It's rare to see a creator leave dual marks on the Dark Knight the way Tony Daniel has in the past year. Reaching back to his earliest DC Comics adventure over seven decades ago, Batman has almost always been the product of collaborative efforts between writers and artists rather than the creation of a solo cartoonist.
While many creators possessing both writing and drawing skills, from Matt Wagner to Paul Pope and beyond have stepped into Gotham City throughout the decades, Daniel is one of the first writer-artists to have maintained a longtime gig detailing the Caped Crusader's exploits having headlined the "Battle For The Cowl" event series in both capacities along with a psychologically-driven run on the main "Batman" title, which he'll soon return to full time in November. But before that, the artist has one last go-round on the collaborative front as "Batman" #702 – the final part of Grant Morrison's "missing chapter" of "Batman R.I.P." – hits comic shops this week.
To cover all those bases, Daniel has answered the call of CBR's ongoing column THE BAT SIGNAL to give a look inside his work past and present. From how he views himself as a writer and artist to the turn of events that changed his style forever and from working with Morrison to striking out a new solo run with some familiar characters coming in, the artist discusses everything Dark Knight below!
CBR News: Tony, you've obviously gone through a number of different gigs and have gotten to stretch a lot of muscles in your time at DC, but I can't be the only one who's seen that from "Battle For The Cowl" through to this new run, writing as well as drawing in the Bat-universe has given you a chance to really grow as a creator. Do you feel a significant difference in how you're working on the title now from how you approached that first big event?
Tony Daniel: There is a significant difference, I think mainly from just pushing myself to be better and better. I've always had the mentality to strive for what's out of my grasp with my art and also with my writing. For my art, it really is a matter of maturing as well as moving into a different direction in regards to what inspires me.
For my writing, I am happy with the overall reaction to what I've done so far, but I've learned a lot, especially from my “Life After Death” six part story. I think I'm stronger going into my next arc, having seen some of the pitfalls that can go into creating such a long storyline. With both art and writing, I feel you naturally get better the more you do it, as long as you're open to seeing where you need improvement.
I'm always interested in hearing writer/artists talk about their scripting style in general. How tight do you script for yourself, and did your general script choices change when working with Guillem March on issues #898 and 899?
I was already writing fairly detailed scripts for myself. Now is probably not the time for shortcuts, so I try to be fairly specific with panel-to-panel layouts as well as adding general dialogue that I tweak in the last stage. Guillem did a wonderful job, especially with his camera angles. My main struggle was coming up with something short that could wrap up in two issues due to Batman #700. Working with Guillem on those issues inspired me to take the next step in becoming a more complete cartoonist, by inking myself.
Recently, it seems your art has experimented in a few ways in terms of both the cartooning and the line work. In #701, your Batman and Superman reminded me of a mix of Frank Quitely and Art Adams, and as you said, you've been inking yourself lately. How much of this is a natural growth in your style versus changes you've made while Sandu was off for a spell?
During the two-issue Riddler arc that Guillem illustrated, I fell ill and needed heavy doses of steroids and other drugs. I wasn't able to hold my pencil tightly and my hand shook. I was a little scared that this was going to be permanent. As I got better, I still wasn't ready to draw anything yet, but I instead pulled out the inking supplies I never use and started just playing around. Quills and brush work always felt cumbersome and uncooperative in my hands for a long as I can remember. But somehow, now, they felt natural in my hands. For the first time, I felt confident with the quill and even more so now, the brush.
During my short break and illness, I knew that I wanted to return to "Batman" with something fresh. Something a bit more exaggerated and less reliant on the rules that go along with a more realistic style. I felt the time was right to have a little more fun with the style during Grant's two-part "R.I.P." story. I could try some things out and not be committed to the style through a long arc. Once I decide on a style, well, I'm stuck with it until the arc ends.
Right now, I'm taking what I liked from those two issues and punching it up and polishing it to begin my next arc. I'm pretty happy with the new art direction, much of which I'm able to achieve with the inking techniques I've been honing. I've become a pretty big fan of older generation comic strip artists from the '40s, '50s and '60s – guys names you don't hear often but were masters in their time.
I'm trying with my new work to bring that kind of made-for-black-and-white print sensibility to my work. So it looks like you can print it in black and white and not need color to get the mood. It's really a new aspect of my art that I'm incredibly excited about. I can't wait to lay my pencils down in the morning and get to what really breathes life into the art. The inks!
Let's dig into the story of #701 and 702. We know that for a while, Grant has spoken about having some ideas for that gap period that was only hinted at towards the end of "R.I.P.," but were you always involved in that planning? Either way, what was your initial reaction to Grant's scripts for the story, and how do you think fans will view "R.I.P." differently once #702 is in their hands?
I'm just as surprised and intrigued as everyone else is when I get a Grant story in my hands. I've never been involved in his story planning, which I think would be an impossible task anyway. He has very, very, specific ideas of where he wants to go with his story a month from now, a year from now, and heck, maybe a decade from now. He thinks ahead and plants seeds that you forget about until they sprout up years later. In fact, there are a few references in these two issues to my first issues working with Grant. I think people will have to start at the very beginning of his run to refresh their memories and get the payoff, which is precisely what I think Grant wants readers to do.
Looking at your writing, your last mega-arc on "Batman" involved psychology as a theme – not just the psychology of the characters but the world of psychology through all of Batman's various headshrinker villains (Who knew he had so many?!). Was that theme something that you'll always tie close to the character or was it something that had to come in an arc surrounding Jeremiah Arkham?
The theme I used was really of use for Black Mask's story – him being a psychiatrist and needing help himself. Of course [it was] on an extreme level. But in reality, criminal minds and evil people are f'd up in the head. Aren't they? They all need some kind of mental health [care], but a lot never get it. They act out in negative ways. Bruce needed some kind of help as a child after the murders of his parents. His therapy was becoming Batman. The Joker's was, well, becoming the Joker.
For your next look at "Batman," is there another mission statement mystery or overarching theme that you've lit upon that you want to explore through the Batman mythos? What characters are you focusing on in your book, considering all that's going to be on the table?
My next arc will flesh out [my] Batman. He'll really be putting his detective skills to the test this time as he goes up against a new evil that has planted itself into Gotham City. Though I will have him less reliant on his “Network” this time around, he will still have interactions with the likes of Selina Kyle and her new protégé, Kitrina (AKA Catgirl).
I know it's early in the game, but what do you want to say about your first arc back as the writer and artist? What are you rolling with right out the gate to establish what "Batman" will be as a title moving forward?
I have big plans for "Batman." The backdrop to this first arc will be Gotham's seedy Chinatown neighborhood, where some new villains have cropped up in search of something hidden somewhere inside Gotham. Think Dan Brown meets Tony Jaa – big set-piece action sequences balanced out by a mystery that [our hero] has to solve piece by piece. So, new characters, appearances by older ones, detective work, martial arts, a new love interest, ancient relics and I-Ching. It's really, in my mind, a traditional Batman story.
You briefly promised in your DC Blog statement a mix of characters and villains new and old. Any threats or threads you'll be picking up from your last run, or are you pulling out some new toys from the Batman box?
We may see what finally happened to the Reaper and we'll get to see what's going on with Kitrina as Catgirl. But the crux of the story will be dealing with something new. As for future arcs, there are always ideas spinning in my head.
"Batman" #702 is in stores Wednesday, August 25 from DC Comics.