Sunday, May 23, 2010

Original Art Stories: Trevor Von Eeden's Grimm Batman


Launched in 1989 as a stand-alone title following the huge popularity of the Tim Burton Batman movie, Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight was initially different from mainstream Batman titles and was the first on-going Batman title to debut since the main title, batman, debuted in 1940. The concept of the title was to showcase constantly rotating creative teams, whom would work no more than five issue arcs to produce stories of graphic novel quality. Best of all the creative teams could have carte blanche as they could feature stories that were not necessarily part of current continuity, but could be considered canon in the characters history. This meant that each team could pick an era of the Batman’s career and work within that time frame and not be bound by current events in the mainstream Batman titles.

Eventually events of the book would impact upon other Batman comics, most memorably with Denny O'Neil's story Venom, pencilled by Trevor Von Eeden and inked by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, a story that showed Batman taking a performance enhancing drug, a drug which would be abused by Bane, a character that would be Batman's undoing.

In 2002, eleven years after their acclaimed Venom series, Trevor Von Eeden once again teamed with Jose Louis Garcia-Lopez with covers by fan favorite John Cassady to create yet another memorable run on the Legends Of The Dark Knight title, Grimm, marking one of the few times an artistic team has been invited back to the book. At the time DC announced the story-line, written by Jean Marc (J.M) DeMatties as, "A new Legend begins - this one focusing on Dick Grayson, at the very beginning of his career as Robin. The Boy Wonder follows a street pickpocket right into the lair of the joyfully inane Mother Grimm, who collects homeless and wayward children while putting them to work and allowing them to live in her subterranean world. But there's trouble in this 'paradise."

The art showed that Trevor wasn't living off past glories and could still produce a unique vision of the Batman, but, unfortunately, there wasn’t any interaction between the writer and artist. “I've never met nor spoken to J.M. DeMatties,” says Trevor, “Andy Helfer merely gave me his scripts after he'd edited 'em, that's all. I think that Bob Fleming, the creator/writer of THRILLER, was the only writer who'd ever called me occasionally, during my tenure at DC. It was a great help to me, actually - inspired some of the best work that I'd done for that series. But other than those phone calls from Bob, my time at DC was mostly a solitary one. I didn't mind. I still enjoy my own company.”

Batman is one of the two characters that Trevor Von Eeden is most recognized for, with the other being, naturally, Black Lightning, a character that he helped create with Tony Isabella. What sets Von Eeden apart from the majority of other artists who have worked on Batman through the years is that on each job his art has altered, evolved and changed to the point where a casual reader could easily be forgiven for believing that the work was created by different artists and not the one person. This evolving art style has seen Von Eeden’s Batman remain one of the most unique visions of the past thirty years, and Trevor himself remains a stylist whose approach has inspired a number of artists who have come since, from David Mazzuchelli (who was Frank Miller’s second choice to illustrate Batman: Year One, after his first choice, Trevor Von Eeden, turned him down) through to Norm Breyfogle and beyond.

Before the Grimm storyline, Trevor had a chance to delve into the world of the Legends of the DC Universe and Batman. Working from scripts by Steve Englehart, Trevor illustrated a two part story that focused on the first meeting between Aquaman and the Joker, with a familiar character, naturally, showing up for the ride. “Joker/Aquaman was actually drawn two years BEFORE Grimm (two very long years...),” says Trevor, “and, frankly - it wasn't much of a story. Sometime after I'd done it, I'd bumped into Bob Greenberger (one of the few great guys that I've met in comics) in the Production room at DC - and he told me how pissed he was that they'd given me to draw ‘One of the worst scripts that he'd ever seen,’ - I remember this distinctly, because I almost never saw Bob upset - about anything. The script wasn't as bad as all that, in my opinion, but I did have to pull out more than my share of visual gimmicks, to lend some interest to the proceedings...water-based themes and motifs abound, in the shapes of balloons and panels for this job, and full-page shots pop up ad infinitum, for no real reason... But I didn't think the final books were bad, at all. I especially liked the second one (LODCU#27) myself.

“But the only thing that I didn't like was my drawing of Batman's first full-page appearance in - I think that I drew him a little too abstractly. I should've made him a bit more representational and identifiably human, in that shot - at least, that's my opinion now. I still like the fight scene between him and Aquaman, though - and the pages/full-page shots of them talking on the docks. I could really get into an Aquaman story, if it takes place underwater - the opportunity to create visuals previously unseen in comics would be tremendous. It'd have to be an interesting script, though, needless to say.”

Recently Trevor Von Eeden sat down and shared his thoughts on a wide range of subjects, from the evolution of his art style, superheroes, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, the Grimm story line and the character Batman.


It's always fun for me to draw Batman. I'd still love the opportunity to draw a Batman story that'd call for revisiting the Art style I'd created for the Batman Annual #8, back in '82. I wouldn't mind that at all...but so far, the opportunity has never presented itself. None of the Batman jobs I'd been offered by DC since that Annual has warranted such an extreme and graphic Art style - it was created and tailored specifically for that story ("The longest single Batman story, ever" - or words to that effect - read the first page blurb...) For me, it'd be a blast - all of the memories from that period of my life are good ones - and they're all memorialized and encapsulated in my own private language, in the work that I'd done in that book. I know exactly what I was thinking, when I created that style, and it wouldn't be hard to bring those memories back to life. After all - those were some of the best days of my entire life.

I may have to write my own Batman story in order to revisit that Art style, though - but of course, I'd need DC Comics' permission to do so, first.

My Art has evolved over the years in accordance with the development of my own inner world - my own particular spiritual, intellectual, and most importantly - psychological growth. Art in Comics is always the visual expression of a psychological concept - an abstract state of mind. Super-heroes, e.g., are literal embodiments of psychological abstractions - different states of mind (Superman: Omnipotence/ Batman: Intelligence; Resourcefulness; Bizarre theatricality/ Captain America: Patriotism; Phenomenal physical prowess; Military invincibility/ Spider-Man: Radioactive runaway teen-age hormones!/ Angst gone wild! Ok, skip that last one...) - which is why the concept of Integrity is vital to a super-hero's (or villain's) persona - they're each supposed to be a pure representation of a psychological state - that's the very essence of their identities! (Which is why they can be such prima donnas...) Just so, the Art styles of comic book artists are visual representations of their own, individual inner worlds - their unique and particular point of view and psychology - how they see the world, and what they think of it. And being one of "them", that's what I do, too. So far, they seem nice...

I don't use Batman as either a focus or a reference point in my career - aside from the Batman Annual #8. Batman IS my all-time favorite super-hero, period, so I always give him the best work that I'm capable of...and that the job in question allows. But I'm limited by the content of the scripts I've gotten, so I don't look at my Batman jobs as any particular reference point - I just did the best with what I was given. Personally, I feel that my Artwork has evolved along the lines of better technical execution (better drawing), clearer and more effectively engaging story-telling, and a more conscious understanding of my own design ideas - which are a MAJOR source of enjoyment for me, in creating my work! At 50 years old, and after 33 years spent as a comic book artist, I'm thrilled to be able to show something good to the fans, out of all that. Art is the happy exploration and development of one's own soul - but Comics Art is ALSO done for the fans to see, read, and enjoy - and I'm glad to be able to create something they consider worth looking at.

Working on a Robin-focused storyline was to me...liberating. It liberated me from a personal and long-standing prejudice. Y'see, I've always HATED Robin! I couldn't stand the little bastard - his ultra-gay costume (no offense intended) and peppy, cheery personality always struck me as a deliberate (and very unfunny) mockery of the dark strength, and stern masculinity that was THE Batman (among the many other things that Bats represented...) I couldn't stand to even look at the little bird-brained twit! BUT - by the end of ‘Grimm’, I found myself liking the little...Dick. The fact that he gets his first kiss in this series - and with a black girl, at that (!) - didn't hurt a bit, either. Yes, I quite enjoyed drawing this "Robin and Batman" story. Quite a great deal, actually.

I love Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez's work, and had requested him as inker on ‘Grimm’. Andy said, "I don't think he'd be interested." Once Jose heard about my request, he walked out of Andy's office that same day, with my pages in his portfolio! I liked what he did on my pencils VERY much - he added a solid confidence and "commerciality" to my work, with the boldness of his line work, and his sensitivity to my original drawings. On a couple of occasions, I think he even improved on what I'd drawn. (No, I'm not gonna tell you which ones...) I had the honor to sit next to Jose back in '03, at The Big Apple Con - and the experience was like being in the presence of true royalty. Not "aristocracy", mind you - the man is so modest, so unpretentious, and so genuine in his humanity that the label "aristocrat" - one above the common people - just doesn't apply. Jose Luis Garcia Lopez is genuine royalty - like Kirby, and Elvis were Kings among men - by the people, for the people, and one OF the people! You just don't find better men than that.

He didn't ink my pencils on the "Venom" arc, btw - I'd been contacted by Andy to provide lightly pencilled pages for his current protégé, Russell Braun to draw over - apparently Russ's storytelling didn't please the Helferman. Why I just didn't go ahead and draw the story, I dunno...I think that Andy was really trying to give the new guy a break - so I didn't mind helping out. Russell kept pretty much true to what I'd sketched, and just tightened and darkened it up a bit (later on, Jose told me that he'd seen my light pencils, and had kept them in mind while he inked - which was nice to know.) Except for a few minor storytelling details that I'd change in the last issue of that 5-parter, I was pretty happy with how "Venom" turned out. The first time Batman got addicted to drugs! (Btw, the shot of the drooling Bruce Wayne/Batman, costume shredded and in a half-animalistic state, during the drug-kicking sequence in the Batcave was not done over my layouts - either Jose or Russell pencilled that. My drawing was a bit too...extreme, probably...). The covers by Jose were phenomenal!

One last bit of trivia, Re: ‘Grimm’ - There's a scene in the ‘Dark Knight’ movie that I'm pretty sure was inspired by the second issue of ‘Grimm’ (LOTDK#150.) In the book, Batman falls down the side of a skyscraper, and after bouncing about for a bit, 'sky glides' and lands in a warehouse conveniently filled with crates and empty boxes. In the movie, he falls off a skyscraper - with Maggie Whatshername in his arms - and lands on his back, on top of a car...and they're both unhurt! (At least in the book, he had the decency to be unconscious for a while, after such a fall...)

Movies is magic, baby! (Which probably explains the disappearance of my Hollywood royalty checks from my mailbox...) Heck, I'm still waiting to hear from the guys behind "The Matrix" for ripping off Salvo, and calling him Neo. Maybe I'll take 'em on a helicopter ride over the city one day - I hear the view from a dangling cable is not to be believed...

‘Grimm’ was my very last job for DC Comics - It was gotten for me by the very first agent I'd ever hired in this business, Mike Friedrich. I was his last client. The last thing he did, before retiring, was to get me this 5-part Batman and Robin story. Shortly after completing the final issue, 9/11 occurred - and both the world and the comics industry changed completely. Almost all of the freelancers at DC Comics were let go, along with some of their editorial staff. I started attending conventions for the first time in my career, and was happily surprised to learn that I had an actual fan following of which I was completely unaware, for the entire 25 years of my DC career! (Yes, I wasn't kidding about the solitude.) It was at one such convention that I was also approached by Mike Gold, which led to my writing my first book, "The Original Johnson." Vol. I, published by IDW Publishing and ComicMix, hit the stands on Dec 23rd, 2009 - and I'm told that it's still selling out, all over New York. So far, I'm very pleased.

The rest of the work that I may do for DC Comics in the future will be entirely up to them.

Personally, I have no grudges to bear - against anyone.

I like my life that way.

And remember, Trevor is available for commissions, full details are on his site.

1 comment:

Trevor Von Eeden said...

Very cool.

Thank you!

-Trevor Von Eeden.