When I think of my favorite artists in comics, Michael Lark is often at, always near the top of my list. He’s one of the best storytellers out there, and no one’s stronger at conveying emotions and making quiet moments say so much. I talked with him and Greg Rucka about Lazarus previously but was really happy for the chance to speak with Michael one-on-one ahead of the first issue of Lazarus in its new Quarterly format. Read our wide-ranging discussion below and forgive me for gushing a bit in our talk.
Conversation edited for clarity
MO: I think I’ve told you this before but I’m a huge fan of your work. I actually own the page from Gotham Central of Renee walking in handcuffs through the police station.
ML: When was that scene?
MO: During Half a Life.
ML: Man, it’s been so long since then. My son, who is just starting college this week was probably two years old.
MO: Oh wow.
ML: Yeah. So it’s been a long time
MO: It’s a beautiful page. How influential was your run on Gotham Central on you as an artist?
ML: What do you mean by influential?
MO: In terms of finding your style.
ML: Scene of the Crime, which was published not long before Gotham Central, had a bigger influence on my art style. Seeing how Sean Phillips inked me changed how I approached my work. His inks made me see how I could loosen up and give more life to my pencils. Before I’d always been very controlled in the way I drew things, but seeing Sean’s loose, slapdash way of doing things [opened my eyes]. That’s why I wanted him to ink me, I wanted more of that energy and look.
Getting original pages back from him blew me away every time.
Gotham Central was important because of the relationships I built, like with Greg, and learning what kinds of stories I wanted to tell. I kind of already knew that, as nice as the money was making superhero comics, they didn’t play to my strengths. That slam-bang, gritted-teeth action isn’t what I do best.
I understand there needs to be action in a comic, it’s a visual medium, and I miss it when it’s not there. I’m constantly pushing Greg to add more action sequences to Lazarus. But I prefer drawing the understated emotions, it’s so rewarding to me as an artist.
MO: You capture emotions so well. One of my favorite pages of Lazarus is Joaquim staring at a piece of fruit explaining why he can’t eat it due to his genetic makeup.
ML: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever drawn, there’s so much subtext in it. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with Greg. He’s very passionate about things and they come through in his writing, but his characters don’t hit you over their head with what they say. There’s always a disconnect between what they’re saying and what they’re really feeling, and I get to communicate what they’re really feeling as the artist
MO: You’re drawing digitally now, right?
ML: For the most part, yeah. I occasionally draw covers by hand because my art dealer gets upset if he doesn’t have anything to sell. [laughs]
And there are certain things a brush can do against a certain kind of paper I miss when working digitally. But once I get used to working digitally again I remember how there are so many more tools at my disposal, there’s so much more freedom and flexibility in it. I go back and forth. There are pluses and minuses to both, but especially as I’m getting older it’s getting harder to see the page so being able to zoom in digitally is helpful.
MO: I’ve heard it speeds up the process for a lot of artists. Is that true in your case?
ML: No, I’m always slow. I’m probably one of the slowest artist comics, unfortunately. I spend a lot of time prepping for drawing a page, getting all my reference in order and researching and designing it. The point where it’s time to draw a page that’s just the end of the process and it goes really quick.
MO: How do you to collaborate with Tyler Boss, ink assistant on Lazarus?
ML: We collaborate on the backgrounds. I make them in Sketchup and import the reference directly into the panels so he can draw from there. So I send him pages with the figures all inked in and the Sketchup backgrounds in place behind those.
MO: I’d never heard of Santi Arcas before Lazarus.
ML: He did at least a couple of things at DC, I remember seeing some samples of Superman work he’d done.
MO: How did you two connect?
ML: That was through Greg’s relationship with Santi’s agent David Macho. Santi lives in Spain, so most of our communication goes through him. David reps a lot of Spanish artists.
MO: He also colored Lazarus X+66, which I thought made the whole series feel cohesive with Lazarus across 6 different artists.
ML: Yeah. That project came about because I needed a break. I just wanted to take a few months off, which ended up longer than expected. I always liked when the occasional planned fill-in artist would come in. If a different artist unexpectedly draws the last few pages of an issue I don’t like that, but I love going in and seeing Jean Paul Leon on an issue of Scalped, for example, and some of my favorite issues of Sandman and Shade the Changing Man were illustrated by guest artists.
MO: So it sounds like you felt okay about handing the reins to other artists with X+66?
ML: Yeah, we looked for people we liked. it had to be people Greg was comfortable working with, so a lot of choices were his, a couple mine. And you know we had. Everyone brought different things to the table so we had different experiences with everybody who worked on it. It was hard for Greg because he had to be the traffic cop all of that, but I enjoyed the results.
MO: Did you talk with the artist to make sure everything was cohesive?
ML: Different artists had different preferences. I spoke quite a bit with Mack Chater, one of the artists I chose, and Bilquis Evely asked me to send references for some stuff. I think that was it, but the whole thing was kind of a blur.
MO: Did you have time to work any other comics during the hiatus?
ML: I worked on Batman Annual #2. I was actually working on developing something that I want to do at some point. I hoped to do it during that break but it would have taken up too much time. And I did some other artwork, an album cover for a band, other things to keep my toe in the water.
MO: Was it freeing to work on projects that didn’t require as much prep and to just escape from the world of Lazarus for a bit?
ML: Yeah, Lazarus is set in a pretty dark place [laughs]. So it was nice to go somewhere else for a little while, but it was also exciting to come back to it. The story arc we just finished with Jonah, the prelude to Fracture which we’re working on now, is one of my favorite things Greg’s ever written.
MO: I really loved it. There’s so much emotion in there and I couldn’t believe how quickly I cared so deeply about an entirely new group of characters.
ML: Greg’s really, really good, I feel lucky to be working with him. He kept telling me he wanted to do this story about Jonah and I kept insisting that we have to focus on Forever. Finally, he put his foot down and said it’s now or never. In the end, I’m so glad we told it, it’s such an important glimpse into that world and it was fun drawing a completely different setting. I learned a lot about Denmark and factory fishing boats from that [laughs].
MO: Hock became the ultimate villain of Lazarus for me after that wave of sickness he spread through the town and the ship. What should we expect in The Fracture?
ML: Greg doesn’t give me the big picture. I know where things are headed but as for what’s going to happen in this story I don’t know the details. From the scripts I’ve received, I can say it takes two years later than where we left off.
Forever is trying to have a relationship with her younger self and her relationships with her biological sisters come into play. We’re introducing a bunch of new characters. The focus of the story is intrigue involving the Vassalovka family and Carlyle’s interests in the territory that was Canada.
MO: Do you like not knowing too much about what’s coming next? I imagine it makes things a little more spontaneous.
ML: I go back and forth on it. Greg tells me what he thinks I need to know. While I can’t speak for him, I think he likes to keep his part of the process as spontaneous as possible. There are times he says things are going one way and the next week while he’s scripting he’ll call and ask what I think of a different direction. I think he has a broad outline and lets the characters tell him what he’s going to do.
MO: Is there anything else you want to say about the upcoming issues of Lazarus?
ML: I hope people will stick with us through the quarterly releases. You’re going to get a lot of content, a lot more bang for your buck. It will be priced a little higher but you’re going to get more than two issues worth of material. We’re probably going to go for more than 44 pages of story and a lot of backup material. I know it’s been a long time and I really appreciate everyone being patient.
Given the quality of the most recent issues, I’m more than willing to wait and hope you are, too. The first quarterly edition of Lazarus arrives in March 2018. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelLark66 and go buy some of his original art like I did.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at [email protected].