For Howard Porter, working on a Justice League book is like coming full circle.
In December, Porter will be drawing Justice League 3000, the new book by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis that takes place in the 31st Century of the DCU.
The book represents a return to the Justice League for Giffen and DeMatteis — whose run on the Justice League International team is a fan-favorite — but it also bring Porter back to the concept, since he was the artist on the Grant Morrison run on JLA that ran in the late '90s and early 2000's.
But for Porter, the return to an ongoing, mainstream superhero comic is also significant because of the injury that sidelined the artist between his last JLA run and this one.
In fact, in early 2007, Porter had given up drawing. The artist who made the battles of Keystone City come alive during Flash: Rogues War and drew a world-conquering Darkseid for JLA had put down his pencil and decided to walk away from being a comic book artist. For good.
He was driving a school bus instead.
Comic book readers simply saw the name Howard Porter disappear from solicitations. But over the last few years, Porter has experienced a gradual climb out of a low point that threatened to end his creative career, an injury making it impossible for him to even feel a pencil in his hand.
Porter is coming onto Justice League 3000 after a switch by DC comics from one artist to another (Porter was given the gig after the apparently unwilling departure by the originally announced artist, Kevin Maguire).
Yet Porter was the artist who came up with the original designs for the characters in Justice League 3000. And Giffen told Newsarama that he supports the decision to bring Porter on board.
"He's much more humble than he should be," Giffen said. "Working with Howard, I've got somebody that I know will be there for me, and I know the book will be in on time. And I know that the art will look incredible. I fell in love with Howard's work back when we worked on Magog. It would just come in like clockwork, and it was great. There were times when it was uncanny how much the pages looked like what I saw in my head. He just got it. It was one of the best comic book experiences I ever had.
"What he's doing on Justice League 3000 is amazing. He gets it. He really, really gets it," the co-writer said. "And it's kind of obvious that he's having fun with it. Howard comes with Justice League experience, because he was the artist on the Grant Morrison run. I'm just so f*&king glad to have him on board.
"Howard could not have returned to the Justice League at a better time, even if it's a thousand years in the future."
Newsarama talked with Porter to find out more about his return to the Justice League (albeit a team in the future), how it's been working with Giffen and DeMatteis, and why he designed these characters to look the way they do.
Newsarama: Howard, we haven't talked for awhile because you've been doing a lot of digital, haven't you?
Howard Porter: Yeah, yeah. I did about three years of monthly stuff for DC digital, for like video game comics and stuff.
Nrama: Was that on purpose? Were you trying to stay under the radar?
Porter: No, but I do like it under the radar. I mean, it wasn't conscious.
Nrama: Do you prefer staying away from the negative feedback? Or is it just that you want to work without all the chatter about your work?
Porter: Yeah, I just want to create. I don't like the negatives. But who does like that?
Nrama: That's true. But you just have to stay off the internet.
Porter: That is true. I did pretty well until they announced I was on Justice League 3000.
Nrama: Ah, but that was just people voicing surprise at the change.
Porter: Absolutely. I know that.
Nrama: Let's go back and talk a minute about how you got "under the radar" in the first place. Because you had a career that had you right in the middle of everything after you worked with Morrison on JLA. After that, you were on The Flash, right?
Porter: Yeah, before that I did some Fantastic Four with Mark Waid, and then Flash was with Geoff Johns. I did that for a couple of years.
Nrama: And then you had your accident that hurt you hand, that did nerve damage so bad you had to quit comics.
Porter: Yeah. It took me out of comics for just about a year.
Nrama: Are you drawing differently now because of having to re-train yourself to draw after the nerve damage?
Porter: I was for awhile. I couldn't hold the pencil right, so I had to hold it differently. But now, it's pretty much the same. I hold the pencil the normal way.
Nrama: Is it because it healed enough that you could hold the pencil again? Or did you have to learn how to hold it again?
Porter: No, it didn't heal 100 percent. But it just feels normal now. It feels normal to me for the pencil to feel this way. I have no feeling in my thumb. But maybe that's a good thing. I can hold the pencil longer and won't realize I'm holding it. I don't get sore. I guess I'm probably better with deadlines because my thumb doesn't get sore or tired.
Nrama: And you learned to draw again, during your rehabilitation, while you were a bus driver, right?
Porter: Yeah, when I couldn't work in comics anymore, I had to get a job, and I wanted to do something that helped other people, so I got a job as a bus driver. And after awhile, I thought maybe I could try to draw, so I brought a sketchbook along with me so I could draw.
Nrama: And now, about five years later, you're back to working on a Justice League book. And Keith told me that you impressed him by doing the designs in a short amount of time, and making them look almost exactly like he'd envisioned them.
Porter: Yeah, they came to me to design the characters. They called up and said, "Hey, can you get us these designs by the weekend?" And I guess they were happy with what I was able to put together.
They're the big five from the Justice League, but in the future. The approach to the designs was that it's a somewhat dystopian, dark future, yet these are the heroes we know from the current DCU. But they had to look a little bit different because of the setting.
It was tricky to do the designs, because they still had to be recognizable. You still had to be able to tell who they were, but you had to be able to tell something was off.
There was more direction on the individual characters, but some of the choices that I made in the original designs, if I tell you why… it would probably give away some of the surprises.
Nrama: Superman doesn't look too different from the one we know, except he's got a different symbol.
Porter: Yeah, you'll find out more about the way he looks in the book.
Nrama: I'm hearing that you can't comment on his design. Can you talk about Batman?
Porter: Yeah, I initially drew Batman like Frank Miller's version of Batman in Dark Knight Returns, with that big, clunky armor, but more of a futuristic version of that, and the utility belt and everything. And they said it looked too much like the current version of Batman. So they said to go more like Batman Beyond — younger, slimmer than the Frank Miller one.
And that influenced my design overall, because I looked at what Batman Beyond looked like. And I brought in the red with the black.
Nrama: And Wonder Woman has pants.
Porter: Yeah, there are reasons that she looks like that. I had brief descriptions of each character, and I think if I told you what that's all about, it might spoil all the fun. She's got her lasso tied around her arm, swinging, like, a star type thing. But I'll tell you that the design doesn't necessarily mean it will always be a star. There's more to the image than you know. There's more to their abilities in the future than you're seeing in these images.
And of course, she's supposed to come across a little more gritty than we've seen her before.
Nrama: What can you reveal about the way you designed Green Lantern? Because he's got a very different look about him.
Porter: Yeah, I tried to make him look kind of like The Spectre, sort of. And again, I'd hate to spoil the story. But with Green Lantern and Flash and all the characters, the thing to keep in mind is that these are the Justice League we know, but they're different. And there's a reason they're different.
Another thing I can probably reveal to you is that these costumes aren't actually cloth. Keith has this idea about the future, and the way their costumes would be constructed.
Nrama: And The Flash's face is covered.
Porter: Yeah, and there's a reason for that. It won't be covered all the time. It has nothing to do with his identity. It's something else.
I love the Flash so much.
Nrama: Yeah, you drew The Flash series for awhile.
Porter: Yeah, yeah. I love the character. So on Justice League 3000, I think I used more on The Flash character's traditional colors, more than others.
Nrama: With Justice League 3000, are you getting to draw interesting settings?
Porter: Yeah, Keith has these fantastic ideas about what the world looks like the future. Keith has this idea that the environment is almost like another member of the Justice League in the future. So the environment's look and feel plays a huge part in the story.
He's creating all these different worlds, and he's got these ideas about the way they travel. It's really exciting as an artist to be able to design this stuff. It kind of reminds me of what Kirby would do, you know? Kirby had his Boom Tubes, and Keith's got ideas — his Keith Tubes. [Laughs.]
Nrama: Didn't you draw the 853rd Century stuff that Morrison did?
Porter: I did. That was my favorite storyline.
Nrama: So you had some experience with drawing DC characters of the future.
Porter: Yeah. But this a completely different time period in the DCU, with a unique set of characters and a very different outlook. It would be tough to compare them except to say they're both the future.
Nrama: Yet this is the Justice League and that was the Justice League. How has your style changed since then?
Porter: Oh, it's changed a ton. I've been doing a lot of covers this year, and I did the Mongul issue in Villains Month. And I've been working with Joey [Cavalieri], and he said he wanted me to lean more toward what he had seen in my sketchbooks. More like that than the traditional stuff with an inker. So what I've been doing lately looks a lot different from what I was doing on JLA.
Nrama: So it's not as clean looking?
Porter: Yeah, it's more organic and less mechanical looking. If you saw my covers for Threshold and All-Star Western, they're similar to the style I'm doing on Justice League 3000. The character sketches show a little bit of what I'm talking about, although they're obviously not finished products.
Nrama: I remember that, before you had your accident, you were experimenting with computer art, on The Trials of Shazam.
Porter: No, it's not like that anymore. I'm drawing this by hand, and it's gray tones, and they're coloring over that.
Nrama: So there's no inker.
Porter: Not in the traditional sense. I ink them on the computer. But I'm not doing the art on the computer. I do most of the drawing by hand on paper, then I scan it in and add line weights and such.
Nrama: You mentioned that Wonder Woman looks more gritty, and you said it's a dark, dystopian future. Is this a dark book?
Porter: Not necessarily. It does have a dark tone, but there's still going to be humor. But it's interspersed with seriousness.
Nrama: That's to be expected with a Giffen and DeMatteis book. Then to finish up, how does it feel to draw a Justice League again?
Porter: It's a weird circle. It's almost like I'm starting again, or like I've worked my way back up to it. So I'm excited. I'm really grateful for the chance to draw it, and I'm looking forward to everybody getting to see it.