Off the DL: The Return of Howard Porter

The Return of Howard Porter

A few months ago, Howard Porter had given up drawing. The artist who made the battles of Keystone City come alive during Flash: Rogues War and drew a world-conqueuring Darkseid for Grant Morrison in 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 a couple years ago. But for the artist, the last year has been 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.

This week sees the return of the name Howard Porter to comics with the release of DC Universe: Decisions #2, the artist doing interior work on the comic before becoming the regular penciler on Titans in November. Newsarama talked to Porter about the injury and what got him back to drawing.

Newsarama: Howard, it's been mentioned a few times that you had a hand injury that sidelined you from comics for awhile. What happened?

Howard Porter: I cut my thumb on broken glass.

NRAMA: How did it happen?

HP: Well, the kind of long version is, a friend of mine came over on a Sunday, and I was trying to cheer him up because he was down. So I said to him and my wife, let's make some steaks, I'll make some martinis, and we'll watch a movie. But when I was making a martini, the shaker broke. The martini shaker we had was glass with a metal top. So when I put the top on it, the glass shattered and my hand came down on all the broken glass.

It cut the inside of my thumb, right where you would hold a pencil, so that it looked like a Pac Man mouth in the side of my thumb. I immediately looked at it and said, "Oh, that's not good."

NRAMA: You were working on Trials of Shazam when this happened, right? You were unable to finish it?

HP: Yeah. That's a low point for me. My work there. It started out OK, but then the pressures of having to produce in that format were pretty overwhelming. The task of doing all the art and the deadlines, without the inker and the colorist... it was tough. And the injury didn't help, obviously. I ended up having to get someone to help me with the colors. I was working in a cast. My whole hand was in a cast.

NRAMA: What exactly happened to your hand as a result of the injury?

HP: It turns out I severed the nerve and almost the entire tendon. There was a little tendon still hanging on. So I had to have an operation to repair all that. And in the meanwhile, I have no feeling on the inside of my thumb. I cut the nerve that goes to the side of my thumb that would hold a pencil, so I have no feeling there.

NRAMA: So you can't even feel the pencil in your hand?

HP: Not really. It's like it's numb, like it fell asleep or as if there's Novacaine in there.

I was going through physical therapy, and the scarring caused around the tendon doesn't allow me full movement of my thumb because it's restricting the tendon. And I have what they call trigger finger because there's a knot in it, and it will snap every once in a while, like clench up or something. It's painful. But you know, worse things could have happened.

NRAMA: But it was bad enough that you decided to quit drawing?

HP: I was initially told it would be back at 100 percent after I healed. It takes about six months for the nerve to re-grow. And at about six months, when my thumb was still numb, I was pretty distraught. And I was going to physical therapy, so I asked if the movement was going to get any better, and they said no, this is probably where it's going to be. So I thought, why am I going to physical therapy? So I quit.

And I tried to draw, but I couldn't really hold the pencil correctly. And I got pretty depressed. And I just gave up. I just said, I'm not going to draw anymore. And it took a couple of months for me to accept that, to accept that I wouldn't be able to do this for a living. And then, after just sitting around going nuts, playing video games, I knew I couldn't do that anymore either. I had to get out of the house and be productive in some manner. And so I searched for a job. I wanted to do something that, I don't know, something that would make me feel like I was helping people, because I was in such a low place. So I applied to the Humane Society and didn't get that job. But I ended up taking a job as a school bus driver.

NRAMA: You don't have kids of your own, do you?

HP: No. But I have plenty of nieces and nephews and god-children.

NRAMA: But now you have the kids on your bus!

HP: Oh yeah. Seventy of them. Around 60 or 70, depending on the day.

NRAMA: How many months were you working as a bus driver?

HP: I started up in January. You have to get a license and go through training and all that. So then I finished out the whole rest of the year with the kids. And then I worked through the summer as well, with special needs children. But while I was driving, after awhile, I just decided to start carrying a sketchbook with me. I was trying to draw with the pencil held between my first finger and my ring finger.

NRAMA: So on the other side of the pointer finger?

HP: Yeah. I was holding the pencil that way. And finally, I graduated to holding it with my thumb. And things got a little better and a little better.

And over the summer, [DC editor] Mike Carlin called up and asked if I'd be able to finish up this Jonny Quest book that I'd started years ago. So I did finish up the second issue, which I was working on, but they put the book on hold. I don't know what's going to happen with that. But from there, I did some covers and things. And I worked on the Decisions mini-series. And things were going pretty well. So toward the end of the summer, I told my bus driving boss that I wasn't going to be able to work all the hours because I'm going to be doing more drawing.

NRAMA: But you're still driving?

HP: Yeah, I'm just working there in the afternoons while I draw in the mornings and evenings. I actually love driving the bus. At first it was very stressful. And now I'm pretty comfortable driving it and being aware of what's around me. I'm able to pay attention to everything and still hear what the kids say, and they say the funniest things and do the funniest things. I've got tons of stories. My wife says I should write them all down and do a book. I had this one kid who pulled out this thing he'd made that looked like a comic book. It had crayon on the cover and it said, "Star Wars!" in red and black crayon. I was like, "Wow, dude, that is so cool!" So he sits down on the bus, but as he's getting off and walking to his parents, I said, "May the force be with you." He steps dead in his tracks, and he turns around, his eyes wide and his mouth open, and he says, "May the force be with YOU." And then he puts his hand to his chest and says, "Always." [laughs] I remember being like that.

NRAMA: Do the kids know you draw comic books?

HP: No.

NRAMA: You should tell them!

HP: Nah, they don't care about me. They just want to talk with their friends. But I'll bring in the Johnny DC books, 'cause I still get my comps. So I'll give them comics every once in awhile.

This is a long, boring story. Nobody's going to want to hear this.

NRAMA: We'll figure out a way to make it good.

HP: Put a karate fight in the middle of it. That always makes a movie better.

NRAMA: Snakes. We need snakes. Snakes on the bus. And zombies.

HP: [laughs] Yeah, zombie snakes work.

NRAMA: What covers have you done?

HP: I did a War That Time Forgot cover. And Titans. I did issues #2 and #4 of Decisions. This was all fairly recently. I've only been drawing again for a couple months.

NRAMA: Are you pretty happy with the way your art looks now? It's got to look different, doesn't it?

HP: I don't think it looks different because of my hand. I think everything you draw comes from your head, not your limb. It's up in your noggin. I mean, there are people who draw using their mouths and whatever. But it looks different because I haven't drawn for so long. And I'm rusty. But the rust is coming off. And I inked a lot of it myself. I don't know if I'm going to continue doing that or not.

NRAMA: And you're the regular penciler on Titans now, right?

HP: Yeah. I'm going to be doing at least a couple story arcs coming up. And I'm working with Judd [Winick] again. I enjoy his scripts. And there's a JLA vs. Titans story that's coming up, so that will be neat. I'll get to draw the JLA again.

NRAMA: Let's go back for a second to when you first picked up that pencil again, Howard. You had a sketchbook there with you for whenever you weren't driving?

HP: I took it with me in the bus. There's time that you're just sitting there waiting to be called to get in line to pick up the kids.

NRAMA: You couldn't stay away from drawing.

HP: I guess not. That's my first love. But it was frustrating at first. I tried holding the pencil different ways. I even tried using one of those brace things, but it didn't feel right. So I opted to go with a little pain.

NRAMA: Holding the pencil is painful?

HP: Yeah, but the more I do it, the less it hurts.

NRAMA: Let's hope you do it so much that it never hurts again.

HP: That would be great.

Twitter activity