Not only is he one of the artists with a new comic this fall — doing the first three issues of The Shade with writer James Robinson — but Hamner has been playing a crucial role in the revamp of DC character costumes.
Hamner, the artist behind comics like Warren Ellis' Red and the new Blue Beetle, is putting together the style guide for all the new costumes, but even before that, he played a role in their redesign. As Newsarama has interviewed artists who are involved in the DCnU initiative, many of them have mentioned the input by Hamner, and DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee recently lauded him for his work on the relaunch.
So when we contacted the artist for an interview about The Shade — which we'll have for you next week — we ended up spinning the conversation in the direction of his role in the redesign of all those costumes for the DCnU. What follows is that casual conversation, during which we even broached the topic of Wonder Woman's pants change.
Newsarama: Before DC even announced you were part of the design team behind this new initiative, I kept talking to artists who were saying, "and then Cully took a look at it." You clearly played a bigger role in this than anyone knew at the beginning. What was the job about?
Cully Hamner: What originally happened was that Mark Chiarello asked me to be part of it, and what my main job was supposed to be was to do the style guide for the whole DC Universe. I'm working on that now. I'm doing turnarounds on everybody. It's the final reference guide for all the artists to draw from, even beyond the people involved in the initiative now.
When I talked with Mark about this, he said they also wanted my opinion. As long as I'm looking at these costumes, they wanted me to share what I thought.
Then it evolved organically into this role where Jim might do a sketch, and I would give my opinion or maybe even do another version of it. It just became this situation where I was part of the chorus of people who has something to say about it.
I guess they liked what I had to say, because more and more, they were asking me my opinion. I had editors reaching out to me where they wanted me to take pass at the costumes. It really did get into a situation where I was cc'd on everything about the costumes, and that was a little odd because it would be addressed to Dan DiDio, Jim, the editorial staff and me. It was an odd place for a freelancer to be, sticking his nose into this editorial stuff.
Nrama: Did you enjoy it? Did you feel comfortable with that?
Hamner: You know, at first I wasn't sure exactly how far to go. Jim and I have known each other awhile, but we haven't known each other super well. So I wasn't sure how much I could push it with him or the other people involved. But I just decided, well, if they want my opinion, they'll take it, and hopefully they'll appreciate what I have to say. And if they don't, I'm sure they'll let me know.
So I just gave my unbiased opinion on everything. Thankfully, Jim is a pretty open-minded guy. That's what he wanted. He also wanted somebody that was a 180 from his style. Because his style and my style are very different. I tend to go for more of a simple, graphic kind of style, and he tends to go for a little more ornate kind of style. And we're at different ends of the spectrum. But that's what he wanted. He wanted somebody that could have enough knowledge of what he does to comment on it effectively, but not just tell him what he wants to hear. That's where I came in.
I've done a fair amount of redesigning or re-imagining characters over the last few years, and I guess DC liked what I did on those other characters.
Nrama: I think they have mentioned that they were particularly impressed with your design for the new Blue Beetle.
Hamner: That's the signature thing. Everybody always comes to me and tells me they love that design. It's always very flattering. I'm particularly proud of that character. Even though the book was canceled after awhile, the design on that character seemed to stick around.
Nrama: Yeah, it was canceled, but a 36-issue run on a new, single-hero book is actually pretty long.
Hamner: Yeah. It supported 36 issues, it made it into a cartoon series and an episode of Smallville, and if you go to the Warner Bros. lot right now, there he is painted on the side of a big building. That's pretty nice to see when you come up with something from whole cloth, especially when it as not exactly what the original pitch for the series asked for. When I read the initial idea behind the book, it seemed like they were asking for something a little more like a Transformer or mecha kind of character, and I just thought nobody is going to want to draw that month-in and month-out, and it won't take. So I did something a little bit more superheroic, and I brought some different influences to it that I had in mind. And it somehow seemed to stick. I got really lucky on that one.
And here we are six years later, and he's still around and still kicking. It doesn't look like they're going to be getting rid of him anytime soon. So that's a cool thing.
Nrama: And they're relaunching the series.
Hamner: Yeah, I saw that. It's going to be weird to do the turnaround of him. I did a turnaround of him once before, when I did the original series, because I tend to do that anyway, for my own reference.Now I'm doing all the different turnarounds in a template that's common to all of them. Basically, you could maybe make a book out of it. So I'm doing one for him too. I'm doing one for just about everybody that's active in the DCU right now. Don't hold me to this, but I would not be surprised if it ended up being something like 70 or 80 characters.
Nrama: When you guys redesigned the costumes, did you take into account the writer's direction and the tone of the comic?
Hamner: Yes, of course, and the creative teams were really involved and were sometimes the ones who came up with the first pass on the designs. Also, you know, this is an evolutionary thing. I don't think that you should look at any of these as, "Well, this is the look and it's never going to change."
Obviously, when you have this many writers and artists and editors and people with their hands in the pie, a costume is going to evolve. It's almost like the pilot to a TV show. If you've ever watched the first episode to a TV show, if you go back and look at it after a couple seasons of a show, it looks weird. It doesn't fit with what you end up having.
I think it's the same with comic book costume design. If you look at the very first Superman costume design, it's not what it was 10 years later.
This is a kicking off point for all these characters. Hopefully we got more right than we got wrong and a lot of it will stick around, but people are going to bring their own flair to this.
I'm doing a style guide which is exactly that. It's a guide. I'm not speaking for DC here, but I would have a hard time believing that this is going to end up being, "you will not deviate from this path, ever."
A lot of what people react about on the Internet is a case where they don't have a complete picture or all of the information.
I would urge people to calm down and give this thing a shot. If they don't like something, then they don't like something, but I would ask that they not like it on the basis of what they're reading rather than what they're hearing fifth-hand on the internet.
Nrama: This week, DC released a promotional image, and the cover of Wonder Woman #1 used to have her wearing navy blue pants, but it now has her in the star-spangled bathing suit look. If you're doing the turnaround, which one is it?
Hamner: You know, this is exactly what I'm talking about with evolution. And I heard something about -- and I have no idea where this crazy stuff comes from -- but there was this thing going around that there was a "pants rule," that there was this edict from "Lord DC" or something that all female characters will have pants. That's not true, for one thing.
It's weird to get an email where, in the subject line, it says "Wonder Woman without pants." [laughs] It took me a second to figure out what someone was sending me. It was an editorial decision. The final look, as far as I'm aware right now, is that she's wearing briefs. Her legs are bare.
Nrama: You know, I heard the "pants rule" rumor too and even asked Eddie [Berganza] and Bob [Harras] about it, which in hindsight is a little embarrassing, because it made them laugh. But there were a lot of female characters with pants, which is where that "pants rule" rumor probably came from.
Hamner: Here's what I think. And this wasn't an edict or anything, but I just think there was a general feeling of, "why are so many of our female characters in bathing suits?"
So I think there might have been a general coincidental feeling that some of these characters should be in stuff that is more...
Hamner: Well, I don't know if the word would be "realistic," because none of these outfits are "realistic." Maybe a little more believable in the context of a superhero universe.
There are a lot of female characters who are in something that's a little bit more utilitarian, for that sort of a way to pass your time: fighting crime. That said, there are a number of female characters who are wearing sexier outfits, but they tend to be characters for whom that's part of their character. Like Starfire is a little more of an exhibitionist, so she's going to be wearing something that's a little more about the look, as opposed to the Huntress. I noticed that the current Huntress design, which I didn't have much to do with, doesn't have the little belly window anymore.
Nrama: Which I think some people like and some people don't...
Hamner: And you could say that about everything! I swear to God that I've seen people discussing these costumes on the Internet, and you'll see completely different opinions. Just yesterday, I saw someone complaining about the Starfire outfit and how it was ridiculous and too sexist, and the very next board that I went to, people were complaining about female characters wearing pants and they weren't sexy enough.
But there are character reasons behind a lot of these decisions. Or story reasons. A lot of things are being taken into account that fans aren't necessarily privy to. But there's a reason for just about everything.
Nrama: If you were giving your opinion on these, and it differed from the opinion of other people on the design team, did you ever have to walk away from a costume and leave it looking a way you didn't like?Hamner: Not really, but I didn't necessarily like every little detail, because it was a team of people working on this. Did I agree with every decision? No. But I agreed with the process. You win some and you lose some, and I'm sure there are a lot of designs that my opinion "won" on, and there are probably people who don't like it. That was the process. And that's what you surrender yourself to.
What won is what made the most sense for the book. Sometimes it was a case of what, aesthetically, most of us liked. And sometimes it got down to tiny little details.
But it was not what I'd call a difficult process. There were lots of times Jim himself would do a drawing and wouldn't like it, but I'd love it. And vice versa. But there were other times that we'd draw something and the other would say, "Eh, I don't think that works." And the other would say, "Yeah, you're right. Let's try something different."
There were times I would get some designs from other artists that I loved, and there were times I would see something that I just didn't think worked, and I would send them a new drawing, and they would like some stuff and not like other stuff. So it was really a team effort. It's a really fun process, as you're creating in this team structure.
But most of the actual design work is behind us at this point. Now I'm just concentrating on the turnarounds and getting the style guide set up.
Nrama: Would you want to do more of this?
Hamner: Yeah! I like doing it. I didn't know if I was quite capable of handling myself in this environment, because I'm not a staffer. I've been a freelancer for 20 years. I felt like I worked well enough within the team, not being there, because obviously some people are in New York, some people are in California, and I'm in Atlanta. So a lot of this stuff was done via email. And there were times they wanted a design done in two hours, and I'd be on a plane doing them on my iPad, using the plane's Internet to send them. There were times where I was doing multiple passes and working on one design again and again. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. The whole experience was just a neat one to have.
So yeah, I'd like to do more if they would like me to do more. But at this point, I don't know how much more there is to do. We're kind of redefining the look of the whole DC Universe. I assume as other characters are introduced, if they want me to be involved, I'm here waiting for the call.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!
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