Comic Vine: You've worked with some of the biggest writers in the comics industry, ( Mike Mignola, Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison). What is it like working alongside these different writers? Do you get a lot of freedom stylistically? Do these guys have very detailed scripts?
Cameron Stewart: The interesting thing about working with different writers is that unlike working in Hollywood where there is a defined script format that you have to stick to, comic scripts are all very different. I don't think I've ever worked on two scripts that have been the same. For example, when I worked with Mike Mignola on the BPRD story the story had not yet been written when I was asked to do it. I spoke to Mike on the phone and he just asked me what I wanted to draw and I said, "I don't know something with Zombies I guess," and he asked me if I wanted it to be American or Eastern European, and I said "why don't we do something European." So he said okay, give me a couple of days and a couple of days later he faxed me a very loose break-down on lined paper...and he had a couple of things drawn in the margins of what he wanted to include. [I felt] He just trusted me to break it down. Even by page he hadn't broken it down by page number or anything; it was just a description of what happened in the story. He [essentially] gave me the freedom to draw it all out. That was pretty cool. That was the only time I ever had an experience like that with a writer, most of the time the scripts are a little more detailed than that.
Working with Grant is interesting because his scripts have no dialogue in them. He actually writes the dialogue after the art is completed; there are very temporary lines of dialogue which are intended to give an idea of what the characters are saying, but for the most part he writes the dialogue afterward which has its benefits and its drawbacks. It's interesting. When I see the final comic it's interesting to read it because even when I know the story (since I drew it) the dialogue would still be new to me, so it can be kind of exciting. It's exciting to see where his dialogue has been influenced directly by what has been drawn. The downside to it is that there are times which I wish I had known what the dialogue was going to be because I probably would have tackled things differently...I would have made more of an effort to make the facial expression more accurate. There was a big problem in issue 7 because of a lettering mistake when two word balloons were swapped--a direct result of the dialogue being written afterward. When I laid out the page originally all the characters were kind of oriented in the right spot. After I sent all the artwork in, I got a letter from the editor saying that because of the way Grant had written the dialogue, the panel needed to be flopped. So I switched the panel and re-drew some parts and sent it back--and now it worked with the way the dialogue had been written, but then they made a mistake somewhere along the way and went with the original page. That was a direct result of the dialogue being written afterward because I would have made a bigger effort to have the characters in the right spot.
Working with Jason Aaron, on 'The Other Side' was incredible. When it was originally offered to me they said it was a Vietnam War comic, which didn't really interest me, [that is until] I read the script. It immediately changed my mind because it was such a powerful and evocative script. The panel inscriptions and everything kind of just filled my mind with images. That didn't even take a lot of effort to think about because his writing and the script was just so good that the images just popped into my head. I think something that is just really a shame is that people are never really going to read those scripts because they are [essentially] just for [him and I] and the editors. I definitely like to feel involved and feel like I'm bringing something of my own to the table, but its also great to have a writer that helps you along by giving you what you need up front. Sometimes when I'm working with Grant [I feel] his imagination is so beyond what a lot of people's imaginations are. Working on SEAGUY, [was] sometimes extremely difficult to envision exactly what he want[ed]. He and I sometimes [had] to have this back and forth to see if it [was] what he want[ed] or if I [was] way off base...but with Jason it was really easy.
In addition to the scripts I got a document, which I guess was part of the original pitch package...a description of all the characters and their roles in the story, and the history of the project and background of Vietnam. Within the script he [Aaron] would have quotes from poetry from William Blake, [for example]. He would have parts of books that had been written about Vietnam. His cousin was Gustav Hasford who wrote the book that the film 'Full Metal Jacket' is based on. What he would do is he would have excerpts from Hasford's books in the script, which were there mainly to give me a feeling of what it was he wanted me to draw...kind of like capturing the mood. It was incredibly helpful and kind of made it really interesting for me to read, too. I was also introduced to some really great writing that way. He also included Google links in the script that would take me to particular images of Vietnamese deities and that kind of stuff; so the script was really rich and dense and a real pleasure to read.
CV: Do you do a lot of preparation for the books you work on? What do you do to get you in the right mind-set?
CS: I think I approach them all basically the same way. If you looked at all my work you would see it is all really different; I've drawn in a variety of different styles. The first thing that I do is try to figure out which artistic style is the most appropriate for the story that is being told. Then I try to do some drawings in that style and try to perfect it. I'll do character drawings in that style to get comfortable and perfect it--It takes a while to get comfortable drawing a character. Even [a character] like Batman, a character I have drawn hundreds of times; if you're not drawing him all the time, [you won't] draw him perfectly right away [you need] to sort of figure out a shorthand to construct the character that feels comfortable because you're doing it over and over again. I feel like it's really very important, rather than practicing while you're drawing the comic, to practice before you start so that by the time you start you're already somewhat comfortable with it. In working on Batman and Robin, because it's a different Batman, I wanted something a little bit different. I took a couple of visual cues from Frank Quitely but I brought my own things to it as well. You'll notice I drew the part of the cowl--the bridge of the nose--flattened off rather than having it come to a perfect point. I took that from the Dark Knight--Christian Bale's Dark Knight--he's got kind of a flattened square nose, and I decided I had wanted to see Dick's ears under the cowl so I drew his impressions of his ears.
CV: I noticed Dick would often be smiling a lot too, was that your idea? Was it different drawing 'Dick' as Batman?
CS: That was Grant. I mean he always mentioned in the script that he is always 'devil may care,' and he's considerably brighter than Bruce is. Anytime Dick is smiling in the comic it is because Grant specified in the script that Dick should be smiling. Like there's this splash page in issue 9 where he's swooping down and grabbing Damian, and in the script it says he should look cocky and cool with a big grin on his face like he's really enjoying being Batman. So I do that kind of prep, when I worked on The Other Side, that's the book I prepared for the most. I mean, I flew to Vietnam and spent three weeks in Vietnam crawling through Vietcong tunnels and firing an AK-47. I read tons of books on the war, and watched every Vietnam War movie that's ever been made! I did a ton of preparation for that. For me, that book more than any other, [I felt] authenticity was key because it is an actual historical event. Gotham City there is no real world counterpart to compare it to; but when you're doing a book about a war that occurred only 40 years ago I feel it's very important to get all the details right. I think before I even started drawing the comic, I was preparing for three months just so that by the time I got to it I knew exactly what I was doing.
CV: Going back to the work you did with Jason Aaron on 'The Other Side,' did spending that time in Vietnam change your mind about the war?
CS: I mean I don't know if it changed my mind about the war, but I think it's very interesting to be over there and see how the perception is different. Little things like; over there they don't call it the Vietnam War, they call it the American War. But it was very interesting to go there and meet people who lived through it and go to several large museums that are dedicated to it, and see the event through a different perspective. That's kind of what the comic is about, 'The Other Side,' one of the meanings of the title is to see that event from the other side, so it was really helpful for me to go over there and have a piece of personal experience to go along with it. One of the things that really inspired me to work on it was the fact that Jason was clearly passionate about the subject and knows so much about it and I did not. I mean, I had no personal connection to it. I was born after the war ended and I'm Canadian so I didn't really have any real connection to it. Going over there made it more personal for me. It made me more enthusiastic about it and made my work stronger.
CV: Would you say it ['The Other Side'] was your favorite of all the projects you have worked on?
CS: Certainly one of them just because it's been responsible for one of the best experiences I've ever had which is traveling over there. It's hard to say. I think I'm really lucky that I've been able to work on stuff I am really proud of. There are a lot of books I'm quite happy with. I mean, you work so hard for so long and put so much of yourself in it that it's hard to pick a favorite.
I'm learning more and more in my career that if I don't personally enjoy what I'm drawing, if I don't have any investment in it, I don't do a very good job.
Stay tuned for the second part of my interview with ' Batman and Robin' artist Cameron Stewart.