Chris Wildgoose realizes that drawing Bruce Wayne as a thin, awkward teenager might seem odd to some long-time Batman fans, but his new graphic novel, Batman: Nightwalker, is supposed to portray the teenage Bruce before he became the grown-up hero.
Based on best-selling authoro Marie Lu’s prose novel by the same name, the Batman: Nightwalker graphic novel was adapted by Stuart Moore and features black-and-white illustrations by Wildgoose (with only small splashes of color).
In the story, 18-year-old Bruce hasn’t started training as Batman yet, but he is drawn into a mystery surrounding the deadly and mysterious Nightwalker that are terrorizing Gotham City.
Debuting this week in comic stores (and next week in bookstores), Newsarama talked to Wildgoose to find out more about his approach in Batman: Nightwalker.
Newsarama: Chris, this Batman: Nightwalker book is geared toward a younger audience, but you’re still dealing with Batman, who’s always portrayed as dark and gritty. How did you approach the visuals? Did you discuss it with the editors at all, how they wanted this book to look?
Chris Wildgoose: They pretty much left me to my own devices. I had an idea in mind, but I didn’t ask anyone how we should do it.
They did tell me they wanted it to be in black and white. But then I just thought, well, what’s a good way that I can make my art work in black and white.
The main artist I referenced was Sean Murphy, for his style of Gotham that he used to do - his sort of old Gotham, with loads of shadows and a little bit grimy looking.
Nrama: There are touches of color though. How did the placement of the yellow get determined?
Wildgoose: We did it completely in black and white. And we knew there were going to be strikes of yellow in it for the intense moments and moments of peril, and also to link it to the Nightwalker villains, as well, because they have the yellow goggles.
It was sort of referenced in the cover as well - the original Marie Lu cover. That had a sort of monochrome blue and gray, with lots of yellow glow in the middle.
So we took the colors of that and made the book reference them.
Nrama: You’re portraying young Bruce Wayne in this, so we see him make mistakes and see him when he was maybe a little less driven. How did you portray that in the way he looks?
Wildgoose: I quite like to draw skinny characters, so he’s already trimmed down quite a lot to this awkward looking skinny teenager. We’re used to seeing a different Bruce Wayne - even the young version in "Year One" is still quite well-cut. He looks muscular and well-trained and stuff.
In this story, he hasn’t even decided to train up yet to be a proper fighter. He has boxing lessons, but that’s just more like a general fitness thing. He hasn’t really decided to fight crime yet.
So I trimmed him down to this skinny figure.
I quite like drawing awkward people, so his mannerisms - he looks unsure of himself, and his eyes will go quite wide when he’s shocked.
You just have these little glimpses of his eyes narrowing when he gets into his detective mode, which is just a flash of the Bruce Wayne that he’ll become later on.
But for now, he’s still a teenager. He’s only figuring himself out, and what he’s going to do, and how he’s going to go about it. And it was a lot in the mannerisms.
The story gave us some moments as well - he gets caught off guard. Like, when he’s trying to sneak into a building, one of his friends catches him, and he just switches around in alarm, whereas the Batman we know today would probably, well, you know - that person would be down before he turned around.
Nrama: Did you read the book by Marie Lu?
Wildgoose: I did, yeah. I got the full book as a script first, when I first signed up for the project. I listened to it through the audio book while I was working on the design process of it.
Nrama: So you pulled from some of the descriptions, but how did you come up with the way the Nightwalkers look?
Wildgoose: Yeah, originally, the first design I did was basically the same sort of looking character with those big goggle masks. One of the descriptions is that they have these giant night-vision goggles, or at least, Madeleine did in the prologue scene in the beginning of the book.
Then when I did them, I decided to give it to a few of the others. And then when I did that, the editor and Stuart Moore, the writer who adapted it, we all agreed that maybe that should be the uniform piece that they have.
And then the rest of their costumes have just been sort of pieced together. They haven’t got a lot of money - they’re just a rag-tag group, almost mercenary-like. So they just wear whatever they want underneath. Just bits of armor and belts and things that they’ll find useful in combat situations.
Yeah, the mask would be the one thing that they all make together.
And I had the idea that this was a sort of influence for Bruce later on for his Batman cowl, because they have that gap where the mouth is and sort of antennas on either side that slightly make up a bit of a Batman cowl - but not quite. Not too on-the-nose, like oh, that’s where he gets it from. It’s just intended to be a subtle influence on Bruce.
Nrama: The other character who’s important to the story is Madeleine Wallace. How did you come up with her look?
Wildgoose: Originally, my first design, was a dull-looking character - a stereotypical white girl in a mental institute, and she was blond, and I just ran with the idea.
The first description I got of her, and I just ran with it, was that she was very dull-like. I think they said her hair fell like a waterfall as well.
So I did that design, and then Marie Lu got back saying definitely no that - we want it to be Asian-American. I’d read through the book once and I’d just completely missed it. I don’t know why.
Now, the idea of her hair being this amazing black waterfall was great.
I think the second design, we got the one that was in the book.
Nrama: You said you heard back from Marie. Did you talk to her at all? Or did you talk mostly to Stuart Moore?
Wildgoose: I didn’t have a lot of contact with Marie Lu. She just let us do our thing. I think the editors usually double-checked with her, to make sure she was OK with it, and made sure everything was in line. But we seemed to keep making her happy with it.
She didn’t give a lot of input into it, because she didn’t really need to, I guess.
I worked quite closely with Stuart - me and the editor and Stuart. I would constantly send them layouts and pages and all the character designs, and give them first refusal on what needed to change or what they thought was wrong or anything like that.
And Stuart was great - I got a lot of feedback from him. He was always too kind. He was very helpful with pointing out, like, continuity errors or little tweaks. Generally, we just worked well off each other. It went quite well.
Nrama: Is there anything else you wanted to tell readers about the adaptation of Batman: Nightwalker?
Wildgoose: Yeah, you should expect a different type of Batman story. I think some people might be drawn in like this is a straight-up Batman story. But this is Bruce Wayne way before he’s Batman. Towards the end of the book, you see what he’s to become. But most of it, it’s him learning to be a detective and realizing there’s a bigger crime problem out there that maybe he could tackle.