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The Interviewer: Sal Cipriano is responsible for the creation of the world's most dumb ass group of friends, BROKEN DONUTS. He's also just completed edits on this interview.
Bryan Hitch: You know, from my own point of view THE AUTHORITY was never actually a high profile project. It was just Warren (Ellis) and I trying to work on a project that was tailored to both of our sensibilities. It's profile certainly got higher as time went on, and seems to have become bigger in hindsight. To be honest, I was doing storytelling that seemed so different from what was going on elsewhere at the time (the manga look, the "Image" approach etc) that I was concerned that it wouldn't be considered a "going concern" by the buying public. It was a great surprise and a wonderful boost to my confidence that it seemed to succeed.
JLA was a very different animal. It was a high profile project to begin with, featuring DC's top characters. I think that book had me a little worried and I began to feel like I was on a catwalk for naked emperors.
SC: I can imagine. Here now you have to draw all these iconic characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. It's equivalent to drawing the Greek gods themselves. Did you have to change your mindset much to work on them?
BH: Actually quite a bit. THE AUTHORITY was much more about focusing on the situations the group found themselves in and having fun watching them deal with these ludicrously over the top threats. Characterization was kept to a minimum, with only hints about relationships. A lot of writers want to treat these things as soap operas and this was our antidote to that. Let people use their imaginations to think about what went on behind the scenes, rather than making it the focus of the book.
I had hoped, and probably even expected to be able to take some of the storytelling techniques I had developed over to the JLA with me, always knowing, of course, that it was a different book to THE AUTHORITY, but it proved to be a difficult fit.
Mark Waid's stories were far more intimate in their approach than I had hereto realized and it took a period of adjustment for both of us as we had very different approaches to storytelling. I would always want to open the story out during the action moments, decompress the storytelling and show the sheer scale of the seven most powerful icons in the DCU and what they were facing, whereas Mark would want to shift the focus to how the characters were dealing with the threats on a personal level. Both perfectly valid approaches of course, but not necessarily as compatible as we would both have liked.
As far as changing my mindset towards the actual characters went, that was the easy part. I had grown up with these "Icons" and felt that I had a good handle on them, and was very excited to have the opportunity to work on the JLA. It is a shame that I was never really able to deliver on the promise of my initial hopes for the book.
SC: Are you disappointed in your run because of that?
BH: I am disappointed in my run completely.
SC: Besides the differences in storytelling styles between you and Mark Waid, was there any editorial differences that contributed to this?
BH: I think you misunderstand my earlier point.
It wasn't the differences in approach between myself and Mark Waid, or for that matter myself and Dan Rasplar that were contributing factors to the limitations and eventual disappointment with my work. These differences happen with creators all the time and a period of adjustment is usually necessary. The sort of immediate "chemistry" enjoyed between myself and Warren Ellis is probably the exception rather than the rule. This was meant to answer your questions regarding some of the differences between the two projects not assign blame.
My disappointment stems from my own feelings of being unable to deliver the kind of work I wanted to, and the reasons for that have nothing really to do with my working relationship with either Waid or Rasplar.
SC: I'm sorry for misunderstanding that, but thank you for clarifying. So the question is why do you feel your work on JLA was disappointing from an artistic standpoint? From an untrained eye the work looks great.
BH: I was disappointed because I felt the work lacked the edge, scale and energy I had been looking for.
I was very burned out when I began my run at the regular book. I had completed a full twelve issues on THE AUTHORITY, (and also managed to squeeze in a couple of fill in issues on MARTIAN MANHUNTER and WILDCATS during this run) before I was to start work on the treasure formatted JLA: HEAVEN'S LADDER. The schedule was such that I needed to get started on the treasury right away, without having anymore than a couple of days break.
None of us, myself, Mark, Paul Neary or Dan Rasplar had really understood just how much work this project was going to involve.
Because of the size of the printed edition, Paul and I decided to draw the pages larger than normal. (Art area for originals relating to your average monthly comic are about 17 by 24 inches, printing at about 60%, Heavens ladder was drawn much larger and printed at 80%) This, of course, added to the work load but we felt it a necessary step to properly take advantage of the format, otherwise what was the point of it printing that large?
Pretty soon we realized that it was about 25% to 50% more work than an average page, not just because of the size, but because of the story requirements. Problem was, we were being paid normal rates, and it doesn't take a mathematical genius to realize that meant we were loosing money. Add to that the fact that it took far longer to complete than we would all have liked and, as I'm sure you will realize, we ended up being pretty burned out.
On top of this, we were now late for our scheduled starting date for our debut issue (47).
It was decided that since solicitations were already in, we couldn't then put it back to, say, issue 50, which would have been preferable, so without having a single day off after completing the mammoth task of the treasury we had to leap right into the regular run.
I was more burned out than I had ever been, and this just finished me off. By the time I had got my wind back (around issue 52) I felt like I had been on a course of aversion therapy. I just never really recovered my enthusiasm.
It's what Dan Rasplar and I have called "Cascade Failure". Unfortunate certainly, but nobody's fault, just a matter of circumstances.
SC: Now that this experience is just about over, what is your feeling towards your next project?
BH: Next project? Which next project?
SC: Well in general, what was the feeling of drawing a new project after JLA?
BH: In some ways I was relieved that it was over. It did get a bit like pulling teeth. It's also a little sad to look back and be disappointed in what should have been a solid run, done to the best of my ability, but which looks half-arsed at best. Especially so when compared with the Authority. Ah well.
I do actually have a number of things lined up, some of which are complete already, and others which will be announced shortly. Including a major new project.
SC: I usually save asking what are those new projects till the end but since you've set it up so nicely, what are some of the new Bryan Hitch projects we can expect? Well, the ones you can announce of course!
BH: The one that's already out of the bag is THE AUTHORITY short story which I've written and am illustrating. It's called the "The Man with The Quantum Brain" and features Jenny Sparks and the team fighting to save all reality. The usual over the top nonsense then follows. It should appear in a Wildstorm special later this year.
SC: How does it feel to be on the writing ending of comics?
BH: It feels really good.
I have wanted to write from the moment I knew I wanted to work in comics professionally. It's really the whole storytelling process that interests me rather than doing poster shots or pin-ups, so writing is just an extension of that.
SC: Very cool. What's it like to write characters you helped create? Does this make the experience all the better?
BH: Well, it certainly made it easier.
I know these guys so well that it was simply a matter of dropping them into a situation and letting them get on with it. They wrote their own dialogue and formed their own reactions. Also being so familiar with what (at least in my own opinion) makes a good Authority story made the whole process that much simpler.
It was nice to get my hands on Jenny, again. (So to speak)
I've become more and more involved in the plotting process over the years and this just seemed like an inevitable move, and one I've enjoyed immensely.
SC: From an artistic standpoint was it easy to come back THE AUTHORITY? Was it like riding a bike?
BH: When I left the book, I was ready to go. It was a very labour-intensive experience and could be very draining. What's been nice about coming back to the book, is that I feel like I've got a fresh eye for these chaps, I've thought of things I hadn't thought of before. Just the little things about how to visualize their powers, how to handle their expressions, even their hairdos!
As disappointed as I am with my performance on the JLA, I do feel like I've learned things since I left Authority, and have developed as an illustrator. It's nice to apply that to something so familiar and find new and different things to play with.
SC: I think learning is the best part about drawing, every time i approach a page I feel like I've learned something new. Is this constant learning/developing process what keeps drawing fresh for you?
I think I fear stagnation more than anything else. Besides which, it would get boring pretty quickly if one approached every page the same way. Learn, develop, adapt, experiment. Just when I think I've got lighting figured out, or some other aspect of drawing I see something, be it in life, art, photography or film that just makes me want to sit and draw and look at things from a new vantage point.
All this keeps me interested. If I felt like my work was going backwards, I think it would be time to stop.
SC: That's all such great advice to an up and coming artist. What else would you tell an aspiring comic artist?
BH: I'm not sure I'm in much of a position to offer advice, after all, it's taken me fourteen years to achieve an overnight success.
However, based on my own experience, I would say that there is a limit to what you can learn by looking at other comics and other people's work. Learn the basics of being a good draughtsman. Perspective, composition, figure drawing, lighting mad above all storytelling. This is a narrative medium and therefore the priority is to be able to successfully communicate your story to anyone who reads it without the need for them to have a Bachelor's in how to read comics. Within that framework, just learn to draw as well as possible.
To be a good illustrator I think one needs to be a jack of all trades. One needs to be able to draw anything. If a story requires you to draw something you haven't drawn before? Learn.
Ideally you should be drawing comics because you want to not because you think it's an easy way out. It isn't. The best artists this industry has seen over sixty odd years, Alex Raymond, Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, Garcia Lopez, Frank Frazeta, Kevin Nowlan, Barry Smith to name only a handful, could all have been successful artists in whatever medium they chose to work in. They knew how to draw. Their "styles" came out of their perception of condensed reality, not from looking at and emulating the style of the week.
Big eyes and speed lines, poster shots and shoulder pads will not make up for bad drawing. They are fads. Phases. Transient. What does have a life span is good storytelling and solid drawing.
Accept no substitutes.
SC: That's great advice Bryan, thanks. You named some really great artists just now, are these artists that have influenced your own work? And who can you add to that list?
BH: Some of them have and others have had an indirect influence. I could add many others, most of whom are a matter of public record. Frankly, I've been influenced over the years by just about everyone and anyone who's any good and from whom one can learn. If I look at anything now, it isn't comics. I find them too limiting. However some decades back, when I was a fan and just wanting to get started, I would name my biggest influences as Byrne, Garcia-Lopez and Alan Davis.
SC: Fair enough. You say that if you look at anything now it isn't comics, this makes me think of your Authority work and how each issue story arc felt like a big blockbuster movie. Is film one of the things draw inspiration from?
BH: Right now, I would say that film is my biggest influence. When Warren and I first discussed the concept behind THE AUTHORITY, movies were what we referred to by way of example. We kept using phrases like "widescreen" or "cinemascope" and mentioning Jerry Bruckhiemer alot. That led me to look at movies in order to try and find a way to get across the right feel for the book, something that revolutionized my approach and allowed me to finally find my own voice.
SC: At what point did you stop and realize you had found that voice? And how did it affect your work after that?
BH: There was no single point where I could say "Oooo...Got it!" It was just a gradual realization that I had stopped using a safety blanket, and felt more confident. Naturally that confidence tends to grow and allows you to follow your ideas through with greater conviction without having to worry about what people may think or whether one of your influences would have done it that way. You begin to realize that, well, maybe they wouldn't do it that way, but I will.
SC: Let's go back abit and talk about the STORMWATCH days. Did you and Warren have a plan leading up to THE AUTHORITY, meaning was it something that began hatching as soon as you joined him?
BH: Not at all, STORMWATCH was to be my last gig. I was just going to do the last few issues of the book and go and do something else instead. I was very disillusioned and wasn't happy with either the projects I was getting or the work I was doing.
STORMWATCH turned out to be a good gig for both of us, and we decided after the book was canceled that we would like to do something else. THE AUTHORITY was something we came up with over the course of a ten minute phone call and turned out to be the most fun I've had to date.
SC: Speaking of fun, lets do some quicker Q&A's to get to know Bryan Hitch a little better.
First off, What music spins in your cd player?
BH: Classical. Bruckner, Mahler, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Berlioz, Arnold, Vaughn Williams, Bax, Bernstein, Dvorak, Rubbra, Adams, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Britten, Mozart etc, etc
SC: What do you do on your down time?
BH: That's been very rare lately, but, I relax by reading, writing, playing the piano, going to many, many classical concerts around London, and indulging in one of the single greatest pleasures known to man: good food, good wine and good company.
And if that sounds a little pompous? I don't care!
SC: Ha, what beverage keeps you going while drawing?
BH: Mostly water, but I can't start the day without a cafetiere of good coffee. If work goes past 7pm, then wine becomes a neccessity.
SC: Hmmm, wine in the last two answers, do have you a favorite?
BH: Many favorites, but in the reds, my staple would be a good Shiraz or Cab Sav, and white would be a nice Burgundy like a Chablis or Chardonnay. There are too many others to list here without sounding like I take my drinks wrapped in a brown paper bag, but bradly speaking these would be amongst my favorites.
SC: Sounds great, matter of fact you've made me want some! So with that I think now's a good time to end this interview. Bryan I want to thanks you for taking the time out to answer my questions, your answers have been outstanding! Any last words or plugs you'd like to make?
BH: No real plugs, except to say keep watching! There will be announcements about my new project at the summer conventions.
SC: Very cool Bryan we will!