Fresh off his turn as the artist for the Grant Morrison-scripted “Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne” #2, Frazer Irving next dons the penciller’s cape and cowl for an upcoming run on the superstar writer’s ongoing series, “Batman and Robin.” Beginning with “Batman and Robin” #13, which goes on sale June 23 from DC Comics, Irving will serve as the title’s artist for a three-part arc entitled "Batman Must Die," which features the return of Bruce Wayne’s father Thomas Wayne –a man believed murdered more than 20 years ago.
This week, CBR News shines its regular interview column THE BAT SIGNAL on the British artist as he begins his descent into the Bat Cave, but this time around Irving will be drawing Dick Grayson, the former sidekick turned leading man who has been defending Gotham City as Batman since Bruce Wayne’s disappearance in the pages of “Final Crisis.”
Irving discusses his favorite takes on Batman from Brian Bolland to Adam West, what he finds most challenging about drawing the Dark Knight and what it’s like to form a dynamic duo with Morrison.
What do you consider the most iconic look of Batman as he’s been portrayed in comics?
Frazer Irving: For me personally it's a toss-up between Brian Bolland’s take in “Killing Joke” and Neal Adams’ version from the early seventies. I prefer the lean Batman as opposed to the chunky steroid Batman, as it made far more sense for the dude to be athletic instead of muscle-bound. I also felt that they both had a far better grasp of the moody environment that Batman existed in.
What about in other media? Are you an Adam West guy? Or do you think Christopher Nolan nailed the Dark Knight?
I like both for their own qualities. I admit that I was hopelessly addicted to the Adam West Batman as a kid, but after seeing Nolan’s version, I was totally won over by how well he had revised it from a more serious and plausible angle. I didn't like any of the other Batman movies, as I felt it was unsure whether it was farce or drama.
What is it about the Batsuit that is the biggest challenge as an artist, and what are the elements of Batman’s look and feel that you most enjoy?
The mask was always going to be the challenge for me, but I solved that by making a 3D model of it to refer to. The problem with it was how it fit on his face. If it was fabric then it would wrinkle lots and move in interesting ways but that also seemed to be less practical from a crime fighting point of view, so I went with the more solid helmet form. That way the mask never changes, regardless of Batman’s expression. The acting is all in the pose and the mouth area, which is good for when Batman needs to employ a poker face. Other than that, I'm exploring the cape as a character tool. Folds and shadows can say a lot about mood and character, and are also fun to draw. Otherwise it's just a lump of cloth hanging off his back.
What do you think about Dick Grayson as Batman? Does the suit fit him well?
I prefer Grayson as Batman to be honest [laughs]. Maybe it's just how Grant writes him, but there's something about the understudy coming into his own that really appeals to me. I get tired of the same old archetypes going through the motions in fiction, so when it's a new person wearing the same old costume it offers up a whole new take on the figure.
What about Robin? You drew him a few years back when it was Tim Drake in the role. But with Damian Wayne now in the suit, how have you approached the world’s most famous sidekick?
Well, he's shorter for one. Also Damian comes across as a very well defined personality in the script and that helps him act on the page. If it was just a case of drawing the character in some generic pose it'd be very tricky to capture anything, but the script brings him to life and then I just let the story take over and dictate what ends up in the page.
Did you get a chance to speak with Frank Quitely about his particular vision of the dynamic duo?
Nope. We don't hang out in the same circles [laughs].
In your arc, you get to draw Thomas Wayne. I keep thinking about John Slattery from “Mad Men” as a possible inspiration for the character but maybe that’s because I just saw “Iron Man 2." Can you share who he may have been modeled after, if any one at all?
If I model any of my characters on anyone, I keep that closely guarded secret.
In “Batman and Robin” #12, the Joker was introduced to the big Batman story that’s being told this summer, so we can only assume you’ll be drawing him, as well. If that’s the case, what do you love about the character and do you consider drawing him a career highlight?
The Joker is insane, and that is very easy for me to relate to. Because his face is fixed in such a twisted form, a lot of the acting has to come from the eyes and the lighting, and these set him apart from the others. Restrictions are good for comic characters, Batman with his mask, Joker with his fixed grin, it all forces me to find my own way of making them act. As for career highlight, well I wouldn't go that far, but I do draw the analogy that Batman/Joker is like the Hamlet of comics. Everyone wants to have a shot at it, and all artists can compare their versions in a healthy competitive way.
You’ve work with Grant Morrison before on “Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch Boy.” What’s he like as a collaborator? And what do you love most about his brand of storytelling?
It's organic. The scripts aren't super tight and thus restrictive... his scripts allow me to tell the story in my own way which he then enhances by subbing the dialogue afterwards. This method only really works on a project that is more than a couple of issues because it takes that long to match our creative harmonies, but it's what I experienced on “Klarion” and what I expect to find on “Batman and Robin.”
He also has a great sense of drama, which is important to get me excited enough so that the pages are compelling for the reader.
Before we let you go, can you tell us what techniques you use when illustrating a comic book and what tools of the trade you employ?
I use Photoshop CS5 on a Mac, drawing on a 21 inch Cintiq. Every aspect is digital, including sketches and doodles. I usually layout the pages quickly using smaller eight page templates so I can see how the action flows, then I paste the scribble into the final document and redraw the sketch tighter before refining the lines on different layers. I draw it all in grayscale, adding the colors at the very end as that prevents me from becoming too distracted by color issues.
“Batman and Robin” #13, written by Grant Morrison and featuring art by Frazer Irving, is on sale June 23. "The Return of Bruce Wayne" #2 is in stores now.