Fan-favorite illustrator Chris Burnham is currently working with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman on a new series from Image Comics titled Die!Die!Die!. We caught up with the creator ahead of his appearance at ALT 98.7’s Big Adventure Festival on Nov 3 and 4 to talk all things comics, including his work on Nameless, Batman Inc. and Die!Die!Die!.
Alexander Jones: Can you share your thoughts and experiences from the surprise launch of Die!Die!Die!?
Chris Burnham: Doing the surprise release was such a crazy idea. I was onboard the second Kirkman told me about the idea. I love hearing about a zany scheme and to get to be a part of one was absolutely fantastic!
But keeping that secret was HARD. I had to play dumb and/or straight up lie to dozens (hundreds?) of people at conventions over the last year or two while we were working on the book. But it all seems to be worth it. The surprise announcement was the talk of the town, and I was blown away by the uniformly positive response from retailers.
Jones: DIE!DIE!DIE! is a debut issue with insane fight sequences. How do you craft a great fight sequence in the medium of comics?
Burnham: Fight scenes are all about impact, and the storytelling needs to be as clear as possible so the reader can see exactly what’s going on instantaneously. If you have to pause for even a fraction of a second to figure out what’s happening, a fight drawing loses all its impact. F-.
In addition to clarity, I try to make the motion/vectors be right in line with the motion of the reader’s eyes from panel to panel. That adds to the perception of the speed of a punch and also makes the reader an active participant; that punch is just sitting there on the page until they read it to life! Alternately, if a character is standing in direct opposition to the reading direction, it’s like driving the readers’ eyes into a brick wall. Very effective if done intentionally!
On a more geometric level, I use the X-Y axis for clarity, and the Z axis for intensity. IN YOUR FACE!
Jones: How do you craft a relationship with a writer?
Burnham: Hell, I dunno. Hopefully writers want to work with me because I tell a story pretty well, so it normally starts with a discussion about the sort of things I like drawing and the sort of things I DON’T like drawing. After that first car chase in Die!Die!Die! #1 I told Kirkman that vehicles aren’t really my strong suit. I’ll make it work whenever it’s called for, but I don’t have a natural affinity for that sort of thing. And the rest of the series hasn’t had TOO much vehicle work. Whew!
If I were more diabolical I might intentionally do a better job drawing the stuff I want to draw than the stuff they want to write. If you don’t want stick figures, don’t write a dialogue scene more than two pages long!
Jones: Do you work from a full script?
Burnham: Yup! I prefer Marvel style but no one ever wants to work that way (Cowards). Or maybe it’s my fault for doing a crappy job of crafting relationships!
Jones: What is it like leaving Batman to pursue independent comics?
Burnham: I’m still drawing dudes punching each other, only now they’re wearing outfits that are slightly more practical. So for me the job is basically the same. Except now I get paid better!
Jones: Would you ever consider returning to the Big Two?
Burnham: I draw covers for DC and Marvel on occasion. I’m sure I’ll do something more extensive there at some point.
Jones: Do you tailor your work differently for some of the different colorists you work with in comics?
Burnham: I almost exclusively work with the brilliant Nathan Fairbairn. The main thing I’ve changed working with him is I very rarely draw clouds since he paints them way better than I draw them! And I’ve started doing more silhouettes in the background that let him really work his atmospheric perspective magic.
Jones: Is there a property or genre in comics you haven’t gotten to work with that you would like too?
Burnham: I’m not sure what genre it falls into, but at some point I’d like to do something more in line with a 24 hour-comic I did a few years ago called SNAKE PUNCH. It’s easily my favorite comic ever.
Jones: Your page layouts are often incredibly ambitious. How do you balance ambition and clarity when it comes to it published work?
Burnham: Thanks! I try and save the tricky stuff for when I think the moment needs it. Crazy layouts seem appropriate for a book like Nameless where the nature of reality becomes totally upended. For a zippy action/intrigue book like Die!Die!Die! I tend to keep it pretty straightforward. The main trick with the layouts on this series is that there are a lot of panels on each page. I think we average around 7 or 8 a page, whereas the industry average is probably closer to 5. So there’s always the puzzle aspect of figuring out how to get all those panels on one page, especially when this panel has to be vertical, these other panels need to be identical sizes to each other, etc. It’s kinda like storytelling Tetris!
Jones: What inspires some of the imagery in a comic full of insane visuals like Nameless?
Burnham: A lot of it, including that horrific castration tree, came straight out of Grant’s script. And then it’s a matter of doing a google image search for “castrated penis” and “tripophobia” and seeing what horrors the internet has to offer! I used to start off my day on reddit/r/wtf, but it’s gotten really tame of late. As a father of two young boys I no longer have the stomach for something like /watchpeopledie or whatever, so I’m not sure where to find something in that sweet spot between “biggest pimple pop ever” and “Chinese toddler gets repeatedly run over.” Where are the maggot infestations, I ask you?!?
Back to that cosmic castration page: the script called for the background to be filled with “melting Jim Woodring glass clowns,” but I was having a hard time dialing in exactly what that meant. So I brought a bunch of Woodring books over to Grant Morrison’s condo and sat on his big turquoise couch to try and figure it out. Our buddy Akira the Don was there, and Grant nodded along thoughtfully as Akira paged through the books and made various exclamations like “that is FUCKED!” “Respect!” “Naww fuck that” and “That’s BULLSHIT, mate!” I made a note of which images he was most enthusiastic about and mentally cobbled those together to get a handle of the design of those damn melting clowns.
Jones: Can you tease what we can expect from you in the remainder of 2018?
Burnham: More DIE!DIE!DIE! And covers for Dennis Culver & Geoffo’s new Image series Burnouts!
ALT 98.7’s Big Adventure Festival takes place November 3 and 4 at the O.C. Fair Grounds in Costa Mesa! Don’t miss Chris Burnham, plus other comics talent, comedians and musicians at the festival!
Fruit snack aficionado. @AlexandComics