My American Dream: Heroes and Villain
Batman (after Bob Kane and Bill Finger), 2018 Oil on linen 48 × 56 inches
Batman (after Bob Kane and Bill Finger), 2018
Oil on linen 48 × 56 inches

This is an appropriation from the first panel of the “full reveal” of Batman, from Detective Comics #27, May 1939, the original creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger. I love Batman, and have long yearned to create this image, which I think creates such an impact—the silhouette of Batman and his demeanor hasn’t changed much in the many decades of this character’s life throughout many different artists, era’s, and films and shows, and I like that this image displays the roots of this great living icon. I love comics, and have drawn cartoons since I could hold a pencil—in addition to my near three decades exhibiting as a professional fine artist, I have also taught comics (in addition to fine art) at the historic comics program at the School of Visual Arts (where I was the “Comics Coordinator” and lead teacher for 26 years), and currently as a full, tenured professor at the University of Southern California (I’m proud also to be in contract for a new graphic novel about James Dean for Fantagraphics).

When creating my own work (and also in my teaching), I “suture into” the characters I am painting. Much like a method actor such as Dean, I try to relate the image to my own life, and to create environments that help to bring about life to the work, playing music that is meaningful to me or films, tv, or audiobooks in the background and thinking about the meditation of my thoughts. The wonderful thing about painting and drawing is that while you are consciously trying to bring about an image, your unconscious also spills out into the brush, and subconsciously realized imagery may appear within the framework of the forms—much like the mountain Mont Sainte-Victoire becomes abstracted into liminal surrealities by the brush of Cezanne. Especially in comics, where you know you are drawing well if you find yourself smiling while drawing a character who is smiling, we are able to “mask” into the characters we are portraying, like Bruce Wayne in his famous costume.

While painting this I listened to a lot of CNN, MSNBC, and the other “real news” of our turbulent times, but also a lot of glam rock, specifically David Bowie, who had such power (and amazing music) at the same time being a subversive reaction to patriarchal norms. It occurred to me that Batman also spoke “truth to power”, while also in an amazing, somehow graceful but still masculine leather outfit and tights! The wings of the Batman, first fashioned after Da Vinci’s drawings, look much like a bird or bats, but here almost seem skeletal fingers, and the reflections in his cape almost seem like the shape or forms of beings being saved and/or the fearful victims of Batman. I like to paint the reproductions of comic pages as I see them—the Ben day dots become things, the cross hatching becomes a sort of rain, the roof he originally stands on almost seems like gold. This is a cropped image from the original panel when Batman first reveals himself to horrible mobsters, and I’m hoping, in a good way, we can all appreciate his power—I finished this painting listening to Bowie’s song Heroes, something we need so much more of these days….