By Erik Burnham
01. Butch, to start off with, maybe a brief mini-bio on when and how the lightbulb appeared over your head and you decided as comics as a career.
I was born in 1961 and grew up in and around Chattanooga, TN. I did a fair amount of drawing in early childhood, but it was the typical unfocused kid stuff (cartoon swipes, army battle scenes, cars, school projects, etc.). I was far more interested in spending my time playing in the nearby woodlands than doing any sustained art. When I was ten or so, another kid from down the street happened to leave a box of his comics on my front porch. I brought them into my room and spent the rest of the evening reading them. To the best of my recollection, it was the first time I had read a comic book. By the time I worked through the stack, not only was I completely enthralled with the medium, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do in life. I was very lucky. I got great support from my parents (who would haul my scrawny butt across town to a Mom and Pop drugstore), so I could race to the spinner rack each Friday and snatch up the newest issues.
Drawing comics became my passion in life. I had an entire line of books I produced on typing paper (writing, penciling, inking, lettering, and coloring). I read everything I could find about comics and/or art. Started going to the early conventions. Asked pros all the wrong questions, but through trial and error, managed to start working full time in the field in1981,,,and haven't stopped since.
And I still love it.
02. You've been working with DC for a while now. What past work, as an artist, do you think holds up to a personal acid test? What're you proudest of?
None of my work holds up to my personal acid test. There are bits,,,a panel here or a sequence there of which I'm proud, but I can't recall any entire issues or runs I'm completely happy with. I always find something I feel I should have done better. You go through stages as an artist where you worry if this is as good as you're ever going to get, and then suddenly, one day you're drawing better,,,the learning curve accelerates and your on top of the world. Then you get stuck again. Same fears as before,,,"Is this as good as I'm going to ever get?" But, you redouble your efforts, define the trouble spot(s) and eventually you make another breakthrough. I personally don't ever want to feel too comfortable with the quality level of my work. I'm always looking at it with the most critical eye I can cast upon it,,,trying to find a way to better it.
03. How does working on characters (perceived to be second tier) like Babs and Dinah compare to working on an icon like Superman? Is there less (or more) pressure from editorial and/or fans to blow the roof off with your art?
There is a lot more freedom working on second tier books. Not to say you can't be creative on the "first tier" characters, but you have less restrictions imposed (editorially and personally) on the second tier characters. You can explore things more, experiment in ways that might be frowned upon if you were doing it with the company cornerstones. I've always preferred the type of books you could come into and put your own personal stamp upon, as opposed to working within the confines of an editorially dictated approach.
As far as the fans are concerned, I think they primarily want you to just bring your best to the party on a regular basis. Don't just notch another issue under your belt and draw the paycheck. there's an energy in a comic book that's noticeably lacking when the creative team is on cruise control.
04. In what areas of your art do you feel expected to excel at by editors, collaborators, fans, and yourself?
I expect to do the very best I'm capable of under the given circumstances of each issue. Sometimes the deadline bites you and something has to slide in favor of getting the book out on schedule. But all in all, you should do your best because that's what you're hired to do. It's a simple work ethic, but I like it. I consider myself very blessed to be able to work in the field of my childhood dreams, week in and week out, for the past twenty years. Honestly,,,what could be more sheer fun than making a living in comics?
05. On the opposite side of the coin, what areas do people most often expect to see you a little lax?
The business side. I have far too much fun in the creative side. I understand the business side of comics, but keep it as far away from me as possible. I know several artists in this industry who consider themselves "great business men" as well. For the most part they seem unhappy a lot,,,always worrying about whether they are putting in more work on a book than the paycheck justifies, or who is getting more promotion on a title than they are getting on their own. I don't ever want to loose the fun to such idiotic concerns.
06. Do you prefer inking your own pencils? Any reason you happened to land in the 'one man band' position for BoP?
I ink myself because there seems to be very few inkers who bring what I want to my pencils. I wish that I knew what it is about my pencils which baffle even time-tested pros. There is a direction or guidance in the pencils for an inker to follow, that seems to be missing in my own pencils ( or I'm the only guy who can see it).
Now I just pencil for myself,,,very open and rough. All the lighting work, textures, and details are saved for the inking stage. Nonexistent in the "pencils". It'd be even harder for another inker to ink me now than before. Jim Shooter told me I was an inker pretending to be a penciler. Mike Carlin (the only editor who has consistently used me solely as an inker) has commented he thinks my best work is always done when I ink myself. Maybe it was just meant to be.
07. How did you come to get the Birds of Prey assignment? Did you seek it? Did it seek you?
Well,,,Resurrection Man was canceled *sniff* and I was looking for a regular book. By fortuitious circumstance, Greg Land was moving over to Nightwing to replace the departing Scott McDaniel. DC editorial called and I very promptly jumped at the chance. I've always wanted to work with Chuck Dixon on a book together. It's been the most fun I've had in twenty years of doing comics.
08. What scenes from BoP have stuck in your mind as the most interesting, challenging and/or difficult to draw?
One of the appeals for me on the book is that I never what Chuck's going to throw in from month to month. It might be an army of apes, a horde of screaming mad Vikings, the interior of a sinking sub, or a burning elevated train. I never get bored from issue to issue (okay,,,the big clockface in Bab's old computer room is a bit of a pain, but otherwise,,,).
And I enjoy drawing Dinah in street clothes. We've had so much going on since I started on the book, we've had very little opportunity to have her dressed in regular clothes. And then of course, there's Barbara,,,any scene with Barbara is a scene I'm fond of drawing.
09. What do you see in the series that keeps you interested in it creatively?
The fact we can do just the kind of stories I was mentioning. Birds of Prey has an enormous flexibility in what you can do with it (all of which I credit to the talented Chuck Dixon). That, and the fact that no matter what story we've got them involved in, Chuck writes the two best female characters in comics today. As long as Chuck will write the book, I'll be more than happy to humbly illustrate it.
10. Anything you wish you could 'do over' on the series?
Fix the thousand and one little things about my art run to date that still bother me,,,
11. What do you consciously bring to the characters in BoP - specifically Babs, Dinah, and (why not) Ted Kord - to put your own stamp on their look?
Well,,,my first goal was to make Barbara "my" Barbara. I absolutely dispised the mousey nebbish look she was being drawn as in most of the Bat books. This was Batgirl for pete's sake, not a young Granny Clampett! So my first and foremost goal is to deliver a Barbara Gordon that will force other artists to follow suit. Dinah, I'm still feeling my way through. I know what I want, but visually I'm not there yet. I'm going to be concentrating on getting "the look" I wanting beginning with issue #33. And Ted,,,Ted's just loads of fun.What a great character! I gave him my belly. Not overly fat, but comfortably soft, nonetheless. I have a blast drawing Ted in costume as the Blue Beetle. One of those childhood dreams revisited.
12. What is the thing you're proudest of having drawn in BoP -- that no one seems to have noticed?
Myself. I'm Professor Orenstein in the "History Lesson" story arc (#28-#30)
13. And, what is the one thing you did accidentally that's been hailed as a comparative stroke of genius?
You tell me and I'll buy a round to celebrate my "genius-hood,",
14. What insights would you like to share on the book?
Chuck Dixon writes the best series of monthly titles currently being published today, and Birds of Prey is the best of the best.
As far as the art end of things,,,heh,heh,,,I'm just getting comfortable. Now we start kicking butts and taking some names.
15. What is it that you dislike drawing enough to hunt Chuck down if he writes it into a script?
Boring mindless superhero slugfests set against faked New York City skylines. I did a lifetime's worth at Marvel,,,
16. What are the difficulties in drawing a character confined to a wheelchair?
None whatsoever. It can be challenging at times to avoid repeating basic shots, but the challenge is part of the fun in drawing comics.
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 2001 by Erik Burnham.
Fanzing is not associated with DC Comics.
All DC Comics characters, trademarks and images (where used) are DC Comics, Inc.
DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.
Fanzing site version 7.4