The 4th Annual DARK KNIGHT ON A DARK NIGHT Art Show

Every year near the Winter Solstice,  Hub Comics in Somerville, Massachusetts  holds an exhibition of Batman art by local artists. My 12 Days of the Batman mini-busts were on display, as well as numerous other works by some great artists.

Photos of the event, taken by shop owner Tim Finn, can be seen here. 

I was interviewed about the event by the Boston Herald, and you can read the article here.

Can’t wait to do it again next year, same Bat-Time…

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JFSculpts READER MAILBAG!

At the conclusion of 12 Days of the Batman, John Vukelic left this comment:

“12 sculpts in 12 days is a very cool accomplishment. Did you learn anything new working on those 12 busts?”

(John’s site chronicles his process as he learns to become a fantasy and sci-fi artist, and it’s filled with great art resources as well.)

In answer to John’s question: I hate to say it, but I learned very little. But it did reinforce a lot of lessons I discovered with other sculpture sprints, such as Mighty Marvel May, as well as from years of trial-and-error. What I have learned:

Plan ahead:
Particularly when I don’t have a lot of time to execute, it’s much better to have a concrete idea before I start and not try things out as I’m sculpting. I’m terrible about sketching. I virtually never do it, to my detriment. On longer projects, I usually start sculpting and make adjustments as I go. I don’t have that luxury when trying to work this fast, but ten or twenty minutes sketching would probably have helped a lot. Also, making good armatures is always important.
If you get off to a bad start, start over:
If I didn’t make a good armature and started sculpting over it, I immediately regretted it. It actually saved me time to scrap what I’d done and do it over from scratch rather than fight with it.
Keep your materials handy:
Seems obvious, right? I tried to have all my tools, workspace (which was often my lap), and even the camera, light, and backdrop ready before I started. Except I ran out of the Sculpey Firm I use and tried gray Fimo instead (I use a mixture of Sculpey Firm, Super Sculpey, and black and white Sculpey III to make a grey, just-right material). Not the same thing, and it worked- kinda- but the last three or so days I was working with what felt like substandard material. I shouldn’t do that.
Form is more important than detail:
Silhouette, shape, proportion are all much more important to the overall look of a piece than any detail I’m going to tack on. Does it read from across the room? If not, keep working. A rookie mistake- when I can tell I’m choking- is to go to detail too soon. Make sure the form is right, then start finessing.
When working this fast, compromises have to be made:
Forcing myself to put the work up- ready or not- by the end of a day meant I wasn’t going to finish it to my satisfaction. I had to make choices about what was most important and what just had to go. Sometimes happy accidents occurred: I really liked how Poison Ivy’s hair came out in the limited time I had to detail it.
If you do a bad job, you’ll do better the next day:
Sometimes events on the day kept me from putting as much time in as I could, and resulted in some clunkers (I’ll let you decide for yourself which ones I’m talking about). I had to finish them, put them up, and move on, no time to look back.
There is never enough time, so do the best you can in the time you have:
The clock is always ticking. If you have an hour or a month you’ll never finish to your satisfaction, so just work with what you’ve got. You always have right now.

 

Thanks for the question, John!

12 DAYS OF THE BATMAN: Boxing Day Postscript

And that was 12 Days of the Batman. Thank you for helping me put some Batman back into this holiday season!

As with Mighty Marvel May, I would like to thank the creators of these characters I’ve been celebrating. Without Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, Bob Brown, Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Bruce Timm,Grant Morrison, and SO many more, they wouldn’t exist.

They created a Gotham City we can all play in. Let’s keep fighting for justice for all.

12 DAYS OF THE BATMAN! DAY 10: TALIA

Batman’s war on crime leaves him little room for romance. Mutual attraction to Catwoman aside, Batman seems to have forsworn love for justice. Of all the women in Bruce Wayne and Batman’s life, I believe Talia, daughter of his enemy Ra’s al Ghul,  is the one he truly loves, and the only one who’s ever tempted him away from the dark.

Created in 1971’s DETECTIVE COMICS #411 by Denny O’Neil and Bob Brown, and later refined by Neal Adams, Talia was later revealed to be the daughter of the demon, Ra’s al Ghul, criminal mastermind. Talia and Batman fell in love almost immediately, but out of loyalty to her father would not leave him side. Over the years, Ra’s and Talia both considered Batman a worthy suitor for Talia, but of course Batman wouldn’t join them. Not until Batman and Ra’s joined forces and, by the laws of Ra’s (ill-defined) forebears, Batman and Talia were instantly wed and soon conceived a child. But to keep Batman fighting their common foe, she faked a miscarriage and the marriage was annulled. This story was later ruled out-of-continuity, a Bat-Son considered too big a loose end.

Until writer Grant Morrison revisited the idea with Damian, Talia and Bruce’s son, whom she raised in secret and trained as an assassin. Renouncing his evil heritage, Damian becomes the latest and most aggressive Robin.

Morrison also refashioned Talia to be a darker character, a subtle manipulator and head of the worldwide terrorist organization Leviathan. Now a full-fledged villain in her own right, she and Batman fight over the soul of their child across the globe.

While these changes have given Talia a lot more agency as a character- she was often merely a pawn for her father’s schemes- I think it’s robbed her of what made her most interesting before: her unconditional and contradictory love for two irreconcilable forces. She couldn’t choose either, because to choose one was to betray the other. Her resolve to remain true to both was as unwavering as Batman’s own resolve to honor his parents’ memory. Maybe more so.

I tried to give Talia fuller features and a straighter nose, suggesting Ra’s North African heritage. Hair by Bruce Timm, always.

Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve and time for the next million-dollar installment of 12 Days of the Batman.

12 DAYS OF THE BATMAN! DAY 9: THE RIDDLER

Riddler 006

Edward Nashton was an unscrupulous carny who rigged games of chance to always have the upper hand.  Smarter than everyone around him, he mastered every puzzle and brain teaser Soon he became Edward Nygma- E.Nygma- and turned to crime to enrich himself as he outsmarted the police. Which, of course, lead him to the one puzzle he couldn’t solve- the Batman.

People debate whether Batman’s presence truly prevents crime or encourages bizarre criminals to commit more elaborate and outlandish crimes. In fact most of Batman’s rogue’s gallery would exist whether or not he was there to oppose them. The Riddler may be the major exception: while he might still commit crimes if Batman wasn’t there to challenge him, he could just as easily make a fortune in legitimate enterprise.

The Riddler first appeared in 1948’s DETECTIVE COMICS #140, in a story written by Bill Finger and drawn by Dick Sprang, and wasn’t a particularly popular or memorable character until the first episode of 1966 BATMAN TV show with actor/comedian Frank Gorshin in the role. Offscreen, Gorshin had an insight into the character I liked, seeing the Riddler as a genius who did whatever he wanted for kicks:  he’d play piano at a concert level; he’d perform Shakespeare in the park; he’d fight the Batman. I didn’t necessarily like Gorshin’s hysterical line readings, but I liked his thoughts on who the Riddler was.

My take on the Riddler is fairly traditional, although I incorporated the receding hairline introduced by artist Alex Ross. Suave and self-satisfied, the Riddler is one of the few criminals who rivals  Batman’s vast intellect.

Tomorrow a mother of an edition of installment of 12 Days of the Batman.

12 DAYS OF THE BATMAN! DAY 8: POISON IVY

Poison Ivy 001

Late at night when you’re sleeping, Poison Ivy comes a-creepin’ around.

Pamela Lillian Isley was created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff in 1966’s BATMAN #181. Over the years she’s been portrayed as a vamp, a militant feminist, a mere criminal, and an ecological terrorist. Writer Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean created an eerie, extremely-self aware Ivy in their series BLACK ORCHID. Locked in Arkham Asylum’s vaults, she created plant-animal hybrids to keep her company.

Unlike Catwoman, Batman and Ivy don’t share a particularly strong attraction to one another. They seem like genuine antagonists, and Ivy would just as soon be rid of Batman for good.

Once again BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES informs my depiction of Ivy. As designed by Bruce Timm and Lynne Naylor, Poison Ivy is short, curvy, and has some fabulous red hair. I gave her a growing sprig of her namesake vine,  to which- like all poisons- she is immune.

Who will appear in tomorrow’s  installment of 12 Days of the Batman?

12 DAYS OF THE BATMAN! DAY 7: RA’S AL GHUL

12DotB 008

In 1971’s BATMAN #232, writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams- the team that had brought Batman back to his noirish roots after his campy, TV series era- introduced Batman’s most formidible foe to date, Ra’s al Ghul (literally “The Demon’s Head”). Ra’s immediately deduced Batman’s secret identity of Bruce Wayne, but found it irrelevant. He saw in Batman a potential heir to his vast criminal enterprise, one with the seemingly noble goal of halting ecological catastrophe, but at the price of human civilization. He was as wealthy as Bruce Wayne, as smart and dangerous as Batman, and he was seemingly immortal.

There were obvious allusions to Fu Manchu and James Bond villains in his world-dominating archetype (Ra’s trying to marry his daughter Talia off to Batman seems lifted directly from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). But it gave Batman an adversary who could match him in every way, and took him out of Gotham City for jet-setting adventures around the world.

Neal Adams designed Ra’s with no specific ethnicity in mind, made him of indeterminate, perpetual middle-age, and without eyebrows (a detail other artists frequently ignore). I sculpted him with a typical “Who Dares?” imperious kind of expression.

Hope you’ll return when tomorrow’s installment of 12 Days of the Batman comes creeping up!