Young Justice: Interview with Christopher Jones by Jerry Whitworth
Since the announcement of the return of Young Justice, fans have eagerly awaited any more news about the upcoming season. While the cast recently began recording voicework for the series, many have been left to wonder if the upcoming season will also have an accompanying comic book series as it had in the past. Online, Young Justice co-creator Greg Weisman, who also wrote the comic tie-in, and his collaborator on the comic in artist Christopher Jones have advocated for DC Comics to publish a new series seemingly, thus far, to no avail. Unique in that the comic’s continuity aligns directly with that of its animated counterpart, production for the comic takes considerably less time than the television series which can both feed immediate demand while generate more interest in the third season. ComicArtCommunity.com had the opportunity to interact with Christopher Jones about Young Justice and get his thoughts on the situation.
Christopher Jones: I have drawn comics for many publishers including DC, Marvel, Titan, and many smaller publishers. I’m probably best known for my runs on Young Justice and The Batman Strikes for DC and the Doctor Who: The Third Doctor mini-series I just drew for Titan Comics. Early in my career I drew the comic book adaptation of Re-Animator and did a lot of horror comics which stands in stark contrast with the animation-based all-ages stuff I became known for later! And last year I just drew a 110-page sci-fi graphic novel called Also Known As written by Tony Lee that everyone should read.
CAC: Young Justice maybe one of the most well-known projects you’ve contributed toward up to this point. However, before that, you contributed to the DC Comics series Young Heroes in Love which went on to become a cult classic for many comic fans. Would you speak on your experience on the book and if it had any influence on your work on Young Justice?
CJ: Young Heroes in Love was my first work for DC Comics after many years of drawing comics for smaller publishers. I was first approached to draw YHiL #10 as a fill-in and was three pages from being done when I was asked if I could drop what I was doing and draw the back half of issue #9 before finishing #10. That was my introduction to how crazy working for a big publisher can get. I went on to draw two more fill-in issues of that title before it ended its run with #17. I don’t know that it had any more influence on my Young Justice work other than being my first work for DC Comics and the extent to which every project I do adds to my experience and hopefully makes me a better artist.
CAC: You’ve been something of a go-to guy for adapting animation for comics. You’ve worked on titles like Young Justice, The Batman Strikes, Justice League Adventures, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and Marvel Super Hero Squad. What is it about your style that you believe attracts this kind of work?
CJ: I don’t know if it’s something about my style as much as that my style is somewhat variable. I got that first gig on Young Heroes in Love after an editor saw some samples I’d done in the “Bruce Timm” animation style as seen in the Batman and Superman animated series. YHiL’s regular artist drew the book in a somewhat cartoony style and I don’t think the editor had a deep bench of artists that he knew could draw that kind of art, so that was what got my foot in the door. That book established a relationship for me with the editor who was overseeing the Justice League books which led to me doing a number of “straight” superhero stories that were 5 or 10-page shorts for the anthology books DC was doing at the time (like 80-page Giants and Secret Files).
But, he was also given the Justice League Adventures book to edit, and I got called on to draw stories for that. For some reason they decided to use a rotating pool of writers and artists on that book rather than having a set creative team like the Batman and Superman Adventures books had before that, so even though I was a regular contributor I was only doing a story every few months. So I wasn’t working anything close to full-time for DC and was always trying to find additional comics work.
When they announced that the animated series The Batman would begin airing in a few months, I thought “I know how this works, there will be a tie-in comic for that show,” so I asked my editor if he knew who was going to be overseeing that book so I could throw my hat in the ring to draw it. As it turned out that tie-in comic, The Batman Strikes, was going to have a set creative team and after doing a couple of sample pages I got the gig. Drawing the comic meant mimicking elements of the style of artist Jeff Matsuda who did the character designs for The Batman, which was a very different look than the Bruce Timm stuff that I’d been doing on Justice League Adventures, but I managed to pull it off.
At this point I was mainly known at DC Comics for doing animation-based work which is a self-reinforcing thing. Even though I had a portfolio of samples in other styles, my body of work was all cartoon stuff. Once you get known for doing that kind of work, it’s the only kind of thing people think to hire you for. It’s a kind of typecasting. Don’t get me wrong, I love drawing that kind of material. But it’s limited when that’s all you get offered. There’s only so much of that stuff out there, so it severely reduces the number of opportunities you have for work.
The Batman Strikes came to an end after a 50-issue run I was very proud of. I drew all but a handful of those issues and I thought I’d done a good-looking run with strong visual storytelling and I’d been pretty reliable and on-time. But DC didn’t immediately offer me new work so I was out looking again.
CAC: While Young Justice was being produced as an animated series, a comic book was also being made which not only spun from the series, but whose continuity was shared by it. At what point did you become involved in the process and, even though Greg Weisman worked on both series, what was the process like trying to tell a narrative that would span two mediums? The television and comic series were only released separately by two months so how could you adjust for that as a creator?
CJ: I already knew Greg Weisman and had drawn a couple of his stories (one a Gargoyles comic and the other one of those 10-page DC anthology stories) when I saw the announcement of the Young Justice animated series that would be produced by Greg and Brandon Vietti. I tried to pull the same trick I did with The Batman Strikes, proactively trying to find out who the editor would be and get the gig before the tie-in comic was announced. Unfortunately for me, by the time I found out who the editor was I was told that a creative team was already in place and a talented artist named Mike Norton was already assigned to the book.
I was disappointed, but chalked it up to win-some, lose-some and moved on. The 2-part pilot episode of Young Justice aired on Cartoon Network many weeks before the premiere of the regular series. I watched and thought it was fantastic. It was a cast of characters I loved and the writing and the tone was fantastic. I was disappointed all over again not to be working on the forthcoming comic, but was instantly a huge fan of the show.
Then I got a call from the editor of the comic saying that Mike Norton was leaving Young Justice for another project after issue #4, and asking if I’d be interested in coming on as his replacement. I don’t think I let him finish the sentence before I said yes. Greg Weisman had been overseeing the book since its inception and would eventually take over the writing on the comic himself. He’d been asked when Mike left if he had a preference as to who he’d like to see drawing the book and apparently he asked for me. I’m not sure if he knew at that time that I’d already tried to get on the book at the outset.
For me working on that book was the easiest time I’ve ever had working on something connected to a TV show. I was in direct contact with Greg who was one of the producers of the show. He carried over his animation-industry habits to his comics writing and compiled an “asset list” for each script, detailing which characters, locations, and major props (like Miss Martian’s Bio Ship) were to appear, and would have the staff from the TV show send me the relevant model sheets to work from as reference. On other books, I’ve had to search the internet for the relevant reference!
I wasn’t involved in the writing but you have to realize that the production time on animation is much, much longer than on a comic. When I started on the comic they were already working on the second season of the TV show. This meant they not only already knew what those stories were going to be, but had developed a ton of character backstories and other material for the show’s timeline that hadn’t been featured in an episode of the show, giving Greg tons of fodder for stories that could slot neatly into the show’s continuity. Which is why the producers of the Young Justice TV show consider the stories from the comic canon.
CAC: Fellow artist Phil Bourassa created the character designs for Young Justice (which, subsequently, he’s become the go-to designer for various DC animated films). What are your thoughts on his designs, adapting them, and have you tweaked any of them for the comic? Was there a specific character you had an affection for drawing? Who designed comic-first characters like Psycho-Pirate, Deadshot, Grodd, and the Collector of Worlds?
CJ: I love Phil’s stuff. He’s an amazing artist and character designer in general, and his designs for Young Justice really feel right to me as interpretations of those characters. Part of the pleasure of drawing the Young Justice comic was how much it felt like a natural drawing style to me. As much as Phil’s designs are streamlined for animation, they’re more detailed and less stylized than most of the animation designs I’ve worked with on other projects. It really felt like a straightforward superhero drawing style to me.
Deadshot, Grodd, Solivar, Kylstar, Talia, and the Collector of Worlds all appeared in issues of the comic I drew without having been designed for the show, so I got to design them. I’d do a design drawing of how I wanted to portray that character and both Greg Weisman and Phil Bourassa would sign off on it before I started using the character in the book.
The only tweak I’m conscious of making to adapt the designs to comic form was adding some highlights to the black parts of Batman’s costume which on the show was just a black silhouette. I felt at the time that it helped the shape of the figure read in the comic where we didn’t have movement and I had less control over the color/lighting palate than the show would have. But if I had it to do again I’m not sure I would even have done that much. The Young Justice character designs are really great.
I’ve never understood why they don’t come out with big coffee table books for these shows full of character designs and background art. Such gorgeous artwork gets produced for these shows that you just can’t fully appreciate when it flashes across your screen so quickly.
CAC: The Young Justice comic got to hit on a number of really good stories that people who have only watched the cartoon missed out on: Joker’s invasion of Mount Justice, the origins of Captain Atom, the struggle between Batman and Ra’s al Ghul (with Talia caught in the middle), civil war in Atlantis, the rise of Gorilla City, and the emergence of the Collector of Worlds (Earth-16’s Brainiac) to name a few notable arcs. What has been your favorite thus far and why?
CJ: It’s so hard to choose. I always tell people I’m not much for picking favorites of anything. The last story arc we did that featured the Collector of Worlds was great because it was the biggest story we’d done on the comic in terms of scale and scope. We got to include a ton of characters who hadn’t appeared in the book previously. We saw Blue Beetle recruited to join the team. We saw the fate of Marie Logan at the hands of Queen Bee. We saw Superman making his first efforts to get to know Superboy from the safety of his Clark Kent persona. Great stuff.
But I also really enjoyed exploring Artemis’ backstory with her arc. I loved getting to draw all the Atlantean characters and architecture in the story we did there. The Grodd story… It’s hard not to have fun drawing gorillas. Ra’s al Ghul is one of my favorite Batman villains, so of course I enjoyed drawing our story featuring Ra’s, Talia and the League of Shadows. Heck, the first story I drew for the comic had the team telling each other their origin stories sitting around a campfire, including an origin for Miss Martian that was later revealed by the show to have been a complete lie! (And yes, we knew that when we did the comic!)
CAC: Prior to the cancellation of the Young Justice comic, I’ve heard there were plans to adapt Greg Weisman’s DC Showcase: Green Arrow short film for the series as well as an arc chronicling the origins of the Marvel Family. Did you have the opportunity to produce any of that work before word came of the title’s end? Would that have meant you would have designed the character models of Merlyn, Sergeant Marvel, Lieutenant Marvel, and Kid Eternity?
CJ: We were just talking about what to do with the next several issues of the comic when the book came to an end a little more abruptly than we’d been expecting, so no artwork had been done for any of those proposed stories. I’m a huge Marvel Family fan so it would be a real treat to get to design those characters especially.
CJ: Obviously I was thrilled. I’d been trying in my own way to keep the fan base engaged both on social media and by organizing Young Justice meet-ups at many of the conventions I’d attend. I’d take my cues from Greg about hashtag campaigns on Twitter and that sort of thing to get the word out. None of us were certain the show would come back, but we knew that there was always a chance. Warner Brothers Animation knew they had a great show and were interested in doing more, but they needed a new business model for it to make sense on a financial level. It was really hard to engage with fans over a period of years trying to both keep hope alive while swatting down false rumors and not having any substantial news to offer.
I knew that talks were going on about making season 3 happen, but the news that it had been given the green light and was going into production was something I learned about when I saw the announcement online with everyone else!
CAC: Having worked the convention circuit, as a creator, you may have physically interacted with more members of the Young Justice fandom than anyone else. Would you speak to the character of this fandom who refused to give up on something that they clearly loved so much? Do you see a sense of accomplishment (or relief) now that Young Justice will be returning to the masses?
CJ: It’s hard for me to have too much of a sense of accomplishment, as I don’t know how indispensable my role was in any of that happening. I felt like a well-informed cheerleader most of the time. Young Justice fans are amazing. Their enthusiasm and dedication has been the thing that has made Young Justice the most rewarding experience of my comics career. I’m just so happy for everyone that we’re finally getting a third season.
CAC: As I understand it, trade collections of the Young Justice comic are out-of-print. How can one support the return of the comic if they were so inclined? What would it mean to you to see the series return home to print as you’re almost something of a parent to these characters?
CJ: People keep congratulating me on Young Justice coming back and I appreciate what they mean when they say that, but I feel like 1) it wasn’t my accomplishment and 2) I haven’t gotten to go back to work yet. I never worked directly on the TV show before and I don’t now. So I don’t get to help make more Young Justice unless we get the comic back.
The comic book coming back is not an automatic thing with the TV show going back into production. Greg and I would love to bring the comic back and use it to tell more stories and further explore the show’s “gap years,” but that’s completely up to DC Comics. We’d prefer to bring back the comic right away and use it to ramp up to the debut of Season 3 of the show. The production cycle for a season of animation can be over a year, but we could take the comic from a green light to having the first issue on stands in 4 months!
If fans want to help convince DC Comics to revive the comic, it’s a very similar situation to the TV show: Vocal support and petitions and such are a nice idea, they aren’t the most effective leverage as it isn’t news to anyone that there are fans of Young Justice out there. The thing that can bring actual pressure to bear is the sense that there is money to be made, which is why the best thing someone can do is advocate with their spending dollar.
I don’t suggest anyone go into hock to buy Young Justice stuff, especially if it’s stuff they already own. But if you’re looking for something you can do to help support the return of the comic (like the show before it), that’s the best answer. A couple of Christmases ago, I gave most of my friends copies of Young Justice on Blu-Ray. It was gift money I was going to spend anyway and I got to support the show!
It’s true that the trade paperbacks have been going out of print. It’s impossible to order volumes 2-4 online for anything resembling a reasonable price anymore. By all means, please support your local comics shop, but any copies they have of Young Justice as individual issues or as trade paperbacks were purchased from DC years go and buying it now doesn’t register with the publisher as demand for the title.
All the existing Young Justice comics are available digitally however, from Comixology, iTunes, and the DC Comics App. Purchased from those sources those sales ARE recorded by DC Comics and can demonstrate demand for Young Justice in comics form. I’ve been following Greg’s lead and using the hashtag #BuyYJComicsOnComixolgy. Yes, its available on iTunes and the DC App as well but #BuyYJComicsOnComixologyOrITunesOrOnTheDCApp is just too darned long. I know fans like to put their own personal spin on things but the point of a hashtag campaign is to focus the activity, not to diffuse it, so I stick with Greg’s preferred tag.
In a perfect world we could see all the existing Young Justice comics back in print with new stories coming in season 3 and a revived comic book series.
CAC: Should the Young Justice comic return, what are your thoughts if it was made available digital-first? A number of books seem to do well via this route (Batman ’66, Injustice, Teen Titans Go!). I understand you have also worked on Batman ’66?
CJ: Yes, I drew a 2-part story for Batman ’66 which was a ton of fun. I wish I could have done more!
I have no problem with digital first, especially if we eventually go into print with a collected trade paperback. I know a lot of fans still prefer their comics on paper, and I like being able to have copies available for fans and to be able to sign copies when I make convention appearances, and I can’t do that with digital. But I’d just be happy to get more material out there. If it’s a more cost-effective approach to do it as a digital-first title, so be it!
CAC: Likely not since Justice League Unlimited has an animated series had such a rich, diverse cast as that of Young Justice. However, the series always seemingly had a “sky is the limit” approach. Is there any characters you personally would like to see emerge under your pencil? The Young Heroes, perhaps? WildStorm characters?
CJ: Well, I’m still chomping at the bit to do that Marvel Family story. Two-Face and Scarecrow are among my favorite Batman villains and we never got to use them in that whole run I did of The Batman Strikes, so I’d love to have either of them show up in Young Justice. I’d love to see more of the supernatural characters make an appearance, like the Phantom Stranger, the Spectre, Etrigan, or even Swamp Thing. And if it wouldn’t screw up Impulse’s timeline too much, I’d love to bring in the Legion of Superheroes!
CAC: Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention the gorgeous cover you produced for Joe Books’ Disney’s Gargoyles Cinestory, Volume One (coming out this upcoming fall). How did that assignment find its way to you? I understand you had contributed to SLG’s Gargoyles: Bad Guys mini-series in the past. Are you a fan of Disney’s Gargoyles and would you consider contributing to a new ongoing comic series based upon it?
CJ: That cover came from Greg and I looking for more opportunities to work together. I’d love to draw a Gargoyles comic and that’s another thing Greg and I have been pitching. But again, it’s out of our hands as Gargoyles is a Disney property so it has to be in the hands of a publisher who licenses the property from Disney and then can push through the Disney approval process. Not an easy thing but it can be done!
CAC: As I understand it, you’ve recently wrapped the final issue of the Doctor Who: The Third Doctor mini-series for Titan Comics (which will be available as a trade collection next month). What was your experience on the book and can you share what you’re currently, or will soon be, working on?
CJ: The Third Doctor mini-series for Titan was a real treat to work on. I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since childhood and this was the first time I got to work on any Doctor Who property officially. The script was by Paul Cornell who has written some classic stories for the Doctor Who TV show and several Who novels, in addition to his other comics and prose writing, and it was just a joy. There were about two weeks between when I learned I’d be drawing the comic and when I got my hands on the first script. You immediately create a mental checklist of things you hope would be in a third Doctor story: UNIT, The Brigadier, The Master, Bessie, etc. And it was all there and more! And the critical reaction that series got for both the story and art was really gratifying.
My next comics project will be another Doctor Who related project for Titan, but it hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t go into specifics.
With any luck sometime after that I might get to return to Young Justice! We shall see…
You can find Christopher Jones on his blog, Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, Instagram, tumblr, and Pinterest. You can purchase Young Justice comic books via Comixology, iTunes, and the DC Comics App. Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Volume 1 – The Heralds of Destruction ships May 2017.