That’s Marvel BadAss! ~ Week 17 ~ Steve Downer

While cruising the ol’ Interweb! a few weeks ago looking for a great pic of Paste Pot Pete– one of my favorite and most bizarre Kirby Kreations, I found a kindred spirit in Steve Downer, an illustrator and colorist is Bozeman, Montanna. Steve had featured PPP in an incredible ABCs of superheroes  he’d done. He’d also drawn a number of my other obscure favorites … Rocket Raccoon, The Question, Will Magnus, OMAC … just to name a few.
Steve has a love for the “B-Side” characters as I do … and an impressive knowledge of them to boot.
I contacted Steve and found him to be a super nice guy. He has recently done a lot of color work for DC on The Brave and the Bold, Final Crisis: The Legion of 3 Worlds, Superman Annual and more. After a few e-mails, I had to share his work and insights with you. So, without further ado…

Marvel Smartass: What got your into comics? What was your “conversion comic”?

Steve Downer: I got into comic books by way of cartoons and newspaper comics, actually. Cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series and the old Fleischer Superman shorts made me a fan of characters who had their roots in comic books, while strips like Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Foxtrot fostered a love for the medium, particularly as it applies to telling humorous stories. 

It’s hard to put my finger on any one issue or title that single-handedly made me a fan for life, but I’d say Hergé’s Tintin stories had a lot to do with it. Mainly because they were readily available from my local library, while other comics were scarce around my home growing up.

Marvel Smartass: Who’s on your “Comic Rushmore”? Which comics artists were the biggest influences on you? 
Steve Downer: I’m not sure there’s enough room on Mount Rushmore for all the personalities that have influenced me over the few years I’ve been doing this. I definitely owe the largest debt to Bruce Timm and Bill Watterson– the work those two have done was at its peak during my youth, and I ate it up. It still has a big influence on me today, particularly Bill’s masterful use of body language in telling a story. 

Other artists I admire and whose work influences my own include Amanda Conner, Sean Galloway, Stuart Immonen, Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart, Mort Drucker, Chris Sprouse and many others. I figure the more people I rip off, the more well-rounded I am as an artist. The work I’ve done as a colorist owes a lot to Alex Sinclair, Dave McCaig, Dave Stewart and Brian

Marvel Smartass: What was your first professional work in comics? It’s hard enough toget there, but how do you stay there?

Steve Downer: My first real, professional work came from coloring a pinup for an issue of Small Gods, an Image series from a few years back. It never led to more work, but getting the issues with my work in them was a big milestone.
Later, another big landmark in the journey was seeing my work printed in DC’s Birds of Prey when I first started to work for Hi-Fi Color & Design. Another recent big step has been doing a few miniseries for BOOM! Studios. It’s pretty cool to see your own name on a book.
And honestly, I’d hardly say I’m “there” yet. I know it’s an arbitrary distinction, but I guess I’ll consider myself “there” when I’ve got an ongoing, monthly series from one of the Big Two under my belt. I definitely feel like I’m well on my way to getting there, though. And if there’s anything I can say I’ve learned, it’s that hard work and professionalism are crucial. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver, and never, ever miss a deadline if you can help it. Those are lessons I had to learn the hard way.

Marvel Smartass: Writers say, “Write every day.” What advice do you have for artists who are honing their craft?
Steve Downer: Draw every day, every chance you get. Don’t limit your influences to just the things you like or want to get into; study illustrators, cartoonists, animators, classical painters. Get your hands on anything by Andrew Loomis that you can and treasure it like it’s God’s own word. Work together with another artist if you can. It’ll force you to be disciplined if somebody else is depending on you.
Marvel Smartass: What are the keys to creating that critical chemistry that must exist between a writer, an artist and a colorist?
Steve Downer: Communication is definitely the biggest key to having a good working relationship. In my experience, the editor is the hub the creative team revolves around, and one of their biggest responsibilities is to balance the creative desires of each member of the team. I’ve been lucky to have good editors on all the projects I’ve done, and that makes it much easier to create a book that flows well in each aspect of storytelling- writing, lineart and color art.

Marvel Smartass: You seem to have a love of characters on the fringe of comics. If you could revive a character and have your own book, who would it be?  Give me the elevator pitch.
Steve Downer: Hmm… man, that’s a good question. My love of obscure characters only started a couple years ago, as I began working on projects that involved obscure characters or became friendly with creators who loved certain forgotten characters. I think… I guess I’d love to work on a revived Herbie Popnecker series for Dark Horse. Yeah, definitely Herbie. That would rock.
Herbie, if you’re unfamiliar, is described by his disappointed father as a “little fat nothing”, a plump, taciturn kid with a burning love for lollipops.

Here’s the pitch:
A fat, omnipotent kid travels through time and space eating lollipops, saving historical figures, bopping various beasties or supernatural figures, and breaking the hearts of legions of swooning ladies. He occasionally performs said feats dressed as the Fat Fury, a bespectacled superhero with a plunger on his head. It’s possibly the best comic book in the universe.

Marvel Smartass: What comics are at the top of your “must read” list now?
Batman and Robin, by Grant Morrison and a rotating team of artists, is one of the best comics I’ve read in a long time. It’s truly fantastic, and fun in a way Batman books haven’t been in a long time.

Booster Gold
is one of the better DC books out right now. It’s more rewarding the more you know about the DC universe, though, so your mileage may vary.

Power Girl
, by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner has been great also. They took a sexist, one-note character and rebuilt her into the star on one of the most purely fun titles DC has on the stands. I haven’t been keeping up on much Marvel stuff since Incredible Hercules ended. I’m really looking forward to seeing what their Heroic Age storyline brings to the table, though.
Marvel Smartass: Give me the opening paragraph to the Legion of Super Heroes rejection letter to Arm Fall-Off Boy. 🙂

Steve Downer: Actually, I’ve got the whole thing here in my files. I’ll just transcribe it. (It’s written in Interlac, so my translation software might be a little iffy…)

Legion of Super-Heroes

1 Legion Loop, Metropolis, USA, Earth
Mr. Floyd Belkin 
(a.k.a. Arm-Fall-off Boy)
1277 Merkin Arms Rd., Apt. L, Merkinton, Lallor

Dear Mr. Belkin,

we are sorry to inform you that you have been summarily rejected for entrance into the Legion of Super-Heroes. 
In a rare unanimous vote, the leadership council of the Legion moved to deny you membership on the grounds of “excessive creepiness”, “comparative uselessness” and “seriously, you guys, that is just SO CREEPY”.
We respectfully request that you never return to the Legion clubhouse, and wish you luck in all your future endeavors.
The Legion of Super-Heroes Leadership Council
(Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl)
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