As writer Geoff Johns takes readers of Justice League further into the epic "Darkseid War" storyline, he's also pushing artist Jason Fabok "to the breaking point" with scenes of New Gods, Amazons and superheroes embroiled in all-out war.
"My wife and I actually just had our first child," Fabok told Newsarama. "He was just born on Tuesday. And so I'm balancing being a new father, balancing taking care of my wife and balancing drawing a giant war issue! All at the same time! So I'm hoping some of the adrenaline rush I'm getting from being a new father rubs off as I move forward in this storyline."
Fabok, a Canadian comic artist who first got noticed by David Finch, started at DC working mainly in the Batman office, but has been teamed with Johns on Justice League for about a year. In June, the two launched an ambitious storyline involved heavy-hitting characters like Darkseid, the Anti-Monitor and — expected to show up soon — characters from the Crime Syndicate from Earth 3.
With Justice League #43 coming out this week, Newsarama talked with Fabok to find out more about the Bat-God he just introduced in the last issue, what readers can expect next, and how his digital process helps him meet deadlines on the comic.
Newsarama: Jason, as you were challenged with morphing Batman into a New God when he hit the Mobius Chair, what were your thoughts about the way he looks and even the way he changes physically?
Jason Fabok: When Geoff had proposed that idea, it struck me as a very different way of looking at Batman as a character. Usually, Batman's the foot-on-the-ground kind of character, and now we're getting a view of Batman as an intellectual character, which he's always been, but now we're seeing him in a new way. We're seeing how the chair is affecting his mind, the way that he's thinking, and those things are going to play into some great character moments coming up.
Visually, I just wanted to take the design I did for Metron and use it for Batman to make this sort of Bat-Tron look, as we've been jokingly calling him.
As you hinted at, I've been trying to rethink even the way that Batman's facial expressions are. I want there to be kind of a moodiness when you look at him. Is he still a good guy? There's a little bit of arrogance in the way he delivers his lines. Sometimes he's smiling a little creepily. We want to put things like that in there for fans who are reading the book.
But yeah, it's a lot of fun to approach characters like that. And Geoff's the ultimate writer when it comes to taking the fan fantasies, things that you hear people talking about in line at comic conventions when they're waiting to get signatures from somebody, and they're asking crazy questions like, how cool it would be if Batman became a Green Lantern. And Geoff would answer things like that in the past.
This one, we thought, would really throw people for a loop, that Batman would be on the Metron chair, the Mobius Chair.
And things like that are a lot of fun to draw and tackle.
Nrama: It's interesting that you talked about Geoff's ability to take these "what if" situations for fan-favorite characters and make them part of an epic story. It looks like we're going to have a few more of those. We already know Superman is corrupted by Apokolips. I don't know how much you are involved in the designs for all the different "Gods and Monsters" character changes? Like the Flash as the Black Racer and Lex Luthor as the new ruler of Apokolips?
Fabok: Right now, Francis Manapul is tackling a lot of those things, but you're going to see some of it coming up in future issues of "Darkseid War," so I'll have my hands on a lot of them. Sometimes we're working against the clock and you can only focus on certain things.
With the corrupted Superman, the idea was to create this negative image of Superman — it's something I've always wanted to do in comic book art. And when Geoff brought up the idea, I said, "Hey! I have this cool — something you can only do with digital art, modern digital comic book art, where all the pages are being digitized and colored and what-not."
I'm sure it's been done before, that effect where you take a character and create an inverted negative of them. But it's something we wanted to utilize with this character.
Geoff is great to work with because he allows you to explore things on your own and kind of find your voice with different characters and with designs. And he's really allowing me to have fun.
One of the things I love to do is design new takes on characters, and I have ideas for some that are coming up in the future as well. I feel lucky to be the one that's drawing the book so I can do these different takes on different characters.
Nrama: That said, you're getting to draw some creepy stuff too. I have to ask about drawing Grail coming out of the Flash's mouth and how weird that must have been!
Fabok: Yeah! When I read that — it's funny, because scenes like that, when you read them, you think, how the heck am I even going to draw that? You know? How do you draw a sequence like that? It's crazy! You know?
The great thing about Geoff is he likes to talk things over with you. And if you're having some trouble figuring out a sequence or a scene, he's always open to discussing what his thought was, or hey, have you ever seen this movie — "do you remember when this happened" kind of thing. And that spurs you on to come up with the idea and which way to go.
But yeah, there's never a dull moment working with Geoff. He gives you a lot of interesting things to draw, and sometimes they're a lot of fun. Sometimes they're tricky to pull off and do in the right way. But I'm really happy with the way the books are turning out, and how they look in the end.
Nrama: For the issues we've seen so far for "Darkseid War," I've checked out a few reviews, and a lot of people are surprised at how much you guys are packing into these issues. There's a lot happening, and you're drawing a lot of characters. You mentioned that the "negative" version of Superman was created digitally. Do you work all digitally, and does that allow you to do these packed-full issues with such detail and so many characters? What's your process like?
Fabok: Yeah, I work on a Wacom Cintiq with a 24" monitor. For people who don't know what a Cintiq is, you can draw right on it.
When I first started out in the industry, I worked with pencil and paper. But I came from an animation background. I had worked in both 3D and traditional animation in college, hoping that some of those skills, I would be able to apply in my drawing of maybe becoming a comic book artist.
And so I've been working with digital tools — Photoshop, things like that — since I was a teenager. And I always felt very comfortable around those programs.
When I went to draw with pencil and paper and I did that for a few years, I just realized, man, I could really speed up my process if I was working digitally. You can draw a face and, well, maybe I drew the head a little bit out of proportion — I can lasso around it with the lasso tool and I can shrink it. And I just saved myself maybe 15 minutes free-drawing a head, you know? Little things like that.
And also, especially with these giant battle sequences and things like that, I can build up almost a library of different poses that I can use and I can tweak and I can change, and it saves me a lot of time.
One thing about drawing a team book — and an event team book, like what Geoff wants, for it to feel like an event every month — is that it is long hours, it is a lot of time sacrifice that goes into creating these issues. And doing things digitally, where I have control over the artwork the way that I do, has really allowed me to speed up my work flow, my process.
I'm always looking for ways to speed things up, so you can, you know, spend more time with the family and things like that, and the digital process has revolutionized the way that I work.
And it's funny — ever since I went that route, that's when my career has really exploded, and I feel that I'm able to get the detailed artwork that I want, in a reasonable amount of time.
So it's a fun process to explore. And I like to keep tweaking the way that I'm working as well. But right now I'm on just such a crazy time crunch, I'm just going with what I'm comfortable with. And I'm generally very happy with the way the artwork is turning out.
Nrama: What's your relationship like with Brad Anderson, the colorist, and what's that process like?
Fabok: Brad is an awesome, awesome, unbelievably great colorist. I've always been a fan of his. A little known tidbit is that the first DC cover I ever did was a cover for a book called Teen Titans Cold Case. It was like a one-shot issue, and Sean Murphy actually did the interior art on that book.
It was the first cover I ever drew for DC, and Brad Anderson colored that cover. I always loved the work he did. He's worked with Gary Frank for quite a number of years. And I really just felt that he understood what I was trying to do artistically, with the way that I try to use lighting.
Nrama: An example?
Fabok: A two-point lighting scheme on characters, so that you have one light hitting them from one side, and you have maybe another colored light hitting them from the other side, and it really creates a three-dimensional look to your character.
Brad just gets it. I talked to him a little bit when we first started working together on Batman Eternal. I told him kind of what I wanted. And now I'm at the point where I just hand him pages and give him maybe a couple little notes, and I just let him go nuts.
And the pages always come back looking better than I could ever hope for. And that's the job of the colorist — to hand him the work and for him to elevate the lines that I put down beyond what I can even imagine. It's such a joy.
And when you find someone like that, who you really click with and really gets what you're trying to do artistically. It just makes the job so much more joyful, and you feel you can really trust somebody when you had the work off.
Comic book drawing is a very personal thing, a very person endeavor where you're spending all this time working on these pages. You're slaving over these books. I have the ability, because of digital, I can go back and tweak pages a couple days after I've drawn them before I hand them in. And you put all this time into it, and if the colorist isn't making your work stand out more and taking it to another level, then it's disappointing. But with Brad, I can even leave things out that before I would try to overdraw stuff — I can simplify stuff and allow him to play with the shadows and colors and tone and textures.
I can't say enough about it. Colorists don't get the attention they deserve in comics, in the comic book industry. The work they do, the time they spend on it — I'm just grateful for a guy like Brad.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything you can tell fans about what's coming up, both in this week's issue and beyond?
Fabok: Justice League #43 is one of those issues where I just felt really confident with it. I felt like it pushed me to the breaking point too. You know, there's an extra two pages in that issue – it's a 24-page issue. And it was a tight deadline to get it done.
But in the end, I was really happy with it.
We're building up to some really huge stuff that's happening in #44, that I'm drawing right now. #44, from an artistic standpoint, is all-out war.
I thought I was drawing a lot of pages with a lot of detail before, well… now we've got armies clashing against each other in an occupied city. And you've got the Justice League kind of caught in the middle.
Who are they going to fight? Which side are they going to take? What's going to happen with Superman and Lex back on Apokolips?
And it's all moving toward an amazing climax in #44, as we look into the future of what's going to happen next.
But yeah, Geoff's always so much better at teasing things. I don't know what I can say beyond that. But I can tell you that Geoff's pushing me to the breaking point.
My wife and I actually just had our first child. He was just born on Tuesday. And so I'm balancing being a new father, balancing taking care of my wife and balancing drawing a giant war issue! All at the same time! So I'm hoping some of the adrenaline rush I'm getting from being a new father rubs off as I move forward in this storyline.
I'm super stoked. I can't wait for people to read what's happening in the future. Geoff has so many great ideas and great plans.