Recently, Jett had the great honor of interviewing the excellent BATMAN and comic book artist Lee Bermejo! (This interview took place in 2005 - Jett)
BOF: Lee, how did you become a fan of The Batman?
I think my mother bought me a Batman comic book when I was very, very young... maybe two or three years old. I couldn't read it. What really hooked me back then, though, was the TV show. My parents didn't own a VCR so every once and a while they would rent one as a treat and I would also rent the Batman movie from the 60's and some He-Man cartoons. The funny thing is, I was so into that early Batman movie that I took it completely seriously. I was always wondering why my parents were cracking up and it wasn't until they started re-airing the TV show in '89 for the original Burton Batman that I really picked up on the fact that it was so ridiculous.
BOF: Growing up, what comic books did you read? Were you a “Marvel guy,” a “DC guy,” or did you dig a little of both?
I was definitely a DC guy growing up. I mean, I was into Spider-Man for a while but it was really the stuff DC was doing in the late eighties that got me back into comics. The BLACKHAWK mini-series by Howard Chaykin and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS were the first comics that really made me want to become a comic artist. At the time I was also really into THE SHADOW by Andy Helfer and Kyle Baker. There was also a horror book DC was publishing at the time called WASTELANDS that I really liked.
BOF: Who are your influences as an artist?
My influences are constantly changing but I would say the mainstays as far as comics go are Jorge Zaffino, Phil Hale, Kevin Nowlan, Mike Mignola, Tim Bradstreet, and Sergio Toppi. I'm aslo pretty influenced by some painters and photographers. Jenny Saville, Daido Moriyama, Bruce Dickenson, Odd Nerdrum, Chris Cunningham...the list just goes on and on. Film is also a huge influence on me. I think one of the things I always try and achieve with my comics is a certain cinematic style. In the recent years I have become why more obsessed with creating certain filmic effects in my work than trying to filter any real illustration techniques. I would just love to be able to draw books that look like film that's been bleach bypassed.
BOF: When doing Batman, what is it you like to bring to the character? Something specific that you want to try to bring across when working on The Bat.
The beautiful thing about Batman is that you can interpret the character in different ways. Since Batman is my favorite comic book character, I have a very specific approach to the character based on what I really think the character is about. Of course I always approach him with a firm sense of reality and atmosphere, but it's important to me that the character really looks like he can really function. I don't simply want him to look like a guy dressed up in a suit . I try to use different textures on his cape, a cracked-leather type of effect, that I hope matches the skin-like quality of bat wings. I also try to make the rest of the uniform seem a little functional as well, although I have run into a little bit of resistance from DC editorial there. To me, it has to look like he's wearing some kind of armor, even if it is sculpted to look more like the musculature of his body. I also try to give the mask a certain personality but at the same time look like something that could be made. I've read comments from various people who mention that my Batman costume resembles the movie versions but my overall design was much more influenced by the animated series. I loved the way the shoulders were more square and cape seemed heavier. Gotham City is also important to me and I always spend a lot of time trying to give it a look that no other city has. I don't want my Gotham to look like New York or Chicago, but I don't want it to look too stylized either. I went to Prague last year and it really has influenced the way I think about Gotham now. It has a great gothic feeling to it but at the same time is modern enough that the strange mixture of architectural styles is what makes it so extraordinary. While Jim(Lee) was working on Batman, we would always get into discussions in the studio about how Gotham should look as opposed to say, Metropolis. People don't realize how ridiculously into those discussions we got!! Imagine hearing two grown men arguing about one putting too much art deco into Gotham than the other. I guess that's a good way to describe how passionate a subject it can be.
BOF: So, with everything you have read, heard, or seen about , what’s your take on the film?
I think that the beautiful thing about it is that it will finally set up a world for hard-core Batman fans that will be extremely close to the source material. I mean, they really nailed the character of Batman in this. He is interesting and multi-layered for the first time, and we will get to see more than just brooding Bruce. It's a wonderful start to the new franchise and, while I'm definitely not saying this one will be bad by any stretch of the rope(quite the opposite), I think the real treat will be the sequels. They've set this thing up perfectly!!!! Nolan and Goyer are approaching this sucker just as I like and it's got my favorite Batman villain to boot.
BOF: Casting. What did you think about the actors that Christopher Nolan brought on board? (Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, etc.)
Casting couldn't be more perfect. I had actually been wanting Christian Bale for the role since I saw AMERICAN PSYCHO. When I heard that he got the part, I really couldn't believe it! It was too smart of a decision for Warner Bros. But then the other casting news started rolling in and I was astounded again. I mean, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon is just brilliant! He will give such a subtle style to that role that finally the character will be more than just a cookie cutter. The guy is one of the most important characters in the mythos for God's sake! Cilian Murphy was also quite visionary for Crane, and I remember a lot of people grumbling because he wasn't skinny and lanky enough. It's all in those eyes, man. He's got those killer eyes...
BOF: The Bat-costume. I’m sure you’ve seen it. What’s your take on this version (without being overly spoilerish)?
This is definitely the best movie costume we've seen yet. It's got a very sleek, functional look to it. I absolutely love the colors of this one. The different color cape and gauntlets is fantastic. My only gripe is that I would have loved to have seen the emblem on the chest be a matte black like the cape. It's such a minor thing and means absolutely nothing to the story but I think purely from a visual standpoint it would have made quite a startling difference. It's funny because I've noticed this being done on some of the marketing artwork we've seen and I think it gives the suit a very elegant, striking look. Still, I really think we'll see some amazing stuff when we see the suit properly lit. After all, most of what has been seen now is unofficial shots that will later look much different when we see them in magazines and on posters.
BOF: There has been a lot of debate among the Bat-fans about the “realism” aspect that Nolan and David Goyer went with. What’s your opinion on that?
Personally, that is the main reason I think this film will succeed where the others have failed. Ultimately, the intriguing thing about Batman in the first place is that he is a man with no superpowers. He exists in a world very similar to our own. In turn, this is what really makes him fantastic. I've always been a believer that the more real you make fantastic things, the more interesting they become because you can relate in a larger way. I love seeing things that don't exist in the real world but looking at a drawing and being able to say, "That really looks believable". However, I don't want to se something that is so regular that it looks mundane. I personally think Nolan will stretch thing if just ever so slightly. It will at least be enough to create a unique world for the film. I think the perfect example of how this will work is the Scarecrow. He's a villain who could be very lame if directly interpreted from the comics. The way in which he's being pulled off in the film gives you a villain that is larger than life but not in such an extreme way.
BOF: Do you have any thoughts about the Burton/Schumacher films?
At the time the first one came out, I was in fifth grade and absolutely loved it. It was so completely new and fresh at the time and obviously made a huge impact on how superhero movies would be done for the next ten years. Visually, they were impressive. Honestly, I can't watch it now because all I concentrate on is how loose the story is, and how little they made you care about the character the movie is named after. In my opinion, all the previous movies failed to be true Batman films because most of the important elements of the Batman mythos where missing. There was no relationship with Gordon, Alfred was never a real presence, and Batman never really did those cool Batman things. The guy could barely move in that suit and he always seemed a little weak to me. It seemed like the attitude was, 'Let's just get to Batman doing his thing so we can spend more time introducing the Joker". The second one was barely a Batman movie at all. It just featured Batman characters. That was clearly a case of Tim Burton doing his own thing with no real care about a story or what these characters represented. The last two were just unbearable and I couldn't get through more than 20 minutes of the fourth. I walked out of the theater it was so bad.
BOF: What projects do you have coming up that you would like everyone to know about?
I'm doing a Superman mini-series called Lex Luthor: Man of Steel which features Luthor as the main character. It's kind of a story told from the point of view of Lex, so we see Superman as more of a bad guy. Batman shows up in the third issue and there is some cool interaction between the characters. I've always wanted to do a World's Finest story so this is the closest I've come so far. It should be released in March of 2005 to coincide with the last issue of Jim Lee's Superman run. The two stories tie together loosely.
BOF: What would be your ultimate comic book-themed project? (write a particular comic book; draw a particular character; write a screenplay, etc.)
As far as ultimate comic books go, I would love to do this Batman graphic novel I've plotted. The only way I would want to do it, though, is to write and fully illustrate the whole thing. It's kind of my dream, be all end all Batman book. Maybe in the future it could be possible.... The one thing outside of comics that has always been a dream of mine has been to work on a Batman film in some capacity. I would love to do character design or storyboards, anything involved with the production really. What can I say, I'm a Batman-on-film fanatic...
(UPDATED 1/21/06) BOF: So, in the upcoming sequel to BATMAN BEGINS, should we hate The Joker?
You should LOVE to hate him. The more evil, the better. He should be the best villain ever committed to film!
Thanks a million Lee! Great stuff and good luck with your excellent work!
Lee did a couple of exclusive "concept art" drawings just for BATMAN ON FILM of villians that may be in the BATMAN BEGINS sequels. Click on the links below to check them out!
BERMEJO BAT-VILLAIN IMAGE 2
(© DC COMICS)
Lee on Harvey Dent/Two Face--
"I like the idea of Harvey Dent being more like a typical multiple personality case (if there is such a thing as typical) in that when one personality is in control, the other no longer exists on the surface. When his personality shifts into Two-Face, his entire manner of speaking and dress would change. I definitely wanted to ditch the whole "split" costume thing as I thought it looked ridiculous in BATMAN FOREVER. To me it's much more effective and sinister to have him wear clothing that reflects his scarred side while still staying fairly realistic. A ratty, stained, crumpled coat..a torn shirt...basically stuff that he could have stolen from some homeless man. As Two Face, he is completely a reflection of the depravity and animalistic side of man. When he shifts back to Harvey he is still partly the man he once was, but completely dependent on his coin to make decisions in his life. In essence, his coin is like the full moon to a werewolf...although I imagine Harvey would live in complete denial of his alter ego's existence.
This drawing is based on Denzel Washington, although it may be hard to tell due to the angle with which I have chosen to portray him. I know that the popular choices for Two-Face are Guy Pierce and Jude Law but I personally felt that Denzel would give a little something different and exciting to the role. He is by far one of my favorite actors working today and anyone who wants to see an interesting "split-personality" role should check out TRAINING DAY.
On a personal note, I looked at a lot of scar tissue and burn victim reference for this image - not something I would recommend as a fun activity to pass your time. I tried to make the scarring on Two-Face as real looking as possible while still trying to infuse some of the comic book sensibilities. In reality, his left eye would be completely gone, but I think you have to take a bit of creative license with these characters. After all, there is a reason these comic characters were interesting enough to be turned into movies."
Lee on The Joker--
"The most interesting thing about the Joker for me was always the mystery that surrounded the character. He is a bit like Hannibal Lector in the sense that it isn't so important in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to know where he came from. It's what he IS that makes the character amazing. In many respects, The Joker is a serial killer. His profile fits perfectly and I'm really hoping that Nolan and Goyer play him more as such instead of going for the over the top, comedic opportunities they approached the Joker with in the 1989 BATMAN.
Visually, I like the idea of the character being played a lot darker and more disturbing as well. It's difficult to realistically explain why the guy would have a huge grin on his face all the time. This is why I came up with the idea to actually scar his face to mirror the Joker smile. I remember seeing some police photos of the Black Dhalia and being genuinely disturbed by how her face was cut to look like a killer smile. After all, if this character was truly a crazy maniac why wouldn't he do this to himself? Add a little smeared lipstick, white face paint, and purple eye-shadow and you have yourself one demented looking dude. I also gave him some scarring around the eyes to mirror clown makeup a little more. I don't know about you, but clowns have always been a bit scary to me (the John Wayne Gacey angle doesn't help). As far as clothing, maybe push the character a little more in the Tyler Durden direction. Give him a wardrobe that could be a little over the top but not look completely fabricated and silly.
I based this drawing on Lachy Hulme, a front-runner for the Joker right now, but I think it eventually turned out looking a bit more like Vincent Gallo."