Gary Frank: Envisioning Superman: Secret Origin

Johns on Superman: Secret Origin

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Before his run with the artist began on Action Comics, Geoff Johns called Gary Frank the "heir apparent" for Superman.

In the months since Frank started on the series, readers are finding out why the description fits. Aside from winning praise for his iconic images of Superman and the heart-breaking depiction of Jonathan Kent's death, Frank has also redefined Superman's supporting cast, including the Legion of Super-Heroes and a creepy new Brainiac.

Now, as we announced a week or so back, Frank and Johns will be moving off Action Comics to tell the origin of the iconic character himself in Superman: Secret Origin, a six-issue mini-series from DC early next year. "It's a different look at the beginnings of the characters and mythos of Superman that will set the stage for the monthly Superman comics," Johns told Newsarama of the Secret Origin story.

But Johns also said this is not the end of his involvement with the Superman family, nor is it the end of he and Gary Frank as a team, indicating that they'll work together on an unannounced monthly series after finishing Secret Origin.

Newsarama talked to Frank about the characters he'll be drawing in Superman: Secret Origin, why it's important to tell this story now, and why he and Johns like working together so much.

Newsarama: When we talked to Geoff about Superman: Secret Origin, he said this was something you two have been talking about for awhile. What spawned the idea? And how did the project get going?

Gary Frank: Well, we've been talking about it but I wasn't involved in coming up with the idea.

I was, obviously, very excited when I heard that this whole thing was on the cards and that I was going to be involved but the idea itself was hatched out by others so I couldn't really tell you much about how it happened.

Geoff and I talk pretty regularly so, throughout the Action issues there would be things said which would touch on the stuff that'll be explored here. If you want to have an idea of the character you are portraying, you need to know where he comes from, right?

NRAMA: We heard Geoff's reasoning for the need to tell these stories. Why do you feel it's important to tell this story now?

GF: I'm someone who likes clarity. It depresses me to see people arguing about what is or is not canon instead of enjoying the books. We know that Superman has had a lot of stories told about him over the years and it's probably inevitable that some things will contradict other things and become a little messy. I'm not sure whether the main motivation for the previous reboots have been to keep the character fresh or to just clear the decks and say "Okay, this our jumping on point." so that everyone knows where they stand.

From my (slightly anal-retentive) point of view, I like the tidying up aspect of it. I like to know who the character is and be reasonably confident that the stories I read will be about that character no matter who the writer is.

That said, if you're going clear those decks, then I think you need to find the writer who has a very clear vision of the character and, presently, I don't think there is a writer in the industry who is better at taking these characters and distilling them down to their essences than Geoff. He understands the appeal of Superman and yet doesn't seem to have the common weakness of trying to make his mark on a character. When he gets going he doesn't ever talk about his "version" of Superman. It's just Superman.

We've all read, I'm sure, a Superman book where we didn't really feel like we knew the character. Where the writer, often with the best of intentions, has tried put a personal stamp on the character, whether it be to try and make him more current, or cool, or have a broader appeal, etc. You may finish up with the feeling that you've read a cool superhero story but it didn't necessarily feel like a Superman story.

Well, there's none of that in Geoff's stuff. He isn't trying to give us a newer improved Superman. He's trying to polish away some of the muck that has accumulated over the years and get back to what made the character so great in the first place. The reader knows exactly who they're reading about, and I love that because I had no intention of drawing a generic superhero.

NRAMA: One thing being explored in this series is Clark Kent as Superboy. We've talked before about how you draw Superman. How different is it to draw Clark Kent as Superboy? And what differences are there in the two characters besides the obvious physical size?

GF: It's interesting because, as I've said in previous interviews, I've tried very to make my version (alas, my ego is larger than Geoff's!!!), you know, I was about to say "distinctive" but that's not it. In many ways, it's the opposite. Sure I want him to feel distinct from other superheroes but I want him to feel 100% the same Superman you know and love, whether you come to this stuff via Curt Swan or Richard Donner.

I've been pretty clear that Christopher Reeve was an important ingredient in the mix, but I wanted Superboy to look like a younger version of my Superman, not a younger version of Chris Reeve playing Superman, if that makes sense. Frankly, I have no idea what the young Christopher Reeve looked like but I'm sure you can find out online without much effort.

But it's not relevant to what I'm trying to do. So I'm just starting with my Superman and trying to come up with a kid that could conceivably grow into that man.

NRAMA: On the covers you did, it's obvious you're getting to draw a lot of the characters you've drawn before -- the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Kents, Lois -- but this time much younger. What's that been like? Have there been any specific challenges or joys from visually modifying characters to their younger selves?

GF: I haven't really gone too far into that yet. I'm tackling the Kents here and Lana, who is the child version of the blink-and-you'll-miss-her Lana at Jonathan's funeral. The main three Legion members appeared in their younger forms in the Legion arc, but I'm sure that plenty more will show up in the second issue. Perry is the kind of guy who looks the same at 50 as he did at 40 and Jimmy is still a young guy in the present continuity, though not quite the kid we'll see here.

Lois will be a very different person, though. This story will take place pre-Pulitzer when she's still struggling to make her name.

NRAMA: What are some of the more interesting things you're getting to draw in this series so far?

GF: Oh that's easy. In the first issue we see the birth of Clark Kent.

And, no, I don't mean the birth of Superman. There are a lot of people who just can't understand the "awkward" Clark Kent who is also the World's greatest hero, but the way Geoff has handled it, you can clearly see how he arrives at that weird dual state. It's all very organic and logical. I can't imagine anyone reading the first half of the first issue and still not understanding Clark's personality. Well, I can, but I can't imagine as many.

NRAMA: We've heard that you and Geoff will be working together after this series. What is it about your creative working relationship with Geoff that makes you want to continue working together?

GF: Geoff just gets more out of me than most other writers. It's that simple.

Aside from the fact that he is telling such beautiful, fresh stories with characters that have been around the block more times than should be healthy, he just has a knack for giving me stuff that gets me really excited. The thing that I love to try to convey is the humanity of the people I'm drawing and Geoff just serves that up in kingsize portions.

He is also so receptive to input and ideas. The man has no ego at all. So I get to feel like I really have a creative dog in the fight, so to speak. This might be disastrous if we weren't pulling in the same direction but we are so on the same page it is scary.

I'm like Scotty to his Cap'n Kirk. I trust that he knows where we're going and he trusts me to help him get us there.

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