Comic Culture: Darryl Banks
Artist Darryl Banks about his influential run on Green Lantern, how design plays a major role in his art, and what makes a good story.
- Hello, and welcome to Comic Culture.
I'm Terence Dollard, a professor in the Department
of Mass Communication at the University
of North Carolina at Pembroke.
My guest today is artist Darryl Banks.
Darryl worked for DC Comics in the 1990s
on a series called Green Lantern.
Darryl, welcome to Comic Culture.
- Hello, everyone.
Thanks for having me, Terence.
- So we talked about Green Lantern,
and you worked on the comic at a time
when the industry was reaching new heights,
both creatively and marketing-wise,
and I'm holding up the Green Lantern character
that you designed.
When you took over the series, it was a transition time
between Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern
that most of us grew up with, with Kyle Rayner,
a character that you and John Mars worked and created.
So can you tell us a little bit about that time,
and how you got the gig?
- Oh, well, that'd be my pleasure.
We've got to think in terms of, this was the mid '90s,
it was the era of the gimmick.
We had, Image Comics was on the rise,
you had foil covers and holograms
and all types of bells and whistles.
And it was a time where change was literally in the air,
and so it was an idea to add some added life
to the Green Lantern franchise.
What had happened was, the death of Superman
really breathed a lot of life and lot of title
only on a limited basis, but the powers that be
wanted to find a way that, how could they increase sales,
and keep them, and keep them rising.
So, they came up with an idea to do some radical changes,
and to make sure that the fans could connect,
so that it wasn't just a gimmick,
and I feel that we accomplished that,
because it's a pleasure to know that Kyle Rayner
is still in the Green Lantern scene
even to this day here in 2016.
- And, it's interesting, you talk about the foil coverage,
you talk about the gimmicks, but beyond that,
DC was really putting out some fun books,
I mean, I remember going to my local comic shop,
Fourth World Comic, Smithtown, New York,
if they wanna send me free swag, they can,
but I remember going there every week,
and I'd buy my stack of comics,
and Green Lantern was on my list,
and you took over the book at a time when
it had just, there was just this big crossover
with The Return of Superman,
which everyone was talking about,
sales of that book were through the roof,
and then you, a relatively unknown artist, take over,
so that's gotta be somewhat daunting.
- Absolutely, very much so.
The thing is, I had just started with the company,
just months before, doing fill-in work
with Legion of Superheroes, and in the back of my head,
I wanted to draw Green Lantern,
but I thought I'd have to be at the company a couple years
to really prove myself in order to get that opportunity.
And so I would mention this to my,
I believe the editor on The Legion of Superheroes,
and I guess word got back to the Green Lantern office
that it was something that I was interested in doing,
and one thing led to another,
and when you mention the daunting task,
it certainly was, it certainly was,
to be able to do something that,
hopefully had lasting effect,
and also, to be something just fun,
I just think about the comics I grew up on,
and being able to participate in something
that people could remember and enjoy.
- Before we dive back into Green Lantern,
what were some of the comics that you were reading,
or who were the artists who inspired you?
- Well, growing up, I was actually more of
a Marvel fan growing up.
I mean, there was some DC work there, but,
as far as artistic influences,
when I was younger, especially,
let's say in elementary school,
and a huge fan of John Romita Sr.,
I grew up on his work on Spider-Man,
and Daredevil, and things of that nature.
And he remains an influence to this day.
Then there are artists such as Alan Davis,
his work is a huge influence on my work.
And George Perez, and his attention to detail,
and a sense of, I wanna say epic scope,
when I think of George Perez's work,
I think of something really important is going on,
and he's the person that you want to have participate.
- He does have a knack for making
even the most mundane scene
seem as dramatic as the death of a superhero,
so that's a great talent, and I guess
when you look at those artists that you're mentioning,
they do have a variety of different styles,
and they certainly differ from yours,
so as a creator, it's interesting to hear
what the influences are, and how that sort of gels
into what you do.
You got to work with a legendary inker
when you were on Green Lantern, so again,
it's your first big shot in the big leagues,
on a big character, big tie-in,
and you're paired up with Terry Austin.
How does that come about?
- Well, and also, I have to mention
that I got a chance to work with Romeo Tanghal also,
whose work with George Perez on Teen Titans
was certainly monumental.
It was also an honor to work with him as well,
but with Terry, I remember even when I was younger,
and wow, in middle school,
during the John Byrne, Austin, Claremont run on X-Men,
I would see Terry's work, and it was just so different
from the other inkers that were his contemporaries,
and they were certainly great, but there was just something
about his work that was always fascinating.
And, to be able to, well,
I remember it was a Saturday morning,
and Ron Marz had told me he had a surprise for me,
and it was coming by way of FedEx,
and what it was, it was a short story
in the Green Lantern Corps Quarterly,
that that was the first time Terry had inked
some of our pencil, but they kept it quiet,
they didn't tell me who was inking it,
but they said I would like who it was,
and I remember opening up the FedEx envelope
and trying to keep from passing out,
it's kinda like, no way, no way, you know.
That was fantastic, fantastic.
- I wanna talk about the design of the characters,
but I do wanna touch on the role of an inker.
A lot of people, thanks to Kevin Smith,
think of the inker as the tracer.
And, the amazing thing is you talk about Romeo Tanghal
and you talk about Terry Austin,
but they've got completely different styles,
and they bring different things to your pencils,
so as a penciler, when you're working on something,
your layouts, your full pencils,
and you see the ink at work,
how does that add to what you've done?
- Fortunately, artists such as Romeo and Terry,
they're artists in their own right,
they're not simply waiting for the next inking gig,
they can do full-blown illustrations on their own,
so they're bringing not just inking per se,
but they're bringing illustration,
and their own fiber, you could say, to the work,
and it's unique in their own way,
but like I said, working with Terry,
for years and years, buying,
again, some of my most favorite comics
that he had something to do with,
being able to work with him,
to this day, it's still something that I consider
just an amazing thing to be able to look back and reflect.
And I'm still in contact with Terry,
'cause he's a toy maniac, just like I am,
so we're still in contact, even to this day, but,
I've worked with many talented inkers over the years
throughout my career, I'm very fortunate
to be able to say that.
But, really with Terry, I think if there was
a Mount Rushmore for inkers, he would certainly be on there.
And so, it's an honor, a privilege, and all those things.
- So, let's talk about the design of the Green Lantern
uniform that you designed for Kyle Rayner.
This is a time when, I guess DC's trying to say,
"Well, we've got John Stewart, we have Hal Jordan,
"we have Guy Gardner, we have all of these
"other space actors, so everyone sort of
"has the same powers, let's kinda make this
"a more unique character,"
so he's now the last Green Lantern,
and you, from what I understand,
designed the costume entirely yourself,
and again, I'll hold it up for those at home who,
they wanna find this on eBay, I'm sure they could,
but you designed the costume,
and the mask, which we talked about in Charlotte.
So when you were designing it, just what were your thoughts?
- Well, the Kyle Rayner costume was a little bit different
than when I designed Parallax.
Parallax, the only difference that we made was,
originally, he was gonna have the Green Lantern symbol
on his chest, and they said,
"Well, it would make sense that we remove that,"
and then later on, we added the cape,
but with Kyle, he's the sum total
of many different designs I submitted,
and they chose aspects of various designs,
and combined it together, like,
"We like the mask from this one,
"the boots from that one, the symbol from that one,
"And the bodysuit from that one,"
and then I resubmitted it with all those elements
condensed into one design.
As far as the mask, which is in some circles
considered controversial, as I understand,
they call it the crab mask, or something of that nature,
I was greatly influenced by the '70s version
of Marvel's character Sunfire,
he's a Japanese mutant superhero,
and there was just something about the mask,
which to this day, I can't exactly explain why I like it.
Have you ever looked at something and go,
"I like it, but I don't know what."
Well, I've always felt that about Sunfire's design,
there's something about, his mask was so different,
especially considering it was in the '70s,
and I thought, I wanna design something
that harkens to that.
I think, something about the, the undefined nose area,
I wish I could be more specific,
but yeah, it was there with that unique mask.
And also, it being the '90s, armor was the order of the day.
Everybody was armored, I think, I don't know,
Captain America was probably totally armored
at one point in time, so having a Green Lantern have armor
actually made sense, as an added layer of protection,
they not only dealt with ranged attacks,
but once in a while, would get into hand-to-hand combat,
so it just made sense for him to have
that added measure of protection,
so I wanted to incorporate that into his design.
- And at that time, you did have one of the,
speaking of design, the run is where,
how Jordan sort of has a meltdown, and decides to destroy,
essentially, the Green Lantern Corps,
and your covers from that run are iconic,
I mean, there's the one where we have Hal Jordan
with his hands up, with all the rings
and the maniacal look on his face,
there's the one where we see Kyle
kind of bursting out of the lantern,
so when it comes to covers, is that another thing
where it's sort of by committee, or is it just something
where you're just sketching, and they're getting it back
and saying, "Let's go with it."
- Yeah, actually, covers fall in a different category
than interiors that, there is, obviously the editor
of the book, but there was also a cover editor,
so I had to work with two editors when it came to covers,
and I think it's just very interesting,
and very flattering that to this day,
people really remember the issue 49,
with Hal with all the rings.
I just remember the instructions were pretty simple, it was,
we're gonna show Hal in a light that people aren't used to,
that he's borderline insane, and how can we depict this,
and by the way, it has to be very striking from a distance.
I remember that instruction very clearly,
it was something that, if you saw it
when you walk into your comic shop
and you see a wall of comics,
the goal was, you had to have an image
that was simple and striking
with a sense of immediacy to it.
And so I thought, okay, well, how's this?
And yeah, I submitted some loose sketches.
I think maybe the original sketch,
we were pulled back a little bit,
and I think they said, "Well, let's just zoom in
"just a little bit more."
And then the rest was history.
- It's interesting, I spoke with Jim Steranko
at DragonCon in Atlanta, and he was talking about
his black and white cover with Nick Fury,
Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and how Stan Lee
was telling him that he wanted color,
and he wanted it to be bright, and his explanation was,
"Well, all of the other covers are colorful,
"let's do a black and white one
"and that'll stand out from the newsstands,"
so I guess it kinda goes to that iconic image now
of Hal Jordan. - Right, right.
- So, what was the backlash like?
I mean, you take a character who is beloved in the world
of comics that eventually Ryan Reynolds would ruin,
I mean, portray in the film.
So what was the backlash at the time,
where you got this new Green Lantern,
and DC's all in at this point,
that there's no, even thought,
like there was when Superman was killed,
that he wasn't coming back, but with Green Lantern,
it seemed like, this is pretty definitive,
at least for the time being.
- I remember, the most backlash, believe it or not,
was not introducing Kyle,
to a degree, it was Hal becoming Parallax,
but really, when a lot of the letters came in,
was the death of Alex, Kyle Rayner's girlfriend,
and the whole refrigerator controversy.
And there might still be some fans out there
that may not be aware of this,
but that scene played out a little bit different
than how I originally had drawn it.
Yes, she was certainly dead,
but when I first had drawn it,
the refrigerator door was actually open,
and yes, she was dead, but all the shelves had been smashed
and her body was intact in there.
Well, somebody somewhere thought,
"Oh, we can't show that, so let's censor it,"
and so they had a door added,
I don't remember if I drew that
or someone in production did,
so it looks like the door was mainly closed,
and you could only see partially in there,
and of course, most people think,
"Well, who can fit a body in the refrigerator?"
So simply put, it looks like she's chopped up
and not intact, so that made it more,
an attempt to censor it, it made it more horrific,
and so I think a scene that probably
would've been forgotten, just maybe months later,
is now still a topic of conversation even to this day,
because of a simple, let's say, mistake in censorship,
but yeah, that was a thing where
there was a lot of letters, and I found it surprising,
because Alex was not an established character,
she didn't have a lot of history,
really, to be honest, Kyle Rayner was really
heavily influenced by Peter Parker,
I don't know if the intent was obvious, but he simply was,
and so, Alex was Uncle Ben.
It was just like Uncle Ben really showed Peter Parker,
"I better take this seriously,
"great power, great responsibility, et cetera,"
well, that was Alex's role for Kyle,
to go from, oh, he's just a fun-loving California kid
just having fun with this ring,
to, "Okay, I've got to really be responsible
"with this newfound ability that I have."
- It is interesting, because we still hear
about girlfriends and refrigerators as the trope,
and I think-- - Right!
- Has written about it quite a bit.
It's interesting too, when we see what's happening now
with Chelsea Cain, and her Twitter controversy,
that there's still this issue
of the role of women in comics,
and people look at it in such a negative light,
but I guess that's a topic for another time.
So, we have this character who's now
stepping into being Green Lantern,
and the story, I guess, it was Major Force,
was that the character? - Yes, that killed her, yes.
That killed Alex. - And now we see
a more serious approach to Kyle,
and yet, the book itself still remained fun,
even though there was this tragedy.
And this was a death that, unlike a lot of comic deaths,
seemed to stick.
And was that something that was sort of set in stone,
like, without this motivation, the character falls apart?
- I don't think there was necessarily a rule put in place.
A lot of things with Kyle Rayner was,
we wanted to breathe new life
into the Green Lantern franchise.
I mean, let's be honest, for a while there,
as well as Hal Jordan was developed as a character,
the fans weren't connecting for some reason.
I like to think of it this way.
Kyle Rayner is you and I, an average person,
an ordinary person that could come into
all this great cosmic ability.
Hal Jordan is the character you want to be.
He's the fearless, like the astronaut, the test pilot,
the Chuck Yeagar of superheroes,
he's like a Captain America,
he's someone that you look up to,
but that's not you.
You admire, you venerate, but that's not you,
and I think with Kyle, it feels like,
we wanted to give the feeling of,
if you had the Power Ring, what would you do with it,
what would that be like, how would your life be affected?
And I think that's part of the charm, and also,
we wanted Kyle to feel like a comic fan,
when you see pictures of his apartment,
he's got books and toys on the shelves, that sort of thing,
and, also him being an artist.
A lot of people think that was my idea,
actually, it wasn't.
It was one of those things that was presented to me,
and of course, I love the concept,
but no, actually, that wasn't my idea.
And it was great working with Ron, who is a writer,
but he thinks very artistically, he thinks very visually,
and I think that's why we made a really good team,
and I think that helped add to the longevity of Kyle Rayner.
- So, speaking of Ron, when the two of you
are working together, is this something where you've got,
you're on the phone, you're talking about
what the story's going to be like,
is it something where he's presenting with the full script,
or is this something where, you go into the DC offices,
and the editor's there, and you just sort of
talk about what the next year's gonna be like,
and he gives you an outline, and you just go from there?
- Ron and I, we were at the time,
we would bounce ideas a lot, and actually,
it was a thing where, he didn't have to.
I mean, the general rule of thumb is,
the writer writes it, and the editor approves it,
and the artist gets the fax, or the FedEx package,
and draws it.
But Ron was curious what I thought about certain things,
because he knew that, if I could get excited
about a particular concept, I would put that added measure
to whatever I was drawing, which of course
would make the story seem better.
And of course, it helped him look even better also!
So that was a very, very strong symbiotic relationship
that we have, and it kinda spoiled me,
because it was very unique,
I mean, it was very unusual for me to work
with writers that really want my input.
I had that working with the writer Mark Ellis,
all various comic projects in the early part of my career,
but with Ron, I think also it helps that
he knows a lot of artists, as well as other writers,
but when he's around people like Bernie Wrightson,
Jim Starlin, and people like that,
it's gonna influence how he writes, because he's thinking,
"I'm gonna write this, but how's this going to look?"
And I really appreciate it, and I thought that
we brought the best out of each other,
during our run on the title.
- It's also interesting, I was just thinking about
the fact that you had a, I guess Kyle's biggest nemesis
was Fatality. - I was thinking,
once again, just like we were inspired by Spider-Man,
Fatality was greatly inspired by the character of Angela.
The editor was thinking, "Well, Spawn has Angela,
"Green Lantern could use a Green Lantern hunter," so,
actually, they left her creation more up to me
and Ron fledged her out.
I thought, well, we haven't had a character quite like her,
can I play around with the design?
I want it to be a black character,
because I couldn't think of too many black female
super villains, as a matter of fact,
at the time, I couldn't think of any,
and she has the history with John Stewart,
and they loved the idea.
I remember, the only design change I had to make
was her ears had to be pointed,
because the aliens from planet Xanshi had pointed ears,
which I had forgotten, so,
the design was pretty much straightforward.
And that was a character that I felt,
well, actually as I understand it,
she became a Star Sapphire, I believe, in more modern times,
but it's good that that character also has
a little bit of a following as well.
- It is interesting, when a character,
a male character has a female antagonist,
because normally, it's Superman and Lex Luthor,
Batman and the Joker, and if it's a female character,
immediately, she must be the unrequited love interest
or something like that, so it was nice to see
that there was a little bit of progress on that end as well,
to see a new approach, and to keep it
a new and fresh approach.
Now, in recent years, I guess you've been doing
a lot of teaching, from what I understand,
you've been working teaching cartooning illustration?
- Yeah, actually, no, currently,
I'm more of a concept artist, commercial illustration.
I did teach, I taught from 1994 to about 1998
at the Columbus College of Art and Design,
which is the school that I graduated from.
I taught illustration, and I created a comic book class,
and the comic book course actually still exists to this day,
taught by a good friend of mine, Echo Smith.
The class, even though it was a comic class,
but I didn't stress superheroes
or anything of that nature,
it was more like I wanted to show
the comic storytelling process
that can be applied to a variety of genres.
- It's interesting that you say that,
I've been reading a lot of the DC Star Trek comics
in recent days, I came across a box at a secondhand store,
and they are, unlike a superhero comic,
where there's action action, it's more cerebral,
so you've got page after page of people sitting down
and chatting, so it's interesting
that you can use the same medium
and tell all these different stories and stuff
and be engaging and fascinating.
And what is it today that you would be reading,
if you went to the local comic shop?
I don't collect nearly as much as I used to,
sometimes I like to check in on artists I really like
more than stories, because I just did the,
I don't know, I used to be big into video games,
and yeah, I'd be at the comic shop once a week,
and I have done neither, just with my work schedule
and my family and all that sort of thing,
but online, I'll read some Japanese manga here and there,
there's one character by the name of One Punch Man,
I kinda enjoy that, and even that,
there's many chapters I haven't caught up on,
but when I get that extra time,
I'll be able to do these type of things.
But there's a lot of characters
that are coming around today,
even in American comics that I think are very interesting,
and I think the movies, and the television
are really helping things as well.
Big fan of The Flash TV show, by the way.
- Big fan of Supergirl myself, I really like how they,
how DC seems to be, basically that's the only reason
why The CW is still on the air.
- They saved it. - They did!
Now, you created the visual look of Parallax.
- Yes, and the name also. - And the name, and so,
as the creator of this persona,
when you see the character change so that they can,
I guess, keep the name and keep the concept alive,
but change the, I guess in the movie
they sorta made it seem like it was a spirit
that would inhabit people.
When you see your work up on the big screen
but it's not quite your work,
how does that make you feel as the creator,
seeing that people are kind of taking
what you left and tinkering with it?
- Ron Marz had said it best, he said,
when you're doing work for a company like DC
or Marvel Comics, you gotta think of it like,
not so much like owning a car but leasing it,
you've gotta give it back because it doesn't belong to you,
even though the concepts that I contributed to,
they're not mine, they're called to do with it
whatever they choose.
Now, with the movie version of Parallax,
it sort of harkens to the work of Geoff Johns,
and what his take on the Parallax concept was,
which is more of an entity, and he did a great job with it.
The only thing is, one thing I like about when Ron and I
were doing the Parallax story was,
we wanted to show that, this was Hal Jordan's mistake,
he was pushed too far, and what happens
when even a superhero can be pushed too far
and do something they regret, so to me,
when you make it an entity, it's almost like,
kinda like, "The devil made me do it,"
more than taking responsibility for something that,
even a hero isn't perfect.
But it was a different take, and I don't think
one version is better than the other,
I just think Ron and I had a particular story
we wanted to tell with Hal,
and Geoff Johnson certainly had his,
and history has proven, they're both successful,
especially what Geoff Johnson's done.
The movie, that was a little bit different, but,
we'll do a movie review at some other time,
but yeah, like I said, I really felt that,
I like the concept, that it was Hal just simply
being pushed too far, and it was something
that we wanted to address.
The goal, initially, was, after all the Parallax storyline,
we wanna bring it all full circle,
return Hal as being Green Lantern
and restore the Green Lantern Corps and all that,
but it's like, it became bigger than
the creative team on the book,
and the company itself thought,
"Oh, this is a nice new toy,
"let's see what we can do with it,"
then we had The Final Night storyline,
where Hal dies trying to reignite the sun,
and people were thinking, "Oh, you killed off Hal!"
Like, that wasn't us!
The company was so thrilled that there was new life
breathed in the title that it was out of our hands, so.
- Well, I think we have about a minute or so left,
I just wanted to talk, we had met at Heroes Con
in Charlotte, and I just wanted to find out
your thought of the different cons, I know you do
a lot of convention sketches there,
so I just wanted to, as a pro,
how you feel about going to the various cons?
- Oh, I enjoy them, very much so,
I love meeting the fans, signing books, doing commissions.
My next convention is here in Ohio at the Akron Comic Con,
November 5th and 6th, but I certainly look forward
to doing Heroes again, this year was my first year there,
and everything I heard about it was true,
it was a great experience, and I look forward
to doing it again.
- And if somebody watching wanted to find out
how to get a commission from you,
how could they contact you?
- I'm on Twitter, @RealBankster,
and I'm also on Facebook at Darryl Banks.
- Well, thank you so much, Darryl, for joining us,
we've run out of time, I'd like to thank
those of you watching, we'll see you again
on another episode of Comic Culture.