Nguyen's "No Man's Land" take
Artist Dustin Nguyen has been synonymous with Batman for the past
several years, working on the character through three different titles
including his current run on Detective Comics with writer Paul Dini. He's one of DC Comics' star artists, growing up through the company since his debut back in 2000.
Born in 1976, Nguyen started in comics in 2000 with an issue of Wildstorm's GenActive, following it up with the Jet miniseries before doing the critically acclaimed Wildcats 3.0 with Joe Casey. He followed that up with a twelve issue run on The Authority with Ed Bubaker, then shifted gears and went into DC Comics with runs on Batman, Superman/Batman and now Detective Comics.
As he finishes up the five issue "Heart of Hush" storyline in Detective Comics, we talked to Dustin about that and his career as a whole.
Newsarama: First of all Dustin, can you tell us what you're working on today?
Dustin Nguyen: I've just wrapped issue #850 of Batman: Detective Comics.
It's a jumbo sized (36 pages) issue and completes the five issue "
Heart of Hush" storyline written by Paul Dini. This weekend, we started
on a 2 part story that starts in Detective and ends in Batman, that comes out early next year. Along side of that, Paul and I are also working on a short story for this year's DC Christmas Special.
Super excited about that. Aside from those, I am slowly putting
together a few personal projects in comics and some animation stuff in
my spare time, very little is getting done so far.
NRAMA: In the announcement of the December 2008 titles, I notice you're not doing that month's Detective Comics. What do you have planned next?
DN: Yes, The Denny O’Neil issues will come in for two issues I
believe, it'll actually give us some breathing time (11 issues
straight!). After that, it's more Detective, and even more Batman for me. 2009 is going to have more "BAM!" and "POW!" than ever.
NRAMA: You've done a lot of work on Batman – you did an arc of Batman with Judd Winnick, an arc with Alan Burnett on Superman/Batman and most recently ten issues of Detective Comics with Paul Dini. Was it your choice to draw Batman, or did the editors at DC pitch it to you?
DN: It was entirely my choice, and DC has been nothing but
supportive of it. At one point, Dan Didio just asked me "what do you
want to draw Dustin?" and my answer was as simple as, " Batman, just
Batman, all Batman!". He said okay, and for the past 2 years, I've done
nothing but Batman. I also think it's their way of keeping me from the
rest of the DC universe. [laughs]
The denizens of Gotham City
My Superman is not quite up to par yet.
NRAMA: For a long time you've been exclusive to DC & Wildstorm – since the beginning working for DC's Milk magazine if I'm correct. Have you ever thought about other companies for work though?
DN: Its kind of crazy when I think about it, I've been with DC
and Wildstorm for almost 9 years, 7 of those years exclusively. Yet, it
doesn't feel like I've really drawn that many books. But yeah, there
are so many characters out there, for most artists like myself- it's
not really a matter of what company, but more of what characters. I
really like Batman, so I'm sort of comfortable at DC right now, but
maybe in a few years, I'll see if anyone lets me draw Daredevil, or
Punisher or something..
NRAMA: You had a long history with Wildstorm, doing several high-profile books including Wildcats and The Authority. You even debuted with them on a Jet story for the GenActive anthology. Although you're doing stuff for the DCU now, do you consider Wildstorm your stomping grounds so to speak?
DN: ah most definitely. I can honestly say I wouldn't be where I
am today or even the artist I am today had i not kick start my career
with Wildstorm. The comic industry may be a small community if you
count the names and people involved, but it's a huge industry when you
look at how much stuff is out there. It's very easy to get your work
lost in there and fall in and out unnoticed, going from fill-in issue
to fill-in issue. The best thing about Wildstorm when I came on, was
that the editorial staff really took care of their own. They took
chances in me that I doubt I could have gotten if I had gone directly
thru the big 2, chances that allowed me to explore myself as an artist
as well as a professional. I was only on staff for about 8 months, but
after I left, they still to this day treat me like a Wildstorm guy.
NRAMA: Maybe I'm just showing my fandom, but it seems like Wildcats was a real turning point for your career. How would you describe that experience as a whole?
DN: It really was the turning point for me. Half-way thru the
series, my work ethic and mentality towards comics changed drastically
(in a great way) and it affected my style as well. Before Wildcats, I had only done a four issue arc of Jet
and a few fill ins here and there. I didn't come from an art
background, I never knew anyone in comics to tell me what's good,
right, or expected. If you lack those, most artist at least come with
knowledge of comics/artists past and present. All I really knew was
what was on newsstands at the time and the few I read and loved when I
was younger, I was pretty much drawing blindly, drawing any way I
could, no real direction where I wanted to take my work.
I believe a big part of it was working with the new Wildcats
team and from Joe Casey's scripts. They weren't always "in your face,
flying out the window into a building" type action. The stories flowed
so smoothly, every act in the plot was well placed, and the characters
were given time to develop. This actually gave me time to think about
things like layout, pacing, and actually telling a story rather than
just doing a splash every other page. It got me to go out and seek old
books I read that flowed well to me, , try and look for new ( to me
anyway) artists and techniques in paneling and storytelling to make a
scene with just two guys talking in a dark room more interesting. That
wealth of knowledge was a crazy rush for me at the time, and it's still
just growing more and more today on every book I work on. And again, my
editor at Wildstorm gave me the space to explore without ever
questioning or doubting me.
NRAMA: I've discovered that you have a couple characters of your
own called Kozmo and Rerun. I see them several times in your gallery
--- is there more to them?
DN: Yes! They are actually modeled after my son and our dog
Rocket, he was a rat terrier I had when I was living in Toledo, Ohio. A
simple boy and his dog type deal, but I am slowly developing it into
NRAMA: We'll be looking forward to that. What's been your favorite project to work on so far?
DN: Very lame and cheesy answer, but my favorite project is
always going to be my next one I think. It's not to say that I dislike
any of my past work, but I feel you have to go into every book you draw
with an enthusiasm that it's your first gig, give it your all and make
it the best. And you'll always treat your favorite the best. Ask my
NRAMA: You've been in comics for several years, with each
project being bigger than the last – but inside, do you have a dream
project of your own you want to do?
DN: The artist in me says my dream project would be something
completely my own, written and drawn exactly the way I want, with the
deadline I want. Most likely not superhero… or very mainstream. The fan
in me, wants to do one thick ass Batman hardcover to go on the shelves
with my Dark Knight Returns, Arkham Asylum, and Killing Joke.
NRAMA: Prior to comics, you worked for several engineering
companies. Can you tell us what this is like and how it might have
helped you drawing comics?
DN: They were great gigs, I worked a lot in CAD and 3D,
designing HVAC systems for different facilities. It paid amazingly well
(about 4 times more than my first comics gig!), and at the end of the
day, I wasn't too creatively drained to draw with a real pencil and
paper. I remember I'd make up sample scripts for myself while sitting
in traffic for hours every morning ( the 405 in southern CA blows), jot
some stuff down. Then on lunch break or whenever I had time at my
cubical, I'd do these little thumbnails/ panel breakdowns and get
really excited about them and couldn't wait to get home to draw them.
Then the rest of the night was spent drawing the actual samples,
getting ready for comic-con or something.
Nguyen's view of many mini Marvels
NRAMA: You also worked for Stan Lee at Media Inc. What was that like?
DN: It was too awesome - I had gotten my first gig in comics with Wildstorm (a 10 pager in GenActive)
and I got to work in Stan the man's office. How cool was that? I got to
meet tons of artists I would have never gotten to meet working just in
comics at the time ( alone, at my table, at home). I also got to pick
the brains of many great talents, not just their skills, but their life
experience as well. Although I loved it there, it wasn't comics… and at
the time ( and still today), comics were all I wanted to do. Eventually
Wildstorm was able to give me more work so I left Stan Lee Media. It
was good times and the same folks I worked with there are still some of
my best friends in the industry today. Stan still calls me Anthony for
NRAMA: Switching things up for your traditional pencil work in
comics, you've begun doing watercolor pieces as covers. Why'd you
decide to do this, and how is it different for you than your regular
DN: Covers I enjoy doing a great deal, so whenever the chance
comes up, I try to put everything aside and give it my all. With
watercolor, I have complete control of everything from line weights to
colors and textures. So if the book and subject matter allows it, I
will choose to go traditional over something that looks like a splash
page from my interior. Plus it's just more relaxing than having to draw
it, scan, then flat it, then worry about all the technical details of
it. It's sort of like what penciling is to me, just myself and the
paper. I've gotten to the point recently where if it's not fun, I
probably won't even attempt it. My approach to it is completely
different from an interior page, though, so sometimes, I have to get
myself out of the mindset of relying on the inker, the colorist, and
worrying about translation. This is difficult sometimes when I am
cramming thru a page a day for weeks and mostly thinking in black and
white. But when I finally do sit down with the brush before a huge
piece of paper, it's really like a break from the rush because it is
Kozmo & Rerun
NRAMA: Here's an idea – doing a complete book in watercolor. Could you ever see yourself doing that?
DN: Totally, in that thick ass hardcover I was telling you about!
NRAMA: A hardcover Batman book done in watercolor. Let's call Dan DiDio and get it set up. [laughs]
DN: Really though, I'd love to as soon as I can slow down a bit.
I greatly enjoy working on the monthly books right now, so its all a
matter of scheduling and time. With the painted work, I really cannot
do it monthly or rushed. I am looking at something in that channel
after the new year as side project, though. So we'll just have to see.
NRAMA: Looking at your blog, I see artwork you do outside of
your comics for DC – the recent Hellboy piece you did for fun really
stood out. Can you tell us more about the art you do for fun?
DN: A lot of it is just goofy doodles and mean nothing, some are
birthday and thank you cards I make for friends and family. I have
scraps of paper on my desk, and once in a while, I just stray off my
page while working and start sketching something else. Either its from
a song I'm listening to, or I'm just tired of rendering rocks at the
moment. After I wrap up my real work for the night, I throw some paint
on the sketch and it's pretty much my side exercise for the day.
NRAMA: Another thing that stood out is the plethora of
mini-superhero drawings you've done, especially the Batman family
piece. Manga fans refer to this style as 'chibi', and is a popular
style in Japan. What led you to do these, and why do you enjoy doing it
DN: Again, just goofy doodles, stuff that came out of drawing
too many cards for my wife when we were going out. The style- I grew up
playing a lot of street fighter, and way back then ( the 90's!), the
guys that were designing all the characters for the game ( Bengus and
Shoei were my favorite) did a ton of these super deformed versions of
the characters. I thought they were the coolest things ever. The
biggest draw for me was that they're so simple to do ( though very easy
to mess up). They used the simplest techniques- just single line weight
and bits of watercolor. It's a fun challenge to me to see how much
character I can put in something with the least amount of work.
That, plus I am horrible at drawing a likeness, so why even try- just go the extreme opposite.
NRAMA: What's your home studio like?
DN: It is a horrible mess. We are in between places right now,
so I am literally sitting on boxes here and there. The good part is
comics only require a space of 11 x 17 to work. I do most of my layouts
and paneling on the couch or floor instead. The actual finished work
though, I have to be at my table, or it'll never get done. Here's a
picture of what I can show…
NRAMA: Comics can be a lonely business to work in – most
creators work by themselves at home – only a relative few work in
studios or in-house at a comics company. Do you ever work with other
comics creators or talk to them on the phone while you work?
DN: I keep in touch with other artists and we talk art all the
time, but I rarely talk to anyone while i am actually drawing. I'm
really easily distracted, so I like to be alone. It's part of the
reason why I left working in the actual Wildstorm Studio to work at
home. Its sad, but I know I am not alone in this.
NRAMA: And lastly, who would you say are your closest friends in comics?
DN: I'd have to say mostly all the people I've worked with up to
this day. Even though I don't see them everyday, I know they're all
relying on me and I on them. The comic biz is great man, thank you
again for the opportunity to talk a bit.
For more on Dustin's work, visit his website at www.duss005.com.