Conducted and transcribed by Allen W. Wright
AWW: Writer Tony Lee explained that the Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood graphic novel got its start because you drew a Robin Hood sketch in response to a one-page appearance by the character in his earlier Midnight Kiss comic book series and that you were very enthusiastic to work on a Robin Hood project. I gather you've been a long-time fan of Robin Hood -- perhaps not surprising as you were born and raised in the Midlands. Did Robin Hood play a role in your childhood, and what appeals to you the most about the legend?
SH: Robin Hood played a large role in my childhood, as did most stories I heard at that age – Peter Pan, King Arthur, all the Mother Goose and Grimm tales, Chinese folk stories, etc. I had a very active imagination and two very interesting parents. I lived on a narrowboat for the first 6 years of my life, and I loved hearing the stories of people who had worked, lived and died on those boats. What I most enjoyed about Robin Hood were the swordfights, shooting arrows, and that it was a great excuse for climbing trees. Later when comic books came into my life, I was hooked into this graphic medium and the possibility of being a part of the storytelling.
AWW: How much input did you have in designing the characters in the graphic novel? And what inspired you for the various characters? Your Little John, for example, looks very different than the bearded wild-man type that's common to film and TV versions in the last 30-odd years.
SH: Well, Little John was basically my younger brother, who has grown to gigantic proportions over the years and sported a weird beard for some time that I thought appropriate for the character. Lady Marian is slightly a mix of Tony’s then-girlfriend and my wife: the stylish clothes, moody eyes and hard determination. Most of Tony’s main characters that I’ve had the luck to illustrate have been well-humoured, charming guys, and Robin is no exception. The only thing Tony insisted on for Robin was the hood and leather straps, to make a more modern design.
AWW: What were your biggest artistic influences in illustrating Outlaw?
SH: A few I can single out are Frank Frazetta, Brian Bolland, Wally Wood, Alex Toth, N. C. Wyeth, David Lloyd, Alex Raymond, Bernie Krigstein and Kathe Kollwitz.
AWW: Did you do much historical research for the 1190s setting?
SH: As much as possible from afar. Films, books, Google, Wikipedia and I made the best of a UK visit in 2007 to spend a few days in Nottingham and Sherwood. Also Bernard Cornwell’s Grail Quest Trilogy and Warren Ellis’ Crecy. Learning British history has been a great bonus for me with this project - and the next, King Arthur - as I left for Brazil just as History classes at school were starting to cover the Romans in Britain (I instead had plenty of Brazilian and Portuguese History).
AWW: Robin Hood has succeeded on film and television in part because of the action sequence - the quarterstaff duel and swordfights, for example. What challenges are there in creating the sense of movement in such sequences with only a handful of still images. How do you pick the moments to create a sense of the scene?
SH: Well, action sequences are something that superhero comics (and young kids) thrive on, and I’ve been practicing drawing those since forever. Paraphrasing expert advice from John Buscema, in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way: draw the first or last part of the action sequence (the parts where there is recoil or release) because that’s where you’ll see the most energy (and not, as you might think, at the actual point of contact).
AWW: As an artist, how much freedom were you given from the script? Was there anything you pushed to change because you had a better idea?
SH: This was my third or fourth collaboration with Tony, so we’re very accustomed with each other’s way of “seeing” the page and characters. His scripts are often the minimum necessary to work on; so, I have plenty of input in a scene and I’ll sometimes “collapse” two panels into one, or change the suggested angle if I think it works better. For example a one-page sequence in Outlaw I thought could work better underwater, and Tony had no problem with that. But these alterations are not often, and I make sure that it never changes the action or dialogue.
AWW: What are you most proud of in Outlaw?
SH: The size, for one thing: 142 pages is a lot of work, and just getting through to the end felt incredible. Another thing is being part of this great story, alongside all the people who have taken part in the telling of it –from the 12th century ballads to Walt Disney, Sean Connery, Errol Flynn, Frank Bellamy etc. And I must thank Artur Fujita, who did some fabulous moody colours. If I could point people to the outlawrobinhood.blogspot.com you can see some of the art process.
AWW: I understand you're now working on a similar graphic novel with Tony Lee about the Arthurian legend. How is that going, and does it present different challenges from adapting the Robin Hood story?
SH: I’ve finished all the layouts, and have started inking. Again, it’s over 140 pages, medieval setting – 6th century this time – with plenty of action and drama, and also some magic. I often feel that one job is practice for the next, and Robin Hood and King Arthur have been no exception.
AWW: I understand the legend of the real-life early 20th century bandit Lampião [real name: Virgulino Ferreira da Silva] and his wife Maria Bonita has taken on a Robin Hood-level of popularity in Brazil where you now live. What do you think of this modern outlaw legend and how does it compare and contrast with Robin Hood?
SH: Well, Lampião lived at the start of the 1900s, and in the very north of Brazil, which is poverty and corruption-infested to this day. He was poor and robbed and killed almost anyone who came in his way, and was quite a bloodthirsty chap. Another comparison might be with the drug-dealers that live in and control the favelas in Rio de Janeiro… Looking out for their community with a law of their own, feared by most rich or middle-class citizens, smart and resourceful even if it means living outside the law. Maybe in his day Robin Hood was more bloodthirsty and less charming than the legends and books tell?
AWW: Thanks very much, Sam.
SH: And thanks for the afterword for the book. It completes the story very nicely and is something people often ask about.
Also, check out this interview with Outlaw's writer Tony Lee.
OUTLAW - TTHE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD by Tony Lee, Sam Hart and Artur Fujita. Read the graphic novel we've been discussing.
Interview, © Allen W. Wright, 2009.
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