Stephen Walker talked with Chris Jones about his artwork for Young Justice, Batman '66 and more.
SW: How did you get into comics?
CJ: I have loved drawing and telling stories since I was a kid. Even as a child I was making my own comic books. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. I had a weekly comic strip in my local newspaper when I was ten, if you can believe that. I started out doing comics for smaller publishers for little or no money. A year before I broke into DC and got a regular series, which was Batman Strikes. Now I have done work for DC, Marvel and other publishers, which is all great. I have been doing it for awhile. If I weren’t working in comics I would want to be working in animation or storyboarding. I love to draw but I love using art to tell a story so comics are a nice fit for me.
SW: You did Young Justice?
CJ: There was an original comic called Young Justice but I wasn’t involved with that. When they announced they were going to do an animated Young Justice series I actually asked about getting involved with that comic right away. That’s how I got the Batman Strikes gig. You know how this works. When there is an animated TV show there will be a comic book tie-in. So I tried asking who would be editing it to see if I get in as the artist of the project. But by the time I found out who was editing Young Justice they already had an artist. So I didn’t get the job but the artist Mike Norton ended up leaving the series down the line after just a few issues. I guess they didn’t have to come asking for me. They asked Greg Wiseman who was coming in to write it and asked who he wanted to work with and he gave them my name. So that’s how I got on that. So I was on for the rest of the run. It was a ton of work. The series was airing before the comic so I was already a big fan of the show. So I can say I was objective and honestly say I was a fan of the show without being biased because I was working on the comic.
SW: I have an Interview with Mike Norton this evening!
CJ: Really? I have known Mike for years. It was a real honour to follow in his footsteps on the series.
SW: Your artwork looks like the art of the TV series?
CJ: I worked on a few different animated proprieties. I adapt my style to look like whatever the post-style is for the show. The trick is to blend and reproduce the model sheets from the animation designs. You don’t want to be mechanical in reproducing that though. Maybe give it some light or some of your own zip. To the untrained eye it’s hard to tell what’s you and what’s the design of the show. I kind of figured it out back when I was doing Batman Strikes. People would ask me what it’s like to draw like Jeff Matsuda, the lead designer for that show. I realized I drew nothing like Jeff Matsuda. If he steps in to draw an issue of the comic it would look nothing like what I was doing. It definitely confuses people a little bit... I guess all the time.
SW: So what does your natural style look like?
CJ: I don’t know, I’m used to adapting what I do for what’s right for the project and if it’s based on a design already or not. In the case of Young Justice, especially once I had taken over on the inking duties, I was able to shift it towards something that was a natural style for me, unlike all the other properties I have worked on. The Young Justice designs were a little streamlined, simplified for animation, but the proportions look really natural. It wasn’t like if you looked at the first ten designs for Justice League. The male character’s shoulders were so huge in triple padding in their costumes and what’s scary is when you start drawing a lot of that it starts looking normal to you. But in the case of Young Justice I was trying to avoid an odd pit fall of comics based on animation. Which is that for some reason simplified through animation and translated into a comic and gets simpler still. My goal with Young Justice was to try to make it look like this is the show and this is the comic the show is trying to look like. Even though I was following the show my goal especially when I started inking myself was to come in with a little more detail a little more texture. Try to make it look not like it was a cartoon look but this is the straight up superhero book. That is what the Young Justice TV show is trying to be.
SW: Who is your favorite character to draw?
CJ: It’s always hard to choose but my absolute favorite superhero is Batman. So anytime Batman shows up I’m like "Yay! I get to draw Batman!" The great thing about Young Justice is that they kept rotating the characters so much. I would never get bored with a single character, you know? I love Artemis but I draw a bunch of pictures of Artemis. I’m like, if I have to draw one more archery pose... You know, the kind of stuff drawn in Robin or Kid Flash or somebody. The other character who was a surprise to draw in Young Justice was Captain Marvel. I’m a huge Captain Marvel (Shazam) fan and once we got into the invasion storyline with issue 20 to 25 Captain Marvel was a recurring presence, and again all the designs from the show are classic looking versions of the character.
SW: What advice would you give artists trying to get into the same business as you?
CJ: There are a few things as far as developing your drawing skills. It’s so tempting to just want to emulate your favourite comic book artist. You really have to look at the real world and get your fundamentals now. If somebody’s a comic book artist and they can’t draw ears they haven’t figured out anatomy yet and they start to have problems with perspective. Their storytelling isn’t clean. They just want to skip to drawing the flashy pin-up shot of their favourite Batman/superhero character. So get the fundaments down. Drawing real-life takes some life drawing lessons. Look outside comics. You can always take your drawing skills and figure out how to adapt them later.
The other thing is get your stuff out there. Don’t just wait around for some big publisher to give you your big break. Start some publishing for small press for little or no money. It’s a lot of work but having something in hand that you have done is a more powerful tool to get work than 18 pages in a portfolio in combination with that network, network, network, be it social media or going to conventions. The biggest misconception when I started out is that if you work on your craft, you reach a certain magical quality in your work and magically a door swings open and work comes to you. But it doesn’t work like that at all and it never has. The trick is to be on the radar of somebody looking to hire a writer, artist, whatever it is, so when we need someone to do this job, why don’t I call “your name goes here.” So it’s a matter of making sure that they’re aware of you. You have a track record of work making sure that you’re prepared to work if they offer you the job. Networking is used. Get your name out there and your stuff seen. The comics industry is so strange and condoled that honestly if you have skills and the perseverance to make it in this field and you would be happy doing something else you should go do something else because you will probably make more money in that. If comics is something you love to do and an industry you want to be involved in then you're going to do what it takes and that’s what it takes.
SW: What do you have coming up?
CJ: I’ve got a number of projects in development and a lot are at that point where I can’t talk about them yet. The very next thing I’m doing is a story for DC’s digital Batman ‘66 series with Jeff Parker. It’s from a Jeff Parker script. I can’t talk about who the villain is and stuff like that until the solicitations which will be soon, but I’m a huge Adam West fan so I’m having a great time working on it. Finished part one now and when I get home I will be starting pencils on part two. I’m only doing one story for it for now. I’m hoping there will be more. They have a number of artists contributing to the title. I have been in situations like that before whenever the Avengers or Justice League for DC. Once you do at least one of them it leads to more, but it’s always the question of how often they come along. It seems to be a property that is finding a lot of popularity so hopefully it will be running awhile. I would definitely want to do more. We will see what comes.
SW: What comic do you really want to do?
CJ: Well, aside from something creator-owned - that would be kind of meaningless to everyone since they wouldn’t know what it was. My dream project would be a revival of the Batman Team-Up book and the incarnation of The Brave and the Bold. Then you get to draw Batman and everybody else. That would be great for me. That would be my happy place. I would do that book forever and ever and ever.
Interview By Stephen Walker (ComicsSGW). Follow on Twitter @ComicsSGW or on Youtube at DarkAvengerINC and ComicsSGW. Edited By Nicole D'Andria. Follow on Twitter @Comic_Maven.
For more information about Chris Jones follow him on @ChrisJonesArt or go to his official website, http://blog.christopherjonesart.com/.