Sean Gordon Murphy is one of the most popular comic artists working today having created visually stunning worlds in Joe the Barbarian, The Wake, Punk Rock Jesus, Tokyo Ghost, Chrononauts, and more. Murphy is taking on writing duties (which he also did for Punk Rock Jesus) giving a new take on Batman and the Joker in his eight issue limited series Batman: White Knight.
We got a chance to talk to him at Awesome Con which took place in Washington, DC at the end of March.
Graphic Policy: I work for Graphic Policy. We do a combination of politics and comics, and I believe that is what peaked your interest when we crossed paths back in August.
Sean Murphy: Yes.
Graphic Policy: Today Sean I don’t want to talk about elections or SJW’s though. I’d like to talk to you about what we couldn’t talk about then: Batman: White Knight.
GP: What you’ve done is flip the entire dynamic on its head. You have decided to make the Jack Napier aka The Joker, the savior of Gotham. Where did that come to you?
SM: Well as a kid I was always a big fan of the animated series (though not really a giant Joker fan) but always thought there was so much more potential to him if he could just get rid of his craziness. I felt he could be a much more effective adversary to Batman, and maybe even be smart enough to expunge his record and possibly get Gotham to forgive him. When I first pitched this, DC said “there’s no way Gotham would elect the Joker for public office.” After the 2016 election, they said “Okay, maybe they would.”
GP: Oh absolutely.
SM: I don’t mean for it to sound like I’m taking a political stand or anything. That is just sort of how it happened.
GP: No, no not at all. I think it is a brilliant take. I like the idea. One thing that you introduced is, and I’m not sure if it was intentional or not to highlight the Joker, but Batman is more of a dick than usual. (laughs)
SM: (laughs) Well Alfred died, and he’s got this Jason Todd thing that happened. I mean he’s only human. So we got to give him a break.
GP: Yeah. I also love the twist you’ve added with Mr. Freeze knowing the Waynes and tying in to that mythos. Obviously this story has a beginning and an end. I mean we all know the Joker will be back true to form at some point. Do you think though had things been truly different and given the chance, that he could have been the White Knight of Gotham?
SM: Well in a way, I think he already is. He really woke everyone up. Yes he started out as a villain with nefarious intentions and he did have an agenda, but throughout the book I think even Jack Napier is surprised at how much more of a good guy he became. He’s not perfect – in issue 7 he’s forced to admit he’s been rigging the game all along. He did manage to give Gotham a reality check that they were never going to have. At least certainly not with Batman. He’s fixed a lot and put people to work and rebuilt things. As much as Gordon and Batman may hate to admit it, he really did fix a lot of things.
GP: Right, kind of like Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight.
SM: Yeah, yeah exactly.
GP: Tell me, is it so much more freeing to not be bogged down by the continuity of monthly events?
SM: Yes. What was good as with this project there wasn’t a lot of oversight. Not much from my editors at DC. I essentially gave them five finished issues and they were like “Okay, this isn’t what we were expecting – and some of it would probably not have been approved, but it is not in continuity, so we’re just going to publish it and see what happens.” That freedom- while also respecting the character and understanding what readers will tolerate- is kind of what made it a hit I think.
GP: Lots of people refer to your artwork as a very European style. Certainly it is different, what are your influences?
SM: Oh yeah. In broad strokes, the style is generally European. With a little bit of Manga thrown in.
GP: I actually see a lot of Akira.
SM: Akira sure, European artists and actually some South American artists. It really is a mix of a lot of things I like.
GP: Well it shows. Thank you Sean for your time and everything. Much success to you at the Con.
SM: You’re welcome. Take care.