Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Interview with Ted Naifeh about his Bat-love

Ted Naifeh, like most artists, loves drawing Batman. Much like how almost every artist has that one character they get sheer joy out of drawing, Naifeh's is definitely Gotham's Dark Knight. Recently, on his website, he displayed some mock covers of Bat-books. Now, he's already done some redesigns of Bats' rogues gallery and other miscellaneous Gothamites, but what he's done here is completely different, and truly amazing. Naifeh spoke exclusively to Blog@ about Batman and his thoughts on the character's legacy.

Blog@: What does Batman mean to you?

Ted Naifeh: That's a tough question for anyone, because he means so many things to so many people. But I guess I like to think that more than anything else, he represents to me the desperate desire to force a senseless world into making sense. And doing it with a great deal of style. He's turned himself into a force of nature, an avenging angel that can impose this immense fiction called justice on a chaotic world. Who doesn't dream of doing that? Only cynics and sociopaths.

Blog@: When you touch pen to paper with an intent to drawing Batman, what is it that you want to evoke?

Naifeh: I'm trying to find a perfect balance of heroism and monstrousness, between Superman and the Shadow. Batman works best when his contradictions complement each other. For instance, you can't gloss over the monstrousness for the sake of the heroism. That leaves him incomplete. Which is why, as much as I like Batman: Brave and the Bold, I don't feel like it's the true Batman. He's just not frightening. He really ought to be frightening. Otherwise, what's the point of the pointy ears?

Blog@: Out of Batman's cronies and criminals, who do you like drawing the most and why?

Naifeh: Well, I'll be honest, I'm going to have to go with Catwoman, cause, ya know, she's hot. She's Batman's femme fatale.

Blog@: Who are some of your Bat-influences?

Naifeh: Neal Adams always blew me away. My first Batman comic was a giant-sized collection of old Bob Kane, Bill Finger stories (including one of the original Two-Faces, Harvey Apollo, the actor) but the cover was clearly so much cooler than the interior art, with a sleek, sensual Batman by Adams, as opposed to the earlier boxy Batman. After that, it wasn't till I discovered Frank Miller's take that the character caught my attention again. That first issue of Dark Knight Returns, with its tight cropped panels, its generous use of black, and it's willingness to hide Batman rather than showing him off, really captured the true visual potential of Batman, lurking in shadows, transforming from a man in a costume to a force of nature.

Blog@: What is it about Batman that draws people to him in pop culture?

Naifeh: It's everything at once. Everyone picks and chooses their favorite aspects of the character, and leaves the rest. Some people like the campyness, the sheer ludicrousness of the idea turned into the point of the character. Some people like the idea of this perfect man that's good at everything, James Bond in a Dracula costume. But I think at the end of the day, what people most respond to is the contradiction of the man who dresses like the devil and fights for justice. He's such a simple icon, both conceptually and visually, that it's easy to fit him into the psyche. In our modern world of twisty contradictions, he corkscrews straight through into our hearts.

Blog@: Tell us about those mock covers you did.

Naifeh: When I did my first wave of Batman concept and character art, James Sime at Isotope said that my next step should be to do cover designs. He said if I stick a Batman logo on it, it'd make a world of difference. It'd look official. I'd always wanted to do my own Batman logo. That first one is a bit wonky, but It's coming along. The second one (shown above) is more along the lines of a fifties pulp novel. What I'm trying to do is capture some of the retro flavor of Batman without taking the campyness with it.

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