After already being announced as one of the artists on Scott Snyder's All-Star Batman, Sean Murphy is doubling down on the Dark Knight with a new Elseworlds-style Batman series and a two-year exclusive with the publisher to complete it.
Announced by the writer/artist this past weekend on Twitter, Murphy's plans are for a Dark Knight Returns-esque take on Batman that borrows from different era and different creators' contributions to the characters, as well as his own "singular vision". As he tells Newsarama, Murphy is out to prove himself as a writer and an artist in the vein of Frank Miller, Paul Pope, Mike Mignola, and Bill Watterson.
Newsarama talked to Murphy about his upcoming work with DC, the decision to step back from creator-owned comic books despite the success of Chrononauts and Tokyo Ghost, and the plans he has for his Batman title.
Newsarama: Sean, you announced some big news this week - a two-year exclusive deal with DC, culminating in your own Batman miniseries you're writing and drawing. First off, tell us how that came together.
Sean Murphy: Lately it's become clear to me that I should start writing my own books again.
I was extremely nervous about Punk Rock Jesus when it came out. But after seeing the positive response and high sales figures (especially considering the lack of color and the shocking content), I realized that writing is something that I can handle. By my math, even if I'm only a B-level writer I can probably draw my way out of any shortcomings and turn it into an A-level book. At least that's my hope.
“Singular vision” is something I respect more and more, and very few people in comics are able to be capable at both writing and drawing. I started thinking about my heroes in comics - guys like Frank Miller, Paul Pope, Mike Mignola, and Bill Watterson - and realized that it was time to see if I added up.
Batman is my proving ground - if you can make your mark on Batman with your singular vision, then you're in rarefied air.
Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and editor Mark Doyle all helped pave the way for me. So when I was offered the All-Star Batman gig I told them I wanted it, but only if I could attempt my Dark Knight as well. And they said “yes.”
Nrama: Digging further into this - why now? You were under an exclusive with DC before, culminating with Punk Rock Jesus, but after that ended seemed to successfully play the field with Chrononauts, Tokyo Ghost, and still doing work for DC from time to time on covers and some interior work with Scott Snyder's Batman opus.
Murphy: I'm convinced that I have a new, unique take on Gotham and that I've got a book that will generate content for future Batman stories (maybe even movies). And the timing is perfect: not only did I have my “singular vision” realization this year, but it's also when the All-Star Batman opportunity came around. DC seems open to trying new things, and it's the type of environment where someone like me can make a killing.
Because my story isn't part of any continuity, I get to try things that they'd normally say “no” to. And just like Miller did with Dark Knight Returns, my hope is that one day DC will incorporate some of it into continuity.
I'll go back to indy stuff afterwards. But first - Batman.
Nrama: You've done some work for Marvel in the past - can you say if you ever had any formative talks with them about work before re-joining DC's exclusive stable?
Murphy: I've had no formal contact with Marvel. There was an incident that happened years ago that left a bad taste in my mouth. And they don't pay as much as DC and Image, so I doubt they'd even consider matching my page rate.
Nrama: Okay, onto Batman. You've done Batman before, even that great Scarecrow arc from a decade or so ago. You’ve called the character the 'big mountain' for creators to climb - why do you want to 'climb' it?
Murphy: I'm a giant Batman: The Animated Series fan. My knowledge of Gotham is mostly derived from that and a few of the movies. In fact, my story is essentially and extension of the B:TAS universe - but a little darker and more adult.
One thing I'm doing is making Gotham timeless by embracing the things that worked so well in previous decades. For example, the cops drive 1980s cruisers like in the Michael Keaton movies. The TVs are black & white like in B:TAS. The men wear bowler hats from the 40s, but all the computers are large and clunky like in the 60s. And the Batmobile is a mash up of the Christopher Nolan version with the Michael Keaton version with a little Ferrari thrown in. You'll have a hard time figuring out what year it is, but in the end it's won't matter - the point of the story is the characters and the new threat the Bat family faces.
Nrama: I've been fortunate to interview you for every one of your major projects, going all the way back to Dark Horse's Crush. When you were preparing to do Punk Rock Jesus I compared it to Frank Miller's transition into Ronin, which was also at DC. Now, you're doing an Elseworlds Batman - ala Miller's own Dark Knight Returns. Do you feel any companionship with Miller's career, be it art, career choices, or in the just plan 'I don't mind speaking out about things I don't like' situation?
Murphy: Yes, you liked my stuff before it was any good. And you had an amazing eye, because my stuff was shit back then [laughs].
DC seems to want me to be the next Frank Miller, which is the biggest compliment anyone in comics could get. I think the thing we have in common is the “singular vision” thing, and the temperament to be willing to rock the boat. I've never met him, but we have a lot of mutual friends. I'm visiting New York City soon to see Klaus Janson, so maybe we can set up a dinner. I heard that he really loved my Dark Knight III: The Master Race covers, which means the world to me.
But there can only be one Frank Miller. If comics were still a bit campy in the 80s, then Miller helped change that. It's not something that can be done again, because comics are still dark. So what can I do that's Miller-esque in the modern era?
For me, I think comics are still largely ungrounded in the modern world, meaning they don't spend much time thinking about real politics or the fact that we're now a globally connected species (although the Marvel movies are killing at it). I know that sounds boring, but I think readers are smart and capable of being entertained by more complex comics. My Batman is about modern politics, diversity, how to run a society, and the power of celebrity around a Donald Trump-type phenomenon.
If Miller was reacting to Reagan, then I'll react to Trump.
Nrama: Speaking of Punk Rock Jesus, that recently received a fourth printing here in the United States - becoming a sleeper hit of sorts. But I'm told in Europe, France especially, it's doing even better. Can you tell us about your footprint in Europe with this book?
Murphy: Yes - I was told Punk Rock Jesus was selling double in France. My publisher there actually insists on printing all my books in b&w now because they make more money, which is stunning because Europeans are amazing colorists when it comes to comics. So why does this happen?
Partially, I think it's because I draw in a heavily European style. If people think my art is totally new, then they're wrong because I'm just filtering the best stuff I find in Europe, South America, and Japan. Europeans also like complicated background design, which I do. They also love when artists pull the camera way back from a character - for example, showing a tiny Batman standing before a huge, scary Gotham. Most U.S. artists don't play with scale like that.
Also, the revolutionary gene is still a big part of French culture. And Punk Rock Jesus poked a stick at American exceptionalism in all the right ways, I'm told.
Nrama: Speaking of creator-owned books, this DC exclusive would seem to be limit the ability for you to do those for the next two years. You're currently working on Tokyo Ghost at Image Comics; is that wrapping up?
Murphy: Yes, it's been announced that Tokyo Ghost is ending at issue 10. It was always planned as 10, and Rick Remender and I are thrilled with the reception. Tokyo Ghost really found a cult following fast. Rick is very political and loves poking the bear, so we make a good team. One of my favorite people in comics, I'd say.
Nrama: And you've also been doing a series of Kickstarter-funded books that have been very successful. Will you be taking a break from those for the next two years, or could we still see something like this from you while being DC exclusive?
Murphy: Batman will pretty much eat up all my time. It's going to be around 14 issues I think, so I might finish before two years. After that, I'll probably write/draw a new Image series. But that's for another interview.
Nrama: Last question - what keeps you excited about doing comic books?
Murphy: I think there are two types of comic creators: the ones who love comics, and the ones to love movies that are too lazy to go to Hollywood. I'm the latter.
Comics is me doing a movie alone. It's one of the last art forms that hasn't been completely explored.
Editor's Note: DC Comics declined to comment on this story.