Next week's Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 isn't for the lily-livered scallywags among DC readers.
Shiver me timbers! There be pirates swashbucklin' in thar!
OK, that attempt at humorous pirate dialogue may be groan-worthy. But fans can rest assured that Grant Morrison's pirates in issue #3 aren't there for laughs, particularly when they get a look at the impressive illustrations by Yanick Paquette.
It's the latest chapter in a story that promises to bring Bruce Wayne back to the DCU, tracing what happened to the Dark Knight after he was presumed dead.
It all started with Caveman Batman in Return of Bruce Wayne #1, then moved on to Puritan Batman in issue #2. And now, as Paquette takes over art, the story focuses on the classic era of piracy.
Paquette is working with Morrison after having collaborated with him before on Seven Soldiers: The Bulleteer in 2005. Between their those projects, Paquette worked at Marvel on series like Ultimate X-Men and Wolverine: Weapon X.
But now the artist returns to DC for the next chapter of Bruce Wayne's historical journey. Newsarama talked with Paquette about the issue, and although his descriptions had a thick French Canadian accent, his passion for the story's subject was loud and clear.
Newsarama: Yanick, how is it working with Grant Morrison again?
Yanick Paquette: It's wonderful. In a way, working on Return of Bruce Wayne almost felt like a Seven Soldiers reunion, because so many people who worked on that comic were part of this one. I think Cameron [Stewart] was even supposed to be part of Bruce Wayne but the deadlines conflicted and he couldn't do it.
And just after the Seven Soldiers stuff, I went to Marvel as an exclusive for four years. So for me, this is not only the Return of Bruce Wayne, it's also the personal return of me to DC.
They convinced me to come back to DC to work with Grant. Not on this, but on something else that has not happened yet, and I cannot mention it in any way. But the Return of Bruce Wayne has to be done before anything else.
Nrama: It's a big event, and it's such an iconic character, but it's also a little different because you're drawing a period piece in this issue. Is that part of what attracted you to it?
Paquette: Definitely. I was with my family at Disney when they asked me to do it. So I spent an extra ride in Pirates of the Caribbean, because I knew I was going to do a Batman pirate.
But yes, it's a big event, but it almost doesn't feel like a Batman book. When you draw Batman, you expect to draw city buildings and, well, Batman, and big capes and all the scenery of Gotham City.
And in the issue, Batman is there, but under a different form. So it's almost not like I was doing a Batman book, although it's describing something very intimate in the Batman mythology. That's the point of all of Return of Batman, exploring origins in a deeper fashion.
Nrama: But you got to draw Batman in his normal Batman costume a little, right? We see him in one of the preview pages.
Paquette: Yeah, the book starts with a flashback reflecting upon the event that took place in Final Crisis, where Batman gets killed. The stuff that happened while I was at Marvel, so I had to speed read when I came back.
I honestly didn't know Batman was dead. It's sad to say. But I wasn't aware of any of that stuff. So I had to read that part. And I got to draw Batman in costume during a flashback. At least for one panel or two.
Nrama: The design for the pirate version of Batman... is that just for the cover?
Paquette: Yeah. When the book actually comes out, that might be a little bit disappointing. There's a lot of talk about that design from the cover, but it's not in the book. It's on the cover from Andy.
You know, I spent a lot of time refining it before I got the script from Grant. I was sketching and figuring out, "OK, what is this suit going to look like? What is his gun going to look like? What is the detail on the belt?" And as people will find out when they actually read the issue, that Batman pirate is not really in the book.
This is a classic Grant Morrison sort of thing. I remember when I was doing Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer, I had read a first draft, which turned out to be something different when I got the script. With Grant, it's always a work in progress.
Plus, I believe, in making the book work together, all the issues and the covers, it makes sense that we needed a Batman dressed up as a pirate, since we followed the one dressed as a caveman and the one dressed up as a puritan, because it reflected the era of the story.
This issue is filled with pirates. We're not actually exploring Batman as one of the pirates, doing pirate stuff. But there will be a bunch of pirates. I spent most of my time drawing pirates.
There are a lot of pirates dying too. We kill a lot of pirates. [laughs]
Nrama: I find it interesting that you rode the Pirates of the Caribbean ride again. Do you find yourself sitting back and looking at how you would draw something? Obviously, you did that on the second ride. But do you do that naturally anyway?
Paquette: Yeah, totally. Actually, I don't think I could walk in the street without seeing something that I think about drawing. Like I will think, oh, this light pole has this little detail that is fascinating. I don't stand there in the street acting like it's miraculous [laughs], but, you know, I just recognize the details.
But when I know I'll be involved in a book, like me being at Disney where they have that beautiful set dressing for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, I just gave more attention to details. Sometimes it's just atmosphere that you experience. Like I just got the sense and the taste and the smell of pirates.
Back then, I thought I was doing a more classic pirates story with bars and pirate towns... I don't want to spoil any part of the story while saying this. But you won't find bar scenes with pirates drinking beers and stuff like that. I've ended up doing something different from that.
Nrama: Did you have to do a lot of research on pirates of that era?
Paquette: I did. Who knows? Maybe one day I'm publish my Batman pirate designs and sketches. But most of my research got used anyway on other non-Batman pirates. So it wasn't lost.
Now, with the internet, it's quite easy to do research. You can just type the period and what you're looking for and end up with millions of reference. I really don't know how it was possible before, especially in a comic book sort of schedule.
As soon as I knew I was doing pirate stuff, there is a French master who did a series of graphic novels, five absolutely gorgeous books of the story of the slave ships. It's basically the same period.
When you do comics, you have to take shortcuts in terms of research because of the deadlines, and when it's a period piece, it's even harder. But with the internet, I've managed to survive.
Nrama: Yanick, these pages appear to have a more realistic, or detailed, style then some of your work in the past. Did you adjust your style for the era you were drawing?
Paquette: Yeah, I've been evolving for quite some time now. If you look at it, it's really close to what I did at Marvel on Wolverine: Weapon X. I did a six-issue arc called "Insane in the Brain," and it was very dark and depressing, and Wovlerine was totally mad.
As soon as you start playing with two light sources, you get weird shapes of black. It really adds tonnage, or a lot of lines to a page. I do add detail, but just by playing with light sources, it does make it more dramatic and looks like the page is filled with more detailed.
So that's something I've been doing for some time now. A few years ago, I was working on Ultimate X-Men, and I had a wonderful colorist who excels as soon as I would draw nothing on the page. I would draw almost an open line, and he would create light and stuff. And for a time, I was really drawing with almost no black, almost no take on light sources and stuff.
That was Stéphane Peru. He was working here at the studio, and we had a wonderful collaboration. But he passed away in Paris.
I had to revert to a different style. And somehow, I went to the opposite. I became a lot more light-oriented and more dramatic in terms of light sources. And that's basically how I draw now. I've been drawing like this for three years.
Nrama: Yeah, it has an illustration feel to it as opposed to feeling like comic book art. Do you think that's just the nature of the subject matter, since it's historical?
Paquette: Yes, and these days, there is a lot of variation in terms of what is a "comic book" style. What it's supposed to look like. And I feel like there is no limit now to what you can do. But yes, I'm very illustrative in this story.
And in light of the recent passing of Al Williamson, he was a big part of my influence. Al was using this kind of illustrative way of doing a comic book page. So you can see that influence.
Nrama: I can see that now. It almost feels like you're paying homage to his work.
Paquette: I did all these pages before he passed away, obviously, but he's always been there. You can see Al Williamson everywhere. When I was younger, I was mostly exposed, in terms of when I was thinking about American comic books, to Hal Foster and the EC stuff. That was mostly my influence because they were the comics of which I could find a French version in Québec. I discovered after that the more modern artists like John Byrne and all these guys. But my initial contact with it was the EC stuff and Al Williamson and these guys.
So I always have a place in my heart for Al Williamson's influence.
Nrama: But you're working with Michel Lacombe on inks?
Paquette: Yes, which is also my studio mate. Michel is, in his own right, a wonderful artist. Last year, he did a Punisher story for Marvel which was beautiful. But yeah, he's my studio mate, and I've known him for 17 years. We've learned to draw together. He inked me for awhile when I started up, and then he went his own way. But now he's my official inker, and has been inking me on much of my Marvel stuff and he will be inking this. Inking me makes him more money [laughs], because I force him to go faster.
So that's a good deal for him. And for me too, because he's so miraculous. You'll see he has, I want to say the right words, it is a gritty finish but at the same time, it is a very controled finish. Because he's such a good penciler, he understands shadow. When I'm working with an inker who is not a good artist, he will make a black spot without really understanding what is the math behind its apparition. When you draw a shadow behind a nose or on the side of a face, you have something where you understand the volume of it. When you understand it, you can make the right kind of shadow. When you don't understand it, you can lose a little of the meaning behind it. That's very abstract and I don't know if people are interested in that kind of detail.
He's such a good artist that I feel very comfortable doing very complex art because he understands volume and shadow. I know he'll see it through.
Nrama: You said that after this, you're doing something with Grant Morrison that can't be announced?
Paquette: Well, Grant is very busy doing the Batman stuff. I might want to do something in between, to give him time to produce something else. He's very in demand at DC, of course, so we just can't tell when this is going to happen.
So not quite Pirate Batman, but Batman versus Pirates... what do you think of Paquette's work here?