INTERVIEW: SHORT & SWEET WITH TONY HARRIS
Interview conducted by B. Allan Dempsey
Tony Harris' moody artwork first gained a mass audience with DC's STARMAN in 1994. The critically acclaimed series focused on Jack Knight, son of the Golden Age hero of the same name and was written by James Robinson. In 1998, Harris left STARMAN, stating that he was no longer able to keep up with the artistic demands he put on himself and the book. More personal projects like LAZARUS 5, OBERGEIST: RAGNAROK HIGHWAY, and the JSA: THE LIBERTY FILE series have since been his focus, along with a variety of cover work. But now he's made an announcement: STARMAN will be returning. James Robinson and Tony Harris, the original creative team, will reunite for a new STARMAN mini-series.
I caught Tony Harris on his cigarette break at the Atlanta ComiCon (4/12/03). During the interview, we discussed the upcoming project, the Starman television series, music, and Tony's new direction as an artist.
So, a new Starman mini-series, huh? Why?
It made me, I miss it, and I have a stake in it that I don't have in a lot of other stuff. The fans have been crying and wanting it long enough that I think it's time to come back and do it. I just wanted to wait until the right time, the right circumstance and the right project. Given James [Robinson's] schedule, if I can get him freed up from his Hollywood commitments any time soon, I think it's the right time to come back and do it.
Can you tell us anything about it?
What I can tell you is, it's the Far East story that a lot of people have heard about. Those of you that don't know, the story takes place during Jack [Knight's] time as Starman in Opal City. That way it won't be a post-series story. It'll be the Jack everybody knows and loves.
Jack has an old Japanese friend that he's met through the tattoo culture in Opal. The guy's sick and dying, and he wants to get back to Japan and die on his native soil. Jack needs a break from being a hero, so he agrees to take the guy back. When they get over there, Jack gets mixed up in a big thing with a bunch of old-world Japanese demons, magic, and the Yakuza get involved. We're hopefully going to introduce a brand new character in the story, there might be a possibility for a mini-series or something beyond Starman with them. But I can't mention anything about that.
Is there a decided format yet?
In my mind there is. I don't know what DC will want to do. Originally, we were talking about me doing it fully painted, but it's just not economical and smart time-wise. That's just huge amounts of work. I made the decision that, if it happens, I wanted to do it pencil-and-ink with digital colour. Our studio's come a really long way between JSA: THE LIBERTY FILE and JSA: THE UNHOLY THREE as far as digital goes. It looked really, really good. I think we can handle it just fine.
Is it a hardcover?
James and I were talking about it, and we decided, Jesus, if we're gonna come back and do Starman, let's come back and do it. Let's not come back and do a one-shot. Let's not come back and do a hardcover that's too expensive for anybody to buy. You do a hardcover, and that cuts out a huge portion of the market. People don't want to drop twenty-five/thirty bucks on a hardcover. But you give them four 48-page books that are square-bound, prestige format, no ads, back cover illustration, glossy paper, and really nice. People can afford that and they will buy that. That's a big, huge chunk of a story, too. That's basically, what, eight-issues of a regular series? That's almost a whole year of Starman right there.
I know I'm excited! What's going on with the Starman TV show?
I can tell you that I read the pilot, and I think that they got a whole lot more right than they got wrong. I do know that it was not announced on ABC's fall schedule for this year, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. If some other new shows tank, then they're gonna need a mid-season replacement, and it still may be in development.
This is a rumour, so don't put anything in it. But I heard it, so I'll pass it along: if ABC is not interested, there's another network that is.
And, of course, you have to play Starman because he was modeled after you, right?
(Laughs.) Yeah, but I was much younger and much thinner.
Oh, you could do it. What about Jolly Roger in general? What's new there?
Well, we're streamlined now. We don't have as many members. Some of the other guys moved on to do their own thing. So now it's myself, Tom Feister, and J.D. Mettler. There's lots of stuff going on. I'm currently doing a three-issue ark of BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT. I'm penciling and inking that, and all the digital colours will be done in-house by the three of us. Tom and I are monthly cover artists on THE LEGION. I just finished penciling and inking a Starman eight-page short that's going to be in JSA: ALL-STARS. I got the pages back yesterday, so I'm going to start colouring that Monday when I get back to work.
We just got tapped by Marvel to do a slew of stuff for them, cover-wise: three IRON MAN covers; six FANTASTIC FOUR covers; I was hired to do three AMAZING SPIDER-MAN covers; and something else that I can't really talk about at this point, but as soon as I get permission from my editor, I will.
Tom and I are talking to Marvel and a few other people about interiors. We'll be some interiors on THE LEGION coming up, a nine-page back-up story in issue 25. We'll also be doing most of, if not all of THE LEGION SECRET FILES. Covers on those, as well.
We've got a few things that are in the pitching stages and Wildstorm and Humanoids right now, so we'll see.
I'm really attracted to the medium and the format. You can do a lot with comics that you can't do in other mediums. The pay's not as good, but you have more freedom, I think. And I love telling a story. I know that a lot of guys enjoy and make a living just doing cover work, but I think to really enjoy it and make your mark on the industry, you gotta get in there and get in the mix. That's what fans want. They want people doing stories. They want people doing interiors.
I just love it, from the breaking down of someone's script and interpreting that to sitting down and coming up with great layouts that are exciting. Doing fight scenes. Getting to design characters on almost every new project. The list just goes on and on. Why not comics?
We do a lot of other stuff. I've worked in film and television a little bit. Commercial art. But no matter what I do, I'll always in some degree be hanging around in comics until nobody wants to hire me any more.
It seemed like in THE UNHOLY THREE that you were using a lot less black than you normally do. Less shading. Is this a new direction? Was this a conscious effort?
Yeah. In part, it comes from my association with our new guy at the studio, Tom Feister. When he became part of the studio, we were hired to do some Daredevil stuff for Marvel that was gonna be used in accordance with the film. It was sort of an animated-looking style. Tom's background is in animation, so he was sort of pushing me in a direction that I hadn't explored before. I've been doing this for fourteen years, and I've established myself and my look. At the same time, I've tried to keep the wheels in motion, develop as an artist, get better, and figure out smarter ways to do things. Specifically, when I started working with Tom, I started thinking about things in a very different way than I had before. Just looking at the way he thought about things, I sort of took a second look.
Basically, I don't want to be a dinosaur. I don't want to be one of those guys that people go, he used to be really good, but he's not going forward. He's not getting any better. He's not trying anything new. Too many guys in the business work for ten, fifteen, or even twenty years, and they just do the same thing over and over and over. As a fan, and I'm still a huge fan of comics, I find that incredibly boring. The guys that I follow, I follow them because they take those chances. I never know what the hell they're gonna do next.
I could actually say that about your work. I was really surprised by the OBERGEIST stuff. It almost looked a little cartoony, and that was different from what I'd seen from you before.
That was a very conscious decision there.
Tom and I are collaborating on a lot of stuff now, and I'm very, very excited about it. You can take the cover work I'm doing on THE LEGION and put it next to a LIBERTY FILE page, and people are like, that's two different guys. So in a way, through a lot of soul-searching, re-examining my work, and working with some new people, my career has sort of gotten a second life breathed into it. Marvel's extremely excited about all the stuff we're doing there, and that just makes me excited.
There's a whole new younger generation of guys coming in and reading books now. The artists and writers working in the business now are bloody half my age, so it's nice to still be fresh and have people go, goddamn, what the hell's he gonna do now?
What music are you listening to now?
A lot of Coldplay. I just got the new Everclear record, which is bad as shit. We download just tons of shit off the internet, load it up in the library on I-Tunes, and let it go while we're working. Everything from Johnny Cash to Foo Fighters, New Order, a bunch of old 80's shit from when I was coming up. Just about anything, really. Whatever we're in the mood for. If we wanna get pumping in the morning and get rockin' on some stuff, then we put on something really up beat. If I'm really introspective and trying to figure something out, trying to do a composition or a layout on something, then we'll put something a little easier on.
Would you say that music directly influences your work?
I think it does everybody. I know some writers that don't like any noise at all. They have to work in silence. Being a part of a studio for - Jesus - ten years now, from Gaijin to Jolly Roger, I feed off that energy and noise and everything that's going on in a studio. If I had to work by myself in a quiet room, I think I'd go crazy.
Tell me about outside influences, other than comics, whether they be film, books, etc.
I'm a really big fan, as I think a lot of people are, of the Wachowski brothers and the Coen brothers. Those guys are thinking outside the box, big time. They're trying to take apart what they do and just come at it from a completely different angle. I really respect that.
As far as art goes, I never read comics when I was a kid, not to any large degree. I didn't start reading comics in earnest until I was about sixteen, and then I got into the business at nineteen. So I don't really have a large knowledge of comics history. I've fallen in love with the Golden Age since I got in the business, and that's where my love lies with superheroes. I made it my business to learn a lot about that with archives, but most of my artistic influences (besides the obvious ones like Mike Mignola, Kevin Nowlan, and people like that) are fine-art guys, illustrators from the turn of the century: Howard Pyle, J.C. Linedecker, Franklin Booth. A lot of the old pin-up guys from the 50's are really great like Roy Krenkel. Al Williamson is unbelievably amazing. Al Williamson is probably my biggest influence, I think, as far as comics go. Howard Pyle is hands down my favourite illustrator/painter/artist, period. I can't think of anybody else I like more.
Thanks Tony. For more on the Jolly Roger gang be sure to visit Jolly Roger Studio.com.
B. Allan Dempsey is already losing sleep with excitement over the new Starman project. Send him some Melatonin at email@example.com
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