Jamal Igle: A Constant State of EvolutionA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
Jamal Igle is one of the great guys in comics. He loves what he draws, he loves to draw, and his enthusiasm shines through in every page he creates. I had a chance to talk to Jamal at San Diego Comic-Con, when he wasn't allowed to talk yet about his new project for the DC, The Ray. I think you'll still enjoy this review, despite the fact that The Ray was a super-secret project at the time that we talked. Oh, by the way, his name is pronounced Eye-gle, like eagle…
Jason Sacks: I know we can’t talk about your book in particular, but you are part of this big DC reboot project.
Jamal Igle: I am part of the big DC reboot project.
Sacks: Can you talk about kind of how the whole thing came down in terms of getting people involved?
Igle: I had heard rumblings about it going back as far as February. So, I kind of knew something was coming down. When they actually made the official announcement, I was finishing up Zatanna and I was just starting on Superman. So, I was just sort of waiting to see what was being changed, what was being announced, and then eventually they gave me a call while I was working on Superman #713 and said, well, we’ve got this project for you, would you be interested? I was like yeah, sure, sounds like fun.
Sacks: What was your reaction when you heard about the reboot? We're not supposed to call it a reboot, but whatever it is.
Igle: Don’t call it a reboot.
Sacks: Yeah, Levitz is right on the other side there [in earshot of this interview].
Igle: Honestly, my first reaction was, okay, it’s about time they announced this. I actually thought it was going to be a lot more far reaching than what they’ve been revealing. It’s sort of -- you know, they’re making soft changes here and there. Because everything’s been so hush-hush, I’m interested in seeing how certain things shape up, like Grant Morrison’s running Action Comics. I want to see how that fits into what the whole lexicon of the titles, but there are other things [I’m interested in too], like Scott Snyder on Batman. I’m looking forward to that.
Sacks: It’s interesting how the buzz kind of built on it, though, I mean, it’s definitely got people talking about DC again, which I’m sure is part of the whole deal.
Igle: I’m sure it’s definitely part of the overall goal. It’s curious, especially for somebody like me who’s been not only a long time with DC as a freelancer but a longtime DC fan basically growing up with [the previous] version of DC history. I was reading comic books before Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I think Crisis came out in what, ’84?
Sacks: ’84, ’85, yeah.
Igle: ’84, so I was what, 12, 13?
Sacks: I’d never paid attention to DC and then Crisis hit and they rebooted all the series and it was exciting.
Igle: I don’t think that when Crisis came out I really understood the ramifications. It just seemed like a really cool story to me.
Sacks: It must be fun to be part of this kind of -- not Crisis II -- but something a little similar.
Igle: It is. It’s nerve wracking to be honest, because you don’t know what’s coming. And, for me, there’s a little bit of nervous energy involved because it’s an open fresh playing field. Especially with the thing that I can’t talk about. So I’m looking forward to it, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. It should shape up pretty well.
Sacks: I was talking to a friend a little bit ago. He said the thing that he’s been noticing about you is that you’re starting to more and more to be embracing a style that’s really grabbing fans.
Igle: That’s very, very kind. I hope so. I’d like to think so.
Sacks: You’ve been in the industry for a while, about 15 years or so, plus or minus. Do you feel like your work has been growing or evolving?
Igle: I always see my work as sort of in a constant state of evolution, like I’m constantly trying to improve and constantly trying to get better and find different ways of doing work and finding different techniques for things. So I can look at my work over a period of time and say, yes, there’s been definite improvement, but from a day-to-day [perspective] as I’m drawing, I don’t really say "I’ve got to get better, I’ve got to get better." I’m thinking more [about] how I can do this in the best possible way visually at that moment. It’s like a moment-to-moment thing. It’s the page-to-page evolution.
So I think -- especially the last seven years or so at DC -- it’s given me the opportunity to work on a lot of different projects and be able to experiment in some cases and have that freedom to just sort of just go and find my own voice. I’m still searching for it a little bit, but I think I’m really starting to find my own voice and my own like recognizable style much more than being a combination of the guys that I was influenced by.
Sacks: Right, you went to the Kubert School, right?
Igle: No, no, I went to SVA.
Sacks: SVA. Do you feel like you had to move out of the shadow of your education at some point?
Igle: Well, a little bit. I mean, I wasn’t at SVA that long, so it wasn’t really so much that. But I like to think of myself as a beast of the industry, you know, I am a child of comics. I started reading comics when I was 5. I started drawing at the same time. I started really getting into comics at probably the one of the industry’s greatest creative high points, but it personally made me a complete comic snob. I started seriously reading comics when Watchmen, Killing Joke, Ronin and Dark Knight all came out
And then [you had] John Byrne doing the Superman stuff and Gerry Ordway and Infinity Inc.I, and you had all this great artwork coming out and I became just like the biggest snob when it came to comics. It was like, don’t hand me anything that isn’t drawn by Steve Rude, don’t hand me anything that isn’t drawn by Dave Stevens, I don’t care.
And it wasn’t until I got older that I started to look at like all the breadth and the entirety of stuff -- not just like the naturalistic semi-realistic guys -- but looking at the more cartoony stuff, looking at the abstract artists. Really reexamining guys like Kirby, you know, and really taking a look at like the Pander Brothers or somebody like Jason Pearson and really just looking at what they were doing. Looking at guys like Mike Wieringo and just going wow, you know what, that’s impressive, that’s damn impressive.
I couldn’t do it. My brain doesn’t go into that direction. I try. You know, I’m not really built for more super cartoony [art] or even straddling that fence the way that Wieringo did before he passed or somebody like Jason Pearson or Humberto Ramos. That’s just not where my brain goes first. You know, I was a classically trained illustrator before I became a cartoonist. So my brain automatically jumps to that point and I kind of have to dial it back down. I’m like calm down, calm down, you know. Just chill out, Caravaggio, you know.
Sacks: Those technically perfect guys, like where every muscle is in the right place.
Igle: Exactly, exactly.
Sacks: It’s interesting you had to come around to Kirby. At the end of this period (1986-86), he wasn't doing great work.
Igle: But at the same time, you go back and you look at Fighting American. Or you go back and you look at the early Marvel stuff and then you realize that the man was already like, 10, 20 years into his career at that point. So by the time he got to Marvel he had already gotten it down to a formula. He had already figured out what makes comics work. And I love looking at that stuff now. When I was a kid, when Super Powers came out, I was like, what is this crap?
Sacks: Well, yeah, unfortunately late in his career. I mean, he was churning out three pages a day -- that was all automatic.
Igle: It’s true. It’s very very true, but there was a reason why they kept hiring, even at that late stage, because you can’t beat the kind of dynamism that he or Gil Kane or the old Nick Fury of SHIELD by Steranko had. We’re still doing offshoots of what they were doing. DC just put out a trade of the Jim Aparo Aquaman, and he’s doing stuff there that guys are still trying to do now, you know, and that was the '70s and the '80s. Or, you go back to the ‘40s, you look at like guys like Mac Raboy, you know, I wish I could draw like that.
Sacks: I wish there was more of that stuff in print, too.
Igle: I was very lucky because the Jewish Museum of New York did an exhibit of comics, so they had original Kirbys and original Matt Raboy. They had Chris Ware artwork.
Sacks: A whole range of artists.
Igle: Yeah, Gary Panter, his beautiful stuff.
Sacks: So you got Supergirl behind you in your banner. Do you feel bad about having to leave that book?
Igle: You know what, I did at the time, but I also felt like I needed -- I’d been on the book for two years -- to find something else to do for a while. Because, honestly, I wanted to leave before like I started to burn out and I didn’t want to do it anymore. But I wanted to leave while it was still fresh and I was on top of my game with it. Because you can always tell when somebody’s been on a project way too long, you can tell when your interest starts to wane, and I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to leave on a high note. And it just happened that Sterling [Gates] was going to leave at the same time, so leaving at issue #59 just seemed to be the best spot to do it.
Sacks: Sterling’s run was a lot of fun.
Igle: Yes, it was. It was a lot of fun to work on, and it was at times exhausting.
Sacks: Is that right?
Igle: Well, no, not in a bad way. In a very good way, because Sterling is such a great writer and he does such great work and he’s just an emotionally evocative writer. And the stuff that he was doing on Supergirl was so versatile, you know, for him. You know Supergirl’s one of his favorite characters. And he just put so much into it, and I felt like I had to step up to the plate as well.
Sacks: Then you moved over to the beautiful girl.
Igle: Yes, I moved over to the beautiful girl.
Sacks: I’m sure that wasn’t hard to do.
Igle: No, no, no, but Zatanna was right. Zatanna was a lot of fun. It was a weird project to be on only because the way that the issues were broken down, Paul [Dini] was getting ready to start a new arc and then they announced the reboot and I guess they told Paul they were going to cancel the book. I think Paul was really looking forward to coming back and working on it and then everything got switched up.
Sacks: Yeah, the big changes, they affected everything.
Igle: Yeah. I mean, it was fun. It was interesting for me because [in] every project that I do, I try to find a different way of handling the characters and I was trying to find that balance of making Zatanna more beautiful and making her visually more sexy than what I’d been doing with Supergirl for the last couple of years but still maintaining an accessibility, a visual accessibility, for the average reader be able to come in and not feel, you know, icky.
Sacks: Well they’re very different women, right?
Igle: They are very different.
Sacks: Zatanna is very out there and her sexuality is kind of part of who she is, right?
Igle: Exactly. Her day job is sexy stage magician, so you have to kind of put that out there, and I think I embraced it as much as I could, considering how much she was actually in costume during my brief run.
Sacks: Those fishnets, yeah, I do have a thing for the fishnets.
Igle: Well why, hey, guys in droves, they love Zatanna, they love the fishnets.
Sacks: Oh yeah, I still can't get used to Black Canary not being in her fishnets either.
Igle: Well she’s got fishnetting, I mean she’s got [it] on her arms now.
Sacks: I don’t know, it’s something about the legs. Maybe it’s because I saw Rocky Horror so many times. You know, you’ve got the fishnets.
Igle: That would work. I saw it 75 times, [laughs]
Sacks: Do you have a certain favorite series you wish you could go back to working on? You’ve got a whole range of stuff in your portfolio there. Everything from Star Wars to Supergirl.
Igle: Yeah. I think if I were to go back to doing anything right now, I would love another shot at Nightwing. My original run was so short, much shorter than I was planning. But I wasn’t ready for it at the time. I came at it so much from a fan perspective that I kind of lost personal perspective. I got too wrapped up in trying to make it the perfect Nightwing book rather than telling good stories visually.
Sacks: That’s a really interesting comment, Jamal. You got too caught up in the fan perspective.
Igle: Yeah, well, I still read comics every month just like everybody else. Nightwing was one of the books that like I’ve always wanted to get my hands on, I finally got my hands on it and I had to kind of admit to myself, you know what, this isn’t working. So I would love to take another shot at the character at some point.
Sacks: You were talking about how you’re a geek for these characters, you love this stuff.
Igle: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Sacks: You’ve got to distance yourself just a little bit.
Igle: A little bit, yeah. You can be a fan but you have to think of it from a business perspective, as well. There are only so many hours in a day, especially now, you know. I’ve got a family and they’re patient with me when there needs to be work done, but I think what happened with me on Nightwing is [that] I had a very different vision of what the character should be about than Mark had. Our two visions didn’t line up, and I think that disappointed me, so I figured that retreat would be the better part of valor.
Sacks: Does that happen fairly often that you’re not in synch with your writer?
Sacks: I’m always kind of curious about that, because comics are so collaborative that it’s really easy to have it not be a good match at times.
Igle: It happens, and for me it’s rare. I’ve been really, really lucky with the writers that I’ve gotten to work with. So it’s been very rare when a writer and I haven’t seen eye to eye on a project. There have been those great instances, like working with Sterling on Supergirl or working with Jay Ferber on New Warriors and Iron Fist and Noble Causes and Venture and all the stuff that we did or working with Alex Simmons on the Blackjack stuff back in the ‘90s, where we were just two brains knocking together, coming up with ideas, you know?
Sacks: Okay, so I always ask if there's anything else you want readers of Comics Bulletin to know about you.
Igle: Uh, anything -- I’m a fabulous dancer. I like long walks off of short piers and you can bribe me with wine.
Sacks: Wine, okay.
Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.