In just three years as a DC artist, Mikel Janín has become one of the company's top creators, working on best-selling comics Justice League Dark, Trinity War and Batman Eternal.
But his artwork will take another turn — and he'll encounter new challenges — as Janín launches Grayson, the new super-spy ongoing series starring former Nightwing (and believed-to-be-dead-in-the-DCU hero), Dick Grayson.
The July-debuting comic is being co-written by Batman Eternal scribe Tim Seeley and former spy Tom King.
Janín, who lives in Spain, first broke into DC with a couple one-shots in 2011. But he'd only been working in comics since 2009, after leaving his career as an architect. After earning an architecture degree in college, he had been running his own small architecture company in Spain and had never even tried to draw comics for a living. But when the architecture business in Spain slowed down to the point that he couldn't earn a living designing structures, Janín decided to try his hand at drawing comics instead.
Readers got a peek at what Janín is doing on Grayson during his portion of last month's Nightwing #30, which served as a segue from Dick Grayson's old role as a superhero to his new life as a top secret spy, working for the DCU organization Spyral.
As announced first here on Newsarama, Janín is also getting to define the new Helena Bertinelli in the New 52, as well as reinterpreting some known Bat-characters and introducing some new ones. Bertinelli's debut happened in the final Nightwing issue, and although she's had an apparent change in racial heritage, her new costume as a super spy kept some flavor from her days as Huntress before the New 52 reboot.
Newsarama talked to Janín about what he's hoping to bring to Grayson, what tools he's using for the artwork, and why Nightwing's "death" is a little ironic.
Newsarama: Mikel, how would you describe the changes for you as you switch over to the Grayson project?
Mikel Janín: Well, there are many changes with Grayson. First off, it's a new team, new editors and writers. Also, it's a new title, having such an important and well known character like Dick Grayson, in a totally brand new situation for him. That means we are all really excited for this book, and you can tell the energy and motivation for everyone involved since minute one. It's incredible how quickly we have clicked as a team, and how we all were in love with this book even before starting a page. So that's how I feel, in a fresh new situation, out of any comfort zone and with all senses alert for what's coming next. Exactly how Dick feels too!
Nrama: Most people know your art best from Justice League Dark, and you changed things up a bit in your art on that book, from the darker tones you used for Peter Milligan's story, to the super heroic flavor when Jeff Lemire changed the book a bit. We've seen a preview of what you're doing for Grayson, thanks to your pages in Nightwing #30. How would you describe the way you've changed things up for Grayson?
JanÍn: Justice League Dark was a mix between pure superheroics and dark supernaturals, and I always tried to blend these two natures graphically, moving the balance a bit, following the tone given by the different writers.
Now, we have a super action-packed book, so my style is deliberately more loose, bringing to the table elements like motion lines, small panels accelerating pace or a different use of blacks and negative space.
Also, Tim Seeley is not only a writer, but he's an amazing artist too. Tom King has a lot of cool ideas, and editor Mark Doyle, coming from Vertigo, has little to no fear to experiment with art. Complete this with Jeromy Cox colors, and we have a full team building a lot the artistic part of Grayson. It's not just me, you can bet. We are all involved in the art. It's a really collective thing.
Nrama: You mentioned some things we'll see in your art, but can you describe any of the artistic techniques you're using in the studio while creating Grayson? What artistic tools do you use for this series?
Janín: I keep doing my art digitally, using 3D models as reference and Photoshop, with a Wacom tablet to draw the actual pages, but I'm using a totally new range of digital brushes for Grayson. The main inking brush I'm using is more "wild" — it goes a bit on its own, more like an actual ink brush. If you stay in the same place too long, the "ink" flows and stains the drawing, so I need to make quick strokes to have it under control, which translates in a more fresh style. I hope fans will like this.
Also, I've been working for three years in DC, so I am more confident in my storytelling techniques, which are now a bit less rational and more intuitive.
Nrama: I remember the last time we talked, you described how you switched careers from architecture to comic books. How does your experience with architecture influence your style on Grayson?
Janín: I wouldn't say it influences Grayson more than Justice League Dark or other previous works. Having been an architect is part of what I am, so it's definitely influenced how I approach my comic work.
Nrama: Can you give an example?
Janín: There's a way of using the available space for a goal, and a composition work, economy of time and space — all this. Also, it obviously has a part in backgrounds, perspective and design sense.
But with time, I'm more influenced by other comics than by architecture, I think.
Nrama: The last time we talked, you also listed as some of your influences Vittorio Giardino, Eleuteri Serpieri, Hugo Pratt and André Juillard. How do you think their styles influenced the way you're approaching Grayson? Or are you drawing from different influences for this project, since you have a lot more experience under your belt?
Janín: Yeah, these years, I've opened my range of influences hugely, so these you're mentioning are just a part of them. They're still there, especially Hugo Pratt, but a lot of other artists are definitely within my radar. Jim Steranko is there too. I think masters of motion and dynamics, like Katsuhiro Otomo, are more present, and closer artists like Emma Ríos, David Lafuente, Mahmud Asrar or Yildiray Cinar are right now high on my list of artists from whom I'm trying to learn.
This doesn't mean my art will look like theirs — I wish! — but definitely, I have an eye on what they are doing.
Also, I've recently fallen in love with Howard Porter and David Rubín, trying to learn of them too.
Nrama: That's a great list. You've drawn a lot of characters since you started working at DC, not only in Justice League Dark but during last summer's Trinity War and other events. Do you like having fewer team members to draw now that you're doing Grayson?
Janín: I've worked on Batman Eternal too.
Nrama: Ah yeah! Lots of Bat-characters, right?
Janín: Yeah, I had the opportunity to draw a lot of characters I didn't have the chance to draw before, like Red Robin, Red Hood, Jim Gordon, and my favorite, Batgirl.
Definitely, I've already drawn a lot of important DC characters in these few years. The best part of having a solo character book is you can concentrate on a small bunch of characters, and they grow more than when you are taking care of 12 or 20 characters at the same time.
That said, I've enjoyed drawing big groups so much. Trinity War and Batman Eternal have been a great ride, really lots of fun.
Nrama: Since you're doing a solo book, let's talk about its star. How would you describe your approach to Dick Grayson?
Janín: He's a light character, a young man who really enjoys who he is and what he does. He's also very self-confident. He knows he is good, and he knows he is sexy too! And that's how I'm drawing him. Smiling, enjoying, feeling. It's big irony that most of the DC Universe is thinking he's dead, because he's so alive!
Nrama: We just found out that Helena Bertinelli is part of this book, and Nightwing #30 gave us a glance at her new look. You obviously were influenced by her past look as the Huntress for the costume? How much more will we see?
Janín: Her look has been mainly defined by Tim Seeley, just like Dick's new look. I started to work with his designs, and then it became a team work, with Tim, Tom, Mark and Andrew Robinson, who was a big part of the designs too.
I brought Helena's white cross and the crossbow from Huntress and everyone loved it. Still, they are alive designs, nothing set in stone. They aren't superheroes, and they're adapting to the needs of the missions, so different disguises and costumes will be there.
Nrama: Is there a certain look you're using for Spyral and its spies?
Janín: We're working on this, right now. As the roster of Spyral is growing and more members come into focus, we're deciding the balance between a "Spyral look" and their own personality and appearance.
Nrama: Is there anything else you can tell us about what you're getting to draw for this book?
Janín: There's an old character that will surprise readers for being here, and I've been allowed to tweak a bit his design.
Also, we're digging into the Batman Incorporated stuff created by Grant Morrison, which is terribly fun.
And I think readers will be surprised by the scope of this book. Looks like some readers are thinking Dick will be isolated in the DC Universe, but Grayson is going big. Tim and Tom have said in interviews that Dick is an A-list character, and I think this is showing in the book!
Nrama: Can you describe what you're drawing right now?
Janín: I've finished the first issue, and I'm working on character designs and the cover for issue #3, just before jumping on issue #2 interiors.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Mikel, is there anything else you want to tell readers about your upcoming work on Grayson?
Janín: I've read some online discussions, and I'm delighted there are huge expectations on the book. There are some upset fans because of the changes, and because Dick is handling a gun, but there are also a lot of excited fans waiting for what we're delivering. For those worried fans, I'd recommend that they wait and see. Dick is not an assassin. He's not shooting heads or something like that. He is the same Dick we know and love.
And for the excited fans, I'd say they wait and see too. They're going to see a totally different Dick! Both things are possible? A totally different, totally the same Dick Grayson? Again, wait and see! If they enjoy reading it as much as we're enjoying doing this book, it will be huge!