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Bruce Timm & Glen Murakami
On drawing the dark knight
It's not often that you get to speak with a legend in your own time. And in some ways, a legend is just what Bruce Timm is. He and Eric Radomski pretty much co-created Batman: The Animated Series in the wake of the early-90s Batman pop culture revival, but what was remarkable was that, for what seemed to be the first time ever, the Dark Knight survived the transition intact. Tim Burton's Batman was more or less true to the comic's dark roots, to be sure, but it still broke some of the basic rules. (How little time did it take for Bruce Wayne to reveal his identity to Vicki Vale?) It was close, but not quite.

When Batman aired on Fox in 1992, here at last was a faithful adaptation. Timm, really, had reached the level that many aspire to: he was the comic book fan who got to make a comic-book series his way. As such, the Joker's fiendish traps were grand, but not garish; Penguin was every bit as deadly as he was funny-looking; Catwoman was misunderstood, a temptress, noble, sexy, elusive. Visually, Gotham City--another important character--was the very model of a film-noir locale.

Glen Murakami had a lot to do with that, as time went on. Eric Radomski defined the look of Batman, but Murakami--who nominally started out as a storyboarder--found himself covering the full range of artistic tasks to execute that look. When The New Batman Adventures went into production and Radomski departed, Murakami filled in as a producer and redesigned the show's look, making the characters and the city even more streamlined and, at times, ominous.

Batman has been through three TV series since 1992, as well as a theatrical feature (Mask of the Phantasm) and a direct-to-video feature (Sub-Zero). Along the way, there was a Superman series, which features many appearances by other DC universe characters (which has whet many a fan's appetite). New to the TV ranks is Batman Beyond, which puts the young Terry McGinnis in the Batman's boots some decades into the future. By all accounts, we'll be hearing a lot more from this pair for the next few years. Here's what they had to say about their past, their present, and a little bit of the future.

Emru Townsend: Just to make sure I've got everything clarified as to who does what: I know you guys are both producers, but... Actually, let's run this down from the different shows: the original Batman series, the new one, Batman Beyond, and Superman. Bruce, you've been a producer all the way through, right?

Bruce Timm: Yes.

As well as co-creator of the series.

BT: Right.

So that's pretty easy. Glen, how did you start out in this?

Glen Murakami: I started on the first Batman series as a character designer, and a storyboard cleanup artist, and a...

BT: Jack of all trades.

GM: Yeah, I did a little bit of everything. And then on Superman I was the art director. On the new Batman show I was the art director, and now on Batman Beyond I'm a producer.

Bruce, I find it funny you say "Jack of all trades", considering that in overseeing everything, you do a little of everything. You came up with the series idea, obviously, and a lot of the look of it. You do storyboarding, you've directed some, you've written some, you even do a voice on Batman Beyond, right?

BT: Right.

Which voice do you do again?

BT: Kind of by default, I became the Jokerz leader, from the pilot. We had an actor cast who wasn't manic enough, so I just kind of stepped in and did it. Everyone said "Oh yeah, that's pretty good, we'll just keep you," and I went, "Oh, okay." So by default I'm now the leader of the Jokerz.

I already have a slight idea of how you got into this Bruce, so I'll start with Glen. Glen, how did you get into this crazy business?

GM: I started on the first Batman series. Interviewed, and got the job, and...

BT: He showed up one day with his portfolio. He'd never done anything in animation before, but he'd heard that we were in production and doing the show, and he thought he'd give it a try. He had all kinds of interesting styles in there, and we just saw a real natural drawing ability. We gave him a storyboard test, which he failed.

GM: It was really crappy.

BT: It was really crappy, he failed it miserably. We said, well, you know what, we know you can draw, so we'll hire you and we'll figure out what we'll do with you afterwards. So we just hired him, and he started out doing character designs and a little bit of storyboard cleanup, basically just a little bit of everything. Around the time that we did the Superman show--actually, he had left.

GM: I was gone for a year and a half.

BT: He was gone for a year and a half, and for the Superman show I asked him back, and was confident enough that he had absorbed enough of my design theories that we made him the art director of the Superman show to help me out. He did such a good job on that [and] did the same thing on Batman Beyond, and halfway through the season we said, you know what, he's doing the work of a full producer, so let's make him a producer, so that's that.

GM: I had to fill Eric Radomski's shoes.

BT: Right. Eric Radomski was my co-producer on the first Batman series.

What was your background before coming to Batman, then?

GM: No experience. I was a big comic book fan, and just drew a lot. I was trying to get work as a comic book artist, but I wasn't really sure, and then I saw an article on the new Batman series. And actually, a friend of mine from high school got a job working on the show as a background designer so, um... I just drew a lot. No experience. I drew what they liked.

So what you're saying is, if I'd gotten a portfolio together, I could have been working on Batman.

GM: I don't know if I could say that. [everyone laughs]

Well, I did the same thing, I was just drawing a lot. Should've thought of it. Oh, well.

GM: I was just at the right place at the right time.

Well, that worked out pretty well. Bruce, I've seen some of your fan art from before Batman. I can't remember where... some magazine somewhere, I guess.

BT: Oh my.

So you clearly were doing a lot of drawing beforehand.

BT: Oh, yes.

In a lot of different comic book styles and such. I can see some of the Kirby influence in what you were doing, but what else would you say influenced your drawing style? This is prior to Batman.

BT: A little bit of everybody. I mean, when I was a teenager, John Buscema was my favorite artist, so I just copied all the John Buscema comics I could get my hands on. Later I got into Alex Toth and Frank Frazetta, and for the longest time I wanted to draw just like Frank Frazetta. Finally, I realized that I would just never be able to draw that well, so I kind of adapted my style to what it ultimately became--I played off of the fact that I'm not really a good draftsman. [I] made my stuff designier and designier, and the style just evolved.

My story is very similar to Glen's, I got into animation kind of--I kind of backed into it. I wanted to be a comic book artist as well, and I'd show my work around at the conventions, to all the comic book people, and never really got any bites. One day I was watching some really crummy cartoon on TV, and I said, well, I may not be able to draw comic books, but I can certainly draw as well as these crappy cartoons that are on TV. I submitted my portfolio at one of the local animation studios--Filmation--got hired, kind of bounced around all the different places in the industry, and eventually wound up here at Warner Bros. working on the Tiny Toons show, and that's what I was working on when they announced that they were going to be doing a Batman cartoon. So I did a whole bunch of designs for Batman and showed them at the next production meeting, and kind of on the basis of these designs, got the gig as the producer of the series. So just like Glen, I was in the right place at the right time.

Glen, when you were doing comic book art before, was there anyone in particular who influenced your style?

GM: Jack Kirby. Alex Toth.

BT: John Byrne. [laughs]

GM: John Byrne. A little bit of everybody. The Hernandez brothers, Dave Stevens. Everybody.

The common thread through everyone I've asked seems to be Alex Toth, who comes up with everyone, and Jack Kirby a close second.

BT: Yeah, that's pretty universal throughout most comic book/animation artists. Alex Toth is way up there in the pantheon. He and Kirby are neck and neck.

It's funny because looking at some of the drawings, especially in the comic books, like in Mad Love, where you're using more static designs to convey motion, I see in Bruce's work more of a Harvey Kurtzman thing, a kind of rubbery, manic thing.

BT: Yeah, Kurtzman is somebody that I've always really admired, and it wasn’t until I did Mad Love that I realized how much he directly influenced my style. Again, I think that's just the storytelling more than anything else. I don't really see a whole lot of him in my figure work or anything like that, but yeah, the way he paces stories, the way he stages things, I picked up a lot from Kurtzman. Probably more so than anybody.

I didn't even really notice it until I saw the reproduction of a page out of Mad Love in Batman Animated, the shot of Joker bursting through the door screaming "HARLEY!", and I went, that's a Kurtzman drawing.

BT: Yeah, when I was a kid, Mad magazine was a really big influence on me as well.

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