Behind the scenes with the artist behind
Aquaman, Titans:Rebirth, The Flash & More
“Don’t work for comics because you won’t make any money.”
Brett Booth laughs when he remembers that advice today, once given by a well-meaning family member. Fortunately, Brett followed his heart instead of his head and jumped headlong into the comic book industry anyway.
Twenty-plus years later, this talented artist is working under an exclusive contract with DC Comics, producing gallery-worthy illustrations that appear every month in bestselling comics like The Flash, Aquaman, and others. He’s also worked on titles such as Backlash, Wildcore, The Fantastic Four, and the X-Men—and even managed to adapt a few novels into graphic format along the way.
So yeah, working in comics turned out to be a fine idea after all, thank you very much.
Recently PopFam cornered Brett on his way to Denver Comic Con and got him talking to parents about his work in comics, secrets behind Aquaman and the upcoming series, Titans: Rebirth, and what it takes to create brand new characters in the DC Comics pantheon. Here’s what he had to say…
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Hi Brett! Thanks so much for taking time to talk to parents today. Can we just dive right in?
Great. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first discover comic books?
I didn’t actually get into comics until I was thirteen. I was in study hall, and for some reason I wound up with two study halls in ninth grade. So, I did all my work in the first study hall. The second study hall was longer because it was during a lunch period so it was like an hour and a half. This was in Pennsylvania, a place called Johnstown. A friend of mine was behind me, Steve Edts, and he was a big comic fan. I needed something to draw or something to do, and he hands me the Classic X-Men #1 (September 1986, Marvel Comics) Art Adams cover with Wolverine and the X-Men on it. So that’s what I drew.
I drew Wolverine because I thought it looked really cool. I really enjoyed drawing it and it kind of hooked me. I’d never seen any of those characters before in my life. I knew about the main characters, you know, the Justice League, the Super Friends. Some of the Marvel characters like Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, and most of the Avengers characters. The Fantastic Four, because they had cartoons. But the X-Men, no, I had no clue who they were.
I went over to my friend’s house a few days later. He lived right down the street from me. He was a huge comics fan, and he just had comics everywhere. So I just started going through it, through all his X-Men stuff, Teen Titans, Justice League, a Wonder Woman run. Everything, he loved everything! All this superhero stuff. There was no store at the time where we lived, there was no comics store in the area. So we had to go to drugstores, Barnes & Noble, Walden Books, whatever it is, and pick stuff up off the racks. All that stuff we had.
I’m looking at Aquaman #50 here, and there’s a splash page of Aquaman fighting Dead Water. I’ve been staring at this for like three days because I’m just so impressed. You have this immense talent and you make it look easy.
I love drawing fight scenes! The fight scenes are like, way more fun than anything else. They’re the most enjoyable parts of doing the comics, doing the fight scenes. I always save the “people talking” pages for when I’m running low on time. Like, the last page I just did yesterday, there’s a ton of dialogue on it. I was drawing it and I was like, “Oh man, it needs more background because there’s not that much stuff here.” But there’s just so much dialogue that if I put the background, everything’s just going to be covered up and I’m just wasting all my time.
So, Dead Water is a brand new character. What goes into creating a something like that?
Oh, well they [DC Comics] give me a base idea, like they just wanted a new bad guy kind of thing, but they didn’t want him to look like the other bad guys. I’m kind of a science geek so I know of some deep sea creatures and stuff like this off the top of my head. I started messing around with a couple of other designs, one was kind of a squid look. Really, really loose sketch ideas, and I didn’t really like them.
One of the things I’ve been trying to do when I do the comics, sometimes it backfires on me, is something more alien-looking, alien creatures. A lot of stuff, and it was one of the things they hit home with originally in DC’s “The New 52” event, was the look of the character in the shadow. What does it look like? Does it look like just a person standing there, or is there something distinguishing about it? They wanted more distinguishing characters. So sometimes when I’m doing, especially like a monster character, I want it to be kind of distinguishing and a little different.
I read the Aquaman series that Geoff Johns started with The New 52, so I knew about the Trench character and some of the other ones. So I started thinking, “What haven’t they done?” I was like, let’s look at some deep water stuff, and the idea of kind of snake-like body was kind of appealing. Kind of whipping around.
So I thought, I’ll look at some eel stuff, and that’s where I got the body from. Then they wanted some specific things in the original idea, like he didn’t have nails on his fingers, he has shark teeth. So I did little rows of shark teeth, how they can pop out and they’re constantly regenerating, so if he loses a nail another one pops right back into the spot. And I just kind of went with that, and then I did a more detailed rough and sent that in and everybody really liked that one, so we went with that.
Well, it turned out great. So are you doing more with Aquaman or are you done with Aquaman now?
I was supposed to do more with the Rebirth, I thought I was, that was the initial plan. It’s kind of funny, I was talking with the editor Brian Cunningham and he said, “Have you talked to Dan about what’s going on after issue 50?” I thought he was talking about Dan Abnett, the writer of Aquaman, not Dan Didio the publisher of DC.
So I was emailing Dan Abnett, and he was like, “Oh yeah, I got all this cool stuff.” And I talked to Brian like mid-February or the beginning of February, and I said, “Okay when am I going to get the first of the Aquaman scripts because I’ll be done in another couple of weeks with Aquaman #50.” And he was like, “You’re not doing Aquaman #50. I thought we weren’t doing that now.” And I was like, “What??” And he said, “Oh, Dan had something else in mind.”
And then I realized that the Dan he’d been talking about was Dan Didio. So I emailed Dan Didio, and of course he was traveling, but he texted me back real quick and said “We’re putting you on the Titans: Rebirth book. I thought you’d like it more.” So I was like, “Oh, okay!” [Laughs] Just one of those fun things, you know.
So you’re doing the Teen Titans?
I’m doing Titans: Rebirth, which is the original Teen Titans characters from the 1960s. So it’s the original Robin—Dick Grayson. Donna Troy. Roy Harper. Arsenal. Aqualad. A character called Lilith. And I guess we’ll be adding Bumblebee. Not the one from Transformers! He predates him considerably. The one from the Young Justice cartoon and some of the Teen Titans Go! Cartoons, which is an older character. Dan Abnett is writing, the guy who wrote the Aquaman issues.
What’s the most unusual fan comment you’ve gotten in your work?
That I should die before I’m allowed to draw anything else! I heard that once for the X-Men, and then the other was for The Joker’s Daughter design. Which is funny because they still use the design, and there are actually people who use it for cosplay [“costume play”]. But they actually had what they wanted in separate ideas, and they just asked me to put it together for them. Fans are very passionate.
PopFam exists to help parents talk about pop culture with their kids. When parents talk about Aquaman or Titans: Rebirth, what kinds of things do you hope they talk about?
The pop culture thing with Aquaman is that he’s this weak character. And in regards to Superman, yeah, he’s weaker. But at the same time, he’s immensely strong—he has to be able to withstand the pressure of the ocean’s depths without dying, and being able to move around freely. So he’s immensely strong, and he’s resilient. And he can actually talk to sea creatures, and control them and command them. Seventy percent of the planet is full of sea creatures! That’s actually a lot more. We’re kind of biased on the land, where we think that everything on the land is the greatest thing ever, but the biggest creatures live under the sea.
So you’re hoping they get a new respect for Aquaman?
Yeah! I’m hoping for more respect for Aquaman.
The Titans stuff I can’t really talk that much about. No spoilers! Big stuff happening in it, but I can’t really talk about it. Just read the DC Comics Rebirth issue that comes out May 25, 2016, by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. That sets everything going off, everything from that point on.
Awesome. Thanks Brett!
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