April 23, 2019
An Interview with Sean Gordon Murphy
Interview by Sean Shirey
Sean Gordon Murphy has been producing some wildly beautiful art for years now, gaining noteriety for his lines on Punk Rock Jesus, American Vampire, Joe The Barbarian, Chrononauts, The Wake, Tokyo Ghost, Batman: White Knight and now its sequel, Batman, Curse of the White Knight, which the illustrator is again also writing. Producing some of the most vibrant, stylistic and gorgeous art for his books, Murphy took on the writing chores starting with Batman: White Knight, which found the artist pulling elements from ’89 Batman (including the alter-ego name for The Joker, Jack Napier) and pushed the limits of what a Batman story could be in terms of action, story and themes. Now, Murphy has crafted a follow-up to the successful run, which finds its way onto DC’s new mature readers imprint, DC Black Label.
I had the opportunity to speak with Murphy via e-mail and he shared his ideas and plans for the book, as well as the inclusion of some key characters from Batman’s massive library of characters and what being on DC Black Label means for readers of the title. We also have some exclusive art from the book, so get a taste of what’s to come below and be sure to pick up Batman: Curse of the White Knight, in comic shops on Wednesday, July 23rd!
You pulled aspects from 89 Batman with Batman White Knight. Should readers anticipate any elements pulled from any of the other films with Curse of the White Knight?
Yes! Not only does the 89 Batmobile make it into the book, so does Joker’s really really really long revolver.
You’re bringing Azrael into Curse. What inspired that choice and what can readers expect to see from your interpretation of him?
For Curse of the While Knight, I wanted a villain that was ancient–someone who would not only upend Batman, but the entire Wayne legacy going back to the founding of Gotham. Azrael (and the Order of St Dumas) checked all those boxes. I really wanted to get back to basics with Jean-Paul Valley, revive a lot of what made him so cool in the 90s (the fire, the sword, the over-the-top- Bible-stuff). The biggest change I made was making him much older–in Curse he’s a special forces veteran who’s misunderstood, much like Rambo in First Blood. So while he’s definitely the antagonist in Curse, there’s a lot to his back story that makes him more compelling than the other villains.
Joker has embraced his Joker identity at this point, but Jack Napier is still in there somewhere. Do you have a roadmap in your head of where Napier comes from and what his ultimate motivations are in choosing the Joker persona? Is this something we’ll see explored?
Because the Joker is such a wild, unpredictable, insane force of nature, to me it makes sense that there must be a counter-balance to that. Which is what Jack Napier is. When Napier first started out as the Joker, I imagine there was no difference between the two. But as the years went by and the Joker became more defined, I imagine Napier did as well. And it wasn’t until Joker took the medication that Jack was finally allowed to come to the surface. While he won’t admit it, I think Joker is just as surprised as everyone else that Jack Napier exists. And in Curse, Joker goes after both him and Batman!
You’re adding some historical elements into this, as well as working in some Vampire nods (American Vampire Easter Eggs?), but also the Detective piece. How important was it to make this as much a detective story than anything else?
My Batman has always been the classic “pulp” Batman from the early days. Especially the stuff that inspired the Animated Series in the 90s. So for me he’s most interesting when you bring him back to basics: as a detective. Batman has become very sci-fi in other books and has grown to include vast amounts of fantastic, otherworldly characters–I really wanted to get away from that by offering readers something less overwhelming. For my books, it’s important that the reader doesn’t need to know a lot of back story–if you’ve seen a movie or played a game or two, you’re good to start reading.
With this being a Black Label book, what can readers expect to see here that they wouldn’t get in the monthly Batman book?
In Curse, you’ll see some familiar characters die, something you don’t see in mainline DC continuity. So for me, the stakes are higher because anything could happen to anyone.
Since you’re writing and drawing the book, what is your process in putting it together? Is it a polished or loose script? Do you draw first, script later?
I’m a self-taught writer–I have zero formal training except what I picked up by reading books about screenplays. So I tend to write full scripts with 3 act structures, I don’t start drawing anything until I know the ending of the book, and I cut back dialog as much as I possibly can. I’m also one of the few writers who doesn’t use narration captions (or inner monologues). I know it’s a comic trope, but because I have full control of the art, I would rather let the line work and the rendering do the talking.
What is it about this series that makes you want to continue to mine stories?
I enjoy the challenge. Most people don’t take an artist seriously when he/she says they want to write. So White Knight is me planting a flag and saying “See?? I have good ideas, and my book sold really well–so now you have to take me seriously!”
Is there a plan to keep the series going beyond Curse or is it one story at a time?
Yes, I have 2 more installments planned. Eventually I’d like to get into Batman Beyond and maybe even Superman. But that’s a ways off.