Nowadays DC Comics Deathstroke has become a major player in the DC Universe appearing in comics, video games, cartoons, and more recently in the CW series Arrow. In 1991 he got his first original series aptly titled Deathstroke the Terminator. For years artist Steve Erwin brought the adventures of DC’s mercenary to life making him the seminal artist of the character. While he is most noted for Deathstroke, Erwin has had a long career and tackled just about every DC character you can imagine as well as numerous others including Checkmate and Vigilante, as well as characters from other companies like Grimjack and The Ferret and now he is expanding to take on the task of bringing writer Robert A. Heinlein’s works to comics like never before. I had the chance to sit down with this legendary artist at the North Texas Comic Book Show to discuss his career, Deathstroke and his upcoming project Citizen of the Galaxy.
Bobby: Can you tell us a how you got into drawing comics?
Steve: I was a comic book fan when I was a little kid, as I got older, in junior high and high school I discovered that I liked to tell stories, but that I wasn’t a very good writer. Since I like comic books so much, the connection that was a personal one for me was that you could tell stories with pictures. I was always a pretty good artist, even as a kid so my dream was to one day draw comics. So I followed my heart and always did all the art classes that school provided and after high school went to technical school for commercial art and dreamed in the back of my brain while I pursued a real career in commercial art. Jumping forward the woman I married was very supportive of what my dream was and life put us in a situation where we relocated for her a new job and she encouraged me to stay home and work on a portfolio to see if I could make it in the industry. After the better part of a year of trial and error working on portfolio pieces and going to convention after convention and talking to publishers, editors, and artists, learning how to draw comics that way, I eventually got some small press work. That work led to work with larger publishers where I wound up with a couple of good assignments with First Comics with Grimjack. The little work I did on that series got my foot in the door at DC Comics and my first assignment with them was doing the last three issues of Vigilante, which at the time I didn’t know where it was headed, I was just the penciler on the book, I didn’t know I was going to be the last penciler on it. The writer and editor liked the work I was doing on that book, so when the replacement for that book came along they offered it to me which turned out to be Checkmate, which was my first real step into comics as a career.
Bobby: You were huge on the Deathstroke the Terminator series being on that book for three years. I know the character had appeared in Teen Titans # 2, but how much control did you have in his design or was it already ready to go?
Steve: It was kind of a joint decision really. Deathstroke’s costume and his half mask were pretty much tied to him. George Perez created the image for him, and I will never forgive him for creating such a complicated costume to have to draw panel after panel. (laughs) It was cumbersome to draw all of that detail on that costume all of the time, but I didn’t really want to change it much, the only thing that was a real problem was that bandolier. As far as the original was concerned I was ok leaving him the way he was, but as far as the stories were concerned I worked very hard with Marv Wolfman. We would talk on the phone and met at a few conventions about what we wanted to do with the stories. Marv and George Perez created Deathstroke so I told Marv, he is your character whatever you want him to do just tell me and I will do my best to put him through those paces. I had as much creative input as I wanted and I all I really wanted to do was tell the story visual and Marv always gave me really good stories to mess with. He was very complimentary about the work that I put to the pages. The character moves a lot, he never just stands and poses like Batman, Deathstroke is always in motion. It was a bit of a challenge, but also found it to be a lot of fun. I was trying to do something different and tried to make sure the pages gave the illusion of movement to keep it a lot of fun. Something that kept it fun for me was that it was constantly changing location, it was very international. The research was always a lot of fun, it was almost like researching James Bond or some kind of TV series being all over the world all of the time.
Bobby: The character had debuted as somewhat of a villain and of course is a mercenary, but had more of a good guy vibe in the book. Now he has gone too much darker places and almost full on villain mode, but was that book trying to give him a more hero front?
Steve: I was pretty much following Marv’s lead on it and my understanding to what he wanted to do with the character was that he was a mercenary and just a soldier of fortune, but a soldier of fortune with honor. He never considered himself an assassin and never took those kinds of jobs, with the exception of his appearance in the Titans, because someone had hired him to take them out, but that went back a long way. He would do whatever it takes to get the job done and a soldier sometimes has to get their hands dirty. In the story arc where Batman was the guest star, there was a battle between them. As they were fighting on the ledge of a building or something there was dialogue where Deathstroke told Batman the difference between them is that Batman fights to win, but won’t kill in the process, but Deathstroke fights to win and is not afraid to kill. That was always going to give him the upper hand in fighting it out and it was about that time in the fight he took Batman out so that’s pretty much how he came out on top and made him so much different.
Bobby: You’ve become associated with that character a lot, but you have obviously done so many other characters through the years. Are there any other characters that you are partial too?
Steve: I did a lot of fill in work at DC, but in between regular series I would do two or three issues in a row to help other artists catch up on their books so I got to sample a little bit of everyone. I enjoyed all of those opportunities, but one of my favorite was one of my first jobs which was Checkmate. I enjoyed it a lot, mostly because of the diversity on all the different characters and the places. For the straight super hero stuff I had a lot of fun drawing Hawk & Dove and I did some fill in issues of New Gods which was fun trying to draw larger and a little different than the way I normally work just because they were Kirby characters. It was fun to play in his sandbox for a while and getting to draw Kirby-esque without making it look like Kirby, but try to get that feel of it.
Bobby: Can you tell us a little about your latest project?
Steve: This is a first of its kind in a way, its Robert Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy. None of Heinlein’s books have ever been brought to graphic novel form before. The only exception would be Starship Troopers, but it was a graphic novel of the movie rather than the book. My collaborators on Citizen of the Galaxy actually work for the company they represent Heinlein’s estate and they are charged with keeping his books in print. They have been pushing for a while that some of his work would be really great graphic novels and a great way to bring his work to a younger audience. They took the opportunity and licensed this specific property for the graphic novel to try it out, see what it looks like and how the public perceives it. Based on this they could look more favorably on some of his other properties being made into graphic novels as well. I was brought into this late in the game. It was set up by my collaborators as a Kickstarter project, they were given permission to use this property and my understanding is that it’s kind of open ended. They don’t have a limitation on when they have to put this out, but they did have to finance it themselves. I believe the Kickstarter campaign was about half or three quarters the way through before I was brought in on it. They didn’t have an artist yet, just the opportunity to produce it. They started searching and networks trying to find a suitable artist that had the time and inclination to do it and eventually they gave me a call and it sounded like a fun project to work on.
Bobby: Is there a set date to try and release it or is it still in the production stage?
Steve: Tentatively we are looking at April or May of next year, that’s my understanding. Most of the nuts and bolts of putting this project together is outside my sphere. I am pretty much just providing artwork for the book. A lot of the publications dates and stuff I just have a rough understanding of it, but I know what my deadlines are so focusing on that right now. I’m very much treating this as my day job.
Bobby: I know you are focusing on this one right now, but do you have any other projects coming up in the future?
Steve: My focus right now is entirely on Citizen of the Galaxy. I am hoping that once this project is out that it will lead to other projects, hopefully similar ones. I like working on graphic novels and have worked on a couple in the past. I gather it’s like working on a movie instead of a TV show. I’ve done the monthly and graphic novels, so that is the similarities and I prefer the graphic novel. It’s more contained and I find it more fulfilling.
Bobby: Besides just the Citizens of the Galaxy can you tell us where fans can find you online to request commissions or to see your art?
Steve: I’m in the process of building a website for myself but I do have my non-comic artwork online portfolio and my comic art on comicartfans.com. Just type in my name and it shows pages and commissions that fans have bought and I have a personal site on their too. I am open to do commissions all the time. A lot of people get with the other people on comic art fans and get my email and contact me that way.
Bobby: I appreciate your time; I’m a huge fan of the Deathstroke series and was a real honor to meet you.
Steve: It was very nice talking to you, thanks very much.
To get more information about the Kickstarter for Citizen of the Galaxy head over here.
For more information on the North Texas Comic Book Show head over to http://comicbooksdallas.com/index.html