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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mark Belkin interviews Doom Patrol illustrator Richard Case

I can safely say that the Grant Morrison and Richard Case's run on Doom Patrol is my favorite run of comic books of the 1980s. The first issue was as good as hearing my first Cure song. Being introduced to the Brotherhood of Dada was like my first Sisters of Mercy album and the interplay between Cliff, Crazy Jane and Rebis was like listening to the second side of DM101. It’s sad I don’t see these characters today, but they will always be there in that psychedelic, wild, British Invasion, lysergic acid diethylamide made into comic book form. I could probably write a book about the run, so I felt very fortunate that Richard Case spoke to me about his life, and his time on Doom Patrol. -Mark

Mark Belkin: I want to thank Richard Case for joining DC in the 80s for this interview.

Richard Case: You're very welcome, thanks for inviting me.

Belkin: I’m working on a Grant Morrison-era Doom Patrol article, and wanted to start by talking about your run — from issue Doom Patrol v2 #19 (1989) until... when did your Doom Patrol v2 run end?

Case: I worked until Doom Patrol v2 #66 (1993) — which was 3 issues past Grant Morrison's last issue. His last issue was #63. So I did the first 3 of the actual Vertigo issues, which started with #64 which was written by Rachel Pollack. I stuck around long enough to bridge the gap from the regular series into Vertigo.

Doom Patrol v2 #19 and #66: both covers illustrated by Richard Case

Belkin: Doom Patrol was one of your first comic book runs.

Case: Yeah, it was the second thing I did after working on Dr Strange for Marvel. It was for 1988's Strange Tales, originally. Strange Tales was split between Dr Strange and Cloak and Dagger at the time. This ultimately led to me penciling the first four issues of 1988's Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme (also by Marvel). I was living up north, and decided to move to North Carolina in the meantime, and figured before I moved away from New York (where all the publishing houses were) it wouldn't hurt to shake some hands over at DC and show my work around. As a freelancer, you'd want to be able to do that. I did NOT expect, y'know,  two weeks after moving to North Carolina for them to try to contact me and basically offer me something — which turned out to be Doom Patrol. I was a little reluctant at first, I really liked Doctor Strange, but as soon as I saw Grant's proposal for what he had planned — that was a no-brainer — I could tell right away that this was going to be an AMAZING book to work on.

Richard Case pencils from Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #2 (1988)

Belkin: Do you remember what initially sparked you in Grant's proposal and made you feel that this a book you'd be excited to work on?

Case: It was a number of factors. Already you could tell that he was going to play up the 'weirdness' of those characters. At that point, the book [Doom Patrol] had kinda started to feel like a "poor man's X-Men". Honestly. [Marvel's] X-Men, at the time, was kinda like the 'sexy' characters, and they [the then-Doom Patrol creative team] were trying to really 'sexy it up', at least that was kinda my feel to it. I think Grant said it best in the proposal: "These are heroes that, if they were sitting on the subway, you would NOT want to sit next to them. They're the weird characters who are just a little upsetting/off-putting somehow." So there was that element — which seemed very interesting to me — the whole weird/surrealistic stuff he was going to play in.

He'd even had already mentioned the Brotherhood of Dada as an upcoming storyline, Coming right out of art school, that sounded really cool to me that I'd get to play around with that kind of stuff. The psychological element — introducing a character like Crazy Jane, introducing the element to Rebis of the Negative Man and... we tried to actually get Negative Woman to be the other being that was fused, but for whatever reason, they didn't let us do that - so that's when he introduced Dr. Eleanor Poole who ended up fusing with Larry Trainor to become Rebis.

Those elements. It wasn't JUST big fight scenes, there was also that 'psychological element' thing I thought was going to be really interesting and fun to draw.

Belkin: What other themes, when first seeing the early scripts and going into the The Painting That Ate Paris, what kind of things were you seeing that you were excited to draw?

Case: A number of things. Even architecturally, Grant kept challenging me with things like the Scissormen storyline where we end up in all this Gothic architecture (cathedrals and etc). Red Jack's temple/house was very much modeled after Versailles — we put a lot emphasis in the chandeliers and water fountains in there. That was a fun challenge, it wasn't always fun - perspective-wise,... but it was a helluva lot to fit in, especially for a monthly book.

Doom Patrol v2 #23 (1989)

Belkin: Walt Simonson just stopped by to say hello so we had to stop the interview for a minute.

Case: Just to backtrack a little, before I was doing comics, I interned for Walt Simonson. While still in school, I did an internship with him. That definitely helped open some doors and even got me in at Marvel in the first place. I interned with him for a few months, and then after I graduated I was his assistant for a little while. He still had a studio in New York (Upstart Studios), at the time, there were several other artists there as well; so I assisted Jim Sherman a bit with some coloring work and I met Elaine Lee there. That was a good to "get my feet wet" in a few different ways. My first actual comics credit is for helping color an issue James penciled, and Elaine did half the colors and brought me over to help color the other half the issue. I was totally surprised to see my name in the credits, because, it's like "who am I?" (laughs) That was really part of my way in.

Belkin: At the time, Grant Morrison was known for his surreal, almost psychedelic, work. When you received the scripts did you have to change anything mentally? Get into a sort of 'mental place' when you had to draw them?

Case: I kind of feel like I was already 'there'. That was, again, part of what attracted me to the project. I grew up on super-hero comics — to me it wasn't as fun to draw 'straight-forward' super-hero stuff. The fact that they were having 'challenges' — that weren't just straight-forward fisticuffs and big explosions and stuff — that was all very interesting to me. Coming up with different ways to visualize some of that, is really what it was. Even the symbolism kinda stuff that we started delving into — he would give me a good idea of where to take that so I kinda understood where he was coming from with that. I would do a lot of my own research. Often when I got a script, (this of course was before there was an internet) to do any of the reference gathering, I would plan on spending the day (or at least half a day) down at a library at the local university just looking up all of these references that he would put into a script. To me, that was actually a fun part of the puzzle — it was interesting reading and following up on "where is he coming from with some this stuff?". I found that interesting.

Doom Patrol #38 (1990)

Belkin: Earlier I spoke with John Workman. and he said he would get your pencils and there was one with a girl sitting and he said he felt that he didn't even want it inked since it was such an amazing image on it's own. Do you remember that story? It might've been Alice? Do you remember that at all?

Case: No, I don't.

Belkin: I’ll have to try to find that panel with John Workman in the future. Did you have a lot to contribute to the Brotherhood of Dada (as far as the look and etc)?

Doom Patrol v2 #26 (1989)

Case: Those characters Grant definitely did sketches for — he's actually a pretty decent artist himself. He had a pretty good idea as to the general look — like some of the details... I'm thinking like Mr Nobody himself... he kind of envisioned him. He was a little blockier, I kind of gave some extra life into him, I definitely gave him a lot more animation. I figured "there's a chance for a character to be very animated". But even details on a character like Sleepwalk — where it worked out the silhouette profiles for the eyes, the little beds on the shoulder pads, pajama pants, the big boots — that was all him. So yeah, he designed those characters, I just had fun drawing them. For some of the detail work of some of those, I was looking at — there was a French fashion designer named Jean-Paul Gaultier...
Belkin: Sure, Gaultier, yeah. The pointy bras. Madonna...

Jean Paul Gaultier concept art + Madonna. source unknown

Case: At that time, he did — in The Face magazine (which was a British magazine) — he did his own version of super-heroes. I borrowed a little bit of some elements of that. His work was really fascinating — it was totally avant-garde to cutting edge kind of stuff. It really felt right for some of those kinds of characters. Funnily enough, a few years later, he did the designs for The Fifth Element. I could see a lot of that, and it totally felt of the same universe of where we coming from for the designs we were coming up for some of our characters.

Belkin: In the run of issues, like the Painting that Ate Paris, were you incorporating different art movements or ideas into comic book form?

Case: Absolutely, yeah. And that was very much the area where I felt like... y'know, trying to take Futurism and Constructivism, and then figure out how to draw that as comic book pages, and still have a fight scene falling through it the whole way was a very interesting challenge. Some of them I think came out okay, others like Fauvism didn't really — some of the ones that were very much just color-on-color, that was hard to figure out how to translate that - because I'm just responsible for the black and white art. I did leave a lot of notes for Danny Vozzo who was coloring it. Especially back then, the computer coloring was still new and fairly limited. It was a little better than just standard four color, but there was only so much we could do to get that across. Some of those, I feel didn't work as well, but it was definitely a fun challenge to try it out. Yeah, that whole experience was great.

Doom Patrol v2 #29 (1990)

Belkin: Were there any difficulties working with Grant at the time? Were there at times where you would get something and have no idea what's going on?

Case: There was a couple times I'd call him because, again, pre-Internet and no e-mail. Some questions I'd convey to my editor to try to get an answer, other times I needed an answer a little more directly so I'd give him a call. Back then he didn't even have his own phone — it was just a hallway phone. So I'd call over there, somebody would answer it, and I'd hear them go walk away and then a couple minutes later Grant would show up at the phone. Of course I'm paying 1987 international phone rates this entire time. Plus, he has a fairly thick Scottish accent, so it was a little tough — he's trying to talk me through it and it was a little hard to understand. Yeah, so there was those natural kind of difficulties. (laughs)

But honestly, he knew he was throwing a lot of 'out there' concepts in there. For the most part, he described them very well in his scripts — enough for me to be able to draw it. Those times were not all that often and I honestly can't even remember any of the specific things I called to ask about, at this point. It was a long time ago.

Belkin: Was Danny the Street one of them?

Case: Danny was pretty well-defined, because Danny was the thought-child of Brendan McCarthy and Grant. I think Brendan had even done some sketches of Danny — I did a lot translating to flesh it out to a full street - I actually modeled a lot of the shops on Danny from local shops in small towns that I either lived in or lived next to in North Carolina. I live in a town called Hillsborough, it's very close to Chapel Hill, but it is a small little town with a Main Street. There's even little elements — there was a 'weigh yourself'' machine in there...just an obscure little thing... right next to a bank. I slipped that in there at some point. Even the shape of the lamps are based on that — except I just curlicued them and stuff like that. The basic framework of it all came from real life. The movie theater came from a town only a couple of towns away that was an old-fashioned movie theater. I was like "that looks perfect" and just modified it some, but the basic look of it was already there.

Belkin: Did you enjoy drawing Robotman — who was consistent but maybe with metal parts — or Crazy Jane who was almost always a new character? Was that a lot of fun?

Case: Oh yeah, she was great fun to draw just because of that. With every personality I'd try to get that across — and some of them were fairly nuanced. Obviously there's the ones like Black Annis or Flaming Katy where she completely transforms herself, but other ones, it's just almost the way she looks at you and to try and get that across in just the way I shaped her eyebrow or curled her upper lip or something like that. I'd even do little things where I drew the hair slightly different if she's flipping back and forth. That was obviously a lot of fun.

And Cliff is such a plucky character — a fun character to draw. I always especially liked drawing him if he got punched in the mouth and his jaw was kinda hanging off a hinge.         

Doom Patrol #46 (1991) - Crazy Jane, Robotman/Cliff Steele and Danny the Street

Belkin: At the time, was there a huge "oh my god, this is kind of big" thing going on? Like the reactions at comic conventions? Were you guys reaching rock star status?

Case: We definitely hit that 'cult status' at that time. By then, I was doing San Diego every year. Grant did at least a number of those shows every year. We'd do group signings and have a pretty good line, I still have friends that I met — that I met at one of those shows and we'd became friends over time — kinda stuff. It was never a HUGE seller, but it definitely had that element where it felt like we were getting recognized a lot. I know in some of the British fanzines they'd even have a list of the most popular or best titles over there and Doom Patrol v2 was in their 'top ten' almost consistently at the time. So that was cool.

Belkin: Now, John Workman said that there were some changes in the art early on, and that somebody else changed the way your drawings came out. Did you ever find the finishes changed from your original vision?

Case: Yeah, and I wasn't always happy with the inks. I was VERY happy with Scott Hanna's inks from issue #20 to #24, but he moved on to another project, and we got John Nyberg — who is a much 'brushier' inker. I didn't feel like our stuff really gelled at first all that well. But I started going a bit bolder with my line — and we balanced it out a little bit — so by the end of his run I was definitely happier with the results we were getting. But, yeah, we did eventually get to a point where I started trying out a little bit, and I did ink little bits and pieces here and there, whole sections at points, and then the very last issue that the two of us [Morrison and Case] worked on, I inked it all myself. I was like "Ah! I finally got my chance to ink a whole issue!" — of course I would ink it completely different these days. Evolution as an artist right there for you.

Belkin: And then you went on to [Neil Gaiman's] Sandman, and now you do animation...

Case: Actually, I do concept art for video games. That's the field I'm in now. I'm doing a lot of environmental stuff and some character work. I still dabble in comics. Annie Ammo. Slowly writing that and drawing it. But since I'm doing it all myself on the side of doing a day job, it goes very slowly. Once I have a block of it done, then I'll actually release some more of it. We had a website — a web release-type comic for a while — and I contributed little small stories. The main story is still yet unseen.

Belkin: We'll watch out for that. Thanks for joining us today, Richard.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. Now I'm off to reread the entire run again! Damn you! 😂