Superman Year One – Frank Miller, John Romita Jr. Interview and Preview

By Steve J. Ray
I recently had the honour and privilege of sitting down and talking to Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. about their careers and new projects. Both gentlemen were an absolute joy to talk to and gave me some sneak peeks at their forthcoming release for DC Comics’ Black Label imprint, the eagerly anticipated Superman: Year One.
WARNING! This article contains minor spoilers for the soon to be released Superman: Year One series by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.
Steve J. Ray: Have you seen big changes in how artists are treated, or how the medium has changed over the years. Are things very different between the “Big two” publishers?
John Romita Jr.: DC is now allowing the artist to be more intrinsic to (the storytelling). Marvel, a couple of years ago, some moron – I would like to give you his name, but I won’t… though his initials are A. A. – said that artists are interchangeable, and not the most important part. The irony is that his job didn’t last long after that, because the sales of their books had declined.
DC allows the artists to be important to the process, so they give us plots now. It’s a complete reversal. DC was all about scripts, way back, I was lucky enough to start at DC working on plots. We didn’t get full scripts, per-se. It was all about us learning to tell stories, and then the writer would write the dialogue according to the artwork.
That really allowed me to learn storytelling. My father helped out when I was young, but a lot of the Editor-In-Chiefs at Marvel were insistent upon storytelling. Establish it, make sure you know where you are, tell the story.
That’s really how I cut my teeth on l storytelling, working at Marvel at that time. Now I have a 65 page Superman: Year One trilogy. Frank (Miller) gave me three pages of type written plot for 65 pages of artwork. It sounds intimidating, but I actually could’ve done 165… there’s so much in there! There’s so much to play with, and I love doing that, I prefer doing it this way. Not everybody enjoys it as much as I do, but that’s the way I prefer. This no longer “The Marvel way” this is “THE way.” I prefer it that way. I make sure that I speak to Frank about it first, but he gives me the plot and it’ll say something to the effect of… the beginning l of the first issue, it’s not a retelling of the origin per-se, it’s (Frank’s) expansion on the origin. Instead of just having the baby land, then he grows to become Superboy, it’s the long process of him growing up as a struggling adolescent. The first couple of scenes (Frank) mentions it should be “Through the eyes of the baby” and I took it literally. So, for the first several pages, as the destruction of Krypton is going on, I drew it through the eyes of the baby. Being moved around, and put into a rocket, and taking off, you don’t see the baby’s face until you see his reflection in the glass. The whole of Krypton explodes in front of the baby, and his parents have disintegrated This was the first ten pages before he even lands on Earth! I had more fun with that than I could’ve imagined. I got ten pages out of one line.
That’s the kind of thing. I made sure I discussed it with Frank and the editors first, “Yeah… go ahead, that’s fine.” It’s great that it worked out that way. Every time that Frank would give me a line that was so weighted in story possibilities, all I had to do was call up and make sure that it was O.K. with what I had planned, and… here we are.
It gets to the point where Clark Kent enlists in the navy, because Krypton (was a world of) water, and he lands in Kansas. There’s no water in Kansas. He has dreams about the oceans on Krypton, and decides he wants to be near water again. So he enlists in the navy. Now, because he’s a physical specimen, he’s a Superman, he’s recruited into the Seals. That’s the kind of expansion; there are about 25 pages of him going through basic training! It’s a lot of fun. I had more fun with that than was imaginable.
We expand on little moments. A small indication of a vignette can blow into
several pages. Ten… twenty pages.
Then he ends up in Atlantis…
I’m giving away too much. You didn’t hear any of this (stuff) from me, by the way. There’s 200 pages of story coming up. Before he actually appears in costume there’s about 100 pages of artwork, but there is nothing in there that is boring… trust me. You have to just believe me.
Steve J. Ray: The first ever “Year One” story was the now legendary Batman: Year One. From what I’ve seen and already know this new story will
be vastly different. What more can you tell us?
Frank Miller: Batman will make an appearance; we’ll see where it all started, and why they “Get along so well.” (With) this Superman project, a lot of it is about establishing and re-introducing things. What’s amazing to me is the sheer wealth of range in Superman. He’s such a wonderful creation that even after revisiting him, after all these generations, there’s still an abundance of fresh material. I find myself absolutely thrilled by it.
(Fans talk about my preferential treatment of Batman over Superman in Dark Knight Returns), but it was much worse in Strikes Again. Kryptonite boxing gloves?!? That was bad! But… who got the daughter, y’know?
I’ve got to give Paul (Dini) and Bruce (Timm) credit, because with Harley Quinn they actually dropped a new one on us. One of the very few new additions that have come and stuck, and have now been accepted by everybody.
Batman’s villains are a parade of the best and sexiest characters. There’s a profound difference between the two heroes in that Superman doesn’t have any good female villains… at all. Batman has all of them. It kind of tells you who the sexier character is, I guess… when it comes to villains. Batman has all the good villains. Superman’s got Luthor, and I guess Brainiac.
But, hey… Superman’s my next project, man. I love the guy!
On that note, I have to say that I’m more hyped than ever for Superman: Year One now. Even more-so after these bombshells; Superman as a marine, Atlantis and the fact that we’ll be seeing Batman.
I can’t wait!

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