STAS 10th: Neil Vokes on "Superman Adventures"
To commemorate the impending 10th anniversary of Superman the Animated Series, Toon Zone News and the World’s Finest Online have teamed up for an interview series with an assortment of people associated with the show or the tie-in Superman Adventures comic book series.
Comic book artist Neil Vokes is a seasoned veteran of the business, beginning his career with Comico in 1984 on a Robotech tie-in comic book. Throughout his 22 year career, he has drawn many comics for DC and Marvel, along with several creator-owned works, including Eagle (with Rich Rankin) and The Black Forest and The Wicked West (with Todd Livingston and Robert Tinnell). We caught up with Mr. Vokes via e-mail about his tenure on DC’s Superman Adventures.
TZN/WF: At the time Superman Adventures came out in 1997, you were working with Kurt Busiek on Acclaim’s Ninjak comics, correct?
NEIL VOKES: Yes, but unfortunately that series was cut short at issue #12
TZN/WF: How did you manage to land the assignment for Superman Adventures?
NV: My agent Sharon Cho, of Star Reach Productions, got me an appointment with the editor of the book. I had wanted to do the animated Batman comic, but I was offered the Superman comic instead.
TZN/WF: How much connection, if any, did you have with the crew working on the TV show?
TZN/WF: Did you keep up with the show while you were working on the comic book?
NV: Sure, because I enjoyed the show.
TZN/WF: Obviously, a tie-in comic book had to match the look and feel of the show. Did you find you had to suppress your own style very much to meet the requirements for the comic?
NV: Yes, but I also learned some things from drawing in that style which helped me in subsequent projects. I’ve always found that every book I do expands my knowledge.
TZN/WF: What would you say was the most valuable thing you learned from your work on the Superman Adventures comic?
NV: I’ve always picked up something valuable from every book i’ve worked on. It’s hard to pinpoint, but whenever I’ve worked on a certain style of story (like Robotech, Tarzan, Teen Agents, Ninjak, Spider-Man, Superman, etc), I’ve either expanded on or added to wherever my style was at that time. It’s very simple: every experience we have in life adds to our overall knowledge and personality. This is merely the artistic version of what we all go through — after a time it blended into my own, now “mutated” style.
The Bruce Timm model of Superman Adventures became a part of me — nearly every con sketch I was doing during that time was in the “animated” style. It showed in every subsequent book, but in subtle ways — a simpler,more direct way of getting an image across. And make no mistake: simplicity of style is harder than the more detailed approach.
Ultimately any decent artist can draw the hell out of a panel — adding this bit of texture, that bit of background detail — but to be able to get the “essential” information across in the panel with no extraneous detail, and ONLY what is needed to tell the “story” of that panel — that is something only an experienced artist can do. Though I had already been working towards that end, the Superman book drove that point home to me.
TZN/WF: You worked with a bunch of different writers on the comic. Did they work full-script or “Marvel style” (where the artist is given a plot and the writer dialogues the finished pages)?
NV: I was always given a full script for every issue I worked on. I had direct communication with very few of the writers.
TZN/WF: Do you have a favorite story from your run on Superman Adventures?
NV: Several, actually. The specific issues were #40 with Superman’s pet Krypto, written by Ty Templeton; #42 and #53, both co-starring Jack Kirby’s Mr. Miracle character and written by Mark Evanier; and #62-with Metallo, written by Michael Reaves. What I probably enjoyed most about the series was working with inker Terry Austin. He’s not only one of the premier inkers in the business but also a great guy & a good friend.
TZN/WF: In several of your other interviews, you mentioned being an older movie fan. Did you use that love in your Superman Adventures comics at all? Slip in any homages that fans should be on the lookout for?
NV: Funny you should ask. I usually do that in most of my books, but with these books I had little say in what I could add beyond the basic storytelling that was my job. There may have been certain moments which were reminiscent of a film here or there, but they were usually part of the script already. As I mentioned earlier, I was a hired hand. Save for a few scenes now and then, I just drew what I was supposed to draw.
TZN/WF: Were you surprised that the comic ended up outlasting the show by nearly 2 years?
NV: No, because it’s a different market. Animated cartoon shows as a rule produce a certain amount of episodes that will garner them syndication time and then are usually cancelled soon after.
TZN/WF: Did DC involve you at all in the recent digest-sized reprints of the Superman Adventures comics?
NV: No, not at all. I was surprised when I got the box in the mail but thrilled that some of my work was chosen to be reprinted. It’s been my experience working on licensed projects that i have little or no say in what they do with said project(s). What one learns as a “work for hire” artist is that you are merely a cog in the machine. If you accept that as a given, then one can learn to enjoy the experience.
TZN/WF: What are you working on now?
NV: I am in the middle of drawing the second volume of The Wicked West, which will be out later this year — the subtitle is “Abomination and Other Tales.” The main story is by Robert Tinnell and myself, and the “other tales” are by a myriad of talented professionals including Todd Livingston, David Michael Beck, Tommy Castillo, Michael Avon Oeming, Scott Keating, Adrian Salmon and many more. Once I’m done with The Wicked West II, I’ll be starting a horror book called The Voice based on a screenplay written by Bob Tinnell.
Toon Zone News and the World’s Finest Online would like to thank Mr. Vokes for his time. DC has published 4 digest-sized volumes of Superman Adventures, with Mr. Vokes’ art featured in volume 3. The Black Forest and The Wicked West are currently available from Image Comics; more information about both comics can be found at the Black Forest website.