Interview: Kelley Jones

Dodano: 17 May 2013

[Total: 6]

The author of the interview is Michal Chudolinski. You can find more about him here.

Kelley Jones (born 1962) is an American comic book artist most famous for his work on the Batman series with Doug Moench (from February 1995 to March 1998) and on Sandman with Neil Gaiman. Jones’ Batman can be recognised due to a particular image (very long ears) and a very characteristic atmosphere, straight out of classic horrors and German Expressionist films, which permeates his stories.

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His most notable graphic novels include Batman/Dark Joker: The Wild, the vampire Batman trilogy (Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, Batman: Bloodstorm, Batman: Crimson Mist], as well as Gotham after MidnightHaunted Gotham and Batman: Unseen and Deadman: Love After Death.

–        Your art is full of darkness and a sense of dread. Is this a result of some fascination with a particular genre of horror films or comic books?

–        I grew up loving old horror films like Frankenstein and Dracula and radio shows like Lights Out and the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Those programs were filled with dread and tension before any monster showed up, and I simply adopted that for comics. When I did Deadman and Aliens, I really worked at perfecting it. Non-super hero books don’t have the same stereotype tricks that a superhero book does, so you have to approach a horror book differently. That means a lot more set up and foreshadowing of events to come. Horror stories are about death ultimately, so you have to make your reader squirm a bit.

–        How did your adventure with comics begin? Did you read them as a kid, or did you get into them when you were older?

–        When I grew up, my dad liked horror and sci-fi movies, and would let me watch those films and scary TV like Outer Limits and Boris Karloff’s Thriller. They made those into comics, and my dad would buy them for me when we went on a car trip. I treasured them. Later my brother came home with a stack of Jack Kirby Fantastic Fours he won in a marble match, and he gave them to me. I was in heaven.

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–        How did you develop your unique style of drawing, which can be distinguished, for example, by certain anatomical exaggerations?

–        I took art and a premed courses on anatomy so I could draw everything right. When I got into comics I looked at my printed work, and though technically good, it was without soul. So, when I started trying to draw what I felt, my editors ‘fixed’ my drawing by having the inkers correct what they felt was wrong. When I came to DC, they didn’t mind my style, and actually allowed me to ink my own stuff starting with Deadman. Sam Kieth and I knew each other then, and both found that we were trying to be perfect, like Dave Stevens, rather than uneven and rough like Graham Engels. Over a pizza we both told each other the same desire to be ourselves, and decided to just do it… waiting to be fired.

–        Was German Expressionist cinema (Fritz Lang, for instance) a significant inspiration for you?

–        More like F. W. Murnau and Orson Welles were a huge influence on me. James Whale to be sure, and Jacques Tourneur. I also love Werner Herzog. Mario Bava is a God. The old woman wanting her stolen ring back in Black Sabbath still gives me nightmares.

–        Do you like gore movies? Or Hammer horror films?

–        Hammer films are my biggest influence. I think The Gorgon is a perfect film, as is Dracula Prince of Darkness. Both used long periods of silence, and became a pure cinema experience. The films they made were Gothic yet modern at the same time. Most of Hammers films are classics, and I still feel that underrates them. When Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese say that Hammer films are great, you can’t disagree.

I like old gory movies, seventies and eighties stuff. Reanimator, Grave of the Vampire, Shock Waves, Italian movies and such. I love that period of horror movies. One that sticks out is a film called Messiah of Evil, a truly terrifying movie, written by the same folks who wrote American Graffiti, of all things. I am left cold by modern efforts like Saw and such.

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–        You began your work on Batman from Elseworlds, stories featuring the Dark Knight is some quite exotic settings. Did you feel like you had jumped in at the deep end?

–        I remember loving the story, and hating the title. I couldn’t believe I was getting to do Batman. I thought I’d never get to draw him again, so I took full advantage of it. To this day I am stunned it has done as well as it has. I have no idea why.

–        How do you remember working on Batman/Dark Joker: The Wild and the Vampire Batman trilogy? What were your inspirations for these particular stories? Do you recall anything particularly interesting from that period?

–        The Dark Joker was written for someone else, and when the book became available they offered it to me with the Red Rain sequel to do back to back. Dark Joker was heavily influenced by Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood and The Wizard of Oz.

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–        The success of Elseworlds enabled you to create cult covers for Knightfall and KnightQuest issues. The image of Bane breaking Batman’s back was very strong and brutal. At least for me, when I saw it as a kid.

–        The covers I did were given to me by a strange twist of fate. DC called and asked if I had Sam Kieth’s phone number, which was odd, because Sam is the one who brought me to DC. They wanted him to do the covers for Batman and Detective. I told them that he was an inspired choice. Before too long Sam called me and said he just wasn’t enjoying doing it, and would I pitch in and help him. In a month or so he quit outright telling me he was just freezing up too much. He was way behind, and DC then asked if I would knock out 4 or 5 of them to catch up, and then they would find a permanent cover artist. The public reaction to my stuff was strong, and that I am fast, made them decide to stick with me. I never knew what the stories were about when I drew the covers, just who was in them, as the books were running late. It worked out just great for me, as I was allowed to just draw. Most came out pretty good.

–        For a long time you have been creating only cover art for Batman comics. And suddenly, in 1995, you started your run on Batman, which lasted over three years. It is one of the longest times any artist has worked on a single title in this series. How did you manage to draw almost 35 issues within that period? The job of a comic book artist is famous for the multitude of work and many looming deadlines, which not everyone can manage successfully.

–        When I took the job I was thinking of what Doug Wildey said to me. Doug was a great artist, and created Jonny Quest. We had met at a convention, and he took me aside to tell me how much he liked an Aliens job I had done, but that the true measure of a comic book artist was not a miniseries. He said, ‘do three years of a book, and if the last few issues are as good as the first few issues, than you can say you have done something’. So two years later when Denny O’Neil offered the book, I took it saying ‘I’d do at least three years’. I would have done at least another year, but circumstances intervened and it ended after three.

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–        During this run you worked with Doug Moench, who created Black Mask and had been writing scripts for Batman comics for many years. What are your memories of that collaboration? Back in 1995, did you discuss what kind of stories you would like to bring to the series?

–        Doug and I had worked on three graphic novels by then, and I loved his eccentric style. He didn’t know Denny had offered me the monthly, even though he was writing it. I accepted and told Doug immediately. Doug was not pleased, and told me so. He believed we should do specials and miniseries so we could continue our style of work. Then he said that if I didn’t get flaky and quit in a year, he could write the Batman stories he always wanted. I promised, and we did those three years as you read them. John Beatty, my best inker, contributed quite a bit to the run of issues. We all had a great time. We weren’t connected to the other titles, and our stories were short. Perfect environment for all of us to work in, and fans loved it.

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–        Together with Moench you have created unique stories, with the most distinctive atmosphere among probably all Batman comics. There are no athletic figures, and no spectacular explosions. But there is a fair number of monsters, misty streets and characters surrounded by darkness, who glance at the reader in a very peculiar way. Do you regard introducing this style as a brave move on your part? How was your style received at the time?

–        I don’t think I thought it was brave then, I was very determined to do my best job, and treat the book with deep respect. I wanted to interpret him in the way I saw him, not follow a current trend or ape some famous artists take on Batman. I wanted pages that didn’t have Batman on them to instantly be recognized as pages from a Batman story. Gotham became as important a character as Batman himself. In retrospect it was very brave, but from artistic zeal, not hubris. The response was the best I ever received. We got four to six hundred letters an issue, up by half from before we three took over, and we less than a dozen or so negative letters an issue. Then a curious thing happened. In that time the Superman titles sold the best, followed by the Batman titles. In just a few months, our book was DC’s best seller, followed by the Superman titles, then the Batman books. Doug felt, and rightly so, that our old fashioned style of storytelling was easy on fans, and their pocketbooks. DC told us they wouldn’t collect them in a trade though, because we weren’t part of a big story arc. But I still prefer how we did it.

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–        Your Batman is a supernatural character. His cape often looks like real wings of a bat and it seems to have a life of its own. Who Batman is for you, personally? And what are your thoughts on Gotham City and other characters, in particular villains?

–        I always thought Batman was a totally intimidating figure. If he hit you, you must be crazy. Confronting him is a no win situation. Batman is so frightening just standing there in the half light, silent, and glaring. I felt visually he should look like vengeance and retribution personified. His cape and cowl doing most of the work of subduing criminals. You do NOT cross Batman. Any one who breaks the law in Gotham is a sociopath or a psychopath. Normal people don’t risk a run in with Batman.

–        You see the Dark Knight as a hero, who – like Sisyphus – labours in vain to complete his never-ending mission, or is he something more?

–        He can only do what he can in his time, that said, he has no choice in this crusade himself. He will always be looking for Joe Chill, and all the other Joe Chills.

–        Which of the stories illustrated by you are you most proud of?

–        With Batman I always liked The Ogre and the Ape, and the Scarecrow stories, and Mr. Freeze, and the Joker Demon job (Batman (vol. 1) # 544-545, 1997) …you see where this is going. I still love Deadman, and wonder how I did it. The Hammer and Zombieworld. Gotham after Midnight was a BLAST.

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–        During you Batman run you failed to complete several things. The story about Poison Ivy hinted at the last pages of one of your issues was never realised. (Such hints at the end of an issue were one of the characteristic features of your comics). Many issues featured the character of a puppeteer with a Batman puppet, but this story was never told in full. What was the first idea for the puppet master? And was Steve Niles’ miniseries Gotham after Midnight a way of executing this idea?

–        Like I said earlier, Doug and I were to do the Puppeteer story in our fourth year, and he was a villain who knew Bruce was Batman, and had been arranging their confrontation, on Puppeteers terms. With Batman unable to know how, or if, he was manipulated at any given time, and in which world – Batman’s or Bruce’s – the Puppeteer lived.

–        What do you think of Batman and his impact on the culture today? What might the Dark represent in the time of new media? Do you think he has a future?

–        As long as it’s clear Batman is a good guy, as long as it’s clear he’s fighting evil, his future will last as long as people tell stories about heroes. Just ask Homer, The Iliad still kicks ass.

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–        Do you plan to do more stories about Batman? Or are rather you going to create original horror stories, or comics based on licensed ideas from Dark Horse and Image?

–        I’m doing a project for Disney now, and will always do horror. DC has asked about doing some more Batman, and I’ll always do that.

–        What do you do to take a break from comics? Any hobby which allows you to rest from drawing?

–        I love to build walls out of stone and plant things, I like watching old horror films in my back yard on a projection TV, so it’s like a drive in. I go to the ocean a lot and watch for phantom sailing ships.

–        What are your thoughts on the comics industry nowadays? What about the increasing use of new media to develop the language of comics? What about using animation in web comics and opportunities which web comics present?

–        Comics are not an eccentric thing anymore. They are too planned, and not organic, so no happy accidents. As to new ways of presenting them, I’m all for it. I still think in the end a paper bound book, with limited production, is the coolest. Something about human artistic creation that is so amazing.

–        Do you work as a consultant on games, animated films or movies about Batman? If so, what does this job consist of?

–        I did a lot of design work for the last three Batman movies, it was a lot of freestyle drawings of Batman and Gotham. And in the video game people used my run on Batman as one of their main inspirations.

–        What was like working with Denny O’Neil, the editor of the Batman series?

–        Easiest time I ever had. He called me one day, out of the blue, and said hello, then that the run I was doing was up there with the very best who had ever done Batman, and said he had to go to a meeting. He hung up and I was stunned. I never told anyone that until now. It was a very Denny thing to do. To the point.

–        Did you have any influence on Moench’s scripts? How did he write them? Did he sometimes let you roam free on the page, or did he give very detailed descriptions of surroundings and what he expected to see?

–        It was like jazz, he riffed, then I would, then John would. Doug would call, and say, ‘what villain do you want to do?’, and that was about it. I would then just make the city and characters my own. I did that with The Sandman as well, and it just worked. Sandman and Batman didn’t always look the way they were written, but they were closer to the intent of both writers.

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–        You seem to choose horror as the preferred style for your art quite often. Why is that? Why do you include so many beast and monsters? Is there something more to it?

–        In 1988, no one was doing horror, so it seemed like a good move. Batman was more film noirsh, with a lot of old Universal horror film riffs.

–        What does your creative process look like? What are your preferred tools and techniques?

–        I always start by listening to Gustav Holst’s Saturn movement. My tools are basic. Blue pencil and a number two lead pencil. My kids school eraser, as it works best. Number two and three watercolor brushes, a black crayola crayon and my thumb for smearing ink.

We are enormously thankful to Kelley Jones for sending in a few of his drawings and early cover art sketches.

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Interview: Kelley Jones written by Chudy average rating 4.8/5 - 6 user ratings
  • Dromader

    Dir ser or madam, plis lern dom inglisz, orajt?

    • noita

      surely it can’t be that bad, would you care to elaborate? constructive feedback is always welcome.

  • Pingback: Batman – Knightfall (Review/Retrospective) | the m0vie blog()

  • Tim

    No one commented on this yet? Kelley Jones is awesome and a fitting successor to Bernie Wrightson. Nice interview.