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Emerald City Comicon 2012: Interview with Greg Capullo

Artist Greg Capullo may be most well-known for his work on the horror title Spawn, where he took over art duties for Todd McFarlane, a task not many artists would be willing to do, let alone capable of accomplishing. There, the title became a showcase for Capullo's recognizable, frenetic style. He's been  involved with big titles before, including the 1990s juggernaut X-Force, but his career reached a new level last year when DC named him as the artist for their flagship re-launch title: Batman with writer Scott Snyder. At Emerald City Comicon 2012, the animated and candid Capullo sat down to discuss the spotlight with refreshing honesty.

Omnivoracious.com: The first arc of the Batman re-launch, The Court of Owls, releases next month, and it's such a high-profile project for you. When did you get the call that you’d be moving to Gotham City?

Greg Capullo: At the time I was still over at Image, working with Robert Kirkman of Walking Dead fame. We were doing a title called Haunt, and I was going, “Maybe this isn’t the best place for my career at the moment.” I felt like it needed a shot in the arm, so I started talking with Marvel and DC Comics about what kinds of projects I might attach myself to. I was talking with Marvel about some sort of Avengers, X-Men-type thing [while] at the same time I was talking to DC about Batman. So, for two months I spent many sleepless nights going, “Which way do I go?” I’ve always been a Marvel-guy, but [DC] is going, “Batman!” And just like a mom who is carrying a baby in her belly, there was this small kid in me going, “Batman! Batman! Do Batman!” You know, with all those pangs I just wanted him to stop, so I went with Batman and it’s been awesome.

Omni: [Laughs.] When you move from company to company like that, does it affect your approach to the characters?

Greg Capullo: Every single book is different, right? I like to give the most diverse comparison: so, yeah, I came from Spawn, but if somebody put me on a title like Barbie, I can’t illustrate that in the same fashion. Part of that is changing your approach based on the title itself. There are certain similarities between Batman and Spawn, so you might see similar nuances. When you take over a book—at least for me—it takes you a while to get into the environment, and I always say that the characters will tell you how to draw them. So as I’m progressing on Batman, he’s saying, “Draw me this way,” you know? The only thing I had in mind was that I’m going to draw a scary Batman—one that would scare the crap out of me.

[He’s] a big slab of a man, and if he bumped into me he’d fracture my shoulder. He’d cut me to ribbons with his gauntlets and cape. I’m doing something that feels natural. The only thing that I didn’t give him is a 40-foot cape; not like the Spawn cape that has a life of its own.

Omni: When you re-launch a character like Batman, was there any particular nuance you wanted to add or remove from previous iterations to make him your own?

Greg Capullo: I think one of the advantages I have is that I haven’t been looking at Batman for many years, so I haven’t seen what other guys have been doing—like Jock and [Francisco] Francavilla and many others guys who came before. Where I left it was with Frank Miller when he did The Dark Knight Returns.

The only thing I can say I did intentionally was: there’s this great fight scene in Dark Knight Returns, where Batman suits up in some armor and plugs himself into a street lamp to do battle with Superman. And that mask! It’s like a flat mask with no nose, and that was such a bad-ass look that I go, “If I do Batman, I want to smooth it out as much as I can.” I can’t do away with the nose and all the expressions, but I can make [his mask] be more helmet-like. I got to get him in that bullet-head! That’s the only intentional thing; everything else is happening organically.

Omni: Scott Snyder said that your collaboration has been great but that your working relationship had an interesting start. Can you elaborate?

Greg Capullo: Yeah, yeah [laughs]. It certainly didn’t start out in the best possible way. It’s all great now, but I came from an old-school, Marvel-style where the story came to [the artist] in plot form, and the artist had to shape the story to be scripted afterward. When I worked for Todd McFarlane at Image, it was even looser than that. It was a phone call where he’d say, “Give me two pages of Terry talking to Wanda about this. And give me four to five pages of Sam and Twitch over here talking about this.” He didn’t care about the setting so long as you gave him the tone. So Scott comes at me with, like, 30 pages, you know? [Laughs.] And I’m like, “I’ll get narcolepsy if I have to wade through all this!”

[Scott] had been getting a lot of press, so, you know, his chest has been puffing up and he’s feeling like he’s quite the man—he’s got the Popeye guns. I’m an old war veteran, right? I’m like, “I call the shots in the field. A young dog can’t tell me what to do!” [Laughs.] So we kind of butted heads like that, but once he saw that I’m not out to hurt his story--I’m not here to drown your baby. I’m here to raise him right: wipe his bottom, put the powder on, put the oil on, you know—make him a happy baby. Once he saw that I’m going to make his baby a happy baby, now it’s all cool. He gives me all kinds of freedom.

In all his scripts, which are still pretty lengthy, there are always notes: “But do whatever you want!” with an exclamation point. Always with the exclamation points and sometimes even with a smiley face. It’s all good now.

Omni: There’s a great chapter in The Court of Owls where Batman stumbles through a maze, hallucinating via exhaustion and torture. The point of view distorts and the reader is soon in the same predicament, unsure of where to go next. Can you talk about your approach to this unique chapter?

Greg Capullo: Chapter Five, where the book rotates? Whenever I get any story, I try to think of flourishes that I can add to elevate it. As I’m drawing this crazy tale of Batman lost in a labyrinth, it just popped into my head: start rotating the book. I mentioned it to Scott and he thought it was an exciting idea. The way I pitched it to DC was, “You guys launched 52 new titles, which was a pretty brave thing to do. I don’t think anyone has ever [flipped the page] all the way around before, so we can be the first guys to do that.” It complements the story; it wasn’t about a gimmick. You can’t do it with just any book. This story—with the labyrinth, it will really help the reader to experience the same madness that Batman’s going through.

The funny thing was that they approved it, and then they saw the printed version and they got scared: “We’re worried that people will think it’s a printing error.” And I got mad, you know. “No, no! You can’t stop now [makes growling noises]!” Anyway, I talked them into it. Then I got a printed copy. I’m flipping through and I get to the page where it’s flipped all the way around, and the pages appear on the wrong side to me, the guy who planned this. “There’s a printing error!” [Laughs.] And I shoot an email to my editor and I go, “How could this happen? I was so careful!” Then I stop, and I look at the page and see that it has to turn the opposite way. I hadn’t counted on that little bit, but I go, “That’s even better!” It even confused the guy who invented it. Now it works on all levels, and almost every single person who comes up [to the booth table] loves that issue. The way you turn the book, it’s fantastic.

I've got to credit Steve Jobs, too, because when I ended that first big email to DC, I said, “Like Steve Jobs said, ‘Stay foolish!’” That remark worked. So thank you, Steve Jobs, wherever you may be.

--Alex

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