2014 DC Comics Interview - Artist Drew Johnson

By Rock Vivien (aka Mo-Larr) – April 2013

In 2012, DC released new MOTU digital comics and introduced a new interpretation of Adora/Horde Captain: Despara. I had the opportunity to talk with the famous Drew Johnson, her very first illustrator and he shared with me some of his stories and memories.

Before we start, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to interview you. First I’d like to ask you when did you become interested in Comics and illustration?

Happy to do it. I’ve been drawing about as long as I can remember. I learned to read as a small boy from comic books, and have always loved them. I used to copy from them constantly with my crayons. I started becoming interested in the actual illustration of comics in my high school years and was heavily influenced by John Byrne and George Perez, and later, Dave Stevens, Mark Schultz and Adam Hughes.

When and how did you develop your style? How would you describe it?

My style is a constant work in progress. I try to add to and build on it with every project I draw. I started off fairly cartoony, and have ended up more realistic, and influenced by illustrators of the mid-20th century—Norman Rockwell, Albert Dorne, and Gil Elvgren. I’m still heavily influenced by Stevens, Schultz, and Hughes as well.

You recently did the arts for the DC Masters of the Universe issue #8. How were you involved in this project?

Michael McCalister from DC Digital brought me in on the book. I believe he’d just taken MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE over from Ben Abernathy, who I’ve done most of my work for over the last several years.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a creation of Mattel. Did Mattel provide you some style guides, character backgrounds or other info/requirements before you started drawing?

Between Michael and Mattel, I was given a good amount of reference materials. I looked up a lot of the characters on line as well. Fortunately there’s a good amount of information available about the characters and their stories on the internet.

The comic revealed the origin of Adora/She-Ra, the princess of power as Despara, the evil force captain of the Evil Horde. This is the very first appareance of Despara in the Masters of the Universe canon. Although Adora as the force captain of the evil horde was introduced by Filmation in the « Secret of the sword » movie, the concept of Despara is totally new. Are you at the origin of that character? Did you define her look?

Mattel had already come up with a design for Despara—I was given a few pages of very specific designs for her costume. I did design Adora’s look without the helmet—-The short hair and the grease paint under her eyes. Mattel actually sent me a design description for how she should look, but I missed that email. I discovered it later, and was glad to find that we were thinking mostly along the same lines, and fortunately, they liked what I came up with.

When he was created, Hordak was actually influenced originally by a Tiki mask a designer had in his cube. Is this the inspiration for Despara wearing a mask ?

Since Mattel did the design work, I really couldn’t say. It feels in the story, though, as if the mask is one more way of removing Adora’s sense of who she used to be before she was Despara.

And what about Hordak? What are your inspirations for his specific design in this comic, a bit different that the one we are used to ?

I didn’t really have much of a hand in Hordak’s design in this book. Mattel had a pretty solid idea of what they wanted, and my work on the character was largely based on reference from Frazer Irving’s work on Joshua Fialkov’s Skeletor Origin story.

Is there an anecdote regarding this project that you would like to share with us?

Nothing I can think of…This was my first time working with Mike Costa, and I really enjoyed working from his script. It was a great balance of action and character development. I thought it was a really compelling read. The whole project was not what I expected to see when I was told I’d be drawing a She-Ra story.

I was also really pleased that Michael let me work with Kathryn Layno as our colorist. We’ve done several covers together previously, and this was our first sequential work together. She did a wonderful job, and her work really brought the story to life.

This Master of the Universe digital comic was a success among the fans. Do you know if a paper print version is planned ?

I couldn’t say. I hope so, though.

Are you a Masters of the Universe Action figure collector ?

No—I’ve always been well aware of the characters and the story, but have never bought the figures. I do like what Mattel has done with the new figures over the last few years, and have enjoyed what DC has been doing with the comics.

What’s your favorite Masters of the Universe character and why ?

After working on MOTU #8, I’ve become really intrigued with She-Ra as a character. I didn’t realize she came from such dark roots to become such a heroic character. I hope I’ll get to work on a project with her again sometime.

Are you involved in another Masters of the Universe project?

It appears I may be doing some more work on Masters of the Universe again soon. Stay tuned.

Can you tell us more about other upcoming projects you are working on?

I’m currently at work penciling a ten-page Batman story for DC Digital’s LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT.

Thanks again for the opportunity to interview you Drew, please share with us your favorite expression/quote.

You’re quite welcome. I’ve always enjoyed « Coffee is for closers, » or any other quote from Glengarry Glen Ross. They’re always nicely applicable when working under a deadline.


Drew Johnson and Despara
Drew Johnson and Despara

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