Interview with animation and comic artist Mike Manley

Mike Manley

Mike Manley is a multi-talented artist who has done everything from storyboards and background scenery for animated television series to penciling and inking in comic books and everything in between. He has worked for Marvel on Quasar, Captain America, New Mutants, and was the co-creator of the character Darkhawk. Manley has Darkhawk_Vol_1_7worked for DC Comics on Batman and The Power of Shazam! He is the current artist for the serialized comic strip Judge Parker, and has also worked on several animated series including The New Batman / Superman Adventures, Batman Beyond, Kim Possible, Fairly Odd Parents, The Venture Brothers, and Samurai Jack. Outside of the comic book business, Manley is a painter and art teacher.

Pop Optiq: You’ve been an artist for The New Batman / Superman Adventures and Batman Beyond, what did that work entail?

Mike Manley: I was the storyboard artist and background designer on those shows, and I was a character designer on Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

PO: Your art work extends beyond comic books and animation, though. You have some formal training in painting I believe?

MM: When I was 45 I went back to school, to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, to finish my undergrad and eventually my masters in painting.

PO: How much does that art training influence what you’ve done in the animation and comic book industries?

MM: The principles of realistic or illusionist drawing are all the same. Perspective, light, and shadow are employed in different stylistic ways in drawing a superhero or working in animation, but the principles are the same. I went back to school because I wanted to be a better painter. I’ve always loved illustration and painting even when I was a kid, so all of this is a continuation of what I’ve always been interested in.

PO: When you’re working in the comics industry and in animation, how much of your own creative style do you get to bring to the table?

MM: When you’re working in animation it is all supposed to look like whoever did the style for the show. When I’m working on The New Batman / Superman Adventures, I’m working in that designer’s style. I’m bringing my own personality, and my own talent to it. In comics, it’s more of a sole author medium. In animation, it’s much more collaborative because you have hundreds of people working on it. You have the writer, several story board artists, several character designers, a director, people designing props, people doing backgrounds, people doing color comps, people oversees – a whole Korean studio full of artists doing other things – it gets quite complex. On a comic book, it could just be me. It’s not as much collaboration in comics. I get a script and it’s just me.

On Samurai Jack, I’d get a plot for an episode from Gendy Tartakovsky, and then I’d do a rough storyboard and basically co-write the script. We’d storyboard it then discuss it before moving forward with the final version. It’s still putting in your energy and effort either way.

PO: Do you prefer working in comics more than in animation?

MM: I do like comics more than animation, but I like animation too. It just depends upon the nature of the project. Some things end up being more fun than others. On some, you do a few episodes, and you don’t want to do anymore. All jobs have a downside. And it all depends on your personality. I’m a good mimic when it comes to matching up with other people’s styles – that’s something I had even as a kid – but other people, their brain doesn’t work that way.

When you’re working in film you’re dealing with a different language – a very similar language to comics – but you’re dealing with film language and there are a lot of people who are great cartoonists or great illustrators but they’re not great storyboard artists because their brain doesn’t work that way. But I think my brain just naturally works that way.

PO: Do you have a favorite franchise you’ve worked on? Is there one that stands out over the others?

MM: Stylistically, I liked working on Samurai Jack. I liked working on The New Batman / Superman cartoons because they were the best of both worlds. They basically took all the classic stuff from the characters, but it could be enjoyed by both children and adults. I really liked those.

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