How DC Collectibles Is Bringing 'The Killing Joke' Into the Real World

The man in charge of DC's Designer Series Statue Line explains how the Clown Prince of Crime went from a drawing on the cover of a comic book to a high-end statue.
Courtesy of DC Entertainment

The latest release from DC Collectibles' Designer Series Statue Line is David Giraud's Joker, based on the iconic Brian Bolland cover artwork from the 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke. The 13-inch statue is the result of more than a year's worth of development and work, and Heat Vision talked to DC Collectibles executive director Jim Fletcher about how it happened, with exclusive development images to illustrate the process.

The Origin

"A lot of times, we don't have all the information we sometimes we need to sculpt everything," explained Fletcher. "The cover is just his hands, his face and a camera, so basically we had to go back and rebuild the rest of it — everything else." That doesn't happen in a vacuum, however; not only are the artists of the original source material consulted as part of the design and development process for each statue in the Designers Series line; there is also the source material itself. After all, as Fletcher put it, in the Bolland-illustrated Killing Joke, "there's all kinds of scenes where Joker's running around."

Re-creating an image that reveals so little, however, means that certain subjects require an unusual amount of discussion. "The first big debate we had was, is he wearing his suit, or is it the Barbara Gordon scene when he's got the Hawaiian outfit on? We went on probably for a couple of weeks trying to decide the best thing to do, and once we ended up going with the full full purple suit, then the question was, if he just has this jacket on [top], should he have shorts on? Should he have long pants on? There was lot of talking about what his outfit is supposed to be."

The Early Passes

Design work was done digitally by Giraud. "In the olden days, when nothing was digital, there would literally be like a block, a big lump of clay," Fletcher said about the initial sculpts of the figure. "Now they'll do mostly is do what's called a T-pose, so they'll build a naked body and just have them standing [with their arms raised sideways], and then they'll go back and re-pose everything and then add layers of clothes."

The figure shown here is Giraud's fourth pass at the Joker, with details beginning to be blocked in, but still unfinished. "We've already started to detail more things out," Fletcher explained. "The pants are getting a little more structure, and there's a lot more detail where the pull is in the sleeve. That's much more detail than that used to be when we weren't doing these digitally. It's much more filled in, they can put the textures in much faster than you used to be able to."

The Revisions

The process of finalizing the look of the statue brought with it some unexpected conversations about the smallest details. "Even the size of his teeth," Fletcher said. "If you looked at early sculpts, they're kind of regular size. After we sent notes back, it's closer to the artwork. They're a lot longer. One of our jobs at Collectibles is making sure that we actually hit the art — it's not just about making a realistic-looking person, it's got to be this Brian Bolland version. We pulled up different pictures, we'll find old artwork that [Bolland had] done, just gather as much reference as we can before we start making all these decisions."

He continued, "So what was happening here, we'd take the exact [source] art a lot of times and lay it over, then we will go through with a ruler and make sure everything's lining up the way we think it is. Even in this case, this eyebrow wasn't up high enough, and we thought that chin needs to be longer. We do a lot of manipulation, usually in Photoshop, we stretch things, and draw over the photos, literally sometimes all over it, and say this is how it should be. Sometimes, these [render] files can pile up, with lots of layers on each file."

Once the basics have been finalized, it's time to get small. "Four rounds [of revision] in, David really went in and started nailing the details down," Fletcher said. "It's so subtle, but if you look at this edges of the overcoat, here's where we really went in and started filling in around all the stitch lines are in here, we revised some of the way the fabrics fold and flow in a run a real person. There's a lot of really cool detail in there. We really tried to put that all in to be as as realistic as we could at the end."

The Finished Product

There were more decisions to be made before the status was complete — including exactly what color of clothes the Joker would be wearing. "Sometimes he's got an orange vest on, sometimes it's a green vest, sometimes a black shirt or green shirt — it's nice to know he has a wardrobe and doesn't have to wear the same clothes all the time, at least," joked Fletcher. "Another problem was that we've published [The Killing Joke] once, and then it was recolored and put out again, so we went back and forth: 'well, should it be this coloring, should it be this one?'"

Even once the design of the figure is completed — ready to be sent for manufacture, after which each figure is hand-painted — the process isn't quite finished yet, according to Fletcher. "One last thing we have to figure out was the statue's base. When we came up with this Designers statue series, we wanted to have them all the same basic size base — all of them have the same round 'hockey puck' as we call it. What's cool about it is that this is all inscribed — if you go in there, it's not just painted on. The whole logo on the base is inscribed in very painstaking detail. The whole thing presents really well as an overall piece. We want to go the extra mile for the this Designer series — it's really about celebrating the artists and all their contributions."

The limited edition DC Designer Series: The Joker statue is currently available (with one currently up for grabs as part of a DC sweepstakes), with more information about the finished product can be found here.

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