[Interview for Toon Zone News on the 24th November 2003]
December draws the conclusion to current stories both in Detective Comics and Justice League Adventures. Detective Comics #789 sees Batman fighting against time to find the secrets of an ancient talisman with Gotham's future riding on his success. Justice League Adventures #26 sees the League fighting along side Adam Strange, with the future of planet Rann at stake.
Linking these titles is regular DC artist Dan Davis, who supplies the inkwork. He found time in his busy schedule to talk to Toon Zone about the two and his work in general.
Toon Zone: You have Detective Comics #789 and Justice League Adventures #26 coming out on December 3rd. Both have stories coming to their exciting conclusions. Would you care to elaborate on your work for those the two issues? I believe your work for #789 of Detective Comics is rather different from your work in Justice League Adventures.
Dan Davis: Lately I've done a lot of the "animated adventures" style of inking in Justice League Adv. (and even cartoonier stuff for the Cartoon Network books like Space Ghost, Scooby-Doo, and Johnny Bravo). So the grim and gritty style of Batman in Detective Comics over Mike Lilly was something of a contrast! Mike's stuff was great! Very moody, with lots of shadows and a looseness to it that allowed me to really go in there and ink up some textures and get my fingers dirty (an inker's occupational hazard). I threw in some dry brush, grease crayon, dragging my X-acto blade through black areas for that "rain" look (and there's lots of rain in the story!) and even dabbing a paper towel in ink to work up some interesting effects. It was a lot of fun and served the style of the story well I think.
The Justice League two-parter featuring Adam Strange, which I inked over Chris Jones, wraps up in issue 26 and has its own set of rules that are equally fun to work with. It's a much cleaner look than the Batman job. I like inking lush bold strokes that define the form and flow with the movement of the figures, and you get to do a lot of that with the animated style. Chris also adds lots of blacks, which I like, that make the designs more dynamic. We've done several stories together now, and I hope we keep working together.
TZ: You'll be doing both pencils and inks for the upcoming Harry Potter Activity Books for the third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Are you a Harry Potter fan, and how easy has it been capturing the magic of the Potter universe?
Davis: Yeah, I'm a fan, and anything I don't know or recognize, I can always ask my daughter, Hannah, to fill me in on. She's 13 and has read all the books. I thought both movies were well done, entertaining, and I was happy to get the job to illustrate such a well-known property. I'm working with tons of photo reference, but it's still not always easy to capture their likenesses, so that's the main challenge for me. The art goes through lots of stages of approval, but the people I'm working with at Warner Bros. have been very good.
It's kind of fun to see the pictures in advance of the movie, too, and also to see people's eyes light up when they find out I'm working on something connected to Harry Potter.
TZ: The way you approach inking different projects seems to differ depending on the comic or artist. Is this a conscious decision or does your technique just naturally adapt to the line work of the penciller?
Davis: I usually get a feeling from the style the pencils are done in, or the type of project it is, and adapt to that. When I look at the pencils Ialmost immediately see if it's going to be a brush job or a pen job. I like both, so most of the time it ends up being a mixture. I guess it's more of a natural "feel" than consciously applying a technique.
TZ: Do you prefer inking/pencilling serious art work or the more comical variety?
Davis: Actually it's the variety of doing both that I enjoy the most. I like nothing more than following up a cartoony job with a good serious Batman gig. It keeps it all fresh. I've always tried to be versatile anyway, as I figure it leads to more job opportunities.
TZ: Are there any inkers that have influenced your technique?
Davis: Certainly. At different times of my life I'd be into different inkers of the "moment" and really tried to absorb them all. The obvious choices, like Terry Austin and Scott Williams, were favorites at different times. But I also go way back to earlier guys like Joe Sinnott and Dan Adkins. I also really admire the ink work of some people who are not really known as "inkers," like Dave Stevens, Wally Wood, and Bruce Timm. I don't know if any of their work or styles show up in my work, but I've been a big fan of their stuff.
TZ: What are your preferred materials for inking work and how long does anaverage page take you?
Davis: An average page takes about a day, although I work on 3 to 5 pages atonce so I always have a dry page to ink on. Windsor Newton Series 7 #2 Brush and a Hunt 102 pen do just about everything for me. I use some markers for circles and ellipses, but I do all the straight lines with the102 because you can get any thickness you want out of it and it saves time from changing from one tech pen to the next.
TZ: How many projects do you have on the run (on average), and how do you handledoing more than one project at the same time?
Davis: Being strictly freelance where you don't even have a "regular" monthly bookis always a juggling act. You need to stay busy so there are no gaps in your income, but not too busy that you can't meet deadlines. Believe it or not, two things at once usually work out just fine, because the pages for one of them almost never shows up on time!
TZ: How do you structure your day as a freelancer? Do you keep to "officehours" or are you more flexible?
Davis: I learned to stay flexible, especially when my kids were younger! There are always lots of opportunities for interruptions and distractions when you work at home and I always have had an open door policy so the family wanders in and out of the studio all day long. I like a 9 to 5 day, but especially during the last week of a deadline, I add on evenings and weekends as needed -- and they usually are!
TZ: Are there any other upcoming projects you'd like to tell us about?
Davis: I'm doing another Justice League with Chris that features the Phantom Stranger this time. Also I just illustrated a color cover for the Alley Oop Magazine #17 entitled "Alley Oop on Venus" that's available now from Spec Productions reprinting some greatV.T. Hamlin comic strips. I'm about a third of the way through Harry Potter so I imagine that will help keep me busy on into the spring. And I hope to be fitting in some more issues for DC in there too. A lot of past projects are now up at my website and I'll be updating that from time to time.
TZ: Finally, you're at the Mid Ohio Con later this month. Any of the other guests who are attending ones you are desperate to meet?
Davis: Well, I'm a fan of too many people to name names! Mid-Ohio Con is nice, because it's not so big that you can't get around to talk to nearly everyone there, yet it's big enough to have lots of fans to meet and greet. I always enjoy sketching while I'm there and getting that immediate feedback and I'll be hawking some of my originals and color prints, too. If you're in the Columbus area on Thanksgiving Weekend, stop in and say "Hi"!