INTERIVEW: Bat-Artist Christopher Jones
CJ: Well let me start by saying that it's great to talk to you, as I've been a regular follower of Batman-on-Film for two or three years now. I enjoy the site a lot, and watch it closely for news on the upcoming Batman sequels.
So. About ME. I live and work in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, which is just outside of Minneapolis. I share a home with my partner Melissa Kaercher who is a web designer and who is establishing herself as a comic book letterer and colorist.
I've been drawing all my life and am a lifelong comics and superhero fan, so I've definitely got my dream job. I've been working in comics professionally since 1989, penciling, inking and sometimes writing for a variety of publishers, and for DC Comics for about six years.
My first penciling work for DC was doing fill-ins on the cult series Young Heros In Love. I've worked on a number of other JLA-related projects for DC, including stories for JLA 80-Page Giants and Secret Files, and worked with great writers including Mark Millar, Stan Berkowitz, Geoff Johns, and Josh Siegal. I also provided breakdowns for the crossover event series Day of Judgement. I've been the regular penciller on The Batman Strikes since that title started, and prior to that, I was regular contributor to Justice League Adventures.
I'm also the co-creator of Dr. Blink: Superhero Shrink which is written by John Kovalic who is best known for his comic series Dork Tower, and for his work on games like Apples to Apples and Chez Geek. Dr. Blink is lettered and colored by the aforementioned Melissa Kaercher.
Anyone who wants to know more about my work history is encouraged to check out my web site at www.ChristopherJonesArt.com and check out the Resume section. Between that and the gallery section there are a lot of samples of my artwork there as well.
In any waking moments I have left, I also help run a science fiction convention called CONvergence here in Minneapolis each July. That has it's own web site, and I'll just suggest you go there rather than blather on about it here (www.convergence-con.org).
CJ: Batman has been my favorite comic book character as long as I can remember. He was my favorite before I ever saw reruns of the Adam West series as a kid, and when I finally saw those, it sealed the deal. Don't get me wrong, I like a dark and serious Batman, but one of the things I love about the character is that he can have all these extreme interpretations and still be recognizably the same character. And visually he's the best character in comics, hands down. The silhouette, the cape, the bat motif carrying through all his weapons and gear, and Gotham City itself... it's just an amazing package.
My mother passed away a couple of years ago and I was going through some old drawings and childhood things of mine that had been stored in her attic. I found these drawings and home-made comics I had done when I was 4 or 5 years old with Batman in them. It really hit home that I have the job I've been training for all of my life.
JETT: "DC Guy" or "Marvel Guy?"
CJ: As I grew up I think I read both equally. I think during the '90s I wasn't following the regular monthly titles put out by either company very closely, but DC was coming out with more stand-alone mini-series that interested me. And now that I'm working for DC I just see a lot more of their stuff. Nothing against Marvel, though. I'd love to play with those characters someday.
JETT: Since this is officially “BATMAN ON FILM,“ I got to ask -- what did you think about BATMAN BEGINS?
CJ: I loved it, loved it, loved it. I thought the movie showed a remarkable understanding of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character, and the writing, directing, and casting were fantastic. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Liam Neeson were all phenomenal. And I loved the grounded-in-reality approach to the story. I've always preferred that take on Batman, and they did it beautifully.
If I was going to pick any nits at all, I'd have to say I would have liked a costume that was a bit further removed from the black rubber armor established by the previous films. While I thought the BEGINS version was the best executed to date, I'd still have liked to see a different approach. It wouldn't have had to be as literal as the costume seen in the Batman: Dead End fan film, but I'd have enjoyed a happy medium. I also thought The Scarecrow was rather effortlessly dispatched at the end of the film when he seemed due for a grand finale. But maybe he'll return in the sequel as he was still at large at the end of the film. We'll see.
CJ: This is gonna be long.
I thought they followed a similar pattern to the Superman films, with each getting a little worse than the one before. The difference being that I think Superman: The Movie is a great film with a handful of minor flaws, whereas the first 1989 Batman film is a pretty good movie that I think has some major flaws.
There are great things about the film. First and foremost is that someone got a major Batman film made in Hollywood (OK in England) that took the character seriously. Secondly, the production design is amazing. If you're approaching Batman as a larger-than-life dark fantasy, they nailed it. And that Danny Elfman score is phenomenal.
I think Burton's take on the character - a more neurotic Bruce Wayne who really needs the armored Bat-suit and gadgets to be effective - is a great character and has an internal logic to it, but to me it's further a field of who *I* feel Batman is than the Adam West version. I had read the third draft of the Sam Hamm script before the movie came out, which I think was the last draft done before Tim Burton came onto the project and... well... Tim “Burton-ized it.” I thought that script was fantastic, and I think every place where the story is altered from that version to the screen version is to the story's detriment. Mind you, I love many of Tim Burton's movies, but I prefer it when he sticks to quirky character studies and fantasies. Linear stories and sci-fi plots aren't his strength, and I'll take Edward Scissorhands over Planet of the Apes any day of the week.
The two things I like the least about the film are Burton's portrayal of Bruce's identification with bats (in particular the scene of him sleeping while hanging from a bar in a bat-like pose) and Nicholson's Joker. I know that the casting of Nicholson was the thing that got the whole film moving and seen as an A-list film, much like the casting of Brando for Superman, but he just never disappears into the character for me. It's always Nicholson with green hair. And that familiarity detracts from the overall effect, regardless of the performance he gives.
All that said, I like the movie overall, and it's easily my favorite of the original cycle. I like Batman Returns more than you do, Jett, but I think it's a mixed bag at best. I really liked their version of Catwoman, and I think their IDEA of the Penguin was an interesting one, but I think just about every plot element involving the Penguin was ridiculous and poorly executed. I LOVED the pre-credit sequence, but I hated the effortless sabotage of the Batmobile and remote controlling it from a cutsey toy car version. I hated the kidnapping of unattended children from a vacant Gotham City (ALL the adults in Gotham City were out at parties and left their kids home alone? Are there NO POLICE in Gotham?), and hated the army of penguins with rockets on their back (they waddled from the Penguin's lair into downtown Gotham and back in HOW much time? Without encountering ANY resistance?). And Christopher Walken was just lost in a movie with too much going on, which is a criminal waste.
But then it got worse. I am not a fan of Batman Forever. I thought it was bad cheese from scene one. I refrain from calling it camp, because camp should be funny. I thought the Riddler's origin was silly and unnecessary, and for a character that was supposed to be made smarter by this silly helmet, he never really ACTED smarter. "Harvey Two-Face" (ugh) was a sorry Joker redux rather than his dichotomy-obsessed self from the comics. And his origin and relationship with Bruce, which should have been the heart of the movie, was a tacked-on afterthought.
And let me make this perfectly clear: I'm fine with Bruce Wayne being a fully rounded human being who is attracted to women and has relationships that he struggles to reconcile with his mission, but THE BATMAN DOES NOT MAKE BOOTY-CALLS!
And as for Batman and Robin, I think it's one of the most comically awful big-budget films I've ever seen. Can someone tell me why we are supposed to like and root for the lying, untrusting, thief that is Barbara Pennyworth? Can someone explain to me why Alfred specifically asks her to respect his wishes for privacy, and when she doesn't and hacks that fabulous Bat-security and finds herself in the Batcave, Alfred Headroom appears to tell her he EXPECTED this to happen and that he had designed a spike-heeled rubber fetish Bat-costume for her? And I can't think of anything positive to say about the portrayal of any of the villains in the film. How could they borrow so much from the animated version of Mr. Freeze and so completely misunderstand what made that version of the character work? I actually have a copy of the film on VHS that I taped off of cable so I had a copy I could loan to friends who had a morbid curiosity to see the film so they could do so without Warner Brother's seeing another dime of revenue from the film. I do think George Clooney could have made a great Bruce Wayne/Batman based on his performance in Three Kings, From Dusk Till Dawn and other films, but not in Batman and Robin with that script and that director.
Whew. Now if you were to ask me about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, I really LIKE those!
JETT: I agree -- those animated films are very well done. Tell us about working on THE BATMAN STRIKES.
CJ: I'm having a great time. How can you not love getting to draw Batman every month? I've been asked a lot about the challenge of drawing in Jeff Matsuda's style, and I finally realized that I really don't. If Jeff Matsuda was drawing this book it would look completely different. My drawing really looks nothing like his. It's just a matter of incorporating his character designs into what I do.
Someday I'll enjoy being on another book and having the freedom to show more of my own interpretation of these characters, but for now it's fun working with the designs of Jeff Matsuda and his team. When I first saw Jeff's Batman design I thought it was interesting and strange, especially the domed helmet quality to the mask. Now I love it and think it gives this Batman a really striking and dramatic profile.
CJ: I enjoy it. I think the biggest issues a lot of people have had with it, especially when it was first coming on, stem from the fact that it has completely different intentions than the previous Batman series that was so popular with fans. The network wanted a show that was targeted more at kids, and that emphasized action over character study. Unfortunately, it was the exploration of the character of Batman and his friends and foes that was my favorite part of the previous series, and I think that was a lot of it's appeal to other people as well.
I think the new show does what it sets out to do pretty well. The design and animation are gorgeous. When they occasionally do a story with a little more meat on the bones, like the first season two-parter that introduced Clayface, it's great stuff.
JETT: I know working on the comic book you have to draw The Batman pretty much as he is in the television show. What's your own take on the character -- how would you draw him per se?
CJ: Batman is a man in a costume, trying to create the illusion of a larger-than-life creature of the night. I think you need to find the balance between the two and create an image that is primal and striking, and that you can still believe is a human being employing a theatrical costume. I tend to like a Batman that is graceful and sleek, rather than muscle-bound and bulky. Obviously he should be powerful, but he needs to be fast and acrobatic as well.
My favorite Batman artists include David Mazzuchelli, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, Matt Wagner, Steve Rude, and Darwyn Cooke.
So hopefully that gives you some idea.
JETT: Huge fan debate perhaps you can shed some light on. In the comics, does The Batman wear tights, or some sort of armor as in the films? (*Laughs* They, er, we really do argue over this!)
CJ: I think it makes all the sense in the world that Batman has protection built into the suit that protects him from being killed by a stray bullet. But I don't think he'd be wearing stiff body armor that weighed him down and made it difficult to move. I think it's a little dangerous implying that he's got too much stuff build into the suit (strength enhancement, etc.) or he starts to become Iron Man.
I like the idea that the Bat-suit is a costume made of a next-generation kevlar kind of material, with additional armor on his head and chest.
JETT: Tell us about any upcoming projects you will be or are currently working on.
CJ: I'm continuing to chug along on The Batman Strikes, currently working on my nineteenth issue. I'm also continuing to work on Dr. Blink, which I mentioned earlier. We have new issues of that coming out and the first trade paperback should be out this summer.
I've got some other projects in development, but they aren't set in stone yet, so I probably should say too much about them quite yet. You'll have to check back with me later!
JETT SAYS: OK, now that you asked, I'm going to ask you -- Tell me your thoughts about PHANTASM and RETURN OF THE JOKER.
CJ: I saw Mask of Phantasm in the theater and thought it was brilliant. The animation is a little uneven, but the story is everything you want in Batman movie. Great characters. Great action. Genuinely surprising plot twists. We've seen Bruce at his parent's graves before, but when he goes there during the thunderstorm... the moment when Andrea appears and the line she delivers... it's one of the most emotionally powerful scenes I've ever seen in a Batman story. Great stuff.
In a lot of ways ROTJ is even better. The story is at least as good, and the animation is of a consistently higher quality. Batman Beyond never quite pushed my buttons to the same extent as "classic Batman," so it's no surprise that my favorite part of the film is the extended flashback that tells of the tragic final days of that earlier era. It's shocking, heartbreaking, amazing work.
JETT: My man, you are SPOT ON! Dude, how fired up are you for the next Bat-film? And I gotta ask you -- Who YOU want to play The Joker?
CJ: Oh, heck yeah! It's a good thing that Christopher Nolan's next film, The Prestige, sounds as cool as it does. That makes it a *little* easier to wait for his next Batman film.
Who would I like to see play The Joker? There are a lot of great names floating around -- Lachy Hulme. Tim Roth. Paul Bettany. It's hard to say without know what kind of approach they're taking to the character. What kind of Joker is this going to be?
Whoever we get, I really want someone that's going to disappear into the character and just BE the Joker. I love the idea that they're looking at relative unknowns. I think that's a tremendous sign that they're looking for someone who's going to give a great performance and not just someone who's name is going to look good on a marquee. I think the big trap that the previous series of films fell into wasn't just making the villains the stars, but it was STUNT CASTING. After all the buzz of Jack Nicholson as The Joker it all became about who was the biggest star they could bring in to play a villain, whether or not they fit the role. Arnold as Freeze? Did anyone really think that made sense based on who the character was?
I hope we get a scary, psychotic Joker who the audiences will love to hate, and that will put Batman's determination not to kill to the test. Batman Begins II, Batman Continues On, Batman: Still Going, or whatever it ends up being called can't get here soon enough!
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