"What's Darryl Banks Up to These Days?"
At signings or conventions, one of the questions I'm most frequently asked (after "Where do you get your ideas?" and "How did you break in?") is "What's is Darryl Banks doing?"
Darryl was the artist on "Green Lantern" with me for almost seven years. He didn't draw every issue in that span; he was usually a four-pages-a-week guy, which isn't quite the pace needed to draw every issue of a monthly. But "Green Lantern" was seen as Darryl's book, artistically. We co-created Kyle Rayner (the asymmetrical costume design is all Darryl's). Darryl came up with the look and the name for Hal Jordan's Parallax persona. We created a number of villains who are still around, and generally had a grand time playing in that playground.
Darryl stayed on "Green Lantern" more than a year past my own last issue (#125) before finally departing the title. He did some "JLA" work, a "Tomb Raider" issue, some covers, and -- that was it. The work dried up, and Darryl found himself back in the world of commercial art, where he's been ever since with the exception of last year's "Green Lantern: Retro" one-shot that we did together.
Darryl still does the occasional convention, and maintains a flow of commission work. Many of the commissions can be seen in his gallery at Comic Art Fans. As you'd imagine, there's a lot of Green Lantern pieces, but plenty of others as well: Batgirl, Starman, Captain America, Snake Eyes, and one of my favorite pieces, Doctor Strange and Doctor Fate together.
The saying goes that it's hard to break into comics, but it's harder to stay in comics. And it's true. Darryl's experience is just another reminder of how the industry can welcome a creator, but as familiar editors move on and tastes change, that creator can just as quickly be on the outside looking in. It's the sobering reality of being a freelancer.
Darryl's one of the best guys I've been fortunate to collaborate with, and I miss working with him. We stay in touch, though honestly not as often as we should. I asked him to do an interview for this column -- so he could answer that question everybody asks.
Ron Marz: The question I always get is "What's Darryl Banks up to these days?" So let's get that one of the way first: "What's Darryl Banks up to these days?"
Darryl Banks: I'm aggressively planning my return to comics. I do commercial and conceptual art, commission art and sketch cards.
What kind of commercial art you doing?
I do character design and illustration for Filsinger Games; statue, buildings and accessory design for Hawthorne Village Collectibles; and action figure design for Hasbro Inc.
Do you enjoy the commercial work as much as comics? I think it's pretty common knowledge that commercial work usually pays better, and isn't as labor intensive as comics -- but is it as much fun?
Commercial work pays better than most independent comics, but rarely more than DC and Marvel. There have been notable exceptions. I have fun with commercial art, but I miss comics. When I was doing comics full time, it was consistent income and I could work with talented people whose work I grew up on or at least admired.
Any particular memories of our time together on the "Green Lantern" monthly?
Ron, I always loved your visual thinking. You are a writer with the soul of an illustrator. You often said, "This will look cool." I have many fond memories of our time on "GL." During our run we came up with Parallax, Fatality and some guy named Kyle Rayner. I really enjoyed issues #98 through #100.
Let it be known that I did not pay you to say any of that. How was it coming back to Kyle when we did the "Green Lantern: Retro" story last year?
The old band got back together! I had a fully-packed schedule during that issue, but I couldn't turn it down! That gave me the comic bug even more, because I have to know what I can do when I have a relatively level playing field, schedule wise.
You did some JLA work, and a few other things here and there, but the vast majority of your output was Green Lantern. Not too many creators are known so much for one specific body of work. You're very much "the Green Lantern guy," for good or ill. In the long run, do you think being associated with one title so long hurt you in trying to move on to other gigs?
It looks like it, but I wasn't one to quit a job that I enjoyed, paid well and there weren't any other monthly gig offers. I would have loved to work on quite a few other characters. At DC, Flash, Captain Marvel and Martian Manhunter. At Marvel, the Avengers, Nova, Silver Surfer and the various cosmic characters.
Like any other entertainment industry, comics is pretty voracious in looking for the next rising star, the next hot talent to promote. But when somebody comes in the front door, somebody gets shoved out the back. Once you stepped away to pursue commercial gigs, did you think it would be this difficult to regain your footing in comics?
Well, after doing fill-in issues here and there with "JLA" and other stuff, the offers dwindled to nothing. Commercial art was how I began, so commercial art was where I had to return. I never wanted to leave comics. However, had I never gone back to commercial art, I probably wouldn't have learned to ink, or learned Photoshop and digital 3D programs. I know I'm a better artist now than I was in the 1990s. I look forward to proving that.
It seems like you might have an interesting perspective on the comics industry, just dabbling in it now. How different does the business feel from when you were doing the monthly grind on a book?
I'm not even dabbling in the industry at the moment, but while attending conventions, I see that there is a more international scope. Many more artists from around the world working on mainstream titles than in the '90s.
You still do a fair amount of commission work, when you can fit it into your schedule. Judging from the stuff that's in your gallery on Comic Art Fans -- which is beautiful, by the way -- you get quite a few Green Lantern requests, along with an array of other characters. Do you enjoy the commissions, and what's the weirdest request you've ever had?
I love doing commissions. I can't think of accepting any that were weird but unusual and creative. I did a piece depicting Snoopy as a Blue Lantern and Woodstock as Green Lantern. I loved that one because I've always loved "Peanuts." Who doesn't?
Comics are ultimately all about sequential work. I think drawing comics is also one of the hardest ways for an artist to make a living. In terms of the relative pay, the sheer hours involved and the diversity of skills required, I'm not sure there's a more demanding professional art gig. All that said -- do you miss drawing comic pages?
I miss it a lot. With a good page rate, the hard work is worth it. Commercial art doesn't pay royalties like comics. And it's not only an issue of money -- there's the collaborative process that can be great.
So I think it's past time we worked together again. Let's make that happen, okay?
You know my phone number!
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts" for Top Cow, and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.