Tim Sale"Comics are all about exaggeration for effect."
I picked up The Amazon last night. Would I be right in reading that series as a breakthrough for you?
Yes, in a number of ways. It was never really successful or anything, but it was the first time I worked with Steve Seagle, who at the time was pretty new to comics himself. I tell Steve that he spoiled me because he asked me for three panels a page. For years and years after that I tried to convince other writers to give me three panels a page but they'd all say there was nowhere near enough room.
Steve Seagle’s writing style seemed experimental already.
Absolutely. The Amazon had three points of view simultaneously. There was dialogue that was present-tense, and then two different kinds of captions: the journal and the printed article the narrator was writing. Steve jumbled and juggled them together terrifically. He also left me lots of room to draw. It was the first time I did a lot of reference work. I learned that I really enjoyed drawing jungles. It also allowed me to be very expressionistic with vines, leaves, and light patterns.
How does your work change when you work with different writers?
I usually just try to figure out how I’m gonna make this happy for myself. One of the reasons it worked so well with Jeph Loeb was that he had a knack of writing stuff that I actually wanted to draw. He liked the way I drew and wanted to look at something cool.
How did you come to work with Jeph Loeb?
Jeph had been a screenwriter and producer in Hollywood. Jenette Kahn, the head of DC in the late 80s was looking around for ways to break comics into movies and television and people in Hollywood who were interested in doing that. She put me together with Jeph to do Challengers of the Unknown.
What was that comic like?
It was just crazy shit... It was the first time Jeph had written a comic and he wanted to try various different storytelling approaches. We were just kind of throwing everything at the wall hoping it would stick. It took a long time to figure out how we were gonna work together. We're very different people, but we’re simpatico with a lot of stuff.
How did you guys end up working on Batman together?
Well I did Blades and Jeph was pissed because he wanted to do Batman.
Woah, I loved Blades. Was that your first time drawing Batman?
It was, and I think it shows. I was still very uncomfortable doing superheroes. There were a lot of things running around in my head, a lot of different influences I was trying to assimilate. At first I was trying to work like Neal Adams because he had been my favorite Batman artist, but I very quickly discovered I couldn't possibly do that. I was just kind of jumping around.
I think you're being a little hard on it.
Well I haven't looked at it in a long time, so thank you. I remember that going through that fire was tremendously important.
It was also a time when DC was really innovating characters like Batman.
Well at that time The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were changing everything. Frank Miller’s Year One really made me look at things in a different way. My inking style was very much influenced by Mazzucchelli in that comic.
Yeah, Year One rules.
I'll still go and look at it. It holds up 100 percent to this day. There’s still a joyful pulpiness in the writing that feels entirely appropriate.
It’s also a crime saga, which you and Jeph brought to The Long Halloween.
That’s true, but it’s also a mystery. When we first did The Long Halloween, Jeph was terribly worried that he wouldn’t be able to handle a mystery plot because he had always thought of himself more as a character writer, not a plot writer.
Is character depth important in comics?
Well, I’d say that comics have the same level of character depth as movies, which is to say, not terribly much. It's not like a novel or something. I'm much more fond of the kind of depth that you get in really good melodrama and I think Jeph is too. My favorite movie is Casablanca, his favorite movie is TheGodfather, and that's about as much character depth that want. [?]
There is an inherent connection between comics and movies though.
Well, if you think about it, when you're drawing a comic you're doing the job of 15 or 20 people that are involved in making a movie, from costume and set design, to acting, lighting...
This reminds me of your approach to Superman. I really liked both of your take on him.
Thanks. Jeph had wanted to do Superman for a long time and I fought it. He wasn't a character that particularly interested me until I somehow put him together with Norman Rockwell. When I was growing up I thought Norman Rockwell was corny too, but I remember Jim Steranko talking about how great he was. There’s definitely a corny Americana to it, but in a much less flag-waving way than I remembered it. There was exaggeration for effect, but with meticulous care in how things were depicted. He was so careful about body language, the way clothing sits on a person. The more I looked at it the more I was inspired.
Your Superman looked weird until I started reading it.
I wanted him to look different in a world that didn't look at him different. I mean he's a giant, but he’s also just an innocent, corn-fed, country boy. All the stuff in Kansas was my favorite stuff to draw. By that point I had done a lot of Batman stuff and wanted to do something very different—to use line and color with almost no black. There was a lot of resistance from DC. They thought they were getting the Batman guy and then they got this thing.
How is it you’ve been able to negotiate with big companies like DC and Marvel this entire time?
I was very fortunate in working with Jeph because aside from him being really talented, he's a very good businessman. He likes to know the nuts and bolts of things and was my buffer for a lot of it. I could be the creative guy over in the corner. Once we started making money for the companies, you can do a lot more at that point.