It's hard to believe, but the Batman: Black and White statue line turns 50 today. No, not fifty years old, but fifty statues released! Sean Murphy's well-balanced Batman makes #50, and the line shows no signs of stopping, with statues already planned through 2015.
As the line has continued over the last eight years, DC Collectibles has kept it surprisingly tight, releasing as few as four statues a year, despite its popularity. That's by design, out of a desire to keep it special and not "flood the market." Keeping the line special and listening to fan feedback is very important to DC Collectibles, in fact, who announced last week that the numbering system will be going back to the Black and White series, due strictly to popular request.
Of course, the Batman: Black and White statues came from the Batman: Black and White comic series - and now things have come full circle, with the comic series relaunching in September, complete with this "50th Statue Variant" cover debuting right here.
We talked with DC Collectible’s Kevin Kiniry (VP, Creative Services) and Jim Fletcher (Design Director, Creative Services) about the line's continued evolution, how hard it is to do the figurative balancing act of releasing enough but not too many statues (and the literal balancing act of statues like Sean Murphy's design above), and even got some hints about what's to come in the future of the line.
Newsarama: So you guys haven’t seen anything in color in years, right?
Kevin Kiniry: (laughs) We were originally going to call it “Batman: Dog’s Eye View,” but we decided on Batman: Black and White.
Jim Fletcher: I raised my kids telling them the whole world was black and white until they invented color TV.
Kiniry: As a side note, I thought color TV was invented in the late 1980s, because that’s when my family finally got it. That’s a true story.
Nrama: Well, we’re at #50 of the Black and White statues, and it’s this incredible Sean Murphy design. It looks like this statue had to be hard to figure out, with the balance of it. How long did it take to bring this thing to fruition?
Fletcher: Manufacturing was definitely tricky with that because of the delicate balancing act we had to do. When that one-handed drawing came in, the whole design team said “that is so awesome,” and the next thing was “oh my God, how are we going to ship this?” (laughs) But the sculptor, Jon Matthews, he did a really nice job figuring out the balance things. Our directors did a great job holding this thing together. So it didn’t take much longer to sculpt than any of the other standing ones, but the engineering over in Hong Kong was interesting.
Kiniry: It is always a challenge when we get these super dynamic poses or crazy capes, that they hold together! So when we finally get the product out and it’s produced, these things need to hold up so someone can put a really nice statue on their bookcase and not have to worry about it to a great degree. Obviously these things are fragile, but we wanted to make sure that it still held up and really plays off this dynamic energy that Sean gave us.
Fletcher: I wouldn’t say it’s earthquake proof, though.
Kiniry: No, not earthquake proof.
Nrama: (laughs) Batman: Not Earthquake Proof. Good to know. Just like Gotham itself.
Kiniry: Yup, as seen in “No Man’s Land.” (laughs)
Nrama: Oh, I love when we can pull in a “No Man’s Land” reference in 2013.
Fletcher: Right? That’s what makes this job so great!
Kiniry: Yeah, how often does that happen?
Nrama: I’m sure you guys have stacks and stacks and files of people’s art you’d love to make into these statues – how do you ever narrow it down?
Kiniry: We’re actually very aware of that process, because we’re in it right now for 2015. That’s how far ahead we plan, all of 2014 is done.
We have a list of about 30-40 names at any given time on the Batman: Black and White list. We bring it out every time, just so we don’t forget, and then we usually end up adding more names, because in the year since we looked at it last, new things have happened, new hit artists have come on board, people have shown us cool interpretations of Batman in the comics or in other media, and we want to find a way to fill 6-7 slots for the year.
There are times when we think “can’t we just do like 30 of them this year?” But we don’t want to overwhelm people. It’s hard. We like to do a balance – it’s very much about celebrating all the different media that Batman is in, but really paying attention to this history of Batman, from the people who started it 75 years ago all the way to the current artists. That’s why we’re really excited about the Batman and Joker from Greg Capullo coming out this October. He’s on the book right now, which is super exciting for us. But it’s quite the process, a lot of arguing back-and-forth.
Fletcher: Yeah, that’s true. And obviously, just referencing “No Man’s Land” before – Kevin and I obviously go pretty deep in our history and understanding of who did these things over the years, and that’s what makes working on these so much fun. We’ll just go back-and-forth with this guy and that guy, “this guy drew him for this many years, that guy had this impact on him.”
There’s so many to choose from, it’s one of those fun problems to have.
Kiniry: Yeah, it has to be someone with a really clear point-of-view of what their Batman is. That gets them to the top of the list.
Fletcher: Yeah, like the Mike Mignola one, or this Sean Murphy one. There’s a bunch you can look at and see exactly who it is – Frank Miller’s another good example.
Nrama: Right. It’s interesting you bring up the other media, because you have the Batman: Arkham Origins statue coming out just in time for the Holidays this year. Why is it important to do one revolving around this game right away?
Kiniry: On that one, it was really exciting for us. We had done an Arkham Asylum Black & White a couple of years ago, so we had tip-toed into that other media realm before. But for us right now, the Batman: Arkham franchise is huge. It’s such a big deal for us, and it’s groundbreaking for us, because it’s the first time a licensed character has been able to dominate in the video game world like this. So it’s definitely something we wanted to celebrate.
Our partners, with Rocksteady and the Montreal WB Interactive Entertainment offices, are so strong. Their work is as valid and important to the franchise of Batman as all of our comic artists that have come before them.
Fletcher: It’s another vision of Batman that needs to get done, basically!
Kiniry: Yeah, so while it’s not a single artist’s name the same way, it’s coming from a studio that has put a lot of time and attention to it. I really believe this new Arkham Origins game coming from our Montreal WBIE office is going to be such a big deal that people outside the comic book world will expect us to celebrate it. It’s a way for us to reach out there, and hopefully drag in some people to pay attention to the full Batman: Black & White line, and pick up the new Batman: Black & White comic that starts in September. We’re trying to make sure that those people who have touched Batman in one way or another get brought in and welcomed to that experience.
Fletcher: Yeah, it’s a great crossover statue, like Kevin was saying. The people buying Arkham toys might not know that we’re doing this Black & White line, so it may open them up to more of these, too.
Nrama: Let’s go back over to the Greg Capullo statues that you guys touched on – his Joker is already such an iconic image, such a scary image. You don’t branch off of Batman himself too often, so what does it take for you guys to bring in other characters? It feels like that’s probably a little more exclusive of a notion.
Fletcher: Bringing in villains into the mix was something we debated early on in the line, we really had some heavy duty back-and-forth about it. Some people thought the purity of the line should just be Batman, no villains, but villains are a part of Batman’s world as much as Batman is! So the first one we wound up doing was the Jim Lee Joker, and that did really well. We’ve done a few more since then. I’d love to see more, myself. Batman’s villains are probably the best in all of comicbookdom. There’s so many great ones to choose from that I’d still like to get to.
Kiniry: Yeah, we talk often about how Joker himself could almost anchor a full line of interpretations – we have so many artists who do such great work on that.
But it’s one of the things that’s a balance – it’s still a Batman line, and we have so many great artists who draw Batman still to do, but it’s one of the ways to go back to artists with a really cool point-of-view, to see what their interpretations of other characters look like.
Fletcher: Yeah, the Lee Bermejo one is another good example too. His Batman was really unique and different, then he drew the Joker mini-series that was perfect, just a really good compliment to that statue.
Kiniry: And I think with Greg Capullo, that’s really what you’re seeing, such a definitive, creepy – it stays with you, that Joker. We had to celebrate that, so we got his Batman in there and his Joker as well.
And that thought brings us up to our newest announced statue, our latest 2014 one, our very first Harley Quinn. It’s almost silly that we haven’t done a Harley already, but it’s one of those things we really wanted to get right and be able to go back to Bruce Timm again.
Nrama: In the last couple of years you’ve stretched it out into other worlds as well, with Batman Beyond, and Batman of Earth 2 by Nicola Scott coming up in 2014. How much do the other takes worry you, do you worry about them diluting the line at all because they’re not the main Batman?
Fletcher: You know, I don’t worry about that at all. If you look at all the Batmans, they’re just another version of Batman that’s valid. Batman Beyond is such a great series – that’s actually one of my favorite statues that we did! It’s a really exciting pose by Dustin Nguyen.
Nrama: Another balancing act!
Fletcher: (laughs) Yeah, another balancing act! It’s funny, those two drawings came in almost around the same time which was really funny. I hope they weren’t talking to each other about making my life challenging (laughs).
But all those Batmans are valid. Even when we did the one from the Batman: Gotham Knights statue, which again was another creator’s version of Batman. I think all versions of Batman are valid for the line. We went to Sean Galloway, who’s not particularly well-known for drawing Batman, but has such a unique style.
Kiniry: I think it’s really clear that Batman is such a flexible character, that you can do all of these interpretations of it and he’s still Batman to somebody. That’s why we want to do all the different versions of Batman. Batman Beyond is huge, Earth One and Earth 2, the multimedia versions of him, we want to celebrate all of them.
Nrama: So how soon will you guys get the concept art and costume from Snyder and Company so you guys can work on the Man of Steel follow-up to come out at the same time?
Fletcher: Whenever they feel like giving it to us!
Kiniry: I don’t knooooow, we’ll have to see! Go to our facebook page, post that you want to see that!
Nrama: it’s interesting that you say that, how much do you look at social media and fan requests and line it up against your big list of 30-40?
Kiniry: We pretty much have two solid ways to get out to the fans right now, one of them is at conventions themselves. Jim and I are lucky enough to get to go to the big conventions like New York and San Diego, and we have panels there – we also encourage people to ask us questions, find us at the booth, tell us what you want.
But then, we do, we read every comment on the DC Collectibles facebook page.
Fletcher: And not just Kevin and I, the Art Directors, everybody sits down and reads them all.
Kiniry: We have over 30,000 fans on the page and they have lots of opinions, and we ask for them to respond. They tell us what they want to see, what they don’t want to see, all that great feedback, and we take it all in. That’s the main reason we went back to numbering our statues. Starting in 2014 with Nicola Scott’s Batman from Earth 2, they’ll be numbered again. They wanted to make sure they were being told “this is a collectible” and that’s the best way to do it. So despite that making more manpower involved, it was important to us to reward people for their purchase of Batman: Black and White, so starting in 2014, they’re back to numbered 5200 run.
Nrama: Very cool! Is there ever any temptation to do a full-on spin-off line, whether it’s villains, it seems like you could just have a Batman: The Animated Series spin-off of just Bruce Timm’s styles (with Harley coming next year). Is that ever something that comes up?
Kiniry: It does. Even now, as you’re asking, Jim and I are staring at each other like, “yeah, we always talk about that.” It’s just that word again – balance – we don’t want to ruin this beautiful thing. It’s the longest running statue line we have, we’re at fifty statues, we feel like the lineup all the way through is super strong, it’s going to keep going.
Do we risk it? Do we over-saturate the market? We don’t want to do that.
Fletcher: Yeah, I don’t want to flood the market, no matter what the rationale is.
Kiniry: But if fans demand it, then we’ll see! If people start beating the doors down then we might do it.
Nrama: Well, what kind of hints can you guys give us for the rest of the 2014 line and into 2015? Is there any particular series or pieces of media that fans should be looking towards?
Fletcher: We’ll be doing a few more Batman statues, I think! (laughs)
Kiniry: I would say, obviously, it’s a nice coincidence that there’s a Batman: Black and White comic coming out starting in September. You may want to look through that – we may be paging through some of those publications. That’s a good place to look.
Sometimes it’s listening to fans, and sometimes they just happen to get it right. We may have made a decision and they say they want a specific person, and they’ve guessed it. You never know, if you go to our facebook page, someone may have guessed right.
And what else can I say in public? I guess that’s as much as I can say right now.
Nrama: Anything coming up at New York Comic Con that you guys will get to reveal?
Kiniry: For Batman: Black and White at the most there may be one that we can reveal. There are going to be a couple of other things we can talk about that will be brand new.
The Harley was our big reveal, we’ll have a better look at that there, the sculpt just came in and it is phenomenal.