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)
Durwin, you’re a professor at the Savannah
College of Art and Design? What do you
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
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
Right, with the lighter background. The city
That's basically it. He's finally moving on.
He's leaving the darkness behind -- Batman
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
In the seven issues of Batman: Officer Down,
there’s only one issue that actually has Batman on
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,
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
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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