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|Interview with Kelley Jones (1995)|
COMIC-ART.COM: Do you find that when you work on a project it is dominating your existence?
KELLEY: Well, it dominates, it preoccupies your attention. I mean you have to stay really focused on it. Not just in getting stuff done, you know, but in trying to do something different every month, trying to present a different, down to the littlest things like, trying as hard as you can not to repeat shots, as well as trying very hard to present, you know, giving people an expectation of not knowing what to expect. I mean that's what falls hardest probably on Doug and myself.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, actually that was a question I was going to ask you: Are you finding that doing a monthly is more or less of a grind than you envisioned?
KELLEY: Well, I think what happens is, if you don't care, they become a grind. And if you care a lot, you begin to worry that you're not doing as much as you may be capable of by giving the time constraint too much credit. So, I sit there and try to spend as much time on research, as much time on planning things out as possible. I mean I don't do a lot of advance drawing or thumbnails or anything I like just to get it on the page, but I spend a lot of time considering what I'm going to do, and so I begin to worry that way, but I don't, you know, looking back over the last year, it feels like a lot of work, but it doesn't feel tiring because I feel pretty good about what comes out.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, when you said you don't do a lot of advance work as far as thumbnails and stuff, what about coming up with character likenesses? Do you do you do much sketching?
KELLEY: I do, I mean if it's a brand-new character or a redesign, yeah, I'll sit down and figure it out so I can be comfortable with it when I'm drawing it. If it's secondary characters or guys who Batman's just got to deal with for a little bit, then what I try to do is when I'm working on the pages, is give them as much characterization as I can possibly through the drawing, as much animation as I can into their little quirks and whatnot, so people will begin to believe that this is three-dimensional. You know, and by that I mean, mixing up head shapes on characters and body shapes and trying to always remember that the locale is not New York, but Gotham, and that's a completely different world. I mean you can go from a medieval look to a very modern look to an art deco look, you know, and by that you know, it's, you just keep stirring it up, you know, so, by that I don't want to be trapped by something, some, because wonderful little things happen when you just start doing that. You know, it can be just down to how you curl somebody's hair or you just, or the idea of putting them into a different kind of...Or just saying, well, why can't this person be really fat or this one be really skinny and all of a sudden they kind of invent themselves.
COMIC-ART.COM: On the subject of characterization, you and I had had a conversation a while back and I brought up an incidental character in one of the stories who was kind of an old mad scientist character and I had thought that he was, that you were swiping him from Frazetta. It was in issue 517.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, remember when we were talking about that? And I thought that was kind of interesting where you said you came up with the old man, Dr. Gnossos.
KELLEY: Well, where you get those things is, you go and you look for, if you're reading something, and you try to find how can I make...? Because in today's comics if it isn't a guy with a, you know, a big muscular guy or a woman or whatever, you're afraid people won't pay attention, you know what I mean? You're afraid they'll just kind of flip through it until they get to what, what, and...I always feel the effort is, you want to slow 'em down and consider it, and realize that you want them to care about these characters and care about the world, and maybe, you know, add a certain amount of dramatic impact to these things, or humor, or whatever, and the best way to do it is to stop them and slow them down to look at these incidental characters. And so when I read them over, I'm always looking for some kind of little tick or some kind of little angle, or something that's under the surface that's not necessarily stated that will pull that together so that before they even read it they're going to stop and say, `well, I wonder why is this character here?' or `why is he doing what he's doing?' I think, I mean, to the bigger sense, I think that's what's really screwing up a lot of comic books is, no one wants to spend time on those things. No one wants to spend time on the incidentals or the subplots. I personally feel that stories have to be short, but the subplots can continue for as long as they need to take, and subplots in and of themselves, I don't really, you know, I don't really want them to detract. I want them to enhance, and so these characters gotta be important, they gotta be given as much attention as the main characters do, or Batman for that matter. And that's where you pull them, I mean you just have to, oh, you know, Steve, you have to, uh, when something doesn't ring true, or if something doesn't, it kind of seems like you're not interested while you're doing it, everyone else is going to know that, too. I mean, reading it, they're just going to pick up on that.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, looking at the comic, I've got it here in my hand right now, I was struck by your careful handling of that scene, the way you have the interplay between the characters, you chose your shots carefully, and it really did pay off.
KELLEY: Yeah, because, because, and that's Doug Moench because, I think a lot, man, there is a real, fundamental thing in comic books and it's the cooperative thing, the give and take and when Doug wrote that particular scene, or when he does, you know, the stuff with Bullock and the other detectives and stuff, the real trick, especially when you have important information conveyed, is that you want people to be interested enough in that kind of stuff, without it being the character in costume, doing, you know, beating the hell out of someone. So, when he wrote that, you know, he was saying, `This is a long sequence, you know. If you don't want to do this, let me know and we'll, I'll change it up, I'll make it shorter.' But you know that's kind of what you live for, is to try to prove you this without all those things, without falling into a kitschy style trick or falling into something that is just headshots, or you know, posing figures. You want to show that you can do this, that you can put this together and people, if they're interested in that then, when you have the character in costume doing his thing, it really pays off.
COMIC-ART.COM: Oh, I agree.
KELLEY: And that, essentially, is what comics are all about. I mean, you do have, like on a stereo, you have a modulator that says the volume goes one to ten. And you don't play it always at ten. You know you've gotta, there's subtlety to this thing and the subtlety just as important. So, that's why when working with Moench, I mean he delivers on that end, so that when something happens, I mean I would hate to rely totally on my energy all the time. You have to, you have to get it from somewhere else.
COMIC-ART.COM: Right. A scene like that couldn't work just visually. You'd have to have good dialogue, and that scene did.
KELLEY: Yeah. I mean I can do all the good shots in the world but if they're saying stupid stuff, or at the end of it you go, okay, what was that all about, then it's pointless. But when you finish reading that particular storyline, it makes a lot of sense, and at that point, it takes on, that whole scene takes on a much bigger dimension that simply people eating dinner.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, well I think what you were saying before about a lot of modern comics lacking something, I think the synergy you and Doug achieved is important, and I think it's missing from a lot of the comics that are...
KELLEY: Well, I think that what happens now is I don't think a lot of people, who, this is their business, you know, they're in this business, whether you're publishing, writing about it, whatever. A lot of the things that make comics comics are not in comics anymore. So, they're getting them, going, why aren't these, not as good as they were, because I don't think a lot of people read, you know it's hard to ask people have you read these books going back, even fifteen years ago now. But the thing that makes a comic book work is what makes a book or a movie or any kind of play work, and when those things are removed just for the exploitable scenes, they become very hollow and something you can just toss off, as well as, if you're looking into them, you can't, you can't put a book together by saying, okay, I want people who are popular or whatever without realizing if they can put the book together or not because a lot of people are making their names geared toward projects or a promotion of those projects rather than the solid character of their work. I'm not even going to get into naming names, but there's people who have come and went in the last five years who were hailed as the next whatever, but because they could not do just people sitting around doing nothing or building up those atmospheric scenes getting to the payoff, I mean, they're, then they don't want to produce, it gets hard to do. You can't cheat this is what I'm trying to say.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, I think especially in a book like Batman, where so much of the enjoyment depends on atmosphere.
KELLEY: Well, and, Batman, yeah. Batman more than most books it's cranked up, but most books, that's the fun part. The fun part in these things, which are basically, you know, soap opera, in a sense, are the day to day things leading into knowing those parts of their lives. How will affect them as heroes. And since we know they're heroes and no one else does, how does their being a hero affect them in their day to day life? That's the fun part, and handled well, the most exciting because then when they're fighting, you know, Batman's fighting the Joker or whatever, and you know how his day went or all the stuff leading up to what's going on, that is incredibly interesting as well as a blast to go out and get. I mean comic books, for me, Doug and I were talking about this the other day about, do kids now get ahold of these books the way we used to being, like you're so excited you're almost trembling when you get, you know because first of all, they were hard to find. But it's when you really want it and it seems as he was saying when he was growing up it was the same with me, they seemed to pay off so well. And now, they don't seem to pay off so well. I mean in fact, you don't even, the questions they pose, or the situations they're thrown into seem very trite as opposed to what I used to remember. Now, I'm not saying the books were better, they just, because I think the level of talent is there, it's just I don't really feel the need to get off of my butt and go find them the way I used to. You know what I mean? At that, and the way they'd be so resonant that I could just start something, start by describing something in a book that happened when I was growing up and people would finish it off for me. Now, no one knows what's going on. Even the people who are hard-core fans of these things don't seem to know what's going, and that's probably because you have fifteen writers handling one storyline or you have a storyline that goes on for a million years and it just doesn't seem, and you know, when it's done, it really doesn't, nothing's different than it was before, so it trivializes it, it doesn't make it special. That's why I was such a big proponent of two issue stories and one-shots with continuing subplots so that people could feel that there was beginning, middle and closure to something and they're on to the next.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, I've noticed that, that when you and Doug took over the book, you started having more and more two issue stories and you were saying you had some three issue plots.
KELLEY: Yeah, there's only one three issue thing we're doing, which is Deadman but that's, that's not just out of the norm for me, I'm going, for me I feel that, for two reasons, one: when you do something special now, it seems special, you know, if you're following a two-issue, one-shot type of format, and secondly: the books are just so expensive that you don't want to feel like you're hustling all the time. You want to feel like: `okay, if you like this--here you go. If you don't like it, you know, we're not trying to steal your money. You don't have to buy it.' I think you have to get people buying your books to trust you and trust you to do the best job you're capable of, as well as tell a story, and not feel like, you know if they buy our book they have to buy three, four, five others, to follow, you know. That would frustrate me greatly, if I was a kid, especially now that they're two bucks or whatever a pop, that would frustrate me greatly.
COMIC-ART.COM: Oh yeah. Well, you look at something like The X-Men.
KELLEY: I couldn't afford it. I know adults who can't afford it, so why should I expect them to.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, exactly. As I was saying, you look at something like The X-Men. They have nine monthly titles. I mean that's an awful lot to ask a little kid to buy.
KELLEY: And they're only going to pick their favorite ones and go from there. And so what you want to do is, you know, really sit down and control as much you can of the situation. I mean once you put a book out there you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know how people are going to react. But I think a lot of comics, everyone involved cannot be afraid that someone is going to dislike something or if somebody's not going to agree with you. I think that makes comics mediocre. It makes comics generic, it makes comics trivial. And, when you, you know and I say that just because the stuff I used to like growing up had a very polarizing effect on people, you know. Hey, you want it polarized 90-10 your way, right? But you do want the people who don't like it, or the people who disagree with that to have, you know, because that means you're doing something that matters, that is getting through to them. You never hear anybody, generally you don't people really disagreeing with whatever the policy is of a certain hot book at a moment, but by that same token, look how bad the industry's doing right now. I mean, that mediocrity has just pulled it down to where kids feel they don't need it. Speculators, I'm sure can take, they can blame what they want on it, but by and large it's, there's a lot of other things to go do rather than buy a comic book or several comic books, follow a storyline and when you're done, feel like, eh, who cares? I mean can, I remember reading the Michael thing in The Avengers and you just couldn't wait to get done, and man, it was scary. It was really good, because they didn't do it all the time. And it only really took place in one book. It was terrific. And...
COMIC-ART.COM: Or, I remember in my own case, picking up that Batman issue of Swamp Thing.
COMIC-ART.COM: That was like, Batman and Swamp Thing--That was a big deal!
KELLEY: It was a big deal. And so you want to always, you know, the thing, too, Steve, is just keeping these things, I mean keeping an element of comic book logic to it, meaning you want them to make sense, you want them to be fun and all that kind of stuff, but they've still got to be comics. You can't be afraid of the stereotyping of comics. That's great. I don't want to be, you know, I hate political correctness in a comic book. I just tell the story and if we handle it, that's fine. On the other hand, I don't like comics that just have no point to them and at the end you don't know, you know, there's no optimism, no morality, no point. I mean there has to be something to make you want to come back and experience that. So, in Batman, that's all we try to do is, I also feel that you know you have a real monolithic, a lot of monolithic thinking going on where there's you know, certain prevailing styles of writing comic books or drawing comic books, and if you happen to fall outside of that, you know, you're out of there. You know, you're relegated to, yet they don't realize that that's not, you know, that monolithic thinking, they're making wallpaper. I can't tell one artist or one story any more. It's hard for me to tell one book from another anymore. I try to keep up, but it's hard to do.
COMIC-ART.COM: I interviewed Sheldon Moldoff this year and one comment he had was that, in the old days you could tell a DC book from a Marvel book, and these days...
KELLEY: Yeah, you could tell a, consequently you could also tell the writers and artists from one another, too.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, now everything is, it's so generic, everyone seems to be copying each other.
KELLEY: Well, and I think that's because one of the things that always really made people cut the mustard was developing a style is the single most difficult thing to do and in developing a style you have to develop your mind, so...
COMIC-ART.COM: Hmmm, there's a parallel to be drawn there.
KELLEY: Yeah, and it's hard to do. It's hard to do. If you just find that, well, this guy is doing this, and people seem to respond to it, I'll just do that, too. Well, after a while you have fifty guys all doing the same thing and it's wallpaper. Seen it once, seen it all. I think that's one of the reasons that comic books to me have become replaceable by and large by other entertainment, is that there's suspension of disbelief anymore. I mean there's no, I mean it's a lot of, it's like they're publishing sketchbooks half the time when I look at a comic. I don't know where they're at. I don't know what they're doing. I don't know who these characters are. I'm not talking, I don't care how they draw, I just don't know what the hell's going on. Just looking at it. I'm not even saying out of context. I mean if you start from beginning to end and you just never hardly see backgrounds or if you do, it's the same old backgrounds. I mean I, there's, I mean, you have to be transported to other places and as an artist, my job is to, even if I'm not familiar with those places, I've got to act like I do. I don't want people to ever guess when, or feel they know when I'm interested or when I'm not, or if I know this subject or I don't. That's not what they pay me for. You know they pay me, and I would imagine anyone else to be as professional as you can and just do what you're supposedly be able to do.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, well cynicism seems to be the rule now. There's no sense of wonder.
KELLEY: Well, because they're all about money. I think the worst possible thing you can do is make everything about money. I mean, I love to make it, I love it when it comes in, but it's got to be, it's got to be, like, not the primary reason something happens, because at that point, all you'll ever want people to do are Spider-Man, Batman or X-Man, or whatever the thing is, rather than, you know, when I took Deadman, that was not a big deal book then. It wasn't, it isn't now. But so many people remember it and it still has a following. When I was doing Sandman, I mean it was a cult book. It was fun to do because you didn't know what you were going to get next.
COMIC-ART.COM: Were Sandman's sales ever very great?
KELLEY: Well, it's hard to say because I don't know what great sales are anymore. I mean I look at numbers now and I look at numbers then and what they seem to going, well I wish it could be more, would be great for now. And what I see now, people are saying, Oh my--all I know is that wherever I went, people seem to show up and say it was a great book. That's generally how you can tell.
COMIC-ART.COM: Simon Bisley said he sold 100,000 of those Death Dealer comics, and he was disappointed.
KELLEY: Yeah, he, well, that's just it. Look how many bad books are out there. Look how much white noise is out there. Look how much there is not to care about of the last five years. And then don't be surprised, because even if you, you've got to sit down and, I don't know what people expect anymore. The days of the million-selling comic books are not over but it's going to be a long time till it happens again. Because those million-selling comic books, when it was all said and over, didn't change a thing. It was not an event where, okay, we start from here and go from here, and that just didn't happen, and it went, and man, I hate it when a comic book is affected so severely by the trends of the day that it becomes dated. And I think you can characterize the 90's as the period of very dated material.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, I think a lot of this stuff is not going to have, it's not going to have legs, you know? It won't last.
KELLEY:...I look at, just off the top of my head, Ploog or Wrightson or Smith from the 70's and shit, if that was coming out now, it'd be hot! If it was coming out thirty years ago or something, it'd have been hot! They knew what they, because they had to find themselves. It's the same with films, I mean I don't care when, I mean it could be a hundred years from now, Citizen Kane would be great, and it's the same thing with comics. You, I always tell someone to get into this or whatever, do not pick a character, do not pick a job based on a character. Pick it based on the writer or the, I mean this is for artists, but on the story, is it going to have merit? Ten years from now will you be proud if someone brings it up to you? And, I mean when I fully started taking that and for 90% of my jobs, I feel since about 1988-89, have been those type of jobs. And you let the chips fall where they may on the other end, but you first and foremost, you want, I am much more concerned, and this sounds wonderful, altruistic and you know, everything, but I am much more concerned if somebody spends what they spend on a book, pay some kind of fee to get into a show, and wait in line for you to sign it, I'm much more concerned with their opinion, infinitely more concerned with their opinion than anyone else because that's the guy who's keeping you afloat. That's the guy who makes it worthwhile when you go, `I'm so tired I cannot see straight' and you sit down and do, you know, put the extra oomph into a page, because it's going to last forever. And as it was for me, it can be no different for them. I go back and look at things and I'm completely swept away again and you hope to get the same thing going, rather than someone saying `How much is this worth?', or are you going to be a `hot' artist, whatever that is. I don't even know what that is. Because I'm afraid of the term `hot', because hot seems to get cold awfully quick nowadays.
COMIC-ART.COM: Quicker than ever, these days.
KELLEY: Oh, man! There's people who I remember editors telling me, oh, this guy's the bee's knees--they're gone now. I don't know what they do.
COMIC-ART.COM: Look at poor Paul Smith, man.
KELLEY: Well, at least Paul has a huge chunk of work that he can be very proud of, and The Golden Age was great! You know, but...
COMIC-ART.COM: He just kind of dropped out of sight for a while.
KELLEY: And that's one thing from that period, it's even scarier when they say and then a year later you don't know where they are. You know, they do one or two books and they're gone. A hanincr=F|dful of jobs and they're gone. Well, if you look at their stuff, after three issues, you've seen everything that they can do. I never felt that way, I never felt that way about Barry Smith. I never knew what he was going to do, whether it was Conan, in this wonderfully organic, barbaric world, or Machine Man, which completely rewrote how you do technical comics, and it was still completely organic, and those books are separated by twelve, fifteen years, or whatever.
COMIC-ART.COM: Oh, and then he did Weapon X.
COMIC-ART.COM: Which really took me by surprise. I did not expect that at all, and it was great!
KELLEY: Well, because range is the number one thing you want from a writer or an artist, the ability, I mean I'm tagged as a horror artist, and I kind of laugh at that because I can't really see where that comes from. Yes, I work in dark stuff and I've done horror stories, but I always did those so I would have more things to draw. And then when I did Batman, when I come to Batman, now I have people saying, `Boy, you can do pretty decent action.' You can do pretty decent `superhero' stuff. And I'm like never offended by that, you know, you smile and things, `Thank you' and you walk off going, `Well, that's the nature of the gig.' You have to be able to do that. You have to, or you're going to limit yourself and be out of a job in no time.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah. Well, Kelley, how many issues have you been doing Batman for now?
KELLEY: I don't know, I think I'm on my fifteenth.
COMIC-ART.COM: Fifteenth issue.
KELLEY: Fifteenth or sixteenth, I can't remember.
COMIC-ART.COM: Looking back on your run so far, what do you think you've brought to Batman that's different than the other artists who've done that character?
KELLEY: Oh, to me atmosphere, that this is a different comic book, flavor-wise, than, not so much the other guys doing, just specifically bat-books, but just in general comics, superhero stuff. But I did not want people coming to this title with a pre-set view of what was going to be in it. I wanted them not to know what was going to happen. I always like it when people say, `Well, you've done this really exaggerated style of comics', and I'm going, geeze, I'm not even like the manga guys or the, you know, all that distorted stuff. My characters are fairly photographically real, but I will use more exaggerated shapes, but always with realistic lighting. And that is, little touches like that, I think if there's one thing I've brought back to it again, it's mystery, you know, the mystery and the detective angle of it. Those things are just as important, his being able to use his mind, if not more so than his body.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, you know, that seems like that's something that Batman lost for a long time. They didn't have him acting as a detective. He was just an action hero.
KELLEY: Well, he's Captain America in a cape is what I thought.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, yeah.
KELLEY: And I was not, you know, I'm not against that. I'm just...My whole thing though has always been Batman is this incredible character that can, you can do science fiction with him, you can do, you know, crime stuff with him, you can do typical superhero things, you can do horror, whatever--he fits, because he's a well-rounded, three-dimensional character. And I never really bought into all the other things where, you know, where he's this psychopath, or he's got all these emotional problems or whatever. I've just seen him as, this is his function...I don't try to analyze him so much. I just know that he's got a mission and he's going to accomplish it for as long as he can. And I don't see him working well with other people. I mean he's a total fascist in everything he does. There's his way, and then everything else. And, but he was a code of ethics and you kind of go from that standpoint. I always, when I'm drawing Batman, I don't know if what he's doing is right I just know it's resonant right now with more people. This is the most acceptance for what I've done, ever, and I think it's, you know, you can sit there and say, `well, I'm doing it the right way and that's why,' It isn't that. I just think I'm doing it the way I would like to buy it if I was a kid off the stands. Hopefully, and thankfully, it has reached that many people, that they're going, `Yeah, that's the way it should be.' It's difficult because I try not to look at stuff, I mean this, to sound the right way, I'm trying to look at stuff that I was buying as a kid that really got me going and trying to reproduce those feelings again, not maybe those books, because I don't think I have that ability, but to try to create that feeling. You know, very dramatic, very meaningful stuff, whether it's just a, you know, comic book or not, shouldn't make any difference. This stuff's important. And then you just go from there and you hope for the best. I hate it when someone comes up and they go, and they sit there and measure out everything or look at things, missing the whole forest for the trees. On the other hand, you know, you want, you do want them, my favorite thing that's happening now are people who initially were irritated with everything I was doing and everything, are now my biggest supporters, because fundamentally I think they're getting, whether they're seeing the point or not, that we are doing just two-issue stories. We're not connected to anything. We're not trying to fleece anyone. If they don't like what I'm doing, I'm not costing them money, and I'm not forcing them to miss out on story elements. On the other hand, you're pretty much screwed if you go the other route, you know? And when it's all said and done, people feel like they got their money's worth. I have had more people tell me that they re-read the book a lot just looking for little things, and they find all kinds of little things, or it takes them longer to read this than other books because they like to go over each. That's a wonderful feeling, better than preaching to converted is converting someone. And, you know, that's, I mean, to have so many people tell me it's like the only book they buy, it's, that's a big load to carry, because they're just jaded and tired and like you said, cynical of everything...I think there's too much concern on the kid market. I think the adult market is what you've got to be afraid of. You've got to worry that when you lose people in their 20's, 30', 40's, that's the real back, that's the real guts of comics to me. They're the ones who keep it alive. They're the ones who, who love it so much that they don't leave. And when they leave, there is something wrong. It's like in those environmental things, when the little tiny frog dies, how long is it until we go? And I think the frogs have dying for a long time.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, they're not finding too many amphibians these days.
KELLEY: No, they aren't. And I sit here all the time and I can't tell you how many of my older peers have been extremely complimentary to me, and are surprised that, they, I think I'm old,but they see me as young as I am. The same with, there are fans that come up, whether they're young or old and they say, `Man, we can tell, you guys make a difference.' Now, that's great. It's not like you can cure the industry of all its woes, but that's great. And probably the best thing is, when they reprinted Deadman, how well that does in reprints. Because those books were given no promotion, they were just kind of stuck out there. And in both cases, both the first series and the second series, the Prestige sold out really fast, I know in both cases, in a week. And now that they've reprinted them and they're doing real well, you know, that's why I try to say, yeah, you put everything you have into, not, granted it's not Wolverine or it's Spider-Man or something, but this stuff matters. They're looking. And if you care, it'll hang around. It may not sell the big numbers, but it'll sell enough, and that reputation you build is priceless.
COMIC-ART.COM: Sure. I look at how many times the original Wrightson, Len Wein run of Swamp Thing has been reprinted.
KELLEY: Well, it has, like you were saying, earlier, legs. I can start reading that and completely not see the nuts and bolts of it anymore. It's just good stuff. There's a lot of books, surprisingly, from the 70's like that. You just start reading and go, `Wow! That's really good!'.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, I know. I sit down with that stuff and I get sucked in immediately. I'm fifteen years old again.
KELLEY: Exactly. I just got back from the 7-11, you know. I can't get go into those places now without, you know and now you go into them, they don't have comics hardly any more.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, they have like one really skimpy rack of Marvels and DCs.
KELLEY: That's it, and they're only the headliners. But I used to go there looking for Master of Kung Fu or Monster of Frankenstein, any DC mystery titles, Korak.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, yeah, I was also combing the racks looking for any House of Mystery with a Wrightson story or something.
KELLEY: Right. In fact, it was even before I knew names. I just knew that nine times out of ten I was just going to walk away from that book feeling good, like I did well by it. Whereas, I had really stopped buying certain books by that time because they just, you know...I always used to wonder how come the really good stuff got cancelled and had the best people on it, and the really mediocre stuff just got published and published and published. But I was, as I got a little older I realized, that stuff wasn't mediocre, that was pretty good, and then I had to spend all my time trying to find it. Now, I just keep hoping, it's not that I've been in this for such a long time, but I just don't, and it's not a matter of the talent, you know, it's just, I get the feeling that I'm being manipulated, you know, if I was buying this. I'm manipulated. Rather than, guys trying to sing for their supper so I'll go back to that 7-11 and get it. I'm being assumed I'll be there, so I don't have to put as much effort, if they're assuming I'll be there. It's like, you know, Communism, it just doesn't work that way, you know? And comics have fallen into that same thing. It's very, and you've got to find your pressures in different ways. I have more pressure, not from making deadlines for example, than by keeping John Beatty and Doug Moench impressed. I think the thing I live in most dread from is Doug saying, `Man, you really choked on this.' You know, because he's, Doug's an autocrat. There is one way to do comics and that is the right way.
COMIC-ART.COM: Moench has done a lot of good stuff over the years. If I was working with him, I'd listen to him.
KELLEY: Well, and he's, part of it, too is that just fundamentally, the stories are there. You can't--if you're going to argue with him it's playing chess. And, unfortunately it's, one: grounded in all he's talking about is doing it the right way, to tell the story. You have to set it up, you have to pay off. I know there's artists out there who have had a hard time working with him, because it's not easy, it's not easy. He doesn't do pinup shots, he doesn't do big stuff. But, when it's all said and done, you know, that stuff stays in print, you know, I have people coming up to me all the time, and I, and it's, and I always, if they're versed in it enough, I will say, `Okay, the reason you're complimenting me has a lot to do with who I'm working with.' You know, if they get it. And I'll say, `You know, the guy, the people I'm working with have a lot to do with this.' It's why John and Doug and I have been together for like three and half, four years now. Which doesn't seem long in my way of looking at things, but it seems like eons nowadays.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, really. Really. Well, let's backtrack a little bit and go back to when you first started working with Doug on those Batman graphic novels. Which one was the first one?
KELLEY: Red Rain.
COMIC-ART.COM: Red Rain. That was Batman/Dracula, right?
COMIC-ART.COM: Now, what was it about that project that attracted you, was it the chance to do Dracula?
KELLEY: No, what probably did it the most was that, I'd always wanted a shot at, well not always, but when I got to DC, I wanted a shot at Batman. And there was nothing going in Batman that made me feel like...You know, it's kind of an upstart attitude, but I felt like, Wow! I could do this. I don't think anyone else is really doing it, you know? The way I see it. So, there's a...you know, I'm not (saying) not doing it well, just not the way I see it, and it gave it me the same charge that Deadman did, or even Sandman, for that matter, because I'd both, I'd just finished those projects. And Doug had seen what I was doing in Deadman, and had told me, when I first spoke with him, he says, `I want you to know that they send me all this stuff, and that's the only book over the year, over the past year that I stopped and looked at and enjoyed.' And, he says, `I would like to work with you.' And he says, `How about if we do...' and at the time he had just, he was doing a bunch of stuff for them, and he was going to do Batman and all these things, and he says, `How about if we do a Batman thing?'. And I said, `Sure. Well, what would be the angle?' He says, `Well, how about something with horror, because they really haven't done a horrific Batman, or one with horror in it.' And we couldn't think of anything...well, he calls me up a few days later and says, `How about this? I don't know what it's about, but just Batman and Dracula?' And to be honest with you, at first I thought, well, that's kind of hokey, but you know, that sounds pretty...I mean, within minutes it grew on me and it went from hokey to brilliant, and you know, a few weeks later, Doug sends me this plot for it, and as soon as I read it, I knew it was going to be great. I mean, you just knew, if monkeys could draw it, it will be great. (Interviewer laughs) And people will remember it. And they'll remember it because he's writing essential Batman. Even if you remove Dracula from it, it's essential Batman.
COMIC-ART.COM: Now what year did you do that, Kelley?
KELLEY: '90, I think.
COMIC-ART.COM: Right. That's what I was thinking.
KELLEY: I think it was '89 into '90, I think is when it started. And I remember it came out towards the end of '90, but I'd spent about six months on it, which to me was the longest I'd ever spent on anything. Even when I'm doing Deadman, you know, it was like, that was two forty-eight pagers, but I was inking it, so I was really moving. This was like, I really knew I had to watch it because Doug would call me up and say, `Now, this could be better, what's this all about?' or, `This thing here works, why do you think this works?' I mean it was like a real clinic he was putting on. I don't think he did it on (purpose), I think he just saw me as having potential. And that meant a lot to me, and I never said this to him, but it meant a lot to me because I saw other people who he found potential in and they were stars, you know, and, you know, Gulacy and Sienkiewicz, Ploog, you know, people of that quality, you know, Gene Day. They were just of immense quality. And the fact that he called me up and sought me and gave me something that he thought was important, meant a lot to me. So, I tried everything I could to make him impressed. And it meant, and when that was all done, he called me up when the book came out, and it was like, he says, `It's like a kid you're really proud of, this book.' And man, that was it, that's all it took. Then I knew that all the questions I had about myself, could I do this, or did I have the ability to do this, would I be justified in some of the things that I feel are important to me, were answered. All I had to do was go out and execute. Then, it didn't matter what anyone said, because this guy who had a retinue of incredible work under his belt, stuff I had, it's very strange, Steve, to work with someone who you had to race to those little minimarts to get the books, I mean it's weird when you are talking to him. I never, I mean I get over it, it took me a while to get over it, but every once in a while, it just reminds me, especially if I'm at his house or something and there'll be like sketches from Master of Kung Fu that Paul had done from years ago, the original scripts. You know, with all the, oh it's just amazing because I remember that being the book that if you were anybody, that was the book you read. If you were a comic book fan, you knew about that, and so, if you're working with him, and then, you know, he always, the thing that's really cool is, he will say, well, things he's proud of, and I'll read, he always throws in what we're doing, and I know that he means. And then you feel like, okay, I've got a lot of energy to do this. So then, when we're sitting down doing Batman, I take it just as seriously as when we were doing Red Rain. That never, he's relentless in that way, and I know that has to be tough on other people he may worked with. I know it is tough, but he's relentless towards doing the best job you can within the time constraints and, you know all of the intangibles you can't control. That, I'll tell you, Steve, that keeps you honest, because it worries me sometimes. I'll look at guys, and they're not what they used to be or they don't produce, or their stuff is just so, you can't even identify it as what they were. And I don't want that, I mean if that happens, I just want to quit. I don't want to do this because I have to or because it's all I know, and Doug is a great insurance policy, because he'll go back and one of the nicest things he ever said to me, and without knowing it, he was just tossing it out, he was saying, `Well, you know I was just looking...'it was one, I don't know, it was an issue I'd done just a few months ago, and he was just saying, `that he actually liked what I was doing better now than the Red Rain period, or what, even as recently as Bloodstorm,' and I don't tell him, `Whoa, you really impressed me' or `Whoa, that really flatters me,' or whatever, it's justification. And at that point, I go, Okay, you know because I always tell him that I don't need compliments. I know when I screw up, and I know when it's you know, but at that point, you know, okay, we're on the beam, or we're doing it, and he's not bitching and moaning. He's just saying, `Hey, get it done. Gotta keep moving. Gotta keep moving.' So we stay fairly close that way. Half the time we're not even talking about comic books. So, or not comic books, but the story itself. I totally trust him to give me stuff. I mean we'll sit around and kind of hash it out, but I totally trust him and vice versa. And, so at that point, it keeps you going. I mean I have never run into any one who knows more about doing this than he does. And so, I knew that then before I got to know him well, and I know that now that I do know him well. And you have to, that is a real strength. It is not something I compete with, it's not something I resent. It's a strength. You can really rely on that.
COMIC-ART.COM: So, when you went on to Bloodstorm, did that come about because Red Rain was such a good experience?
KELLEY: Well, it was partly that, and partly because they'd said, `Boy, we'd sure like a sequel to that.' And I was really nervous about doing a sequel because I'm thinking, how do you live up to, you know, it's like Casablanca, Part II, you know, who's going to care. But, when we sat down and talked, I remember Doug calling me up, and he says, `All I know is that it ends with Gordon staking Batman. And all I know is that the reason he becomes a vampire is he takes the Joker's blood. Now, I haven't figured out anything else yet, but that's what is going to happen.' And at that point you go, `Okay, that's great.' (Laughs) And he did such a good job that when I, I have always had so many compliments on that book, just, like I said, from other artists, or people who go, Aw, no way would I spend over, spend twenty-five bucks for a book, and then they buy that one. And again, there was virtually no promotion, or whatever, and that sucker just sold like a demon. And it always came down, well, that ending, when he rips out the Joker's throat and becomes a vampire, finally giving into that desire and it takes his two best friends to kill him, to put him...(Side One Ends/Begin Side Two)...time of Red Rain coming out, thinking, Boy, what a luck year I've had because I had, I had done, within roughly a sixteen month period, I had The Sandman books, Swamp Thing, Deadman and Red Rain came out, and for me, I said, if it ends tomorrow, I've left something I feel really strong and good about. And it just shocks me to this day that it just continues. I feel like you get so much time at the plate, and you stay there as long as you are worth being up there. If it's six months, fine. If it's six years, fine, if it's sixty years, fine, whatever. As long as you're viable. And, you he keeps it very viable, so as far as I'm concerned, I can't imagine really, you know, sitting down and doing any of those types of books without him. I know I couldn't do a third Red Rain, which we are planning on doing if he wasn't doing it. I mean I couldn't just go off and do something like that. And that's not out of, you know, I'd love to say, just purely out of loyalty to him. No, I just, I don't think anyone else can do it. I don't think anyone else, because it takes not only being inventive, but you've got to really understand the characters you're dealing with and I think of, his understanding of Batman is just dead-on. I mean crystalizes what I always think. What I can't verbalize, he can always crystalize it. But I guess that's why he's a writer, you know?
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah! So far in Batman, you and Doug have done Killer Croc, the Scarecrow, Black Mask, do you guys have a master plan for eventually using all the classic Batman villains?
KELLEY: Well, the master plan probably will be to stick with not having a master plan. (Laughter) It's like, we're putting together some subplot things that will come to fruition, but the real point will be, when we do something with Batman, whether it be the Two-Face or the Swamp Thing, we're trying to punch one essential point or something about Batman that is brought out through those stories, and essentially through that mosaic, make up the whole thing, rather than have a big storyline define him, have short storylines define him, and in that, show many of the sides. I mean Doug and I haven't really sat down, you know, and said this, `This is what we'll do.' But most of the time it's to get across sides of Batman that people generally don't see. There's a wonderful thing in the Scarecrow stories, I thought, where he saves this guy who's being brutalized by the Scarecrow, and the Scarecrow's brutalizing this guy because of stuff this guy did to Jonathan Crain while in high school. And Batman saves him from this horrible death and then Batman chastises him even though the guy's still in shock and drugged, `Well, don't be so surprised, and you could have, should have kind have expected someone to come after you, you know, for how mean you were, so don't do it again, you know? While saving a guy, which is totally a Batman thing. He doesn't go, `Well, I'm saving you out of the goodness of my heart' or whatever. It was purely that's his job, though he was mean as a kid, was an innocent and so he saves him, but the whole time, correcting him like an adult would correct a child, and very sternly, and then going after Jonathan Crain, after he said these things, saying, `You know you have turned Crain into what he is,' but not, and then going and dealing with Crain, like, going, `I'm totally unforgiving about that aspect of it. So what if you were brutalized. A lot of people were brutalized. They don't kill people.' And then uses his own tricks, turns Scarecrow's tricks upon himself. That was great. I'm thinking, Man if I'm just someone picking this up, that's exactly what it's about, you know, that kind of angle to Batman was wonderful. You know, Batman's not a sensitive guy, and I'm thinking that way, and then he turns right around in Two-Face and kind of portrays him in a grudgingly sentimental way, er, sensitive way, with this one circus character. It was wonderful. Those little things make Batman much more than him kicking in the window and beating the hell out of someone, or taking on the Joker for the umpteenth time, you know. He doesn't reinvent these characters, he just presents them in a modern context so they don't--you know what worked in the forties, or in that classic period works now. And that's all he does. He just keeps it not dated. He doesn't let it seem tied to the time. So when we're doing that, that's our whole, that's really the whole point, Steve, is to let people see a side or a shade and then when, hopefully when we're all done they'll get, there'll be a real good picture of what Batman's all about.
COMIC-ART.COM: That said, which villains are you planning to use for next year?
KELLEY: I know, we, you know, Clayface is one, the Penguin is another, Man-Bat towards the end of the year now, because we're doing this thing with Deadman coming up here. We're talking about doing something with the Riddler, but we're going to wait and see what everyone else does, you know. And, we have a few new ones, one specifically called the Ogre, who, you will be a very terrific character, a very interesting character. He's not in anything for personal gain. So, it presents Batman with certain ethical questions that we like answered through action rather than introspection and saying something. We're just going to let Batman kind of show what his decisions are with the Ogre.
COMIC-ART.COM: Okay. That all sounds pretty interesting.
KELLEY: Yeah, it should be, it should be. I think we want to do a very definitive Penguin based in a certain part on what Alan Grant and Sam Keith have done in Secret Origins, which was, I think was a remarkable story, and as did Doug. We've always really talked about that one as a terrific jumping point with that character.
COMIC-ART.COM: What can you tell me about the Deadman storyline? A three-parter.
KELLEY: Yeah, well, it's going to be, you know, they both kind of fall together into the same incident for different reasons. Obviously Batman's the earthly reasons, and Deadman's the supernatural reasons. And, you know, they actually it starts in Gotham but it ends up in South America, and both he and Deadman come across...go to this lost Inca city to kind of put to right what has been, what they both feel responsible for having, you know, Batman for stopping it, and for Deadman for accidentally killing somebody and using that fellow's corpse to you know, kind of...but it's, they go to this place where there's this lost city that's still maintained by these Incas and, you know, again, Batman's put in the position to decide whether to reveal this or not. It's a very convoluted story but I think it's the best one so far, as far as what Batman's all about, and just going to different places. I mean it's going to be a real exercise for me. I mean, even though I have Deadman in it, it's going to be a real exercise for me. And also, I get to do some stuff with Deadman I'd always wanted to do. So, that being his dealings with Batman, kind of explaining how he came to live the way he does, and be the way he is. And I had never said these things to Doug, I just said, `Well, this stuff in my head that I've always...' And you know, he calls me up and he reads me, he says, `Now if this is not your reasons, I can redo this.' And it was dead-on, what I'd always thought, you know, that he didn't look the way people perceived him in the early 70's, it's the way he wanted to look. And he just gave up all pretence, the charade of, that charade, and he's pretty comfortable with the way he is now, you know. And, boom--we go from there. It's very interesting stuff, you know, and then there's this wonderful Inca character in it that's great, and you know, lots of bloodshed and violence and, you know, that kind of stuff.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, it sounds good. When are those issues going to be out?
KELLEY: Uh, it's 530 through 532.
KELLEY: And probably when you talk to Doug, he can tell you a lot more because I've only read the first part. Well, I know the plot, but he can go into greater depth than I can. I just know visually, it's going to be a blast...it's a lot of fun.
COMIC-ART.COM: That does sound cool. Have you had to do a lot of research on Mayan ruins?
KELLEY: Luckily, we're both into that icky stuff anyway and I have a lot of stuff on it and so does he, so that part was okay, that part was okay. Generally, though, you know, he'll throw me something really wonky every once in a while and we'll have to go dig around and look. This one, I think, so far what I've read, I have a lot of this stuff anyway, and I'm into this stuff as well, I have some little statues and artifacts from those periods, so it's kind of fun.
COMIC-ART.COM: Well, do you like to draw jungle and rain forest?
KELLEY: Well, that's the thing, is, we're both massive Frazetta fans and massive Willis O'Brien fans, so it's a chance to do those kinds of things as well as the cities themselves and throw it in there. Doug was real impressed with the Swamp Thing issues as far as the trees and the foliage and all that stuff, and he thought Batman looked really good in that, so he'd kind of like to do it on a grander scale, with lost cities and he thinks he should look particularly cool there, so hopefully I can come through for him that way.
COMIC-ART.COM: It would be fun to see another extended lost city sequence or a jungle sequence with Batman.
KELLEY: Yeah. Yeah. Especially with what's going on with Deadman in it, because he has his agenda, too, and how they kind of work together. I mean, it will be, it will be kind of, I think, different, you know, because there's this thing about not doing too much supernatural stuff in the mainstream, but you know, like I said, Batman works whether we're doing just a Black Mask story, which is basically just crime, or something along these lines, where it's not full supernatural because he's dealing with criminals. But, you know, Deadman is dealing with the supernatural side of the, you know, the, ire raised by the supernatural end of it, that he has to deal with. It's pretty cool. It's a good juxtaposition as you go.
COMIC-ART.COM: Yeah, well, one of my last questions, I'm almost ready to wrap this up, is I was wondering, why did you decide to bring back the old bubble-top Batmobile?
KELLEY: Well, um, kind of partly because I couldn't draw the other one too, you know, I couldn't get a handle on it, and I felt that, and then sometimes I get stupid on things, and I'll think, `Well, he's never really with Robin.' I don't want Robin in the Batman book too much because I really want to concentrate on Batman, so it should be a one-seater, number one because he's got to get through cities, and bad traffic, and even when everyone's parked, you know. I'm just thinking like he can squeeze around in that, basically to get him where he's going. And I always see Batman as driving like one of those Grand Prix drivers, streets, he's always just (makes speed sound effects). Very rarely will you see all four tires unless he's parked on the ground, because he's just getting wherever he has to get really fast. So, I wanted that car to show a lot of that, to get off the idea of the speed, and get through to someone the idea that it is a one-man little, like one of those thirties roadsters, and I've been really surprised at the response to that little sucker. I'm sorry we don't get to do it anymore, but the response to that car was great. I didn't really ask for permission to do it, I think it was just, I couldn't do the other one very well, and I didn't want to avoid drawing a car, you know? To show I could do it, so I just kind of made it fit into what I did.
COMIC-ART.COM: And I think, as we discussed last night, Graham Nolan picked that up, too.
KELLEY: Well, it's just one of those, it's just one of those fun things to do. And it is nice when someone else sees it, and they pick on that, because then it opens up everybody's style. I mean that's, I always looked back on people's work I really liked and a lot of the stuff wasn't like, `Well, here it is, go do this.' It just sort of happened. It just kind of came out of what they do naturally, and then it opened the door for them to do all kinds of cool things. I mean, I always think of Gotham as a place where you can have steam engines next to Concorde jets, and hook and ladder phones next to a PC. It's just it's Gotham, you know, and Gotham's a weird place. And I always figure the reason that is, is Gotham has real strong unions, you know. They can keep the hook and ladder phones there because they have a hook and ladder phone company, or manufacturing company, you know, right next to the guys who are importing the Apple computers. That's just the way it is. It's a wonky town, and it takes a wonky hero. Not so much, I think when, I can imagine the shock some kid has from picking up the Hulk, who'd never picked up a Batman, and looking at it going, `Now what the hell is this all about?' But, you know, it's probably because there's twenty-five hundred books like the Hulk out there, or Hulkish, with the (look), and it used to be the other way around, you know, you'd always have all these different books and things, very different styles of books, and I just, you know, that's always what I was told. You can't look like, you can have your influences, but try to be yourself, and so I'm still trying to do that, hoping, like I said, in the course of a year, I've got converts to what we're doing. Doug and I have a lot of faith that that'll continue, too. It's just, it's one where they know, I think people pick up that we respect for somebody's sensibilities as well as we want them to trust us that they're not wasting their money. So, as long as that's the case, you can win a lot of people over and open up their horizons as to what a good book is all about.
(Barking in b.g.)
COMIC-ART.COM: Excuse me a second. Buster, quiet! Quiet! I have my Lab in the room with me.
KELLEY: Ohhh, what's his name?
COMIC-ART.COM: Buster Crabbe.
KELLEY: That's a great name.
COMIC-ART.COM: He's a black Labrador Retriever. You know I told Williamson that I had a black Lab named Buster, and he said when he was a kid, he had a black Lab named Buster.
KELLEY: How cool.
COMIC-ART.COM: How's that for a synchronicity?
KELLEY: I love synchrocities.
COMIC-ART.COM: Me, too.
KELLEY: I love synchronicities like that. That does mean there's a connection. There is also that thing that like minds think alike.
COMIC-ART.COM: I've always felt that, that great minds think a like on certain channels.
KELLEY: Well, it just, I mean, that's the thing, because people I've really connected with in this business, generally are like that, I mean when I started, like there's Kyle Hoetz, some stuff from stuff from Marvel and Malibu and whatnot, as well as Doug Moench, and we get along real well, and it's amazing how many stupid things you connect on. I mean, with the three of us, we can start talking about UFOs for ever, or stupid monster movies, or Doug and I will get into all kinds of the most inane conversations, where what mattered to him, mattered to me. And I did not know that, really, until the last couple of years, not the first three or four we were working together. And it's like really weird, as you start getting layers of an onion of someone's personality, going, `Whoa, that's exactly what I was into,' or that particular thing. You know, we still argue over certain 50's sci-fi flicks, but generally, we agree on most of it.
We thank interviewer Steve Ringenberg for this transcript