Enter The Dragon: Scott McDaniel talks 'Richard Dragon'

Wed, November 26th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

Color and B&W versions of the first issue cover.
Chuck Dixon. Scott McDaniel.

Combining those two names alone will cause many fans of DC Comics to salivate and sweetening the deal is the focus on martial arts guru Richard Dragon, the cult favorite hero who's ready to make his return to the big time. With the official announcement of the hero's new titular series at Wizard World Texas, CBR News caught up with Scott McDaniel to find out more about the mysterious Dragon.

"This series promises to reestablish Richard Dragon as the undisputed, premier martial artist in the DCU. No longer can you debate who is the master of this type of combat," says the artist.

"Despite what you think you know about him, you don't. This series promises a fresh look at the man, his origin, and the terrible trials he has, and will, face."

Many of you may be wondering who Richard Dragon is and where his fan following comes from, but for McDaniel, the appeal of the character is simple… as simple as it can be to describe why you like a fictional character. "I think the appeal of Richard Dragon is multi-faceted. First, I think people are drawn to characters that have achieved 'superhero' status not by possessing superhuman abilities but by possessing exceptional skill earned through a lifetime of devoted study and effort. This is the kind of character that inspires the thought, 'If he can do it, then so can I!' The separation between Richard Dragon's abilities and the reader's own, actual potential is achievable, and that makes his character very appealing. Also, I think it's pretty likely that most people who read his origin will find a part of themselves in young Richard. Deep down, most people, at some point in their lives, want to be other than they are, and they strive to become what they are not. For some, that change comes at a cost. His appeal is that, given other circumstances, you or I could have walked down his path.

"I also think the character endures mainly because war endures. Richard Dragon is the premier martial artist, master of every martial art known to man. The martial arts have endured for thousands of years mainly because they are useful for survival in a world filled with war. When we separate the 'presentation' of the character from the 'substance' of the character, it's easy to see that while the 'presentation' may suffer from being outdated over time, the 'substance' of the character is rock-solid. Richard Dragon is the embodiment the world's ancient martial skills, and as long as they are used in the world, he will endure.

"Plus, there is no denying that the world seems to be rapidly becoming an even more dangerous place. Who among us wouldn't want to have the personal security of being a living weapon when deadly violence could erupt around us literally at any given moment?"

Talking to McDaniel, you'll notice an overwhelming amount of passion when you mention a particular writer's name, specifically Chuck Dixon. "I absolutely love working with Chuck Dixon. He has a great story sense, a great artist's eye, and he packs more testosterone-per-page into his scripts that I thought was possible! He understands my creative sensibilities and artistic needs. Plus, he's a great guy.

"I respect his writer's judgments and his artist's eye. He works to place his characters in intensely hot conflict, then he lets them 'be themselves' as they work out of it... and into the next fire! He gets out of the way of his own story! The real power in superhero stories isn't clever witticisms, turns of phrase or subtle metaphor, but the inherent power of the conflict the characters face. That way, we can see the character doing those things that make him unique to solve the problem. And you may not know this, but Chuck is an artist, too. That explains his great eye at selecting those story moments that can be nailed with a great image. He is acutely aware of those story moments, and his stories are propelled by this steady heart-beat rhythm of strong story image.

Pencils from issue #1, Page 1
"And he knows what I love to draw! Action! I love any kind of run-and-gun action, fights, crazy perspectives, demolition, catastrophe ... anything with movement and energy! He always manages to put the action into interesting locations, and these locations become characters in the story, too. He gives me a big box of cool toys and says 'Go play!'"

Some people have responded to announcements of ongoing series for Richard Dragon and other second-tier DC characters as the company trying to fill trademarks. Don't say that to Scott McDaniel- he vehemently disagrees. "This project started with editor Michael Wright, and his desire to find an interesting way to reestablish Richard Dragon in the DCU. I've had many conversations with him and Dan DiDio regarding this project over the last few months, and I haven't heard a single word about protecting trademarks. In fact, you are the first person to bring that theory to my attention.

"Here is the basic niche: I could be this warrior. Richard Dragon isn't superpowered. He doesn't have access to a family fortune to fund cutting-edge, high-tech crime-fighting equipment. He is a guy that has to triumph over personal catastrophe, a warrior who will try to balance evil with good using his own two hands.

"I really can't comment on any alleged fan cynicism over new series' launches. I have no opinion on that issue! As a creator, I have a very simple philosophy: create and tell the best story I can. When the series launches, everyone can decide for himself if this is a story they want to follow. Sounds fair to me!"

With the pieces set, one wonders if this will be an over the top action series or more of a character piece, but the fan and creator in McDaniel sees only one successful method for the series. "It has to be a mix of crazy action and deep character development. If it were all action, it would be like listening to an orchestra play fortissimo from start to finish -- you'd be numb to it's majestic power all too soon. If it were all character development, you'd have daytime soap opera with NO power!

Pencils from issue #1, Pages 2 and 3
"The crazy action demonstrates the exceptional level on which his physical skills operate and these actions create consequences. The character development drives him into evaluating the consequences and determining a new course of action. And round and round they go! These two elements are like two sides of a coin - you can't have one without the other."

Something else that excites McDaniel about the series is the chance to "cut loose," as he says, and for a guy who's worked on "Superman" and "Batman," that statement may surprise some, so the affable artist explains, saying, "So far in my career, I consider my run on 'Nightwing' to be my 'Golden Age!' Everything was aligned to my sensibilites - I had a strong grasp of the character visually, and the stories were satisfying my creative needs (action, strong conflict, strong emotional content), and the setting was in tune with my architectural preferences. Everything in Bludhaven was new, so I got to design everything and everybody that showed up, which gave me strong creative control over the material visually. I was learning and growing, and having a blast at the same time!

"Then, my opportunity to draw Batman arrived - and I jumped on it!

My run on Batman was quite different than what I had expected it to be like. I hungered to do the 'Batman as superhero' stories, featuring the over-the-top villains and featuring the Bat-arsenal in all it's diverse glory, but the direction of that family of books changed to feature more traditional detective stories. The battles became less physical and more cerebral. The conflicts became less explosive and more smoldering. The over-the-top physicality was minimized. Most of the tools in my bag I had sharpened during my years on Nightwing had to be put aside, and I really loved those tools! Nonetheless, I tried my best to do justice to the great stories written by Ed Brubaker, but there were no 'crazy action' scenes to cut loose on, and that became a bit frustrating creatively.

"Then, my opportunity to draw Superman arrived - and I jumped on it!

"Again, my run on Superman was quite different than what I had expected it to be like. I was expecting to draw a more serious, determined Superman, in stories that challenged him physically and emotionally. But right from the beginning, the tone and tenor of the series was very different than what I expected. Steve Seagle is a very talented writer, but on this project, our story sensibilities were diametrically opposed to each other, and I could find few tools in my bag to properly service his stories. The only cool thing I created on Superman was the unique "X-Ray Vision" effect, which was a series of concentric rings of vision, each ring representing a different visual depth. But, like on Batman, there were no 'crazy action' scenes to cut loose on, and that continued my artistic frustration.

Pencils from issue #1, Page 4
"Then, my opportunity to draw Richard Dragon arrived - and I jumped on it!

"Now I can pull out all those old tools from my 'good old days,' but this time, use them with greater skill than before. I can feel the old power in my art returning, and it's creatively invigorating! I'm back to environments that are dangerous and dark, and back with characters that are inherently physical in nature. Chuck has created a river of energy flowing through this story, and that is fueling me artistically. I can't wait to get a few issues into the run, when I'm fully up and running and the entire art team has found the 'voice' of this series!"

Those who've met McDaniel at conventions might wonder if he's a martial artist and if that is what helps him choreograph fights so well, but the truth is, he's working from instinct and research. "I do a lot of research. I'm no martial artist, but I study texts on all the arts I use in the books. I choreograph the action as if the characters are real and must move from one place to another, and from one body position to another, in a natural way. I reference anything I can get my hands on that features photos of techniques and stances! But the real fun is moving beyond the research, to taking this reality and exaggerating it, both the techniques and its effects.

"In fact, in addition to the fundamental kicks and punches that are requisite, part of Richard's first fight features a modified version of the Aikido Yokomen-uchi Dai Gokyo technique!"

After Superman, Batman and the original Robin, Dick Grayson, it would seem like there's not much bigger fish to fry for Scott McDaniel. But being the perseverant artist he is, he's able to name some characters he'd like to illustrate, not only because of fondness for them, but because of the artistic challenges. "When I decided to leave 'Nightwing,' it was only because I felt I had given that character everything I had, and I had nothing new to give. However, I don't feel that way about Batman and Superman. I think I have some very cool art in me for each of them, but it would take the right stories to get it out of me!

"I think it would be interesting to try the Flash. He appeared in Superman during my run, and I had fun creating a unique way to portray him moving at super-speed. Plus, he's very physical by nature, and that's right up my alley!

"I think Green Lantern could be lots of fun, too, with the right material for me.

Promo art for "Richard Dragon"
"As far as choosing writers to work with, I am always open for anything. I think the more important match is idea/concept-to-writer-to-artist, where both creators are in lock-step in executing the idea/concept. I understand that my skills and sensibilities are better suited for some kinds of characters and stories than they are for others. I suspect the same is true for writers. So instead of naming a particular writer, I'll say I would work with any writer that would use my strengths on a really cool concept/idea.

"We are all storytellers, and ultimately, the greatest satisfaction and reward is gained by participating on a good story well told."

Speaking of writing, you may not have seen Scott McDaniel writing any of his own stories yet, but you may see the day when the credits read "Written and Pencilled by: Scott McDaniel." "I'd love to write and draw my own stories!" he gushes. "I have some ideas, and lots of desire, but I am only beginning to sharpen some of the tools in my writer's bag! I'm working on it!"

McDaniel's never been one to sit idly by and let opportunities pass him by, so don't be surprised if you see his name on some other projects soon. "'Richard Dragon' is getting my full attention at the moment. I set up creative goals for myself on each assignment, and high on this list is to reestablishing myself as a powerful visual storyteller while continuing to sharpen my drawing skills. I think this is going to be a great ride!

"There is more coming, but it is too soon to talk about it yet. Stay tuned!"

 
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