I had interviewed Cameron Stewart last year at Fan Expo just before word had broken about his three issue stint on Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin. This shouldn’t really have come as much of a surprise as Stewart been a longtime collaborator with the God of All Comics from very early on in his career, having worked on projects as varied as The Invisibles, Sea Guy and Seven Soldiers of Victory.
I had approached Cameron as he was at Wizard World Toronto as a guest of honor, he was doing sketches and the line up was fairly solid. Luckily the dude ahead of me was asking some pretty great questions and allowed me to record and then join in on the questions.
While the first part of our interview did get cut off when a fire alarm was pulled, we managed to pick right back up where we were shortly after.
Special thanks to Cameron for being – as always – an amazingly generous interview, and to Shawn Young for doing half of my job for me.
Shawn: So you were telling me about Grant Morrison’s scripts…
Cameron Stewart: Yeah
S: They come in pretty loose for action?
CS: You know most of the important stuff is in there, and then he leaves certain action things open to artists that he trusts. I know that myself and Frank Quitely he just says go nuts on the action. In issue seven of Batman and Robin, the opening chase scene through London that was all on the motorbike and through the streets of London, that was all very specifically planned out and he gave me…it’s an actual specific route through London that he gave me directions and said look on Google Earth and find the appropriate reference for it. But the later action scenes… The fight scenes, he just kind of allowed me to run with. And he said you know the fight that’s between the two Batmen down near that Lazarus Pit? He basically said I want this to be a fight where both of them are evenly matched and it’s just a series of blocks and parries and none of them can actually get a blow in. And then he just said “Do that and make it look fun”.
S: You were saying you turned to movies for references?
CS: Yeah, I looked at a bunch of martial arts, a bunch of vintage Jet Li martial arts movies and what I would do is I would just sit and watch them and sketch out moves that I liked. I’d press pause and just kind of sketch a quick pose. And then once I had a whole page of little poses that I’d drawn…I work digitally with my layouts. I do the final art on paper, obviously, but all of the pencilling is done digitally in Manga Studio with a Cintiq Tablet, so what I did was I had all my little sketches and I was able to just kind of play with it and arrange them on the page until I had a sequence that kind of flows.
CS: Yeah, and then if I had two actions that didn’t quite match up that I could draw a quick bridge between them, and once I had the choreography locked, then I inked it. He’s pretty good. He’s good to collaborate with in a true sense of collaboration.
S: Is he easily accessible?
CS: No, he’s not. I think every waking moment of his life is spent writing so he doesn’t have a lot of time. Every keystroke has to be on the scripts, it can’t be wasted on eBay or whatever so all of the communication I have is through his wife, who is also his manager.
S: So he calls?
CS: No, it’s not really phone calls. If I have a question, I’ll email her and ask for a question and she’ll either already know the answer or she’ll quickly check with him and then she’ll write back to me.
Pete DeCourcy: How much of an influence does Frank Quitely have on your page layouts? Specifically for…
CS: Oh, quite a bit. He’s my favourite artist by far. When I was working on it I didn’t want to just be copying him because I wanted to do obviously my own thing, but I found it almost impossible not to be influenced by him when I was thinking about how I wanted to have the pages look, envisioning “well, how would he do it?”
PD: There’s a couple of those panels that have that We3… where it’s inverted in and inverted out like those fight scenes. It just looked really, really cool.
CS: Well thank you. It was definitely a conscious…again not trying to copy him but have the same approach. I feel like consistency is pretty important with this kind of thing and I just wanted to make sure that it felt the same as his work on it. With something like We3, I always felt that We3 was such… Can I swear?
CS: I always felt that We3 is like the next level of shit that really. I was disappointed that more artists, including myself, didn’t pick that baton up and run with it. And start thinking more about the way that comics pages are almost… using it like a three dimensional space which is what he was doing. I don’t know if people were just intimidated by it, I guess I am certainly, or just think that nobody is as good as he is at doing that stuff. It’s definitely not a coincidence that it’s there.
PD: If I could just change gears to Sin Titulo. What are your feelings on the iPad? Last year at a Transmission X panel you said it’s not a coincidence that most of the panels in Sin Titulo are shaped like the iPhone. So with the iPad, what’s your take on it?
CS: I am going to Boston next weekend for a convention there, and I will be going to an Apple store and buying an iPad. I am so in the tank for that thing. I’m really, really excited.
PD: Do it think it’s going to change the way we’ll see digital comics?
CS: Yes. I think there are a couple of very key factors that I hope they…I think pricing is essential.
PD: Right now it’s like $600 for the cheapest model.
CS: Oh no, I think the price point on the iPad is…they nailed it. I think it’s perfect. I’m talking about pricing of comics. If Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, whoever, if they release comics on the iPad, and they try and charge $3.99, that’s going to fail. But if they’re bold with it, and they charge 99 cents for a comic, I know, personally, I will buy three times as many comics as I currently do. There are a lot of comics that I am actually kind of interested in, but casually enough that I don’t fell like paying four bucks. I don’t feel like having it clutter up my studio. But if I know that I can get it for 99 cents, and download it to my iPad, it won’t even be a question. I’ll absolutely do it. And I think this whole thing with the…you probably saw the Amazon big fiasco a couple of weeks ago where they accidentally listed comics at a really cheap price point. People flocked to Amazon and ordered stuff. Which I think proves, that if comics are priced reasonably, people will buy them in huge amounts. I think the iPad really has the potential for that if they do it right. There is a worry that the comics companies are going to be greedy and they’re going to want to charge four bucks for a digital download. I think that’s crazy. I think that they shouldn’t do that. I think that what will probably most likely happen, in the long run, which I am absolutely fine with, is that monthly pamphlet comics will die and go all digital and then the trade paperbacks will be what is printed and sold in stores.
PD: I’d actually be okay with that.
S: So would I.
CS: I would be completely happy with that. It remains to be seen. As I say, there’s a lot of variables, a lot of factors, that are going to influence it, but I hope they get it right. I really do because I really believe in that device. You know it’s funny because when it was announced I guess backlash against the hype and people were saying “That’s it! It’s just a big iPhone! What’s the point?” I think that’s really shortsighted. If anything, with the iPod and with the iPhone, Apple has a very proven track record for making these things monstrously successful. Changing the industries, changing the world. Both the iPod and the iPhone completely revolutionized those industries and I think the iPad is going to do the same. What’s not immediately apparent about the iPad is the… What made the iPhone sing was the third party applications that were developed for it. The first year of the iPhone, it was locked and you could only get the Apple stuff but when they opened it up to the developers and had the App Store, suddenly that thing…developers were coming up with stuff that was inconceivable. Every day there’d be a new app for the iPhone and I’d go “My god, I can’t believe someone thought to do this, how to use this phone this way”. And I think the iPad is going to be exactly the same. I think there’s going to be some really ingenious stuff that’s developed for it. And I think hopefully a lot of that is going to include not just comics, but magazines and books and everything.
PD: Well the newspapers are pretty much…maybe this will be a way for them to find new life.
CS: I don’t think it’s going to be the amazing saviour of the print industry that people are maybe expecting it to be, but I think it’s going to help, and I think we’re in an interesting time right now where stuff is changing. The world is changing, the way that we consume media is changing, and right now people who produce this stuff haven’t really figured it out yet. They don’t know how to quite exploit it. But I think it will happen. It might take a little while, it’ll get there. I’m a big believer in the iPad. I would be very happy to sell my comics on the iPad. I will most likely at some point…what’s that?
S: Will that push you towards more creator owned stuff?
CS: Oh man, I don’t need the iPad to push me towards creator owned. I’m going to do that anyway. Yeah, I’ve got Sin Titulo, and I’ve got other stuff in the fire that I want to work on. The great thing about it is…you know with bands right now, you can get an album on the iTunes Music Store and have global distribution. You don’t have to be with a record company you don’t have to be anything.
PD: That’s how Arctic Monkeys got started, right?
CS: Yeah, exactly. And I think it’ll be the same… I mean, it already is the same with the internet. You can put a web comic up online for basically free, and build an audience that’s global that way, but I think if you’re able to sell them for a reasonable amount of money on the iTunes Music Store, or the iBooks, or however they are going to sell them, I think there’s a real potential for independent artists to do creator owned material and package it in a way that’s exactly equal to what Marvel, DC or all those other companies do. And it’s going to be a great equalizer, I think, which I’m sure Marvel and DC don’t want to hear, but it’s going to happen. I think it’s great. I’m all for it. So I’m really excited to get my hands on it and see what it can do.
PD: What do you have in the fire? What’s coming up? Outside of the Cowboy Batman, which we’re all really excited about.
CS: That’s unfortunately all I can talk about. I have my web comic still. I’ve got Sin Titulo which I’m working on. But the other stuff that I have is too early for me to actually make any official…
PD: Any word on either Apocolipstix or Seaguy? Or is that too secret?
CS: No, The Apocolipstix is a thing where I would like to do it but I don’t get paid to do it. The first book I did as a gamble. You do it and maybe it pays off, maybe it doesn’t, but if it pays off then great. Unfortunately, The Apocolipstix didn’t really set the sales charts on fire so it’s difficult to justify doing another 150 page graphic novel for free. The incentive is that they are my characters and I enjoy working on them but it don’t pay the bills. I will get back to it. If nothing else, I want to do it so I can work more with Ray, which is great, and…
PD: Have you had a chance to read Possessions yet?
CS: He gave me a copy but I haven’t read it yet.
PD: It’s really good.
CS: I’m sure it’s great because he’s wonderful. I would like to do it for that sake. I’m really not sure. It’s going to be a case where if I manage to get some free time, and I’ve got some money in the bank, then I’ll do more. Seaguy hopefully will be, I mean Grant is super busy right now. Grant is doing all kinds of stuff.
PD: Do you know if he’s got Multiversity coming up soon?
CS: It’s on the cards, but I don’t know how far along he is.
PD: You haven’t been approached for that yet?
PD: Well, let’s be honest. You’re one of Grant Morrison’s best collaborators.
CS: Well, thank you.
PD: You, Frank Quitely, who else? Phil Jiminez, Phillip Bond, JG Jones, Williams the 3rd, etc… I mean there’s quite a few guys but not a lot of them can pull it off like you, Quitely and the rest of the guys do.
CS: Well, thank you.
PD: Would you say that you are probably going to be approached for that?
CS: Okay, okay, I’ll be honest. I’ve been asked about it. I don’t know if I’m doing it. My official comment is I’m not doing anything for it. But he asked me about it; Grant asked me about it quite a while ago. We’re talking over a year ago. He said “Would you like to do one of these Multiversity books?” and I said “Yeah, absolutely” but that was so long ago now that I don’t even know. I don’t know what’s going on. They may literally have filled it all already.
PD: It just seems that there’s going to be a lot of similarity between…with Seven Soldiers of Victory he had all his main guys minus Quitely, and then even with Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne it’s very similar.
CS: A lot of the same guys, yeah.
PD: So with that, how is your design sense, do you guys go with what Kubert drew or are you kind of allowed to go…
CS: By Moebius. I really want that kind of look to it.
PD: So kind of like what Darwyn Cooke did on Jonah Hex number 50.
CS: Jonah Hex. Yeah, I can show you some of the designs. They’re up on my blog. You can include them with your article. It’s not secret or anything. Obviously I don’t want to… Just like with working after Quitely, I don’t want to copy exactly what he’s been doing. It also has to be something of my own as well to justify doing it.
PD: So will we be seeing you return to Batman and Robin anytime soon?
CS: I don’t think so. I have certainly not been asked, and my understanding of it is that, we’ve got Andy Clark doing it now, and then Fraser. I think Quitely is coming back at some point.
PD: That’s the rumour. Hopefully. Because he’s supposed to do the Joker. Grant Morrison said somewhere that he wants to see Frank Quitely’s Joker.
CS: Right. So yeah, it might be that, I don’t know. But I’m not on the schedule for any more. I would love to do it.
PD: Is there anything you’re reading right now that you want to recommend?
CS: Right now I’m halfway through the Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami. Anyone who has read my web comic I think would enjoy reading that. That’s what I’m reading.
PD: Awesome. Thanks very much for your time. And best of luck to you.
CS: Thanks very much.
Pete DeCourcy is EiC of ComicBookDaily.com. He tumbls over at You Practically Rock and writes for The Simple Art of Crime. If you have any questions or demands of him, he can be reached via email at pdecourcy[at]comicbookdaily[dot]com