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If you answered the name of a superhero you'd be half right. The correct answer is Leonard Kirk, formerly the artist of "JSA," "Supergirl" and a hero to many fans. With his work on DC Comics' "Bloodhound" series seeing the light this month, CBR News caught up with the artist in part two of CBR's focus on the new DC.
"'Bloodhound' is basically about a man named Travis Clevenger who was a rather rough, and sometimes dirty cop, who had a knack for cracking cases involving 'meta-human' criminals," explains Kirk. "A few years after landing himself in jail, a new opportunity arises when the FBI offers to get Clevenger out of jail if he will help them with a rather nasty case. Paired up with a young agent, the first story arc puts Clevenger on the trail of a serial killer who is now stalking the daughter of his dead police partner."
Coming off two high profile series, it might seem surprising to see Kirk on a creator-owned project, but Kirk says besides his love for the project, he wasn't overwhelmed with job offers after leaving "JSA." "Actually, I didn't have a lot of choices after 'JSA.' 'Bloodhound' was one of the first projects offered to me. That's not the only reason why I took it, however. When DC editor Ivan Cohen told me that Dan Jolley was on it and when he described the premise, I was intrigued. I suppose one of the things that drew me to the book was how dark and violent the series was going to be, despite being set in the mainstream DC Universe. I've developed a reputation of being someone who draws 'bright' comics, sometimes rough but, generally, 'lighter' material. I looked at this as a chance to break that bit of typecasting. Most people don't know that some of my earliest projects were very dark and very violent. Also, I loved Dan's work on 'JSA: Liberty Files' and was looking forward to working with him."
Kirk's had a lot of input on the looks of the characters and explained to CBR News the perspective he has on the characters that helps in his illustrating them in the pages of "Bloodhound." "Travis Clevenger - As I said, this was a cop who was good at what he did, closing cases that involved meta-humans. However, he's not the nicest guy in the world. He doesn't have any super powers. He's just mean! If he gets his hands on a shotgun, he's more likely to use it as a club and beat the crap out of the bad guy rather than shoot him.
"Saffron Bell - FBI agent. She's teamed up with Clevenger. Partly to help him in the field, partly to keep an eye on him. She's young and pretty but, as Clevenger discovers, a hell of a lot tougher than she looks.
"The initial designs for these characters were done by Drew Johnson who co-created the series with Dan Jolley. I started with those and built upon them. Saffron looks pretty much the way Drew designed her. However, I added a little to Clevenger. The scripts I read gave me the indication of a man who was a bit older and a lot more 'weathered.' Drew did a great job with the shape of the man but I wanted to add some lines, scars, wrinkles, etc., stuff that helped to give an idea of how rough a life he's lead.
"I would go on to describe the villains and some of the other characters but I'm afraid that might give a little too much of the story away."
Almost everyone who's seen the preview artwork on "Bloodhound" has said the same thing- Kirk's taken his art to the next level. This isn't just because he's been practicing more or something like that- the penciller is committed to developing his craft as much as possible. "I do push myself and try to improve my work as much as I can. I feel that an artist who doesn't at least try to get better isn't really doing himself or his fans any service. Besides, I haven't matured emotionally for the past twenty years so I might as well mature artistically.
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With "Bloodhound" set in so many diverse environments, one might expect that Kirk would be drowning in reference material, but that isn't the case, necessarily. "When I need it, I use whatever kind of reference material I can get my hands on, magazines, photo books, TV, searching the web, etc. But I have to admit that there is a lot in 'Bloodhound' that I just pulled out of my head. Like I said, when I need it, I'll use it. However, most of the time, I try to avoid reference like the plague. I find that looking for reference slows me down so, if it's something I know I can draw all on my own, then that's how I'll do it.
"I think the biggest challenge I've had so far is simply drawing everyone in normal clothes. I was drawing spandex super hero costumes for so long that I had a bit of trouble handling a simple jacket or slacks. However, like riding a bike, it comes back to you."
While the series may have been originated by writer Dan Jolley, who spoke yesterday with CBR News, Kirk has provided his input into the direction of the series. "Mostly I try not to get in Dan's way lest I suffer his mighty wrath!! [laughs] Seriously, Dan and I talk quite a bit and I have made suggestions every now and then. Usually, they involve my ideas for depicting a particular scene a little differently than in the script. Sometimes, I will add or subtract panels or rearrange the action in a way that I feel helps to tell the story a little better. Other than that, I try to stick to the script as closely as possible."
Like his long and beloved run on "Supergirl," Kirk has no plans to leave this series as he feels it is something special, too. "I'm just getting warmed up! I think 'Bloodhound' is special because it has a rather odd feel for a book that's tied to the DC Universe. Mainstream characters like Superman, Batman or Green Lantern could pop in at any time but the series doesn't read like a mainstream title. I think the best description I've heard so far is, 'Imagine the X-Files with Conan The Barbarian in the role of Fox Mulder.'"
With the current trend to wait for the trade paperback afflicting a lot of new series, Kirk would like fans to check out the first few issues of "Bloodhound" and see if it is a series for them. "The danger of waiting for the 'Bloodhound' trade is the same as waiting for the trade on any title. If the sales for the individual issue sales are too low, the book gets cancelled. The irony is, if people don't buy the initial run because they want to wait for the trade and the sales dip low enough to risk cancellation, then the trade paperback might never be published. Who would want to take a series that sold low when it first ran and reprint it for sale as a trade?
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Like many writers that Kirk has worked with, Dan Jolley has proven to be a fun creative cohort and Kirk explains how working with Jolley is different than working with "JSA" scribe Geoff Johns. "Well, first of all, Dan's taller. My creative relationship with Dan is great! He's more than happy to listen to my suggestions and shows a lot of confidence and trust in me by pretty much giving me free reign with the artistic chores. To be honest, it's pretty much the same way I worked with Geoff Johns and David Goyer on JSA. In fact, it's been pretty much the same with every writer I have worked with for the past ten years. I feel honored that so many of them had so much faith in me."
For those die-hard Kirk fans, you'll only be seeing his pencils on "Bloodhound," at least for now. "I've been focusing almost exclusively on Bloodhound for the past few months and haven't had time to do much else. Which, for now, is fine with me. It's allowed me to get a LOT of work done on the series before the first issue has even hit the stands."
And if you're still on the fence about buying "Bloodhound," Kirk has a few words for you. "First of all, for those of you sitting on the fence, get off!! It must hurt like hell sitting up there!
"Second, I would recommend 'Bloodhound' because it's going to be a fun, messy, loud, violent ride. This book will be tied to the DC Universe but will include stories that probably wouldn't be told in most of the mainstream titles. However, ultimately, I can think of one reason and one reason alone that stands above all other reasons for buying this series.
"It pays my mortgage [laughs]."