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The Man Behind The Muscle: Norm Breyfogle

September 8, 2009


Christian Bale would not have done his vocal cords in, in Batman if Norm Breyfogle and Alan Grant did not help to bring the flagging caped crusader back to life from the ailing depths of comic backwater. Meet the man behind the muscle. Not only did Norm Breyfogle help to resuscitate Batman, he also co-created the villains The Ventriloquist and Zsasz, the hero Prime, and drew numerous other mainstream comics characters, including Captain America, Anarky, Black Panther, The Flash, and Hellcat, to name but a few. Norm also created, wrote, and illustrated his own creator-owned comics character: Metaphysique. He has been commissioned to work on Stephen Pytak’s  .40 Caliber Mousehunt (you can read Stephen Pytak’s interview to learn more and see his artwork). It is all enough to make you swoon! Here he is (we need a drum roll or something) getting a grilling from BookFreeq.

How did you get involved with The .40 Caliber Mousehunt?

Stephen Pytak contacted me via email. He provides professional rates, so I’m more than happy to make room in my schedule for his stuff whenever I can.

You started taking private lessons from Andrew Benson – how did you, at 12, know you wanted to be a comic artist?

Actually, I wasn’t certain of that at that age. I didn’t decide that I wanted to be a professional artist of any kind until after I’d had a year of those private lessons. I was interested in science and was thinking that I’d maybe grow up to be an astronomer.

I came across comics at a young age at the grocery stores and drugstores. My mom would buy a few of my favorites for me. Also, certain TV shows reinforced my interest, like the B&W Superman TV show, or the 60’s Batman TV show.

I also remember my father drawing Superman for me when I was a very young child, which had an impact on me because he had drawing ability (though he never pursued it professionally).


How did you develop a signature style?

I was a huge fan of a handful of comics artists who were working in the field when I was a child, and I also learned from probably 50 more comics artists. My amateur work was obviously influenced heavily by Neal Adams’ and Curt Swan’s and Nick Cardy’s and Jim Aparo’s stuff, but I intentionally decided not to directly copy any other artists’ styles so that I could instead develop my own.

In my private lessons and later in college I learned to work in just about all traditional artists’ mediums, and drawing from live models really matured my skills. By the time I became a pro comics artist I already had a bit of a style of my own boiled down, and I refined it further during the first 5-10 years of my comics career.

Actually, I’m still and always refining it with each new job.


How did you end up drawing for Spiderman, Superman and Captain America, and repopularising Batman?

I’ve drawn little Spiderman or Captain America, but yes, some. I’ve done a number of short pieces and series for Marvel over the years, but mostly I was a DC guy … until they showed me the door.”

I got the Batman gig basically because the time was right for me; certain editors liked what they saw. I was showing my stuff at the comic cons in California in the mid to late 80s, and started getting some work from various publishers via Mike Friedrich’s Star Reach, an agency which represented comics talent to publishers. After a year of meeting deadlines for First Comics, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil invited me to do a sample Detective Comics story (a Batman title). They liked it, so I got the series.


How do you feel about the Batman and Spiderman movies? Are Christian Bale and Toby Maguire worthy superheroes?

Basically, I think they’re all great. I could only dream of seeing such films about my heroes when I was a child.

Of course, I’m not a child now, so I also see the shortcomings. I won’t dwell on them here. Suffice it to say that Batman is probably the toughest “super-hero” to do correctly because he so very closely skirts the edge between realism and the fantastic.

Super-powered heroes like Spiderman and The Hulk can lean on spectacular special effects based on their powers in order to maintain viewer interest, but Batman can’t do that as easily. He’s 100% human and therefore must stick, more or less, to human-level realism. Since he inhabits a more human-level world, he runs the risk of looking foolish: a normal guy in a bat costume. In his more realistic setting it’s difficult to work around that tendency to look foolish, to transcend it, to attain, instead, to the mythic. For this reason, Batman seems to work best in comics or animation, where the stylism of an individual artist can more easily or more readily express the mythic element of the character.

But all this will continue to change, and I believe there are even better live-action Batman films to come.

Do you feel comics have changed since you first started out?

Not fundamentally … but stylistically and superficially, yes. And politically, too. But good comics are good comics, no matter the trends or technical details or politics. Although many fans are swayed by computer flourishes (for instance), a brilliant idea drawn in the sand with a twig can be great comics.


How do you feel comics have changed politically?

I did mention politics, didn’t I? Ay, yi yi.

Well, after 9/11, everything changed politically; isn’t that true? At least, that’s what we were told. And look at how our country has fallen deeper and more swiftly into a kind of corporate totalitarianism since then. The last eight years has also seen the official approval of torture, the pursuit of an illegal and immoral war clearly waged for the profit of a few corporations, a sustained attempt to deny or weaken various rights promised us in our Constitution, and it’s all been capped off by the biggest financial theft in the history of our nation and the world.

I also know that, except for one or two very minor appearances, the anti-establishment character Anarky disappeared from the DC Comics imprint. And, it’s true that for some reason, Alan Grant and I haven’t been able to find sustainable work at the mainstream comics companies after the “new Pearl Harbor” event of 9/11.

There seemed to be a subtle crackdown of all dissent across the mainstream press and culture after 9/11. Did this effect the comics companies, as well? My perception indicates that the answer to that question is a possible “yes.” Now, I’m not an insider; I can’t present any unequivocal, smoking guns as evidence. But many “fringe conspiracy theorists” are being proven correct about the wider culture as time passes, by the overwhelming weight of cumulative evidences, and I have a free and critical mind, so I must consider the possibility that Warner Brothers and DC Comics might have been so effected, too. Isn’t it our patriotic duty to consider such things? After all, we’re supposed to be a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” not an oligarchical plutocracy.


You developed the character Prime for Malibu Comics – tell us the story behind it? How did you develop it?

I was the first series artist on that title; outside of my developing the basic look of Prime, I did little more than that. Offering me partial creator-ownership of Prime was one of the ways that Malibu Comics enticed me to leave the Batman titles.

You were enticed to leave Batman titles by Malibu – did you not feel you were betraying them as they gave you your big break?

No. In fact, I made sure of that beforehand by discussing it with the Batman group editor (and my friend) Denny O’Neil. I’ve always been a freelancer, and I therefore have freedom to choose for whom I’ll work (given the offers to do so, of course). I didn’t have an exclusive contract at DC; I was “betraying” no one.

In your opinion, in what direction are comics heading? What do you read? What are your favorites? Who do you admire?

It appears that comics are heading further into the mainstream culture. Although there are good things about that (e.g., greater generation of revenue), there are also bad things about it (e.g., less freedom on the part of creators to try truly new and original things). Comics will also probably continue to be transformed by computer technology. It even seems inevitable to me that eventually there will be programs available that will enable those with little real drawing ability create professional-looking comics (at least in the eyes of the undiscerning) on their own.

I don’t read many comics at all, anymore. On the occasional event of my attending a comics convention, I’ll typically purchase a bunch of them just to keep up on general trends, but I have no subscriptions to any titles, and the closest comics store to me is about 200 miles away. So, all my favorite creators are from years ago, and I’m not familiar with the latest “hot” talent.

What are you working on now?

In comics, I’m presently drawing an “Archie’s New Look” multi-part story for Archie Comic Publications.

Outside of comics, I’m doing numerous illustrations for magazines, books, CD covers, etc, via my London-based representative, Debut Art.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. chris sinnard permalink
    October 7, 2009 4:13 pm

    Cool Interview.

    Methinks 9/11 has seriously affected WB and DC and it comes through in the plot of The Dark Knight. I like the Dark Knight because of its themes regarding anarchy and authoritarianism. I don’t agree with the Joker’s violent methods, but I find his lines the most interesting and his points the most salient. The Joker mocks Batman in the interrogation room. Batman has the full power of the state behind him and it gives him no leverage in dealing with the Joker. Batman has a monopoly on force in that situation (the tool of the state) and he is still powerless (“Nothing to do with all of your strength”).

    The movie is also alarming to me in that Batman does what the Federal Government has been doing lately in order to “Capture the Terrorists” (Joker). Batman breaks a guys legs by dropping him off a building to get information from him (torture). He also spies on millions of Gotham City residents in order to locate “The Ultimate Terrorist” (4th Amendment). The hero’s hero. Sounds a little too familiar. Of course the ACLU wrote no letters to Wayne Enterprises about the massive invasion of privacy it perpetrated on the residents of Gotham in secret and without even a milquetoast FISA warrant, illegally eavesdropping on every resident of Gotham City that has a cell phone.

    It is very subversive. It gives credibility to the idea that there are those above the law who need to break the law in order to uphold the law. The two-tiered society. Those that defend the system and everyone else, as we’ve seen with “Look forward not backward”. There is some moralizing through Lucius Fox about how “this isn’t right”, and the conflict is resolved by merely shutting off the machine at the end. IRL the machine is running in the offices of the NSA and will not be shut off.

    So yes I would say that WB and DC did not escape the web of fear that ensnared the country after 9/11.

  2. bookfreeq permalink*
    October 10, 2009 9:59 am

    Sinnard, thank you for that really insightful…insight! You are totally right there seems to be a bit of subliminal messaging going on there and a total defence of the way our Big Brother society is headed. And we are on the side of the state in the movie! When the Joker says they can’t kill each other i.e because of Batman’s morals and in actuality Joker loves to goad Batman; you can totally see our political situ mirrored in that very sentence….

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