Secret Origins II: DC Direct Art Department
Last year you will remember I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Georg Brewer (VP Design and Retail Product Development), Ed Bolkus (Sr. Art Director)and Syndee Barwick (Director of Product development) of DC Direct. At the time of last year’s interview Associate Art Director Shawn Knapp was overseas checking on the progress of upcoming DC Direct product, something he does several times a year. A month after the interview Ed Bolkus left DC Direct to work for New Line licensing. Ed’s hand-picked replacement is Jim Fletcher.
This year while in New York for Toy Fair I had the opportunity to sit down with Jim Fletcher and Shawn Knapp and talk to them about their involvement in the massive amounts of product DC Direct puts out each year.
PART II- Artist Themed Lines PART II- Artist Themed Lines
Julius: With your artist inspired lines, do the people who’s work you are basing the figures on always get involved in the process? Do the get to make changes? Do they have ‘the final say’ on things?
Jim: Yes. Some of them are more specific than others, some of them work closer with us than other ones do. Ed McGuinness was so excited about his line. Everytime I would call him up he would say “that is SO cool! I can’t believe it.” I sent him Tim’s finished pieces. I could hear him falling out of his chair over the phone. He couldn’t believe that it all matched.
Shawn: I also think that when we do that, and we make sure that they are so closely involved, as involved as they want to be, I think it adds a whole new level of legitimacy what we are trying to do stylistically. I mean, anybody can copy Jim Lee, but to have Jim Lee come in and say “this is what I want, and you nailed it”…
Jim: It’s very satisfying.
Jim: Even with Tim Sale, when we first did some of the Batman stuff there was a lot of back-and-forth on a certain part of the figure. And, we finally ironed it out at the end. But, we really try to listen to them as much as possible given our deadlines. And most of them understand that we have to produce it at some point. We could noodle stuff to death, if we wanted to, but fortunately most of our guys are good enough that it’s not usually a big problem.
Julius: So, when you do an artist specific do you have them do the sketches and the turn-arounds for the figures? Do you look back on the original work/art as well? Is there ever an issue if the artist hasn’t been draw a character or series for a few years?
Shawn: Yeah. Everybody evolves.
… Tim Sale is a good example. We used the books as the basis of the line. He didn’t do control art for the new line, but if there are any questions we try to make them very specific to the story they are from; from how the character was drawn, the details of the costume and any accessories from the storyline. We try to keep it within that era, that way if we wanted to do another Batman line with Tim Sale, if that were to come down the pike, we could evolve it into his newer version.
Jim: That’s also a good example. Because he did end up doing a few turn around sketches and he drew Catwoman with a whip. Well, in the “The Long Halloween” she didn’t have a whip, she just had those listening goggles. So, when we sent it back, he said ‘where’s the whip?” and we said, “well… she didn’t have one the story” and he said “what do you mean? Huh, yeah. You’re right she just has that listening thing.”
Jim: If we can’t find the exact thing we take the best guess and run it by them and if they are comfortable that’s what we do.
Julius: For the non-artist specific lines what kind of control art do you provide the sculptors?
Jim: The same thing. They still get turn-arounds. We get an artist to draw them, it’s just not always the original person. Like for the Green Lantern wave I think Carlos did all of those for us. But it wasn’t a Carlos Pacheco specific line, although he did give us all of the turn around drawings.
Shawn: And I think a lot of the lines, like our JLA lines are more, I hate to use the word “generic,” but less artist sensitive…
Jim: Like the JLA boxed set.
Shawn: Right. We kind of pick and choose from which eras and what artists…just different details. We looked at what artist we liked doing each face. We tried to make it a cool amalgam of the best stuff we like.
Jim: To make the finest of the Worlds Finest.
Julius: I was just thinking… for instance the Silver Age Batwoman and Batgirl two pack… you wouldn’t necessarily have THAT artist available to do new turn-arounds or control art.
Shawn: Right, that’s one we have to refer to existing reference. We’re very conscious about our Silver Age line to try and make it so that if you are buying the Silver Age line you can pretty much guess that it is going to be the same kind of look. You’re going to get the same articulation. Who wants to get Batman with 11 points of articulation and then you come out with 32 point Catwoman or whatever? It just isn’t going to jibe visually. We’re always looking at the overall look of our lines.
Composite Superman is another one. He’s not really from that same boxed set, but he is from that same time period, so that’s why, hence, he has some of the same articulation and the same style. So you can put him in with your Silver Age Superman or your Silver Age Batman and he will look like he is part of that group.
Julius: There was a decision made on the First Appearance line that almost all of the characters would have some kind of soft goods costume piece, but that doesn’t seen to have carried over into the 3rd assortment. Can you talk about that decision?
Shawn: In the first series of that line we were trying to go “old school.” We wanted that retro feel and we like the combination of the cloth and plastic. Now that we’re going forward and picking more Silver Age ones, which goes back to what we were just talking about, the uniformity of lines, but also it just didn’t fit as well and it would have changed the feel for a more modern character.
Jim: Yeah. That was a conscious decision.
Julius: Will we see a further continuation of the First Appearance line?
Jim: Yeah.. I’d say probably.
Shawn: The fans love them and if they keep buying them, GREAT! It’s just a matter of finding the characters to put in there. It’s hard not to say that you love every line here. It was a pet project of Ed’s and now it had become a pet project for Jim and I. We just kind of love this thing.
Jim: It’s a lot of fun to work on this line.
Julius: Do you guys have a favorite DC character that hasn’t been made into a DC Direct figure yet?
Jim: Hmmm…there’s this Batman guy…I don’t know….
Jim: There’s a lot of characters that would be fun to do. I like the Creeper. He’s a fun character. I don’t know when he’ll fall … maybe First Appearance would be the place he would most likely show up. Or maybe Crisis. I’m sure he ran through a panel in that book.
Julius: Well he did appear in the Batman Animated Series and Hasbro made a figure of him…
Jim: That’s true. He’s a cool looking guy. Do you have one Shawn?
Shawn: Captain Carrot and the Zoo crew.
Jim: Oh yeah! I forgot. What was I thinking?
Julius: Crisis is about the only place they COULD show up.
Shawn: I would LOVE to see that in plastic. It was a favorite of mine growing up as a kid. At least you didn’t say “Crazy Quilt.”
Julius: Just for the record mine is Animal Man.
Jim: Which one? The Vertigo Animal Man or the costume Animal Man.
Julius: Either the orange and blue costume with the jacket from the first 25 issues of the Morrison run or…heck I’d take the black costume if that was the only way I could get him. The Orange and Blue would fit in the Crisis line *hint hint*
Julius: Was there a favorite line or piece that you worked on this past year? Figures? Props?
Shawn: Mine would have to go back to the upcoming Batman: Rogues Gallery wave of figures. Not only for the sculptural side of it, but also going over to Hong Kong and … it was defiantly a challenge working on the engineering. That was especially a lot of fun getting to work though a lot of details like that. Action figures can be pretty straight forward ..but like, Man-Bat’s wings, working out the engineering, making sure they are flexible. You’re going to get all of the articulation that you would hope for out of it. That’s got to be my favorite.
Jim: Picking a favorite? Boy! Even the Batman Begins movie stuff came out great. I don’t know…. I don’t know. I can’t think of a favorite… there are so many great point on all of them. It’s hard to compare the Ed McGuinness stuff to the Rogues stuff to the Tim Sale stuff. They are all so different and all so cool to do. I guess… No. I can’t pick a favorite one.
Julius: Did you guys find that Warner Brothers was pretty forthcoming on giving you reference for the Batman Begins items?
Shawn: Oh, they were great.
Jim: Yeah. They really stepped up and got us everything we needed. Our stuff was super accurate, we had a lot of nice reference. Even with the batmobile we were able to work off of the original [Auto]CAD drawings.
Shawn: We had some really great people helping us out with all of that.
Jim: Yeah they were really running around trying to get us everything we needed and as a result our stuff is really accurate. The line certainly reflects that, for sure.
Actually it was fun, we actually had Christian Bale in here. He stopped by my office, it was like the first week that I was working here.
Shawn: We actually cast his head while he was here.
Jim: When he was sitting right there we just threw a big thing around him. Life casting!
Jim: I was a lot of fun because he was asking a lot of questions about the process and we took a bunch of shots of him posing. And we walked him through the steps of what we go through to make the toys and he was pretty interested in that. So that was really cool, meeting him was kind of neat.
Julius: Now we move on to the tougher questions. One of the biggest "hot button" issues is the scale for the figures. There are a lot of people that this is a very big deal for. Can you guys talk about how you approach that, what are the trials and tribulations? Is there more than one scale you are working with?
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Jim: I'll let Shawn take that one!
Jim: He's basically the guardian of the scales of our figures.
Shawn: We are very aware that there are people out there that complain about the relative scale issue. From the beginning of DC Direct up until now there has been an evolution in scale, of sorts. It's always as close as possible one inch equals one foot. However at times it has drifted a bit. Unlike larger toy companies we use numerous sculptors and manufacturers all over the world.
Even if we are able to track every sculptor to keep the original pieces exactly at the same scale, different factories can have different "shrink" rates. We sculpt all of our figures in a 1:1 ratio, to maintain the best possible detail, but the production shrink can be an issue. We're trying to pull it all in and make it as consistant as possible, and are even working with someone overseas who is in the factories watching this for us.
Jim: The 1" equals 1' rule is also challenged now that we are developing some artist-centric lines. If you look at the way Ed McGuiness, Tim Sale or Alex Ross draws them, they're just not the same scale. I think Batman would look kind of odd if you took the lankier (Tim Sale) version of him and put him next to the Ed McGuinness stuff and tried to make them the same scale. It's not going to work.
Shawn: It's a judgment call. If you take our Jim Lee Superman and put him next to the Silver Age Superman they are not exactly the same heights. If were going to do something Silver Age it has to be in scale with that Superman and Batman. We keep them consistent within each of the lines.
Jim: It's really to get the artists vision. That's really what we are accomplishing. To me it's more important we match up what they are trying to do in the books and because of that they won't always line up together all the way across. Although we are sticklers for trying to keep characters that actually are bigger to being bigger. Like Kilowog for example. Shawn and I are both in agreement on that! I don't want to see a Kilowog that is the same size as Hal Jordan.
Shawn: I like all the plastic.
End of Part II
In part three Shawn and Jim talk about production delays, what they collect and the production trials of the 13” figures.