When artist Yanick Paquette got the script to this week’s Batman #69, he realized the entire issue was, basically, Catwoman and Batman dancing.
The final issue of the “Knightmares” storyline, Batman #69 is a dreamlike sequence where Batman is trapped in a fear-inducing state, but he’s trying to figure out his deepest fear as he imagines himself dancing with his former fiancé Selina.
Paquette, who has experience writing classical music for strings, decided to approach the issue’s visuals like a song.
The artist, who’s been working with Grant Morrison on his Wonder Woman: Earth One volumes, will next work on Superman with Brian Michael Bendis, kicking off the writer’s “Leviathan Rising” event with a special oversized issue in May.
Newsarama talked to Paquette about why he wanted to work with Batman writer Tom King on “Knightmares,” why he thinks there are actually two dances in this week’s issue, and what elements of music he incorporated into the structure of Batman #69.
Newsarama: Yanick, what interested you about drawing this issue of Batman?
Yanick Paquette: Initially, I just wanted to find a way to work with Tom King any way possible. Because of Wonder Woman: Earth One, whenever I’m between issues, I try to take advantage of that moment to work with the people I want to work with. And Tom has been the top name on that list for years. I just haven’t been able to do it because of this huge project I’ve been doing.
So the moment Volume 2 of Wonder Woman: Earth One went out, my plan was to work with Tom on anything possible. So I schemed and I pushed people [laughs], so I could draw this issue of Batman.
It’s been great. Tom asked me what I like to draw, and he’s really open about the collaboration, particularly in the case of “Knightmares,” because he’s trying to play to each artist’s strength.
I get to be experimental with the layouts.
And that’s interesting because one of the reasons I love Tom King is that he’s a very structuralist kind of guy, by opposition to, say, Grant Morrison, who can sometimes be very rigid in terms of a project like "Pax Americana," but most of the time he’s very impressionistic with his structure. Tom is more rigid, in some ways. You know, he loves those nine-panel grids and the very designed types of beats. And I really wanted to go there.
Strangely, this is not what this issue is like; there is no nine-panel grid, which I feel like a little bad about it. So I need to work with Tom again, just so I can do the technical nine-panel grid.
Nrama: So can you walk us through how you approached this more experimental issue? What was the script for Batman #69 like, and how did you translate that visually?
Paquette: When I got the script, a lot of it, especially the Catwoman and the Batman scene, he would describe costume change, but it would be described as they danced, with dialogue.
The description of every beat was mostly the dance.
I write music in my spare time, less than I used to. String quartets and classical music. But I always thought there was a link between the written form of music and comics, for many reasons - the way you are in control of the tempo, for instance. When you read music, you can read it at your own pace. You’re in charge of it, which is the same thing with comics.
This book, because it was basically just a huge dance, I tried to make it like a score.
So I started the comic with … cleft? Is that the word in English?
Nrama: Cleft. Yes.
Paquette: It starts with a cleft, and it ends with a double bar, which is the way you write music.
In between, I tried to find visual links or design elements that would echo the way I write music into the way the comic is drawn.
So, for instance, some of those panels are rounded like notes - I mean, some of it will escape readers, but I had some fun with it.
The way it turned out, it’s actually two dances. It’s two parallel couples dancing. It’s Catwoman and Batman dancing in this dreamlike, crazy, wild sequence where I tried to be experimental. And my colorist, Nathan Fairbairn, went to town with a crazy color scheme. I love it.
But in parallel, there’s a dance which is a much more violent thing, with Bane and Flashpoint Batman. And this scene, every panel is square-edged and the scene is as restrained as I could get, and the color is more subdued.
So they’re both in parallel, and there’s a stylistic contrast.
This is the kind of thing I spend most of my time thinking about, how can I create a structure that will help the story? Especially when most of the action is, like, one action…they just dance. So the structure became an important physical beat.
Nrama: There are a few two-page spreads that showcase this dance and how you portrayed it. There’s even one of them that uses the windows of the building as panels.
Paquette: Yeah. The way I proceeded with Tom’s script is - again, it’s really close to the music aspect - I looked at the beats. So how many panel and how many dialogue beats are there in a single page? And then I tried to find a way to give them each their vision, in terms of their beat, but not really following the traditional panel structure, which I kept only for Bane in that part of the story.
So for instance, there is a double-sized page where, I don’t remember the number exactly, but I needed like eight beats. But it’s one big panel of them dancing in the street.
So seven times, it’s small figures dancing to create the tempo, and then there’s a last big picture when we see them up close.
It’s the same thing with those windows. I needed four beats and then a last big, one moment of rest where there’s a big of a revelation. So I kept an entire half of that double-sized page for a rest.
So it’s just a way of giving each page the tempo that Tom needed, but going as far as possible from traditional comic book structure.
It must have been done before. This is the kind of thing Will Eisner would do, you know? Battles in windows and stuff like that.
Nrama: As you mentioned, Catwoman goes through several costume changes. Did you have to find references? Or did Tom give you exactly what he wanted?
Paquette: Yeah, Tom is a charm to work with because usually I would scan the internet, losing a lot of time finding the right one, but Tom embeds these things in the script itself. I mean, there are pictures. It’s a rare treat to get a writer that really tries to give you all the material you need from the get-go. So that was super easy.
Mikel Janín had done an issue with Catwoman - the wedding that didn’t happen - where every single scene was another era of Catwoman costume. So a lot of this was from that issue.
But yeah, it was fun to do.
Nrama: Now that you’ve done this one issue with Tom, what’s next for you, Yanick? Besides wanting to work with Tom again.
Paquette: Yeah, we’ll see. I’m always open to do more Tom King. As I told you, I need to do that nine-panel grid. Next time I’m working with him, I hope I do a whole nine-panel grid page.
But I’ve been working on the Superman: Leviathan Rising Special #1, which is an introduction to the big Leviathan event from Brian Michael Bendis. I’m doing the first introductory issue to it. It’s a huge undertaking, because for me, it’s more than 40 pages.
So I was working on that as I worked on the Batman issue. I’m doing Superman and Batman at the same time, with Tom King and Bendis. That’s not a bad beginning of 2019, I guess.