Darryl Banks will always be remembered by many comics fans as the co-creator of Kyle Raynor, and the artist who drew Green Lantern for more than seven years. As I told Banks, “my” Green Lantern is Kyle, but what has always stood out for me is the ways that Banks managed to visually redefine the book in exciting ways. Since he finished his run on Green Lantern, Banks has drawn a few books, but he’s mostly been working outside of comics.
The fact that he’s drawing a new book is news in itself. He’s working with his Green Lantern collaborator Ron Marz on Harken’s Raiders, a very different project for the duo, telling a World War II adventure story about a commando team extracting a German scientist from behind enemy lines. The book is being kickstarted now, and one of the rewards is The Art of Darryl Banks, the first-ever art book from Banks. I reached out to ask him a few questions about what brought him back to comics and whether we’ll be seeing more from him in the coming years.
Like you say, the industry has changed a lot. I guess in some ways for the better but for me, I was on [the book] that long because I was afraid to leave. [laughs] I thought, how do I know I’ll get something else? So I stuck around as long as possible.
Green Lantern is a book and a character where a lot of great artists have made their mark. Martin Nodell, Gil Kane, Neal Adams –
Dave Gibbons. Carlos Pacheco.
We could keep going on.
And there are few American comics like that. You created a new Green Lantern, you helped redefine the book. You say you were afraid to leave, but you stepped into big shoes in the first place.
It was a really different situation. At least it was for me. Up until that point I was doing fill-ins for Legion of Superheroes. Honestly I didn’t grow up on Green Lantern. I was more of a Marvel kid. I always liked the idea of Green Lantern more than the actual thing. That being said, I do remember from time to time picking up the Mike Grell issues of Green Lantern, and I’d get the back issues of Neal Adams, but that was more because I liked the artwork and the idea than “This is the kind of story I liked.” So often you had Hal Jordan creating boxing gloves and vacuum cleaners. In my sketchbooks, if I was drawing Green Lantern, he’d be doing different kind of stuff – never knowing that I would use it. It’s almost like the character itself is an artist, and the ring is like an art tool. That was my attraction to it. I actually put a lot of my ideas to use and people liked them. That was surprising to me.
So when you started on the book, did you know what was going to happen and you were going to create a new character?
It was nutty because, keep in mind, this was the mid-90s. Gimmicks were everywhere. I honestly thought when I first came on the book, okay, Hal Jordan, what a legacy. Like you said. I thought I was drawing Hal. My editor said, well…we’ve got some plans for Hal. But my editor said, you’ll be glad you were on the ground floor of this. And he was right.
I’m really thankful that I worked with a writer like Ron Marz who thinks very visually. He gave me plenty to work with from the script. I’d get a script and think, “This is going to be fun.” I really wanted it to be different. Like we just said, with such a long history, how do I make my mark? Obviously I can’t draw on the level of a Neal Adams, so what can I do differently?
You drew the book for years and you finished around 2001.
It was a good long run. Honestly I’m still surprised that Kyle Raynor is well liked to this day. Keep in mind when I was doing the book, Dick Grayson was Batman and we had the Death of Superman and so many things were happening and then reverting back to the way they were. I thought, six months or a year later, Hal will back and people will forget Kyle. Now in 2018 Kyle Raynor is still around and that’s crazy. [laughs]
We never approached it like it was a gimmick. It was the 90s, and gimmicks were going around so we didn’t think, “Let’s create our gimmick.” We literally created something that we ourselves liked. What would we like to see happen in this book. We didn’t even think about what’s going to make the book sell, because part of the reason the change was so drastic was because the book wasn’t doing well. For everyone that was upset at what happened to Hal, my response was, “You weren’t buying the book.” [laughs] If the book was flying off the shelves, it would have stayed the way it was. That was what my editor told me. We didn’t approach it as a gimmick, we approached it as, “This is what we think would be a logical step for where we are at this point in Green Lantern history.”
Most of my work – before and after Green Lantern – is what I went to school for, commercial illustration, toy design, advertising. But my love is always going to be things I grew up on, comics.
So since then you’ve been working on better paying non-comics work?
[laughs] Well, even though my wife would like the idea that I’m focused on better paying things, I spent too much time making comics to never do it again. I used to teach at the same school I got my degree from. I would tell my students I had so many rejection letters – back when Marvel and DC actually gave physical rejection letters – I had a stack thick enough that it looked like a phone book. It was discouraging but I said, “I’m amassing so many rejection letters, so I must be serious about doing this.” I felt like it was just a matter of time before it happened. And it did. That’s why whenever I’m at a convention and I’m talking with up-and-coming artists and they’re feeling discouraged – I think that happens to creators in general – when you’re going through rough spots, it shows how bad you want it. That it’s not just a hobby, it’s something you’re really taking seriously. I think life will ask you that question, “Are you taking this seriously?” And you’ll find out.
A writer by the name of Allen Cordrey, who’s also here in Ohio, pitched the initial idea to Ron. Allen had the idea, but he knew it would take an experienced professional to really breathe some life into it. It went from there. I was thinking, out of all the artists they know, why are you approaching me? I’m not a history buff. But they know that everything I put my hands to, I give it 100 percent. The more I worked on it, the more I got attached to it, and the more I started to like it. Before I worked at DC and Marvel, I spent more than half a decade working in independent comics, and some of the things I worked on like Doc Savage or The Wild Wild West were hard to do, especially early in my career. I had to reference everything. That really added to my growth. I was thinking, “Here we are again, it’s 2018 and I can’t draw a World War II plane out of my head” – and I wouldn’t even try. I need to do my research. Having to do that I think adds to an artist’s visual language. I remember talking with Dave Johnson once about some of his work and I said, “Your technology, your robots, are so believable.” He said, “That’s because I base everything on real life technologies as a jumping off point.” When you’re used to a visual language, you can create things with that kind of influence. So here we are with Harken’s Raiders, a World War II story, and it’s challenging but in a good way.
You’ve made a lot of comics over the years and as you said, you have those muscles, but besides incorporating research, what were the big challenges in this book for you?
Having done so many superhero stories, after a while you can rely on explosions or larger-than-life things to grab the attention of the reader much more easily. Whereas with something that’s real world, I have to rely more on camera angles and facial expressions and subtlety. That’s one of things that’s a plus. Having to stretch those muscles a little bit more. I would say being able to make people talking – even though the script is interesting – how do I visually make that interesting? I need to be able to keep the readers attention visually so they’re getting the most out of that well-written script.
So how far along are you?
We did 17 preview pages to start with, and it depending on the funding. I certainly hope it gets funded. The amount is very reasonable, and the team is in place. I certainly want to see it happen. The incentives and rewards I think are very good. I’m not just saying that because I’m a part of it. [laughs]
One reward is The Art of Darryl Banks.
Which is a first. I have never collected my art in a sketchbook before. I’ve always wanted to and talked about it, but it never happened. If you’ve seen any of the previous ones done by Ominous Press, they’re gorgeous. Their production values are top shelf. This is something I want to see for myself, my work collected in a volume like this with this amount of attention to detail and production value added to it. This exceeds my mental picture of what I thought my first sketchbook would be.
So Ron says, “We want to assemble this art book.” What’s the process of figuring out what to include?
That’s tougher for me than everyone else. As an artist, I’m a fan of other artists and I always have been. I’m thinking, “What do people want to see from me?” Myself, I like process. I like rough sketches. But I never assume anyone wants to see my process. So most of the stuff I was sending was finished and they said, “We want more sketch stuff.” So I’m submitting things to them and I don’t know 100 percent what they’re going to put in. I’m just making sure they have plenty of material to chose from.
So they said, and I’m making these numbers up, “We want 100 pages of art,” and you gave them 150 and said “I like all these, pick what you want.”
Yeah, I just keep emailing files and sending them files to their Dropbox. I gave them more than enough to chose from. The only thing I know [is included] is the cover. I thought we probably can’t use Green Lantern because of copyright, so I didn’t know what to put. I took a character I came up with when I was in college and tweaked the costume and ran with it. I don’t think he has a name. He may have had 20 different names. That’s all I did in college, come up with martial arts, Ultraman-looking characters. Actually I still do. [laughs]
Let’s assume that Harken’s Raiders gets funded. Beyond that, are there still things you want to do in comics?
There are always things. I always wonder “What if?” The reason I got into comics when I was younger was, I wanted to draw The Avengers. The Avengers is so different now, it would be okay, but I don’t want to do more stuff for Marvel and DC. I feel like I’ve done that. I’m excited about who I’m working with more than the characters. Harken’s Raiders are new characters, but I’m working with Ron. I think we gel really well. Green Lantern wasn’t an accident. He thinks very visually, his scripts are very clear to me, we make a good team, I feel. I would take working with him on Harken’s Raiders over working on some random superhero book with some creator I don’t have a good chemistry with. I know it’s going to be something I’m going to enjoy doing and be proud of.
So hopefully we’ll see more comics from you in the next decade.
I certainly hope so.
What’s your elevator pitch? Why should people get Harken’s Raiders?
People should get Harken’s Raiders because you haven’t seen me do actual comics in a way and I feel that I’ve improved a lot as an artist. That’s from the art side. Ron is a mainstay in the industry, so you know the story is going to be good, and he’s working with another creator, Mr. Cordrey, who doesn’t take a lot of credit for what he does, but this wouldn’t happen if he didn’t have that initial idea. On top of all that, the art book that’s going to be included in this is my first-ever art book. If it gets funded and you see me at a convention, I will sign it. I’ll sign it in gold. Whatever you want. This will be something you’ll want to be a part of.
Visit Kickstarter for more information on Harken’s Raiders.