Comics: Lee Bermejo on Creating the Cold, Cruel World of Batman: Noel

Believes comics are “one of those last, really pure storytelling mediums.”

By , Columnist

This page from Batman: Noel showcases all of the qualities writer-artist Lee Bermejo praises in the work of his fellow creators, colorist Barbara Ciardo and Todd Klein letterer

In this—the concluding half of our conversation with comics superstar Lee Bermejo—the artist-writer details how and why the art for Batman: Noel differs from his past work, praises the many and rich contributions his co-creators made to the DC Comics project, and talks a bit about his life-long love for the medium itself.

use this cropped Batman -- Noel Joker ho-ho-ho page.jpg

Did you create the art in the same manner that you usually do?

Going back to the idea of doing a children’s book, I wanted to do something open—a little more montage-y in certain areas, and traditional comic book storytelling in others. So I knew that that would be the element that would make the book slightly different.

And, yeah, that certainly became a factor. When I actually got down to drawing the book, it became about taking kind of a traditional comic book script and seeing where I could push the layouts, and seeing where I could start to make things…you know, instead of using panel boards, blend things together in a way that kind of flowed with composition. That played more of a part later on, when I was actually drawing the thing.

Lex Luthor OGN page 70 from DC site.jpg

Now, are you still drawing on actual paper these days, or have you switched to plastic, so to speak?

No, this was done by hand. [Laughter] Yeah, this was done by hand. I have just recently started using [a drawing tablet] but it’s a very, very recent addition. I’m just kind of playing around with it.

But, yeah, Noel was done traditionally. One of the reasons it took so long is that each page was a pretty laborious, involved thing to do. So, yeah, it was all done by hand, the old fashioned way.

Lex Luthor OGN extra unused fight page 1 from DC site.jpg

How many layers are there on any given page? Between pencils and inks, and the other mediums you applied to the boards to get those different effects, I figure there’s a few.

Basically what I do is, I pencil and ink the page pretty traditionally. And then I go back on top of the inks with more pencil and ink wash. So, basically, it becomes kind of painted at the end of the day, because I’m taking that kind of black and white base, and I’m blending things, and I’m softening areas, and I’m adding, obviously, a lot of tones of gray to it. And I think that’s why the book has that sort of softer, painterly look to it.

And, yeah, it’s certainly a little more involved than your traditional pencils and inks.

use this croped Batman -- Noel -- Bats & Robin good ol days page.jpg

And were those all your basic black pencils, or did you use some colored lead in there, too?

Yeah, I did use a bit of colored lead. I was using a bit of red in there, on faces here and there. And some sepia colored ink in there, as well, for skin tone.

But, really, that stuff doesn’t show up. After the book was colored, I realized…after I’d done about 40 or so pages, when I was starting to see the colored pages come in, I realized that it really wasn’t necessary. So I dropped that out of the equation pretty early on.

By the way, speaking of the colors, I think Barbara Ciardo did just an amazing job. She really made a huge, huge contribution to the way the book looks.

Batman Noel pg 4 from DC site.jpg

I was about to ask you about working with her. I really feel that, in some significant ways, both of you have made some real breakthroughs with this work. And one of the major things that struck me about her work in this book is how it helped tell the story.

Yeah. You know, I think she just added an element of atmosphere, and added an element of…I think Jim [Lee] says in the foreword, people have told me that the scenes look cold. It looks like it has a real sense of life to it. And I think that really is something that comes from those final touches that she’s making. And, yeah, I couldn’t be happier with the work she did.

Batman Noel pg 5 from DC site.jpg

Same goes for Todd Klein, really. The way he wound up lettering that book was the icing on the cake in terms of adding to the children’s book feel, the storybook feel to it.

And, again, his work helps tell the story, even down to the visual clashing between the different fonts he used for the book. It gives you that subtle visual cue, the idea that there are a couple of different, contrasting narratives running at once.

Yeah, Todd’s the best, obviously, since he’s a multi-award-winning letterer, and rightfully so.

He just has great instincts. And, yeah, this book really wouldn’t be the book it is without both his contribution and Barbara’s. They rounded everything out in a great way.

Well, now that you’ve tackled this challenge, what’s next for you? Do you want to do the whole thing now, where you’re writing, drawing, inking, coloring, and lettering the whole book, something else entirely?

You know, I’m so happy working with Barbara that, at this point, I can’t imagine it. I don’t think I could do as good a job as she could do, honestly! [Laughter]

I think that she really finishes my sentences, so to speak. It just fits.

use this cropped Batman -- Noel Robin ghost in batcave page.jpg

I would definitely like to continue writing. I definitely would like to take a stab at something totally different than Noel, as well. I don’t think I would beat that same drum twice. I’d like to try to do an original story at some point or another, and definitely wouldn’t mind writing some more superhero characters somewhere along the line.

But, as far as the next project, I am working on something with another writer. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it, just yet.  But, yeah, I think I’ll do this next project, and then try to go back and do something else that I’ve written after that.

What is it about comics that first grabbed you, and what’s kept you interested in them?

Well, I think that the first thing that grabbed me was the art work. I always read comics as a kid, but there was a very specific moment when I looked at a comic book and thought, “Wow, there’s actually someone drawing this!”

My grandmother, who actually was buying a lot of my books and stuff at the time, the gifts she would give me were books, literature as well as graphic novels. She actually gave me The Dark Knight Returns—it had already come out in trade paperback form. I think I was 10 or 11 at the time, or something.

use this cropped Dark Knight Returns Bats & female Robin splash pg.jpg

And it really struck me how beautiful the colors were, and how different it looked from the average comic book. And I remember thinking, “Wow, there’s actually somebody who does this! There’s actually a person who must do this job.” And I think that’s when the seed was really planted, to want to do it professionally.

But I think that the thing that just keeps me really interested in the medium is the fact that I feel like it’s one of those last, really pure storytelling mediums. Music is another one, but comics seem to have…there’s just less cooks in the kitchen. So, at the end of the day, you really can see someone’s vision pretty purely. It just comes down to what they can or can’t do, 90% of the time.

I just picked up Frank Miller’s Holy Terror and, you know, that book alone—despite political beliefs and other issues that come into play when talkin’ about that book—I think it’s a good example of how comic books allow you to still tell stories that may not be able to exist in many other mediums.

It just allows you a lot of freedom. And that’s really, really appealing to me.

Yeah, it is just about the most democratic of all art forms, really. All you need is a pencil, a piece of paper, and an idea.

Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

What do you hope that readers get from Batman: Noel? Is it just about entertainment or is there a little bit of medicine mixed in with those sweets?

Well, I definitely think that there’s—again, I didn’t want to shout it out from the rafters—but I definitely think that in there there’s a bit of a wink and a nod to Batman’s current place in his own history. I don’t want to date the book, but at the same time, I do feel like you can make a little bit of a comment about how far the character has come, and where he’s at right now by saying...

Batman Noel cvr from DC site.jpg

This character’s been around for, how long is it? Eighty years? And you’re dealing with a character who’s gone through many different iterations, and certainly is, at this point in time, a very violent, dark force of…force of will, almost. He’s almost like the Terminator to me, now. He’s almost infallible, where he’s almost a machine in the way he does what he does. And if you juxtapose something like that with the more colorful Dick Sprang Batman, for example, or the Adam West TV show [version], and I think you get a really interesting look at how tastes have evolved, as well as the status quo for this character.

And so, part of me thinks that, with this particular story, you can make a little bit of a comment on the character and celebrate him at the same time.

And when it comes down to it, of course, this is just entertainment. I hope that people just enjoy the reading experience. And I think that the message of A Christmas Carol is pretty universal, and people know well what that is. But, hopefully at the end of the day, it is a Batman story for a reason, and hopefully that reason is to comment on him as he stands, and has stood for so many years.

All characters are the property of DC Comics.

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