From his early work on personal projects such as Gore Shriek and The Creech to his current job working on Batman, Greg Capullo has transformed his love of comic books into a very successful career. Recently, we had a chance to talk to Greg before his appearance at Fan Expo Canada about how he got started, his love for the fans and his career path that has led him to be involved with one of the most iconic characters in the history of comic books.
What inspired you to become an artist and what still inspires you today?
Greg: What inspired me? Well I started drawing at the age of four, my mother showed me a drawing I did of Batman and Robin when I was four years old so I guess as long as I could hold a pencil I was doing it. By age eight I said this is it, this is what I want to do. I was looking obviously at comic books and then also Mad Magazine and so at that point, I knew I wanted to draw for one or the other. I don’t know really know where the inspiration came from, I’d have to say it was always in me. As far as what inspires me now, what keeps me going, is simply you can always get better. There is always room for improvement and your vision changes over the years so in essence, it’s a never ending mountain to climb, that’s really it.
So at this early age, you have decided to become a comic book artist. How hard was it to turn that dream into an actual career?
Greg: Well, it didn’t happen right away. Basically what happened was in high school I wasn’t very good and when you’re bad, you don’t know you’re bad. You’re eyes aren’t sharp enough to realize that you’re bad. After high school I’d get on a train and get off in Manhattan and with no appointment, I’d get on the elevator and go upstairs and plead with the secretary of Marvel to have someone come and look at my portfolio. Now obviously you can’t do that, especially since 9/11, there is security in the lobby and you’re not going anywhere. So I keep doing that and keep taking my lumps and the critiques till the point came where I decided to get serious. I quit my job and asked my mom if I could sponge off of her and for the next year I really buckled down and tried to learn as much as possible about anatomy, the folds in clothes, just every aspect of it. I eventually put another portfolio together and continued to knock on the door and right around that time John Romita Sr., who was the art director over at Marvel, he was really the final guy who honed me, honed my talent. Then god love the man, he began knocking on doors of all the editors saying you’ve got to give this guy work. So it didn’t happen overnight for me, I started trying when I was seventeen, eighteen, years old and didn’t get in till I was in my early to mid-twenties. For all my grand ideas of coming down to Marvel and getting them to get me a job, I had no idea at the time how bad I really was at it.
From the beginning, with the horror comic Gore Shriek to your current work on Batman, have you always had a certain style or method to how you work?
Greg: You know, not really. I always liked the more classic looking comics but then when I did Quasar and stuff like that, that was me cartooning based on what I learned from my studies and developing my comic book form. Then when I went to work for Todd with Spawn, his drawings are so whacked out, so I started just experimenting and playing, basically anything goes and Todd didn’t care. He never crowded me, saying you have to do this or that and so I look back through the runs through the thirties and forties and my style was so completely whacked out, almost too much so but it was fun to be able to experiment like that. At one point, when I was doing Spawn at that time, I would just use my gut and my emotion to do the layout, paying attention only to shape. So if I had to misshape a guy’s head to make the overall composition and negative space work, I cared about that. I wanted to get across the visceral emotion and that’s all I paid attention to. That was all experimentation, now I’ve gone back to using more of my classical look, which comes from real life and some of the people who have inspired me, like Chuck Jones and Mort Drucker.
How do you approach working on such an iconic character like Batman, with so many people having their own ideas and expectations of how he should look?
Greg: Very simply, you have to ignore it and not pay attention to any of it. The last Batman artist that I paid any attention to was Frank Miller and there has been a lot of guys between then and now, guys I’ve never even looked at, I have no idea what they did which to me helped as I just did it my way. I wanted more of a featureless cowl and apart from that I just did it all my way. When I took over Batman, I did become very intimidated when it dawned on me what kind of iconic character I was taking over but again, you just have to do your job. You have to let your skills and emotions take over for you and you just have to trust it. Really, you have to do your own thing and let the chips fall where they may.
What would you consider the hardest part of your job as a comic book artist?
Greg: Oh, definitely deadlines, man. Those things just don’t move. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, if you don’t have any good ideas, if you’re not in the mood to draw you just have to bear down and get to work because the deadline does not change. That is the one thing that will always make this a job and really, if it wasn’t for that it would constantly be a fun gig, it really would. Honestly, it is anyways but deadlines can really turn the fun into a grind, they really can.
How did you get involved with doing artwork for rock bands and things like Halo 3 controllers for X-Box 360?
Greg: When I worked with Todd, Todd McFarlane, he’s got a pretty big name as everybody knows and you find with rockers, they have a lot of free time riding buses and a lot of them are into comic books and eventually some ideas would get passed down to me and maybe we’d collaborate, like the Korn cover, Follow The Leader. Things like the Halo controllers, they would just come to Todd and we would always work together, I’d draw it, he’d ink it up and his in-house guys would color it. I’m a heavy metal guy so hopefully I’ll get to do more in the future.
You’ve been an inker, penciler and cover artist. Do you have a favorite or do they each have their own individual charms?
Greg: Oh I hate inking, maybe because I just don’t do it a lot. Also, the thing about inking for is that I don’t necessarily have control of what I’d like to do. I don’t have the skill set of some of the great inkers but it’s coming from me as an artist so I kind of get by. Penciling is definitely what I like to do best. The more I have a pencil in my hand and paper on the desk, the more comfortable I am and really, that’s what I like to do.
As an artist, is there a big difference between working on a huge character like Batman as opposed to a more personal project like The Creech?
Greg: You know, it’s all good and I get asked that all the time so basically it comes down to the fact that I’m drawing comics. How do you know what comic is better? Hey, I’m drawing comics! As long as I’m doing the genre that I’ve always been attracted to then they’re all great, they’re all fun, it’s just different window dressing but you know the guts of it is all just there so it’s all great. The thing that changes that is fun and challenging is the characters because every character has different emotions, clothing, mannerisms and those things that you work on in the books, they come alive for you. When I’m drawing Bruce Wayne or Alfred, they’re telling me how to draw them, it’s not the other way around. That is definitely one of the cool things about working on these books, getting to know the different characters. They kind of take on a life of their own and move your hand for you, that’s the charm right there.
Comic book fans are a very dedicated and passionate collection of people. Do you enjoy the one on one interaction when you are at big events, like the upcoming Fan Expo Canada here in Toronto?
Greg: To me, it really is the best. You have to remember, the life of a comic book creator is a pretty damn lonely life. My daily routine is mostly contained to one room, a drafting table, a skylight above, some windows and that’s about it, day in and day out. When you get out there and I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes it wears on you. You can’t get together with your buddies because you’re working all the time so it’s lonely and sometimes that grates on your nerves a little bit. So when you do get out there and you meet people, and they are pouring so much love on you, it’s really mind blowing. When you get that, and realize what you’re doing is not so lonely after all because it’s touching so many people, when I meet them they’re almost like family members. I want to pour so much love back onto them because I’ve never lost sight of the fact that if my fans don’t pick up my work, I’d never have the career I’ve always wanted since I was eight years old. It’s all thanks to their response and support and meeting them is just the best, I want to hug and kiss every one of them. I love it, it recharges me, it makes me a little less lonely and it reminds me that I’m giving some kind of joy to someone who is picking it up and that is really, really cool.
I want to thank Greg for taking the time to speak with us