It's kind of like Green Lantern artist central.
The studio in North Branch, Minn., where DC artists Doug Mahnke and Patrick Gleason work together has suddenly become a bastion of space battles and zombified superheroes as the two pencilers guide the Green Lantern universe through this summer's Blackest Night event.
Although Gleason has been working on Green Lantern Corps for years, Mahnke came on board the Green Lantern title just in time for all the excitement to begin. As Blackest Night began to spill from the Green Lantern universe into the whole DCU, Mahnke took over Green Lantern for regular series artist Ivan Reis, who is now drawing the main Blackest Night mini-series.
So far, Mahnke has drawn everything from the disturbingly dark history of Black Hand in his debut Issue #43, to the upcoming space battle between Sinestro and Mongul in Green Lantern #46. And along the way, he's had his studio-mate to help him out with advice on how to draw the characters that Gleason already knows so well.
In the first part of our discussion with the two artists, Newsarama talked to Mahnke about drawing Green Lantern in the middle of Blackest Night and how he meets the tight deadlines of this year's premier DC event.
Newsarama: Since you're only a few issues into this series, how are you liking working on Green Lantern so far, Doug?
Doug Mahnke: The schedule is grueling, so that's not exactly pleasant. It would be nice to have it let up soon, but it's going to be a little while until we get done with Blackest Night. I think the storyline runs something like eight issues. And with Issue #43 kicking things off, it's going to be about nine issues total before I get any relief. But I just try to forget about that part.
Other than that, it's a really fun comic to work on. It's something new every issue, and it challenges me as an artist. I've gotten to work on such a variety. I had that issue of #43 where Black Hand was the subject, and then from #44 to #45, it's just drastically different. Maybe that's going to happen every issue; I don't know.
Nrama: There's a little horror in there, but you still have plenty of superhero stuff, don't you?
Mahnke: Yeah, and I like the issue I'm on now, which is Issue #47, and I'm racing to finish it. There's plenty of high adventure and superhero stuff. Black Lantern stuff gets thrown in. As diverse as each issue's been so far, I have no idea what's coming down. It keeps it interesting for me.
Nrama: We've done a lot of interviews here at Newsarama with artists that have worked with Geoff, and it seems like he tends to communicate about the stories a lot with his artists before they begin. Did you experience that before diving into this Blackest Night storyline?
Mahnke: Yeah. Before we started, Geoff said he really likes to work closely with the artist. And we had really good communication up front about all the characters and his thoughts behind them. Lately, though, his schedule's been so tight, and so has mine. I know he's just hammering out a tremendous amount of work every month, and with my deadlines, he kind of has to leave me alone as much as possible just to get the job done.
I've never been this tight on any book. Literally, Issue #47, I'm just getting started on that while I help finish up the inks on #46. With all the issues up until now, it's been easy for me to leaf through the issues of Green Lantern and Corps and find the character references I need. But with Issue #47, there's a lot of new stuff that I've never seen before. So it's going to be a real challenge.
Nrama: Is there anything in there that you'll have to design?
Mahnke: Yeah. Possibly. But even if it's not a brand new character, it might be new to me. And I have to really research this stuff. It's always fun to design something, but with these deadlines, it's a lot easier not to have to design anything. The deadlines have been so tight that I haven't had a lot of time to think through this stuff a great deal. It's just going from one thing to the next. And I've been relying on [DC Associate Editor] Adam [Schlagman] or Pat to help me out with references. And Pat really helps me keep track of everything.
Nrama: What do you mean by keep track?
Mahnke: Pat's been drawing Green Lantern Corps for years now, so he knows all of this stuff. But it's not just references -- even keeping track of who's alive or dead. Just the other day, we were talking and I said, "Yeah, I'm drawing this guy from the Sinestro Corps." And Pat says, "Ahhhh.... no. That guy's dead." [laughs] I was like, "thanks for letting me know! I don't know if anybody knows that guy's dead other than you!" So if he's coming back, it's going to be as a Black Lantern.
I don't know if there's any other book like this in the DCU where there are so many characters involved. I don't even know how the writers keep them straight. But Pat knows.
Nrama: I recently asked Geoff how he kept all of it straight and he said that although he has some things written here and there, most of it is in his head.
Mahnke: That's a high quality brain, and it's a good thing. I would assume it would have been some enormous spreadsheet taped up against the wall, to even know what characters are here or there.
But I've been watching Pat drawing these characters. And I love the way he draws Guy, and Natu. I get to see these characters all the time. And I really like them. So it's great to get to draw them now, although there are a few that I haven't really gotten my hands on.
Nrama: Maybe you and Pat should trade issues sometime.
Mahnke: Yeah, we've talked about it! We've joked about drawing each other's pages. I wonder if people would even notice.
But every once in awhile, if we come across a mental road block, we'll help each other out by just asking, how would you handle this? I look at him as being my wise younger brother, where Green Lantern is concerned. With Sinestro vs. Mongul, for instance, I just sat down and said, "Now, here's how I envision their size, but what do you think?" I mean, Mongul's just huge. So Pat helped me work out the ratio of Sinestro to Mongul, regarding their size. So he's just been invaluable.
But we play off each other all the time like that. He was working on a panel the other night, for instance, and he said, "Did you just draw this?" And I looked and I said, "Yeah, I did. I drew Mongul just like that." And he said, "Aw, damn." So I looked over at the table and said, "Well, why don't you do this? Why don't you turn this character like this?" So I had an idea for it, and he ended up taking my gestural concept and doing something new with it. So we do that stuff back and forth all the time.
And the way he draws the female Green Lanterns is just beautiful. So I'm not afraid to ask him for advice on some of them. It's nice to have someone here that you can just talk with and get a new perspective.
Nrama: Let's talk about your artwork, because you keep mentioning these tough deadlines. Are you happy with the way the art's turning out if you're having to rush?
Mahnke: Oh yeah. Even if it's a deadline-conscious book, I'd rather cleave the hours out of my day and literally out of my life to get it done well than to cut corners on the art. It's not as bad yet as finishing up Final Crisis. That, I went seemingly weeks without sleep. But I can't let this one rest very long if I'm going to keep up the kind of quality I want on Green Lantern. My window for sleeping is extremely small. To put it into the book is where it's at. I'll rest when the whole series is done.
I'll be older. [laughs] I'll be haggard. I'll be a more drawn-out human being. People think we should plan out these events better, but we do. It's just that things happen that take time, you know?
No, but I try to put as much as I can into the page. With the details that are put into the script, there's stuff that you just can't miss. There's no way to avoid drawing stuff. Sure, you could take classic shortcuts in the storytelling by using silhouettes, but I try to not do too much of that. I don't want things looking sparse either. This is supposed to be an epic tale with a bunch of stuff happening, so I want to make it look that way and look as good as I can make it.
Nrama: Do you find that you've adjusted your style any now that you're doing so much of the space and horror stuff?
Mahnke: Maybe. But that comes about naturally. It's just so much fun drawing that kind of thing and it comes naturally to me. Drawing space stuff is actually a bit of a break from drawing cities and reference-specific settings on Earth. There's a lot of latitude in drawing space adventures. After the first issue, which was Issue #43 and was very specific and down-to-Earth, there was a lot of reference I had to pick through for that. It was a very Earth-locked issue.
But for instance, when you're on Zamoran, it's just this big crystal planet. So you can't go wrong. You got crystal stuff everywhere. That's easy to draw. You know? That makes it a little easier to go fast. As long as you're in outer space, no problem!
As far as adjusting style? I don't know. I haven't really had time to stop and think if I'm adjusting anything. But that probably happens naturally.
Nrama: I know you've only been on the series for a few issues, but is there something in particular that you've done for Green Lantern that you're very proud of?
Mahnke: Well, with the most recent issue, which was #45, I was getting a kick out of reading comments online about Larfleeze. People seem to really like him. It was surprising that so many people enjoy him so much. When Geoff had described Larfleeze to me, he seemed like a goofy character, because he's just so obsessed with greed. I tried to get across that kind of loony body language across. So there's this two-page spread where he's sitting there, grasping his Orange Lantern, surrounded by these resurrected bodies of the constructs he'd been using. I had his toes curled under and had him looking very vulnerable at that moment. And people really liked that. So I'm looking forward to more Larfleeze. I didn't expect that reaction, but I like drawing characters like him. I assume I'll get a chance to draw more of him.
And then I like the start of the series with Issue #43. There was so much macabre stuff in there. I think I was firing on all cylinders and made some memorably grotesque images. You know, like with Black Hand lying in the grave, coddling dead bodies. I don't normally think of that kind of stuff. It's not in my day-to-day. I'm not a horror fan, really. But when I sit down to draw it, I really enjoyed it and I think it turned out really well. And the response of people seeing that, they have a visceral reaction to seeing something that grotesque.
Nrama: You said you don't usually think about those things. Is it a challenge to think those types of scenes through?
Mahnke: I guess so, yeah. I just have to think... this is what it would be like. The reaction is strong, and I think maybe that's because I just try to really visualize and then portray what it would really be like. And that strong reaction is what we were going for in this case. I was pleased it turned out that way.
And of course, Christian [Alamy] is a very meticulous inker, and he really did a great job on Issue #43. He's a very meticulous inker. He doesn't miss anything, so his finishes... I hate calling it finishes because he's not a tracer. Christian is an absolutely embellisher. He picks up on things in a very subtle way that I don't even expect. Even though we've been working together for quite awhile, it's a real pleasure to see what he's done with some of these pivotal moments. And then the coloring in Issue #43 was magnificent.
Unfortuately, since Christian puts so much work into every page and we're so far off schedule, he doesn't get to finish issues. I'm disappointed when I have to ink some of it myself. I'm trying to ink close enough so that at least it's not a jarring difference. And then my old buddy Tom Nguyen picks up some of the pages as well. So at least it's fairly consistent through the issue. I look forward to when we can get a little breather and we can get Christian inking all of the book.
Nrama: You mentioned Larfleeze has become one of your favorite characters to draw. Who else are you enjoying drawing in this storyline?
Mahnke: Drawing Sinestro, this evil icon in Green Lantern, was fun, trying to put the power and the magnificence and the nobility of him all at the same time. The story writing is what inspires the art. I've watched Pat Gleason draw Mongul and all this stuff that I've seen through the Green Lantern books over the years. And I get to bring those two together in Issue #46. That's been a lot of fun.
I feel like I got to steal what should have been a Pat Gleason moment, because Mongul spent so much time in the Corps books. But I get to draw the resolution between Sinestro and Mongul as they battle it out. That's been one of my favorite things I've drawn. It's just such an important, pivotal moment. The corps is Sinestro's, and Mongul has taken over. The two of them taking it to the mat is a pretty big deal. I can't tell you who wins, but there's no doubt that there's a battle that's been coming for a long time. But the way it's set up, let's just say Sinestro is not expecting it at that time. He was taken to the battle, and I think he rises to the occasion.
Even though you get this resolution to their fight, the issue ends with a wicked surprise that you just don't expect. At least I didn't.
That's the great thing about this series is that, Geoff sets up one thing here and then it all pays off later. And when you have the dead running around, all kinds of crazy things can happen. s this monstrous, evil character. There's something bigger and beyond that.
Reading some of this stuff, I love the way Geoff puts so much importance and a great pivot on each of these characters. Like Atrocitus, when you read what's running through his mind, it's not just this side character. There's something bigger and beyond that. There's so much more, and it makes the cast of characters so important. It's the same with Sinestro. The only one who is exactly what you'd expect is Mongul. He's all-consuming and selfish. But with the other ones there's more. There's all this story that is still unfolding and unraveling. This stuff that Geoff is doing must have been rattling around his head for years. He must have not done any of this writing in the past without planning for the future.
Nrama: Has he told you the ending at all?
Mahnke: Wouldn't it be cool to know the end? But you know, I haven't even asked. I mean, I guess he would tell me. Then again, maybe they can't trust me because my 40-something-year-old brain would mess up and forget I'm not supposed to tell anyone. But I honestly haven't asked. At this point, I'm just having so much fun reading the scripts as they come in. It's kind of nice not to know.
Nrama: But after Blackest Night? Are you still on board Green Lantern?
Mahnke: Yeah, I'm planning to stay on Green Lantern and so is Geoff, I think. I don't see any reason to leave. It would be a pleasure to keep working with him. It's been great so far.