During a ver laid back and relaxed panel at WonderCon, "Batman" writer/artist Tony Daniel invited his audience to participate in a question and answer session highlighting his creative process from script to page. The panel, moderated by Daniel's wife of ten years Elena, was a chance for fans of Daniel's distinctive style to get an intimate look at the basics of writing and drawing for the world's greatest detective.
With a projector set up over his drawing board, Daniels began scribbling away at an impromptu page of a would-be "Batman" comic. He spoke about his beginnings in the comic industry, from his early days making comics with his friends in the fourth grade to the John Byrne article that inspired him to become a creator. His break-in moment came with his work on "The Elementals," written by "Fables" creator Bill Willingham. Daniel continued to submit his work to Marvel and DC Comics both as his career continued to grow. Eventually, at the age of 20, the young artist landed a gig as the regular penciler for "X-Force."
After moving around the industry for years, including a long stretch of time at Image where he created "The Tenth" and provided art for various Todd McFarlane titles, Daniel began working on Batman books in 2007 with "Batman RIP," written by Grant Morrison. "Grant's the big dog on the Batman books," said Daniel, who was emphatic about the importance of his collaborations with Morrison, saying "the writer needs to feel a connection."
Daniel has drawn influence from a great variety of sources over the years, but veteran John Byrne remains his biggest. "I really loved the way that he laid out his pages and the way that he handled perspective. It was easy for me to kind of look at it him and say, 'This is how you do it.'" While Byrne's classic style helped Daniel hone his craft in the early years, he cited Jim Lee as another major influence, perhaps more readily apparent when looking at Daniel's art. "In the late 90's, everybody was influenced by Jim Lee." In recent years, Daniel has been studying the classic masters of the Sunday funny pages like Frank Godwin.
Turning his talk to process, Daniel walked the audience through his creative workflow. Each storyline begins with a consultation with DC editor Mike Martz to discuss story arcs and find out "what villains are available." Daniel said he is given flexibility with the story as long as the right character beats are hit. From there Daniel develops his script as if he were creating it for an artist other than himself. "That way," he explained, "I can concentrate just on the art." Once the script is set, Daniel begins to lay in rough pencils, demonstrating for the crowd as he spoke. "If this goes well, the rest of my day goes well." Elena added, " Tony's a perfectionist. He'll work on a page for about 15 hours. If he's not happy with it, he will tear it up."
As the page came together under Daniel's deft inks, he talked about the challenges of drawing the Caped Crusader's iconic cowl. "Because [Batman] only operates at night, if you hadn't noticed," he said, "you have to try and do as much as you can with the shadows to make him pop." Fans were treated to some fun trivia about the recent redesign of Batman's costume when Dick Grayson stepped in to fill the Dark Knight's shoes. Several artists, including Daniel, Andy Kubert, Frank Quitely and Alex Ross, submitted different takes on the batsuit with DC Editorial ultimately combining the designs from Quitely and Kubert. "My suit didn't really get picked up," Daniel joked, "[The current suit has] the strange belt that Frank Quitely came up with that's kind of hard to draw."
Daniel's perfectionism continued to shine through as he worked on the final panels of his page. "I've never been happy with my art," he admitted." I already know when something looks wrong." But he uses that critical eye to constantly improve, "I always challenge myself to grow and to try new things."
Daniel finished off the panel with a free raffle of the page he had just created, sending one lucky fan home with an unexpected piece of original artwork.