David Finch is at it again! Drawing Batman that is. Back in 2011, Finch was amongst the new creators to join in the re-shuffling of the DC Comics Universe and take the Dark Knight in bold new directions, and now, as DC undergoes Rebirth, Finch returns to Gotham with a new partner and a new mandate. Finch’s credits include Justice League of America, Wonder Woman, and Forever Evil, as well as Marvel books like Ultimate X-Men and New Avengers, but right now his work life’s about Batman, and that’s kind of the way Finch likes it. On the eve of his appearance at Fan Expo Canada this Labour Day weekend, we talked to Finch about Batman’s appeal, how he leaves his mark on the character, and his thoughts on how comic book movies are affecting the way he makes comic book art.
Nerd Bastards: How does it feel to get back into working on Batman again?
David Finch: Well, I had some time away from Batman. I did Batman a few years ago and I had some great experiences. I got to work with Geoff Johns, which was phenomenal, he’s a genius and I wouldn’t have traded it. But I missed Batman pretty badly so I was really anxious to get back in. I thought that since I had done it before it would be a nice and smooth transition, even though you start out a little cold, but yeah, it’s been great. Having had some time away really made it that much more special to be doing it again.
NB: Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it a bit unusual that they would have someone come back to do a character like Batman? I imagine there’s probably a lot of demand for artists and writers to get in on a Batman book, even though there’s maybe 10 or 12 of them at any given time. Did you expect that you’d be able to get back on Batman so soon?
Finch: Well, we’ve been talking about it for a while so it wasn’t really a surprise I’ll say that. But it’s the first time for me that I’ve ever gone back and done something, and part of that for me is I when I do something, I do everything I can with it because going back it might be a mistake sometimes. But this Batman first of all has Tom King, who is phenomenal and such great writer, so it was an opportunity to work with him, and second, it’s Batman and all bets are off! He’s the best character in the business, my favourite, and I had a lot more that I wanted to do.
NB: And you are not writing this time. You were writer for The Dark Knight, so is that a tough transition for you to be taking Tom’s words instead of your own?
Finch: I’ve done a lot more work in my career with writers as opposed to writing myself. Writing is a tough, tough job, and like a lot of comic artists, when we get a script it just seems like it’s so much easier than drawing all those pictures, but you don’t realize all the work that goes on behind the scenes with multiple rewrites, and also the stress of telling an original story, keeping it interesting, keeping people guessing, and keeping them from wanting to kill you. Not literally, of course, but comic fans take their characters – especially a character like Batman, who’s so special – very, very seriously. So it’s a challenge I don’t envy any writer writing comics nowadays. I’m very happy drawing.
NB: Having said that, would you take an opportunity to write again, even if it’s not Batman?
Finch: No, I don’t have any plans to do that. Never say never, but I can’t imagine that right now.
NB: It’s interesting that you should bring up fan disgruntlement because a lot of us have noted, or at least those of us that watch the industry, that there seems to be a lot of it, particularly this summer. With Suicide Squad there was the guy that wanted to repeal Rotten Tomatoes, there’s the guy that’s bringing the lawsuit in England because there wasn’t enough Joker, has that kind of visceral response trickled down to you guys working on the comics?
Finch: You know, I would say yes and no, but this has been going on for me, and most people that I know, since 2000/2001 when forums got much more popular, and online commentary became more of a reality, and there have been times where creators and editorial take that very seriously, and it’s almost always a mistake to do that. Fans know what they want, but you can’t give them that because then there’s no story. I think you really have to respect fans wishes, but you also have challenge them, and that’s kind of the tight rope. I think that they can have an effect, but the most successful creators kind of keep it at bay.
NB: I do wonder how you guys balance it, and maybe this is more on the writers side, but you’re talking about characters, at least in the case of Batman and Superman, who have been around going on 80 years. These characters are so well known that even non-comic book readers know all their intricacies, so how do you keep it fresh, and interesting finding new angles to those characters, and how do you keep them the characters that everybody knows and loves at the same time?
Finch: Well, that’s why the best writers out there are so valuable because they do it for a living all day long and are phenomenal. I think one of the things for me, in that I don’t really have any plans to write, is because I come from such an artist’s perspective; I have loved Batman for so long that when I think of a great Batman story, I think I want to do that awesome story that Jim Lee drew. (Laughs) That’s probably counter-intuitive, but it’s great to work with a writer that’s so inventive. For the first [Batman] arc, I think that Tom King had such an opposite take, the whole premise of the story is whether Batman is even relevant and what if somebody better comes along, does he even have a place, and I’ve never seen someone do that before, and it really, really works. It reinforces why Batman is so important. To directly challenge it like that took a lot of guts, and I think he did it reasonably well.
NB: And what’s interesting too is that I’ve read a review saying that Tom’s take on Batman, in terms of the way he’s typically portrayed as a loner jerk, has kind of eased off that a bit and the reviewer was pleasantly surprised that it still works. This is not a more light-hearted Batman, but rather it’s a Batman that’s not as dark.
Finch: Yeah, I think he balances it, because this is a really serious Batman, but the book is kind of in on the joke a little bit. You have Alfred lightly poking him constantly, and Batman never really responds to it. You know he’s aware of it, he’s not stupid, he knows that he’s being poked at, but I think that lightens it a lot and keeps it very readable.
NB: You’re not only drawing Batman in the book now, but there are new characters Gotham and Gotham Girl, what’s more exciting to you as an artist, getting to draw an iconic character like Batman and giving him your particular flourish, or designing all new characters for him to interact with in that same world?
Finch: Well the truth for me is that it’s all about Batman. When you get the chance to be able to create a character, and you always cross your fingers and it’s very unlikely, it’ll leave a permanent mark. Harley Quinn is actually not that old a character, and she’ll never fade, but that’s so rare. And while I would love to be able to create a character, and it’s a huge blast when they’re so well written, I try not to get too excited about because I don’t know what’s going to become of them.
NB: And you never know when you’re designing these characters because Harley Quinn was a kind of one-off character for the animated series, but the person who designed her costume, I’m not sure if it was Bruce Timm or not, but that costume prevails, that is the Harley Quinn image, and I’m sure that kind of puts pressure on you as an artist if Gotham the hero takes off and then that’s what he’s going to look like for 10, 20, or 30 years as dozens of other artists take him over.
Finch: I think as a creator that would be the ultimate really, but I have to say that I would like that even better than doing something creator-owned, which is completely my own, and my own characters, even if it became something as big as a movie. But to contribute to something even more massive like Batman is even more special. Fingers crossed. I won’t hold my breath, but you never know.
NB: I was going to ask you about how you leave your mark on a character like Batman. You have your turn, but others will come in, and over the years there are artists whose interpretations of certain characters do leave their mark. So in terms of how you draw Batman, what do you people will take away from your interpretation of the character?
Finch: I think so much of that is really up to the fans, and I think it’s maybe a mistake to intellectualize that too much. I certainly have my style that I’ve been drawing in for years and years, I like a darker style, a lot of shadows, so my art’s probably more appropriate to Batman than other types of heroes. (Laughs) It’s funny because I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about that kind of thing, and I didn’t think about it all the time because I do, but I don’t know that it’s actually positive. If I had some magical way of injecting a thing in there that would be remembered forever, I would be doing it. So I do my best.
NB: When you get a script for a comic, whether it’s Batman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League or whatever, what is it that you look for when you’re going over the script? How do you translate what’s written in the script to how you draw it?
Finch: I read it first just to read it. I read scripts really slowly, but I just read it though to get a sense of the story and to honestly just to enjoy it. And once I’ve done that, I read it through again to see how I can break it down and what to accentuate, so it’s really a two step process. Then once I get to the page layouts I find my perspective can actually change again. It’s a little bit organic.
NB: In your current run of Batman, it starts out with a big action sequence involving missiles shooting down planes. I imagine the idea of getting to draw that is very exciting, but the actual commitment to drawing it must seem rather daunting because it’s the “money shot”…
Finch: It was a real stretch for me. I know that I can draw a big, huge double-page spread of Batman standing there with the cape flowing, I can make that work, but to draw Batman fighting an airliner, (Laughs) I’ve never drawn anything like that before. When I read the script I thought that was incredible, and I though “Wow, I don’t know how I’m going to do this” because they didn’t really give me any of the traditional stuff that I’m used to in terms of big shots. The gave me something much more technical, and with difficult angles. It was a real challenge.
NB: Obviously, a lot about comic books now is about how they relate to the movies. I read an interesting comment you made in an interview about your run on Wonder Woman, and you talked about how the comics end up being “R&D” for the movies. I wonder if you could expand on that a bit, and how all these stories through all these decades are a kind of proving ground for what works versus what doesn’t work in telling a heroes story.
Finch: Yeah, well I was really afraid. When comic book movies started getting big, I was thrilled of course, but at the same time I was worried that comics would become merchandise to go along with the movies, and that the movies would drive the stories and we would follow their designs and it really didn’t go that way at all. I think a comic is just so cheap to produce [versus a movie], it’s done quickly, and so they can put stories out and be inventive, and creative, and just take risks that you can’t really take with a movie. They’ve left us alone a lot, and the most successful stories [in the comics] might one day become a movie, and that prospect is always pretty exciting.
NB: It is interesting that the increase in comic book movies, hasn’t affected sales. I’ve talked to comic book store owners and it hasn’t caused a bump in the number of people coming into the comic book store; maybe you’ll get one or two people after seeing Suicide Squad come in looking for a Suicide Squad comic, but it seems for the most part the two forms have been kept separate. It seems like you guys get to do your thing in the comics world.
Finch: We’ve been so lucky to have had the autonomy we’ve had, and I’m so grateful for that, but obviously the movies have a much bigger cultural impact. I really wish that more people that watch the movies would come in and buy comics and get into it as a hobby, but, you know, comics have always been relatively niche. As long as enough people keep buying them so that we can keep making them, that’s all I ask for.
NB: Even though you didn’t create Batman or any of those characters, do you still go to their movies and have a sense of ownership over them because you’ve worked on them in the original medium for which they were designed to be enjoyed?
Finch: I kind of don’t. I think the movies are so huge, and spectacular. I remember I was working on X-Men a long time ago, and I think it was when the second X-Men movie came out and they had Nightcrawler in the Oval Office, and some of things he was doing I had never thought of any of that kind of stuff. You know, it’s a little bit humbling actually. I think for the most part I fell pretty humbled when I see the movies. (Laughs)
NB: You’ve been in the business for a while now and there have been so many changes thanks to digital and the explosion of comic book movies, from an artists perspective, how has the business changed for the better, and maybe how has it changed for the worse?
Finch: Well, writers have become much more prominent than they once were. When I got in, artists were the entire focus of marketing, and artists were almost the entire reason that most fans bought a book, so we had a lot more power. That really changed around the time the movies started coming around, and the focus became much more about the writing and that really saved the business. Comics were bleeding sales every year, and it looked like it might come to an end, and ultimately, while nice comic art can be appealing, you really need to have great stories. So it’s become much more of a writer driven business, and as an artist, I would love to a huge star, but I think we’re much better off for now. To my mind we still have the best stories out there.
David Finch will be one of numerous comic book artists to appear this weekend at Fan Expo in Toronto. FAN EXPO CANADA™ boasts the largest comics, sci-fi, horror, anime, and gaming event in Canada, the third largest in North America. It is packed with exciting family-friendly activities and celebrity guests including the legendary comic creator Stan Lee who is making his last Canadian convention appearance, the iconic Mark Hamill (Star Wars franchise), William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek 50th anniversary), Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob), Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) and more! The all-ages pop culture convention expects to host over 140,000 fans at 750,000 sq ft of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the four-day event September 1-4, 2016.