Recently Keith Champagne took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with Michael Deeley to discuss his origins, WWE Heroes, what’s to come, and much more!
Michael Deeley How did you become a comic book inker? When you started out in the business did you intend to be an inker or were you more interested in being a penciler?
Keith Champagne: I’m a graduate of the Kubert School, class of 94. In order to make my way through school, I worked in an art supply store and had the good fortune to meet Tom Mandrake and his wife Jan Duursema, shopping for art supplies one night. This was in my second year of school. Tom was nice enough to give me his number and then nice enough again to try me out on some background inks on an extra issue of Batman he had picked up. I ended up helping Tom on a few little jobs and then started inking backgrounds full-force for an inker named Ken Branch, who was handling 3 or 4 books a month for DC at the time. There were plenty of pages to learn while doing.
Longer story shortened, in my third year I showed Andy Kubert what I was up to and he passed my samples on to Bob Harras at Marvel. Around the same time, DC hired me to ink Deathstroke The Terminator and it was off to the races from there.
I’d still like to do some penciling at one point or another, I’ve got a ‘secret’ graphic novel I’ve been working on for years on a very, very, very part-time basis. It comes a distant last on my list of priorities, there are only so many hours in the day. And honestly, if the world is never graced with my pencils, no one will be the poorer for it.
Deeley: You’ve drawn nearly every character in the DC Comics universe. Who is your favorite character to draw?
Champagne: My favorite character, hands down, is Superman. The character I’ve always wanted to write for is Swamp Thing.
Deeley: What comic character do you most want to draw that you haven’t drawn yet?
Champagne: I’d like to work on Power Man and Iron Fist or, rather, Power Man VS Iron Fist. That was always my favorite Marvel book when I was growing up. The characters have obviously evolved since then but that’d still be a dream project come true for me.
Deeley: Have you ever “fixed” an artist’s pencils without telling him?
Champagne: I have a simple philosophy on this. No one is paying me to redraw anything. I’m paid to translate an artist’s pencils and bring out the best in what he’s doing. I’ll spot blacks, add lighting, and play with line weights and textures but I never redraw someone. If I were doing finishes instead of straight inks, sure, all bets are off. But on a regular inking gig, it’s not my job and it’s disrespectful to the hard work the penciller turns in.
Deeley: What inspired you to begin writing comics?
Champagne: Alan Moore and John Byrne.
Deeley: You don’t have to answer this, but I have to ask: Countdown: Arena. The team assembled at the end of that story never appears again. Had “Arena” been created after the rest of Countdown had been written?
Champagne: I wasn’t that in the loop as to what was going on in Countdown proper while I was writing “Arena.” I was told when to come in and when to get off the stage, and what DC needed to accomplish in “Arena” in between. So…that’s what I did. I remember being in the offices a few weeks after #4 shipped and I asked the Countdown assistant editor what had happened to the team we had put together. “Oh, they’re dead now,” she told me. “They got killed off in the next issue of Countdown.”
I was surprised as anyone to learn that. I was under the impression there was a much bigger role for Monarch’s army but I guess those plans changed somewhere along the way.
Deeley: Your last series for DC, The Mighty, recently concluded. Tell readers why they should definitely track it down.
<Champagne: I think between Tomasi, Snejberg, Chris Samnee and myself, we put together the best, most consistent title DC published in ‘09. We paced that book so deliberately to ramp up the mystery and tension, then hopefully made it all worth the reader’s while when we blew the doors off the hinges in the last couple of issues. I know the second trade is coming down the pike very soon and the first one is doing well for DC, which is gratifying that more and more people are discovering the book.
The Mighty is really a story about friendship, loneliness, and abuse of power. It’s probably the thing I’m most proud of in my 16-17 years in comics. Anyone that brings me a copy to sign at a convention is my friend for life.
Deeley: How did you get the job writing the new WWE Heroes? Was it something Titan approached you with?
Champagne: Ned Hartley, my mighty editor, approached me right after I left Supergirl and basically said, “Wrestling. Comics.”
I said “Yes, please.”
We’ve been having fun ever since.
Deeley: The lead hero and villain in Heroes call each other “brother”. It reminds me of how Hulk Hogan would call people “brother”. Was this an intended homage to Hogan? Will we be seeing Hogan or other old wrestling stars in the series?
Champagne: Let’s see…we saw Jimmy Snuka in the free iPhone comic we produced (download it here for FREE if you haven’t already), and we may see one or two others before we’re done. I’m certainly game to use them, it all comes down to likeness rights and if there’s an organic place for them in the story.
The brother thing…it’s true that Hogan calls people brother but really, The Firstborn and The King of Shadows are actually brothers. They’re fraternal twins, one good, one evil, locked in a battle for the fate of the planet since the dawn of time. See trailer here.
Deeley: WWE Heroes follows the eternal struggle between two immortals. Can you tell us how it all began, or do we have to wait for future issues?
Champagne: It began in blood and it’s going to end the same way. In between, hopefully people will enjoy the ride. We’re definitely trying to do something different with a “wrestling” comic. I don’t expect everybody to get it or even like it but at least give us a fair shake to tell our whole story.
Deeley: Finally, was this your dream crossover story?
Champagne: Besides Power Man VS Iron Fist? Sure!
A WWE Heroes #0 prequel comic with Comic-Con exclusive cover drawn by WWE legend, Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler, will be available at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International.
Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler will be signing copies of WWE Heroes #0 prequel comic, at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con on Friday July 23rd in Autograph Alley (room AA18) from 12:00pm – 1:30pm.
Visitors to the Titan booth (stand no. #5537) at Comic-Con will receive a FREE exclusive WWE Heroes comic bookmark.