When you were a kid, did you ever try writing a letter to your hero?
Whether it was part of a school project or just for fun, many of us did. So, you can imagine that in a world where heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman exist, plenty of kids might choose to write to them. That isn’t all that surprising.
What is surprising is that the heroes take the time to respond.
Dear Justice League, DC’s brand-new middle grade graphic novel from New York Times Bestselling author Michael Northrop and artist Gustavo Duarte (Bizarro), looks at some of the more surprising kid-penned letters and e-mails the heroes of the Justice League receive each week. Do these young fans want to know what it’s like to save the world or fight the Joker? No, they want to know what Wonder Woman did for her birthday. If Cyborg dominates at videogames. And if Aquaman smells like…well, sushi.
As any parent knows, kids offer an unfiltered look at our world, our challenges and our lives, so it’s little wonder that their questions may give us one of the most honest looks at the men and women of the Justice League that we’ve ever seen. Which means that for DC fans, the real heroes here may be Northrop and Duarte, who manage to craft their clever premise into a joyful, hilarious all-ages gem. We recently had a chance to talk to Duarte about Dear Justice League and his art and career in general and found his answers to our questions to be just as entertaining as the ones offered up in the book…albeit with less super-villains, sword-fighting and giant insects.
At what point did you get involved with Dear Justice League?
They already had part of the script when they called me. They sent me an e-mail asking me if I had any interest in working on this new label—a label that didn’t actually exist at that time. They explained that it would be a book, and that the label was called DC Zoom and it was for kids. They asked me if I wanted to do something with this line, and they told me it would be with the Justice League.
I thought, great! I could draw Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. I told them if I could also draw the Joker, I’m in!
They asked me to draw Superman, Wonder Woman and some kids so that they would understand what I had in mind. I did, and they liked it. They said it was perfect and that if I liked, we could get started, so they sent me the plot and half of the script, and the script was very good. I was happy in the beginning and even more happy when I started to work.
It’s an interesting format in that it’s a series of letters that have been written to the Justice League, so the dialog and word balloons are almost secondary. Did the format of the book take some getting used to?
No, I don’t think so. You just need to tell a story. It’s different from a , but I don’t think we needed to adjust much. At the beginning of each story, we have the letters, and then it switches to the superheroes and the other characters just doing their stuff.
It’s also different from your prior project for DC in that it’s a graphic novel. It wasn’t serialized the way that your Bizarro series was. Are you used to working that way?
I think we have seven or eight heroes in the book, and we divided the book so that each hero gets their own chapter. So, when it came time to create the schedule, we did it a lot like a regular comic. We would do about twenty pages a month. Some of the heroes, like Superman and Batman, they would have about twenty-five pages, while other heroes might have only eight pages . But the idea was to do twenty pages per month, and it worked out well. It was pretty much the same as a regular comic.
How was it working with Michael Northrop? Did the two of you interact, or did you mostly interact with your editor?
When I received the script, I read everything and made sure I understood it, and then I sent Michael an e-mail. It said, “Hi, I’m Gustavo, I’m working with you.” And his response was very nice, “Gustavo, I saw your art and am really excited about working with you.”
We talked maybe two or three times. We didn’t talk a lot. Normally, I would talk a lot with the writers, but in this case, the script was done. Everything was done. At times, he would send me notes saying, “I love this!” He never said that he didn’t like anything, so I was pretty happy.
As you mentioned, each chapter in this book focuses on a different hero. Do you have a favorite chapter? Is there one that you’re particularly proud of?
I really like Wonder Woman’s, but I’m not sure I want to go into why because I don’t want to spoil it for people. But I think people will see pretty quickly. It’s a different side of Wonder Woman. It’s not the regular Wonder Woman that we all know, so I did something a little different for her that I really like.
Also, I really enjoyed Batman’s chapter because it has the Joker.
Had you drawn the Joker in one of our comics before?
I don’t think so, no.
…I mean, I’ve been drawing the Joker since I was a kid, but not for DC. Only for me.
The comics you’ve drawn for DC all tend to be on the humorous side. Is that your background? Did you always gravitate towards comedy and humor?
A lot of comedy and humor, and a lot of horror.
Yes, I like horror. But even my horror always has a little humor.
How did you develop your style? What steered your art that particular way?
I think it was a little of everything, but since we are at DC, I can say that MAD Magazine was huge for me. If I need to explain how I arrived at my style, I think MAD Magazine with Sergio Aragones and artists like that were a big part of it. Also, Peanuts and Charles Schultz. That’s why I wanted to do what I do. When I was a kid, I told my mother that I wanted to do what Schultz did. I just loved his work. Also, Calvin and Hobbes and Bill Watterson. And sure, Batman, Spider-Man and Lobo. I love Lobo! But I think for me, one of my biggest influences in comics is Will Eisner.
And sure, if you look at my lines, you can see that they’re influenced by animation. I love Pixar, Disney and Warner Bros. To me, the classic Warner Bros. cartoons are like Picasso and Michelangelo. To see Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and all the rest in their classic shorts, its art. For me, it’s art.
DC chose a section of Dear Justice League to be one of this year’s Free Comic Book Day offerings. Have you ever drawn a FCBD book before?
How did that feel?
It’s very nice! You reach people that you normally wouldn’t reach. It’s free and people like free stuff! It’s a wonderful way to introduce the series. It’s the first two chapters of the book, so you can read the beginning of the story and see the art. For me and for Michael, it was wonderful to be included.
So, are there any heroes you’d love to see in a future sequel that you didn’t get to with this one?
No, I have super-villains that I want to get to, and next year, we’ll have a book with super-villains! We’re working on Dear Super-Villains, which will focus only on the villains. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. Michael is working on the script now. So far, he’s written a chapter with Harley Quinn that you can see in Dear Justice League. It’ll be included as a bonus.
Dear Justice League by Michael Northrop and Gustavo Duarte is now available in bookstores, comic shops and as a digital graphic novel. To watch the official trailer or read a two-chapter preview, click here.