with Norm Breyfogle

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Adelaide Comics & Books Interview with Norm
By Darren Close   September 2000

Norm Breyfogle is perhaps best known for his long run on the Batman comics from 1987 - 1993, working on Detective Comics, Batman and Shadow of the Bat. He designed the Robin MkIII costume, elements of which are still used today. He also worked on the Acclaimed Prime series for the now defunct Malibu Ultraverse line, as well as Bloodshot and his very own Metaphysique. Most recently he worked on the short-lived Anarky series for DC Comics, revisiting a character he and Alan Grant created back in their Detective Days.

DC: Norm, thanks for taking the time to speak with us here at OzComics. And for having such a great birthday, I too was born on the 27th of February!

NB: Oh, Happy Birthday!

Let me start by saying that you are my all-time favourite Batman artist. To me, yours is the definitive Ďmoderní Batman, Like Todd McFarlaneís is the definitive Ďmoderní Spider-Man.

Thanks for the compliment.

What does Batman mean to you? What was it like when you first started working on Detective Comics, was it intimidating to come onto a character with so much history and mythos about him?

Batman represents to me the darkside of heroism (as Superman represents the light or bright side) because his heroism is predicated upon a terrible, negative event: the murder of his parents. As Frank Miller put it: Batman only makes sense if the world sucks. But heís a hero, a POSITIVE force, because instead of letting his ruined childhood corrupt him, he uses it as a catalyst for improving the world as best he can.
Iíd wanted to draw Batman since I was a small child, so even though it was intimidating at first, I loved it. And I was such a fan that Iíd already absorbed most of his history and mythos.

You have a different approach to the Dark Knight than most artists Iíve seen. This shows through most clearly in a poster you drew. Instead of a traditional front-on cool pose, you painted him atop a building from above and behind, stretching his cape out like wings; catching the terrified evil-doers below in his shadow.
Do you approach the character differently, is it a conscious effort to try different angles and perspectives, or does it just come naturally for you?

The poster mentioned was done to advertise Shadow of the Bat, and like most advertising, was subject to heavier editorial input, so the design was more or less DCís decision, not mine. But in general I do always make a conscious effort to avoid formulaic solutions to graphic problems. Iíd say every artist approaches Batman with a certain degree of uniqueness, which is what we call an artistís style. I made a decision very early, as a child, that I didnít want to copy another artistís style. I knew instinctively that it could lead to less originality.

What did you think of the Batman movies? (mainly the Tim Burton ones, not the Joel Schumaker crap :)

I really didnít like ANY of the Batman movies. Tim Burton is far too much of a flake to do such a highly rationalistic super-hero. And there were SO MANY bad errors. Batmanís costume being so stiff, eliminating ninja flexibility. Batman firing missles into a crowd of citizens (even though he was ostensibly aiming at the Joker). Making Gotham City so weird that it didnít even really look like Earth (and Batmanís supposed to be the more realistic of the superheroes!), etc., etc I understand that a more adult and subtle version of Batman MAY (and I emphasize may) not sell as well as a kidís merchandising franchise, but Iím not a kid!

What did you think of the recent No Manís Land storyline? Or The Long Halloween, Dark Victory and Alex Rossí Batman: War on Crime?

I thought No Manís Land was an unrealistic and cheap gimmick, good for a shorter amount of time, if at all. It was drawn out WAY too long.
Havenít read The Long Halloween. Saleís artwork is strong on design, weak on figure drawing.
War on Crime was okay, but although Ross is an excellent super-realist, Iím kind of bored with his style applied to super-heroes; it seems to emphasize how ridiculous theyíd look in reality! And 2-3 panels per page surely doesnít merit such a huge printing size, does it? Ah, well, as long as it sells, I hear the Warnerís bureaucrats say

What is your art background? Youíve done several painting projects, do you prefer that to penciling? And while weíre on the subject, do you prefer to ink your own work? What materials do you use?

I had private art instruction at age 12 - 13, always painted and drew on my own, and finished 4 years as an art major at college. Check out my website for more details.

Iíve always wanted to concentrate exclusively on painting, but havenít had the chance, being waylaid into pencilling and inking. I prefer inking my own work, and I use a variety of tools, including felt-tip pens, fountain art pens, sable hair brushes, technical pens, and white-out. I also use a lightbox to ink on, for blowing up my layouts to full size. (I then tape them to the back of the final art paper and ink on the lightbox, eliminating the need for re-drawing).

Prime was a big hit a few years ago, what was it like working on that book? Were you involved in his creation?

Prime was wonderful fun! It was a great, radical change from Batman-like, human-powered characters Iíd concentrated on. I think I prefer high-powered superheroics, at least for drawing, in spite of the majority of what Iíve done. I was involved in Primeís creation in that I finalized his costume and look. It was a great tragedy when Marvel bought the Ultraverse, apparently only to kill it!

What is your favourite work youíve done over the years? Any particular issue? What was your happiest time working in the biz? The Batman books were a well-oiled machine with Alan Grant, yourself and Steve Mitchell at the helm. What was that period like?

I guess my favorite work mustíve been Metaphysique, since it was entirely my creation alone. And the first issues of Metaphysique were also my happiest time in comics (the later issues, published during the speculator crash, had to be re-negotiated. I ended up doing #4-6 for free in order to get them published!)

Alan (Grant) and I are good friends because of our time on Batman together (which lead to Anarky later). I never was happy having Mitchell ink my work, however. Not that heís a bad inker; heís fine. I just prefer inking my own stuff. I donít like getting rusty in that department, which is what happened. Only now, with more inking, am I getting over that rustiness that DC basically imposed on me.

My Batman time was pure elation! Alan and I often mourn the end of those days.

What do you think the impact of the Internet will have on the Comics industry will be in the next 10-20 years? Do you think the printed comic bookís days are numbered?

I really canít say. Maybe it will serve as the ultimate retailer. Maybe someday itíll even serve as printer, once paper options increase. Iíd hate to see comics PURELY electric; you canít carry those around in your pocket, can you? And the hybridization of animation and comics (like in those CD-rom Primes) seems kitch to me. Comics are supposed to be illustrated stories, not animated ones. I think print will be with us for a while still, although perhaps in diminishing capacity.

What is your pet hate in the Comics industry? Some people dislike the prevalence of T&A in books these days, others are frustrated by the tardiness of some of the superstar artists. As a fan as well as a Pro, what irks you about the current industry? (If anything)

Computer coloring is often far too intense and overpowers the original artistís intent. It tends to have an equalizing effect, where worse artists look better and better artists look worse. And overly egoic editors have done a LOT of damage for a long time to this wonderful medium. I know of a few creators whose careers were literally RUINED by bad editors!

Whatís your favourite snack while working at your drawing board? Do you listen to any music or television while working? Are you a 9-5 Mon-Fri kinda guy, or do you keep odd hours?

I never eat while drawing! Sounds crazy! Drawing absorbs all my attention.
I can enjoy either TV or music with lyrics if Iím in a Finishing stage of the art, but when Iím working directly off a script, doing the initial thumbnails, audible words are too distracting, so Iíll only listen to music sans lyrics at that point. I like Jazz, Reggae, Classical, and Ď70ís Ď80ís pop music. Canít STAND most rap. Am I just getting older or does most rap really have an ignorant, petulant attitude?
I keep pretty odd hours, but shouldnít!

Whatís more important to a bookís success writer or artist? Is a fantastically drawn mediocre story going to be more successful than a poorly drawn masterpiece?

Whatís meant by 'success'? To me personally, writing and art are equally aesthetically important, but it seems pretty obvious that most comics sales are dependent more on art. Hopefully this is permanently changing.

Whatís your favourite movie and TV Show? What did you think of the new Star Wars movie?

Donít have one favorite movie, but the following top my list (in no order):
Spartacus, Groundhog Day, The 5th Element, Charley, Contact, Defending Your Life, The Truman Show, Trading Places, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Little Prince.

Favorite TV shows (in no order):
All In The Family, Star Trek (The Original), Seinfield, The Simpsons, Politically Incorrect, Thinking Allowed.

The new Star Wars movie was a visual treat, but visual treats are commonplace now. The black and white morality of Star Wars always relegated it to childrenís favorite status, but I prefer The 5th Element or The Matrix.

What comics do you read these days?

Donít read many comics at all, just skim the stuff I get from DC (Iím on their mailing list). Donít even see much else; Iím too busy workiní on Ďem! I liked Grant Morrisonís JLA and a few Vertigo books. Messner-Loelís Brave Old World was great, as is Hellblazer, Flinch, Strange Adventures, and 100 Bullets. Thereís a lot of great work being produced!

Most of your past work has originated from DC Comics or an Independent publisher. Do you have any Marvel characters or books that youíd like to work on?

Iíd like to do the Hulk. But I get into ANY character I do! I loved doing the Thunderbolts and Avengers annuals this year (2000). Iím now doing a Hellcat mini-series Dr. Strange would be fun.

Is there a character youíd love to work on, a dream project? Do you have any aspirations to start another creator owned book? Tell us a bit about Metaphysiques, what was that book like to work on?

I wish I could do Metaphysique indefinitely, and do whatever I want to with it, but Iím afraid Iíd have to sell my house to afford it at first! Maybe someday

Metaphysique was a real writerís BIRTH for me. I concentrated so much on the concepts involved that the art suffered; I didnít realize I needed a lot more space until I started drawing it. The story I told SHOULD have stretched over 24 - 36 issues, instead of only 6!

What was it like working on Anarky, a character you helped to create in your Detective days. I understand you had quite a passion for the character, why was it cancelled?

My passion for the character dries up to a mere interest next to Alan Grantís passion for him. Heís really Alanís baby, espousing a philosophy Alan and I ARGUED over for YEARS!

Why was it cancelled? Ask DC Comics.

Do you have any advice for artists starting out in the field? Is a really talented artist (at characters and people, not backgrounds) more likely to get a job than a good artist? (can draw both backgrounds and characters pretty well)
Do you do the convention circuit much? Do you offer art critiques at such events?

To be honest, Iíd tell beginners to AVOID comics. Itís such a micro-market, itís almost a dead-end. But if they still have a passion for it after that (as I did) then I suggest going to conventions, meet and make friends with pros, editors, and peers, and draw, draw, DRAW! Keep up to speed on latest news and trends. Remember that art quality is largely a subjective judgement, and even a great artist isnít appropriate for EVERY job. Expect lots of rejection at first and take it calmly and professionally.

In my way of thinking a "talented" artist and a "good" artist are the same thing, but face and figure drawing are obviously a priority in comics over backgrounds.

I used to do almost one convention per month, in the early Ď90ís, but it wears one out. Deadlines are more important. I do very few anymore, but am always happy to critique anyoneís work.

Finally, tell us whatís on the horizon for you. Are there any exciting projects in the pipeline? Give yourself a plug.

I already mentioned Hellcat, which Steve Englehart is writing. Iím also pencilling a Green Lantern bookend for a DC cross-over storyline. After that, I donít know, but Iím sure itíll keep coming.

Thank you VERY much for your time Norm. Your Batman issues are the pride of my collection, thanks for many hours of happy reading. Looking forward to your future stuff, especially the painted Batman: Dreamland book (now on sale).


News Biography
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Norm's Brainpan
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Of Bitter Souls
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