‘New Crusaders’ Artist Ben Bates on Designing the Future of a Franchise [Interview]
ComicsAlliance: As a book populated by mostly legacy characters, New Crusaders demands designs that are both fresh and reverent of the past. What was your approach to designing the new New Crusaders team?
Ben Bates: My approach was to take a look at as much reference as I could on the characters from all the old comics and try to find what made them unique. Or latch onto one aspect that I thought defined that character so I could work it into my design later. I then did my best to start with a clean slate, and think about what I might find cool based on the short descriptions I had for the New Crusaders, building the characters from the ground up. Once I had some kind of idea of what would appeal to me personally I could take one element out of that, combine it with the old comic stuff and try to blend it into a cohesive design.
Which was more a challenge than I thought it would be. When I thought about all the superheroes I liked, and if they were on a team, I realized all of their designs were wildly different and frequently had stuff on them that made no sense whatsoever aside from providing an interesting silhouette. Which is totally fine! I like a lot of those costume designs but it was really hard for me to design things without a function for the New Crusaders. I eventually decided to streamline them and, as they were on a team, have elements of their costumes repeat, hopefully be unique, and connect to the old comic designs. Although thinking about it, Jaguar ended up pretty different from the old one.
CA: How familiar with the Red Circle characters before you started the project and what kind of research did you do to inform your take on New Crusaders?
BB: I was totally unfamiliar with Red Circle before this project got started. Archie has provided me with an abundance of reference material, and if there's anything I can't find there I turn to the internet. Fortunately there's people out there who care about these characters and their history and have spent the time putting stuff online, like all the villains ever to appear in one convenient little list.
CA: Jaguar, the character we're getting a closer look at today, is an all-new addition to the Red Circle world. What can you tell us about this hero and her place on the team?
BB: I don't know too much about Jaguar yet, but so far I would have to say she's the character I find the most interesting. She struggles with being herself out of costume, but is good at and enjoys being a hero. From what I understand she'll have to learn to accept herself for who she really is. I guess it's the idea; if you didn't like yourself and you were given the power to be someone else, why would you ever go back? I think it could be an interesting mentality to explore. She also gets her power from a god, I think that's pretty awesome and probably means she packs a lot of power!
CA: Who is your favorite New Crusader to draw so far?
BB: I think my favorite to draw might be Fly-girl because of the way I imagine her behaving and the body language that comes out of that, which may not be at all accurate to the character I'll draw when the comic gets started. When I was first messing around with character designs I had only a brief description to start from so I definitely began developing personal ideas of who these characters are and what they do. It'll be fun to see how that changes or stays the same as the comic continues on.
CA: You and writer Ian Flynn have been regular collaborators on Sonic the Hedgehog. What do you think makes him the right writer to helm this era of New Crusaders?
BB: Ian's proven that he can tell a big story with an episodic structure, making each individual issue of a comic fun on its own and still adding to the larger story arc. I fully expect him to do the same thing with each installment of New Crusaders. I'm comfortable knowing that Ian is in charge and will safely deliver us on this huge journey we're all about to go on with these characters.
CA: New Crusaders' subscription-based app supports both the new ongoing 6-page installments, plus a library of classic Red Circle material. What excites you about contributing to a relatively experimental comic delivery model in the evolving digital market?
BB: I'm actually really excited to be a part of the turning point in how people read comics. I think this transitional phase for a lot of different industries is fascinating. I love the idea of having instant access to a ton of comics, movies, or music that I can carry around pretty much everywhere I go. My hope is soon everyone will be running around with a single device that stores and accesses all this stuff. Everyone would have one. Then you could have your own personalized AI that runs it. It would be exactly like a PET in the Mega Man Battle Network videogame series.
CA: Lastly, from the Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man work you've done for Archie to some of the illustrations you've posted on your blog, you seem to have a special affection for videogame characters. How much do you think that factors into your design sense on an all ages superhero comic like New Crusaders? And how much do you think the younger generation of readers might feed off of that kind of sensibility?
BB: It's definitely an influence that I hope adds to the design and can be appreciated by people who want to look at superheroes in a slightly different way. I think about things like Bruce Timm's different animated superhero series and how successful those were. I've never really been attracted to the standard superhero art style or the more realistic approach, which leaves me out of really getting into a lot of superhero stories. But I love the Batman and Superman animated series, it brought me in with its artistic approach and gave me the opportunity to fall in love with those characters and the stories. My hope would be to do the same for more readers, of any age, with New Crusaders.