Bringing back a 20-year-old property like Darkwing Duck can't be easy -- but artist James Silvani isn't afraid to get dangerous. With BOOM! Studios relaunching the character's exploits in June with The Duck Knight Returns, Drake Mallard will be donning the eggplant cape and mask to fight crime in St. Canard once again. Newsarama caught up with Silvani to talk about artistic influences, what's next for characters like Quackerjack, and his approach to licensed characters.
Newsarama: James, just to start out, how did you end up getting involved with Darkwing Duck?
James Silvani: Muppet artist Amy Mebberson had forwarded some of my art to editor Aaron Sparrow at Boom! and he asked if I could produce some covers for some upcoming Pixar titles. Almost as an afterthought he asked if I could throw in any ideas I might have for a Darkwing Duck cover. In the midst of working on Muppet King Arthur I had almost forgotten about the DW cover when Aaron emailed and said Boom! got the go-ahead on the Darkwing Duck mini series and would I be interested in drawing it. As it so happened, the caricature booth at the mall called for second interview that day so I had a difficult choice to make.
Nrama: For you as an artist, what's the appeal of the property and universe of DW?
Silvani: My biggest influences as a budding cartoonist were Charles Schulz, John Severin and Carl Barks. Growing up I had stacks and stacks of Barks' Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics. The way he mixed the action and the humor was beyond compare. And since Darkwing Duck is more or less a direct off-shoot (through Duck Tales) of Barks' stories I couldn't be more thrilled to have the privilege of carrying on the Disney Duck legacy.
Nrama: Do you have a favorite character in this franchise?
Silvani: I was always a big fan of DW himself. You gotta love a guy with that kind of thirst for justice mixed with such an impeccable fashion sense. But now I'm really loving the way that Ian Brill is writing Quackerjack. If the TV show's Quackerjack was a Cesar Romero, Ian's Quackerjack is definitely a Heath Ledger. Except without all the scars and knives and stuff.
Nrama: In terms of process and character design, where do you begin when you depict these characters? Is there any one element you have to have in order to make your pages work?
Silvani: I always have to remember that this started as an animated cartoon. Everyone is used to seeing there characters in motion. I have to make sure that each panel will tell the same story that a few seconds of animation would. That being said, I think the more mature tone of this story is so much better told in a comic book form.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit about working with Ian Brill? As he's a writer who also happens to be an editor, is there anything different about his scripts or his storytelling?
Silvani: His spelling and punctuation are flawless.
Seriously, his directions in the scripts are so easy to follow I almost expect each page to end with the phrase "You get all that, stupid?" Plus, God forbid, if I do have any questions, he's very accessible. He really must be used to working with artists because the story is so well thought out visually.
Nrama: It's interesting, because Darkwing is a licensed character, with certain expectations about the design. How do you navigate that, and still incorporate your individual voice or style into the book?
Silvani: For most of my professional career I've been doing licensed character work. Right out of college I was doing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for T-shirts and such. So after 20 years I've kind of figured out what the muckity-mucks want as far as how their characters are portrayed. Luckily the apparel and packaging world is a great training ground for bringing these characters to life. You usually only have one drawing to tell a story so the artists' own sensibilities are key to making the product sell.
But based on the initial Internet response, I think I have to worry about pleasing the fans more than the folks at Disney. The reaction to series has been so phenomenal that I've really had to step up my artistic game. I even went back and revised my original cover for the first issue (which unfortunately was done with no reference material) after someone made the comment "That looks more like Darkwing Pelican."
Nrama: Finally, for those still on the fence about this book, is there anything else you can tease about this book? Any moments you're excited to see hit the stands?
Silvani: Although the original cartoon still holds up after all this time, I think this take on Darkwing Duck has matured as his fans have. I'm really having fun taking an established set of characters to that next level. It's the fun of the cartoon series with a little comic book sensibility thrown in.
Oh, and Launchpad is back too.