Comic-Con Exclusive: Interview with Batman Incorporated artist Chris Burnham

Not long after the interview with Kyle Higgins and Christos Gage it was time for me to speak with Batman Incorporated artist Chris Burnham. The problem was that I had tried to listen to the audio from my previous sit-down and heard absolutely nothing after the press handler introduced me to Higgins so at this point I wasn’t feeling 100% confident about how well the microphone was picking up sound and I was remembering how much I don’t like doing interviews in such a hectic setting in the first place. Rather than sit in those comfortable chairs inside the DC booth, Burnham, who is a really tall guy by the way, and I were ushered off to the side to stand in front of an enormous advertisement for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and it was there that the interview was held. Now, the problem with talking with Burnham was that while he’s a great speaker and an overall charismatic guy, there wasn’t a whole lot for us to discuss Batman-wise because there’s only one issue of Batman Inc. left and he can’t say much at all about that or any of his upcoming projects which are top-secret. However, it went much better than expected. I got to hear Burnham share a funny story about a past convention and I even learned a little more about the upcoming Batman Inc. Special as well as the Batman Inc. Deluxe Edition.

Andrew: Just think of this one as practice. I just did an interview with Higgins and Gage while ago and when I got back to check the audio all I heard was “Hey guys this is Andrew from Batman N–”

Burnham: Aw, man!

Andrew: So who knows? Who knows if I’m doing this right. I don’t like doing interviews anyway because mostly I just do the comic reviews and I wonder if I get along with somebody if I’ll start being more favorable and if I don’t then I’ll be biased against them so…

Burnham: (laughs) Wow.

Andrew: Are you having a good time at Comic-Con so far?

Burnham: Yes.

Andrew: How many of these have you been to now?

Burnham: I’m coming up on… This is my ten year anniversary, but this is probably my eighth time maybe? Seventh or eighth? Yeah, I like it. It’s more of a ritual than an actual event at this point.

Andrew: Do you do a lot of sketches while you’re here?

Burnham: Uh– Yeah! Yeah, I’ve gotten pretty good at my Batman. I’ve got like a 15-second Batman sketch that’s gotten pretty good, actually.

Andrew: What’s the most bizarre request you’ve had where you’ve just been like, “Wow. How am I going to approach this?”

Burnham: A couple of years ago this guy had a very specific request. He had a whole binder with bizarre images in it and– not even images! He had page long little treatises of specific things he wanted. Like one thing he wanted was a mermaid sitting on a rock with a bunch of koi fish kind of leering up at her, ya know? And that was before I had an iPhone and I was like, Man, I’m sorry. I don’t know what a koi fish looks like. If you showed me a picture I’d be like, yeah, that’s a koi fish. But that’s a lot different from being able to draw one.

Andrew: Yeah.

Burnham: So I was like, Yeah, how about somethin’ else? And he pulls out this other thing and it describes a mermaid dressed as Santa Claus and I was like, Yeah, I guess I can do that that’s kind of weird but– and then he’s like “AND I WANT IT IN AN ANIME STYLE!” Well, alright, I can do that. “And I really want you to concentrate on the hair and how it floats in the water, here take a look at this.” And he pulls out this like three page… document? I guess you could call it? With all these pictures of women under water with their hair floating! And he goes “Just like, really try to capture the realism of the hair floating in the water.”

Andrew: Wow.

Burnham: This is really creepy and the reproduction was so bad that it almost looked like he killed these women and was photographing their bodies– almost that level of creepiness.

Andrew: (laughs) “What are your intentions with this drawing, sir?”

Burnham: (laughs) Yeah! I know EXACTLY what his intentions were with that drawing! (we both laugh pretty hard) And, ya know, fair enough! He paid me for it, I drew it, it was pre-tty good! I… at one point in time I had a record of it because I brought my digital camera along so I used to have a record of that. It was pretty good, kind of an anime Ariel from Little Mermaid– with a Santa hat on! But… yeah, what are you gonna do?

Andrew: What are you working on now that Batman Inc.’s over?

Burnham: Well, it’s almost over. I’ve gotta finish drawing my eight page Batman Japan story for the anthology special. Uh… I’m gonna redraw all of the fill-in pages for the last five issues! You know how the little fill-in pages kinda snuck in? So I’m pretty sure I”m gonna redraw those pages for the big deluxe hardcover. And then… beyond that? I can’t really talk too much about it. I’ve got secret projects in the works that I can’t really publicly announce. But uh… You’re gonna want to buy ’em!

Andrew: Are you still exclusive with DC?

Burnham: My exclusive is up.

Andrew: So are you going to be working on–

Burnham: –I’m going to be working on some DC stuff and some other stuff as well.

Andrew: Can’t talk about it?

Burnham: (laughs) Yeah! Can’t really talk about it!

Andrew: (laughs) See this is why I hate doing interviews. Too much of that!

Burnham: Yeah, I know! Honestly, I feel bad about it. I was hoping that this weekend we were going to be able to get it announced and Batman just ran a little long. I don’t have enough time to get this next thing up and going. Hopefully I’ll have something to talk about at the next one.

Andrew: Do you have a favorite issue of yours? Something that you’re especially proud of?

Burnham: I think the Leviathan Strikes! issue is really good. We got to take a fair amount of time on it because it was that weird lag-time before the new book started and the New 52 so we got to take… Probably two? Maybe even three months because it was thirty pages so we got to take a long time to really draw that and I really got to sink my teeth all the way in to that Steranko Nick Fury sort of style and there were so many scenes, so many characters, so many weird visual effects that– I really think that’s one of the best comics I’ve ever drawn.

Andrew: Again, since we can’t really talk about the future…

Burnham: Mhmm.

Andrew: Let’s pretend that there’s not a future and you don’t get to draw Batman anymore. What do you most regret that you never got to draw that was Batman-related?

Burnham: Hah. Oh! There’s a very good answer to that! In Batman number…seven-hundred I think it was… there were four pages of Frank Quitely and a couple pages by Scott Collins and this is before anyone at DC knew who I was. Before they knew I could do a pretty decent Frank Quitely sort of job and that issue came out and I was just heartbroken. I was like “I’m the guy you should’ve called for this!” If you gave me a week to just draw those three pages I bet I could’ve really leaned into the Frank Quitely I could’ve straight-up ghosted him and you wouldn’t even notice that it was me! Because those three pages are very, very simple. It’s just Batman and Robin at a pizza place or whatever. I think I could’ve handled that. I wish they would’ve hired me for those three pages. I’m pretty sure I could’ve nailed those.

Andrew: I mean, if you could handle all the mermaid hair and the koi fish, you can handle Batman and Robin getting pizza.

Burnham: Right!

Andrew: Were you a big Batman fan before jumping on board this or did you just start reading up after you got the job?

Burnham: I was a big fan as a kid and I really got into it big time when the Tim Burton movie came out and so I was a giant Batman fan for a couple years until Knightfall, the big crossover when Batman got his back broken and it was just… That sprawling crossover across eight books with like twelve different creative teams is just like a total bear to manage and it’s like those giant crossovers always turn me off as a fan so that was the end of me collecting Batman regularly as a kid and I only picked it up again with the beginning of Grant’s run I would say. What was that six-fifty-four or whatever it was– well, I think it was actually the one-year later I guess I’d started buying Batman again! It was Paul Dini, maybe? He was doing a run so I started picking that stuff up. That first issue in particular with J.H. Williams is really amazing. So yeah, that was probably the resurgence of my bat-love!

Andrew: Can you say much about the Batman Inc. Special?

Burnham: It’s going to be crazy. There’s four or five stories by wildly divergent creative teams. I’m writing and drawing the Batman Japan thing which is really like sixteen pages of story really crammed and smushed into eight pages so there’s like seven or eight panels per page so I’m just trying to ultra-compress it but leave some room for the fight scenes but all the setup and back story I’m trying to super-compress it and do some interesting tricks with panel play and word balloon placement that I’ve really not seen before. I’m screwing around a little bit. I think it’s gonna be fun.

Andrew: Does this take place post- or pre- Batman Incorporated #13?

Burnham: It doesn’t really matter, I don’t think. I think you can use your imagination to put it whenever. Batman’s not in it. It’s Batman Japan and Canary on a stupid little adventure and they don’t mention Batman Incorporated at all. It’s just like here’s these characters we like fighting bad guys for eight pages!

Andrew: What about Batman #13? Can you say much about it or is it totally off-limits?

Burnham: I’m not sure… It comes out in like two weeks so you might just have to wait and buy it. We talked to one of DC’s marketing guys and he said, “Honestly guys, that issue made me cry.” Well, sweet! We did it! Theoretically it might make you cry! I think it’s a pretty good wrap-up like there’s all sorts of call-backs to the run. I think we tied it up in a nice neat little bow and handed it off to the next guys.

Andrew: Next guys? Does it continue?

Burnham: It’s almost like a hand-off to Scott Snyder! We know that Scott Snyder started his Batman run about two years ago or whatever, but this is basically like, “Alright, Scott, it’s OFFICIALLY yours!”

Andrew: (laughs) Nice. Are you reading all of the other Batman stuff?

Burnham: I’m reading many of them. There’s like… There’s a lot! There’s a lot of them!

Andrew: Tell me about it, I’m reviewing them. Do you have a favorite bat-book outside of what you’re doing?

Burnham: Scott and Greg are really nailing it and Pete and Pat on Batman and Robin or Batman and whoever this month, yeah, that’s real good too. Those are probably my favorites. I also like that Legends of the Dark Knight! Putting the digital stories in print, there’s a really nice selection of creators and you can never be sure in this issue, am I going to get three or four short stories or is it going to be one long story? I think it’s cool.

Andrew: (looks around to see that they’ve been abandoned by the press handlers) Usually there’s somebody to cut me off right about now…

Burnham: I don’t know, man.

Andrew: I don’t know what I’m doing at these things.

Burnham: (laughs)

Andrew: Well, I really do love your work and I’m always giving you great reviews.

Burnham: Thanks, man! Wait, you’re from where?

Andrew: Batman News?

Burnham: Right on! I’m sure I get Google Alerts. I get Google Alerts through a lot of things and go “Oh, alright!”

Andrew: Do you pay much mind to any of that stuff, the reviews?

Burnham: Once in a while someone will cut me pretty deep and I’ll like have to take a look. I definitely remember a couple months ago– I think it was after issue number nine– some guy was complaining very loudly that he thought the art was too sketchy. I looked at it and was like “Well…” It was a stylistic choice, but I guess I can see what you’re saying so on the cover for number… whatever it was, the one where it’s half-Batman and half-Man-Bat on the cover? I really tried to make that nice and slick so I was really trying to be Dexter Vines or something like thinking Ed McGuinness– make it crisp! It took me absolutely forever so I don’t want to work that way regularly, but it was kind of like “Alright, screw you, pal! I can do that if I want to but I don’t want to!”

Batman, Inc. #13 goes on sale next week and the Batman Incorporated Special #1 will be available this August.