"JLA" was one of the most successful books of its time, but Porter's career in the years following the series suffered a major setback due to an injury that caused nerve damage to his hand. Now fully recovered, the artist's next move at DC Comics is a return to the Justice League franchise as artist of the December-debuting "Justice League 3000," a series set in the far future, featuring new takes on Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash; all designed by Porter.
While the plot details of "Justice League 3000," written by the beloved "Justice League International" team of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, remain mostly under wraps, CBR News spoke with Porter about his work on the series, which started on an unfortunate note after original series artist Kevin Maguire's public departure from the book.
CBR News: Howard, though you've been back working regularly at DC Comics for several years now, "Justice League 3000" is the highest-profile interior art you've done in quite some time, and a launch that has already had months of buzz around it. What's it like being back in that role? Given your time away from the industry, how gratifying is it to be in this position?
Howard Porter: I feel like an extremely out of shape, non-athletic version of Rocky Balboa, and this is my second shot at the title. I am coming out swinging! I have to say that I am always happy while I am drawing, but even more so if people are interested enough to ask me questions about what I am working on. Things seem to be coming together nicely and I am in a good spot right now thanks to family, friends and coworkers. I feel very blessed.
Of course, fans still remember your run on "JLA" with Grant Morrison back in the late '90s. Although this is 2013 and you're dealing with a different take on the Justice League -- and a very different time period -- from your perspective, are there any similarities or connections (however vague they may be) between the two projects?
There really aren't a whole lot of parallels between the two books at all. I would say one similarity is that both books take characters you are familiar with and present them in very different way while putting them in very odd situations. I guess that's pretty vague, but I can't really give you specific examples without spoiling the stories that haven't come out yet!
Even before you were on board as the ongoing artist of the series, you designed the main cast -- year 3000 versions of DC's most famous characters. What can you share about that process? Obviously each one retains some familiar aspects, but has to be unique enough to fit the theme. I've read that you came up with the designs quickly, so I'm guessing it all came fairly natural to you?
I believe I was working with [editor] Joey Cavalieri on the "Green Lantern #23.2: Mongul" Villains Month book (which is still available for purchase on the DC iPad app or your local comic shop for a modest price) when I got his call. He asked if I would help out with the "JL3K" thing, and I said "yes" faster than he could finish asking me the question. He e-mailed me the descriptions of how each of the characters were being treated, the tone of what the book would be, and I was off to the races. Fortunately, with fairly minimal back and forth we were able to hammer out the drawings on a Friday, and I did color treatments over that weekend. Working that fast has its advantages in that you can't over think things and suffer from analysis paralysis.
Were any of the individual designs of the main cast tricker than the others? Obviously some are more similar to their current iterations than others.
The one design that gave us a bit of trouble was Batman. Initially I tried to do something that played off of [Frank] Miller's "Dark Knight" armor, which he used to fight Superman. However, it didn't work well and it ended up looking too clunky and generic. So we scrapped that idea, and headed down a path similar to Batman Beyond. Also, they weren't very receptive to my idea of Alfred 3000.
If I recall correctly, we also tried a few different things with the Flash's head gear. I think there was a version where he had nothing on his face, one where he looked a bit like Kid Flash with a half-mask and hair showing, and finally the one with the bandana.
What kind of challenge is it to draw such a far-flung version of the future? Obviously when you're talking about a thousand years from now, it's an abstract concept by nature (though you have some experience with that territory, having worked on "DC One Million").
It is tricky to try and draw the future because at some point real world technology will evolve so much that what ever you come up with will look dated and goofy. So, I'm trying to do a lot of things that have a futuristic vibe to them, but feel old and even ancient at the same time. But the biggest challenge so far is making the worlds we visit seem different from each other. In the first two issues, we land on four or five different planets and I have attempted to show a great contrast between all of them. Fortunately, Giffen has a clear vision of what he wants, which makes the job much easier.
Also, I am very fortunate to be working with super talented Hi-Fi colors, they really help to separate the scenes using a unique tone and palette for each location. One of the best bits of advice I have ever gotten was from [former DC Comics executive editor and current DC Entertainment creative director] Mike Carlin a long time ago, he told me to create a world that the reader can escape to and they will want to come back. We hope to do just that.
For this series, you're paired with the writing team of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, who of course have a storied history with the "Justice League" franchise. You've worked with Giffen before, but what's the collaborative process been like on this series?
The process for creating this series is very different than anything I have experienced in my career and it's quite reenergizing to try something new. Instead of the standard plot with panel descriptions and dialogue, Giffen draws a rough of the page and with notes, indicates what the dialogue will be about. I then draw the page and send it over to DeMatteis, who masterfully dialogues it. I find this to be a real treat because when I read the dialogue it's like getting to experience it as if I was reading someone else's book. Also, working from Keith's layouts is like taking a master's class in storytelling, I feel so fortunate to be learning from one of the all-time greats.
Also, you're coming on board after the very public departure of originally announced series artist Kevin Maguire from the series. Surely that was not an ideal situation to join the book under, but did it personally affect your outlook on the series at all?
It sure wasn't. It is the exact opposite of how you want to start off a project, and while it started off bittersweet, things seemed to have worked out pretty well. Any anxiety I had at the start is pretty much gone and I have a very positive outlook on this project.
That said, I certainly am uncomfortable with people on the Internet comparing the two of us. It doesn't feel good to get torn apart, and it's not much better to get a compliment that's followed by the trashing of someone else.
Since we talked a few questions back about your initial "JLA" run about 15 years ago, in what ways do you see your art as evolving from that period? It's still recognizable from that period, but what are some ways you've seen yourself progress -- or maybe things you've actively worked on -- in that time?
The thing I have focused hardest on this year is coming up with my own approach to my finished work. I finally listened to my good friend Ron Garney's advice and I have stopped trying to draw the way I think a comic is supposed to look, and started doing it the way I want a comic to look. Also, I am very grateful to be working with Joey Cavalieri, who has also pushed me in a direction that is closer to the sketchbooks I showed him years ago. It's a process that takes a lifetime of practice, and I know I am far from a finished product.
"Justice League 3000" #1 by Giffen, DeMatteis and Porter goes on sale December 11, 2013.