Mac on Tokyo: Yanick Paquette
Yanick Paquette is a comic book legend. He began his career in 1994, and his work has graced titles such as JLA, Wonder Woman, Gambit, Ultimate X-Men, Seven Soldiers and Swamp Thing. Mac, Founder and Lead Guide of Maction Planet, spoke to Yanick about the best-selling Wonder Woman Earth One, his experiences working with some of the biggest writers in comics and bringing Batman to Tokyo.
Maction Planet: Hi Yanick. Thanks for joining us on Maction Planet. First of all, congratulations on the success of Wonder Woman Earth One! Before we dive into more Japan-related matters, it would be remiss of me not to talk about that, given that it reunited you with Batman Incorporated co-creator Grant Morrison! How have you viewed the success it has had, and what was it like working with Grant again?
Yanick Paquette: Thanks Mac. It was great to come back to Grant after my little escapade into the Swamp [Thing, with Scott Snyder]. The sheer scope of his ideas are stimulating as an artist. And, with Wonder Woman Earth One being produced unscheduled, it made the whole thing very comfortable to work on. Working on tight monthly deadlines with a genius like Grant can be the sort of special challenge I was happy to dodge on WW:E1.
MP: Having been under some deadlines myself with Maction Planet, I feel your relief! And speaking of the scope of Grant’s ideas, Batman Inc. was one of the biggest! How did you come about being involved in that?
YP: Batman Inc. was the last chapter in Grant’s giant Batman plan. When DC brought me back on an exclusive contract after my Marvel years, they had me draw an episode of The Return of Bruce Wayne, the pirate issue [Issue #3]. To be totally honest I didn’t know Grant Morrison had killed Batman while I was away drawing the X-Men (laughs). The Return of Bruce Wayne bridged the gap between the monthly “Batman and Robin” and Grant final’s monthly series Batman series, Batman Inc. From the start, I made it clear I could only launch the series and sustain it for a handful of issues if I had enough lead time to do so. My graphic language makes a monthly schedule pretty inhuman these days. But launching a new Bat series with Grant was too good an opportunity to pass up.
MP: That graphic language is certainly something that we need to talk about. Before, we return to Batman, I must say it amazed me that Swamp Thing was a monthly book. Some of those pages are so intricate that it scares me to think how long they took to draw. How did you manage to hit schedule!
YP: Swamp Thing was obviously a lot of work. But there’s a lot of organic and very little down to heart background. I used my ruler just a few times during those two years. Also, although I drew every cover, I only did half the interior art of the whole run.
MP: It was a beautiful book for sure, and helped put Swampie back on the map as a character. OK, back to Bats. You agree to launch Batman Inc… when did you first find out that the issues would be set in Tokyo?
YP: Amazingly I never really agreed to do Batman Inc. , I just never opposed it. I remember learning I would launch a new Batman book with Grant over Twitter as people started posting to congratulate me. Grant announced it at San Diego, telling everyone the book would launch in October and I would do the first five issues. In a panic, I took my calculator and looked at my schedule trying to figure out if this was at all possible. From my calculations I needed a script that very summer. Because they needed some visuals right away, I rushed in a generic Batman as a cover. Having no idea what Inc. would be, I just drew Batman in Gotham, the only image of him in Gotham of my entire run on Batman Inc. – as it turned out my contribution was always overseas! By the end of that summer I was still waiting for a script and I knew I was going have a crazy life in the month ahead. But that waiting time allowed me reflect on what could be my larger goal for the book beyond just doing another Batman comic. By then I knew Batman Incorporated would be about having Bruce traveling around the world and meeting his Batman counterparts in other cultures. And I figured the other culture should be the highlight of these stories.
Growing up, It seemed to me that American comics have some trouble with foreign cultures. Maybe because they used to assume that their readership didn’t really mind about the rest of the world and minimal research was not really required. But you could wonder how people from Paris would judge a book where every single panel of their city included the Eiffel Tower and not much of anything else.
In Batman Inc., Bruce would travel, leaving fictional cities like Gotham or Metropolis and enter the real world. This was a good opportunity to give the rest of earth some respect: each issue would be about a culture, guest starring Batman.
MP: This was absolutely one of the things that impressed me most about reading Batman Inc. 1 and 2. As a Tokyo resident, it was so refreshing that not every shot was in front of a samurai castle, or some insane neon that had no meaning in real life! Almost every shot really could have happened! It goes without saying that the research to get this level of accuracy takes a long time, no?
YP: When I started comics, over two decade ago, finding reference material was hard. I remember roaming Montreal’s used book stores and buying anything that might potentially be useful one day. A catalogue on grandfather clocks, encyclopedias of medieval armour and machinery, birds of Indonesia, anything. Still, on my first DC job I had to draw some L.A streetcars and it took me 2 days at the library the find the right picture. Maybe that is why I’m having so much fun researching things today. There is no excuse, it’s so easy. I scooted the streets of Tokyo with Google StreetView to find the perfect neighborhood for my scenes and get the feel of the place. I used Google Earth to figure out the action of a car jumping from a train rail to crash into the Museum of Maritime History. I use a web-based translation tool to get my written Japanese stuff down and asked bilingual Facebook friends to double check my lettering. Kids these days don’t know how easy they have it.
MP: I have heard you say before that your page rate on WW:E1 was 5 pages a month. Was that similarly a function of the research you were doing? Or is there also some thinking that “The shelf life of the work is longer now than it used to be, better make sure it stands the test of time”?
YP: Yeah, there was a lot of self-imposed pressure drawing that book. Earth One is the extra-deluxe format of comics at DC, it’s a Morrison thing and I just knew a lot of people would be thoroughly dissecting the piece and passing judgement. I think Wonder Woman is particularly tricky in that regard as she is more than just a fictional character franchise of a corporation: she now stands as a symbol of feminism and womanhood in general, making drawing her more daring than the other characters (especially in the current internet atmosphere). But honestly, the major factor to this slow production speed was the lack of formal deadlines. I’m like a pet turtle that will grow to the full capacity of its terrarium. I’ll take as much time to do stuff as I’m being given to do it. Mac, you can surely see the obvious challenge of drawing a book with high expectations and INFINITE amount of time to do it. 😉
MP: Ha! I certainly can. Sometime you just have to let it go, but for us perfectionists that can be difficult!
Did you go back and look at the Jiro Kuwata manga Batman?
YP: I did check it out. It’s actually not that easy to find (maybe it is now though, I think maybe someone might have done a reprint). I had only a handful of pages, but Lord Deadman is straight out of there.
MP: How did drawing Batman Inc. compare to Bulleteer which you also collaborated with Morrison on?
YP: By the time I was drawing Batman with Grant I knew what to expect. But the first time, on Seven Soldiers, I felt a bit insecure. My gig before it was Terra Obscura [TO] which I did with Alan Moore and Peter Hogan. TO scripts were hundreds of pages long (for a 24 page comic). They were clear and left no doubt about what to do, yet very open to personal liberties, offering multiple variations for panels and encouragement to come up with my own versions. After 2 years of this, a Grant script landed as a shock in my inbox. A 12-page document with no dialogue and a lot of stuff left for me to figure out. I remember initially thinking the file might be corrupt or in a incompatible format ;-). I approached it as a bit of a puzzle to solve and nervously came up with a rendition and Grant liked it.
MP: Were there further plans for Batman Inc. and you that we ended up not seeing?
YP: Not really. In fact, If you can get your hands on the Absolute Edition of Batman Inc., [Chris] Burnham and I even get to redraw the few pages we had to let go to fill-ins guys originally. Chris even redrew the pre-New 52 costume on his New 52 Batman Inc. part for the sake of continuity.
MP: What was your favourite single panel to draw in Batman Inc? And let me extend that – what has been your favourite panel to draw in your entire career?
YP: Hard to say, In Inc there were a few outrageous things, like that time Catwoman had to fight a giant squid in a flooded apartment in a building in Tokyo. I guess that’s the closest to Hentai I ventured 😀
Career wise, it’s probably one of the extravagant New 52 Swamp Thing pages I drew.
MP: Does you have freedom to draw what you feel is right for the sequences, or do you have to adhere to certain things from the writer(s)? I assume it differs from writer to writer?
YP: I don’t think I would be too happy with a very controlling writer nowadays. Part of my fun is to come up with layout and panel board storytelling strategies. I need the freedom to do so and it’s a given in my work relationship. I fact I think the writers that work with me now are looking for such contribution.
MP: Did DC editorial make you change anything for any reason before it saw print? For example, because it might have been construed as culturally insensitive in the US?
YP: I’m pretty good now at avoiding trouble. But in recent years, I got to revisit the layout of a Wonder Woman and Superman shower scene. I was just drawing layout, for Marco Santucci to draw, but I guess I slightly overestimated the american publisher’s tolerance for nudity.
MP: Let’s talk about the commission you did for me. In public I would like to apologise for choosing the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building as my background. Sadly for you, it is my favourite building in the world!
YP: Haha, no worries. I always love to draw buildings and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s one is a very pretty one!
MP: The amazing thing is, you’ve never been to Tokyo, have you?
YP: Not yet, which is unacceptable! I’ll need to find a way to get there, for fun but also to meet the Japanese comic fans. Of all the two dozen or so Wonder Woman Earth One foreign editions I’ve seen, the Japanese one is by far the best!
MP: Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?
YP: I’m still doing a bunch of covers for DC, but the main course is Wonder Woman Earth One Vol 2 and Vol 3 .
MP: What would be your dream characters to work on?
YP: I don’t know. I’m much more attracted to writers than fictional characters.
MP: Thank you so much for joining us Yanick. Your insights have added so much value – time for a re-read of Batman Inc. Any final words for the fans out there?
YP: As I get to travel more and further for conventions I’m always surprised and deeply moved by the enthusiasm of my fans. I mean, my job is a lonely affair, working like a hermit in my dimly-lit little Montreal studio, trying to please myself with my own art. But then to find out that fans on the other side of the globe enjoy, follow and support my efforts is a humbling and wonderful feeling. They are the best.
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