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Interviews

An interview with
Mike Lilly "EXPOSED!"

Conducted by Randy "Moonstonelover" Burtis
November 14, 2004

Nightwing 100 page 6

MSL: When I approached Mike about doing an interview, I was encouraged that he was open to it. He did warn that there were a few questions he wouldn't answer...so obviously I picked one of those to start the interview... and thus...Mike Lilly EXPOSED begins...Mike...Boxers or Briefs? ;)

Mike Lilly: Boxers, but sometimes I prefer au naturale...*wink*...

MSL: What made you decide you wanted to be a comic book artist?

Mike Lilly: Well, at first in college, I studied graphics and fine arts and hadn't read comics since I was a freshman in High School (girls and peer pressure took over and comics kinda' got lost in the shuffle...for some reason girls didn't think it was cool to read comics...lol...) but one of my roommates was into comics and I started to read them again and said to myself...man...I'd love to take a crack at this. I transferred schools and ended up at the School of Visual Arts in NYC which had comic book classes at night and I ended up learning from Carmine Infantino. He is a great teacher.

MSL: What was your first published piece?

Mike Lilly: My very, very first published piece was a pin-up for Black Dominion magazine published by Anubis Press. They're long gone now but that was my first crack at something. It was a bondage piece but tastefully done...ahem...My first story was a 6 pager for Nightcry #4 published by Cry For Dawn Productions. It was a creator owned piece with writer Chris Paris called Reverend Ablack Adventures of the Antichrist (another provocative piece). And my very first published story for the 'big boys' was in Green Lantern 80 Page Giant #3 (nothing 'risqué' about it). That was my first break into the mainstream.

Green Lantern

MSL: Roughly, how long does it take you to complete a page?

Mike Lilly: Man, that all depends on deadlines, but sometimes an easy page can be about 4 - 6 hours and something background heavy can be 12 hours. Roughly, I average about 8-10 hours a day. That includes sketches, reference, etc. Maybe a nap mixed in...ah the life of a pencil pusher...

MSL: (Question from Icon) Dream project- Character and/or writer of your choice... who would it be?

Mike Lilly: I'm a big fan of mythology and sword and sorcery so for me I'd love to take a crack at Thor. I've always been a big fan but I'd forget him being on Earth entirely (maybe only in an Avengers book) and have all his exploits solely on Asgard. The mythology Jack Kirby referenced is so vast it has only been touched on briefly. As far as writers go I'd love to work with Alan Moore. I pretty much admire all his work.

MSL: (Question from Icon) How detailed a remit do you like from your writer? Do you prefer the Marvel or DC approach to the collaboration?

Mike Lilly: Well I worked with Marvel briefly and of course DC and honestly the Marvel versus DC approach is pretty much the same. You get a script, with the amount of panels, description for each panel and dialogue/narratives for each panel, etc. There's really no difference. The only difference is how much description the writer wants to put down. For me, if the writer gives a lot of description, I have more to pick from and choose what works best and if the writer gives less, then I have more freedom to add things. Either way works for me. But it really all comes down to deadlines and how much you can do.

MSL:(Question from Icon) Toughest artist gig, what was it?

Mike Lilly: Man, I got two. One was a Punisher fill in and I had to pencil 24 pages in like 2 and a half weeks, where normally you get 4 - 5 weeks. The Marvel Knight folks were in a pinch and I came in to help out. The other was recently on Nightwing and I was doing issue 97 and I had an ear infection in BOTH ears. It was so painful and very hard to concentrate and with a deadline looming I got behind and struggled to finish.

Nightwing 97

MSL: (Question from Icon) Who are your artistic influences?

Mike Lilly: When I first read comics, Jack Kirby was my idol. I couldn't draw like him or anything but just his energy and character's really inspired me to just draw. Later on when I was in college, and I started to read comics again, Mark Schultz's work really caught my eye in his Cadillac and Dinosaur trade paperbacks (again another artist just too skilled to emulate but again his draftsmanship is just so inspiring). Others that have influenced me though have been John Buscema, Steranko, Lee Weeks, Alan Davis, Jose Louis Garcia Lopez...on and on....I just wish I could one day be as good as those guys. Outside of comics I am a big fan of the surrealist painters, Magritte (especially), Dali and Picasso. Their work is awe-inspiring.

But my single biggest influence was my first teacher in storytelling and storyboarding, Carmine Infantino. Taking his class at the School of Visual Arts was one of the best experiences I've ever had. His no nonsense approach and breaking things down really helped me to understand how this medium works. I'm STILL working on it but I'll never forget his teaching and sage advice.

MSL: (Question from Icon) Are you happy being an artist or would you like to move into writing/plotting too?

Mike Lilly: I'd love to be more involved in the plotting and writing but I'm still the new guy on the block so I gotta' bide my time with that. I have a few scripts and story ideas but I'm waiting for a break in my schedule to add some of my art to it to help present them. I'd really love to edit books as well. I used to be an Art Director when I was doing graphics, so I'd love to help shape the story, the look and feel of the books from the graphics to the color, story continuity, etc. I feel some books graphics and color really don't compliment the art or story very well. I'd love to be involved with that.

MSL: What is the piece of work you are most proud of?

Mike Lilly: I'd have to say the two issues of Detective (788 and 789) I did last year. I just had a baby and I was working so late to get the books done and I'm very happy how my pencils looked on those. I worked really hard on 'em even though I was a little sleep deprived. I'm very happy how they came out. I'm also proud how some of the pages came out for Nightwing 100 as well.

Detective Comics 789 pg 8 Detective Comics 788 pg 1
Detective Comics 789 pg 2-3

MSL: What projects are you currently working on?

Mike Lilly: Recently I completed 100 sketch cards for the Star Wars Heritage line from Topps and I'm currently working on various stuff including a mini series for Image entitled The Mercury Chronicles. I'll keep you informed on that as I go.

Star Wars

MSL: Nightwing 100- You are doing the work on this landmark issue. What can you tell us about it?

Mike Lilly: Man, I really can't tell much...I wish I could. There should be a surprise or two that I hope the fans will like.

MSL: What challenges do comic artists face in accomplishing their job?

Mike Lilly: The biggest is the deadline. For myself, I struggle in my multitasking. Since I freelance, I juggle my comic gigs, with commercial work as well as family time (especially with the little one running around). That is the challenge...giving quality to all these important things. I fail sometimes in parts of these but I keep trying hard to keep the balance.

MSL: How do you work with an inker, do you have specific guidelines, or a look you are going for, how does that relationship with them work?

Mike Lilly: Since I'm still relatively new, I can't really pick my own inker and when I get a script the art team is already in place but I do get to talk over with the inker what I'm looking for occasionally but with deadlines sometimes you just gotta' hit those pages and get it to the next step and jump back onto finishing the next batch of pages. I'm working now on inking myself 'cause I know what makes my work look best but I need to be able to turn around pencils plus inks in a timely fashion. On another part of the art team, I've made extensive color notes to help with the story. Sometimes they're used and sometimes not (for some reason or other).

MSL: What comics are YOU currently reading?

Mike Lilly: To tell the truth, I USED to read lots of comics. I still buy them, but I've just accumulated a stack of books that I'm so behind on. I've always been a big reader of the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Batman trades, etc. Recently I've followed and read The Ultimates and Ultimate Six. I love the writing and art.

But what I read now is some political books like The Savage Nation and not to be all doom and gloom I mix in a book by George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty. I highly recommend it...:) To quote Carlin..."Man has had the imagination to invent two such distinctly different products. One, a flaming, jellied gasoline used to create fire, death and destruction; the other, a claylike mass good for throwing, bouncing, smashing and pressing against a comic strip so you can look at a backwards picture of Popeye (or Nightwing-I had to add that one in...wink...)."

MSL: Can you tell us a bit about your background, how you got into the industry, and what do you do when you aren't busy drawing?

Mike Lilly: I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I was big into baseball (the Yankees) and of course comics. I played High School ball and a little College but alas, sports was not meant to be (Comics is my backup plan....man...I better not fail...I got no more backups...). I switched schools and like I mentioned earlier I attended SVA. I attended all the local comic cons and got some small press work but my big break was attending San Diego Con and meeting editor Bob Schreck. He liked my sword and sorcery work as well as a vampire comic I did and gave me a chance with a 10 page Green Lantern story.

.When I'm not busy drawing I love spending time with my son. He wears me out but I just love it. I also collect Star Wars toys obsessively, I Sumi-E paint serenely, play softball passionately (and with a bum knee), and collect Silver Age comic with empty pockets.

MSL: What direction do you see comics going? Is that a good direction in your opinion?

Mike Lilly: I think people will always have an affection for the printed comics and books… but I see, way down the road, when the technology becomes more affordable, you will download interactive comics. Basically, like how you see the Flash animated stuff online coupled with all the handheld stuff today so you can have special f/x, music, dialogue, etc. Comics and books will be made specifically for that medium. I have some stuff for my kid that is going in that direction already.

Now they have these Video Now(?) things with flexible discs and can do all sorts of interactive stuff. Comics, I think, will be made specifically for those mediums. I think it's good 'cause I don't see artists losing jobs (or at least I hope not) 'cause you still need guys to draw and design new characters and storyboard the entire job as well as needing writers for stories, etc. Hopefully the demand for these new comics will still be there so people will want to collect all the stories and artwork and it can still be provided in the packaging with booklets, etc.

I also hope that there will still be a market for the printed books though. I won't ever stop reading them.

MSL: Word Association. I will toss out a word, or two. What is the first thing that comes to your mind in regards to that. Answer as briefly or fully as you want.

Nightwing...

Mike Lilly: Still in the shadow of....

MSL: Tarantula...

Mike Lilly: Potential to be an interesting villain if done right...

MSL: Bat clan...

Mike Lilly: Never have so many characters branched off of one and carry their own titles...quite an accomplishment...

MSL: War Games...

Mike Lilly: Large, Massive...

MSL: Devin Grayson...

Mike Lilly: Fiery...full of energy...

MSL: Identity Crisis killer...

Mike Lilly: Dramatic...

MSL: Marvel...

Mike Lilly: Great characters....grew up reading their books...

MSL: DC...

Mike Lilly: The Titan of the industry with so many diverse publications.....god like characters and the most recognized character in the world...the Batman...

MSL: End of word association...

Mike Lilly: Whew....

MSL: Where do you see Nightwing ranked in the scope of the DC universe. From your perspective of the character?

Mike Lilly: I don't read all the DC titles but Nightwing is in the 'Daredevil' mold but he's in with the Bat family so he'll have to interact with the other bat folk from time to time. He has a small rogues gallery which I hope he'll build up more and more from the denizens of Bludhaven. With a major player in Blockbuster gone, there should be someone new to fill his place and hopefully more villains will spring forth from this new threat to Bludhaven.

MSL: From the DC powersthatbe perspective?

Mike Lilly: Since I freelance I'm not involved in the meetings that editor have in the Bat Group so I'm not sure what direction they're leading the character to or how they like to have him in their universe.

MSL: (Question from DMB1991) Do you ever use reference photos, sketches or other aids when drawing a sequence? I would guess acrobatic action sequences are a large challenge for many artists because they put figures in abnormal poses and require intense choreography. Do you ever draw reference from movies or real life athletes?

Mike Lilly: Sure, I use reference for some buildings and of course I sketch out things to help with sequences, etc. Believe it or not the acrobatic stuff is easy....the challenge is when you have talking heads and have to make them interesting. That's the real challenge. The action stuff is just plain fun. Also, lot's of building shots can be tedious and a challenge at times.

MSL: (Question from DMB1991) I've noticed that Nightwing's gauntlets seem to change between artists. In Jim Lee's version they're practically non-existent while Scott McDaniel draws them very chunky. Has there ever been an effort to produce an artist's reference or guide for these gauntlets? If not, are details like those normally left up to the artist or the writer?

Mike Lilly: Good question...when I first did Nightwing in issue #58, I had the gauntlets and the matching compartments on his boots. I then did more fill ins with the gauntlets for 76 and 82...in 82 it was changed to the plain gauntlets and boots after I did the art. I believe they wanted to keep the style that artist Rick Leonardi did when he started in issue 70.

I wish he still had the compartment gauntlets 'cause it just makes plain sense as to where all his gadgets are. He'll need 'em in the boots as well. I have noticed lately that Scott McDaniel drew in the gauntlets for the Nightwing covers and his appearance in Richard Dragon. So I'm confused as well.

I did draw in for issue 100 a compartment in his gauntlet so you'll see it open and reveal a small grapple gun. I hope it stays in. Oh, there is a reference for the gauntlets in Batman:The Ultimate Guide to the Dark Knight published by DK Books. A nice visual guide for the Bat Universe.

MSL: What words of wisdom have impacted you, that you can share with the readers? :)

Mike Lilly: Well I'm not good with sage advice but no matter what career you're in or career path you're following, try to keep the balance between work, family and friends (I know it's not easy). I've neglected some parts to my regret. It doesn't mean to sacrifice your job 'cause, hey, we all need to make a living, but remember your family and friends are a part of who you are and they want and NEED your time together. I know it's not Confucius but it's the best and truest thing I can say.

MSL: Do You do commissions, or have art work available for sale?

Mike Lilly: About originals, you can tell posters to contact me directly at mlilly@earthlink.net and I can email them what pages I have available as well as send them jpg. images of the pages they might want.

Also, I do commission pieces for fans. I've done a couple of Nightwing commission pieces and even people mail me their own sketch books in which to do the drawings in (I also provide my own art board as well).

Also,I will be signing Nightwing 100 at Gotham City Comics(in New York).....on Lexington Ave. between 61st and 62nd St. I believe it's on Dec. 8th (when issue 100 hits the stores) and I should be signing between 1pm and 6pm. I will be doing original art head shots of Nightwing and there will be a special give away to the 100th customer who purchases a Nightwing as well.

MSL: My thanks to Mike Lilly for sharing his time and art, with us, and responding to these questions

Mike Lilly: Thank you...By the way I typed this whole interview au naturale.....just kidding....or am I....;)

MSL: If you are in New York area, check out Mike's appearance there...and see how exposed he may...or may not be, Along with his art on Nightwing #100...where we will see if Tarantula's secret is exposed!!

Discuss this interview at:
Nightwing/Outsiders Message Board