BATWOMAN's OTHER Artist on Challenges vs. Rewards of Comics

 

Sharing the art tasks with J.H. Williams on Batwoman is a double-edged sword for Trevor McCarthy.

While he isn't regarded by most fans as the better-known artist, the experience of working with Williams and his co-writer W. Haden Blackman has been a rewarding challenge.

For a lot of comics fans, Trevor McCarthy seems like a fairly new yet prolific artist at DC Comics, helping out with covers and interiors on various Batman-related comics over the last three years before landing the regular Batwoman job.

But McCarthy actually began his comics career in the late '90s and early 2000's, working on series like Blink at Marvel and Nightwing at DC. But the artist took a break from comics before reappearing in the industry again in 2010.

What took him away from comics? How did it help him grow as an artist? And how is Batwoman challenging him? Newsarama talked to McCarthy about his career, his work on Batwoman, and what it's like working with Williams and Blackman.

Newsarama: Trevor, DC fans may remember your work on Nightwing about 10 years ago, but we didn't see as much from you at DC until you wowed readers with your work on Batman: Gates of Gotham. Did you take a break from comics, or were there just other projects that DC fans might not have seen?

Trevor McCarthy: I took a break. I came out of school and started getting into comics, doing some Dark Horse work and some things at Marvel. And then I had Nightwing.

 

But I ended up getting into advertising. In 2002, you might remember that they had an advertising campaign where baseball players were transformed into superheroes?

Nrama: Yeah, that was you?

McCarthy: That was me! I just kind of happened into it. And that was my whole summer in 2002. So I spent the whole summer working with an advertising agency in New York doing that campaign, which was really fun and really cool.

And then from there, I transitioned out of comics. I think my last issue of Nightwing was early 2003. But around that time, I got offered the Art Director position at the advertising agency. At first I didn't take it. I ended up getting a rep in New York for advertising work, and I started getting work doing storyboards for TV commercials. But then I ended up becoming an art director after all. And stayed at McCann-Erikson, the advertising agency, for about three years.

That was an amazing experience. Totally different from doing comic books.

But after that, I continued in the storyboarding world, freelancing.

And I still do. I still do storyboards for various TV commercials and stuff like that.

But on the side now. It's just not as fun as comics. After a few years of doing that, I was just like, "I want to get back into comics!" It's so much more fun than doing advertising stuff.

Nrama: Do you think your style now is influenced by all that advertising experience though?

McCarthy: Yeah, definitely, yeah. The deadlines in advertising are much tighter than comic books.

 

I mean, comic books are dealing with finished art. You're dealing with printed, finished artwork. With advertising, you're not. So their expectations are much quicker; you have to work a lot faster. With comic books, you have four to six weeks to do stuff, and with advertising you have hours, in a lot of cases. So the turnaround is much quicker, and you have to learn to adapt to that.

So the style I use now is influenced by working in advertising, because I work a lot digitally. I draw almost everything digitally, which came from advertising because it just became faster to not deal with paper and erasing and things like that. It's quicker for me now to just go straight to the tablet and start drawing. So that's the way I work now, drawing comics. And it all came out of that.

Nrama: After that experience, what attracted you to the world of Batman - and now Batwoman? Do you think the things in Gotham fit your style? Or was it more that you got the attention of the Batman editor and he kept you around?

McCarthy: I feel so luck to be working in the world of Batman, with Batwoman. When I think about it now, it's like, wow, I was just getting back into comics, and [Scott] Snyder [who co-wrote Batman: Gates of Gotham] was just blowing up. And I became friends with Kyle [Higgins, the other co-writer]. So Gates of Gotham just kind of happened at the right time.

But Batman has always been my No. 1 character that I always wanted to work on, and Batwoman is running a close second now. I'm really getting into her.

But to answer your question honestly, it was a combination of both, really. I wanted to work on Batman and I think it does fit my style. But I had known Mike [Marts, Batman editor,] from Marvel years ago, back when I had done a mini-series called Blink in the early 2000's. And I was working on a creator-owned project with a friend just a few years back, and we were in San Diego, and the connections all just fell into place for me to be re-introduced to Mike there. And he just happened to be Batman editor at the time.

So it fell together.

But I do like using a lot of hard contrasting and blacks. And I use a lot of dark line quality, and I think that fits the Batman books well.

 

It's hard for me to describe my style. When I was younger, I was concentrating a lot more on style, but I think, in a lot of ways, some of that early work is embarrassing now. I really have a hard time looking at it, because I know it's not of caliber.

I think the more you work and the more you develop your style, it sort of evolves on its own. You're not really conscious of it.

Nrama: Do you have any influences as an artist that you could point toward?

McCarthy: Yeah, definitely. Now, I think Stuart Immonen is amazing. I read his X-Men stuff, and his artwork is amazing. It just blows my mind, the clarity and what he puts into every panel.

But when I was younger, I was a big fan of Michael Golden and Jason Pearson and Chris Sprouse and Alex Toth. Michael Golden, in particular, is a big influence to me, or at least was when I was younger.

Nrama: You mentioned that you do a lot of things digitally and you like using blacks. Are there any specific tactics or "tricks of the trade" that you like to use in your work?

McCarthy: I like the line I can get drawing digitally. I didn't used to have confidence in my inking ability to get that line, because inking, to me, is a skill in itself, and getting that clean line quality was something I really wanted in my work. And I found that I could get something close to what I like by doing things digitally.

Drawing on a computer is still drawing, but you don't have to be perfect with your inking technique to get the line quality you like.

But I'm also getting back into drawing things more traditionally again. Because on the downside, you don't get to have the actual piece of artwork in your hand, which I miss. I like the visceral quality of actually having it there.

Plus with digital, it doesn't feel as "finished." I mean, there's never a point where you say, "I'm done," because on a computer, you can just keep changing and manipulating and erasing and tweaking it and adding layers. The only thing that stops you is that you have to move on, because you don't have time to do it.

 

So when you draw stuff by hand, at a certain point, you're done. And you feel like it's a completed work. And I like that.

Nrama: How has your experience been working with both J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman?

McCarthy: Oh, it's been a great experience. It's been really amazing.

Nrama: Since Jim [Williams] is an artist on the book too, is it different from working with someone who's just the writer?

McCarthy: Yeah, it's different. I think he's already visualized this stuff, because he is an artist. That's what I do when I'm writing, because you have to have that picture in your head when you're writing. So he's always very conscious of not only the dialogue, but also how the scene will visually play out across the page and through the panels.

I'm learning a lot from Jim. He's an incredibly talented guy. I've always gravitated toward more "design-y" stuff, a more design-oriented approach. And I think he leans that way too. So it works well between us.

If I get to those double pages where there's a lot of design, I feel comfortable with them — granted, I'm not at his level, but I think it's making my own work stronger. And he likes the energy that I'm putting into stuff. It's made for a good working relationship that way, I think.

Nrama: What characters have you specifically enjoyed drawing in Batwoman?

McCarthy: Mr. Freeze was a lot of fun [who's in this week's issue #18]. It was the first time I ever really got to draw him, so that was pretty awesome. I've always been a fan of his since Batman animated. So that was cool.

And in the first arc I did of Batwoman, I didn't really get to utilize any of the Batman rogues gallery, other than Killer Croc, and he was really fun to do.

But in this arc, there will be more rogues gallery players coming in, which I'm really looking forward to.

Nrama: Which characters or concepts in Batwoman are the greatest challenge?

McCarthy: Sometimes drawing all of Batwoman's hair can get frustrating. I mean, I love drawing her, but it's all about hair with that woman. So sometimes getting into drawing all that hair gets kind of crazy.

Killer Croc was a challenge at first because I'd never drawn him before. I think all characters are a challenge when you're first trying to figure out how you're going to handle each character. Like, you can see from where I started Batwoman that I'm figuring out how I want to handle her mask. The same thing with Batman. Structurally, it's very symmetrical, but like anything, if you draw it enough times, you figure out how you want to handle it.

 

I think Alex Ross redesigned Batwoman a few years back. Where J.H. took that costume gives it so much more depth. The way he turned the mask into sort of a macabre, almost carnival-like structure, with the eyes. It reminds me of the Italian, sort of Venetian masks. That, in the beginning, was interesting and difficult. Now it's sort of second nature.

Nrama: It sounds like you feel like your art is evolving even as you're working on Batwoman. How would you describe what you're learning from the experience of working on Batwoman?

McCarthy: I think I'm always developing and growing as an artist, no matter what I'm working on, but I think I'm learning a lot about atmosphere. I got a little bit into atmosphere with Gates of Gotham, but with this issue of Batwoman, issue #18, I really started getting into playing with atmosphere and shadows and stuff. I was trying to create this steamy coldness of the freeze environment. And that was an interesting experience, getting into that.

Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell fans about your work on Batwoman?

McCarthy: It's one the best experiences I've had in comics, but I think that's because it's the most challenging thing I've done yet. Trying to maintain the quality that J.H. has established on this title is, to me, a big deal. And the way in which J.H. writes his script and Haden puts the script together, it's a very detailed script. So trying to convey all the ideas and details that they want put into the book is really challenging. Couple that with the design aspects of the pages and the symbolic imagery, and it's always pushing me as an artist.

But I'm really happy to be doing it. It's one of those experiences where I know, when I look back, I'm going to say, "Wow, I did a lot of learning and growing during that." In the end, I think it's just going to make my work better and better.

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