Since DC announced it would launch a new Batman weekly series next year called Batman: Eternal, we've learned quite a bit about the story planned for the comic's debut from writers Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Tim Seeley and John Layman.
Fabok is a Canadian comic artist who first got noticed by superstar artist David Finch, and he's since worked mostly in the Batman office at DC, most recently as the artist on Detective Comics.
Now the artist gets his most high profile gig as he launches the weekly Batman: Eternal in the spring. Newsarama talked to the artist to find out more about his work — and to learn more about the Thanksgiving teaser.
Newsarama: Jason, how did you find out that Batman was getting a weekly series? And what did you think of the idea?
Jason Fabok: I originally heard about the idea through the grapevine at the DC Summit last year in Charlotte. I thought it sounded like a very bold and interesting idea at the time, but then sort of forgot about it as time went by.
Nrama: So how did it come about that you'd be an artist on the book?
Fabok: I was approached by Mike Marts with the idea and was presented with the opportunity to help launch the book, or stay on Detective. I tossed around the opportunity in my head for awhile because I really love working with John Layman on Detective every month and didn't want to spoil the good thing that I felt we had.
But on the other hand, having the opportunity to launch a brand new Batman series and be the artist on the first arc is something very special and really only comes around once in a career.
It's a great opportunity to get my work in people's hands that maybe never took a look at Detective Comics, and to work with writers like Scott Snyder, James Tynion, John Layman, Tim Seeley and my fellow Canuck Ray Fawkes.
So after talking with some of my mentors in the industry, I decided to dive in on Eternal full steam.
Fabok: Right from the get go, I'm getting the opportunity to tackle some different characters, and team-ups with the Caped Crusader. Also I'm having the opportunity to draw some different Bat-Villains that we didn't touch on in Detective Comics.
Working with different writers also means your scripts are different, and so the art will have a different flare. John Layman and I had a way of working the pages so that I could draw less panels per page and present big artwork and splashes. Working with Scott and James on the first issue has allowed me to try out some different layout structures and storytelling devices.
I feel like I'm going to be stretched and tried as an artist in this series, but in the end, I feel I'll come out a stronger artist.
Nrama: We just saw your artwork for DC's "Happy Batsgiving" teaser image the week before Thanksgiving. Can you describe the process behind putting together the image?
Fabok: First off, all the credit goes to Mike Marts, Katie Kubert and James Tynion for the idea and structure of that image. I have to admit, when they first presented it to me, I thought it was a bit goofy and an odd choice for a teaser image. I'm the kind of guy who wants to draw big, bold, epic artwork and don't feel I'm really suited for subtle sorts of things like this. But they all worked so hard to help me see the bigger idea, and fill the artwork with a bunch of great teasers.
The image is based on the classic "First Thanksgiving" painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Katie and James mapped out the image so that all the characters would fit one of the characters that were already in the painting. I really only had to copy the poses and placements of the characters, as well as the buildings and trees and draw it with Bat Characters instead.
As the image started to take shape, I started to see the uniqueness of the idea, and I guess fans dig it as well, because I came home to have my twitter bombarded with great, uplifting comments on the artwork.
Great job Katie, James, Mike and anyone else on the Bat Team who contributed.
Nrama: So when you're doing an image that pays homage to a painting like the "First Thanksgiving," how did it inform how you approached the image overall? What was the process behind doing it?
Fabok: The best part about doing an homage piece is that all the pieces are already there. You just have to figure out how to fit them together to recreate the classic image in a new way.
I created the image digitally so that I could have one layer of the classic image, and then draw each character separately and place them in the correct spot in the image. I didn't change any of the original perspective or the shapes of the buildings and tried to get all the elements that the original had, such as the plates and bowls and such.
I did have to fill in some of the spaces with different things, because in the original, you have characters with long puffy dresses that cover up a lot of room.
In the end, the colors by Tomeu Morey really made it all come together and the image turned out great.
Nrama: Anything in the teases that everyone is missing — that you want to point out?
Fabok: Everyone is talking about the blond guy sitting next to Tim. Is he a blond Dick Grayson, or is he someone totally new that you will have no chance of even guessing? Who's the woman at the table beside Alfred? What's with the bones on the ground? Oh, so many teases in this image. Some are right in front of people’s faces but they just haven't put two and two together! I love it!
Nrama: You mentioned the woman at the table, and James Tynion IV revealed on Twitter that she's someone we haven't met yet. Are you doing designs of new characters for the series? What's it like developing them for the weekly?
Fabok: I'll be putting my design foot forward for sure. But with all the talent on this project, I'm just as excited to see some of the other designs that pop up as well. Tim Seeley has already put forth some really nice designs of his own that I really love. I can't wait to draw some of those characters. I'm also playing around a bit with the way I draw Batman, and trying some new things out as well with his costume.
I'm just excited to be doing this comic and hope to bring something big and bold to the book.
Nrama: Let's talk about your style for a bit. Why do you think your artwork fits so well with Batman?
Fabok: My goal with the art I produce on Batman titles is to deliver the kind of art that I always want to see in Batman books that I read. The Batman book that set the standard for me was Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. Jim's art is big, dynamic, beautiful and iconic, and ever since I read the book, I knew I wanted to shoot for that sort of style with my work.
I like to draw a big, tough Frank Miller-esque Batman as well. The sort of Batman you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. But also a Batman that is athletic and can move quickly from shadow to shadow. I also love the use of shadows, and using black and white in my compositions. When I draw pages that are supposed to be bright and sunny, with no shadows, I almost feel that something is missing, but that's probably because I'm drawing with so much black everyday.
Nrama: It's interesting to hear you compare your art in terms of other artists. But how would you describe your style on its own?
Fabok: I've often described my style as bold and cinematic. I have a background in animation and film studies, so I try to use a cinematic approach in my work. I wanted to be a film director when I was younger. I like to stick with simple four panel layouts, so that I can use a widescreen effect for my panels. I find It allows me to use the rule of thirds easier in my work. I also like it when I can draw bigger panels on a page instead of many smaller panels. Tim Sale uses this approach in his work, and I've always been a huge fan of it. But in the end, whatever the script tells me to draw, I draw it. I've been lucky to work with some great visual scriptwriters and I rarely have to make any changes to layout or add more panels. It makes life much easier on my end.
Nrama: OK, you've mentioned a few names so far, but who would you say are your biggest influences?
Fabok: My biggest influences are artists like Jim Lee, Lee Bermejo, Tim Sale, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Frank Miller, Frank Frazetta and David Finch. The list could go on much longer, but those are the guys I always keep on hand while I'm working for reference and inspiration.
Nrama: What was the key to you breaking into the comic book business? You worked with David Finch, right?
Fabok: David is probably the biggest influence on my art and career. I studied under David for about six months before getting my first job in the industry.
Nrama: How did that start?
Fabok: We live fairly close to each other, so I decided to see if he would simply look at my art and give me a few tips. That turned into a six-month comic book boot camp. At the end, David sent in my work in to DC and Eddie Berganza gave me my first job as a fill in on Superman/Batman issue #70-71. In the end, it was a lot of hard work, determination and going the extra mile when given the opportunity.
I'm also very thankful for the mentorship and friendship that Dave has provided these past few years. He still helps me out with career decisions and gives me a critique here and there. He's a great guy and an amazing teacher.
Nrama: What are some of the tools of trade that you use? Do you use Cintiq? Would you call yourself a digital artist?
Fabok: For the last two years, I've been using digital tools, a Wacom Cintiq 24 HD and a mix of Manga Studio and Photoshop. I still draw some covers in pencil, and ink them digitally to save time, and sometimes pencil and ink covers. I do enjoy using pencil and ink, but I found it really slowed me down. I was so used to the digital art tools from using them through my teen years in high school and into the animation course I took at St. Clair College in Windsor. After two years of just using pencils, I decided to give the digital tools a shot. I've sped up my work by half, and have been able to produce art much closer to what I envision.
The tools aren't perfect, but for the longest time, no one knew I was even using digital. I still have people asking to buy artwork and when I tell them it's all digital, they can't believe it.
One word of advice for any young artists: learn to draw the traditional way first before making a move into the digital realm. I still use all the same techniques — just with a digital canvas. But with my training in 3D modeling and animation, I'm able to utilize those skills in creating digital sets, planes, spaceships and anything else I can think of to help speed up my process.
Nrama: So would you call yourself a quick artist? You said you sped up your work time. Is that maybe one of the reasons why you're working on the weekly?
Fabok: I can be quick, but with the first issue of Eternal, I'm finding I'm going a bit slower than normal. This is the first opportunity I've had to work on a "Number 1" issue for DC, and I'm feeling a bit of pressure. I want it to be a great first issue, and so I'm finding myself going over the pages, looking for every thing that's wrong and changing it. I think that the second issue will go much faster.
I don't take opportunities like this lightly. I want to impress both the fans, and DC. I want to produce work that makes them proud to have put me on the book. DC Comics has given me so many great opportunities and trusted me with some of their biggest books, and I don't want to let them down. I love my job, the company I work for and the editors that help me every day to complete the job. Together, with the great scripts I'm able to work on, we hope to produce a great new Batman title for the fans.
Nrama: Is there anything different in the process on the weekly from what you've done on monthlies?
Fabok: So far, nothing really, except for the fact that I'm working on the book so far in advance. I'll be working on books for four months only to have them all come out in four weeks. Normally, I like to work three months ahead of release.
Nrama: So you've got a big chunk of the story done before anyone even sees it.
Fabok: It's almost like working on a graphic novel that will all come out at once. We'll have to see how things change as we work down the line.
Nrama: Well, Jason, I guess I'll finish up by asking if there are any teases or anything else you can tell DC and Batman fans about your upcoming work on Batman: Eternal?
Fabok: The epic story that the team has been working on and building over the last few months is really the reason why I wanted to be a part of this book. When I read the outline, it really got me stoked as a Batman fan. There are some big changes coming in the months ahead for our heroes of Gotham. The writers aren't scared to shake things up a little and insert some chaos into the mix. I think you'll see right from page one of issue #1, that something big is right around the corner, and we all hope the fans will come join us for the ride,