSON: Usually I start the day off reading the news, answering e-mails and drinking my coffee. Depending on when I got to bed this could be early afternoon or early morning. I spend my evenings sketching out and breaking down pages and tend to ink during the day when I have the most energy for it, as it’s a long process for me. I like to ink my stuff in stages: focusing on the figures and then going back and doing backgrounds. In the evening I usually have dinner with my family, my wife and two sons. Depending on deadlines, I’ll work afterwards until the wee hours on the average day.

"Space Beaver" was Darick Robertson's first work

You started in comics at a young age with a book you created called “Space Beaver.” The publishing history of that book seems to have a story of its own. How did that book come about and what was that experience like?

It was a time in comics when you could get noticed doing a small publication in black and white, mostly due to the unexpected marketing juggernaut that is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Like people looking for gold in a gold rush, B&W comics were flooding the market in hopes of having the next big thing. So I was a fan of Captain Carrot and Rocket Raccoon, and had come up with something of a parody animal comic called “Space Beaver.” I thought the whole concept was silly and liked the idea of these cute animals having blood and guts and dying horribly on the battlefield.

I had drawn a number of pages while still in my senior year at Aragon High School, for a back-up feature in a comic that I wasn’t going to be paid for (which as a senior in high school sounded pretty good!) This was pre-internet, so getting your stuff out there in any capacity seemed a good opportunity. I used to go to Peninsula Comics in Bel-Mateo. Then-owner Tibor Sardy saw what I was working on and decided to go into publishing on my book. We created 11 issues together before I started needing to face the facts that I was working a lot and getting very little out of it.

Meanwhile, promoting “Space Beaver” had me going to shows and small cons, and I was meeting editors and artists working in the mainstream and I was finding my way into mainstream comics. Dynamite Entertainment is going to release an omnibus of “Space Beaver” in the near future with new cover art by me. I’m excited that I’ll finally have it all in one collection, as I was never returned most of the original art.

Was your family supportive of your efforts to be a comic book creator?

Not really. My older sister didn’t think I was doing anything but wasting time, and I think hoped I’d be less of a geek. My late Mother really wanted me to go into animation for Disney. Failing that, it took for me drawing an issue of “Action Comics” for my mom to understand that I was doing alright in comics. But my late father used to carry a beat-up copy of “Space Beaver” #1 in his work jacket (he was a mechanic) and show his buddies at the auto parts store and was proud of me. He was very supportive. He used to buy me comics and drove me to the comic store about an hour from our home.

You first broke into DC with “Justice League Quarterly” and then “Justice League Europe.” Was is exciting to be working on DC’s Justice League books so early in your career? Do you look back on that time fondly?

Yes, it was strange to get to debut at both Marvel and DC on the books I thought I’d climb up to. My first job at Marvel was an issue of “Wolverine.” I really enjoyed my time on “JLE” and wish that I hadn’t been in the midst of an editorial shift on the book. I was supposed to remain the ongoing artist and the new editor had other plans. I recently worked with Keith Giffen on “52,” and that was a fond experience as I recalled those early days working with his breakdowns.

Robertson enjoyed his time on "Justice League Europe"

You returned years later to the JLA on “A Midsummer’s Nightmare.” Did you enjoy going back to the characters for the start of the new JLA? Did you know the miniseries was going to lead to a new JLA series when you signed on initially?

Not initially, no. I wish I had been drawing the characters in their classic looks instead of the longhaired Superman I drew within, and the hook-hand, bearded Aquaman, but it was a cool story with a good team.

You’ve worked on many disparate projects, may obscure, like the “Flash TV Special” one-shot.

I was the king of artistic table scraps then. My friend, the very talented David A. Williams, initially got the “Flash” job but needed help finishing it, so I was brought in to get it in on time, which editors would do with me for many years to come. I loved the Flash TV show at the time and was pretty excited to get to draw the Flash at all, as that was the first comic I ever collected, so all around, I was just happy to be working.

“New Warriors” was your first regular work at Marvel, with Fabian Nicieza as writer. Were you a fan of the series prior to working on it? Did you enjoy that period of your career and that title?

I was pretty unaware of “New Warriors” when it was offered to me. Fabian was an editor as well as a writer and he had been impressed with the work I’d done on the Wonderman annual, so as Bagley was moving off “New Warriors” and onto Spider-Man, they were looking for his replacement and Fabian showed my Wonderman stuff to Danny Fingerorth. Danny had me draw a two-page audition sequence which we all mutually disliked as I had no script and no real connection with those characters. However, he was confident I’d do alright and gave me the gig anyway.

I grew to really like Speedball, and I loved what Fabian did with them in those days as he bounced between the X-Titles and “New Warriors.” I always thought they should have teamed with Prof.Xavier and become the X-Warriors, but it was not to be. Yes, that was a good period for me as the comics bubble was allowing me to believe working in the industry was going to be everything I imagined it to be. Marvel paid generous royalties then, and I was unmarried, got my first apartment, and was sustaining my lifestyle on comics alone. That was a good time. There was a lot of side work too; trading cards and posters to draw, so I was always busy and making a good living since I had very little overhead and only myself to support.

Was there much difference between working at Marvel versus DC in the ‘90s?

Yes, there was more structure to the DC model as Marvel was still changing in ownership and was about to go public. Then the bankruptcy in 1997 affected them dramatically, while DC had sort of been steadily going along the way they do. That was a fun time at both companies, though, because the bubble that would explode around 1997 was just starting to inflate and there were a lot of big table dinners, much flying and hotels for cons, and good memories. I was unmarried, in my 20s and had lots of time to travel.

Robertson first worked with Warren Ellis on "UltraForce"

You moved to Malibu Comics to help launch its new hero universe, the Ultraverse, working on books such as “Nightman,” “Sludge” and a whole lot more. How was your experience with Malibu?

Later, when they started losing money and Marvel bought them out, I had projects stall out that I was excited about. But I made some good friends there, like WildStorm’s VP Hank Kanalz, who was my editor back then. I was supposed to benefit from designing those characters as part of the Ultraverse’s new comics business model, but I never saw any character royalties. Nightman was even a toy and TV show for a while and I didn’t get a credit for designing and co-creating that character.

You first worked with Warren Ellis through Malibu. What was your first project with him?

A book called “UltraForce.” Warren was a very detailed writer and I could tell from those scripts he’d be the comics Zeus that he is today.

Next was “Transmetropolitan,” a successful series that you worked on with Warren Ellis for a very long time. What was your working relationship like? How much of Darick Robertson was infused into the series beyond the art?

It was good. I would try to bring my own stuff to it and we’d play off each other’s ideas. I designed the Cat, he made it smoke and become Spider’s pet. I thought of giving Spider the glasses and the bag as I thought he’d need them and Warren found funny and clever ways to make them appear in the story. Spider’s first reaction to the glasses was similar to Warren’s reaction to my idea of them. I drew the Sex Puppets on a little calendar in the tollbooth in issue #1 without explaining it. Later, the Sex Puppets would be in issue #5 as a full-blown show, so it was fun. I enjoyed the collaboration we shared in the beginning. Later, we’d get into a rhythm and he’d write less and less, allowing me to do what he knew I would do. He’d write a sentence for a splash page, such as “Spider walks down the street through the porn district” and I’d have fun with his concept.

What do you think made the character of Spider Jerusalem so popular with so many readers?

I don’t know. Spider became iconic and Warren’s monologues were great. Spider had that great angry punk energy and that spit in your eye attitude.

Would you ever like to see “Transmetropolitan” on the screen some day, be it television or movies?

If done well, yes. I’d hate to see a bad version of it that misses the mark.

Do you have any desire to reunite with Ellis on something “Transmetropolitan” or even a different series altogether?

I enjoyed the years we worked together.

"Transmetropolitan," Darick Robertson's classic work

After “Transmetropolitan,” you moved back to Marvel, notably on MAX Comics titles like “Fury” with Garth Ennis. Was it liberating to work on a Marvel book that was more of an R-rated take on comics?

Initially, yes.

Do you think some characters, like Nick Fury, work better in a more mature reader setting?

Absolutely.

You also worked on “Punisher: Born” with Ennis, which was a kind of origin book for Frank Castle. What do you think makes the Punisher not just another gun-toting vigilante and such an Iconic Marvel character?

I thought “Born” was one of the best Punisher stories written. I recall Garth saying to me that it would present the question of whether Frank Castle went crazy when his family was murdered or was that crazy always there and just looking for a reason? That kind of layering to a character is what kept him from just being a gun toting vigilante.

Greg Rucka and yourself re-launched “Wolverine” with a new series and new #1 issue. Was Wolverine always a favorite of yours?

Yes, a big favorite of mine. I used to sketch him in my books when I was 14.

Was there any nervousness on your part to be launching one of Marvel’s biggest characters in a new series?

I thought Greg and I had a really unique vision of the character and a solid idea of where we wanted to take him. For me it was all about getting him back to what I’d always imagined him to be, based on the Marvel stats and comments Chris Claremont had the other characters around him saying, like calling him “runt” and “shorty.” I figured this character had been established as being a hard drinking, hard smoking, 100-plus-year old man who likes to fight even when not in danger. It would take a toll, and his healing factor would make him look a rough 40 at best.

“Wolverine” launched after the success of the first X-Men movie and there appeared to be a Marvel mandate to have the books more strongly resemble the films. Do you think this was a wise move on the part of Marvel?

I lean towards comics leading Hollywood in concepts and ideas as opposed to the other way around. Comics are a unique medium in that you get more time and a loyal audience to expand and build characters. Then when Hollywood gets them, they have to condense things down for a totally different audience and format. I was happy that I got to work on Wolverine at all, to be honest. Working with Greg Rucka was terrific, and it was a good run.

With Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson created "The Boys," a hit for Dynamite Entertainment

You also had the chance to work on another X-Man, Nightcrawler, with his series. Is it difficult to take a character like Nightcrawler away from a book like X-Men and maintain that level of popularity?

I thought that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s idea to make him a horror/mystery solving character was inspired. We had a pretty cool second year planned out that we didn’t get to develop. Perhaps had we had the opportunity to keep that series going we’d have made that challenge less difficult.

Christos Gage and yourself worked on the Authority together for a six-issue miniseries called “The Authority: Prime” that was originally planned to be a regular series story arc. Do you think the Authority is still a trailblazing concept today?

I really like those characters and plan to work with Christos again as well as do some more Authority.

You reunited with Garth Ennis to launch “The Boys.” What drew you to this project?

Garth’s persistence. I had originally said no so I could draw “Wolverine,” but a year later I was offered the chance again and I was smart enough to take it.

“The Boys” initially started at WildStorm, and despite critical success parent company DC cancelled the series. What do you think about that situation?

DC was great about getting us our rights back so we could move seamlessly to a new publisher and kept me on with my contract. They handled it as professionally and courteously as possible.

Do you prefer to work on books that are a little more mature, like “The Boys?"

I seem to be drawn to them, for sure. I like fewer restrictions on what I can and can’t draw.

Are there any iconic characters you have yet to work on you hope to one day get a chance to?

Yes, I’d still like a run on Batman or the Flash or the Fantastic Four.

Are you planning on working the summer convention circuit at all this year? Do you enjoy attending conventions?

Now that I have a family and young children, doing cons gets more difficult. Taking the time out really takes a toll on my schedule, and I often come home exhausted and lose time recovering.

With Greg Rucka, Darick Robertson relaunched "Wolverine"

Everyone has one, what’s Darick Robertson’s convention horror story for the ages?

I don’t really have any real horror stories. I’ve seen people stalk Garth Ennis before, but most people are pretty nice and just happy to say hello and get their books signed. Occasionally you get people that are special and need a little more patience than others, but the comics community is cool that way, and those types of people find their little niche and feel accepted somewhere.

The people that drive me nuts are the ones that don’t seem to have any idea that you might be a human being like them and may want to finish that sandwich instead of putting it down to sign their book while you’re eating, or perhaps you don’t want to hear their detailed critique of your inks from a book you did seven years prior on a tight deadline.

But the worst is the guy who will hang out at your table and sarcastically ask all about who you are and what you do and then tell you on and on about why he hasn’t read your books and what comics and artists that he likes better. Not that I need the constant ego rub, but I just don’t need to have that conversation when I feel trapped at the table. Some people will be so involved with your work that they’ll talk about the minutia of the back-story of some character you drew in one panel and be disappointed you don’t know what they’re going on about. Some people think that you’ll recall them after meeting them for three minutes four years ago. I feel bad when I can’t, but I try to explain it’s a lot like trying to match up your high school year book to the phone book. I’ll meet 12 Seans, 18 Matts and 17 Kevins and try to remember who’s who when most of that time I’m looking down at what I’m writing or sketching while we talk. It’s a strange juxtaposition from spending so much of my time working alone in my studio to being out in front of so many people who know my work. It’s still overwhelms me a bit.

But all in all, I like most of the people I meet at cons. I’ve made a lot of good friends along the way and I like what I do for a living.

TAGS:  darick robertson, transmetropolitan, the boys, dynamite entertainment, vertigo

 
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