David Lapham Interview

David Lapham is best known as the writer/artist of El Capitan's Stray Bullets. This month, he begins a 12-issue run as the writer of DC's Detective. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke to Lapham to find out about his plans for the Dark Knight.

Westfield: How did you become involved with writing Detective?

David Lapham: I have a little daughter now, and I had decided to slow down my schedule on Stray Bullets because being a cartoonist is great, but being a father is better. I was looking to do some outside work, so I called up Bob Schreck over at DC and said, "I want to come do some work for you." He said, "Give me some more bad news." (laughter) I really didn't have any story or character in mind specifically. I was ready for him to throw someone at me and approach it like a challenge. Bob said, "How about Batman?" I said, "Great." So I cooked up this City of Crime thing, pitched it to him, and we got rolling.

Westfield: What appealed to you about working with Batman?

Lapham: Actually, when I was first told the character would be Batman, I was almost hoping for a different character. Batman is such an icon. He's almost not a real person. The emotional and personal turmoil I might lay on one of my characters from Stray Bullets just wouldn't work with Batman. He is very unchanging. I thought maybe with a lesser character I could really come in and twist their lives around the bend. The challenge was, how am I going to approach this guy? Eventually, I realized that the icon of Batman - The myth - is the real strength of the character. He is an unchanging guy who's built himself into this relentless creature who destroys the criminal world. I got very absorbed into that. I kept coming back to that basic myth: he dresses as a bat to be terrifying and scare the hell out of the underworld. That's something I can sink my teeth into. How scary can I make this guy? Can I go from that original premise of Batman and really make him terrifying?

Westfield: What can you tell us about the story you're writing?

Lapham: I'm doing 12 issues. They have the ebb and flow of a regular monthly comic, and each issue stands on its own, but there's a definite overall arc. The arc is titled City of Crime, and at its heart, it's about Batman vs. Gotham City. Gotham is this incredible, corrupt, dark, overwhelming city, and it's Batman's real enemy. It's what he's been fighting against since it took his parents. It wasn't the Joker or Poison Ivy, it was just some random mugger produced from the mean streets of Gotham City. Batman has this amazing Rogues Gallery of villains who come and go, but no one villain is really a threat to him. What is a threat is the larger menace of this corrupt and rotten place that he fights to keep in check, but can never really defeat.

The story starts with a small incident where Bruce Wayne makes a slight error in judgment that leads to someone's death. That incident haunts him throughout the arc and drives him to obsessively try and find a missing girl. His search unearths this whole web of conspiracy and rot that's running through Gotham. There'll be some of the regular Batman villains like The Penguin and Mr. Freeze and some others, but Batman'll also discover a new menace that has infused itself throughout Gotham as part of the city's corruption.

Westfield: You're known for the gritty and sometimes violent stories of Stray Bullets. Will you be bringing some of that sensibility to Batman?

Lapham: Oh, yes. Definitely. The challenge is that it's a different type of book than Stray Bullets. It's a PG or PG-13 rated book as opposed to an R rated book. (laughs) But I don't think that's a problem. One of the scariest scenes I ever did in Stray Bullets came from a character putting his finger up to his lips and saying, "Shhhh?" The most devastating moments in Stray Bullets don't come from the language or the blood they come from the situations and the character's emotions. What I bring from Stray Bullets is my ability to make Gotham a scary place. My ability to make Batman a scary hero. My approach to Batman is that it's a horror comic, and Batman is the monster. He brings that fear to the city. I think that that fits really well with what I do in Stray Bullets; to grab people and create these terrifying moments.

Westfield: You've worked as a sole creator for quite a long time. What's it like going back to being part of a team?

Lapham: It's a blessing and a curse. The bad news is, unlike Stray Bullets I'm not doing everything, so things don't always come out like I'd envisioned them. Sometimes that's frustrating, sometimes it's thrilling. The good news is, though, unlike Stray Bullets, I'm not doing everything. And that's nice. [laughter] It's nice just to take care of my part and talk to the other people and collaborate with them. But their parts are in their hands, and I don't have to take responsibility for it. I can give my opinions, and tell Bob what I like and don't like, but, in the end, it's up to him to put it all together.

Westfield: Do you work differently as far as how you construct the story when you're working on your own vs. doing something as part of a team?

Lapham: The only thing that I do differently is the amount of work I do to present the story to Bob and the artist Ramon Bachs. When I'm working on Stray Bullets, I can just sit down with a yellow pad, write out notes, and put down the story. Then I can go ahead and draw. With Batman I have to write a full script and make sure that I'm communicating clearly with words the actions, tone, and feel of each panel. So the only difference is in presentation.

Westfield: Have you seen any of the art by Ramon Bachs yet?

Lapham: Yes. I've gotten the pencils of the first one back. I don't know who the inker is yet.

Westfield: What do you think he has brought to your script?

Lapham: He brings the excitement of a new and young artist. I was on the project a little while before Ramon came in. I had developed my view of Batman, which was a little different from a previous Batman project he had drawn. I think Ramon had to do some adjusting to get into the mindset of Batman being really dark, almost inhuman mythic creature - all cape and cowl and in the shadows. It'll be great to watch him grow as the book progresses. I can't wait to see what he does as the issues go on.

Westfield: Do you have any other projects you're working on you'd like to mention?

Lapham: I'm still doing Stray Bullets, of course. #35 will be out at the end of October. I also did a four-issue arc in The Darkness for Top Cow. That was really fun. He's also in that same vein of being a very dark character, but he's not as defined and set-in-stone as Batman, so it was great to have more room to do some very dark and bizarre stuff with him. The only other thing to mention is, before the run on Detective really kicks in in #801, in #800 I did an 8-page backup story. On that I did the whole shebang; I wrote it, drew it and inked it. It's a really insidious little story that stands on its own, but leads into my run on Detective. It's about Batman and Gotham and which is scarier. It captures the tone and the darkness of the city. I'm very proud of it, so if you like it, you know you'll like City of Crime.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Lapham: I'm just very excited about this. It's been a long, long time since I've done mainstream work. When I left the mainstream, I was mostly drawing and just beginning to get my writing chops. Coming back and doing some mainstream stories as an accomplished writer and a veteran in comics was a lot more fun than I ever thought it would be. I got to pull out all my old comics I read growing up, and get back into that mindset of being thirteen again. It was a blast.

Westfield: After this experience, do you have any desire to do more mainstream work?

Lapham: Actually I do. I've been talking with Marvel and Top Cow and some different people about doing some more stuff. So, we'll see. It's fun, and it's something that I can do and still maintain Stray Bullets. I'm having a lot of fun right now. It's nice working with different people and talking with amazing artists about collaborating with them. It brings a lot of variety in. I can definitely see doing more of it.