May 12, 2014

Joe Bennett: Supreme Artist

Joe Bennett's re-creation of Supreme N. 41 cover.
Interview by Flavio Pessanha. Translation from Portuguese to English by Flavia Ferreira.
Interview done in March 2014.

Posted on this blog with Pessanha's permission. 


SUPREME is one of the greatest comics ever to be created and Joe Bennett - real name Benedito José do Nascimento - was in the right place at the right time. He was the only Brazilian artist to have worked with scripts written by Alan Moore and he was the responsible for the visual reconceptualisation of this work.

Initially, SUPREME was a generic and unoriginal character that mixed together elements of several other industry-consolidated heroic archetypes. Alan Moore took on the title in 1996 and worked with total freedom to alter and recreate the character. So he transformed SUPREME into a tribute to SUPERMAN, THE MAN OF STEEL. Arguably, he wrote the best story ever created of the first and greatest of all superheroes. Nearly 60 years of stories, multiple versions, various foes, contradictory mythologies… everything was unified in one unique story of the foremost superhero icon in comics.  

Benedito José do Nascimento was born in Belém, a city in the far north of Brazil. He started his Arts career in the national titles Calafrio (Shiver) and Mestres do Terror (Masters of Terror), and in 1995 his unique art won him a spot in Image under the pseudonym Joe Bennett. In the following year, his partnership with Alan Moore began and he was in charge of the artistic conceptualisation of SUPREME and, in 1997, he was invited to work for Marvel in the title AMAZING SPIDERMAN. From this point onwards, Bennett’s career turned into an extraordinary artistic brainstorm: he was working for Marvel, DC Comics and a few other houses, drawing a pantheon of their most notable characters.

Alan Moore BR, the Brazilian Facebook page dedicated to Alan Moore: here.
Joe Bennett and... his powerful drawing tools!
AMBr:  Joe, you drew the first Supreme stories that Alan Moore wrote. How do you appraise the work you did back then?
Joe Bennett:  I wish I could go back in time and redo it all. [But] the ‘Image Era’ limited my style. I could have done something much better like for instance the issue I did recently for SUPERMAN; that should have been my draughtsmanship for SUPREME.   

But Extreme - the Liefeld's studio inside Image (then Maximum Press and then Awesome Comics) - was known to impose a specific art mould, the "Liefeld school", correct?
JB: Yes, back then it was like that, only those who kept to that prevailing style could draw for Image and I never liked that, but I needed to work. I have always been a fan of the classic in comics: Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, John Buscema, Garcia Lopez. It was a pain for me to draw in that Image style because I have always had a good narrative, but there was no room for good storytelling, it had to be just the visual and the thrashing. It was hard, but I adapted fast and soon enough I went back to my original style.
Variant cover for Supreme N. 41. Pencils by Joe Bennett.
And how was it, to work with Alan Moore scripts? Was his level of detailing very high?
JB: Yes, it was enormous. And I always say that I feared changing anything, because if he asks you that a dog crosses the road in the background, you get scared not to draw it… Who knows if that dog is going to become a cosmic entity in the future of the script? [laughs] But it was very good, it was a lesson on how to do scripts.

You were already on it before Alan Moore got on board. How was this change of scriptwriter?
JB: I even thought I would be out… But no, I stayed. And it caused me diarrhoea for three days, seriously… I was nervous.  

Did drawing for Alan Moore demand more time? How long did it take you to make a single issue?
JB: No, what took me time was to read the script. There were four sheets for each page, or even more. But as usual, I finished an issue in twenty days.
Page from Supreme N. 41. Pencils by Joe Bennett.
You were one of the few Brazilian artists to have worked with Alan Moore. How important is it to your career, in your opinion?
JB: I think I was the only one to have done a script directly from him, because if I remember well, Avatar launched something, but it was a text adapted to script and the illustrator was Brazilian.
It was very good for my career, gave me an enviable CV, and for the fan in me, it’s a dream that came true, imagine a guitar player that plays at the local bar, playing alongside John Lennon? It was more or less like that.

What have you been doing these days, have you any authorial project coming up?
JB: Today I’m doing IRON MAN for Marvel and SOLAR for Dynamite. Concerning personal projects, I took a break from that, there is no chance of that happening in the near future, and I think that it probably never will happen.

What do you think of Alan Moore’s criticism of mainstream comics and his statement that readers became attached to an immature model of comics?
JB: I sign below it. I think comics are worn-out because whereas in the old days comics were created for all kinds of public, nowadays it is something that they make to see if it can get in the cinema or other mediums. I haven’t read comics for nearly twenty years because I can’t be bothered. I love my job, but I’m not obliged to read the new stuff that’s out there. I think they are all very silly. 
Cover for Supreme N. 42. Pencils by Joe Bennett.
Comics are not an expensive medium; you can make cosmic stories at a low cost. In cinema, it costs a fortune and to boost box office revenue, they work with a motion picture rating system for young people. Is it bad that comics have to be made for a younger audience so they can be compatible with its films?
JB: Yes, I think it’s awful. We would never see a Moore’s SWAMP THING released by a company like DC, nowadays. They no longer wager on something like that because everything is so shallow so it can be readily exported to Cinema and TV. It’s a massive shit, that’s what it is.   

Before the 1980s a comic book sold over half a million copies, nowadays if a comic book sells fifty thousand copies it is considered a hit. What happened to the industry?
JB: The industry has spiralled down because it has not evolved and the other mediums have. It’s very common to see huge crowds of people who are IRON MAN fans that never read anything about him or other heroes either. 

AMBr: What is the future of comics, Bennett? To what direction is it going to evolve?
JB: To be honest, I don’t know. Migrating to digital is the way out to many publishing houses. As for the production, it will still be on paper and ink… until one day everything will be done on the computer, in the Cintiqs of the world. But by then I’ll be retired (laughs).
Page from Supreme N. 42. Pencils by Joe Bennett.
What about comics in Brazil? Would you like to front projects that are geared towards our market?
JB: Yes, of course. I have something in mind, and it would be something rather good. But if there was never an industry before, there won’t be one now when the last ones to leave are turning out the lights.

In retrospect: Your career has been going for twenty years - which one is your favourite work? And which one would be your greatest dream? 
JB: Aside what I have accomplished with Moore, what I will do next is my favourite. I’d love to draw SUPERMAN again… I did only one of his comics, but I liked it so much. And if the scriptwriter were Warren Ellis, it would be fucking awesome.
Page from Supreme N. 43. Pencils by Joe Bennett.
To wrap it up, what material would you recommend to comic readers?
JB: All those by Moore and by Gaiman. All those by Miller prior to SIN CITY, minus the recent stuff, forget it because it’s all rubbish.

AMBr: Thank you very much, Joe Bennett.

Special thanks to Joe Bennett for conceding us this interview and for drawing the iconographic and stunning piece of art that opens this article. This artwork from 2014 is based on the cover of SUPREME N. 41, published in August 1996, when the Alan Moore phase began. [AMBr]

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