Mar 22, 2012

REPORT: An Interview with David Finch, Part 1

So David Finch showed up at Fully Booked yesterday, and I sat down with him for not one, but two interviews. I know, it's funny, but pretty cool. He was an unbelievably nice guy, almost too self-conscious, and I had a great time covering the event as Fully Booked's staff is always so accommodating and friendly. Sandy Sansolis of Comic Odyssey was there selling some single issues, and he'll be there for the second day of the event as well.

The first interview I did, I conducted alongside Tony Tuason of Flipgeeks and Bim Barbieto of Geekout. I conducted the second interview on my own.

All righty, without further ado, here we go.

The best part of this picture? Christopher Nolan's Bat-Mite.

Me: The first question that I have is — and I guess you don't have to answer this if it's too controversial — but what are the differences working at these different companies you've worked for, like Top Cow or Marvel or DC? What are the transitions you have to make as an artist and as a businessman or an employee?

Finch: You know, it's really not very controversial just because the whole industry is dominated by comic book fans and we all kind of come from the same place. I think there's so much, probably, that we have in common, that whenever I go into a different company — which hasn't that much — but whenever I've done it, it hasn't really been that much of a culture shock. Top Cow was kind of like a fraternity; we all kind of came up together. We were just about the same age — Joe Benitez, Mike Turner, and all the guys — they're all still the guys I'm close to in the business because we spent so much time together, but it was a little less structured. Deadlines weren't really as . . . you know, I know from a publishing standpoint that deadlines are very important, but that wasn't really our priority, and I think that really showed by the end of what I was doing when I was there. Things weren't really coming out the way they should. I definitely work better under a very structured environment.

But Top Cow is a very artist-oriented company; I would imagine they're of the philosophy that it's more important for the artist to finish the project himself rather than to have it come out on schedule, but with different artists.

Top Cow is Marc Silvestri, and not only is he a phenomenal artist, he's also a great teacher. And he's very supportive. He's had a lot of artists that are very influenced by him, but he's also had a lot of artists who work in a lot of different styles, and I think he's done a great job helping them develop their particular styles. It was a great place to work, and I'm sure it still is. When I went to Marvel, I actually started working with full scripts. It was very new to me, because I was used to working with a loose plot. All of a sudden, everything was broken down by panel, all the dialogue was already in there. There was a lot less wiggle room. I was used to just saying, "You know, I think I'm just gonna draw a big figure here."

So let me get this straight. When you went to Marvel, you stopped working Marvel method? (Note: The Marvel Method of writing comics, as explained in HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY by Stan Lee and John Buscema, uses loose plots and leaves a lot of the storytelling up to the artists)

That's right, because Marvel had actually stopped working Marvel style. It was before my time, but Marvel had just started working full-script style, which I guess was more associated with DC. When I came into Marvel, the Internet was really much stronger. And definitely, the Internet fans favor the writers because they're really focused on the story and the chronology. That was a really tough transition for me because I was really more used to the people revering the art, and now I didn't have that much control. So I kind of just stuck it out and thought that I wasn't really in charge anymore and that my job was to take a script and do the best thing that I can with it and being as true to the writing as I can. I think I've kind of improved on that over the years. There are times when I've had conflicts about it that way, and I think I've come full circle on it now. I have (writer) Gregg Hurwitz on Batman, and he's a phenomenal writer. He's a novelist and a media producer, and he's just a great guy. His scripts are so good. I kind of feel like it's always been my book for the last year or so, but now I feel it's Gregg's book right now and my job is just to make the story as good as I can. I don't think it's possible to make a quality comic just to showcase the art. I really feel like I'm at that level now.

Tony: So when you first got your job at Marvel, what project did you get?

I was actually very well-known at Marvel for being very unreliable. But I knew David Bogart and he gave me an X-MEN UNLIMITED story, and they needed six pages a week. I didn't want to lose this job, but I never really worked that way. I was used to being lazy, so I just sat down and got it done and did the best work I could do. It was actually a really tough transition, because it was really pushing me out of my comfort zone because I had to stay true to the script. Before that, if I didn't like something that the script asked me to do, I hate to admit it, but I would just draw something else. But at Marvel, that wasn't possible.

A heavier editorial hand?

Not so much an editorial hand. It was all for me. I knew what they wanted from me, and they really were very supportive. I think to succeed in this business, you really have to read the writing on the wall and understand what's expected of you. So it was very different in terms of conditions in that sense, but I got it done when it needed, and then I got my next big project, which was THE CALL OF DUTY, which I don't think anyone remembers.

It was a difficult project for me to do, just from a creative standpoint because it was all real-world people. I've always been known for doing the same face on everybody, which I won't deny for a second, and here I had to do a story where no one was in costume and I had to make everyone as distinctive as possible. It took me so far out of my element of drawing guys with wings and claws. But it was really the ideal project for me coming into Marvel, because then I worked with Mark Millar on three issues of ULTIMATE X-MEN, and then Bendis, who I think is phenomenal. And I don't think I would have been able to hold my own with Bendis without it. I didn't know this at the time, but I was actually auditioning for the job, and they told me that Bendis really liked what I did. It worked out great. I mean, I look at it, and it gets a little undetailed here and there. I actually lost a lot of confidence artistically—


Yeah. I was at Top Cow doing all kinds of detail and everyone was telling me how good I was at what I was doing, and then I went to a place where I really wasn't "the man" and there were so many artists doing a wide variety of styles and I didn't really know where I fit, and it affected me a lot. And I wasn't really happy with the inking I was getting at the time, like a lot of detail and background that I did was just not on the page. They just weren't in the comics at all.

Who was your inker at the time?

It was Art Thibert.

And you were used to people like Batt.

Yeah, more with Batt. And then I actually managed to get Danny Miki, who was my inker for a long long time, and he was just great. I've got Rich Friend right now, and I have no complaints; I love Rich. But I really loved working with Danny at Marvel. Danny's just natural because he was more comfortable with the story. I did AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED, then NEW AVENGERS, and that kind of rolled into MOON KNIGHT. And then I get married and my schedule was just (David makes a spiralling downard gesture).

So you did a lot of covers back then.

Actually, not so much then. After MOON KNIGHT, I did some HULK covers and then some X-MEN covers. I went through a phase where I really was just doing covers.

It seems to me that you can just make a living out of doing covers now.

Yeah, I guess I can.

Yeah, you did all those covers to ACTION.

I'm doing the JLI covers now, and I just did a cover for DIAL H, which is a remake of the old DIAL H FOR H.E.R.O. book, and it's going to be a fun book. And I just did a cover for HELLBLAZER.

You were there at DC when Paul Levitz stepped down and Dan Didio and Jim Lee took over, and that's led to things like DCnU and BEFORE WATCHMEN. Has the work environment changed at all? Maybe more pressure, less pressure...

You know, the work environment has changed just in the last year or so. I think DC just looked at where sales were going, and things weren't good last year, especially at the beginning of last year. They looked at what was working and what wasn't working, and I think the main thing that wasn't working is just that books were coming out at an unreliable schedule. With digital comics becoming more and more important, in order for that to work — I don't really know all the intricacies, but I do know that they have to come out exactly on time for that to work. They told me early on that these books absolutely have to come out when they have to come out. I didn't really take it seriously because that's what they always say, but then I realized they were serious. If the books didn't come out exactly when they said it would come out, I was gonna have a fill-in artist. They actually already lined up a fill-in artist for (BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT), because understandably they didn't trust me to do it on my own. And I just didn't want to go down that way. I wanted that book to be my book, and for that to happen, I had to have it come out on time. And it's a good thing, because this is really the first time I've been on a proper schedule for six years. I just feel better when I'm in a zone. Everything is better when I work.

Last September, the new 52 came out, right? Is there more creative control for the artists and creators compared to, say, two years ago?

You know, I really can't say because I've only been at DC now for a pretty short time. I guess I can speak for my own book and say that I have quite a bit of control over my own book. I've given up that control now with Gregg Hurwitz. We're taking a good beating, I think, online with reviews. I read a lot of reviews and I can't say I disagree sometimes. I do feel our sales are strong, but I want it to be a quality product all the way around. I want it to be a book that somebody can pick up and read and step back and just take in the art.

I'm sure that all my readers want me to ask you this question, and they'll probably kill me if I don't. Were you approached for BEFORE WATCHMEN?

(excitedly) I'm doing a cover! Can I say that? Am I allowed to release that information? You know, I'll just come out and say it. I'm doing a cover. I can't say what it is, but I'm doing a cover.

Is it the pirate one?

I can't say.

Come on.

Actually, maybe I can say, but I'm gonna stop there.

You can't tease me this way!

(General laughter from everyone)

But you know, I'm following all that stuff a lot, and I think it's gonna be pretty cool. Pretty big. I'm a huge WATCHMEN fan.

I think as a huge WATCHMEN fan, you can really only go one of two ways. You either read it or you don't, you know?

Yeah, I can understand someone being a really big WATCHMEN fan and saying "I've got the WATCHMEN I know and love, and I'm just gonna leave it at that." But I also understand somebody saying, "Here it is, and I'm gonna read it and it's gonna add to it." WATCHMEN came out years ago, and nothing could ever take away from what that comic has done for the business. I think this can only add to it.

Yeah, I'm a big believer in personal continuity, so if you don't like something, you can just ignore it.

I'm that way with the Alien movies.

Going into the creative process, who would you say are your biggest influences?

My biggest influence will always be Marc Silvestri. He's the artist I looked at the most before I got in, and he's the one who taught me when I started.

I can see that. Actually, all you Top Cow alumni—

Yeah, there's definitely a continuity. That's a great artist.

Would you say he was the best artist of the Image bunch?

Oh yeah. That's such a tough question for me to answer, though, because Jim Lee's on that list, you know? I'm a huge Jim Lee fan. And Dale Keown — he wasn't one of the founders, but I'm a big Dale Keown fan. He's such a big influence on me. I don't even know if it shows that much anymore, but there's a period of my art where you can open up a book and just say I took that from Dale, or that from Dale, or that. So yeah, and my tastes changed over the years, and there's so much to appreciate.

Your line and your rendering does remind me of Dale's.

Yeah, he was a big influence. Actually, another big influence, not just for me but a big influence for me but for a lot of artists working nowadays, is Travis Charest. All my hair is really taken from Travis. I like to render, kind of like Travis. The way I break up the texture of a wall — so many things are taken from Travis.

I feel like Travis is an artist's artist.

He was. I talk to some people about it and they don't really understand. I don't understand it, because his work is beautiful. There are artists that I love because they do certain things that I can just get something from, but Travis for me is just moving. I think Travis is the best artist ever to work in this business. I have my favorites. Simon Bisley is a huge influence for me. As a matter of fact, actually, when I got to Top Cow, I was really struggling artistically. Everyone at Image at the time, we were all doing a really long horizontal render of things. Whilce Portacio was actually known for doing that style. I think it was actually his influence on Jim Lee that caused Jim Lee to work that way, and I just could not do it. And you know, that's how it goes, but for whatever reason, I just couldn't get my head around working that way. I was really really struggling, and I felt I just needed something different, because I felt I was going to wash out. I needed to pick up something that maybe could push me in a different direction, and I just kept gravitating to Simon Bisley, who I love. I was so afraid of going in that direction because it was so different from what we were doing. I was so afraid of washing out as it was and the last thing I wanted to do was make a choice that would kinda hasten my exit, so I finally decided it wasn't working for me and I just needed to follow my gut and go for it. I think that's still the backbone of my style. It's very dark. All my figures are drawn based on shadow shapes. As a matter of fact, I have a very difficult time drawing figures without shadow, because I'm so used to defining my forms with shadows. And it all comes from Simon Bisley. I've painted, lately, as best as I could. And that's all, again, I wish I could paint like Simon Bisley. I wish I could be Simon Bisley.

When it comes to collaborators, who is your favorite when it comes to process or creation?

My favorite writer that I've worked with in the past is absolutely Bendis. He's phenomenally successful for a reason. I worked with Chuck Austen, who I really enjoyed working with. I thought he was great; we had a great collaboration. I think some of the stories came away from him at the end a little bit, but he was really good. Jeph Loeb is a lot of fun. Just a lot of bombastic things. I love Jeph Loeb because he has so much range. He can do a really heartfelt quiet story, and he can do big action. He just makes it a lot of fun. He makes it really unpredictable.

He gets a lot of flak for doing the bombastic stuff, and I don't really get it.

You know what? I think this industry could do with more fearless people like Jeph Loeb. Because he's willing to put that work out there, and sometimes the book that's gonna make people really upset is the book that's gonna tear things down and build things back up. And we need that sometimes. He's got a lot of balls, and I really respect that.

Gregg Hurwitz who I'm working with right now is incredible. And I think I would put him right at the top of that list, but right now I've only so far done 10 pages, so I feel like I'm just coming into it with Gregg. But at this point, it's so good so far. I just read an issue from him that — you know, whatever I say is gonna sound like hype, but it's actually got no superheroes or anything like that for a whole issue. It's amazing.

Who's your favorite character to draw?

My favorite character to draw really is Batman. I've always wanted to draw Batman. I've got Batman mugs that I drink coffee from at home. I'm a huge fan of Moon Knight. Moon Knight is a guy I'd love the chance to get to do again. I love Spider-Man. I love the characters that have the best villains. Obviously, Batman has great villains, but so does Spider-Man.

The Flash.

The Flash has great villains. I love drawing the Flash. Actually, I have the Flash here in DARK KNIGHT because I just always wanted to draw the Flash, and I thought, you know what? It's my own book; I'm just gonna throw him in there. See, this is why I need a good writer.

Would you say Batman is your dream project then?

As far as character goes, Batman is my dream project. But I'm getting a little older, so right now I think my dream project is just a project with a writer that can do something memorable. I feel like I have a style that's in your face and really energetic. Fans seem to like it, which I really appreciate. But I think what's really a struggle for me is to do something that's writer-centric. I'm really trying to balance that right now, to do something like David Mazzucchelli. He's incredible. And I think now and for the rest of my career, I would like forever to be working on a project that I believe in because of the writer, first and foremost.

Are you planning on getting out of Marvel and DC to do more creator-owned stuff?

Yeah, I actually do have plans. It's been such a long time since I did it. When I did creator-owned books in the past, I just thought it would go on forever. So I didn't really value it very much, and now that I'm doing monthly superhero comics for Marvel and DC, that window's kinda gone. So what I'm really trying to do right now is say "Okay, it takes me three weeks to do an issue, X amount of days to do covers, and then in that remaining time, I want to devote to getting it off the ground. It is a priority for me.

(At this point, a bunch of cosplayers walked in and greeted David. Bim for then joined us. We resume this interview from that point.)

What was your reaction when you learned that you were going to come here?

Yeah, what did you think of when you heard "Philippines"?

Well, I was very excited. This is my first time anywhere in Asia. But you know, artists I've worked in the past have been Filipino. I've never been here, obviously, so I didn't know what to expect. I think the biggest surprise for me is that all the signs were in English. I wouldn't have expected that. But not only that, I've been watching TV now, and it's "I can't understand, I can't understand, I can't understand," and all of a sudden there's a block of English.

Yeah, that's kind of how we talk.

It's a really beautiful city. It's huge. You say the population is 25 million, and that's similar to LA. And I'm from Canada, and we're just over 30 million. We're an entire country, and it's similar.

Well, the entire middle part of your country is uninhabitable.

The entire upper part. It gets kinda chilly, so everyone lives on the border.

As a Canadian, how did it feel to win the Shuster Award?

(chuckles) I thought it was great. It was an honor. It's a Canadian award for Canadians. I was actually at a book signing when they presented it, so I was taken by surprise. It was great. And I've been nominated for a few awards. I've been nominated for the Wizard Award a few times, the Harvey Award once, which was a surprise to say the least. So when I actually won that one, I was pretty thrilled.

Bim: The only question I have for you is, how does it feel to be awesome?

(General laughter) Maybe in 10 years, I can work my way up there.  You know what I'll say is, I love being an artist. I love being able to draw superheroes that I've loved since I was a little kid. I love that I can go somewhere — you know, this is, I think, just about halfway around the world for me, and people know who I am, you know? It's incredible. Like this. I have no right to come over here and have anybody know me at all. So I feel very very lucky.

Has anyone asked him who his favorite writer to work with is?

Yeah, Bendis. I'm actually working with Gregg Hurwitz now. We just started, and so far he's been phenomenal. But looking back at all the work I've done, if somebody asked me "What do you do?", I would give him something written by Bendis, absolutely.


You know, I think I might go with the NEW AVENGERS — actually, I think I might go with the X-MEN, because I really like the writing he did in that, but I like the art I did more in NEW AVENGERS, maybe, so it's always a tough choice.

Actually, I wanted to say that as the biggest Electro fan ever, thanks for making Electro badass.

You know what, I remember Bendis saying, "Do you want to draw him with the costume on or not?" and I said definitely costume, and he kind of wrote it into the script that way.

And actually, Spider-Woman. This is a small claim to fame for me that I would like to stake my claim on, but I fought for Spider-Woman to be in costume. I really wanted her to be in costume. We kind of hemmed and hawed about whether or not that would happen, but Bendis is a great collaborator. And then she turned out to be a Skrull! (laughter)

How much of your input gets into the actual storyline? 

It really depends on the project. I've had projects before where I get the script and I just draw straight from the script. I've worked with Craig Kyle and Chris Yost on an X-Men story, which was just one issue, and there were times when I would just... I actually didn't talk to them at all, because it was just a single issue so... And there are times where I'll say "Okay, okay this is not quite working, that's not quite working," and from a storyteller's perspective, I just can't draw it properly sometimes.But it was a great script. It was perfect. I didn't have to change anything. I did my best to draw it and the book came out well; I was very happy with it. I had no influence on the script at all there, which I'm okay with. When a writer really knows what they're doing, I'd rather just step back. With Batman, I've had a little more influence, and now I'm stepping back from that a lot, because Gregg Hurwitz, it's really his book. I'm doing the best I can to bring it across easily. I think the best product comes about when you work with a great writer and you shut your mouth. I'm not a writer. I have aspirations, and I'm gonna write again — I've written Batman stuff, and some stuff in the past. I think Gregg Hurwitz is great, and I don't really want to look at the script and think "Okay, what can I change here?" I really feel that when you have something that powerful, for me to want to change something would just be me trying to exert some kind of influence, which I don't.

Were you offered a writing job during the new 52 relaunch?

Yeah. You know, not only was writing a very difficult job; it was also incredibly time-consuming for me. I'm such an inefficient writer, and it was really messing up my schedule. In order to make the new 52 work and make the book come out on a monthly schedule, I really had no choice but to back out of the writing.

How privy were you to the business decisions? It seems odd to me that they would release DARK KNIGHT and then three months later, we're back to a new number 1. Or with BATMAN INC., which was so heavily promoted, and it was gone just to make way for the new 52.

The new 52 was a linewide event that Geoff Johns and Dan Didio and Jim Lee — they looked at the numbers and looked at where the business was and where the audience was and decided to make a bold move, quickly and decisively. And whenever you make a linewide decision like that, I think there's always going to be something like DARK KNIGHT that had just come out, because it just happened to be that way. For my part, I certainly didn't mind another issue 1; I'm always for a little more promotion in there. I think they worked very very hard to work with the creators they had to because creators would be halfway through a story arc and there were a lot changes and a lot of rebooting from the ground up, and they really wanted to respect the creators they had. I don't know how they pulled it off as well as they did, but they did a great job of creating something new and creating the feeling of something very new and still not crushing the work of a lot of people they really valued.

If you could pick any one writer, living or dead, who would you work with?

And on what book?

And who would your inker be?

My inker would be Rich Friend. I've worked with amazing inkers like Batt and Danny Miki, and Rich, we really get along. We're close; I talk to him all the phone all the time. I feel like we're really connecting on every issue and getting a little more cohesive, and I'm gonna tell you right now, I'll pick Gregg Hurwitz too. So here I am picking the people I'm currently working with, but the fact is, I've put a lot of time and effort into making bad decisions sometimes. I've also put a lot of time and effort into trying to make good decisions too, in terms of the direction of the book. Gregg is somebody where I love the writing that he's done. He's already finished the first story arc. I know it's a great ending, and it was a great beginning, and Gregg has some things readers can really latch onto at the end. And also, you know, he's a great guy to talk to on the phone, and that's a big part of it. I could pick Edgar Allan Poe, but I've never spoken to Edgar Allan Poe. (At this point, we were informed time was up.) Oh, I'd also like to thank Jaime (Daez, owner of Fully Booked) and Fully Booked. I'm very excited to be here.

David Finch with Jaime Daez, showcasing the art contest winners.

Isn't this a great name for a bookstore? Fully Booked?

Yeah, I think I'm gonna be broke by the end of the weekend.

Click here for part 2, now with more Batman!


Anonymous said...

Good Job Duy!



Bim said...

This full interview seriously makes me wish I had come sooner. :(

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