This past weekend (September 11th - 13th) my future brother-in-law (Gary) and I headed down to Alamo City Comic Con in San Antonio, TX. We were granted two press passes so I could interview creators for the LanternCast and Gary could snap pictures of the event. While there, I had an opportunity to speak with artist Pat Broderick regarding his work on Green Lantern. Since I had his ear, he was gracious enough to spend some time with me talking about Ragman for this very blog! And, surprise surprise, Pat knew of my blog and has even read it from time to time! Let me tell you, that made me feel pretty awesome. So without further adeu, here follows the transcribed interview from Alamo City Comic Con 2015! Enjoy!
When Ragman was created by Kubert and Kanigher, he had a very subtle supernatural element to him. Mostly in the way that the electrical shock transferred his abilities to him, supposedly. But when you came on, it was post Crisis, and they had a whole new bent to it. What was it like throwing in this much more direct supernatural element?
Well it was Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming. But what I liked about it was how they tied it into the Judaic folklore, to the Golem, and to the Judaic mysticism. The ability of the rags to capture the souls of the villains. I thought that was a very unique twist to the character. And we were exploring the powers of the suit which Keith was revealing further and further into the series you know? So on my part, as an artist to draw Ragman, I've always been an incredible Joe Kubert fan and I love his war stuff. But when he got out of his war stuff and did things like the Viking Prince, Hawkman, Ragman, and Tarzan it was refreshing to see something that wasn't World War II. I loved Kubert's work and his design was incredible, it was always dead on. So I was a huge fan of Ragman when it came out because I was just a boy. I wasn't in the industry at the time. And the development of it with Rory and the characters that Joe and Kanigher had developed, that Keith and Robert had brought over. It brought a freshness to them. The Batman one where Batman became aware of Ragman and what he was doing, I thought that was a wonderful tie-in to the DC Universe. And it was a situation where I was brought on to work with Keith Giffens style which was why it was in the nine panel format...not my personal favorite selection.
Mine either and I know you've read the blog so you know it's not.
You know, it's a grind when one has to do nine panels everyday, everyday, everyday. But I respect Giffens work. I've read so much of his stuff where he did the nine panel layout and enjoyed it. But for me and my form of storytelling I like to pace things in that, when you hit the peak of say scene two, you expand that peak for the dramatic effect of it. Much the way Kirby structured his books in the early years. The chapter one, chapter two, chapter three and then a little prologue which led into the next story. It seems to me that all writing is based off of theatrical screenplay/Shakespearean format. The introductions, part one, part two and then a conclusion which works well in ANY format. But in the beginning it was a wonderful opportunity to work on the character that connected me back to my childhood. It's like an elixir, it's like a drug when you can feel like a kid again especially when you're 62 years old.
You brought up Kubert's War stuff. Rory was a Vietnam veteran so there are some Vietnam flashbacks. But it's also tied into the tale of the Golem so there’s some World War II stuff. And I remember a very specific page featuring a full page splash of a concentration camp. What what it like to draw, not just a character you grew up with, but really emotionally intense scenes?
Well there was one splash where the Jewish prisoners are behind the barbed wire and I centered on the gaunt, lost look on their faces. I was trying to capture the emotion of what they had to feel at the time. The separation, the barbed wire, the boot and the dog prints in the snow from the German guards and their dogs. I'm a big history fan, I love history so I enjoyed that part of it. Some of the splash pages like the montage page of the Golem battling everything. I'll tell you a little secret on that page. I had no layout, the plot was just, "multiple scenes. we want the Golem doing five different things and combine them into a montage". I turned in nine versions of that page to them.
Wow. Speaking of multiple versions, I've heard tell that artists used to charge more for certain characters such as Jack of Hearts. I know your art style has a lot of lines and details, but was Ragman a little more of a challenge because of the amount of work you had to put into his suit in every panel?
It was far easier than it would have been to do Jack of Hearts. (laughs) I only had to be concerned about cloth patterns. It had the Kubert/Ditko feel, the Spider-Man style mask, the almost magically flowing cape, and I was able to do a lot with that.
Was making the cape it's own almost living element your choice?
No, everything I drew I drew over Giffens layouts. Because Keith would lay a story out as his form of writing. So he had introduced the cape aspect of it and I picked up on what he was doing and I basically ran with that game.
Now, the evolution of Rory from unwilling accomplice in his fathers legacy to becoming a bonafide hero and being protected by the inhabitants of that Gotham slum. You drew a lot of Ragman and developed a lot of that. But there had to be a different side to developing Rory himself. What was that like?
Remember when the Rabbi entered the story? Rory’s development kinda took off from that point. The previous issues were when the mob took over the pawn shop, killed his father, sliced him to ribbons...that was sort of a prologue. The introduction of the suit, the realization of the crime and the harm and the loss that he felt, placing the little stone on his fathers grave as the Jewish tradition goes, and what he was going to be doing from that point on. Because he never expected to be doing that. He never expected to become the Ragman. He knew that the pawnshop was a losing financial proposition for him because he kept helping out all of the people in the neighborhood when they'd bring this junk jewelry but he knew them and felt for them. They'd say, "These are family heirlooms" and he'd know they're costume jewelry but he'd give them $50 for it or $100 for it.
And say, “I'll hold on to it for you.”
Right. And that compared to the thugs coming in and bringing in broken gold chains and broken watches which clearly identified it as stolen merchandise and then throw them out.
I don't know if you remember this when you were reading the Ragman comics that Joe was doing, and excuse my language, but Bette Berg was kind of a bitch to Rory. You just read her dialogue and knew she wasn't a legitimate love interest because she was such a bitch. It was almost like the Crisis Gods in the DC Universe, "Well she's awful. Let's make her homeless." Now Bette in your series was the biggest complete character 180 from what she once was.
It was a surprise for me too but I liked the way they developed her. It left open that there was an in-between story where she fell from her position to become a person of the streets and the alleys. Like you said, her total personality change where she was a bit of a bitch in the first incarnation now she felt a lot of empathy for other people in the alley and other people that had fallen on hard times. I'm assuming since she had experienced it herself it was a wake-up call for her perhaps in how she had treated other people and how shes now in the position where people are treating her with the same disdain.
You said you read Ragman as a child. One of the things I love so much about Ragman, and especially those Kubert issues, is the heart. Rory doesn't understand why his father does what he does in the pawn shop but he respects it and he does it himself anyways. There's a lot of heart in that. Like the way he protects that deaf and blind kid. Is that something that also resonated with you as you read those comics? Because Ragman to other people is such an obscure character, but is that what drew you in?
Yeah. It was a total change of plot structure and characterization. DC started to experiment at that time with Steve Ditko's Hawk and Dove, and a few other series that were going into more human type stories. That, to me, was showing a nice direction to go into the human tragedy instead of just superheroes and super-villains and eventually beating the super-villains and all is well. Which seemed to be the basic structure of the story. Compared to the Marvel structure of the stories where they had heroes and legends but they all had major problems in their lives and it made it more humanistic and you could relate to it more. Especially like Peter Parker going to high school and being bullied by Flash and knowing he could mop up the floor with him but, first of all, Peter wouldn't do that even with his powers because he wouldn't do that before he had his powers. His concern and admiration for Aunt May was the same as Rory's concern and admiration for his father. He'd say, "Dad why are you paying money out for this junk jewelry? You're giving the business away. I don't understand." And his father would reply, "Rory this is our neighborhood and these are our people and they've fallen on hard times" Rory never went through Auschwitz. His father was relating to those hard times. And there were still hard times. The Jewish community was still suffering prejudice towards them and I liked the fact that they were tackling those issues because they were prevalent then and they're extremely prevalent today. It makes that storyline timeless.
You know I'm a big Green Lantern fan and that's also one of the things I love about the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series also. The human issues. I understand with DC and the industries history why series like Ragman and the first Firestorm got canceled. But those series, more than those other series that remained after the DC implosion, those stories wore more worthy of being kept around rather than those that didn't have as much heart.
Some things survived the implosion. I mean, clearly it was all a financial decision because of the market at the time and the expansion and the expected return on sales vs what the reality was. For the administration they sometimes make decisions based on the projections for what they think should be and if it doesn't even hit that then it's not worth pursuing. Instead of considering building up the market because Ragman had a core following. I felt in the first incarnation it could have gone much further. In the second incarnation it certainly could have gone much further but, I'll tell you the honest truth, the sales didn't project it. The sales on the series started out very high but then with each issue would drop substantially. Which led to a telephone meeting where they decided that they wanted to do Ragman on a monthly basis but the decision was based off the sales of the first issue. I had to point out to Kevin Dooley that the sales had dropped faster than a comet striking the earth and they had lost 20,000 each month. By the time we get to the 8th issue you might only be selling 20,000 copies. You're basing a decision based on how strong it was at the beginning yet you weren't willing to change the format.
Do you think the sales were dropping because of the nine panel layout or the change to Ragman or they just didn't like the direction? Did you have any idea what it was?
I don't know. At the time it was coming out so many things are happening in the industry that, in my personal opinion, it was pulling a lot of attention towards elsewhere. Jim Lee's stellar success on X-Men, and the things that Marvel was doing based off of that. In my opinion, in this industry there’s a huge fan-base following, but it shifts to where the interest is. At the time I felt it was controlled more by the potential collectibility. Where in the beginning issues number one and two sold really high because they were banking on the value of those issues. But three, four and five...by four that's where, historically, your sales level out and once you hit that you know what you're going to do every month. But the other factors involved with the projected return on investment I think it created a whirlwind of massive buying. If they renumber any series back to issue number one it pulls the attention from all the market because they all think, "Well it's a number one. It's going to be worth a lot more." And these are decisions that are controlled by vice presidents of marketing. They're not very creative.
With the way the big two are doing things these days, let's just say I agree with you. One last question. There were a lot of quiet moments in the series. No more so than towards the end when Ragman faces off against Batman and there weren't a whole lot of words exchanged. I know you've been in the industry awhile, but what are those quiet moment like for you as an artist, getting to showcase YOUR storytelling talents?
A good comic is derived from a great story but the pictures have to be able to tell the story by themselves. For me, that particular section, you'll recall I did Batman previously. I did Detective, I did Batman Annual, I did Batman Year Three so I was very familiar with the Batman character and very comfortable with the Batman character. The standoff and the face-down between the two, Keith and Robert did not supply any dialogue for it and I knew that they wanted the emotion to carry and I was able to fill the order for them.
Well I wanted to thank you personally for what you've done with Ragman and all the other characters I love that you've been involved with such as Firestorm and Green Lantern. I definitely wanted to let you know, as one Ragman fan to another since there's not a lot of us out there, I appreciate your work and all the efforts you threw into it. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
It was a pleasure. Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about it.
Is there anything you'd like to promote? How can people get in touch with you?
I have a website www.patbroderickart.com and you can contact me through there. I'm on Facebook and I'm accepting friend requests every day so you can find me there. I also get a lot of commission work through Facebook. I also have a page up on www.comicartfans.com but that seems to have slowed down for a lot of people but I still have a page there. People are welcome to contact me through any of those three venues.
And that, as they say, is that! I highly recommend you check out Pat's work! Thanks to both Pat and his wife for being so accommodating over the weekend and to Alamo City Comic Con for letting us attend. Keep an eye on the LanternCast twitter and Facebook for pictures from the event and the LanternCast main page for more coverage in an upcoming special episode!