At 6 p.m. on July 22, DC Comics convened some of its top talent for its Master Class panel. Which artists attended, you’re wondering? Oh, just a few indie artists: Jim Lee, John Romita Jr., Amanda Conner, Andy Kubert, Tony Daniel, and Greg Capullo. Dan DiDio hosted, sporting a sharp suit and purple tie, and introduced the panel pointing out these artists are the best for a few different reasons.
“Finest not just because they draw beautifully, they have success for decades through their careers,” DiDio said. “Not only that but they’re still leaders in the industry today.”
He then proceeded to introduce each artist, save for Capullo, who was late (and eventually showed up sneaking up to the Q&A microphone and saying “I’m late” to the surprise of the panelists).
Starting with Conner, Didio asked each artist how they broke in and other questions depending on the individual. Conner pointed out she started by going to the Joe Kubert School, to which Adam Kubert nodded (surprisingly many of these artists had connections), and that her two big inspirations were Frank Miller and Chuck Jones. She also pointed out her favorite characters to draw are Painkiller Jane and Power Girl, but right now it’s definitely Harley Quinn.
In an anecdote about her first lengthy work, Conner told the audience her first work was with Mattel drawing Barbie comics.
“I was trying to throw in some subversive stuff, and Mattel didn’t like that at all, I was always trying to give Barbie curves,” Connor said.
She also noted her first printed work was at Marvel drawing a Yellowjacket story in Avengers #12.
Amanda Conner’s work on display.
Next up was Lee, who noted his parents were against him getting into the comic book industry (his father was a doctor and wanted him to follow in his footsteps) and that comics weren’t very popular where he grew up. It was a “secret society for half a dozen people in St Louis, Missouri,” Lee said.
DiDio asked Lee what changed in his art style going from X-Men to Batman and Lee answered he learned less is more. After the years between the two, Lee reflected on how his approach was different on X-Men saying, “I think I was trying to show off actually. Exaggerated poses and cocked hips, and broad shoulders and splash panels. The more cross-hatching you fit into a panel the cooler it looked.” He also pointed out he thinks his X-Men work ended up hiding a lot of his flaws and now he’s more open to drawing anything. Finally, Lee brought up how great it has been working on the Dark Matter book Mortelmen with James Tynion IV in part because they live so close together.
Next up was Kubert, who told the audience he ended up in comics because “After 6 months in college I dropped out and wanted to do comics.” Growing up with Joe Kubert—the famous comic book artist—was like growing up with “Sergeant Rock,” Kubert said.
Archie Goodwin (another name that multiple creators on the panel knew well) ended up helping him get work at Marvel Comics. DiDio then asked why he moved on to DC Comics, to which Kubert said, “I always wanted to draw Batman,” and that “I loved what Jim was doing on Husk.” The second reason was Dan DiDio’s charisma, which brought a laugh to the audience. Eventually, Kubert said he had drawn nearly every Marvel character and wanted to do something new. Well, not every character as Kubert said, “The only one I hadn’t drawn was Spider-Man and I’m not built to draw Spider-Man. To draw him it’s not in my repertoire, I can’t get the webbing.”
Jim Lee retorted, “You have to be insane to draw Spider-Man.”
“I don’t want them ever changing the costume, but I just don’t want to draw it,” Amanda agreed.
“Building after building,” Lee droned on.
All the panelists agreed with Kubert when he said he wants every project he takes on to allow him to do something different. With Dark Knight, Kubert said he had to “dial it down” to get it “Dark knight-ey” and had to study Frank ’s work and use positive negative space to “Amp up the story a lot.”
Next up was Romita Jr. who pointed out his famous artist father never trained him and didn’t even want him drawing comic books. When Romita Jr. was a kid, “It was miserable for him at the time. He’d disappear in the attic and never come down.” Once his father started doing superhero comics, however, things changed and Romita Jr. was amazed by books like Kazar and Daredevil.
Didio pointed out he never thought Romita Jr. would come to DC and what it was like transitioning.
“I was nervous as hell because there was a spotlight or magnifying glass on me,”Romita Jr. said. “People said I was doing it for attention. It was time to do something different.”
When asked if it was harder to draw Batman than his new Dark Matter series Silencer, without question, Romita Jr. said it was Batman.
“It’s terrifying – nothing in comparison to doing these two iconic characters.”
Daniel was next up and he discussed how breaking in was a lot different when he was younger. You’d simply show up to conventions and editors would look at your work. Eventually, he broke in with the help of Fabian Nicieza who looked over his work and gave him notes over two or three times. Then he got a call from Bob Harris and, “The rest was history.” Daniel then went over his time at Image Comics, X-Force, and then eventually DC Comics.
When asked about working on Suicide Squad and Teen Titans at the same time, Daniel said, “I feel like I’m a kid again. With Teen Titans, I approach the storytelling like it’s more adult. Like a kid in a sandbox with cool toys.”
Capullo was next up and he discussed how breaking in was different when he was younger as you could walk right into the Marvel Comics building and get the ear of an editor rather quickly. “There’d always be an editor to come out and meet me in the lobby and look at my work,” Capullo said. After 9/11, however, that all changed. Capullo said his first work was on the story “Daredevil Killed the Kingpin,” which Capullo said, coincidentally, John Romita had to okay.
When asked how long he was drawing Spawn, Capullo laughed, “Forever.” Capullo then explained why he worked with Todd McFarlane for so long and it was because McFarlane would simply give him a basic plot and let Capullo draw it however he wanted.
“That’s very fun for an artist because we have a lot of room to play,” Capullo said.
It was then that a special guest came on stage and it was none other than Frank Miller. Miller was then asked how he broke in and he said he basically badgered Neil Adams until he could get work.
“I looked up Neil Adams name in the phone book and he ran the continuity studios in Manhattan. He took all comers,” Miller said.
It wasn’t easy, though, as Adams was adamant to tell everyone how bad they were.
“He would take anybody in and proceed to tell you how you were no good and you will never be any good,” Miller said. “Then he’d ask you where you’re from. You’d say Vermont. And he’d say, ‘Nice place, go back.’”
After a year and a half of pressuring Adams, Miller eventually got work using markers on advertising art to be made into commercials. From there he got Daredevil “by default” as they were on the verge of canceling the title.
DiDio then opened the panel up to talk about working in a studio atmosphere. Not every artist experienced drawing in a studio atmosphere, but many told anecdotes from their past. Lee, for instance, pointed out how working at Wildstorm made the usually lonely experience more interesting, especially when folks like Miller would visit.
When asked what motivates them to keep getting better, Conner pointed out she just wants to get Jimmy Palmiotti to laugh when she draws.
Capullo said, “A lot of the guys talk about competing with other artists and stuff like that, but I compete a lot with myself.” When he’s not feeling inspired, Capullo said, “Days I’m not feeling it, I’ll open up books. Jr. Jr. [John Romita Jr.] is one of them.”
The panel then had to wrap—they could have gone on for ages but there was another panel after this one—and DiDio wanted Miller to make an announcement. After showing a full page spread of Superman (see below) Miller said, “This is something I wanted to do ever since, for so long it’s embarrassing.”
DiDio then asked John Romita Jr. if he could offer up any details and Romita Jr. seemed unsure how much he could tell. DiDio gave him the okay, and John Romita Jr. said it was going to be a Superman Year One-like story that’ll be a 100-plus page graphic novel. When asked when, Romita Jr. said pointing at Miller, “As soon as he’s ready, I’m ready.”