By Angel Carreras
Away from the glitz and glamour of the main floor of San Diego Comic Con lies a place filled with the lifeblood of the comics industry.
Tucked away into a dark, murky corner, where the light dare not trespass the shadow’s domain is ARTISTS’ ALLEY, a place not unlike CRIME ALLEY, in that there’s a lot of murdering… of art, in this case! These talented people are killing it!
Speaking of art and Batman references (and Bad Comic Con Article Ledes aside), Artists’ Alley is a who’s who of names in the industry, ranging from newcomers to legends and everyone in between. One of these artists is Chris Burnham.
A New York Times Bestselling Artist, Burnham has drawn the strange and psychedelic for Grant Morrison and built a career on insane attention to detail and unbelievable action sequences.
A little over a week removed from the release of his new comic with Robert Kirkman, DIE!DIE!DIE!, Burnham talked to The Beat about how the comic came to be and much more.
How did DIE!DIE!DIE! come to be?
I’ve known Kirkman casually for nine or ten years, or something like that. I got to know him pretty well at the Image Expo where we (Burnham and Grant Morrison) debuted Nameless… four or five years ago, however long ago that was. So we got to be pretty good buddies there.
Out of the blue a couple of years ago, I got a call from Kirkman saying, (Burnham puts on an incredibly accurate Robert Kirkman impression) “Hey man, you want to get breakfast and talk tomorrow?” And I’m like, Oh. Yes. I was living in Studio City at the time and he wanted to meet me in Beverly Hills, which is where he lived, and Google Maps betrayed me. I was an hour late.
It was rush hour traffic and I was easily over an hour late to that meeting. I thought it was over! I was so stressed out. I was like, Oh my god, I’m blowing it! But he was cool about it, very, very patient.
So we talked about the comic there. Pitched me the idea and it sounded great. Two years later or whatever it is, the books now on stands.
How has the response been from fans and retailers?
I’m absolutely blown away by the response. Fans and the websites and reviews and stuff have been great. The retailers especially are super, super excited about it. They’re all, you know, very enthusiastic about a new, surprising way to make money. (laughs)
Something that stands out (to this ComicsBeat writer, at least) about your art is how the violence is portrayed– brutal, bloody, fully-realized, and nearly primal… But I can’t look away. What goes in to drawing these scenes? And how much joy do you get from drawing them?
Thanks! It’s pretty fun. I haven’t gotten in a fight since sixth grade or something like that, so I’m not actually a violent person, (laughs) but I do like watching it and drawing it.
When I’m choreographing a fight scene, I pay a lot of attention towards making sure if the first punch is a right, the second punch has to be a left … I’m really trying to “film” the impact points throughout the fight so you can follow and fill in what’s happening in your head. You move your eyes from one point to the other, your brain fills in the sweep, the pan of the “camera”.
If you are drawing the action correctly, you make it easy for your brain to invent the motion between … like when I when I read certain comics, I swear I can see the entire full length of the punch, especially with something like Fist of the North Star. A lot of fight choreography in that one. That’s what I’m going for. Even though I’m only drawing six panels of the fight, hopefully it’s a full-fledged fight in your head.
For DIE!DIE!DIE!, is this collaboration strictly artist doing art and writer writing, or are you collaborating on every aspect?
He writes and I draw, basically. We talk on the phone and talk some things over, like talking about how to do something or other stuff.
After the first issue, I told him (Burnham takes a jokingly stern voice) “I’m not the best to draw cars. I will draw the hell out of this car chase, but I don’t really want to be doing that over and over and over again. It’s not what I’m all about.” (laughs) But I’ll do what I have to.
For those that haven’t had a chance to read the series yet, why should they read DIE!DIE!DIE! ?
Intrigue! Violence! Jokes! The surprise of it all! It’s pretty weird. A lot like Morrison, like his character stuff, in a way. The way the story works, the character interaction, the little zigs and zags of it all, it’s all pretty surprising.
Good pitch. Speaking of, what pitch led you to working on this? Just the idea of working with a comics-giant like Kirkman?
Besides the violence and jokes and subplots? Getting to work with Robert sounds just as amazing as it sounds like. Also, it sounded like something that could really be worth my while.
I just had a kid so I knew whatever I did next had to be a big deal, and this seems like this could be that. I get offered a lot of stuff — maybe that sounds egotistical — but I get offered a lot of gigs, some of them sound like they’re going to be a big deal and some of them don’t. But I couldn’t pass this up.
We are at SDCC where comics get shopped and adapted into movies. Officer Downe was the most recent comic you worked on that got turned into a film– anything in the pipeline that’s getting adapted?
I mean there’s always, you know, things are bubbling and brought up to a simmer and then back down to nothing. We’re talking about Nameless and Nixon’s Pals, but there’s not much there, nothing worth announcing at this point.
But! If the Hollywood guys with the millions of dollars are reading this, we will still happily take your money.
You’ve worked with huge names in the comic business– is there anyone specifically you’ve been DIE!DIE!DIE!ing to work with?
I don’t know. I think Mark Russell. He is one of my favorite writers working today. I thought Flintstone’s was just the best comic of last year.
(Burnham raises his voice) ROBBED OF THE EISNER, SAYS I! Horseshit! (Burnham jokingly slams his fist on table) Flintstone’s should have swept! That’s what I say! Congratulations or whatever to the people who actually won. But Flintstone’s was robbed!
The stuff you made with Morrison was magic. Any upcoming projects between you two?
At some point we will get around to Arkham Asylum 2, but we have not started work on that.
Before I go– You have a crazy interesting bibliography. Do you have a personal favorite title you’ve worked on?
I don’t know… other than DIE!DIE!DIE!…let’s say Nixon’s Pals. I really think it is just spectacular.
For those that may not know, It’s about a parole officer for supervillains and yeah,they’ve all got crazy comic book powers and it is really violent, but like all sorts of goofy sci fi nonsense happening, and then it’s also got a pretty emotionally resonant story at the core of it, for all the crazy insanity that’s going on. There is like an actual human story being told. I think it’s just awesome.
DIE!DIE!DIE! is out now and can be found at your local comic book store.