With the regular team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato between arcs, novelist Ben Percy and artist John Paul Leon step into Gotham with their own two-part tale. PLUS! An EXCLUSIVE look inside the new issue out 10/1, from DC.
Fill-in, schmill-in. This looks great and I can’t wait to read it. Here are Percy and Leon with a joint MIGHTY Q&A. I’m telling you, these guys need their own Batbook, pronto.
John Paul Leon
Dan Greenfield: I really like your art style and would love to see this type of approach on Batman on a regular basis. Who are some of your influences?
John Paul Leon: Thanks — me too! I’ve always been a big Batman fan. As you’ve probably heard before, naming influences is sometimes tricky because a lot of times these influences are subconscious. Then there’s that thing where we always forget to mention somebody and kick ourselves later.
Anyway, here are some big ones for me on the comics front: Alex Toth, Will Eisner, Walter Simonson, Jorge Zaffino, Bill Sienkiewicz and David Mazzucchelli. Then there are many mid-20th century American illustrators, with their attention to drawing and composition (as well as storytelling!) that continue to blow me away to this day. Guys like Austin Briggs, Bernie Fuchs and Robert Fawcett — to name a few!
How’d you get the gig?
Well, I’d worked with Mark Doyle before when he was at Vertigo and I was the cover artist for DMZ. When Mark took over the Batbooks, he reached out to see if I was interested in working together again. Mark’s always been a pleasure to work with, so pair that with a stint on Detective and there was no way I wasn’t doing it.
Tell us about your collaboration with Ben Percy.
It’s been an open line of communication. Very easy. Together I think we’ve done a pretty good job of fusing these words and pictures.
When I first read Ben’s script for Issue #35, I was instantly aware that he had a background as a novelist. There was a great sense of mood to the story, even in script form. A lot of comics scripts are usually very clear and all the information is there (I hope!). But sometimes they can read a little dry. Here, I was aware that the writer knew that, besides the editor, the artist was going to be his first reader and “audience,” so to speak.
Who are some of your favorite Batman artists of all time?
Alex Toth: The few times we’ve actually seen him handle the character in story form, but also his sketches of Bats, and of course, his Super Friends storyboards. I also feel that there is a lot to draw on from Toth’s Zorro work that can inform how to handle Batman.
David Mazzucchelli: I think a lot of people will agree, Batman: Year One is tough to beat. It’s Batman meets The French Connection. Very gritty and real. But also extremely simplified and stylized — a classic.
And now, Ben Percy:
Dan Greenfield: You have a very impressive resume as a writer, but you’re not known for comics work. Yet here you are, with a two-issue fill-in on Detective Comics. How did that come about?
Ben Percy: I love writing novels — but I also love writing adventure articles and performing radio essays and pitching TV shows and hammering out feature screenplays. I’m a storyteller, and I’ve been wanting to write comics for years.
I grew up reading Swamp Thing and Warlord and Wolverine and Punisher and Batman, over and over and over, until the issues fell apart in my hands. And some of the great reading experiences of my adult life have come from comics: Sandman, The Long Halloween, Northlanders, Scalped.
When my buddy Scott Snyder made the leap, I paid close attention (and bothered him for advice). I studied up on pitches and sent several off to Mark Doyle, including Red Moon, a concept Vertigo and Dark Horse turned down, and I chased and published as a novel instead.
Mark and I had some great conversations on the phone and over coffee, but I didn’t get the green light for a project until last spring, when I sent him a pitch for a two-issue arc about a ghost plane. Writing Batman is a childhood dream come true.
What were the challenges of translating your prose abilities to comics?
I’m used to the wide-open reaches of novel writing, but I’m also used to the constrictions of screenplays. I thought it would be like that, like writing a short film, but writing a comics script is far more challenging. You have to do so much work in so little space. I found it too unnatural to worry about page and panel count in my first draft; that sort of thinking interrupted the dream of storytelling. So I let myself go wild — and then, in revision, cut back severely and found ways to layer characterization and plot more efficiently.
Issue #35, I wrote five times as much as I needed to … and then I got a little wiser and formatting came a little easier for Issue #36. As I continue to write scripts, I imagine it will become second nature.
How much collaboration was there with John Paul Leon?
JP has a shadow-soaked, noirish style that suits the story so well. He grounds the fantastic with his exquisite eye for detail — check out the two-page spread (above) of the plane crashing into the atrium in Issue #35. I loved working with him. Not only for his talent but his generosity. Building the comic was very conversational. We emailed regularly. He would ask about faces and uniforms, how I felt about merging panels, whether I might add a line of dialogue here or there to help with meaning, that kind of thing. I told him from the beginning: You’re the pro, I’m the rookie, so school me.
Longtime Batman fan are you?
I kept a stack of Detective Comics on my night table through high school. My old man scored me an autograph from Adam West that I taped to my wall. I wore my Batman T-shirt until the armpits rotted out. And one of the definitive movies of my childhood was Tim Burton’s Batman. My parents were strict about certain things and I wasn’t allowed to see it until I turned 13. So I collected all the trading cards — which showed stills from the film — and laid them out on my bedroom floor in different designs, trying to piece together the narrative. I’ve taught The Dark Knight Returns in college courses.
This is my long-winded way of saying I’ve been living with Batman for a long time.