Mark Bagley doesn't have a lot of extra time.
As Justice League of America crosses over with Justice Society of America this month, Bagley is handling art duties for both titles, working under tight deadlines as the five-issue story ships twice a month.
Since breaking into comics in the '80s, Bagley has been hailed for not only his artistic merit, but his drawing speed as well. Previously best known for his work on Spider-Man — particularly his 111-issue run on Ultimate Spider-Man — Bagley became a DC exclusive artist in 2008 and drew the weekly series Trinity, completing a 52-issue story in one year.
Now he's working with writer James Robinson on Justice League of America, getting to draw many of the iconic DC characters he encountered on Trinity, but with the high-energy team feel of the JLA. He started with April's JLA #44, a Blackest Night tie-in, but now begins the five-issue JLA/JSA crossover with this month's issue #46.
Newsarama talked with the artist about the upcoming JLA/JSA crossover and the differences readers might notice in his style as he deals with the iconic characters of the Justice League and Justice Society.
Newsarama: Mark, is it a good time to talk right now? I know you're drawing a lot this month.Mark Bagley: Now would be fine! But can I put you on speaker while I draw?
Nrama: Of course!
Bagley: That way, I can multi-task.
Nrama: That doesn't surprise me at all. Mark, now that you've been at DC a couple years, have you changed up your style at all, or is it not really that different to draw DC characters vs. Marvel characters?
Bagley: I caught myself at a convention saying it's the "same shit, different day," and that's a joke, but it's kind of the truth. You work with people you like, and you draw characters, and that doesn't really change. And drawing is kind of a construction process, no matter what the story is. Don't get me wrong — I have a lot of sentimental feel for these characters, particularly Spider-Man and Superman, but when you're doing it as a job, the process doesn't change that much.
That said, I did do one thing intentionally when I started drawing Trinity. I had spent years drawing teenage characters in my own sort of style, my own realm of comfort. And I felt that once I was doing Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman, I felt like I had to do them a little more on model. I felt like I was making their faces or eyes too big. I felt like I should pull back. I look back at my earlier stuff, and I see that it was a tendency I had, to make the eyes too big.So I'm intentionally trying to de-cartoon myself a little bit. And that works for faces like Superman and Wonder Woman and Batman. They look more mature.
Nrama: I suppose with the Ultimate line, you didn't have to follow any iconic look for most of those characters, since you guys were reinventing them.
Bagley: Right. It was my own baby and I could do pretty much anything I wanted to.
But I think, actually, it was a blessing in disguise. It's always good for an artist to take a critical look at what he's doing. Not just naturally evolve, which I think every artist does, but every now and then go, what exactly am I doing that could be better? And I had habits of eyes on the wrong plane and that sort of thing. I'm trying to really concentrate on things like that so I don't make the same mistake. I'm just making different ones now. [laughs]
Nrama: Specifically with this story, were you familiar with the Justice Society? You probably drew a lot of them in Trinity, didn't you? Most characters in the DCU showed up for that story.
Bagley: Yeah, I'm still not talking to Kurt Busiek. No, I'm kidding. You know, I drew almost everyone in Trinity, but I didn't draw a lot of them enough to really get comfortable with them or feel like I could take any liberties with them. With this crossover with the JSA, I'm getting to do a bit more of that.Nrama: This storyline is concentrating on Jade and Alan Scott, so is there any thought about all the green light that's going to be swirling around these issues? Does a penciler even think about that kind of thing?
Bagley: I try to. It's such a challenge to the colorists. Color used to be so flat with three-color process, but now coloring is so important. It can kill a book. This whole storyline is a real challenge. There's a lot of ambient green light floating around. That changes all the colors around it, even in the costumes.
There have been places I've been thrilled with it and other places I haven't been very happy, because it's a real challenge. It's hard to do. Especially in the amount of time everybody's getting to do it. We're a little bit rushed.
They said, "Oh, you're going to be doing both JLA and JSA!!" And I was like, "What??? I mean, I'll try to do it, but I can't guarantee it'll get done. I'll try!"
Which is why I'm drawing as we speak.
Nrama: With the JSA, were you familiar with the characters? Did you follow this team at all, or were they new to you?
Bagley: I've read JSA over the years. I don't read as many comics now as I used to. When Geoff started writing it, they had some really great artists on the book, which got me looking at it.So I was pretty aware of the characters. They have these iconic characters like Green Lantern and Flash and Hawkman, although Hawkman's not in this. But they also have these new legacy characters, and I haven't quite taken those guys to heart as much. I don't know why. Even as we speak, I'm drawing Atom Smasher. I love drawing giants, so it's fun to draw him. He's smashing the hell out of Green Lantern created images. But I had to pull out a reference and figure out how to draw his costume. I was like, "Ok, he's got a mask. Wow, that's a weird line across his belly there. Why is that there?" So I'm having to break out the references and kind of get used to the way these characters look.
I think James Robinson knows every character in the DC Universe. He pulls out the most obscure characters for the background. I have to get references for this one little tiny character in the background. But you know, that can be fun too. I mean, I'm learning a lot about all these characters.
Nrama: Is there a character in the JSA that stands out as one you enjoy drawing?
Bagley: Not really. I enjoy drawing them all. Green Lantern is fun to draw because I knew Marty Nodell [the character's co-creator], and hung out with him and his wife a lot over the years. They both passed recently, and it was fun to know them. I can see me doing that in 10 or 15 years, just doing convention after convention and just hanging out with fans and doing sketches and stuff.The one I'm having trouble with is the original Flash. I hate that helmet. It's not that it doesn't work for his look; I actually like it and think it works. But it's just so hard for me to draw. I can't get it right! It drives me nuts! But aside from that, there aren't any problems.
Nrama: It's interesting that the hat is that challenging. Do you have to erase and redraw it? Is that what you do as you're penciling?
Bagley: Yes! Draw. Erase. Draw. Erase. Draw. Erase. Trace. [laughs] No, I don't trace. But I get is as good as I can get it in the time I have and then I say, "Well, that's as good as I'm going to get it. It's got to go." But I almost never feel like I have that helmet to where it looks right in my head. It probably looks fine to most people who read the book. But it just always looks odd to me. Pacheco kills on it. Eaglesham kills on it. They're like, oh yeah, it's just this. But then, I never felt like I did Peter Parker very well either.
Nrama: The team you're drawing for this JLA is a little different from Trinity, so are you getting to explore some new characters on that team?
Bagley: Yeah, this is definitely different. I enjoy drawing most of them a lot. Donna Troy is great. Jade's fun to draw too. Batman is, of course, fun to draw.I actually enjoy drawing Supergirl a lot. She just entered the book. She's kind of young and fresh, and I think that's fun. I tend to do young characters well anyway.
I got to do that big punch-up between Power Girl and Supergirl last month and that was just a blast. You get to show off the differences in figures and the body types. I'm not one of these artists who draw five different characters with the same body type. At least, I don't intend to. It's always fun challenge to have that highlighted that way.
I drew a really nice panel in an upcoming issue of Supergirl, Power Girl and Donna Troy standing next to each other, and that's fun.
I actually like drawing Jesse Quick. She's the daughter of Johnny Quick that has taken his costume. And it actually looks really good on a running figure. I was bound and determined to redesign it when they said she was in the book, but once I started drawing it, I thought, this works fine!
Nrama: Are you working with more than one inker on these issues, Mark?
Bagley: I've got two inkers anyway. JLA is 30 pages a month. I think we might be going back to 22 in the future, but for now, we're splitting it up between Rob Hunter and Norm Rapmund. Norm is doing 10 pages out of 30, and Rob is doing 20. Rob didn't think he could do 30 and do a quality job. He likes to have a life, whereas, I don't have a life, so that works out well. I think during the crossover, Norm is inking the JSA issues and Rob is inking the JLA issues.
They have similar styles. Norm's a little more controlled than Rob is. And Rob's a little more expressive with his inks. It actually doesn't look bad next to each other. Aside from that, they have similar sensibilities when inking a page. So I don't mind having two inkers as much as I normally would.It's harder to ink than you'd think. Inking isn't tracing. And when you bring as much to the book as these guys do... especially Rob, who I recently talked to about even pulling back on some of the detail, some of the really strong inking that he does. Sometimes less is more. He's really working hard at it and it looks amazing. I think he's becoming an even better inker.
Nrama: How is it different drawing a multi-character crossover with lots of action like this than it is to draw, for example, the more "talk-heavy" and non-costumed character issues you used to do with Ultimate Spider-Man?
Bagley: Well, drawing a figure in the background is just as important as drawing a character in the foreground, whether he's in a costume or in street clothes, you know? So there are similarities you don't even realize between the drawing in one type of story and another.
But you know, if you'd asked me 15 years ago, I'd have said, "Drawing the big, bang-up superhero fights with dozens of characters are the most fun!" But working with Brian [Michael Bendis] so long, I got to really enjoy drawing the character acting and emoting that can go along with that type of storytelling and drama.
This is such a change from that. This is a big, costume drama, superhero-supervillain mash-up type of book. I did that for years. I did it on New Warriors and on Thunderbolts. And it's taken a little getting used to, to get back into that. It's a lot of work. It's a team book, and I knew it would be a lot of work taking it over.
I just drew a page a couple weeks ago where Jade was at her mother's house, and the two of them were talking out in the back yard. And I stopped to think, "When was the last time I drew a woman in real clothes in a real room, with, like, regular furniture?" It had been months! And that's no criticism of James or anything like that. It's just the nature of the book. It's just the nature of the beast. It's not what we're going for.
But trust me, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It's fun drawing real things. And I don't know if I would have said that 15 years ago.I still hate drawing cars though. And, oh, by the way, I'm terrible at drawing gorillas.
Nrama: Well, that's a problem!
Bagley: I know! James loves Congorilla, and he's doing great things with him. And I do the best I can. But I'm just terrible at it. I pull out all my Art Adams reference and Joe Kubert reference for how they drew apes. And I think, "Yeah, I should be able to do this!" But then I draw it and think, "Aw this looks like hell." [laughs] Every once in awhile I nail it, but nine times out of ten, it seems like I just go over it again and again trying to get it right and have to say, "OK, this is the best it's going to get. Just let it go." You know? The inker will fix it. The colorist will fix it. That's just my one big complaint. I'm terrible at drawing gorillas.
Nrama: You're staying on JLA for a while, right?
Bagley: Yes! I'm here for the foreseeable future. And you know, I know I complained in this interview, but I really am enjoying the hell out of this book and this story. When I'm drawing it, I'm not getting to sit down and really enjoy the story as much as I do when I see the finished product. When the book comes out and I actually read it, it reads really damn well. You see the thing as a whole and it just works so well. James knows what he's doing. It's a good book, and he's got some cool stuff coming up. It's all about the Starheart and the end of the world. It's definitely worth reading.
Nrama: Then let's end by you just answering what it is you're enjoying most about working on Justice League, or even what you enjoy the most about working on comics?
Bagley: What I enjoy about working on a comic like JLA — well, what I enjoy about working on any comic, really — is the storytelling. I had a discussion with Tim Sale about this in Charlotte a couple weeks ago. I should probably ink. I used to ink. But I make a really good living penciling because I'm faster than, well, the Flash, and I just love the storytelling part of it. Once I get done doing that part of it, I tend to get a little anxious to get on to the next page to figure out how I'm going to work out the next sequence. Working full script, it's less of a challenge than it used to be. And it's actually a little less fun for me. But that's the part I enjoy the most.