Comics: Norm Breyfogle, Back on Bats

Artist returns to the franchise that cemented his reputation.

By , Columnist

While it’s true that any number of artists might be contributing simultaneously to the adventures of iconic characters like Wonder Woman or Spider-Man at any given moment, it’s also true that certain creators sometimes become so closely associated with a particular era of a title that their work comes to be seen as the epitome of that character for that age.

Case in point: Norm Breyfogle and the Batman of the '90s.

Batman 465 cover by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

Working in tandem with some of the best writers of the day, Breyfogle created a Dark Knight that captured the essence of both the character and that particular point in time, resulting in some of the most interesting and entertaining comics of their day. It’s a run that’s fondly remembered by many, and often I’ve heard someone wistfully wonder if Breyfogle’s work would appear ever again in any of the extended family of Batman books.

Well, all that pontificating recently came to an end with DC Comics’ announcement that Breyfogle would be drawing the newly minted exploits of the next Caped Crusader in Batman Beyond Unlimited. And if Norm’s excitement about this homecoming of sorts is any indication, readers of that forthcoming series are in for a real treat.

Batman Beyond Unlimited issue 1 pg 18 by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

How would you describe Batman Beyond Unlimited, and your role in bringing it to life?

Batman Beyond Unlimited will be a monthly digital and print release (first issue in February), combining one story of Batman Beyond with one story of Justice League Beyond in each issue. As for my part in it, that’s easy: I’m the penciler and inker of the Batman Beyond stories.

Batman Beyond Unlimited issue 1 pg 19 by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

Why do this book, and why now?

Simple — it was offered to me, and I was available. It’s also the first ongoing comics work which DC Comics has offered me in almost ten years, so even though I was ready for a longer break after my Archie Comics work—and I do have a lot of writing and my own art I’ve been putting off for a loooong time—I felt I couldn’t say “No.”

Archive cover sketch by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

Well, how’d this all come about?

I’d finished my work with Archie and, as I indicated, I was more than ready for a long break so that I could, perhaps, finally finish my novel and illustrate it—for instance—when Jim Chadwick emailed me and offered me the Batman: Retroactive (1990s) one-shot. I must say, no one could have been more surprised than I was that DC was offering me work again after all those years!

DC Retro Batman 90s cvr from DC blog.jpg

Shortly after I’d finished Batman: Retroactive, Jim then offered me this Batman Beyond gig. At first I turned it down because I wanted that break from work, but after a little negotiation I ended up taking just one month off before starting on Batman Beyond.

Jughead character sketch by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

Given that the series has its origins as an animated television series, I was wondering if this book presented you with any new challenges, or if you had to alter your style, or even your approach to the page, at all?

Well, no, although I’d have been more than willing to do that after drawing Archie comics for two years.

I will say that it’s fun to be drawing a Batman title that isn’t mired in the complex continuity of the DCU. Adam Beechen [the series’ writer] and I feel a lot of freedom to play with all the related characters because of that. I’m also having fun drawing the future Gotham City, designing flying cars, architecture, etc.

Batman Leap painting by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

As far as the drawing style goes, Batman Beyond had already established a more “realistic” or “dramatic” drawing style in its comics incarnations, and I’m basically using my established superhero drawing style on it.

How do you typically create your work? Do you read the script completely before putting pencil to paper, or do you do rough thumbnails while reading, or...?

I read the whole script first, then gather any visual reference I might need. Then, I draw the entire issue’s pages at about 4” x 6” per page, which is a size at which I can include all the design elements for each page and enough detail so that I can enlarge those with a photocopier, tape them to the backs of 11” x 17” bristol boards, and ink them on a lightbox.

Batman 475 pg 20 by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

You’ve written your own books in the past, so I was curious if you’ll be involved in helping to plot, or perhaps even writing, any future issues of the series?

No such plans; I wasn’t brought on board to do that. However, I am, of course, in touch with Adam Beechen, and he’s very open to any suggestions from me.

Anarky pg a by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

Are you working on anything else, or is this going to command all your time for the foreseeable future?

This is pretty much it, while it lasts.

What was it about comics that first captured your interest, and what about the medium keeps you interested?

Anarky pg b by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

As a child, I was originally drawn to the athleticism, heroism, and imagination found in super-hero comic books, and as I matured I realized that I also love this form of expression because it engages both the visual and the literary mindsets at the same time, but without requiring the huge amount of creators which a film, for instance, often does. One could say that it’s a whole-brain form of creativity and entertainment, utilizing both sides of the brain in a well-fused form.

Metaphysique painting by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

You’ve done this for a while now, and created books featuring iconic company-owned characters as well as your own creations. So, I was curious if you felt as if you had anything left to accomplish at this point in your career, or if perhaps there was a title or character that you still dreamed of getting to work on in the future?

That’s an interesting question which might assume that one could run out of things to draw, write, or express, or run out of the motivation to express them...and I don’t believe that that’s the case, not at all, at least not with me.

My answer is that I’ve been an illustrator of comics and other things for over two decades. It’s my career and how I make a living, and I love the craft of comics, so yes, I remain motivated. Also, I’m always striving to improve my game.

However, if I ran into a big enough financial windfall tomorrow, the first thing I’d probably do is quit Batman Beyond—or maybe wait until I’d finished a year of issues—and then focus on finishing writing my novel, my book of short stories, and my book of poetry, then illustrate them, then look into publishing them.

Holy Terror painting by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

Still, though, I really do love the craft of comics for its own sake, and I feel I’ve got a lot left to give to this medium. There are, indeed, many characters I haven’t yet worked on, and I’d be happy to do so.

What do you get from creating your art? Is it just a job, or is it more of a calling, an avocation, for you?

It’s always been, from the beginning, my calling, my avocation, and my vocation. It’s been my fairly successful attempt to meld together my work/means of making a living, and my love of art.

And what do you hope readers get from your work?

I hope they appreciate the clear, dynamic storytelling of my unique style.

Detective 606 pg cover by Norm Breyfogle.jpg

Anything to add before I let you get back to work?

I’ll be a guest at the New Orleans Comic Con on January 28-29, 2012, and I’ll be in Malaga, Spain for the Comicon Malaga, in June, 2012.

My website is in the process of being re-vamped, but it’ll be at the same URL. I can also be found on Facebook. In fact, I spend way too much time there!

Norm Breyfogle painted self portrait.jpg

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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