DC Comics News writer, Joshua Raynor, had the incredible opportunity to sit down with the amazing artist, Graham Nolan, co-creator of one of Batman’s most iconic villains, Bane, at the very first Flower City Comic Con in Rochester, NY. Enjoy!
DC Comics News: What were your biggest inspirations while designing the iconic look of Bane?
Graham Nolan: The Mexican luchador wrestlers, because I assumed that if Bane was going to be exposed to any costumed characters, it would be from that, because that’s where he grew up, in this South American or Central American prison, so that’s what he would have seen. I based his mask, which was really a wrestling mask in the original design, where the eyes were open, the nose was open, and the mouth was open, just like in [Batman] the animated series. But editorial decided to close it up and make it more mysterious, and I think it was a good call, you know, to do that. I did it the way I did it because I wanted to be able to emote the character, show emotion, which is a little harder with a mask. But it worked out great. I really like the mask.
So that’s where that came from, and of course the wrestling singlet, which ties in again to the wrestling. The pants and the boots are a military style, which I figured, maybe Cuban revolutionary, which again ties into the Latino influences in his life.
DCN: How many other designs did you go through before settling on the final version we saw in the comics?
GN: None. That was the first design right out of the gate, the only difference was the mask.
DCN: How long did it take to design Bane, from concept to the final version?
GN: That I have no idea, it was so long ago. I started with a sketch, they liked what I did, then I inked it up. I must’ve had to get the sketch approved before I went to ink it, so I probably sketched it up, faxed it over to DC, because there was no internet back then [laughs], and the OK and then inked it up.
DCN: How did the opportunity to create a brand new character come about, and did you have any idea that Bane would have such an impact?
GN: I had been doing some work for them, doing some fill-ins on Detective Comics, and Chuck Dixon, who was writing, he had just started on Detective [Comics] and had just written Robin, and he was one of the instrumental guys in the beginning of Knightfall, and was at the meetings where they discussed Bane for the first time, suggested me, recommended me to do the designs for this character. So, they called me and said “hey, we want you to design this character”, and then I got Chuck [Dixon]’s notes about his origins, where he’s from, and all that kind of stuff. That’s how I came up with my additions to him.
[About Bane’s legacy] We had a feeling, just from the press and where comics were going, that Knightfall was going to be big, and that he was going to be big in that, but to have the life that he’s had afterwards, we’re talking twenty-someodd years ago, it was 1992 when I designed him, so we’re talking twenty-four years ago. But when you go into creating something you always hope it’s going to be the next big thing, but it so rarely is, the odds are just against it. And I think it really got big when Bane went into the animated series in the early 90’s, I mean he was big in Knightfall, but then he went on to appear in that disastrous Batman & Robin movie, and then after that he kind of quieted down, you didn’t see him too much. He sort of lost his juice. But then, when they put him in the Arkham Asylum game, I think that brought and entirely new audience in of young people who were playing the game, who were exposed to Bane for the first time, and then, it seems to me at least, that was the time he was really starting to take off, and he began coming up into an iconic status.
DCN: In your opinion, what makes Bane such a formidable foe?
GN: I think it’s because he has characteristics that no one else in Batman’s rogues gallery has. You had smart guys like Ra’s al Ghul, who’s rich and powerful and brilliant, then you had really strong characters, physically strong, like Killer Croc, but he was a big dummy, but Bane has the whole package. He’s not only smart, he’s powerful, and he’s also a great tactician. And the interesting thing about Bane that separates his is he thinks he’s innocent. He never did anything wrong to end up in that prison, so the world is always beating him down and is so against him, that I think that gives him a little extra added something, an empathy, it makes you feel for him.
DCN: You mentioned some of the other iterations of Bane throughout different media. What are your thoughts on how Bane has been portrayed in these other forms of media, from Batman: The Animated Series, to the 1997 Batman & Robin film, and most recently, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises?
GN: The only version that I really liked was the animated series. They had Henry Silva do the voice, and he did a Latin accent, and I loved that, and they also used my original mask design, the wrestling one I designed, which I thought was really cool. The latest iteration, in The Dark Knight Rises, was a big let-down to me. At first I thought I was going to like it because, yeah he’s scary, though I hated the mask, it didn’t make any sense on any sort of storytelling level, but then you find out at the end he’s just a little puppy dog following Talia around, and he was never in control, it was never about him, and so, to me, that ended up ruining it.
DCN: Have you had much input in the use of the character in those other types of media throughout the years?
GN: No. Chuck [Dixon] and I, we have no input. And maybe that’s why some of this stuff looks so bad. [laughs]
DCN: How did it feel to return to the character you helped create for DC’s Villain’s Month back in 2013, and have you had a chance to work on him since?
GN: I have not had any chances to work on him since. I was happy to do that piece and have a shot at doing Bane again, but by that point that had changed Bane so much, I almost didn’t recognize the character. They kind of gave him an amalgam costume of the movie version, and they made unnecessary changes to his mask, so when I did it I thought “they don’t seem too worried about the continuity over there at DC”, so I just went ahead and started drawing it the way I wanted to draw it, without it being to blatantly going back to the original. But I did tweak the mask somewhat to kind of bring it around to its original look.
DCN: Other than your runs on Batman and Detective Comics, you’ve worked on such books as Justice League Dark, Green Lantern, Joker: Devil’s Advocate, Suicide Squad, and Superman: The Odyssey. What’s been your favorite comic book or issue to work on during your career, and who’s been your favorite character to illustrate?
GN: That’s a tough one. I have a few projects that I rank up there as my favorites and they are Joker: Devil’s Advocate, Vengeance of Bane, Superman: The Odyssey, Monster Island, and Joe Frankenstein, and I think I like those because they’re much more personal. All of those books I had input in and I even co-wrote or plotted several of them. It’s more personal, so I think those are my favorites, they’re the most pure.
But my favorite character to draw, it’s probably Batman. My two favorite characters are Batman and Superman, so I love drawing either one of them, but Batman lends itself to the kind of art that I do because I like the dark noir-type stuff, so it’s fun to draw that. So, if I had to pin it down, I’d have to say Batman.
DCN: And finally, do you have any new projects, DC or otherwise, on the horizon that you’d like to talk about?
GN: DC projects? No, I don’t. I did do some work on a political graphic novel called Clinton Cash which will be coming out, I believe, this summer, and that’s through an actual book publisher. I also have my own comic strip called Sunshine State, which is on the GoComics site, gocomics.com, and it’s a humor strip. And you asked me what my favorite thing to draw was, but I think in my entire career, [Sunshine State]’s been the most fun. I mentioned how some of the other stuff is personal, well [Sunshine State] is completely personal because every one of the characters has parts of my personality, and I’m from Florida, so when I work on that it’s a labor of love
Graham was a pleasure to talk to, and if you’re ever at a con, and get the chance to meet him, definitely do so. Stay tuned to DC Comics News for more exclusive interviews with your favorite personalities in the world of DC Comics.