Scott McDaniel, currently the artist for Nightwing at DC, is known for his work with D.G. Chichester on Daredevil, Elektra:Root of Evil, DD/Batman, and Assassins. Mr. McDaniel talks about his career and the events surrounding the costume change for DD.
Kuljit Mithra: The first work of yours that I am familiar with is Daredevil. Was the title your first work for Marvel? How did you break in and why did you choose comics as a career?
Scott McDaniel: Not counting two false starts with independent comics companies, my first published work for Marvel was a Prowler back-up story (written by my pal Glenn Herdling!) in the "Spectacular Spider-Man Annual" #9.
My break into comics was a long, winding road. While at college at Bucknell University, I met and became good friends with Glenn Herdling. After graduation, Glenn went on staff at Marvel as an assistant editor, and I went to work as an electrical engineer. I always admired him for going for a job he loved instead of a "real" job like me. For the next two years, I would draw in my spare time/evenings/weekends and Glenn would graciously take my work into Marvel's office and gather critiques for me. He was always encouraging me, even when it looked as if I'd never make the cut. Eventually, after a couple of tough years, my break came and I was offered the Prowler story, and a few stories in the anthology "Marvel Comics Presents." Next came three consecutive Spider-Man annual lead stories. All the while, I was working as an electrical engineer during the day, and drawing comics during the evenings. I was also keeping Glenn, and his assistant editor Pat Garrahy, up-to-date with my work by sending copies their way. Well, Pat then changed offices to work as Ralph Macchio's new assistant. Pat saw potential in me, and when Lee Weeks left Daredevil and they needed a new guy, Pat put Ralph into a choke hold until he granted me a 5-issue "probationary" run on DD, to prove to him that I could do a monthly book. When this offer was presented to me, and with the blessing of my supportive wife Amy, I quit the engineering job to become a full-time comics artist - and I've never looked back!
Why comics? Easy. I've loved comics my whole life! I learned to draw by studying guys like Neal Adams (Batman), Mike Grell(Warlord), Jim Aparo(Batman), Gil Kane(various!), Bernie Wrightson (Swamp Thing), as well as a host of others. When I was 8 years old, I would draw and memorize a drawing after supper, and then recreate the drawing from memory at school the next day! My friends were stunned! Drawing was a hobby with me for my whole life, and to be able to make a career out of what you love is truly amazing, and I thank God for that everyday.
Mithra: You are well known for being the artist on D.G.Chichester's run on the comic. You've worked on many projects together, including the Elektra:Root of Evil series, and Assassins for Amalgam. Why do you think that the two of you work so well together?
McDaniel: When I stepped onto Daredevil, I could almost literally feel the weight of all the previous major-league talent to contribute to the book (if you're reading this, you're most likely a DD fan, and I don't have to remind you of guys like Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Jim Starlin, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, John Romita Jr., or David Mazzucchelli. YIKES! A rookie following THESE guys!?! I think I stopped sweating around the third issue or so....
Anyway, I think that Dan (and Ralph and Pat) saw that I shared their commitment to the work we were creating together, and that I consistently gave them my personal best all the time. I eagerly sought their critiques, and became the better for it. From my perspective, I appreciated Dan's desire to craft unique, well thought out and researched stories, and I admired his dedication to always focusing on the character of the man without fear. I think that we both needed to do our best work, and we needed each other to do the same, and that created a brotherly bond between us. (Dan would be the older brother as he, a savvy ex-editor with his thumb on the pulse of the industry, would dole out plenty of advice to the naive rookie - that'd be me - who would've taken two bites out of the Babe's hat with only minor urgings).
Mithra: Looking over your Daredevil work, your style of drawing changed around the Fall From Grace arc. It started to use more shadows, and many people started to wonder if you were copying Frank Miller's 'style' for Sin City. So who really influenced your work here?
McDaniel: I was feeling very frustrated with the rate of my progress as a penciller. I secretly wanted to explode onto the scene and dazzle everyone, but the bitter truth was that I was damn lucky to even be on the book at all. I was having a terrible time trying to develop a distinctive line style; my first instint was to cut clean demarkation lines between light and shadow, but my next impulse was to lay over that demarkation ugly hatching lines. The result was not pretty.
When it was decided to go ahead with the "FFG" story, we wanted to hit the book with everything positive we could think of, and I really felt that this was the opportunity I was looking for - to step outside myself, to try to find what I was good at, and then run to the finish line. If you look closely at issue #319, you'll see that I was experimenting with the two opposite extremes that were then very popular. Some pages are very liney (the first 9 pages and the last two pages), and the others are very graphic. When this issue was completed, I decided that the graphic work better fit with my sensiblities and instincts than the very liney style did. Of course I was influenced by the work that Mr. Miller was doing on "Sin City." I never intentionally copied his "style," though. I studied his work trying to understand the underlying chiaroscuro technique he obviously had mastered. I tried to apply that understanding of technique to my own work, my own story-telling. When I discovered the boundary between the technique of chiaroscuro and Mr. Miller's particularly unique rendering of it, I tried to back way off from his influence and adapt what I learned in my own way. I am very grateful for the magnificent lessons I learned from studying Mr. Miller because they made me a better artist, and I am also very grateful to Mr. Miller for not slugging me in the chops when I was lucky enough to meet him in San Diego ('97 Con)! In closing, though, I think that it is obvious that the work I am now doing on DC's "Nightwing" is clearly my own, reminiscent of my Daredevil beginnings, but with a "lotta mo" going on!
Mithra: You are perhaps best known for being the artist who drew the new armoured costume for DD. Why did you think (or D.G. Chichester) that DD needed a costume change?
McDaniel: Dan somehow needed to "enhance" DD for the particular story he wanted to tell. He needed to have DD hang with guys like Venom, Siege, Shield, evil ninja armies and assassins, a vampire, and an inhuman doppleganger. Not "get smashed to little red bits," not "gracefully dodge seven issues of incredible ferocity," but get in and "hang" with these boys. He meticulously researched the area of biomimetics (the imitation and manufacturing of biological molecular structures) to give the costume change a base in reality and validity for the dangers to come.
Mithra: Who designed the costume, and what is it based on?
McDaniel: Well, remember my rookie status?? Combine the fact that I was more than a little terrified at pulling off this project with the fact that changing Daredevil's costume grabbed the attention of a great many people at Marvel. Many, many people had strong opinions of the nature of the change, and at times, it felt like there was nothing I could do that would satisfy the diverse requests/semi-demands. In hindsight, I would say it was design by committee.
There was no visual theme underlying the new design. It was to be made of composite materials that were incredibly tough, flexible, and light. It was to have a look that implied that DD could hang with heavyweight bad guys.
Mithra: I had seen somewhere that there were 4 designs for the costume. There wasn't going to be a 'Superman' type of storyline was there, with 4 people running around claiming to be DD?
McDaniel: Actually, I did over 20 designs for the new costume. In my opinion, the
coolest design was not chosen. If you're interested, maybe I could dig them
out for you, and you can judge for yourself.
[Note - You can check out the SKETCHES section, where I've posted these designs from Mr. McDaniel]
There was never an intent to do a "multiple" DD story arc. We played with the doppleganger as an evil duplicate of DD, but he was exactly that to the reader: an evil version of DD. There was never any intention of watering down the man inside the reds.
Mithra: Who wanted to bring back Elektra? Was this proposal accepted at first?
McDaniel: As far as I can remember, it was Dan that initially lobbied to bring Elektra back into DD's continuity. My clout at Marvel was next to zero, so credit Dan for successfully returning her to the fold. I don't know if the idea was accepted by editorial at first or not.
Mithra: Do you think Frank Miller has a reason to be angry that you and D.G.Chichester brought back Elektra?
McDaniel: I know that Ralph Macchio had promised Mr. Miller a sort of "right of first refusal" concerning using Elektra in continuity. I know that Ralph attempted several times to talk to Mr. Miller before giving Dan and I the go ahead to use her. I do not know why those attempts failed. I guess that translated into our green light.
Does Mr. Miller have a right to be angry? That's a many faceted issue. He can feel angry that a successful character - that HE created and made successful - was to be turned over to guys who don't know her the way he does. OK. However, as far as I know, he created Elektra under the work for hire agreements that many other comic creators work under; namely, that Elektra is owned by Marvel, not by Mr. Miller, and as such it is Marvel that has the final authority in the use of the character. Further, Marvel attempted to discuss using Elektra with Mr. Miller but he was unavailable to comment. Hopefully, we can all appreciate the difficult situation Marvel was in: it couldn't make good on its promise to Mr. Miller because he was unavailable, concerning a character the company had every right to use as it wished. Whew.
In retrospect, I think that Dan handled the return of Elektra in a careful, powerful and meaningful way. He worked very hard to maintain the integrity and identity of the characters as they had been established, bringing them together in a unique manner. Maybe this is obvious, and then again maybe it isn't: the title "Fall From Grace" refers to Elektra, not to DD. Her struggle with her own identity, her desire for perfection and her sacrifice at the story's climax were right on point for her as a character, and in that I sincerely hope that Mr. Miller is not offended.
Mithra: Why do you think DD is one of the greatest characters ever?
McDaniel: DD is a hero within reach. He has no unearthly powers (excepting that nifty radar thing he does so well) and no unrealizable cache of hi-tech, expensive gadgets. He doesn't even have a car. But he's got a heart big enough to care for the rank and file of Hell's Kitchen, and he remembers people that most others try hard to forget. Sure, he's an aggressive vigilante, but he protects the weak and defenseless as stoically as many of us wish we could. He's a man defined by relationships, and that'll win over egnimatic guys in the long run. He's a guy that'll live life with you, not tell you how to live. I guess that's a new meaning to the saying "The Devil's in the details."
Mithra: Why don't you think DD is more popular than he is?
McDaniel: Ditto previous paragraph, then add:
I think that comics offer the reader a chance to step out of the mundane, drip-drab of everyday life and experience something larger than life. There's adventure to be had: a grave danger to thwart, monsters and grotesque villains abound, and you've got a front row seat to the action as the hero saves the day! Some books are simply better geared to deliver that adrenalin rush than others. Daredevil can deliver the emotional goods, but it by definition stays "feet firmly on the ground." How can you fly while stuck in a Hell's Kitchen alley? I think that the majority of todays readers want to fly right now.
Mithra: After leaving Daredevil, you did the Green Goblin, and after that got cancelled, you moved to Nightwing at DC. Is there a difference in the two companies in the way projects are handled, or the way you can express yourself creatively?
McDaniel: I can only speak to my experiences, and what I understand of the situations the companies operate in. I will always be grateful to Marvel for giving me my start in this business, but I felt that the nail in Marvel's coffin was its decision to go public. Ever since that decision, every creative decision seemed to take a back seat to the perceived stockholder benefit/return. The love of comics seemed to be crushed by the absolute need to show a profit to stockholders. A lot of good people seemed awfully depressed all the time. At DC, however, the creative editorial environment is alive with enthusiasm and love of the job! These guys are INTO making comics, and it rubs off on everything they touch. Sure they keep a savvy eye on the business side of things, but when your creating great product, the financial side seems to fall in line.
As far as expressing myself, I personally received encouragement from both Marvel and DC to do whatever I felt I needed to do.
Mithra: Were there any problems with the DD/Batman one-shot? Was it very difficult to get that off the ground? I believe D.G.Chichester was going to do that with Lee Weeks at first...
McDaniel: Dan would be the man to tell this particular horror story (I think that's how he described it!). I'm just glad that it was offered to me! These are two of my favorite characters!
Mithra: DD is rumoured to be part of a deal with Event Comics where that company will take over the production of the comic. Sales are dropping every month. What do you think DD needs to be a successful comic? Do you think Event can provide what is needed?
McDaniel: I have absolutely no idea of what's going on.
This is a weird thing to understand, but after having poured out everything that was in me on DD, when I left the book I NEEDED to LEAVE the book. I had a lot of emotions tied up with the character (some of which were discussed earlier), and I needed to get away, to get refreshed. And I've tried to stay away from the book's monthly grind, especially when the work that Dan and I had done was retooled by those that followed! To this day I haven't followed the book regularly. But I still love the character. Weird.
I feel that someday I'll return to the book to do the blazing hot work I desperately wanted to do the first time. I'm still perfecting my skills in the meantime, though.
Mithra: Are there any other projects that you are working on besides Nightwing that are coming out soon?
McDaniel: Well, I had the pleasure of recently working with Bill Sienkiewicz and Mike Barr on the hardcover "Dark Knight Dynasty." The immediate future holds nothing but Nightwing! If I can help it, he'll be bigger than Batman! Heeey, maybe a Nightwing/Daredevil crossover!
(c) Kuljit Mithra 1998
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
Jose Guns Alves
Black and White
Roberto De La Torre
Carmine Di Giandomenico
Tommy Lee Edwards
Elektra Hand Devil
Fall From Grace
Justin F. Gabrie
Devin K. Grayson
John Patrick Hayden
Alex Irvine & Tomm Coker
Mark Steven Johnson
Lauren Mary Kim
Ryan K. Lindsay
Vatche Mavlian &
Shane McCarthy &
Richard K. Morgan
Suzanne H. Smart
Stephen D. Sullivan
Lee Weeks (2)
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