In a matter of days, thousands of eager comic book fans will make their way through San Diego Comic-Con’s famous Artists Alley, the section of the show floor devoted to professional comic book artists and illustrators. If you’ve been there or to the Artists Alley at one of the hundreds of comic conventions worldwide, you know what it’s like—dozens of the industry’s most gifted and diverse artists selling art, prints, comics and merchandise. It’s where you’re likely to discover some of the most unique art at the con.
It’s in that spirit that DC Collectibles conceived the DC Artists Alley line of designer vinyl figures—arguably the most exciting line to hit comic and specialty shops this past year. Featuring original takes on some of your favorite DC characters by stylish artists that you may have seen at a con near you, it’s primed to take the world of collectors by storm. Now that the first figures are available in stores, and with the spirit of Comic-Con very much in the air, it seemed like the right time to talk with one of the artists involved with the line, Connecticut-based painter and illustrator Chris Uminga. Contributing a sweet-but-slightly-sinister take on Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash, Chris sat down with us to discuss how he got involved with DC Artists Alley, how his art has improved as a result, and which DC villain he’s most itching to do.
So, how did you get involved with DC Collectibles’ Artists Alley line?
A few years ago, I met Jim Fletcher, the best dressed guy in comics.
Yeah, he really is!
We talked about trying to find something to do together. Jim’s always been really supportive of my work. After a while, though, you start to doubt that it’s ever going to happen. Then I remember getting an email from him asking if he could give me a call. He said he wanted to do this new Artists Alley line with me, but I wasn’t able to tell anybody for a while. I was running around my apartment screaming like a maniac—I mean, this was real. I’m glad I can talk about it now. It’s been an exciting journey.
You haven’t drawn any comics for DC, but prior to this experience, had you drawn many DC characters?
Yeah, I was always drawing Adam West and the ’66 Batman characters. It was my first introduction into that world. I remember watching the reruns before school every morning. I was always a Batman and Superman fan. My sketchbook would be filled with Batman and Joker.
Joker…he’s my favorite. There are just so many ways to draw him. I was always sketching and drawing Batman and his villains, and other DC heroes as well, so I always had them in my arsenal.
SDCC Exclusive Blue and Gray Variant Batman Figure
How would you describe your work for people who are new to it or who haven’t seen it?
A lot of people call it “creepy and cute.” I get a lot of that. I think it’s outside the box. It’s a little bit more “super-deformed” and lowbrow. I take a lot of influence from tattooing, graffiti, old monster movies and old toys. My work is, a lot of people would say, really creepy, but super cute. I don’t try to draw in that way—I don’t realize that’s the direction it’s going in when I’m drawing—but I can see it from other people’s points of view.
What is your art background?
I went to college for fine art. I have a degree in fine art painting. Coming out of college, comics was always something I wanted to try doing, but I loved painting so much, so I would do gallery shows on the east coast and west coast. I got into a couple of good gallery shows and some art books, but that desire to draw comics was still in me. I remember going to a comic-con with my buddy and agreeing to sit with him and put some of my stuff out, and I realized that I could draw as myself and still be in comics, and people seemed to really like it. So, it kind of snowballed from there. I was lucky that the internet was around when it was, and that there were all these different platforms to really showcase my work.
Do you do anything differently when you’re drawing a character that you know is going to be a collectible?
Basically, with these guys, I drew hundreds of little stick figures for each character, keeping in mind the personality of the characters. Batman is Batman. He’s not going to stand a certain way. Superman is the ultimate hero, so he’s only going to stand certain ways too. Superman is such a beast. I modeled his pose off of UFC fighters. It’s his pre-fight pose. Batman is always, “I’m here. I don’t want to be here, really, but I’m going to save the day.” And Wonder Woman is such a badass. If she’s there, she’s jumping in the fight.
There were just pages and pages of these sketches—inch-tall stick figures. I was trying to find the silhouette that I liked the best. Making sure the silhouette fit the personality and the character was a big thing for me. But also realizing that I had to tell a story with the pose, as opposed to being able to draw a background or other details that aren’t necessarily going to be there.
Do you feel that what you learned through this process has impacted your art in general?
Yeah. It really taught me to pay more attention to how things would look three-dimensionally. Even though my stuff is still 2D, I pay more attention to, say, how that elbow would look behind the cape. How would the light affect the background? How would the wind blow the back of his cape? It’s helped me spot a few of the flaws in my art and has helped me to get better.
So far, they’ve announced DC Artists Alley collectibles based on your take on Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash. Which DC character would you most like to add to that slate? Would it be the Joker?
Joker is my bucket list. My dream. He’s my favorite character. He’s actually the one I get asked the most about by fans. They want to know if we’ll be making a Joker figure, and I just smile and say, “Fingers crossed. Hopefully one day.”
I’m curious, why wasn’t the Joker one of your figures?
I think they wanted me to do the trinity. Nooligan got to do the Joker and Harley. It’s not like I didn’t try! I think they saw a piece I’d worked on that had Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman together, and I think they wanted to see me focus on them. But I’m hoping one day!
Will you be at San Diego Comic-Con? Be sure to swing by the Entertainment Earth booth (#2343) to pick up Chris Uminga’s three exclusive SDCC variant DC Artists Alley Batman figures!