graphic thoughts

An Interview with Drew Geraci

by Jennifer A. Ford

Welcome to the very first Birdwatching exclusive interview. Drew Geraci, Birds of Prey‘s ultra-talented inker, graciously answered my barrages of questions, and his responses are fun and interesting and give a great insider’s view of the comic biz.

Drew Geraci (pronounced Jer -ay’ -see) was born in 1966 in Monroeville, Pennsylvania (east of Pittsburg), and spent the first twenty-two years of his life reading “way too many comics!” As if this were possible.

After spending three years trying to self-publish, it became clear to him that breaking into comics would require mastering one specific skill. Says Drew: “I chose inking, since I always felt most comfortable with it.”

In 1994, Drew met “the mighty Dave Johnson” at Dragon*Con in Atlanta who sent him photocopy samples to ink. Those samples got him hired as Johnson’s assistant inker on the Superpatriot: Liberty and Justice miniseries (published by Image).

When the work was half-finished on the mini, Johnson found out that the DC Comic’s series Justice League America had lost its inker. “In this business, timing is 50%,” says Drew. “Work ethic is the other 50%.” Johnson encouraged Drew to submit samples since the Superpatriot mini was nearing its end. Drew Fed Exed his work to DC on a Thursday; Brian Augustyn (editor of the series) needed to make his hiring decision by the end of the workday Friday. “So he hired me,” Drew says. And Drew received the pages to JLA #103 the very next Monday.

Drew admits to having been “scared to death at being thrown solo into the fray!” But six months later Augustyn switched Drew over to The Ray, and six more months later, as he was finishing the last pages of that comic’s final issue, Mike Carlin called.

“Mike needed someone to ink the two hundred page Superman/Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy Elseworlds in five months!” This break arrived courtesy Dusty Abell (“he of the long mane, huge biceps and humble personality”) who saw Drew’s name on Superpatriot and put him on the short list of inkers he’d requested.

“It was a relentless schedule which kept me a virtual shut-in during the ’96 Summer Olympics [Drew lives near Atlanta].” But the sacrifice paid off. Says Drew, “I haven’t gone without work ever since.”

His initiation into the Bativerse was the Shadow of the Bat Annual #5 where he inked Stefano Raphael. Immediately after that assignment, Jordan B. “Gorf” Gorfinkel (The Father of the Birds of Prey) assigned him to ink Birds of Prey: Batgirl #1, which began both his Birds association and his collaboration with Greg Land.

“A few months later, Gorf told me he was submitting a proposal for a Birds monthly and asked if we (along with Chuck Dixon) would attach our names to the project. No fool I, I said yes.” And the fans cheered! “A few days before Christmas ’97, we got the green light and the contracts were sent. However, instead of starting on it right away, Gorf was hammering out the first year’s worth of BOP plots with Chuck.”

During this period, Gorf kept the team busy with all three working on Detective One Million, Greg on Legends of DCU (on the excellent “Peacemakers” three-parter starring Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen), and Drew on Legends of the Dark Knight issues 109-111 where he once more worked with Dusty Abell on the excellent three-part story “The Primal Riddle.” And Drew also worked with Chuck Dixon (with Nelson DeCastro doing the pencilling honors) on Birds of Prey: Ravens #1, part of the 1998 fifth-week “Girlfrenzy” event.

Of the series, Drew says “Birds of Prey is a cool book that fills a niche for street-level girlpower! It’s a rotten shame that it gets ignored in most of the fan press, since anyone who’s seen it knows it’s a good read for your money.”

Birdwatching: What’s the first comic title or story you remember reading?

Drew: Captain America #145, with incredibly fast-paced Gil Kane/John Romita art! Check it out! I remember my dad was in the hospital for back surgery. My mom took me to the gift shop, which had maybe a dozen comics, and that cover stood out from the others. I reread it at least three times that evening. I was hooked! The next day, to my horror, I found it torn up in the garbage! Not due to it’s contents, mind you. My mom thought it was like a newspaper, you read it one day, you toss it the next.

BW: Who is/are your favorite comic character(s) and why?

Drew: Now you’ve cornered me: Despite my preference to DC’s current comics line, I was a Marvel Zombie my first few comic-reading years. Captain America & Iron Man, ’cause I could draw them easier at an early age. Superman’s ‘S’, Batman’s cowl and Wonder Woman’s eagle were too hard!

BW: How did you become interested in working in comic art?

Drew: I used to draw my own seven page comics, (with staples, mock letters page and all) at the age of seven. It was the only thing I had a passion for. However, I hadn’t thought of it as more than an idle dream. Twenty years later, I finally said “Do I want to be a bitter old man one day?” and seriously tackled breaking into comics.

BW: What is your artistic background/training?

Drew: I went to two years of vo-tech school during my first two years of high school. Later, a two year associate’s degree at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Neither prepared me as much as my first few jobs afterwards, doing paste-up, prepress production, photostatting, etc. These schools cannot teach you how to draw, per se. You have to bring that ability with you.

BW: How did you get into the inking biz?

Drew: Met Dave Johnson at Dragon*Con ’94. He was nice enough to give me samples and his address. He liked my clean linework. He needed an assistant and taught me a lot. I would have gladly done it for no money and no mention in the credits. He gave me both. I owe him everything.

BW: Was it your goal to be an inker?

Drew: Yes. In the years between my homemade comics and pro career, I felt most comfortable when I would dabble in inking.

BW: Do you do pencilling, too, or writing?

Drew: Not professionally, cuz DC keeps me so busy as an inker. In this depressed comic book market, I’m sticking with what pays the bills. I’ve had to turn down many other inking assignments, because I’m finding myself in demand (lil’ ol’ me?). I’m not going to screw with that. Another thing: I’d rather be a very good inker than another mediocre penciller. I do plan on pencilling a self-published comic that I can spend my time on, outside of deadlines.

BW: What was your first published inking job?

Drew: Cover of Freak Force #11.

BW: What other things have you inked?

Drew: In chronological order —Detective One Million

  • Superpatriot: Liberty & Justice
  • Justice League America
  • The Ray
  • Superman/Wonder Woman Elseworlds: Whom Gods Destroy
  • Legion of Superheroes
  • Speed Force
  • DV8
  • Green Arrow
  • various Bat titles:
    • Legends of the Dark Knight
    • Batman Chronicles #14 (over Aparo!)
    • Shadow of the Bat
    • Detective One Million
  • various Secret Files and Gallery one-shots and more.

BW: What penciller’s work would be your dream-inking assignment and why?

Drew: Gil Kane, cuz he’s still got it and draws better than most of these young ‘un’s.

BW: What writer(s) have you most enjoyed working with?

Drew: Chuck Dixon, with no close second. When I get new pages, I’m reading them for the first time. I get into it, like a serial, because the scripts are funny, clever and full of twists. Chuck can also write “tough-guy” dialogue that doesn’t read like a dopey action flick.

BW: What work have you done of which you are most proud? For example is there a whole story or even just a single panel where you thought you’d absolutely nailed it?

(Check out this masterful ink-work)

Drew: Whole story: Birds of Prey #8 [due out 2 June 1999].
Single panels: Hard to nail down, but I love doing the close-ups of Babs. With her dark hair, you can get some nice contrasts.
What comic character that you have worked on was your most challenging
and/or most rewarding?

Drew: Both would be Birds of Prey: Most challenging, ’cause Greg throws in more details than most monthly artists. Most rewarding, ‘Cause he gives me room to play. I experiment with new textures each month. I will literally make it up as I go along. Sometimes it doesn’t work, so you learn.

BW: What comic character that you have not yet had the chance to work on would you most like to be able to tackle?

Drew: I’ve had the pleasure of inking most of DC’s characters at one time or another. I’d love a crack at Firestorm, Blue Beetle, Daredevil and any Lee/Kirby/Ditko character.

BW: Since you’re an inker, one might guess the penciller’s work has the most direct bearing on your work. How influential is the story?

Drew: Not much, unless it’s exceptionally good or bad. Chuck’s stories are peppered with great dialogue and situations, so my enthusiasm remains consistently high. In the past, I allowed some ‘dog’ storylines to dampen my interest, and I would crank it out faster than I should’ve. That’s a poor excuse that I wouldn’t accept now.

BW: What writer(s) have you most enjoyed working with?

Drew: At the risk of sounding like a butt-kisser: Chuck Dixon, with no close second.

BW: What writer would you most like to work with?

Drew: Mark Waid, Karl Kesel, Kurt Busiek

BW: Is there a particular kind of story you prefer as a reader? An inker? (Action? Comedy? Drama? Character-building?)

Drew: Character-building, which is why I poured extra sweat into BOP#8. It’s a very touching story. I’ve read way too many comics since 1974, so I’m quite jaded. However, I think Chuck wrote a real standout story with moments of riveting anger, humor, discomfort and disarming warmth. Greg’s lush pencils breathe life into it. I don’t remember ever being so absorbed in a story I worked on.

BW: What comic titles make your must-read list every month?

Drew: Astro City, Robin, Nightwing, JLA, The Bat titles, Avengers, Earth X, and fun titles like A-next, Patty Cake, The 3 Geeks.

BW: What artists (inkers, pencillers, colorists) do you consider the best in the business?

Drew: Aside from the BOP crew [Greg Land and Gloria Vasquez] and my Jolly Roger studiomates —
Pencils: Michael Golden, Chris Sprouse, Ron Garney, Rudolpho Dimaggio
Inks: John Dell
Color: Matt Hollingsworth

BW: The colorist usually doesn’t get a cover credit. How do you view the contributions of the writer/penciller/inker/colorist equation? In other words, is the process generally collaborative or does each member of the team work on his or her own vision?

Drew: Gorf worked very closely with Chuck setting up the initial BOP specials and the first year of the ongoing series. Greg and I, pleased with the storylines, don’t get involved in the writing. Chuck insists he’s open to our suggestions, though. Since there’s been lots of paramilitary happenings in BOP lately, he’ll load Greg up on the appropriate photo reference, which is going above and beyond the call of duty. Lots of times, Greg will write notes to Gloria and me in the margins. We keep the lines of communication open.

BW: Who determines where the color will go?

Drew: Greg makes a dozen or so color requests each issue on specific panels. After that, it’s all Gloria. Gorf (now Joe Illidge [BOP’s new editor]) goes over the color comps and adds requests or changes.

BW: Do your decisions on what you ink and what you leave empty depend on that or decide that issue?

Drew: Lots of times, like with Babs hair, Greg and I’ll suggest “dropouts” where there are only shadows inked (think of Sin City graphics). Gloria always picks up on these nuances.

BW: Would you ink a book differently if it were to be printed in black and white rather than in color?

Drew: Never did a B&W book, but I’d probably throw in a ton of zipatone for shading.

BW: Do you prefer working in a color medium or would you rather ink black and white comics?

Drew: Tough call, ’cause I’ve been colored by the best and the worst.

BW: Computers are being used more and more in comic book creation, especially for coloring. Do you see the computer-aided art as an improvement or a loss of the traditional art style? Do you see a time where all art will be created on computers or will traditional pen and paper techniques survive?

Drew: I am very passionate about this subject. A few years ago, Wizard Magazine had one of their fun articles “Predicting the Future Five Years From Now”. They claimed inkers will be replaced by computers. I lost sleep that night ’cause I was dwelling on it. After working the
concept in my head, I came up with the following two conclusions:

1) I won’t fight technology (I’m online with you, right?), but a computer is only a tool. Unless that operator is artistically inclined in the first place, He/she won’t replace me. You can’t just use ex: “tree graphic 38” on every tree of a jungle scene, without looking samey. If you manipulate tree graphic 38 on each tree, sure, but, again you have to be an artist to tweak an image to get the desired effect.

2) Comics fans are also art fans. They appreciate the beauty of a
brushstroke and like having the physical art in their hands. This
argument also applies to computers doing away with comics. Fans love
the thrill of the hunt to find back issues, reading them on a comfy
couch, etc. Comics will survive.

Ink Boy, Inc.

BW: Do you ever hide any “in jokes” in your panels? Funny signs on the buildings? Friends hidden in the background? Words worked into people’s clothing?

Drew: In BOP #5, Greg stuck “Chaney” on a pilot’s nametage, and “wolfman” on his helmet, like a codename. In BOP: Batgirl, I
stuck “Ink Boy, Inc.” on a building at the end. #6 plugged Jolly Roger
[Drew’s home studio] and Dreamland (Greg’s home studio). There’re others,
but I don’t recall them.

BW: Thanks so much for your time. It’s been a real pleasure.

Drew: It’s fun to share my thoughts with a fellow enthusiast. Bird is the word.