For Klaus Janson and Andy Kubert, uniting to illustrate Dark Knight III: The Master Race meant trying to bring something new to the Dark Knight world, while also making sure the story and visuals belonged to the same universe as the previous legendary books.
Janson, who worked on the first two Dark Knight series, described the experience as "looking at the Dark Knight world from a slightly different angle" — not just because of the involvement of Kubert as penciler, but also because Dark Knight III is so "female-centric."
This week, readers will get their hands on the third issue of the current series, set within the world of the 1986 comic The Dark Knight Returns, as well as its 2001-2002 sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again. In the current third series, there are different characters in the leading "World's Finest" story — specifically, Carrie Kelley and Lara, with the story also featuring a Wonder Woman with a second child.
Newsarama talked with Kubert and Janson to find out more about their approach to the series.
Newsarama: Klaus and Andy, one of the things that's unite about this series is that it's Andy's pencils, but has that Dark Knight/Frank Miller feel to it, all because of your collaboration. What was the process like to make that happen? Was it just handing it off to Klaus and letting him work his magic, or were there discussions and collaborations about it?
Andy Kubert: Yeah, pretty much just handing it off to Klaus. [Laughs.]
Klaus Janson: It's basically trust and guilt. [Laughs.]
Kubert: You work with Klaus, and you know it's going to be good no matter what, so I'm not worried about it.
But before I started on the book itself, I did a lot of thinking about how to approach the art. I did a lot of sketches, I did a lot of figuring out of how to get the feel of the Dark Knight stuff without actually — you know, I didn't want to copy Frank at all. I wanted to have it be my own thing. So it was a lot of preliminary stuff, and really just a lot of staring at things, trying to work things out, you know? And to finally sit down and draw it up and see what comes out, you know? That's basically what it was.
Nrama: But Klaus, do you do something a little different to make sure it harkens back to the Dark Knight Returns universe specifically?
Janson: I made sure that I was using tools — the same brushes and pen nibs back when I was doing Dark Knight Returns, which I haven't changed that much, in terms of the tools that I use.
But I certainly went back and looked at Dark Knight Returns. I re-read it and I thought, you know, this was pretty good! [Laughs.] This was a pretty good book!
I just try to, really honestly, just do the best I can with Andy's pencils. I'm not interested in changing them to Frank's pencils. I want to bring out the best of what Andy gives me. I think that whatever natural tendencies I have toward inking generally come out and make it look like Dark Knight, since I inked the first one anyway. It's kind of there unconsciously, almost.
Nrama: That makes sense. Andy, you said you went back and looked at the project before its start and thought about how you would draw it. Can you describe anything in particular in the first couple issues as an example of something you drew differently because it was the Dark Knight universe?
Kubert: For me, if you look at the first issue, and I've got it right here, I look at the first shot of Lara. It's a shot with the Fortress of Solitude below. With all that negative space that's around Lara, to me, that helps out with the whole — and that says what this whole approach is for Dark Knight. It's a lot with the composition within the panels.
When I drew that page, I had to walk away from it because it was a lot different than the approach I would normally take. And I had to think about it and think about what I was doing, what it was for, and then I put my pencil down and I left it alone.
There are even parts that I would draw the page entirely and then put it down for about a day or two, and then pick it back up and start erasing stuff and taking stuff out because I had overdone it. It was too claustrophobic, or I didn't direct the reader's eye right, and at the time. When I drew a particular panel and put too much into it, I think was thinking about something differently or whatever. But then when I came back to it, I was able to see it with a different frame of mind.
A lot of the Dark Knight stuff, I felt, when I started going through it and analyzing it, a lot of it — it's not just the style it's drawn in, of course it's the storytelling, but a lot of it is the composition within the panels. That I had to, that took some adjusting for me.
Janson: One of the things I've noticed in the differences between, say, Dark Knight III: The Master ace and Dark Knight Returns is that Andy is using more splash pages. There's more room, I think, for splash pages and for Andy to play around with composition.
So there's one huge panel, and then there's two or three smaller panels. And that seems to be one of the characteristics of Dark Knight III which I really particularly like. So there are some differences in terms of whether the pages are crowded or not crowded. Frank has a very different rhythm, I think, than Andy.
Nrama: Isn't that somewhat influenced by the style of the day? There are more splash pages in today's comic books than there were at the time Dark Knight Returns came out.
Janson: That's true.
Kubert: The other thing is Frank wrote in pencil the first and second one. This one, Brian's writing. A lot of the splash pages are written in there. I would turn things into more of a splash page by making little panels and stuff like that. But even then — in the second issue, I wanted to turn the splash page when you first see the Bat-tank, or the Batmobile, that was supposed to be the last panel on the previous page, but I called Brian about it and said, this should be a splash page, you know, when we see this thing for the first time. And he and [Batman group editor] Mark Doyle agreed. They said, yeah, let's turn that into a splash page.
Janson: Yeah, that was definitely the right choice. I think that's true Andy, and I think Vaneta's point is also true, that it is a different time. You know, it's 30 years ago, so we do comics differently now.
You know, even as an example of that, there are no more thought balloons. We tell stories differently. I think that's a very valid point.
Kubert: And we're a lot older.
Nrama: Let's call that "experience," not age.
Kubert: I like that. OK, I'll take that.
Nrama: Yeah, give it a positive spin. I'm wondering about the characters who are key to this story as well. You mentioned Lara, and of course Carrie Kelley is such an important part. Did you guys expect that these female characters would be so central, and what's it been like drawing them?
Kubert: When I first started on Carrie, I went back and forth on sketches with Frank. I would sketch her up, and then he'd come back with input. And then he'd do a head sketch of haircuts and what kind of things she'd be wearing.
And this is sort of an aside, but when I was going back and forth with Frank on that, I would just sit back and say, holy s&*t, I'm going back and forth on sketches with Frank Miller! You know? It was just, like, so surreal to me, that we were collaborating on one of these characters.
But a lot of the way Carrie comes across is Frank's vision, is Frank's idea.
We didn't really go back and forth on Lara as much. The way I approached Lara in Dark Knight III is pretty much the way I see her. And I see her the way Frank saw her, so it's pretty much the same thing. She's a big girl, muscular, she's always floating or flying. And she's a very strong-willed character.
There's a lot of confidence in her attitude, in her structure. And that's all the points I try to get across.
Nrama: The body language of Carrie is so different from Lara even.
Kubert: Absolutely. You have to get that point across in the character.
Janson: And I want to say that I love the fact that Dark Knight III is so female-centric, that it feels to me like looking at the Dark Knight world from a slightly different angle, and I love that about it. It's a terrific approach to this series.