New YOUNG JUSTICE During Hiatus? Jones Talks Comic Tie-In
If you’ve ever been a fan of a DC animated cartoon series, chances are you’ve flipped through one of their various tie-in comics over the years. Illustrator Christopher Jones has made those books his regular stomping grounds, with dynamic art that has earned him a fan-base all his own.After a long run on DC’s The Batman Strikes!, he’s landed a full-time gig working with Greg Weisman on the Young Justice tie-in comic, currently the only way to get new YJ tales while the show is on its sudden hiatus. While the series is coming to a close in February 2013, as announced in the DC Solicitations for that month, it has caught up to Season 2's continuity and has a big story with a major villain not yet seen on the show or in the comic to close it out. Jones recently took a moment to chat with Newsarama about his career and the curious nature of making kids comics in an age when superhero books are predominantly aimed at older readers.
Christopher Jones: I have been drawing, boy, as long as I can remember! As a little kid, I drew pictures but was already interested in making comic books. I would make little bundled booklets of my drawings. I didn’t immediately go to sequential panels, but it was definitely a series of drawings that made up a story. I don’t know that anyone else would have been able to follow the story, but to me it made up a story! I’m very conscious of having the job that I wanted all my life and I realize how rare that is, so I feel pretty privileged.
Nrama: Were there any comics aimed at kids that sparked your imagination back in those days?
Jones: It’s hard to say, especially as far as anything aimed at children. One of the things that I find remarkable about how comics have changed is that I often feel like the entire superhero genre, which used to be juvenile escapist adventure fiction, as they’ve tried to cater to an aging fan-base and have added adult elements to try to appeal to older readers, has taken all of these superhero characters that have been around and beloved by children for decades and made most of the material produced with them inappropriate for children.
Nrama: Do you think that there can be more of a happy medium between the two?
Jones: I think that there could be. I think there are opportunities presented as more and more stuff moves to digital, but right now it feels like DC and Marvel are struggling to find ways to market and distribute stuff to different target audiences. With the exception of digital and collected volumes going to bookstores, everything is going to comic book shops and you don’t really know from shop to shop how they’re displaying the stuff. Most comic book stores have a kids section, which means that anything that carries any kind of younger readers brand most older readers never even check out to see if there might be something there they want to look at. Now that said, there are plenty of older readers out there that enjoy material intended for kids or have checked it out and found it, but a lot of people just never even discover it.
Nrama: What was your first comic title that you worked on?
Nrama: Were you hoping to break-in on one of their kids titles or mainstream titles?
Jones: Mainstream. You know most of the stuff I did for smaller publishers before working for DC was horror and crime books. I really hadn’t done a whole lot either for kids or with superheroes. I wasn’t uninterested in doing any of that; it’s just what I had a chance to work on. Then they announced that there was going to be a new Batman animated TV series – this would be The Batman. By that point, I knew there’s always a tie-in comic for the show.One of the things I’d done, among the piecemeal stuff, was issues of the Justice League Adventures comic, so I finally got to play in Bruce Timm land, just not in the way I’d expected. I knew there was a new Batman book starting up, so I thought “well, lets see if I can get in on this ahead of the curve” so I asked the editor I had been working with if he knew who the editor was going to be for the inevitable tie-in comic. He found out, I expressed my interest to that editor, she had me do a couple of sample pages based on the script for the first issue and I ended up getting the gig. So my first regular monthly work for DC was The Batman Strikes! and out of a 50-issue run on that book, I drew 44 of them. That was a ton of fun and a great experience and then when that book ended I spent a couple of years doing a lot of licensing art. It kept me busy and I had money coming in but not a lot of fans saw it. So I’d go to conventions and people were like “what are you working on?” and I’d say “nothing you’ve seen or heard of.”
My next regular comic book work ended up what I’m doing now, which is Young Justice. I started drawing it with issue five. I started inking it myself with issue fourteen. I’ve inked stuff here and there before but this is the first time I’ve inked a series so that’s kept me very busy. And apparently that wasn’t enough because now I’m also drawing the occasional story for Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes at Marvel, and that’s where I am now.
Jones: Yeah, I never heard why it was done that way, but they did not have a regular writer or artist on the book. They had a pool of writers and a pool of artists. The writers were submitting stories and then as they were approved they would choose an artist from the pool, or I don’t know if it was just whoever was next on the list, and assign it to them, which meant every three or four months I would get to draw a story and it was usually not the same writer every time. The stories were all self-contained and there wasn’t a lot of continuity, which is fine, although it means that there’s not as much cohesion to the book as there might have been. I never got to get into the groove and feel like I was really building from issue to issue. It was always “oh, I have a full issue of a comic to crank out” and then nothing for three months. Doing stuff kinda piecemeal here and there is just not the same experience and does not push your abilities.
Nrama: Did it feel like a testing ground?
Nrama: Did you find it particularly difficult to adapt the designs used in The Batman series for the comic?
Jones: Well, a lot of the work that I’ve been doing recently is stuff based on different animation properties. It’s what I’ve become known for so it’s what gets offered to me. I’ve done the Bruce Timm style for Justice League Adventures, I’ve done The Batman style for The Batman Strikes!, I’ve done Marvel Superhero Squad Show, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and of course Young Justice and part of challenge of all of those is trying to see the specific stylizations of the styles. Not only do you have to match the model sheets, but you have to design new characters for the specific stories that suit the style of that material, but then also balance that with putting enough of your own style into it so it’s not lifeless and it’s not just imitating model sheets.The Batman was particularly challenging because I think it’s the furthest from my own personal drawing style. It was based on the designs of Jeff Matsuda, who does beautiful beautiful art, but he has some very peculiar stylizations. His style is about concave curves and stylizations that look great in 2D but don’t work in 3D, so it’s hard to wrap your head around it sometimes. You’ll be looking at a design saying “Okay, but if I was looking at that character from above, what would that look like?”
Jones: It has been terrific working with Greg Weisman! I like his writing a lot. I like his take on the characters. He visualizes things in a way that I don’t have a hard time figuring out how to interpret his scripts onto a comic book page. Being a big Batman fan, I really appreciate the way he writes Batman and all those related characters. It’s interesting having someone who is the Executive Producer and the Head Writer of the TV show writing the comic because first of all, it certainly simplifies any approval process. What Greg writes in the script is what’s going to be approved in the TV show and the only challenges come at finding compromise between what Greg wants and what DC is willing to do. Where the challenges can arise sometimes is that because they have Young Justice based on an animated TV show branded as a kids book, even though everyone working on it intends it to be as much all-ages as possible and appealing to a more mature audience just the way the TV show is, it means there’s occasionally been some negotiation and compromise as to what they’ll let us get away with. But for the most part it works out and I love working with Greg. I hope to continue working on this for a good long while and I’d love to work with him on more stuff down the road.
Nrama: Can you tease what’s coming up in the book…or the show?
Jones: I really don’t have spoilers for the show to offer, even if I could offer them, and as far as what’s coming up in the comic, issue 20 brought the comic into the Season Two timeframe. Technically, we’re like a month ahead of when the first episode of Season Two takes place, so even though we’ve got the Season Two characters, we don’t have the five year time jump: we have the four year, eleven month time jump. We’re launching a six-part storyline where, as was revealed at the end of issue 20, our big bad is Brainiac, who has not yet appeared in the show. So it’s my Brainiac design, and that’s the Young Justice Brainiac!
Nrama: Any chance that design could end up being used in the show?
Nrama: I’ve heard it said that working on a kids title like this one comes with a certain amount of freedom and that you don’t feel the pressure of having that mainstream spotlight on you the way you would if you were working on one of the flagship DC titles. Would you say that’s accurate?
Nrama: What kind of response do you get from younger readers at comic conventions?
Jones: Well, certainly it is one of the real joys of working with this kind of material that you get so many kids at conventions and you get the kind of response that you do from kids. I’m also very aware that with Young Justice specifically, that the female audience is very large. There’s a ton of female fans.
Nrama: Looking to the future, are there any projects you’d really like to work on?
Jones: Batman: Brave and the Bold! Batman teamed up with everyone else. That would keep me happy for a very long time. Or something creator-owned that I haven’t figured out yet.
For more of Christopher Jones’ work, visit his blog. He can also be followed on Twitter @ChrisJonesArt.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!