Just Making a Good Show: A Birthday Tribute to Bruce Timm
Ask a generation of cartoon watchers what their prototypical Batman or Superman would look like, and there’s a pretty good chance the image that will pop into the heads of many will look a whole lot like a Bruce Timm drawing. Same goes for Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Harley Quinn, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, Robin, Batgirl, Lois Lane and dozens of other DC characters.
Timm, born on this day in 1961, has made his career in animation, co-creating Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League, among other shows, but he has arguably had as much of an impact on superheroes as any living comic artist.
Early on in his career, when he was doing layouts and backgrounds for shows including He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra, Flash Gordon and G.I. Joe, Timm attempted to find work as an artist at both DC Comics and Marvel, but had little luck. Timm had no formal schooling for art; instead, he simply had a love of artists such as Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, and Alex Toth. He also loved the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s, the art-deco look of which would deeply influence the Batman and Superman cartoons he would co-create.
In an interview with Comic Book Artist magazine, Timm said he was initially a fan of artists with a more realistic style, such as Gene Colan and Neal Adams, but he eventually came around to styles more akin to the one for which he’s known.
I wasn’t crazy about Kirby, I wasn’t really crazy about Alex Toth. I’d look at Toth and think, “My god, this stuff is like kiddie drawings! It’s like coloring book drawings, they’re so simple,” but I’d keep going back, looking at them, saying, “If I don’t like this, why do I keep looking at them?”
In 1989, Timm took a job at Warner Bros., where he did storyboards and designed characters for Tiny Toon Adventures. He also picked up a few writing credits. Two years later, he and Eric Radomski, another Tiny Toons staffer, co-created Batman: The Animated Series.
Timm would continue to work on other Warner Bros. shows, doing design for Animaniacs and Freakazoid, for example, but Batman cemented his role as the guiding force behind would would become known as the DC Animated Universe, which he would oversee for more than two decades thereafter.
His indelible stamp is on virtually every animated project involving DC characters created between 1992 and 2013, and he’s even appeared in some of them. He showed up as a Christmas caroler in The New Batman Adventures, was a prisoner at Arkham Asylum on The Batman, and wore Joker cosplay on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He also voiced some characters: the leader of the Jokerz gang on Batman Beyond, and a toy shop owner on Batman: The Animated Series.
Timm parlayed his animation success into doing the job he tried to do years earlier: Drawing comics. He and writer Paul Dini won an Eisner for the 1994 Batman Adventures issue “Mad Love.” Timm drew the 1999 Avengers #1.5 special issue for Marvel, working with writer Roger Stern. He told Comic Book Artist that he tried to draw in Kirby’s style for the issue. He’s drawn a few other short stories for Conan, Birds of Prey, and the horror title Flinch. He also co-created Conan O’Brien’s superhero character, “The Flaming C.”
In 2013, Timm announced he was stepping down as supervising producer of DC’s animation projects to work on projects of his own. In 2014, he directed the animated Batman short “Strange Days” to coincide with the character’s 75th anniversary.
Though his comic career has been limited — but again, not because of a lack of desire — Bruce Timm’s influence on the world of superhero comics is apparent in every homage to the various animated series that shaped many young viewers’ opinions and ideas about those heroes. Timm famously fought network censors to make shows that would have a real impact on viewers, telling them, “Look, we’re not trying to destroy the boys of America, we just want to make a good show.”
Happy birthday, Bruce.
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