IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Darick Robertson | FanboysInc

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Darick Robertson

By Jeff Ayers

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Darick Robertson

Recently, I got the unique honor of sitting down with famed comic book illustrator Darick Robertson at The Comic Depot in Saratoga Springs, New York. Darick has been in the comic industry for many years, and has a myriad of titles and characters under his belt, both from the big two (Marvel and DC) as well as creator owned series like Transmetropolitan and The Boys. In fact, it has been just confirmed this year that the Garth Ennis (writer) and Darick Robertson (artist) series The Boys is being shopped around by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for a television adaptation of the 72-issue series from Dynamite Entertainment.

Darick was gracious enough to take time out of his signing event at the Comic Depot to talk with me about his career, and the comic industry at large. What made this interview even more special was that Darick was working on completing a beautiful commission for a fan as he talked, allowing me to watch his talent in action.

*if you would like to hear the recording of this interview, you can listen to it at the end of Episode 150 of IncCast.

Fun times at Darick Roberston signing at The Comics Depot with regular customers, Comic Depot crew, and comic talents such as Steve Orlando, Paul Harding, Richard Clark and Darick Robertson.

Fun times at Roberston’s signing at The Comics Depot with regular customers, Comic Depot crew, and comic talents such as Steve Orlando(next to me), Paul Harding(kneeling in center), Richard Clark(far right) and Darick Robertson.

The Incredible Jeff: You have been in this industry for quite some time now –

Darick Robertson: About 30 years!

TIJ: Wow, 30 years! So OK, let’s walk that back a little. When you were a kid, were you a comic book fan?

DR: I was. I have been a fan since I was ten years old. I walked into a little pharmacy, and they had one of those “Hey Kids!” spinner racks, and I had already read a lot of comics, but most of those were hand me downs. So I never understood there was continuity, so the first comic I ever read that really jumped out and grabbed me was Flash #272 with this amazing Jose Garcia Lopez cover. I picked it up, and I believe Rich Buckler was doing the art, and I was suddenly aware that there was a whole Flash story that I had never read before going on inside, and I was picking it up mid-story. At that point I was like, “I need to know what happened before!” and I definitely needed to know what happened after. Then that lead to other comics on that rack, and I picked up Batman, and Sgt. Rock, and Teen Titans by George Perez, all starting me down that road, and I have never turned back.

TIJ: That is really cool. At that point in your life, reading comics as a kid, were you drawn to the art in the books? Were you drawing at that time?

DR: Yeah I was, actually. My first love was fantasy painting, and ironically, as this is being recorded, I am sketching for someone here at the store, and my board is resting on these two huge beautiful prints of Frank Frazetta, so as I am telling you my original love in art, it is right in my face! So I love his fantasy art, and I wanted to do that more than I wanted to draw comics. My two big loves at ten years old were Star Wars and comics. I have always loved to draw. The first ting I ever drew was Peanuts, like Snoopy and also Warner Bros. stuff like Sylvester and Tweety Bird. It was something that I got attention for, so I think that was part of it. People would say, “oh that’s good!” and I would want to make people happy, so I would draw for my aunts and cousins and stuff.

TIJ: So you have now been working in the industry for some time, you have worked of the Big Two, and you have done some creator owned series. What was your first professional job in the comic industry?

COVER: Space Beaver Volume One

DR: The very first thing I ever got paid for and published was right out of high school, and it was an independent comic, a black and white comic called Space Beaver. That was during the “black and white, funny animals boom” that I wasn’t aware of, I just happened to think Rocket Raccoon was really cool, and had read that mini-series, and at the same time I loved Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew, and it was weird because the name just popped into my head based on  joke my friend was making. I just couldn’t get the joke out of my head, and I was doing a lot of jobs regular teenagers have, so I was doodling a lot on the job and I came up with Space Beaver. I was in summer school at the time, and I sat with a ballpoint pen and typing paper and sat there and drew the first six or seven pages of what would go on to be the first issue, but it was a long walk to that. I was really just drawing for fun, and didn’t expect anything to come of it, but lo and behold that was the beginning of my career.

TIJ: Well, as a personal fan of yours, I loved the work you have done with the character of Wolverine.

DR: Oh thank you! That was my dream character, when I got Wolverine, that was like I had reached the top of the mountain, because that had always been my dream since I was a teenager, that I would get to work on any of the X-Men, much less Wolverine, who had always been a favorite of mine.

TIJ: You did a little bit in the first volume, but then you and Greg Rucka rehashed the character starting at a number one issue for the third volume. There had been a lot of talk surrounding your take on the character at that time, can you talk about that a little?

Wolv17 Pg 07 pg 21 copy

DR: Sure. I have to make sure that what I say is peppered with – I don’t own Wolverine, and I didn’t create Wolverine. Marvel had every right to editorially steer me at the time, where they wanted it to go, and there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen at that time in Marvel, during the early 2000’s. I grew up in an era of comics in the 70’s and 80’s when any artist that would get his run on a character, would kinda bring his own flair to it. So you had Frank Miller on Daredevil, and Walt Simonson on Thor, and John Byrne on the X-Men. Even how Byrne would draw Wolverine as opposed to how Frank Miller would (in the four-part mini-series of 1982), everyone would have their own take on it. You look at Barry Windsor Smith’s Weapon X Wolverine, and then you look at Sam Keith’s Wolverine, and people were allowed to have their own artistic style.

Unfortunately for me, I got a chance to reboot the character at a time when it suddenly became mandated that Wolverine needed a uniform look. The movie had done so well, that it came from on high that Wolverine needed to have a model sheet essentially. I was already five issues into my run at the time, and they wanted me to re-draw a lot of finished work, and that was really painful for me. I believe I was drawing the character though, I have a big problem with drawing actors, ironically, because I did just that with The Boys. But for me, I am drawing the character, I am not drawing the actor. Any actor can play a character, but a character needs to stay true to his roots, so I was drawing Wolverine 5-foot 3-inches,and bringing my own sensibilities that I had loved my whole life up to that point. People go, “well I am the biggest Wolverine fan there is so I say this” but I am like, “look, I loved Wolverine so much that I practiced my ass off and got the gig.” I mean that is how much I love the character, I worked hard so I could be the guy drawing the comic! I drew this comic out of love, it was my childhood dream. But then, they are telling me that he is not 5-foot 3-inches, and I’m like “It still says that in the Marvel Handbook!”. [Another note was] He can’t smoke cigars, but I was saying, “he has a healing factor though!”. So I was just clashing with them, my “nerd me” was exploding – “This is what he is supposed to be!” Some people loved it, and some people couldn’t stand it.

TIJ: I remember the rumblings that were happening when those books were coming out, and again, as a fan of both you and Wolverine, I think you knocked it out of the park.

DR: I appreciate it. Again, he isn’t my character, and I probably should have shut up and done my job, but that isn’t how I function.

TIJ: That is respectable, especially in this industry. You did mention The Boys, and that title along with Transmetropolitan are pretty much the two creator owned things you are most well known for. Talk a little about the creator owned process, and how you got into that from working for Marvel and DC.

Transmet 7

DR: At the time the Wolverine stuff happened, Garth Ennis had approached me about doing The Boys, and I told him I had just taken on Wolverine and I thought that would be the end of it. But he came back around and was very persuasive and persistent that when I was done with Wolverine, he would like to do the Boys comic with me. I was very excited about that proposal, so I had felt I had missed my opportunity, but it came back around. We co-created that, and we were good friends at the time and it was a really great gig. Everything seemed to be going swell, but very typical of my career, we had five issues going when things changed. Wolverine was the number one selling comic when it came out, and then they told me to change everything, and then I was off the book after my run. With The Boys, it was the number one selling book at Wildstorm, doing fantastic numbers and the trade was going to come out, and DC got wind of what we were doing, and decided it was too much for them, so we got canceled. I was like, we have a hit book, but we are cancelled? I just couldn’t wrap my head around how I keep failing by succeeding. But we ended up at Dynamite, and they gave us free reign and lent a lot of support in those early days, and it got right back on the horse and we had a pretty good run.

Boys65CovRobertson

TIJ: Do you enjoy working on creator owned stuff more than working for the major label books?

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DR: I love drawing superheroes, and I would love to do some seminal work on great characters. I would love to be teamed with another great writer and do a good healthy run, but at this stage of my career, I am sort of done with doing monthly books. They take so much of my time, and I want to put more time and care and detail into my work, I don’t just want to be meeting deadlines.

TIJ: On that note, if you had your pick of any superhero that maybe you have never been able to touch before, who would that be?

DR: The Fantastic Four. I would love to do a run on The Fantastic Four for Marvel, and if I was going to do a DC book, I would love to do a run on The Flash. No pun intended. [laughs]

TIJ: [laughs] Very good. I could see your style doing really well with both of those titles.

DR: Thanks. The Flash is my first love, and I got to draw in him in Justice League a bit, but I would love to work on the key character for a while, especially now that it is Barry Allen again.

TIJ: So, what are current projects that you are working on, or at least the ones you can talk about?

DR: I have been slowly, slowly working on a new Image book, that I am hoping will come out next year called Oliver. It is written by my good friend and co-creator Gary Whitta, based on a screenplay he wrote in 2000. You might know Gary’s work from the movie The Book of Eli, he created and wrote that, and he is the writer of the upcoming Star Wars film Rogue One.

TIJ: Awesome!

DR: We have been friends for a long time and have been developing this project for awhile. We found a home for it at Image, about the same time I was doing Happy with Grant Morrison. We made the mistake of announcing early, because I was little overwhelmed, but it is still in production and I have every intention of getting it out there, and I am hoping next year it will be out and running, because I think it will be worth the wait.

TIJ: Very excited for that. You are obviously busy, and have been throughout your career, do you still have time to read comics?

DR: Not as much, but every once in awhile I get caught up in something and have to have everything. The last thing I got crazy about was Saga, by Brian K. Vaughn. I got to work with Brian, and he is kinda an old bud, but that is really phenomenal stuff. Vaughn and Fiona Staples are really that dream for a book that I would like to do – meaning one artist and writer doing a long healthy independent run with nobody interfering, which is what Image is great about. Also Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy is fantastic stuff, and just got Locke and Key, and looking forward to reading that.

TIJ: Cool. We here at FanboysInc are huge fans of SAGA, and all of Brian K. Vaughan’s stuff. In fact, I recommend you check out his new book, called We Stand On Guard, I don’t know if you have heard of it. It is a war of Canada versus America in the future, and it is pretty rad.

DR: All I’m saying, if it is Brian K. Vaughan, I am confident it will be awesome.

TIJ: Your career has spanned such a large body of work over the years you have been active. How do you feel the industry has changed since you got into drawing comics, as opposed to now?

DR: It is so different now. It is such a bigger thing – it was more insular when I broke in. You could really get close, and get to know editors and people that worked in the industry back then. It is a much more busier and vast industry now, with much more turn around than there used to be. Life long people in comics, that is just not as common as it used to be. Even a lot of people I knew a decade ago are now at other companies, and with the other companies that are showing up and taking off, it has expanded how comics are viewed.

When I broke into the industry, there was Marvel and DC. There were some other companies, but they didn’t even come close. Now you have Marvel, DC, Valiant, Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite – there are all these place that are putting out work, but it also makes it harder to actually build relationships with editors and things like that. If you are a new person breaking in, there is no one way to break in anymore. It used to be you would go to a Comic Con and show your samples, and send your work in and maybe get a relationship with an editor, and a couple years later you might get a small assignment. It isn’t like that anymore. Now you can just do your own comic and put it on the internet. Self publishing has taken off like never before, and it is exciting and daunting at the same time. A guy like me, I am used to the way it has been, but at the same time, I was more than happy to go off on my own and do my own comics. I really do like not being told what or how to draw, or being told my character is being drawn too short. Nobody gets to tell me what Spider Jerusalem looks like because I created his visual side; it is my idea, I know what he looks like because he is mine and Warren’s. There is a big difference in that.

I actually got offered a Spider-Man book at the time I took on Transmetropolitan, and it was a really hard decision for me. It was a book called Spider-Man Team-Up, and every month I would have been drawing Spider-Man and a different person in the Marvel Universe, which would have been really fun.

TIJ: Oh hell yea!

DR: There are days where I think I would still like to do a book like that, and I had to really decide at that time. It was when Marvel had just declared bankruptcy and we weren’t really sure if there was even going to be a future at Marvel, so there was no way to know that things would work out the way they did. A friend of mine gave me some great advice and he said, “If you create something and it takes off, you can always be the guy that created so and so. But if you do this Spider-Man book, even if it is successful, you will just be another guy that worked on Spider-Man.” I went, “Wow, there is a lot of wisdom in that”. I was young, and I didn’t have a lot to lose. I am a dad now, and I wasn’t a dad at that time. I loved and believed in Warren Ellis’s work, I spotted his talent from a mile away and said if you ever want to do a monthly book together, I am game, and this was the book he offered. I am so glad I said yes to it, because that was a life changing decision. It is so rare I go back to one decision and look at that fulcrum, and say I took the right road. I am glad I did a creator owned thing, at a time when creator owned stuff wasn’t real prominent or well known, back in 1997.

TIJ: That was a scary time in comics in general, because everything was kind of teetering on the brink. You definitely did make the right choice. Finally, as an illustrator, I am sure you are still looking at people’s work, is there anybody who is up and coming that is wowing you?

DR: I love Fiona Staples’s work, I think she is phenomenal. I love Chris Samnee, and the work he had been doing on Daredevil, that has been amazing. Just seeing that style explode has been fun. I always love Eduardo Risso, I don’t know if you would consider him up and coming though at this point. I am always drawn to people who don’t draw like me, I am always attracted to that kind of art, because they think in a way that my brain doesn’t. I am fascinated by that work. One of the things that made me excited about getting into comics was the idea that I could do better than what I was looking at. So I would see certain artists were I would go, “I could do that. This could be better, and I can do that better.” Mike Carlin once gave me that advice, early on when I was breaking in during the late 80’s, he said, “When you can draw as well as your favorite artist, then you are ready to be working”. My favorite artist has always been Brian Bolland, and I can’t draw as well as him, but in my attempt to get to where he is, I have been able to carve out a career. People seem to like what I am doing, even if it is a poor man’s Brian Bolland. [laughs]

TIJ: Well what you do, is pretty incredible, and so is everything you have given to comics. Thank you so much for taking time, while you are drawing, to sit and talk with us.

DR: My pleasure.

Jeff Ayers

Both my parents instilled in me at an early age the awesome power and incredible wonder of the written word. My father sat with me when I was four years old and taught me to enjoy reading with classic comic strips like SPIDERMAN, PEANUTS, B.C. and, later, CALVIN AND HOBBES. My mother exposed me to such classics of literature as Poe, Tolkien, Stoker and Doyle, and I started my own comic collection with allowance money from mowing lawns. I liked Wolverine before it was cool, I watched as Superman died and returned, and huddled under the covers as I turned the pages of SANDMAN. Reading is like oxygen to me, and all genres and formats are welcome and devoured equally. I am the co-host of The DW and Incredible Jeff Show, CEO of Permian Productions, and a reviewer at Graphic Novel Reporter. I am 34 and live in scenic Saratoga Springs New York, where I haunt coffee shops and dive bars and the best comic shop anywhere, The Comic Depot.

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