This week, Detective Comics #15 introduces what Gotham City is like when The Joker is in town.
Written by John Layman with art by up-and-coming artist Jason Fabok, Detective Comics has been surprising readers since its new creative team took over in October. With a story that has been concentrating on villains, Layman and Fabok have given Batman fans a unique mix of gritty detective stories and fun moments reminiscent of the character's animated series.
In fact, it's animation that helps to inform the work by Fabok, who burst onto the scene at DC by helping out with David Finch's work on Batman: The Dark Knight.
Newsarama talked to the artist about his unique style on Detective Comics, drawing The Joker, and his hopes for the future.
Newsarama: Jay, what drew you to the chance to work on Detective Comics?
Jason Fabok: I've always wanted to work on Batman. That was my main goal when I started this crazy ride a few years back. Batman has been my favorite character since the first time I saw Tim Burton's Batman movie as a child. I’m still in a state of shock that I'm even working on a Batman title. I never thought that I'd get this chance so early in my career.
As for how I got this opportunity, it was right after the Batman Annual that Mike Marts approached me and asked if I was ready for a "Big Project." I was curious as to what he had up his sleeve and it turned out to be Detective Comics. I couldn't turn something like that down.
Nrama: Were you aware of John Layman's work before? What did you think of the chance to work with him as he started on a DC Batman comic?
Fabok: I knew he was a hugely popular writer with Chew but hadn't found the time to check out his work. But right from the get-go, I felt we've really clicked. We had some great conversations as to what he wanted to do with the series and what my thoughts were as well. I honestly couldn't believe how close our vision was for the series. He pitched a fun, action-packed, detective comic that reminded me of the old Batman animated series. I loved the idea of each issue being it's own story while having a connecting tie through the arc.From day one, when I read John's script for #13 to now, I've been blown away by how excellent of a writer he is. I can't rave enough about John's work. John is such a great storyteller, and each issue keeps ramping up more and more. John's the man, and I'm so thankful to work with such a talented, and awesome guy.
Nrama: I've seen a lot of descriptions of your style since you started on Detective Comics — most of them incorporating the words "big" and "bold." How would you describe your style?
Fabok: I would use those words, but maybe add "cinematic" to the list. I come from a background in animation and film, so I try to treat my layouts more like storyboards for a film. I love using widescreen panels and fill them right to the edges with all sorts of little story elements and details.
I've modeled my work off of my biggest influences, like David Finch, Jim Lee, Lee Bermejo, Ivan Reis and Gary Frank. I've always been attracted to artists who use lots of blacks, with heroic looking characters and bigger than life designs.
Nrama: Since you mentioned David Finch earlier, we've heard about how he's been working with you for awhile, even before you were working in mainstream comics. Can you describe your background and why you got into comics? And what were your biggest influences as you started drawing?
Fabok: David has been my mentor and good friend for these past few years. He personally put me through the "David Finch Super Intense Boot-camp of Comics" back in 2010 after I sent a portfolio to him and asked for a few pointers. We both live in the Windsor/Essex County area in Southern Ontario, so I was able to meet with him for six months and learn the trade.
I can't sing his praises enough. He helped me make a break into a terribly competitive field, helped me to find work and continues to give me great advice on where to take my career. My wife and I are so thankful to him and his wife for their time and sacrifice to help me reach my dreams.
Artistically, David has obviously been a massive influence on my style, and I'm not afraid to show it. David was my hero before meeting him and I’m thankful for his willingness to share his secrets. But I'm also feeling that I'm starting to find my own thing as I draw more and more. I'm not afraid to wear my influences on my sleeve and use them to my advantage, but it's also fun to see my favorites blend into something new coming out of my pencil.It was Jim Lee's Batman: Hush that got me interested in working toward a career in comics. When I read that book as a teenager, I was instantly floored by his work and dreamed of drawing comics from that day on.
Other influences have been Steve McNiven, Travis Charest, Mike Mignola, Tim Sale, Gary Frank, Lee Bermejo, Greg Capullo, Ivan Reis, John Cassaday, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, Duncan Fegredo, Joe Benitez, Darwyn Cooke, Frank Quitely....the list could go on and on and on.
Nrama: I've also heard that you use a lot of digital tools to create your artwork. Can you describe for your fans how you draw your comics’ art? What tactics do you utilize to achieve your style?
Fabok: I've been using Digital as my main art tool for about a year now and won't be looking back. As I mentioned before, I have a background in animation where I learned a lot about digital art techniques. But even before that I had been creating artwork using the computer and a tablet.
When I started in the industry, I worked in pencil, but found that the perfectionist in me was never satisfied with how the art was turning out. I wanted more control, and wanted more time to tweak the artwork. You don't have much time to do that when you need to crank out 5 pages a week, and then send the work to the inker to finish. I've found that by working digitally, I've been able to increase my weekly page count, see my wife everyday and have an actual weekend to relax.I've been using the Wacom Cintiq 24HD which is a 24-inch monitor that I draw right on with a stylus. I use a few different drawing programs together to create the art. I also really love working in black and white as opposed to grayscale. I’m really happy with the change to digital and I'm excited to see what new tools and technology will come out in the future.
Nrama: Fans and critics have been raving about your work on Detective, and it seems to match well with the way John writes. What is it about your style that you think attracted DC to your work specifically for this title and this writer?
Fabok: I think it may be because I tend to work with a familiar style, close to David Finch and Jim Lee and that I work with lots of shadows. In fact, that's where I feel the most comfortable. Batman works best, in my opinions, when things are shadowy, dark and grungy. I've done some work on Batman titles in the past and I guess I did well enough on them for DC to be happy. Again, I can't begin to explain how thankful I am for this opportunity and for my job. I love working for DC and the team I'm involved with on Detective.
Nrama: Besides utilizing the "dark and shadowy," how else would you describe your approach on Detective overall? Is it, again, the animation influence you have?
Fabok: Yeah, I tend to look at things from a cinematic, widescreen point of view. I'm focusing on making every panel count, and John Layman does such a good job with his scripts. He makes sure every book is worth the price you pay. As an artist, he makes you work very hard. There aren't many quick pages of just talking heads but in the end, the books are going to be packed with all sorts of great stuff.I'm trying to really go all out on every page, spending time drawing in all the little details many other artists may choose to leave out. I'm also trying to use elements and clothing from the past, using the Batman Animated Series look to influence my work as well as film noir. You may also pick up on little nods to the history of Batman if you really pay attention. I hope in the end, however long I am given to work on Batman, I want people to see how much attention and love I'm pouring into this. This was my main career goal and I'm not taking it lightly
Nrama: Let's talk about character for a moment. How would you describe your Batman and Bruce Wayne?
Fabok: I want my Batman to be powerful and strong — a real force to be reckoned with. I'm drawing more shadows on Batman to give him a more mysterious feel, using the shadows to his advantage. I have to say that drawing Batman is a daunting task. I'm never really happy with the pages he's drawn into mostly because I want Batman to look perfect. But I feel I'm loosening up as I go along and I'm able to draw him closer to the way I see him in my head.
Nrama: You've also been drawing Penguin for your first arc. We've seen him developed in his own mini-series for the New 52, which I assume informed your visual approach to the character. But what were you thinking when you started developing the look for him? Did the story play a part in the way you drew the character?
Fabok: Personally, the Penguin reminds me of an Edwardian Lord or land owner you'd see in one of those Masterpiece Mystery shows. Very regal, dressed to the nines, that sort of thing but also greedy and power hungry. Like a Victorian Gangster! I've tried to make him resemble a character you'd see in Sherlock Holmes, or Hercule Poirot. I've even given him those big sideburns that were in style in that time period. I'm also trying to make him a bit more human than a weird penguin monster. I'm pulling from both the Danny DeVito and Burgess Meredith versions, but I'm trying to create something in the middle.
I decided not to draw him in the classic black tuxedo look but pulled again from some designs from the early 1900's. The Penguin has been a blast to draw and is one of my favorites to date.
Nrama: You've become quite the up-and-coming artist at DC over the last year. You mentioned before that you can see your style developing. How do you think you've been growing as an artist?
Fabok: When you draw seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., you can only hope that you're improving. I was actually looking back on some of my first work that I did a few years ago and I was shocked to see how far I've come. David Finch would often tell me that it will take a good five years to really develop my own style and I believe him. I still don't feel that I've found my own thing but that's something to work toward and look forward too.As to how I’ve grown, I feel my speed has become the area where things have really jumped. It used to take me two days to do a page, so you can imagine how trying to hit a 5-pages-a-week deadline was impossible. But the time I spent working for Aspen comics really gave me the ability to set my own goals and slowly move toward doing an issue a month. I pulled myself out of DC for a good year in order to grow and learn. I feel I've come back a stronger and more professional artist. I also feel my storytelling is much stronger and is probably my greatest asset. This has been an awesome ride so far and I hope to only get better and better.
Nrama: As you've been drawing for DC, what characters have you enjoyed drawing the most? And what have been the greatest challenges? And are there any others you'd like to get the chance to draw?
Fabok: Batman is easily my favorite, and yet hardest, character to draw. He's been a challenge and maybe I'll get it right someday. I also really loved drawing Mr. Freeze in the Batman Annual #1. That was a dream character to work on. I've always been a huge fan of him and was blessed to get that opportunity.
As for others I'd love to tackle, I think the big three after Batman would be Superman, Wonder Woman and Swamp Thing. All great characters that I feel I could do a good job on. But right now I'm focusing on Batman and trying to do my best to honor the characters and creators of the past.
Nrama: It sounds like you're about to keep up with deadlines pretty well though?
Fabok: This is my first monthly I've ever done, and the pressure is very high. I have a newfound respect for artists who have done this for years and years. I also understand why some artist pull themselves out of the monthly game and focus on projects where they can take their time. It's tough, especially with DC cracking down on deadlines.
On one hand, it's great because the books are put out on time, every month. As a fan, it's awesome to walk into a shop and know that your favorite books are waiting for you month after month. But it doesn't give the artist much time to tweak and critique his work, or take it easy and slow with certain pages that you want to really go crazy on. It's a race to the finish and sometimes I’m blown away by how much detail and work I can actually accomplish in a day. In the end, as an artist, I've become content with the fact that I have a day to draw a page, and after that I have to let it go for the good of the entire book.
I have to say, the fan support is something I really appreciate. To get the great messages and emails from fans has given me the confidence and energy I need to get through each issue.In fact, once you are done reading this interview, send a little message of encouragement to your favorite artist. They work long hours and sacrifice much in order to create the books we enjoy and a message of encouragement can bring them up when they are in the low valleys of self-doubt.
Nrama: The next issue of Detective begins the Joker appearance and tie-in to "Death of the Family." Anything you can tell us about the experience of drawing The Joker?
Fabok: Drawing the Joker has been pretty great, but honestly, John Layman has come up with a really awesome and unique spin for our Joker themed issues. I can't say much about it, but the stories for these books are simply incredible.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about Detective Comics?
Fabok: I think I'd like fans to know that we are really pouring our heart and soul into every book. John is taking it to new levels every month, and I'm attempting to match him. Working on a monthly as big as this is tiring, both physically and mentally but so worth it in the end. We want to bring our own flavor to the Batman legacy and I feel that once we get nice and deep into this run, fans are really going to be hooked on the stories, characters, twists and turns. We are thankful for the great fan feedback we've received so far and the kind words on twitter and in the forums. Thank you for your support and get ready for a crazy, fun, action packed ride!
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