After Todd McFarlane, no one’s had a longer relationship with the Image Comics character Spawn than Greg Capullo. First drawing the character 1993, he kept up with the book and its numerous spin-offs until well into the 21st century. These days though, Capullo is more well-known for his run on Batman with writer Scott Snyder, a five-year collaboration that was critically and commercially successful and saw an expansion of the Batman mythos with some of the Dark Knight’s most popular modern story arcs. Capullo is now working with Mark Millar on his new creator-own book, Reborn, which will likely continue Millar’s winning streak next to books like Kick-Ass, The Secret Service and Wanted. This weekend though, it’s all about Capullo as he comes to Fan Expo Canada in Toronto to sign a few books and shake a few hands, but before that, Capullo took the time to answer a few questions from Nerd Bastards about his Batman legacy, his collaboration with Snyder, and what he’s looking to do in the future in terms of his comics career.
Nerd Bastards: I wanted to begin by talking about your run on Batman, because that was a long one, about five years, and in that time there were a lot of great stories: “Court of Owls”, “Death of the Family”, and it’s not often that a team working on a book that’s been around as long as Batman makes such a big mark on the mythos because now we have the Court of Owls going to be a part of Gotham the TV show…
Greg Capullo: Yeah, it’s crazy.
NB: In terms of your own expectations of an artist and leaving your mark on Batman, could you talk about how that feels?
Capullo: Well, obviously it feels amazing, right? It’s not something you can plan for ever, it just doesn’t work that way. You just try and come up with good ideas and good art and do the best you can. Where the chips fall is where they fall, and no one could predict what a fan is going to gravitate towards, so the only thing you can do is the best you can do. But it feels amazing that people love it so much, I’m very grateful.
NB: You worked very well with Scott Snyder, obviously. Again that was five years together, so how did that relationship develop in terms of how you recognized each others strengths and how did that back and forth work?
Capullo: Well, you’ve probably heard how badly it started out in the beginning, but my whole career began with being trained on how to be a storyteller. Back in the day on Marvel, you were given a story synopsis basically, it was evocative writing, but the whole story might have been six pages long, and there was no dialogue.
NB: The Marvel Method.
Capullo: Right, the Marvel Method. That’s how I was trained, and my whole career went like that, especially when I worked with Todd [McFarlane] on Spawn, he would phone me up and say “I need three pages of Sam and Twitch talking about this.” He didn’t care where I put them, it was the tone that he needed, and it would be scripted after I gave him the art. So I was used to all that, and Scott was used to him controlling the script. (Laughs) So that was oil meeting water. I’ve been around for a lot longer than him too, so I would say “Tell what dialogue is important,” and he would say, “All the dialogue is important!” He would provide so much instruction that the script for that first 22-page story was almost 40 pages long. He was very uptight, and protective, and controlling in the beginning, I didn’t think it was going to work out because I wanted him to get out of my way and let me do my thing. It just got to the point where the editors tried to intervene and actually told us to stay away from each other, but I knew that after he saw what I could do I would gain his trust, and that’s exactly what happened. So he culled back further and further and gave me more and more room. He still gives me all the dialogue, which is great, because Scott’s a wordy guy and I have to provide him a lot of space and that gets tricky sometimes. It helps me to push the actors in the right direction to have the full dialogue ahead of the curve. But now, Scott will describe a scene, and I’m free to break down the beats and add more if I see it playing differently. We made a compromise basically, he gives me all the dialogue and breaks down the beats as if they were paneled because that’s what he needs to do, he needs to pace it out in his own head mechanically that way, but he now gives me the freedom to alter it as I see fit. We got to be very close and trusted each others and our abilities. I think he’s a really great writer. I’ve worked with a few guys, but Scott’s stuff is so layered when you break it on down. He puts so much thought into every aspect and every wrinkle, and a lot of it probably gets missed by casual readers because you have to look beneath the surface for all this subtext. I think he’s brilliant. Outside of that we became really close friends because Scott, and I don’t want to call him insecure, but every time we would start a new arc he would be in a panic, and really questioning himself in terms of the quality of what he was doing and whether it was the right story. So I spent a lot of time on the phone with him, encouraging him and telling him it’s great. If neither of us get comics every again, we would still be good friends. I think [being friends] helps, and it’s got to be better than two people that hate each other making comic books together, right? I imagine that fans maybe pick up on it because there’s good feelings behind what we’re doing. We like what we’re doing and we do great things.
NB: But I’m sure his anxiety about every new arc, and whether or not he’s doing right by Batman, is probably why your run on Batman was as good as it was, rather than just sort of saying, “Yeah, this is pretty good, I guess.”
Capullo: We’re both perfectionists to the point of narcoses, and that’s a fact. (Laughs) Scott cares intensely about what he does and so do I. Your name goes on it, right? You have to have pride in whatever you do, I don’t care if you’re a plumber or whatever.
NB: So having said that, as an artist, do you have any preference now for the Marvel way, where you have more freedom, or do like more intense collaboration where you’re working with the writer more on how things are laid out?
Capullo: Well, to be honest it eats up a lot more time the latter way. Like I said, Scott can get wordy, so that could be a really juggling act at times to still balance the comic page. He does work on that all the time, and curb his propensity to write a lot of words (Laughs), but as I told him, a comic page has to balance visually, and if you have too many words, it fights the art and creates something that’s not aesthetically pleasing. Along with being a good writer, knowing when to lay back is what pushes you to Jedi level; the guy who can step back and look at the overview, and look at every page as a piece of art, and that includes dialogue. But the art game is one you should always improve and refine. Scott and I, because we’ll be getting back together, we’ll continue to refine what we do together as a team.
NB: Considering your run on Batman, and working on Spawn for years before that, you are obviously quite committed to these books when you sign up, so in terms of your own process, and desires as an artist, how do you know when its time to leave a character and say “I’ve done all I can and am moving on to the new thing”?
Capullo: The thing about me is that I don’t think I do my best work in the beginning. You don’t know the characters. You know who they are, obviously, but you can’t get into an intimate relationship with the characters until you’ve done them for a while. So I would never walk off a book without putting a year’s worth of work into it, because it gets better as it goes. I’ve said so many times, but the characters, after a time, tell me how to draw them, how to pose them, what their hand gestures are. They come alive! And that only happens when you spend time with the characters to earn that kind of relationship, and once you do, that’s when the magic starts to happen. Then it just becomes this natural thing that comes out of you. You know how writers say, “the thing wrote itself”? Well drawing is the same thing in that those expressions and mannerisms, they happen naturally, organically as a result of having a relationship with that character for a long time. As for when to walk off, my career hasn’t kind of worked that way entirely. I was working on Quasar, my first full-time book, when all the big guys went off and formed Image, and they stuck me on X-Force; so I didn’t quit Quasar, they placed me someplace else. Then, when Todd wanted to get together, I said, “Well, I can’t move anywhere till I do 12 issues of X-Force.” That was kind of a decision there, but with Todd I did like 80 issues, and at that point I had just done so much of that character that maybe a little bit of boredom started to come in and it became repetitive after that long a duration. And then I worked with Robert Kirkman on The Haunt, and that was probably a solid decision there in that I had a really good reason in having to go mainstream and make a bit more money because I got married to a woman and had children. So I took on Batman, and that was a ticket to put a kid through college. (Laughs) That was well informed decision. But Batman, the reason I stopped there, it certainly wasn’t because I was bored or not having a good time. What happened is I get approached by different guys, and in this case it was Mark Millar who wanted to get together. Writers can write multiple books per month, so they have a luxury to work with many different creators where a comic artist is more confined, so you don’t get the great joy of experimenting or working on projects with many other guys; you kind of marry for a long time. It just turned out that my contract was up, and Mark was saying that he wanted to do something for a while, and I said “Yeah, that would be great.” Then, when I get another break, I know Robert Kirkman wanted to work on something, I know Rob, he’s a great guy. So I think now because I’m getting older and the road in front of me is a little shorter than the road behind me, I’ll take those opportunities a little more. There are other things to experiment with before my career comes to an end. But that’s really the way I decide, and I’m looking forward to everyone seeing Reborn, and looking forward to doing the secret project that Scott’s got for me.
NB: Well, between those projects you go to cons like Fan Expo, and I always like to ask artists in terms of their con experience, what do you get out it?
Capullo: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a very lonely life the life of a comic book artist. You’re alone in your room, and thank goodness for Twitter so that I can interact with fans on a daily basis. That goes a long way just in of itself because you put a face to your fans. Let’s be honest, when you’re drawing every single day of the week, 12-hours minimum, it can get a little monotonous, sometimes a little bit pressing because you don’t have time to do anything else. So when you can get out there and see these fans giving you all this love, it refuels you. It reminds you that you mean something to somebody and you’re not just alone in a room. You might be a lone in a room, but your art work is out there in the world where people are experiencing joy. Well, most people are experiencing joy, some people probably hate it. (Laughs) But most people that come to you in line love it, they don’t line up to tell you they hate it. It gives me an opportunity to pour as much love on every fan that comes up to me as I possibly can because at the end of the day if it weren’t for the fans that buy your book, and stand in line to shake your hand and get your autograph, you wouldn’t have the career that you have, and I think anybody that loses sight of that should be smacked, you know what I mean?
NB: I did note too while preparing for the interview that IGN called you the Best Tweeter in terms of people in the comic book industry.
Capullo: It’s flattering, but you know I’m just a real person. Some people get full of themselves and carry on airs and stuff like that, but if I was a CEO of a company or Jim Lee or something, I’d be fired because I speak my mind and I’ll tell anyone to take a hike. (Laughs) I get people that ask for a birthday wish, and I say “Yeah, here, Happy Birthday!” People appreciate the real, and I’ve been told so many times not to be real and that I can’t talk about this, but I’m genuine with fans.
NB: You were mentioning that there’s still so much more for you to do, so in terms of a particular character or a book you’ve always wanted to work on, is there a kind of wish list for you in terms of other characters, or other creators you’d like to work with?
Capullo: Listen, I grew up – to be completely honest – a Marvel guy, so there are so many of those titles that I grew up just loving. The answer is I would love to do them all! And there’s a couple of others that I would like a crack at at DC, but there’s just not enough time. I almost wish I had three lifetimes so that I could draw almost every comic book character out there at one point or another. I’d like to bring back Lobo, like the Simon Bisly Lobo. I would draw the hell out of that book. And Wonder Woman might be interesting, Green Lantern, even Superman. You’ll notice that I don’t say Justice League because team books are a lot of work. (Laughs) But at Marvel there’s the Avengers, Thor, Spider-Man, the Hulk, there’s so many, so to ask me that question is like I’m a kid mesmerized in the candy store and I’ve got $1.25, what can I get?
Greg Capullo will be appearing this weekend at Fan Expo Canada at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto. For more information, visit Fan Expo’s website.