What it’s like to be a Batman comic book penciler.

What It’s Like to Be a Batman Comic Book Penciler: A Working Podcast Transcript

What It’s Like to Be a Batman Comic Book Penciler: A Working Podcast Transcript

Slate Plus
Your all-access pass
Sept. 18 2017 12:55 PM

The “How Does a Batman Comic Book Penciler Work?” Transcript

Read what David Finch had to say about drawing superheroes.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mike Jara/DC Comics.
David Finch.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mike Jara/DC Comics.

This is a transcript of the Sept. 10 edition of Working. These transcripts are lightly edited and may contain errors. For the definitive record, consult the podcast.

Jacob Brogan: You’re listening to Working. The Podcast about what people do all day. I’m Jacob Brogan. This season we’re sitting down with the writer and artists behind the comic book Batman to learn a little bit about how their stories of the Dark Knight come together from conception to execution. For this episode we chatted with David Finch, a veteran penciler who starts the process of extracting images from a writer’s ideas. He talks to us about everything from the kind of paper he uses to the way he got started in the business.

In the process he also explains why he has to read scripts carefully before he begins, and discusses how he collaborates with the inkers who help complete his work. Then, in a Slate Plus extra Finch talks about some of the superheroes other than Batman that he likes to draw.

What is your name and what do you do?

David Finch: My name is David Finch and I’m a comic book artist working for DC Comics, and I just did a run on Batman with Tom King.

Brogan: What kind of art do you do? What’s your role in that process?

Finch: I’m a penciler, specifically. There are times I’ll do inks, but for the most part, and really partly because my inker is better at inking than I am, and partly because of just time constraints. I do the pencils from a script, and then it goes to an inker who uses a brush, a quill, and different tools to make things completely black-and-white more principle, and ideally more detailed and better, which my inker certainly does.

Brogan: Awesome. Well, we’ll get into all of that in a second, but before we do, can you tell us what your background is? How did you come to working on comics?

Finch: Well, you know my background is a little, probably, unorthodox. I am a high school dropout, and I knew that I could draw, but I come from an auto town, Windsor, Ontario. It’s pretty far from any kind of an artistic mecca I would say, and I never saw art as being an option, and I actually failed art a couple of times in high school. I took it because I thought it would be easy, but the things that they had us do were so mind-numbing for me, I couldn’t handle it. So, I didn’t see art as an option at all, until my choice was going back to school or finding a job, and at the time my sister used to read comics and I picked up one of our comics, I never really gave them a chance before, and I realized it’s a whole world, and it’s created from whole cloth from inside your head instead of looking at a lot of reference and just laboriously copying things.

I think that’s really what killed me in art class. I hated do that. So, I loved it right away and I’m pretty obsessive. So, I did it 12 hours a day until I got my first break.

Brogan: How did that break come about?

Finch: I went to a couple of different conventions. My first one was Detroit, and I got a lot of pretty serious rejection, and actually a lot of good help, too. I find that people that are the most vicious are also the most helpful if you’re willing to listen. So, it took me about two years of going to conventions, and I ran into David Wohl, who is the editor and chief at Top Cow. Top Cow productions is, Marc Silvestri, his company. He was a longtime Marvel artist. He did X-Men and Wolverine, and really he was my favorite artist, and I think I got my break with him because I was so influenced by his work that it fit.

So, I got a three-month internship, and it was basically a chance to prove myself, and that’s how we all started at the time. So, I was probably really not ready to be working in comics, but I was ready to learn, which is what I went and did.

Brogan: So, it’s very much on-the-ground education for you it sounds like. You learned first from reading comics, and then from doing them.

Finch: Yeah. Really. It absolutely was, which is why I feel uncomfortable saying that I’m completely uneducated, because it’s not true. I really learned from Marc Silvestri, who is a great teacher and a great boss, but also from the other artists that were coming up with me. We really played off of each other, and we were competitive with each other, and I think it really helped foster a lot of talent. There are a lot of artists that are still working successfully in the business, and some artists that are working in other businesses very successfully that came out of Top Cow.

Brogan: You primarily have worked on superhero comics throughout your career it sounds like. Do you have a special love for superheroes? Something that drew you to these characters?

Finch: I really think initially for me I was drawn to the artwork. I came up right around the time when image comics was just starting, and that was like the really visual—things hanging out of panels, and big muscles with veins, and the whole thing—and that just really appealed to me, and when I got to Top Cow, I was more of a big fan of image comics at the time, because that was like the exciting stuff that was going on. Truthfully, I always loved Spider-Man, and I love Wolverine. I love some of the characters, but it wasn’t really until I got to Marvel comics and started working with Brian Bendis that I became a huge superhero fan. I think he is such a phenomenal writer he’s just really made them real for me, and really actually made me a fan of the kind of work that I was doing in a way that I wasn’t before.

Brogan: So, how did you end up at DC Comics working on Batman with Tom King?

Finch: Well, originally I ended up going to DC Comics to do Batman. Batman was my dream job for a long, long time. Just visually I think it really fits the type of work that I like to do. I actually did Moon Knight at Marvel for a little while, entirely because I wanted to do Batman, and I was under contract with Marvel, and I love Moon Knight for his own sake at this point now, but yeah, I just wanted to do Batman. So, the time eventually came when I felt like I was ready to make the jump and go for it. I did a good long run of Batman. I actually wrote Batman for a little while on my own, disastrously. I found out how hard it is to write, and it was a bit of a long road. I did some work with Geoff Johns for a bit, and I finally got the chance to go back to Batman. It’s something I have never done before in my career.

I have never done a character, drawn something, and then gone back to it. So, it was a privilege to be able to go back and do that with Batman, especially with Tom King who is really an up-and-coming writer, critically acclaimed, and getting more and more attention at the time. So, I really got very, very lucky to be teamed up with him.

Brogan: So, generally speaking, whether or not you’re working on Batman, what’s a typical day like for you? Do you have a regularized schedule?

Finch: I do. It’s summertime here right now, and I’ve got three boys. So, it can be a little bit hectic trying to make it all work, but I wake up in the morning, I have breakfast with the family. We always try to have meals together as much as we possibly can. Then, I go to the gym and work out as much time as I can fit in, and then I work all day until around 5 o’clock, usually. Lately is around when I can get it, and then it’s dinner, we spend time with the family. We do a few things, and maybe go ride some bikes or something, and then around 7:30 or 8 o’clock or so I get back to work, and I usually work till about midnight.

Brogan: So, you work a pretty full day it sounds like.

Finch: You know, it’s really the only way to do it. Really the requirement in order to do a monthly book is to be able to basically do a page a day, and there are a lot of ways to do that. You can do a page pretty quickly, and pretty loosely and have most of your time, but then result is just not really there, and I want it to be as good as I can possibly make it. So, it is worth the sacrifice.

Brogan: When you’re working, do you have a studio space that you work from, or you just spread out on the kitchen table, a separate office?

Finch: I have a separate office. It’s a studio space, but it’s just in the house. It’s in the basement. I’ve got my own room. I’m a bit of a loner. So, it’s in the far back corner of the basement, as far away from everything as I can possibly get, and you know with three young children there’s no place that is far enough away. I love them, but it can be a little tough at times.

Brogan: Yeah. Can you describe that space to us? What kind of stuff do you have around you as you’re working?

Finch: I’ve got all my books, and I got lots and lots. Every once in a while I go through and just try and call it, because I’ve only got so much shelf space, and I’ve got some toys. I did a book called Forever Evil with Geoff Johns, and we did a line of toys based on some of the characters from that, and I’ve got some statues from some of the stuff I did at Marvel, a Batman statue that I did, and then I’ve got stuff that I’ve just collected. I’ve got a lot of toys down there. So, yeah, just a lot of comic book stuff that I have collected over the years, and then artwork. I collect a lot of artists’ cheaper stuff, really, because it is all I can get away with, with my wife, but I’ve got a lot of art from a lot of my favorite artists up on the walls.

Brogan: Like from other comic artists?

Finch: Other comic artists, yeah.

Brogan: Are there artists that you are particularly proud to have in your collection there?

Finch: Oh, yeah. Well, Kevin Nolan is I think is probably my pinnacle. I’m a huge, huge fan. I’ve got Neal Adams, which is pretty special to me. Simon Bisley, Marc Silvestri, my old boss. John Almeida Jr., I’ve got, and yeah some other ones. I’m going to forget something right now, but yeah.

Brogan: So, you try to do a page a day, but you are also working from the scripts. In our last episode we spoke with Tom King, who writes some of the scripts that you work from. What’s the first thing you do when you get a new script from a writer?

Finch: I read the script first, and I tend to be pretty slow reading it, because as much as I try to just read it for its own sake, I can’t help but put it together visually in my head at least a little bit. I give it one good read through, and then I read it again just really specifically with trying to figure out how I’m going to approach each page. Then, that way I’ve got enough of the sense of the overall script that I find if I don’t do that, and I’m not careful with that, I can paint myself into a corner with the storytelling a little bit. So, I want to know exactly where the story is going, so I can plan. Usually, and I find with a writer that’s as skilled as Tom King, I very rarely have any kind of trouble, because if there is something coming up, like let’s say a character is in a room, and you need a door in a particular place five pages down the road.

Well, he’ll tell you the minute he describes the room in the first place, because he knows what he’s doing, but I try to avoid those kinds of problems by reading through the whole script, and then every morning I wake up, I know there are some artists that will lay out multiple pages at a time. I’m too lazy to do that. So, I just wake up in the morning, and read the page over again, and if it’s complex, I’ll do a little layout, if it’s not, and I feel like I kind of know what I want to do with it, I’ll just go right to the page, and just sketch loosely on the full sized paper.

Brogan: If you ever have a question or concern, do you communicate with the writer? You call him up or text him or something?

Finch: I’m a horrible communicator. So, no, I really don’t, and there are times that’s gotten me into a lot of trouble, which is why I think am really good working with writers that are clear and also they’re open to a little bit of interpretation and giving me a little bit of room, but yeah, I’m a terrible, terrible communicator. There are times I’ll communicate, but for the most part, yeah, I just shake my fist at the wall in my room and don’t say anything.

Brogan: You mentioned having some difficulties, some conflicts, even. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, about those hiccups along the way?

Finch: I’d say the biggest hiccup that I ever really had was on a Marvel book that I was doing. I got the first two scripts of a book, and I agreed to do the book based on the first two scripts, and they were very action packed, and it was a very dark comic. It was exactly what I wanted to do. I thought it was great. It was very well written, and the book was being written by a novelist. So, this was really his first comic work, and I thought it was very impressive. I mean he seemed to really understand the medium, and he was great, and then once I started drawing the book, it completely veered in a totally different direction.

It ended up being the main character out of costume in a small room, every single page, and then he would go to a restaurant and sit in the restaurant, and it was written like a TV show. Like a no-budget TV show, and I got so angry with it. I started just drawing double-page spreads of stuff. I started making things up just to try and keep it, I mean, I have been doing comics for a long time, and maybe I’m not ... this is where I think you could talk to the writer of that book, and he would tell you I was the worst experience he ever had.

I think he could say that legitimately, because we just had such a different vision, and I wasn’t willing to let him, as far as I’m concerned, flush a book down the drain, because a book that is visually, completely dull, who cares? I know I don’t. It’s a visual medium for me first. So, I fought him tooth and nail, and eventually it got to the point where I just threw out the script and started drawing something different, and the editor in chief got involved, and I had to redraw half the book. We talked on the phone, we yelled at each other, I hung up, and that was the end of it. I quit. Yeah, that was probably the worst experience, and really, I mean, unfair of me. He was coming on, this is his story, and what he wanted to do, and as the artist, it’s not my place to be dictating the story.

So, I kind of overstepped, but at the same time I thought what he was doing was garbage.

Brogan: So, one of the comic book issues that we were talking about with Tom was Issue 24 of his run on Batman, in which Batman proposes to Catwoman, and he claims that he really, really wanted to work with you on that issue, but he was also worried that you would get frustrated with it. As I think he put it, “because there was no punching.” Was he right to worry about that?

Finch: No, not at all. I love the punching. I’m all for it. It’s my favorite, but I also love anytime a writer gives me imagery that is iconic and powerful that’s really, I think that’s actually my favorite even more than fighting, and there was a lot of that in this issue. I thought it was very visual. So, yeah. He gave me rein. He gave me Batman on a gargoyle overlooking the city. He gave me a lot to work with.

Brogan: Batman on his knee proposing to Catwoman.

Finch: That’s right, which you know, is maybe not my ... I feel like I am pretty good at drawing angry things, but if it’s supposed to be touching, I don’t know if that’s really my forte, but you know. What do you do?

Brogan: What do you do? Are there qualities besides those kind of iconic images that make a script especially exciting for you as you’re reading through it, as you’re preparing to draw out those pages?

Finch: The characters can definitely help. It’s exciting for me when I think the characters really come to life, and it’s really well written, and when I’m reading the story, and I’m really engaged, and I want to know what’s happening next. When I’m reading it like a fan, and that makes a big, big difference for my excitement level. If I am really into it, and I think it’s great stuff it makes it more fun, but you know truthfully I like the action. I like the big images, and when I get that, I’m happy. When I’m drawing a scene of a conference room with people having a big long conversation, I’m not having a good time no matter how well written it is, and there are times that I’ve done those kinds of scenes, and they make all the difference in a book, and their necessary, but I hate life on those days.

Brogan: So, let’s talk about actually drawing page. You said you sketch out the page on the paper itself first?

Finch: Yeah. I would say usually I do. There are times, and it depends. If it’s little more complex, or if I’m just not sure how I am going to approach it, and there are times actually that I have just hard time figuring out how the panels are going to go on the page. There’s always multiple different ways that I can approach any page. Sometimes a horizontal panel is going to make it work well, and sometimes a vertical panel is going to make it work well, and I want to make sure, especially the most important panel on a page is the best represented, but then the other panels also work with that. So, usually that works out all right, and when it doesn’t I’ll do a bunch of little thumbnails, and every once in a while I’m so confused, I do a bunch of thumbnails, and I give up and I just draw on the page anyway. So, yeah. I tend to wing it, really.

Brogan: Can you describe the actually physical paper on which you’re drawing? How big is it? What kind of paper stock is it?

Finch: It’s Strathmore 200 series two-ply. Kind of guessing a little bit. I think that’s right, and it’s 11 by 17. So, the overall paper is 11 by 17, the image area is just slightly smaller than that.

Brogan: That’s going to get shrunk down to something that is 8½ by 11, right?

Finch: Right.

Brogan: Is that the size of the comic’s page?

Finch: Yeah.

Brogan: So, how do you manage those shifts of scale that are going to happen do you have to only use parts of the page or what?

Finch: I don’t really shift to scale at all. When I was first starting I was trying to get work, and I remember showing my artwork to another artist at a convention, because I would go to conventions and show anybody that would look, and he said, “A lot of this stuff is not going to even print,” because I always have been pretty obsessive, so I would put as many tiny little lines in there as I could, and he was right. The first stuff that I did was a bit of a mess with that, and so I kind of learned over time just naturally what would work. Also, I worked with inkers. Even right from the beginning I worked with very good inkers that could kind of interpret and make things scale properly, and then eventually it just become second nature.

So, I don’t really have a great answer for that. It’s not something I consciously do. I think it’s something you find a comfort level with over time.

Brogan: But do you go to the very outer edges of that 11-by-7 page, or is there like a border on the edges?

Finch: Well, there’re a couple of borders, actually. There’s the overall outside border that I would draw to, and it’s not quite to the edge of the page, and just inside that there’s actually the cut border, and that’s when the printer gets a hold of the page, they’ll cut the outsides of what’s printed. So, actually there’s a small sliver of artwork that doesn’t ever get printed, just so you can have a full bleed, and full bleed basically means that the artwork goes all the way to the outside of the printed page. Then, on the inside of that, there’s the panel border outline, and that’s where you put all the panels, and that’s where the letter makes sure the dialogue balloons stay within.

So, it’s like a three-stage. There’s the panel borders, there’s a place where the printer cuts, and then there’s a place that we draw to just outside of that to make sure that it gives the printer room to cut.

Brogan: Interesting. How long does it actually take to do a page? You say you’re trying to do one a day, but break that down hour by hour, if you can. You know, how much of your day is filled with each part of it.

Finch: I would say between three and four hours is my layout phase, and that includes a really loose sketch on the page, ruling in the panels, and then I have a kneaded eraser. A kneaded eraser, it looks like Play-Doh, and it works well for erasing pencils lines, but leaving a shadow of it so I can still see what I am doing, and that’s how I can manage to draw really loose garbage all over the page. Just scribbles everywhere, and then still get a tight drawing on top of that without it being a mess.

So, I just lighten everything down with my kneaded eraser, and then I draw essentially a cartoon on top of that. So, it’s just no shadows, no line weights, and just the outlines and basic details to get the figures and the backgrounds in.

Then, I spend the second half of my day putting in the shadows, the rendering, and the detail that it needs, and sometimes I can take four hours. It really depends on the page. I’ll have pages where the entire page takes me four hours. It’s just one big figure, or something, and then other days where I’m up until 3 o’clock in the morning, or worse comes to worst, some days I’m working a couple of days on a page, and then I end up paying for it later in the week trying to catch up.

Brogan: The now-famous, maybe infamous, even, image of Batman proposing to Catwoman that I mentioned earlier is a single splash panel, which is to say the whole page is taken up with this one image. Is a page like that one easier or harder than one with lots of small panels intersecting in complex ways?

Finch: That one was much easier, and it was easy, because it’s just a flat shot. Nothing is really kind of overlapping in any kind of a complex way. It was a very easy page to draw ultimately, and I didn’t have very much time to draw Issue 24. That was a very quick one for me. I wasn’t initially planned on doing it. So, I drew that page first, and I ended up paying for that because I always say, and I did with this, I read the script, but I didn’t pay enough attention. I was in a hurry. So, I drew the last page. They both had their cowls on, so Batman had his whole mask on, and so did Catwoman, and then I realized that they had actually taken them off a couple of pages earlier.

So, I had to go into the computer, and redraw their heads after the fact, and actually put the rain in, too. I didn’t have the rain in there initially either. So, yeah. It was a quick page to draw, but I guess unrelated I tend to try to start with page one, and work my way through in a linear way, instead of jumping around, and whenever I jump around this is what happens, and it happened on that page.

Brogan: Yeah. You mentioned making corrections on the computer, but it sounds like you do that majority of your work with pencil and paper?

Finch: Oh yeah. Everything is pencil and paper. I spent a year actually doing everything on the computer, and I think I spent the year really doing some of my worst work. So, I’m much more comfortable with paper. I think I’m getting older now. I’m 45 years old, and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So, yeah. I like the pencil. I like the feel of it. It has a few disadvantages. If I draw a figure too big, or if it’s coming off the page, I’m stuck with it. I need to either make it work, or erase it, which happens a lot. I can’t just resize, but I just feel so much more comfortable working that way, yeah. The only time I ever use the computer now is if something is already inked, and it needs to be corrected.

In the old days, if it was already inked, I would have to redraw something, and it would get patched on later, and have to be re-inked by the inker. So, it was a bit of a process. Now, I can just sit down at the computer, and an hour later, or depending on how big the fix is, usually it’s small, it can be just a few minutes, and the file is back in. So, it’s nice to have that as an option.

Brogan: When you finish a page, though, I guess do you scan it to send to the inker, or do you just send those physical pages directly to the inker?

Finch: I send the physical pages. Generally most people scan nowadays, and inks are done on blue line. I really don’t like doing that.

Brogan: What does that mean?

Finch: I like there to be one piece of original art, really, and that has nothing to do with the process of the book itself. I like there to be one piece of original art, but also just for the inker’s sake I find most inkers tend to like to work on the original pencils. It’s very difficult to work on blue line. A lot of the detail gets lost. There’s a bit of a disconnect there, and a lot of times it shows. I think you know with somebody like Danny Miki, it really doesn’t show for me. He knows what he’s doing so much, but I know he doesn’t like working that way either.

Brogan: Can you just say what blue line is?

Finch: Right. Blue line, what it is, you scan the pencils, which are pencil color, gray, into the computer and then just use Photoshop to turn them blue. We turn them blue because it’s called “non-repro blue.” “Non-reproduction blue,” and you can easily adjust the slider, and make it disappear. So, once it’s inked, if you were to scan pencil line onto another piece of paper, that gray it would be very, very difficult to separate it out from the black, and you would have a bit of a messy looking page, and it can’t be erased, because it’s a photocopy, but if you photocopy out blue, then you can just adjust the slider to make the blue disappear, and the inks look nice and clean.

Brogan: So, if Danny Miki, the inker that you usually work with, is working directly on those physical pages that you’ve penciled, do you ever get them back? I mean those pencils are I assume, I guess effectively lost forever once he’s drawn over them right?

Finch: They are, yeah. The pencils are gone forever, but the pencils, for me, they’re part of the process. The art really isn’t complete until it’s inked, and I really consider it, especially when I work with an inker like Danny, I think that he’s an integral part to the process, and to the finished artwork, and so to me the pencils are not the art. It’s the pencils and the inks together, and ultimately the pencils are erased, but that’s the original art, as far as I’m concerned.

Brogan: When you’re finished with the page, do you send it off right away? Do you stick it in the mail as soon as you’re done with it, or do you sit on them for a bit in case you want to change something or rethink it?

Finch: Well, it depends on a few factors. It depends on just how tight we are with the deadline. Usually that’s pretty tight. So, usually things will go out pretty quickly. I guess one factor it depends on, if we’re really tight, then I send pages out very regularly. If we’re not as tight, I will build five or six pages and send them in a batch, but generally I’m drawing the pages, and we’re sending them.

Brogan: Have you ever had a page get lost in the mail?

Finch: Never. I have lied about it. I’ve lied to editorial and told them, “Oh, yeah. It got lost in the mail.” I know they didn’t believe me, but they were polite enough to go, “Oh, OK. That sucks.”

Brogan: I hope that doesn’t happen too often.

Finch: That only happened once.

Brogan: All right.

Finch: But I have had pages heavily damaged, but never lost.

Brogan: So, after you’re finished, as we’ve discussed, the pages go to an inker. Can you just say a little bit more about what the inker does?

Finch: Well, an inker—the original pencils look mostly just like the actual inks do, especially with the way that people pencil now, it’s very, very tight. There was a time when pencils were very loose, and the inker would put in the shadows, and put in all the rendering, and a lot of the background detail would all be done by the inker, and nowadays that’s not really the case. So, it’s like a balance. With the best inkers, the balance is making it look as much like the pencils as you can. Keeping the character in the pencils and keeping the detail consistent, but then adding that extra layer of polish, and bringing out textures, and making sure that ...

A good inker is very, very good at taking a figure that’s in the foreground very, very close and separating it from a figure that’s in the background by using line weights. Line weights are in a cartoon, the line around a figure that would delineate the outside of the figure is the most important line, and the thickness of the line around that. If it’s thicker, it will push it closer into the foreground, if it’s thinner, it will push it into the background, and the trick is to make a thicker line, but not make it look clunky and overdone, and very few people do that really, really well. It’s an art unto itself. Every part of inking is.

I draw buildings, and I draw a grid of perspective just with pencil, and then I draw my buildings freehand on top of the grid, and when it gets inked Danny will use a ruler, and he makes it much more precise and clean and adds detail. There’s so much that he brings to it, and it’s really something. You have to look at the pencils and then look at the ink side by side just to see just how much he does. I really respect inkers because they don’t get the respect they deserve. It really goes to the penciler, and the better the inker, the better people think the penciler is, but really it’s all the inker.

Brogan: It sounds like you are in a position where you rely on your inkers a lot.

Finch: I really do.

Brogan: Do you have much say in who inks your work? I mean given that’s such a kind of intimate collaboration in many ways. I imagine you really want the best possible person, or someone that you have a good working relationship with.

Finch: Absolutely I want the best person I can get. Danny is, I think, the best inker in the business. I do have a choice of my inker for sure, but my choice is limited on the inkers that are available and willing to work with me, and somebody like Danny is always in heavy demand, so I try to be as nice to him as I can possibly be at all times.

Brogan: You don’t have to name names, but have you ever had bad experiences with an inker? Someone who you felt messed up work that you had struggled over really intensely?

Finch: Oh, yeah, quite a bit. I’ve had that happen a lot. There are times that it can just be really high-quality inks, and very, very well done, but a little heavy-handed, and really not keeping with the flavor of what I do. I tend to be a little bit angular in places, and more soft and curved in other places, and that’s very important to me, and I think when that gets lost, it really loses what I’m trying to get, and some inkers just don’t pick up on that, or they have their own that’s a little bit too strong.

Danny really does have a style that you can really pick up, but I’ve been working with him for so long that really I’ve actually integrated a lot of what he does into my own styles. So, we fit together very, very well. So, it’s a matter of finding a great inker, but also an inker that’s appropriate. I’ve had inks that are totally helpless too where things just get completely lost, and in order to ink well, you really need to be able to draw, because muscle connections are not really an obvious thing, and if you don’t understand—

Brogan: You mean in the bodies of your characters, right?

Finch: It would be an easier thing to show than to describe.

Brogan: Sure.

Finch: If you ever see somebody copy a piece of artwork that doesn’t understand it, you’ll see that things don’t line up, and things just look odd, and it can be a little difficult to pinpoint why, but you can see that it looks like it was clearly copied and not understood well. That happens with inkers that don’t know how to draw.

Brogan: Yeah. They’ve got to get that anatomy correctly.

Finch: Right. Or at least know if you’re going to change something, or if you’re going to interject something that it doesn’t fight with what’s there. It’s amazing how small an error can be, and it completely destroys the illusion.

Brogan: Do you get to review the pages after the inker has finished inking them, or do they just go straight to the next step of the production process at that point?

Finch: Well, both. I always see them, but really more of a courtesy than anything. I’m not telling Danny how to do his job. Like I said, I try to be as nice to him as I can. He knows what he’s doing.

Brogan: Does he send you scans, then?

Finch: Yeah, he sends scans. So, I always see it, but I find if you can work with the best—and I feel this way about colors, too—if I can work with the best, and I don’t like a particular page, or I don’t like a particular color, I keep my mouth shut, because I don’t like when somebody micromanages what I do. I’m going to make mistakes now and again, it’s not going to always be my best, but I like to have the ability to kind of make those mistakes sometimes. So, yeah. I tend to leave people alone as much as I possibly can.

Brogan: Do other people leave you alone? Do you get much feedback from writers like Tom or from your editors at DC or the other publishing houses?

Finch: DC is really great about it that way. I do at times. If I mess up costumes, or I mean there have been times when we’ve gotten the whole book done, and another editor from another book says, “We’ve changed the costume for this particular character,” and I have to go through the whole book and fix it, and that just happens. It’s just the way it goes. In terms of storytelling, I think with Tom we had one page where I screwed up the storytelling and he really wanted it fixed, because it was just in order to make the story work the way it needed to work, we had to fix it.

So, you know, I think he’s very similar. He’s great to work with. He’s very collaborative. I’m not the most collaborative, unfortunately, but yeah. I think if it is absolutely necessary and the story won’t really work without it, he’s going to say something of course, because he’s got to protect his own story. But otherwise, I’m sure there have times when I’ve done things in ways he didn’t like, and he hasn’t said anything, I would assume.

Brogan: So, we’re going to be talking to the letterer in a future episode, or a letterer that you all work with on Batman in a future episode, but one thing that I imagine most people don’t know is that when you draw the page, there are no word bubbles on it. Right?

Finch: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right.

Brogan: That’s all added digitally later on.

Finch: There was a time—just right around when I was getting in, it was being phased out, and that was 23 years ago–the letterer would actually, on the pencils, cut out word balloons and paste them on, and then the inks would be done afterwards. I’ve actually never even seen it done that way, I know that’s how they used to do it, but yeah. Nowadays, all of the artwork, the inks, the colors, it’s all done and then the letters are done afterwards. So, I’ve had a lot of times when I’ve put a lot of work into things that just get completely covered by word balloons.

I think I have been doing this long enough that I’m philosophical about it. It’s going to happen. I don’t stress about it.

Brogan: But the other structural details on the page, things like the edges of the panels. You are responsible for those kinds of details, you are the sort of first person placing that stuff on the page, right?

Finch: Right, yeah. I would determine, well the writer really determines, how many panels there are. I can deviate from that if I feel the need, but as much as I possibly can, I try to be as true to the script as I can be. Writers of comics now, I mean these are the best of the best. It is not an easy business to get into, and to rise to the top of it, these are writers. You know, what I’m going to work with, I want to make the artwork fit the story as well as I can.

So, if it says “five panels on a page,” unless I have a really specific reason, I’ll make it five panels, but the actual shape of the panels, the size of the panels, those kinds of things. You know sometimes that’s dictated too, and I’ll stay with that if I think it works, that I can be a little bit more creative with, but yeah.

Brogan: Do you think of those panel layouts as part of the storytelling process? I mean, looking at one of your issues of Batman this morning, I was really struck by the ways that a row of panels of diminishing size in one case really kind of pulls the eye along the page differently. How much are you thinking about the way that these panels and structural details shape the readers experience as you’re drawing?

Finch: Well, you know, quite a bit and not that much, because it really does make a big difference. A long horizontal panel can really slow things down, and give the story a bit of a longer beat, and a little breathing room, and then tall vertical panels move much, much quicker, and can be a little bit more dynamic. They show less, and your eye just moves through them much more quickly. And small panels are, again, a little quicker, and they have a little less importance, and they can add a little nuance or detail, and then larger panels give you an overall … either a bigger impact, which is really important at times, or context, which can be very important.

So it means a lot of things, and, like you said, having diminishing panels, it can make things a little more claustrophobic, and it can also, from a storytelling-beat standpoint, build up to a big moment more effectively than just even panels. But I’ve got to be honest, I don’t really overthink this stuff that much when I’m doing it, for the most part, I think I just go for it.

Brogan: Fair. Totally fair. So you at this point in your career, do you have to go looking for work? Do you have to pitch editors, try to track people down, or does work come looking for you?

Finch: Well, pitching work really is a writer’s job. That’s part of the reason why writing is so difficult. As an artist, it’s very, very easy, but I’ve never really had to pitch for work my whole career. So, I’ve been very lucky that way. I started out at Top Cow as an intern and they just kept us working and kept us busy, and then once I started drawing it was going well enough that I went from one project to another and Marvel was the same way. I’ve always, generally speaking, whenever I finish with something, I’ve had a few different options to pick from. So, I have been very, very lucky that way. The best writers, it’s a much more difficult process to get a book going. I get a script, it’s already done, the story is great, and I can just start drawing. It’s kind of nice.

Brogan: Tom told us that he got into a fight with his editor who was originally working with him on Issue 24 of Batman, because he wanted you on the book so badly. Are you conscious at all of those kind of behind-the-scenes plans and conversations as you’re working, or are you just sort of sequestered off by yourself in Canada?

Finch: I am. I certainly wasn’t part of any of it, but I know just from talking to him about it that it happened. I’ve had that kind of thing happen myself where I’ve had a major disagreement with a writer or a big disagreement with an editor and it doesn’t go well, and I’ve ended up leaving a project because of it. But there are creative differences. Rarely is it like a personality conflict. It’s two people with a strong idea of what they want the final product to be, and let’s face it, it’s a tough job. If you don’t care, you wouldn’t be doing it. So, these kinds of things happen.

Brogan: Yeah. If I can ask, what’s the financial side of the business like for you? This may be a dumb question, but is it a sustainable line of work?

Finch: Oh, yeah, sure. It’s the kind of job that can pay very, very little or a lot, and it really depends on where you are, and I’m very, very, fortunate. I got into Marvel right around the time when Joe Quesada was the editor in chief. It was a high-energy time for Marvel. I did a New Avengers, which was the biggest comic of the year at the time, and it brought Avengers into the forefront above X-men. So, that was great for me, and I started to do much better, and I’ve really never kind of looked back in that way, and I think also I came up at a time when Wizard Magazine was around, and Wizard Magazine used to have a list of the top 10 hottest artists, and then later one when writers became more important they had a list of the top 10 hottest writers too. I was on the top 10 hottest artists list for a long, long time, and that made a big difference just for perception, and that doesn’t exist anymore.

There’s really no definitive list. I mean it was pretty arguable at the time, too, but it’s much more difficult for an artist to break out and make a name nowadays, and I’m lucky that I broke out and made a name when that was still kind of happening, and I’ve kind of reaped the benefits ever since. So, I’m doing great. I’m thrilled. I’m very grateful.

Brogan: So, you get paid by the page that you turn in, right? Do you also get royalties?

Finch: Yes. Both, yeah. I mean it gets a little complex, and I’ve a lawyer, and there’s like a whole business side to it, that, honestly, I try to stay out of as much as I can, but yeah. I get paid in quite a few different ways.

Brogan: Do you have to spend much time promoting your work going to conventions and such?

Finch: Well, you know, I don’t have to, I guess, but I think it’s very, very helpful. I’m in Canada, but I’m really lucky that I’m so close to the United States, because really most of the conventions are there and the fact that I can go to conventions and make a connection with people and be seen, it really helps me stay relevant. I think it makes a big difference.

Brogan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Historically one way that comic artists made kind of extra money was by selling original art to fans. Is that something that you ever do these days?

Finch: I do. Not directly. I’ve got an art dealer that does that. But yeah, and it’s a pretty big business. It’s an important part of what I do for sure.

Brogan: Is that something that you have to balance with your inkers since they’ve also drawn directly on the pages?

Finch: Well, traditionally there is a 70/30 split, or another way to do it is, I would get three pages for every page that the inker gets, is pretty much the traditional inker/penciler split. So, with Danny, we have the same art dealer. So, when we sell pages we both just take a cut of the page. If we had a different art dealer, a lot of times what will happen is, there will be a phone call, and we’ll negotiate over pages, and I’ve done that before with inkers, too. It can get kind of contentious, because there’s like one great page in that issue, and you know the person that gets it is going to do very, very well, and the other pages are really worth nothing, and who gets that page can be a little tough.

Brogan: Sure. What do you love most about doing this work? About drawing comics for a living?

Finch: You know, really just the drawing. I love sitting down and drawing. Time flies for me, too much, really, I wish it would go a little slower. You know when it’s really working and I really feel it, there’s a joy in that it’s hard to get anywhere else. I mean there’s a whole lot of stress that goes into it, and there are deadlines, and there’s self-doubt, and every time an artist comes along that I think is phenomenal, and I know I just can’t compete with, it stresses me out, and I have an incredibly hard time just appreciating their work, because I’m such a huge fan of comic art. It’s sad for me when there’s an artist that I’m a huge fan of and I find it difficult to enjoy it, just because it’s bringing out my own insecurities so much. That’s something that I fight with all the time.

Brogan: I think we all do.

Finch: Sure, yeah.

Brogan: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. This was a pleasure, and I learned a lot.

Finch: Well, thank you.

* * *

Brogan: In this Slate Plus extra, David Finch talks about some of the superheroes other than Batman that he likes to draw. What are some of your favorite stories that you’ve drawn over the years?

Finch: Well, I think at the top of the list I would have to put the stuff that I did with Bendis. I did Ultimate X-Men with him, and then a New Avengers, and I think he’s such a phenomenal writer. I really loved working with him. Also, I’ve got a few writers that are really, like, the top for me. Geoff Johns, I had such a great time working with him. We did Ultimatum. Ultimatum is a Marvel book. We did Forever Evil, and then the stuff with Tom King, I would say right now, I would have to point to that as my favorite work. I think it’s a smart story, and it’s been critically acclaimed, which is great. I’m not used to that. I’m used to getting trashed. So, it’s been really nice.

I drew like a four- or five-issue segment of Batman fighting Bane in the rain, page after page of it. I couldn’t believe that he was letting me do it. You know, so, maybe I’d have to say that’s my favorite.

Brogan: You talked about Batman being a dream job earlier, but do you have any other characters that you especially love to draw?

Finch: Yeah. I love Wolverine. I would love to get the chance to draw Wolverine sometime. I don’t know if it will ever happen. I love DC so much. I’m very, very happy there. I’m very, very loyal to DC so, you know, maybe that won’t happen, but I’m a huge Wolverine fan, and that would be great. Lobo—I don’t know if you’re familiar at all—Lobo is a character from the early ’90s. He’s like the epitome of, you know, in the early ’90s, everything was like muscles and veins and over-the-top, and just crazy.

Brogan: Huge gods.

Finch: Lobo was I think the absolute pinnacle of that whole trend, and I love that character, he’s great. I’m a huge Simon Bisley fan. He was the artist on the book at the time. So, yeah, that would be a lot of fun, to get the chance to do something with.