By Lucas Harbolt
This weekend I attended the Cincinnati Comic Con. While roaming the halls and looking for deals I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to comic book creator Chris Burnham. In-between talks of manga and sigil making, we talked about some of his current work, and the creative process that goes into them.
Comic Plunder: Chris, right now you’re working on NAMELESS with Grant Morrison at Image Comics and E IS FOR EXTINCTION for Marvel.
Chris Burnham: Yes, that’s about it and I’m barely sleeping.
Comic Plunder: So, first let’s talk about NAMELESS a bit. What tends to be the process between you, Morrison, and Fairbairn going into an issue?
ChrisBurnham: Honestly, it’s as simple as Grant writes it, I draw it, and Nathan colors it. You know, the scripts are so involved and strange and confusing that I always have a couple questions for Grant to clarify, but it’s mostly pretty minor like, “what does that Tarot card mean or what number should be on there”, but most of it is just me reading the script over and over and thumb nailing each page out different ways and trying to convey all of that weird material in a way that immediately makes sense, and beyond that, how can I make it appear with just panel arrangement and camera angles to appear weird and unsettling and intentionally confusing rather than just not making any sense.
So yeah, I draw it and sometimes give a little bit of color notes to Nathan, but for the most part I just have him go for it. I mean, he’s better at coloring than I’ll ever be. So he just goes for it and most of the time there nothing to even fix on that.
Once the artwork is done, the rough scripts, Grant will almost completely re-write it to make the dialogue perfectly fit the art and if I didn’t leave him quite enough room for word balloons he’ll cut the script down to make sure it fits and if I left him all sorts of room he’ll expand on the dialogue so that it fits the space. Then it goes to print.
Comic Plunder: So it sounds like it’s a pretty smooth process. I’m sure there are hiccups here and there.
Chris Burnham: Yeah, but we’re all professionals. I’ve been a professional comic artist for eleven or twelve years, Nathan’s been doing it for seven or eight years, and Grant’s been doing it for thirty years. So we all basically know what we’re doing at this point.
Comic Plunder: Now, you mentioned camera angles. Do you study, on top of other art and references, a lot of films to get an understanding of different camera angles?
Chris Burnham: I’d say it’s not something I’m actively doing these days. Getting out and seeing a movie is something I rarely do, but I do watch a fair amount of T.V. and a lot of T.V. these days is so cinematic. I mean Hannibal might as well have been a movie that’s chopped up into an hour every week. A lot of my core influences are Sam Raimi, specifically Evil Dead 2 which is probably my favorite movie ever, and Sergio Leone stuff. So I’d say that a lot of my camera angles are based on their work. And then all sorts of comic stuff, Jack Kirby and Moebius mainly.
Comic Plunder: I don’t think I can name one comic creator that has said they haven’t been influenced by Jack Kirby and Moebius to that end. So NAMELESS, we have Issue five coming out soon?
Chris Burnham: Yeah, issue five comes out within the next two weeks.
Comic Plunder: So is there a stopping point in mind?
Chris Burnham: Issue six is going to the big finale.
Comic Plunder: Great, so going from Nameless to E IS FOR EXTINCTION. How did working on that book come about?
Chris Burnham: Mike Marks and Katie Kurbert are the editors on the book and I’ve worked with them on Batman for a number of years so we’ve had a pretty good relationship. I’ve written about three Batman stories over the course of Incorporated, so they knew that I knew a lot of Grant Morrison’s stuff or could at least fake it as far as writing it goes. They emailed me and first asked me if I wanted to write and draw it. I said no: “I’m doing this Nameless thing, I can’t draw it too.” They replied and said, “Well, what about if Ramon Villalobos draws it?” I was like, “Ah, yeah, sure, that sounds awesome.”
So they asked me to do it and I did. It was as simple and as complicated as that. Then we brought my studio mate, Dennis Culver on to help co-write. As we were beating ideas around in the studio, he was hitting back a lot. So it was like, “I’m using enough of his ideas that his name should be on it at this point”. So from that point further, we co-wrote it.
Comic Plunder: Now, I’m noticing that each SECRET WARS mini is going three to five issues. How long is E IS FOR EXTINCTION going?
Chris Burnham: Four issues.
Comic Plunder: After that, is there anything else on the horizon with Marvel?
Chris Burnham: I did a cover for the NEW AVENGERS re-launch but other than that I don’t think I’ve talked to them about anything specific. I’m sure I’ll do more with them and or DC in the future but nothing on the immediate horizon.
Comic Plunder: Well, I don’t want to keep you too much longer. I know you’ve got a line of people wanting to meet you and get things signed. So, OFFICER DOWNE, of course is becoming a film. Would you like to talk a bit about that?
Chris Burnham: Man, OFFICER DOWNE is awesome! One of my favorite comics I’ve ever read, and I happened to draw it. The filming has wrapped and it’s just about done editing. I think that they’re trying to figure out how to distribute it. If all goes as planned it is going to come out next year.
Comic Plunder: Awesome. Chris, it was great talking to you. Hope the rest of the con treats you well.
Chris Burnham: Thanks a lot.
Nameless #5 is due out 9/23/2015 and E is for Extinction #4 comes out 9/30/2015. Officer Downe is currently available in hardcover. Look for these, and all of Chris’ other works at your local comic book shop.
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