The Norm Breyfogle Interview – Part 2
June 23, 2005

NB: Robin’s costume was such an icon for me that when the issue came up of changing his costume — before it came up, when fans were asking for it, I couldn’t agree. I thought Robin’s costume was great. Of course, now I look back and recognize it needed a change. But what I was seeing was the colorful contrast with the dark Batman. That’s what worked. That’s what they retained too. It’s still got the yellow inside the cape and the red breast.

The (first) Neal Adams Robin costume, as drawn by Dick Dillin from JLA #92

The (first) Neal Adams Robin costume, as drawn by Dick Dillin from JLA #92

DC… I don’t know what initiated it, had been considering redesigning Robin for a long time. I remember when Mike Freidrich scripted Justice League issues…

MO: The Neal Adams-designed costume…

NB: Right. He had wings, kind of, then too [like in the Batman Family piece]. They were attached [at the wrists] and he could glide. They were considering it for a long time. They even asked the readers: ‘Should Robin have this new costume?’; you remember the end of that issue. I always said ‘Yeah! He should!’ I didn’t write in – I didn’t even think to write in. It’s funny, the stuff I didn’t do. I read the story, and looked at the art, and I’d skim the letters column, and I wouldn’t even notice some other important things that were in the books. I wasn’t that much of a comics reader then. I was more into the art and the basic story. Finally, around the Batman movies, they decided to conscript a number of artists to come up with different designs. Jim Aparo was involved, I was involved, Neal Adams was involved, Graham Nolan… there were a number of other artists that I can’t recall offhand.

MO: Many of these were assembled into [the Batman: Knightgallery book].

Some of Breyfogles Robin designs

Some of Breyfogle's Robin designs

NB: Exactly. That included some Batman redesigns too for some special issue of Batman, Brotherhood of the Bat. I did a whole bunch of costume designs for Robin, probably more than anybody else that they asked to do. I don’t really know that for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Neal Adams probably nailed down his costume pretty quickly because he’s got a lot of experience. I was still – compared to Neal – I was definitely wet behind the ears. There were certain things they did retain, even though they chose Neal Adams’ costume design. The ‘R’ symbol Robin’s got is almost entirely mine. Everybody else gave him the same ‘R’ symbol. I was the only one who changed that, gave it a bit more character, and I considered making it a throwing star too. And then the staff that he used [was my idea]. It made sense to me that if we’re trying to make Robin more ‘realistic’, we don’t like his stupid costume, and after I’d read [Frank Miller’s] The Dark Knight it was becoming more and more apparent that having a child running around with an adult – or a teenager – when he’s pretty reckless [is a bad idea]. Instead of giving him a gun, which you can’t do because of the mythos, I gave him a staff, which extended his reach so he could compete with adults. So that was mine too. I guess I’ll have to keep saying that, otherwise people will forget.

The Norm Breyfogle Interview – Part 1
June 22, 2005

Norm Breyfogle broke into the big-time in 1987 drawing Batman in Detective Comics after starting out on some back-up strips and smaller titles for First Comics. While on Batman — in Detective, Batman and Shadow of the Bat — Norm worked primarily with Alan Grant. I’ve written a column elsewhere on this site about their first several issues together. Partly because of the success of the Batman movie, his work reached a wide audience, and Norm became one of the top Batman artists in many fans’ opinions. He left to work on Prime and his creator-owned Metaphysique for Malibu, and returned briefly to DC to work on some limited projects, including a run on a pair of Anarky series (again with Alan Grant) and the Hal Jordan Spectre series. His newest project, Relative Comics’ Of Bitter Souls, comes out in August. I spoke with him on May 15th, 2005 in Detroit.

Norm Breyfogle, May 2005

Norm Breyfogle, May 2005

Mike O’Ryan: What did you read when you were a kid?

Norm Breyfogle: A lot of science fiction. I read H.G. Wells. I read the classics: Call of the Wild, Black Beauty – I remember crying at the end of Black Beauty. I was a very emotional kid. Boy, you name it, I probably read it. I don’t have a list of ’em right in my head offhand, but it’s surprising when I look back. Whenever a new movie is made of some old classic, [I think] ‘Oh, I remember reading that.’ So, I was a pretty literary kid. I mean, I wasn’t extremely so, but I wasn’t forced into it either. I enjoyed reading.

MO: What was your first spark of wanting to do art?

NB: First one. Boy, I don’t know. That’s hard to say. It might come from my dad, because my dad had artistic ability. He still has artistic ability, although I’m not in touch with him. My mom and dad got divorced when I was three. Haven’t been in touch with him at all. I remember he would visit us for a year after they got divorced, until my mom got remarried. He did do drawings for me – did a Superman for me. I think it probably influenced me, because I was just a kid, and he was fairly decent at it.

The next thing after that would probably be seeing comic books.

MO: How early on were you exposed?

NB: I don’t know. Really early. Before I can really remember. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading comic books to me before I could read them. Superman and Batman. The TV shows reinforced the comic books. I watched the Superman TV show and the Batman TV show. I’d go out, and when I did see a spinner rack, that’s what I’d pick up. I didn’t really become familiar with so many of the other titles, or the Marvel titles, until many years later. I remember drawing Batman when I was in kindergarten. I remember that his cowl was conceptually beyond my ability to render. So I gave him a Robin mask instead! A little domino… [laughs] I wish I had those drawings now, I don’t.


DETECTIVE COMICS by Grant/Breyfogle: Part 1
May 23, 2005

Issues 583-594; 596-597; 601-603

By Alan Grant & John Wagner and Norm Breyfogle

1988 was a strange year for Batman.

The franchise-reinvigorating Frank Miller Dark Knight series, which made Batman much more no-nonsense and grim was two years old (summer of 1986).

The grand commercial explosion of the Michael Keaton Batman movie wouldn’t arrive for another year.

By late 1986, everyone’s perception of Batman (or at least, the perception of the editors and most of the people that were reading new comics) was that he had taken a dramatic step back into the shadows from his slightly more cheery mid-1980s incarnation. Julie Schwartz, Batman’s editor since the mid-’60s, had just stepped down and was replaced by Denny O’Neil, the writer often credited as giving Batman his shadowy mystique back in the late 1960s.

The wide holes left by DC’s Crisis series (also 1986) allowed O’Neil a great deal of editorial freedom: his first act as editor of the Batman titles was to allow Miller to write Batman: Year One (serialized in O’Neil’s first four issues as editor) which canonized Miller’s darker vision of Batman. Perhaps as a way of offsetting this, the companion Batman title Detective Comics approached the affair from a lighter and more classic angle, written by Mike Barr.* History has shown which has won out: Year One was collected into a single book almost twenty years ago, and has stayed in print since. There has been no collection of the fun-loving Barr Batman strip.

*The subject of a future column.

Barr’s successors on Detective were British writers Alan Grant and John Wagner, longtime writers of the “Judge Dredd” strip in the English comic 2000 AD. In an interview with the 2000 AD Review website, Alan Grant explained how they got the job: “John and I were working on Dredd one day when the phone went. It was Denny O’Neil to say that sales of their flagship title were the lowest ever, they were thinking of closing down ‘Detective Comics‘, but he’d been reading Dredd and wondered if we could impart any of that weirdness to Batman. We said yes, of course. He gave us a 2-issue contract, extended to a year after he read the [first] story.” The artist assigned to work with them (and who, in truth, had drawn some of the last few Barr issues as well) was a relative newcomer, an American named Norm Breyfogle.

Their work on Batman, though well-praised in its moment, has since fallen off the radar – undeservedly, since it remains some of the finest Batman material published to date. Nearly twenty years later, and with the appearance of a new Batman movie, their work on the character deserves a second look.

While I hope to discuss in depth the whole of the Grant/Breyfogle tenure on the character over time (Wagner leaves the strip relatively early on), here I’ll only be discussing the first 17 issues (the 75-cent cover-priced issues), to whet your appetite for more.