One year ago, Green Lantern got a new artist just as the title was heading into the biggest DC event of the year. As Doug Mahnke took over art duties for the title, Blackest Night was just beginning.
Now the event is done, but Mahnke intends to stick around on Green Lantern for the long haul, working with writer Geoff Johns on the space-based series that focuses on Green Lantern Hal Jordan.
In the "post-Blackest Night" DCU, there are still plenty of Lanterns running around with multi-colored rings, but not so many of those zombie lanterns that came with the event. Instead, in upcoming issues, Mahnke is drawing characters like Hector Hammond, Lobo, and a mysterious being who is collecting entities.
Newsarama talked with the artist to find out more about his designs for the creatures he draws, how he survived the deadlines of Blackest Night, and what comes next in Green Lantern.
Newsarama: Last time we talked, you had just come off doing a lot of tight deadline work on Final Crisis. A year later, you're just coming off Blackest Night. How did the work on Green Lantern during Blackest Night compare to Final Crisis?
Doug Mahnke: Final Crisis was limited. I did one full issue, and a little bit in Issue #6. There was a ton of compacted work in Issue #7, which was kind of compounded because as my deadline loomed, Morrison wrote extra pages. That was a little staggering.
Blackest Night was obviously a long commitment, but we kept it on schedule. I don't think we shipped anything late. It was a lot of work, but it was fun. I had to ink a lot of it too, which is not my favorite thing to do, when I'm working that fast. But I managed to do it. That's usually where the longest days were, finishing pages. So it was one seamless, gigantic project, basically a year's worth.
One of the things I really enjoyed about it was, not only did I have my contribution to the event, but I always got to see Ivan [Reis]'s work on Blackest Night and what Pat [Gleason] was doing for [Green Lantern] Corps. So I was surrounded by work I wasn't doing, but that I got to enjoy.
Nrama: Why did you have to ink some of it yourself?
Mahnke: Just to stay on schedule. I think everybody, from Ivan to Pat to me, was working close to deadline. And sometimes you'd have to help out and ink a page. I'd try to be pretty selective about the stuff I'd do, because I didn't want to take the really awesome pages and have me ink them. I wanted them inked by someone else. But nonetheless it was necessary, and I contribute that way on a lot of the books. Christian [Alamy] is not a fast inker, and he admits it. He inks about as fast as I draw. And it was hard for him to pick up any slack. So we sometimes had multiple inkers, and we'd try to have one inker do one scene so there wouldn't be any continuity breaks.
Nrama: What was the biggest challenge of working on Blackest Night?
Mahnke: I started Green Lantern in a rather non-Green Lantern-esque story. So just getting used to drawing stuff that I had to draw took awhile to get used to. Not only the galactic stuff, but also the dark and grotesque imagery. When I look back, though, it wasn't really that bad.
Nrama: What was your favorite thing you drew during the event?
Mahnke: I think the very first issue we did was something Christian and I were very proud of. We felt like we really kicked off the whole storyline with that issue, the Black Hand story. I've had so many people come up and just comment on it, saying it blew them away. It was dark and poetic. It was something nobody was prepared to read.
Besides that, I really enjoyed when we got to show the return of Parallax. Showing him just waiting to kick some ass was a great way to end that issue.
Nrama: Let's switch to post-Blackest Night. Do you know who the little guy is that took Parallax and Ion?
Mahnke: Yeah, but I can't tell. I don't know a lot about the character.
Nrama: Does Geoff surprises you with obscure characters from history a lot?
Mahnke: Yeah, and I don't know Green Lantern history very well. I have to admit that. I have people help me out when there's something I don't know. Working with Pat [Gleason] was always really helpful because I could say, "I have to do this character. Do you know who it is?" And most of the time, he could give me some direction.
But there's stuff that Geoff pulls out from the past, or sometimes things that appear to be brand new, that I have to ask him questions about it. I'm sure I'll learn all this history over time, and I already have learned a lot. There are so many characters to learn. It's building over time. Geoff's really good at pulling out obscure stuff and having it be a total surprise. That's Geoff.
Nrama: Let's talk about the entities. You designed a few of these, didn't you?
Mahnke: Yeah. I designed a handful of them. Parallax and Ion were already there. And a couple others were around. But starting with the Predator, that was the first one I designed. It's loosely based on the Predator character that already existed.
Geoff told me the emotional idea behind each of the entities. He tried to give me the emotional context. On some things, he made suggestions about how it should look. And sometimes we talked together about it on the phone. I put a lot of thought into it.
The one that has gotten the most questions from fans is the octopus looking one, Proselyte, for the Indigo light of compassion. It's based off an octopus because they're very sensitive creatures, which I thought kind of goes along with the idea of compassion and empathy.
I also designed the blue bird-looking entity for hope. I can't remember what its name is.
Mahnke: Yeah. I thought it was something uplifting. I was looking at the design, or the logo, when I put that one together. And I think Geoff suggested something birdlike. Or someone did. We often get on the phone, Eddie, Adam and Geoff and myself, thinking of ideas.
The one that made the most sense to me, ultimately, was the entity of rage, which was a cross between a bull and a pig. I look forward to drawing that monstrosity in more detail at some point. I just see it as this voluminous mass of muscle and fat going every which way.
And of course the avarice entity is a snake. That was established. Geoff had come up with the idea of a snake.
I also have drawn the white entity. I haven't gotten to draw it much. I've done a lot of work on people trying to lift the White Lantern off the ground. It's going to take somebody special to pick it up. I have no idea who Geoff has in mind that can lift that thing. I'm sure a lot of people would have thought it was Hal. Who knows?
I think the one entity I like the best is the big, red entity. But the rest that I designed were just a matter of getting them done in a way that would look nice. I don't overthink too much. That's how you stay on deadline. I wish I could spend more time designing characters, but I think they turned out well.
Nrama: For the next issue, you get to draw Lobo. You've drawn the character before, haven't you?
Mahnke: Yeah, I've drawn him twice. Lobo is what brought me to DC! When I was working for Dark Horse, doing The Mask, DC and Dark Horse had the idea to do a Lobo and Mask crossover. It was a hoot. I had a blast. Those two together were great. I think it was two 48-page books. I had a great time drawing him.
And Garth Ennis did a Lobo-Hitman crossover, and I drew that, so I've drawn Lobo a couple of times.
He's just a big, inter-galactic space biker with a really unusual look, with the hair and the chain and whatever weapons he's pulling out of wherever. He's not the smartest guy, but he can be clever.
And we have him fighting Atrocitus. There's a bounty on Atrocitus, and there are plenty of fisticuffs. And as you can imagine, with the dog along, and Atrocitus having the cat.... they're going to mix it up too.
Nrama: Oh, the scene with the Dex-starr the cat! Did you have fun with that? Where he's on the subway in the last issue?
Mahnke: Yeah, he just comes walking out of the dark, looking just like a cat. Cats don't have to be frightening in an enthusiastic or energetic sense. Let's face it. It's bad enough that he can vomit up blood that scorches and destroys whatever it touches. Besides that, he's just a cat. Can you imagine if you were on the subway and a cat did that? You don't really need him to look any different. And it also makes the joke that much more fun.
I'd love to have been able to show the cat sitting there, with his leg up, cleaning himself after torching the hoodlum on the subway.
Nrama: What's your approach to Hector Hammond as you're getting to draw him now?
Mahnke: Oh, I like drawing him. I want to fine-tune it. There's a whole lot more of him coming. He's an important character in the coming issues. When you have that great big noggin to draw, it can be really detailed. I don't feel like I've totally nailed it yet. I hope I get to put a lot of Hector Hammond together in the issues I'm doing next.
Nrama: You mentioned that you don't know who is going to be able to pick up that White Lantern. Does Geoff share those kind of story details with you, or do you prefer not to know?
Mahnke: He always gives me a choice. He says, "Do you want to know?" And I don't always want to know. It's nice to have some secrets. I know a lot, but it makes it more interesting if I don't know everything. That's the fanboy in me there.
Nrama: Looking forward, now that you've been on the title for a year, are you still planning to stick around on Green Lantern?
Mahnke: Yeah, I'm not done yet. I want to stick with it. If I had gone elsewhere after having a year on Green Lantern, it would have been a waste. There is so much more I want to do. When you're working on a story like Blackest Night, you don't truly get to put the character through all the paces you'd get to otherwise. It's got one common theme running through that year. It was a lot of zombie stuff. I'd like to see what else I can draw and I want to stick around for more.
There are so many people who have done such a good job with Green Lantern, and one year's not enough for me. You really want to do your best and leave some really good memories behind before you move on. I worked a year on Batman, and when I left the book, it wasn't enough. I want to feel like I got to really spend some time working on Green Lantern.
It was really fun to come on this book and learn about the character. And to see the enthusiasm people have for it. And I've learned so much along the way. I had a studio with Pat Gleason for a lot of years. Pat spent four years on a book with Green Lantern Corps, and that's a long time. He did such a strong body of work on Corps. He really defined characters. Other people have to follow in his shoes. So for me, I'd like to spend enough time on Green Lantern to feel like I own it and have done my best work.