October 25, 2014

 




Interview:
Durwin Talon

By Brian Jacks



While, at least for now, you may not recognize Durwin Talon's name, most of you certainly know of his work.  Durwin's graceful art style was displayed throughout the last few months as the cover artist for DC Comics' cross-over event, "Batman: Officer Down."

Aside from being an accomplished illustrator, Durwin Talon is also a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, teaching Sequential Art to hordes of future comic book pros.  Find out how the "Officer Down" event went down, and how each cover may be a little more telling than you previously thought.  Read on, be entertained, and be sure to click on the "Officer Down" covers throughout the interview to see them in their full, unedited, glory.

(This interview was conducted in early 2001)

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Durwin, you’re a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design? What do you teach?

I teach Illustration and Sequential Art. Believe it or not, I believe we’re actually one out of only two schools that offer a Sequential Art degree, besides the Joe Kubert School. I mean, SVA (School of Visual Arts, NY) and some of the other colleges have a cartooning degree, but that’s more like classical animation, or syndicated comic strip characterization. We actually concentrate on the comic book artform.

How big is the school?

The school is pretty big, it’s actually over 4,000 students, but you’re talking about the 18 departments as well. Our Sequential Art department -- these are just kids who are interested in the comic book artform, as well as cartooning, and animation and storyboards and that kind of thing - we’re probably heading up on 300 now.

Do you have relationships with the comic companies that you are able to place people?

Exactly. It’s a young department; we’re just getting into our sixth, seventh year of existence. What’s kind of interesting is now some of our students are starting to make their names in the industry. We have several students who are working the videogames industry and animation industry. A couple of our graduates are now getting their names in comics books, their own titles. Actually we just went up to the DC offices just recently, and one just landed a Legends of the Dark Knight limited series, which is awesome. That’s like hitting it out of the ballpark. And actually one of my first students, who is now one of my art directors, is at White Wolf Publishing, and I do some illustration work with White Wolf as well.

You did a New Worlds anthology for Caliber as well, right?

Oh my gosh.

See, I’m thorough.

You really did your research there. Yeah, that was kind of an interesting little project. When I was hired to teach in the Sequential Art department, it was mostly because they wanted someone who was a good educator to teach their students computers. That was, I guess, my specialty at the time. Teaching sequential art, or doing sequential art, is such a completely different realm from straight illustration. So I felt like in order to really understand the artform, you have to do it. There’s just no other way to teach it. So I suffered a lot, and learned a lot, off of that project, but it was great.

Did you write it or draw it?

A little bit of both. It’s one of those projects that kind of worked both ways. I had a partner and we just sat down and said, “Ok, we’ll create a universe.” And it was kind of interesting. I’d create one race, and he’d create another race, and we’d sort of battle each other, alien scourge, we’d try them both. It was a lot of fun. And, like I said, learned a lot off that project.

Was that the last comics work that you did before “Officer Down?”

No, I also did a smaller project with my department chair, who’s a writer. We did a small little story for Negative Burn #50, or the last Negative Burn that came out. We have a little horror story in there; I think about eight or twelve pages.

So tell us how did you get the “Officer Down” cover job.

Quite simply just being in the right place at the right time. I wish it was a little more grandiose. I happened to be in New York City because some of my students were at the Society of Illustrator’s Student Competition. I thought I’d go ahead and bring my portfolio and I was going to go show it to not only DC but also some of the magazines in the area. I was talking to Mike Carlin, just shooting the breeze, and it was just very casual. As a matter of fact my wife was even there. And he just out of the blue asked me, “Do you have a portfolio with you?” and wanted to see it. So I pulled out my portfolio and he just flipped through it and goes, “Well, you know, there’s a spot that just got OKed. I think your stuff would be really good for it.”

And at that point Matt Idelson walked in and he just said to Mike Carlin, “The 'Officer Down' project just got Oked.” So I was introduced into that and the rest is just kind of history.

How long did it take you to complete each cover?

That’s really kind of an interesting question. Typically it takes me about a week to go from concept to pencils to inks to color. But this project had some really cool parameters; the fact that all seven covers took place in the same alleyway. So from a storytelling sense that was kind of interesting. And how I was viewing the covers, this cover would be panel one of the story.

So there was actually a lot more pre-planning that ended up happening. I had to basically take off a week or two to create these blueprints. I actually created a crime-scene where I would draw like an aerial view, and then a left wall view, and then a right wall view. So I would really get a good sense of where everyone would be and the alleyway would become a reality.

I'd say my favorite cover of the batch is Birds of Prey. You can look into their eyes and sense exactly what they are thinking and feeling. It’s pretty amazing.

Thank you. That one and the Robin one (#86) are probably my two favorites. And again, the interesting thing about this series, you know with cover illustration we very rarely get to see the scripts or the pencils. Because of how things are marketed, you know, the covers have to be advertised like six months in advance. And typically, the writing team and the art team kind of fall into it later on. What happened with the covers is all I had is an outline - in seven issues this is basically what’s going to happen. It was really kind of neat to see the tonal shifts as well; the story art, the mood, was really given to me on a silver platter. Bob Shreck and Matt Idelson, my hat goes off to them, because they were really able to wrangle all of this information. And of course, having a cover editor like Mark Chiarello. Boy, he was really able to fine-tune.

I want to mention how each cover seems to have its own style. Its own hue to it and such. Like one may be a little more abstract than another.

Yeah, actually, that’s very cool what you pick up on. [Thanks - Ed.] What’s interesting is that the storyteller, you try to take care of the mood. Color is so powerful. One of my biggest influences was Mark Chiarello and the way he uses abstract color to tell a story. Never be scared to put in a red sky, even if it doesn’t really make sense in reality. If it kind of heightens the tension then you want to carry it through. And these little tips I’ve sort of picked up on. And again, the outline was great. It starts off with we’re pretty much in shock, and as the story progresses the leads start to fall away and they start to run into dead ends, and eventually things get pretty dark. And then there’s light at the end of the tunnel. When you get to the very last one and Gordon makes his huge decision to kind of walk away from all this madness that is Gotham City, I wanted to relax it a bit more, make it look a little more natural.

Right, with the lighter background. The city coming through.

That's basically it.  He's finally moving on.  He's leaving the darkness behind --   Batman behind.

All these visual interpretations that I missed.

Yeah. I mean it's subtle and there’s a lot of thinking that of goes on, but for the most part what my job was to do is to again, think of the cover as panel one. Kind of walk into a mood and try to develop the series.

In the seven issues of Batman: Officer Down, there’s only one issue that actually has Batman on the cover.

I thought that was a pretty slick decision on their part, too. They realized the gravity of the issue where this was a long-running character [Gordon]. They wanted to retire him and so that kind of decision involves not just Batman, but his detectives, the Bat Group, and even the villains. So they all have something to say. I thought it was very classy of DC to really make it a more encompassing story. Because it really could have just turned into a Batman story; Batman waging his own vendetta against bad guy. I thought they did a real good job on that.

Do you have a favorite Batman artist?

Oh, jeez. I grew up pretty much worshipping Neal Adams, Dick Giordano. Jim Aparo's run on Batman was a huge influence on me as a kid. The more I look at Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s interpretation of Batman, the fresher it becomes. It’s just amazing. Batman is just one of those universal characters that everyone has their own interpretation of what a good Batman is supposed to look like. You know, big ears, small ears, thinner, bulkier, whatever.

Is doing regular art chores on a mainstream series something that you’re interested in?

To a degree, yeah. Quite honestly, as far as the sequential work is concerned, I think everyone kind of feels this way, there’s always a lot to learn. With a narrative, there’s so many things that can go wrong storytelling-wise. One of the things I try to teach my own kids is simplicity.

There’s certain stories I want to go ahead and tell, obviously, and some of them are sort of in the works. So we’ll see what happens in the future. I hope to, because to me that is the most difficult artform to get into. I mean cover illustration is great, but it’s still illustration. Sequential art though, the comic book artform, if you can master that you can do anything. There’s so much design, and illustration, and pacing, and color unity, and unit, and just the production. There’s so many hats that you have to wear to tell a comic book story.

Is writing something you’d be interested in as well?

Yeah.  It's great to have friends like Scott Hampton, Mark Schultz, Walt Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze, because they are all in that camp as well.  They want to try to control the entire production of whatever story they tell.  I feel the same way.  It's only because you put so much energy into every facet of creating a comic.  Like with the crime scene plans I was talking to you about. When I had all these schematics of the alleyway and those little alley details I was taking pictures of in New York City and Georgia, Matt Idelson was like, "Do you mind if I send these to the art teams?"

As thrilled as I was with the covers, it was very cool to see some of the art teams actually pick up on my fire escapes, and houses, and how the fire hydrant looked, and how the alley wasn't straight asphalt, it had some cobblestones coming out, and so forth.  And especially with the Robin issue, when Allen and Montoya do a walk-through, all those little elements really came together, and for me, that was just the coolest.  Not like I actually drew the interiors, but to have an invisible hand in that stage was really kind of neat.

Are there any comic characters you really wish you could work on and interpret in your own style?

You know, Batman’s always been the dream. And again, I can’t stress how lucky I am to be where I am right now. I’m actually working on the trade paperback cover for the series.

So it is coming out in trade?

Yes it is.  It was pretty successful, as I've understood.  You know, Batman was always kind of the end of the dream, but since I hit Batman so fast it's like, "Oh, jeez."  Obviously I think Daredevil is really cool, and Black Widow and Green Arrow for that matter.  I would love to try to do something for maybe the Superman books.  I just think there's so many interesting colors for example, that you can play off of.  Visually, Batman and Superman are two completely different looks, and they feel different.

I’m guessing if you did a Batman/Superman team-up, that would be the epitome.

That would it, yeah. That would be one heck of a job, for sure. Like I said, Batman’s always the best, I think.

What kind of background do you have? Art school?

Yeah, I actually went Undergrad here at the Savannah College of Art and Design and I finished my grad studies at Syracuse University. I guess having a traditional illustration background kind of influenced how I worked in comics. So my influences were JC Leydecker, Dean Cornwell. I love Coles Phillips; he brings a great design sense to his illustration. And in comics, obviously Mark Chiarello, because I’ll always be indebted to him. He actually came to the college, that’s where I first met him. And he gave a little demonstration in color theory. I kept all my notes and I’m basically living that life now. And Ken Stacy, when he did Sacred and Profane, that was the first comic book that stuck with me, stylistically. So that real neat way to deal with shadow and line I really grabbed a lot of knowledge with him too.

I know you told me about your “Officer Down” trade, but do you have any other comic work planned that you can talk about?

There’s a couple things in the mix, but I think it’d be kind of premature for me to say.

Have you gotten any interest from Marvel or any of the other publishers?

No, so far it’s been pretty much DC. Which is great, because I love the DC Universe. I think the characters, they’re awesome. There’s a lot of material to work with. Hopefully I’ll be working with Greg Rucka on another project, but that’s neither here nor there, it’s still in the development stage. But again, with cover illustration anyway, it’s a pretty tough gig to break into, unless you’re Alex Ross. You have to hit the pavement pretty hard. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve always kind of had a pretty strong illustration career and this has just been the most fun I’ve ever had. I typically do advertising illustration and some book illustration, and like I said the White Wolf job was cover work and trading cards. Those were all really nice, but they weren’t comics.

 

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