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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Reggie Francia interviews Steve Erwin

Comic book illustrator Steve Erwin is best known for his work on 1991's Deathstroke the Terminator v1 and 1988's Checkmate! v1 ongoing series for DC comics. You may also recognize him from the six issues of Shatter he pencilled for First Comics in 1986. Reggie Francia had the chance to chat with Erwin about his inspirations, what he would've done differently with Deathstroke and Checkmate, and potential plans DC comics had for Star Trek comics before they lost the license.

Checkmate! v1 #22 & #25: covers illustrated by Steve Erwin

Reggie Francia: You became a comic fan at a very young age. which comic book made you want to be an artist?

Steve Erwin: Hmm. I don't know that there was ONE, either a single issue or title. I enjoyed comics for years before ever thinking about wanting to draw them, or even to be an artist. My teachers and classmates were my biggest influence to be an artist, actually. In third grade or so, I started getting heaps of praise on my art projects, asked to be the lead creative person on classroom art displays, that kind of thing. So becoming an artist of some kind came first, it's something I always wanted to do.

I think it was a combination of Gene Colan/Tom Palmer's Daredevil and Neal Adams' Batman stories that won my heart in junior high to aspiring (dreaming) to be a comic book artist.

Detective Comics #408 (1971) - Neal Adams cover art

Francia: You're mostly known for your work on Deathstroke the Terminator v1 (1991) and Checkmate v1 (1988), if you had to write those books yourself did you have ideas on where you wanted the story to go? What would be volume two for those books?

Erwin: Literally speaking, back in the day, what I liked best about working on those books was that we went everywhere. Globally. We weren't stuck in any one location, like Gotham City or Metropolis. If I were to write and draw either title, that would remain the same. As far as a direction for story purposes, I don't know that I would write Deathstroke the Terminator any differently than Marv Wolfman did (just not as well). He wrote great stories and gave me a free hand with the action. As far as I'm concerned, he had the hard part of putting Slade into interesting situations to build the stories around.

Deathstroke battling around the world...

Off the cuff, Volume 2 would be Slade Wilson on the run from the DC Universe. Since I haven't read the title in a while, I don't know if this has already occurred, but it seems like a fun idea. Like a Presidential assassination (or attempt), and Deathstroke is blamed. He's forced underground to evade capture and to uncover who is actually to blame. Each issue, he confronts/evades/defeats a different DC hero. Marketing-wise, that could generate a lot of crossovers, too. I would do something like that.

For Checkmate, I would go back to the basics we started with: an off-the-record, under the radar anti-terrorist agency. Paul Kupperberg had a knack for being ahead of the curve, as it turned out. Some of our storylines have an eerie similarity to events post 9/11. And before, come to think of it; the original Twin Towers bombing in the 90's was very similar to our first story uncovering a plot to bring down Sears Tower in Chicago.

To be clear, in real life, I don't think that I would approve of an organization like Checkmate that skirts the Constitution in taking down terrorists, even though I may understand the necessity. Kind of like the Guantanamo Bay controversy of housing prisoners on foreign soil to circumvent Constitutional protections of due process. That aspect alone makes for some interesting questions to build stories around.

The TV series Person Of Interest was very Checkmate-like to me. Especially from Season 2 with the introduction of Sameen Shaw. THAT was Checkmate as I would do it now. (The character Control, played by Camryn Manheim, was the perfect personification of Amanda Waller.)

Francia: Your action sequences are awesome. It's like watching a nice action movie that you can follow the flow... like The Bourne Identity without the shaky cam. Where did you get your inspiration from? Was there a particular artist or from art school?

Steve Erwin-illustrated action sequence

Erwin: Indirectly, it was advice I learned from Jim Steranko at a seminar he taught in Dallas: 'use cinema as your visual basis in comics storytelling'. He was referring broadly, from composition to lighting to storyboarding, or the act of telling the stories visually. I watched action sequences in movies and translated those moves into static panels. Tom Sutton did action sequences in odd-shaped and off-set panels which was very effective in creating the illusion of motion. I studied what he did and tried to analyze the thinking behind it.

The most direct connection would be Frank Miller's Daredevil, especially the "ghosted" multi-figures moving through fight scene panels. Carmine Infantino did it first way back in The Flash in the 60's, but Frank Miller's action was fresher in my mind.

Carmine Infantino's Flash "ghost" multi-figures

Francia: The Dream Book that you could work on today? You did Star Trek already so that's off the table. (ha!)

Erwin: It almost happened with Star Trek at DC. Yes, I got to draw Kirk and company in the movie era and the original series era, as well as The Next Generation cast and a Deep Space Nine story. But what was to come before DC's license went away was so cool - literally The Dream Book for this Trekkie. I was going to pencil the main Star Trek title, which would alternate between original series era and movie era stories, written by science fiction writers known for their Star Trek novels. As I understand it, some stories would be adaptations of the novels. How cool would that have been?

art by Steve Erwin. source:

What would my Dream Book be today? It would be truly different from anything I've done previously. It's something I've been wanting to do for ages but keep procrastinating on how to proceed. It would be an online comics telling of the story of the Texas Revolution.

I've always found it a fascinating story, and the more I read about it the more fascinating it gets. Even little things, like unusual weather patterns, that I have seen repeated over the last decade or so. My approach would be telling the story through the eyes of a group of young people caught up in the events. One of these days.

Francia: Do any of your kids show any interest in becoming an artist like you?

Erwin: Funny you should ask. My daughter is in her last year at UT Arlington as a graphic arts major. She grew up going to conventions and book signings with me, not to mention watching me draw all the time, so the influence was certainly there. She's recently taken a class assignment and turned it into a children's book, self-published on Blurb. It's a "Good Night, Moon" kind of book in feel, but written with quotes from Bob Ross and illustrated with very friendly looking monsters.

Little Book of Monsters - illustrated by Nora Erwin

Francia: Thank you for your time!

Erwin: Thank you for your interest.

*Reggie Francia had previously interviewed Steve Erwin about his work on Checkmate! v1 (1988). Check it out here.

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