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Indie Comics Spotlight: Artist Eric Battle on his influences, Milestone, and how Antar is a true story

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Sep 28, 2018

Philadelphia native Eric Battle is a classic example of a comic book artist with a steady career whose work often gets recognized more than his name. A penciller, inker, and cover artist who was a Marvel comics fan growing up, Battle actually spent most of his formative years working on and around DC Comics.

His credits include everything from Batman to Aquaman to Lobo. Battle was one of the original Milestone artists on comics like Static Shock, Blood Syndicate, and Hardware.

He's also worked for Marvel on Wolverine, Cable, X-Men, and Spider-Man, as well as on indie titles such as Painkiller Jane, Black Dynamite (IDW), and Superb (Lion Forge) in a career spanning more than 20 years.

The indie comic book world has been good to Battle. Currently, he's working on an upcoming issue of Shadowman for Valiant and on Antar alongside Hugo and Nebula award-winning writer Nnedi Okorafor. SYFY WIRE caught up with Battle this week to talk Milestone, his process, and how Antar is based on a true story.

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What was your favorite comic growing up?

My love affair with comic books was spurred on by [my] developing recognition of the differing artistic styles of various comic book artists. Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Barry Windsor Smith, Berni Wrightson, Frazetta, etc., were some of the fantastic artists whose work always consistently caught my attention.

Some of my favorite comics and characters were the Fantastic Four, The Avengers (they used to get their asses handed to them! Avengers Annual #10 — art by Michael Golden — every page is beautiful!), Conan, The Hulk, the Silver Surfer, House on Mystery, Man-Thing, Werewolf-By-Night, and Batman.

I was more [of] a Marvel guy in my earlier years.

Did any other art forms other than comic book inspire you, too?

My love for comic book art also led into an exploration of other types of fine art and illustration. I began following the work of Leo and Diane Dillon, Arthur Rackham, Winslow Homer, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, and others. The thought of turning a blank piece of paper into something that can evince a reaction from someone else, by utilizing a calculated collection of dots, lines, and colors. That type of thing forever intrigues me.

What mediums do you work in? And do you draw your comics traditionally still or digitally?

I do paint when time permits. Sometimes I'll use acrylics, watercolors, and markers, depending on what the project calls for.

In comics, I still prefer to work traditionally. Some artists use digital tools to great effect, but it thrills me to see traditionally created artwork and wonder how the artist has created the most compelling and amazing visuals, using their imagination and more tactile materials.

What was your first published comic book, and how did you land the gig?

The first comic book that I drew was an issue of a Dark Horse book called Catalyst: Agents of Change. I got that gig after meeting editor Michael Eury at a comic book convention in downtown Philadelphia. I'd met him and Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan from Milestone during that same convention.

You drew some classic Milestone Comics — Blood Syndicate, Hardware, Static Shock. How does it feel looking back on Milestone?

For me, the Milestone years were definitely a formative time period, as I was still learning the ins, outs, dos and don'ts of the industry. All the while [I was] trying to figure out my own strengths and weaknesses and asking myself, "What's my visual 'voice' going to be?"

The immeasurable impact of the original Milestone books can still be felt years later. What Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derrick Dingle, and Christopher Priest created then still resonates to this day. When the announcement of Milestone 2.0 came down, I was one of many who was extremely excited to see what new magics would be coming from 2.0. Wishing all involved much success!

What's been your favorite project to work on? Your favorite creative team?

I look to find the creatively enriching aspects of whatever project is on my desk. The key to that, for me, is to recognize what the challenges are with the project and figuring out how to best address those challenges, consistently and creatively. I most enjoy projects whereby my vision is trusted while sparking and inspiring new elements in the writing.

I've had the pleasure of collaborating with some incredibly exciting authors over the years. I've collaborated with the late, ever great, L.A. Banks, George R.R. Martin, Nnedi Okorafor, Daniel Abraham, Gale Anne Hurd, Brandon Seifert, Max Borenstein, and Scott Lobdell, to name a few.

Antar

Speaking of Nnedi Okorofor, I know you worked with her on both Book of the Phoenix and the current Antar series. How did that collaboration happen?

Eisner-winning artist and writer John Jennings and I are friends, and he introduced me to Nnedi in 2010 at San Diego Comic-Con, and we hit it off immediately and began looking for opportunities to collaborate. I'd shown Nnedi some of the illustrations I'd created for author L.A. Banks' Vampire Huntress Legends novel series just as Nnedi was finishing up the novelette that would eventually become "The Book of Phoenix." Her publisher in Nigeria, Cassava Republic Press, wanted some chapter heading illustrations to accompany the story. The Antar project grew out of that collaboration.

Her writing inspires compelling and dynamic visuals for me, and it's always my goal to create imagery to match the power of the writing.

What is the Antar project exactly?

Antar tells the [true] story of Antarah (Antar) Ibn Shaddad, a young camel herder born into slavery during pre-Islamic Arabia, who grows into a legendary warrior-poet.

Nnedi and I were contacted and contracted by an overseas media company to help make this project happen, as they'd been looking to launch an Antar graphic novel years prior. We had explored as much of the available concrete information and lore surrounding Antar as possible and were looking to expanding on that.

You're also doing some work with Valiant, right? What's that like compared to working with DC?

Shadowman is one of Valiant's more horror and supernaturally-based characters. I am learning more about the universe that these characters exist in as I work on it. I like drawing monsters and have often illustrated characters with supernatural elements. [The story is] set in New Orleans, [and] the main character [is] Jack Boniface, whose alter ego Shadowman has powers rooted in the Voodoo religion.

Working with Valiant has been pretty cool, and I really enjoy being able to add my contribution to this impressively growing pantheon of characters. The editors at Valiant have been a pleasure to work with, and I look forward to giving my best to this and any other projects going forward.

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Tell me about your process a little bit. Do you prefer writers who give you detailed scripts or getting creative on your own?

I like the writer to give me all of the pertinent information to be included in the visuals while constructing ways to accentuate that information. My goal is always to serve the clarity and dynamics of the story by contributing exhilarating visuals for it.

Working with writers whose work sparks immediate imagery in my head are the most appealing and exciting collaborations for me.

What are you working on next?

Presently, I am working on a coffee-table book that I've been curating and art-directing for the Philadelphia Jazz Project, [which] should be wrapping up this year. And I'm curating and art-directing a huge and exciting graphic novel project with Temple University's Charles L. Blockson library in collaboration with author Dr. Sheena C. Howard. There are a couple of other projects in the works that I hope to be able to announce soon.

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