Marshall Rogers' emergence as a major comic talent rejuvenated a sense of mystery in the Batman while at the same time it renewed the serious comic audience faith that an innovative talent can still make an impression in the commercial four-color field. Starting with British weeklies, Rogers went on to do his highly acclaimed work for Detective Comics and Mister Miracle. The following interview was conducted by George Haberberger with an assist from Kenn Thomas on January 4, 1980. Many of the questions were provided by Jerry E. Durrwachter and Bryan Hollerbach.
Whizzard: Who were your major artistic influences?
Rogers: The major influence in my art career is Jack Kirby. When I was growing up reading comic books, even before I was aware of the name of Jack Kirby, Jack's work was sticking in my mind. I had read the first issue of The Fly. I don't remember how old I was but it was a book that really struck me. I never actually noticed the changes of the artists except for the fact that that book was no longer as inspiring or fun to read. During the early Marvel days I grew up following Jack's work. He is the person that made me want to draw comic books.
Whizzard: What comic books did you follow as a child?
Rogers: I was an avid comic book reader with about anything I could lay my hands on. Then when I started paying for the comic books I became a little bit more selective, but I would always go after a Jack Kirby comic book. I didn't really care who the character was; Kirby always knew how to tell a story that I would enjoy. Of course, there were many other artists that I followed but I couldn't mention them off the top of my head right now.
Whizzard: Do you follow any comic books today?
Rogers: No. Ever since I broke into the business I found that working on the books takes up so much of my time that I haven't got time to read other people's work. If I do get a break I would rather watch a movie or read a novel. I can't become too limited to comic books.
Whizzard: How did you get the Detective Comics assignment?
Rogers: I had gotten my first work at Marvel and I was doing assignments for their British publications. Not much was happening at Marvel for me to move over into their American books so I took myself over to DC to see what was available over there.
Vinnie Colletta took a look at a couple of sample pieces I had brought along with me. He liked the work so he gave me an assignment. It was a story called "Canterbury Tail," originally scheduled as a back-up in Kamandi. I did two of those jobs, ran back to Marvel and did a black and white job for them, and then I was back at DC and needed a new assignment.
Julius Schwartz gave me a back-up feature in Detective Comics that involved a villain called the Calculator. I picked up that series after a number of other artists had done four previous stories. I did the fifth story that involved Green Arrow and the sixth story that involved Hawkman. Then there was to be a complete wrap-up of all the superheroes that the Calculator had previously fought to appear in the 17-page book along with the Batman. Since I had done the last two stories and they needed an artist to do the job it was decided that I would do it. The assignment was given to me, I did it, and DC got a large amount of mail that was very favorable in response to the Calculator story. When DC had seen this they gave me the job full-time on Detective Comics
Whizzard: Did Chris Claremont and you have a lot planned for the "Daughters of the Dragon?" (Deadly Hands 32-33)
Rogers: No. "Daughters of the Dragon" came about when I had been working for Marvel for their British books and I had talked to John Warner and Chris Claremont about doing a project. When I had left Marvel to go over to DC, John Warner gave me a call one day and asked if I was still interested. I said, "Sure I am." I explained to Julius Schwartz what the situation was -- that I had given a verbal commitment to do a job for Marvel -- and he was very understanding. I took a short leave of absence from DC. This was in the early days; I wasn't on contract. We did a two-part story that was, as far as I was concerned, a one-shot. We haven't really talked about doing anything else with it. I have mentioned to Chris that it would be nice to work together again but nothing has really come up.
Whizzard: On Detective Comics was it accidental that you were paired with Steve Englehart?
Rogers: Absolutely. I new Steve by reputation but I had never met him previously. I had never even thought of working with the gentleman. It was just a twist of fate that threw everything together on Detective Comics.
Whizzard: The cover of Detective 472 proclaimed that "The Batman is dead, long live the new Batman!" In the letter column of 476 Mike Friedrich echoed these sentiments by saying that "The Batman lives again!" Did you feel you were setting new standards for the character?
Rogers: No, I never really thought of it in that perspective. What I was doing was presenting the Batman as I had always seen the character. No matter who the artist was that I was seeing as a kid, I had definite impressions of what the Batman was about. I finally had my opportunity to show how to me the Batman should be presented.
Whizzard: It seems obvious that the Batman should be portrayed as a figure of the night.
Rogers: That's how the character was originally conceived. When I got the assignment to actually work on the Batman, I went back to the original Batman comic books and I looked at what Bob Kane and Bill Finger had done. They created a character that was supposed to be a winged nemesis of evil who could instill fear into the hearts of his villains through that costume. He's supposed to look eerie. He's supposed to look weird. He's supposed to look like a bat; only a bat was going to strike fear into criminals. The Batman is the finest designed character I have ever come across. I tried to use the designed concepts in a little more designing way.
Whizzard: You frequently positioned the Batman so the shadows made his blue costume turn black. Do you think the character would be more visually believable if he were clad in black and gray rather than blue and gray?
Rogers: Very possibly. I think the cape and cowl over the ears originally were supposed to have been black with, say, a black satin type material that would have highlights on it. The blue was used to designate the highlights. As the years went by the character became a little more homogenized and his cape and cowl became blue.
Whizzard: One of the Joker's victims looked a lot like Julius Schwartz. Whose idea was this?
Rogers: (laughter) That was really just coincidental. The character was a guy who worked for the copyright bureau. As I was traveling into the city by train to go to work at Continuity (Associates) I was reading a newspaper that day and noticed a photo of a gentleman. When I saw it I said, "That's the guy! That's what the guy should look like at the copyright bureau." So I took the photo out and in my interpretation of it I guess it came down to look like Julius Schwartz. It was based on a picture of a person whose name I don't even know. Actually, there's a shot of Julius Schwartz at the end of one Manbat story. You'll notice there is a slight difference in the drawing of the two different characters.
Whizzard: Whose inking did you prefer on Batman?
Rogers: Terry gave me work that I found extremely good but it's really something that can't be judged because Terry has worked with me longer and understands my line better. Also, I had put a lot more of myself into the six Englehart stories that Terry and I did than the job I did with Dick (Giordano). Unfortunately, less time was taken on the Clayface stories than what I had put into the Englehart series.
Whizzard: Why did you ink only one of your Batman stories?
Rogers: That was because I decided it was time for me to part ways with DC so I drew no others after that. I was hoping at that point that I could continue with the Batman and ink it myself. I was hoping to do more but that's the way the ball fell.
Whizzard: Shadows frequently fell across Bruce Wayne's face where the cowl would be and his shadow was the Batman's shadow. Was this your idea?
Rogers: If I remember correctly Steve asked for a batman shadow to be thrown off of Bruce Wayne when he and Silver were walking down the street. I know that the shadow across of Bruce's face was my little touch. It's all trying to establish that Bruce Wayne is the Batman.
Whizzard: Did you approach illustrating "Death Strikes at Midnight and Three," a text story, significantly differ from the norm?
Rogers: It didn't really take too much of a variation on my approach. I read through the story completely. What I try to do is allow myself to have an open mind and see what impressions I get off of the story at the initial reading. I jot myself a few minor notes if I get a sharp impression on a type of angle, a type of building, or the way that the Batman would move when something was being said or done. If a particular setting or gesture of movement comes to mind while I am reading through I make notes of those initial contacts. Then I'll go back and try to thread it all together.
Actually, doing the (Denny) O'Neil story "Death Strikes at Midnight and Three" was a lot simpler in many instances than a comic book story because whatever excited me the most, whatever gave me the most inspiration, is what I would concentrate on for the spot illustrations compared to having to make everything work smoothly in the storyline of a regular comic book.
Whizzard: You frequently incorporated the sound effects into the art. Were you inspired by particular artists along those lines?
Rogers: No, there was no artist in particular who gave me inspiration for that. In my work I want to incorporate every element of the comic book into the storyline. As far as I'm concerned, a sound effect isn't something that you throw away. I tried to work it into the art so that it comes across as if it was part of the story rather than a throwaway word that is supposed to be doing something. I tried to make my sound effects give the impression or the feeling of what they are doing coming off visually in the art... A little touch of cartooning here and there I think adds a lot of vitality to the strip.
Whizzard: Several of the scenes in Detective Comics are reminiscent of Will Eisner's work. Even a Spirit poster appeared in one panel. Was your work significantly influenced by his?
Rogers: I can't say how significantly, per se. I think Will Eisner is a master, a gentleman who I give extreme kudos to. Unfortunately, I was never aware of the Spirit until I was well into my twenties and saw the work in retrospect. My Sunday newspapers, unfortunately, never carried the Spirit. He's a master of the field; he knows what he's doing. Eisner had a way of making his sound effects work visually. Perhaps that is part of my inspiration to the way I approach my sound effects.
Whizzard: You do a lot of "foot level" shots in your stories. In a Detective Comics story Silver St. Cloud and Rupert Thorne are riding in the car and you drew them from the angle under the dashboard. Are these strange perspectives homage to Eisner?
Rogers: No, that is not true. The reason for my worms-eye view approach is very often because a shot is more effective if you have an up-shot rather than an eye-level or a down-shot. So it's more for the drama of the piece that I approach my angles that way.
Whizzard: To what extent did Englehart contribute the layouts of the six Batman tales you co-produced?
Rogers: In the terms of strict layouts, nothing. In the terms of writing a story and being able to conceive it visually, everything. One of the reasons I was able to work so easily on Steve's strip is because Steve is a very visual writer. He knows the limitations of the field. Steve can go through a scene and move a character from point A to point B and make the writing work. He had a lot to do with how the story ended up looking visually, even though he had no say in the way I actually showed it. Without Steve's keen sense of movement within his script I couldn't have showed such a keen sense of movement in the work itself.
Whizzard: After Englehart and Terry Austin left Detective the over-all mood of the graphics seemed to change. How would you explain this difference?
Rogers: The difference goes back to Steve's involvement in the layouts of the job. The same character considerations weren't put into the way the character thinks, moves, and feels. The same overall conception of the movement of the piece wasn't in there. The story wasn't written with the same finesse for movement and as such comes across that way. No matter how good an individual is it still takes a team collaboration to pull off a good piece of work. There wasn't the same type of meshing.
Whizzard: You stopped doing the Batman shortly after Englehart left the series. Were you disappointed with Len Wein's version?
Rogers: Let's not use the word disappointed. Basically, the character was not functioning in the same way. A lot of the magic that came off the Englehart and Rogers' Batman was that Steve and I perceived the character almost exactly the same. There were a few minor differences even in our version of the Batman, but, all in all, it's almost like one man would think about the character. We just meshed very finely. The O'Neil and the Wein version of the Batman were not as acutely tuned to my train of thought.
Whizzard: If Steve Englehart came back to write the Batman again, would you consider penciling it?
Rogers: I would certainly consider penciling it, absolutely. I know what Steve wants out of his work and if DC were willing to meet his demands I'm sure they would be able to meet my demands also. If Steve went back to write the Batman I'm sure I'd be right there ready and willing to draw it.
As a matter of fact, Steve had written a Batman story soon after he had finished the DC stuff and, although I didn't quite beg, I was very anxious to get that job. DC wouldn't give it to me because, and I'm paraphrasing Paul Levitz, "Marshall Rogers' style was no longer conducive to the Batman."