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Greg Capullo is one of the hardest-working people in comics. Fans who follow the Batman artist online or meet him at his frequent convention appearances soon discover he’s unrestrained, with boundless energy, carrying a deep appreciation for the fans who buy his comics, the creators he’s worked with and those that paved his way.
For this week’s “Conversing on Comics,” I talked with Capullo about Batman, as well as his career from his days at Marvel to Spawn and his five year-hiatus from comics. Along the way we discover that his grandmother was a Terminator, Scott Snyder is his brother and Todd McFarlane is the Todd Father.
I’ve been a big fan of your work going all the way back to the Quasar days, but the reason I sought you for this interview was primarily to see what drives you. You’ve done every issue of Batman save one since the book launched in September 2011, and on your Twitter and Facebook page you seem to have a focus like few others I’ve met in comics. What pushes you to keep at it and be one of the hardest-working artists in comics today?
It’s just the way I’m built, I guess. My grandma was a Terminator. Knee replacements, hip replacements, arthritis, stroke, migraines … and yet her house was immaculate, she tended a garden and cooked her ass off. She nearly made it to 100. I have her drive, her will and her strength. Couple that with the fact that I’ve wanted to draw comics since I was 8, I’m a perfectionist, and a passionate Italiano and voila! Yes, I know. That was French.
I remember reading somewhere how you were striving not to ever have a fill-in issue on your Batman run but had to when doing Batman #0 and some covers came in. The way comics work now it seems no artist can, or gets the chance, to do a long extended, uninterrupted run on comics. What is the appeal in you for trying to strive for that?
Well, I don’t recall saying that. What I do say and mean is, I will never take a break during a story arc. I didn’t have to take Issue 12 off. It was simply the only opportunity I had to recharge and spend time with my family. After my track record, I don’t feel I’ve anything left to prove. If I felt that I did, you’d NEVER see a fill-in artist on my book. But, as I mentioned, I’ve a family now. So, I promised to break whenever I’m between arcs.
You’ve always been a pretty driven artist, having a new comic on the shelf each month from 1990 all the way to 2004. But after 2004, you took a break from doing a monthly book. Haunt and now Batman have been your big return to comics, but what led you to shift gears from 2004 to 2009 – and what did you do during that time?
I’d decided that Spawn #100 would be my last issue. I’d done so many and I was getting disinterested. I left before it showed in the work. But Todd wanted me to stick around. I was put on payroll and became his go-to-guy. Anything he needed, I did. Toy design, video games, cover art, tutoring artists … lots of stuff. But during that time, life really knocked the hell out of me. I took some really hard blows. In fact, it was the first time in my life that I genuinely wanted to give up. People around me were like, “But, you’re Superman! Nothing stops you.” That made everything all the harder on me. I needed to … well, break down. And, I did. Todd kept me working at an easy pace till I recovered my self. But everything is great theses days. I’m making Grandma proud again.
You’ve said online that you work seven days a week with a day off “once in a blue moon,” and work 12- to 14-hour days. After taking that break in 2004 to 2009, what’s it like to come back to that now that you’re married and have kids and you’re not the 20-year-old comics rookie any more?
Ha! Yeah, well. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it’d be! I’m still shaking off the rust! And, being older and having the demands of a family do change things … some for better, some for worse. But I still have plenty of fuel left. I was made in the ’90s and built to last.
Do you see comics differently now in the second phase of your career, returning to the Big Two and being a veteran?
I hope to always see them differently. Working for one of the Big Two isn’t really a factor. It’s all comic art. I look back at past work and think, wow. Some of that stuff is pretty cool. It’s like looking at someone else’s work. As much as my approach is the same, it’s quite different these days. It’s really strange. The mind’s eye changes. Beyond being on a different title and working with a a different writer, maturity, life experience … Hell, simply living and observing changes the way you see things.
I read on your Facebook page how John Buscema was a big influence to you growing up, and I can see that – especially comparing his later work like that great Wolverine: Bloody Choices graphic novel he did in the early 1990s. Now that you’re years into the business, does Buscema’s work still resonate with you – and has it changed how it resonates with you?
Big John was the one that really made me want to do comics. He was a master of the figure. He’ll forever be a part of who I am. I’m grateful for all that he gave to us. I hope that I’m making him proud.
You also say Mort Drucker and Chuck Jones are big inspirations for you. I can’t see that so much in your work, but maybe I’m not looking hard enough. I haven’t been able to see you do more humorous or caricature work, but is there a Mad artist lurking somewhere inside you just waiting to bust out?
The Spawn work was pretty freakin’ whacked out at certain point in my run. There was a period where I was extremely cartoony. I was much more impressionistic because I wanted to move past reality to better display emotion. A lot of the body English is very Chuck Jones. Drucker is there too if you know what to look for. I play things a little more straight in Batman. But, it’s still all there.
For well over a decade you worked hand in hand with Todd McFarlane. How would you describe those years and working so closely with another artist like Todd?
He always gave me boundless freedom. It was freakin’ awesome! It was the closest thing to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, really. I guess we rubbed off on each other a bit after working together for so long. But, from day one, we shared a lot of the same sensibilities when it came to storytelling. I guess that’s what helped to make our marriage thrive. I still love the Todd Father!
I have to ask you about The Creech. You’ve done two series, and you mentioned once you had the ideas for a third one rattling around. Could you see yourself retuning to him, or at least seeing those books be reprinted by Image or elsewhere down the road?
I would love to finish The Creech!!! I’ve got quite a bit written on my iPad, actually. But, I’m locked into Gotham right now. Who knows? Maybe my Brother Scott will help me out with it someday.
It’s interesting that you call Scott Snyder your brother. I’m friends with Sean Murphy, who’s worked a lot with Scott, and he has great things to say about him as a collaborator. You’ve worked with a variety of writers from Mark Gruenwald to Fabian Nicieza, Todd McFarlane, Neil Gaiman, Robert Kirkman and even writing for yourself – so how does he rate in terms of working with him elbow-to-elbow, so to speak?
I love Scott! We’ve grown really close and look forward to times when we can hang together–a far cry from how we started out! Look. We’re both insanely passionate about Batman and we constantly inspire each other to better our work. All of that makes for a great working relationship and good comics. We hope that fans can feel the love and passion we have for our work. We pour our guts into it every single time. There’s no “going through the motions” with us.
It’s Shake ’n Bake!
In an interview elsewhere you mention that Scott gives you some pretty loose scripts with story beats and not strict panel breakdowns. How does that work for you, being able to pace the stories yourself?
It’s what I was trained to do. I started at Marvel. It was always the artist’s responsibility. I actually find it extremely insulting when a writer tries to tell me what to draw. It’d be like me telling a writer what words he or she should use! Imagine how well that would go over, eh? Maybe some artists need that. I dunno. You don’t need me if you (the writer) want to direct. You simply need a draftsman. It’s be a waste of my skills. Now, that’s not to say if a writer can’t describes a scene in detail I’m gonna throw a fit. All writers present specific ideas at times. I’m all good with that. I can work and play well with others!!!
You and Scott work together like you’re old friends, but can you describe you initial conversations and how you built up that trust so quickly?
I dunno, really. Hmm. How did Scott and I fall in love? Like any relationship, you need to have things in common. As you’ve already read, we discovered our commonalities. And, once I started turning Scott’s ideas into art, I gained his trust. We agreed to make concessions for each other. I mean, neither of us is working entirely the way we’d been accustomed. But, we have reached an equilibrium that works for us. And, it’s only getting better all the time. I really believe that the best is yet to come!