20 Questions Tuesday: 171 - Chris Burnham

It is Tuesday again, and I am ready to post this bad boy... today I am posting to both the blogspot site and the new and shiny tumblr site... it is shiny... so so shiny. Get ready folks, I am porting over to tumblr...

I belong to a comic book artists forum called Ten Ton Studios. If you go through my archives you might see some of the work that I have posted there. Anyhooo.... one of the “officers” over there is a fellow by the name of Chris Burnham. He is one of the most detailed pencillers I have ever seen. His lines are chock full of potential energy that you can almost see them vibrate off the page. He is technically precise, while allowing himself to be almost whimsical with some of his shapes.

I asked him if he had any books to plug and he suggested (his words, not mine)Officer Downe: Bigger Better Bastard Edition - an oversized hardcover edition of last year's sold out critical smash, complete with all new art & backup features” as well as Batman, Inc.: Leviathan Strikes #1. Both of these books are slotted to come out in December of 2011. Officer Downe on December 7th (hmmm 70 years ofter the attack on Pearl Harbor? Coincidence? I think not) and Batman, Inc coming out later that month.

Enough of the jibber jabber! On to the questions:

So when I was in high school, I was quite un-abashedly a comic book geek and a nerdy nerd from Old Nerdtowne... Question 1: How would you have classified yourself in High School and looking back, how would you classify your high school self now?
High school... I'd say that I was an upwardly mobile nerd. I had a pretty solid squadron of fellow nerdy types but I mixed pretty well with everyone else. I went to a really small private school - my graduating class was something like 54 people - so everyone got to know everyone else pretty well. Which has its pluses and minuses... Sidebar: in 7th 8th and 9th grade I was a SUPER dweeb and a real late bloomer (I'm 6'3" now, but at the beginning of freshman year I was shorter than my mom, who is 5'4"), and I feel like that nerdy rep followed me through the last three years of high school. Or perhaps it was all in my head and I was the only one who thought I was still a nerdy little twerp. Heh... my junior year I went away to Spain for the fall semester, and became a pretty popular dude with a really attractive girlfriend. (Hi, Leah!) That school was really eclectic and weird... the popular kids were all writers & musicians rather than lacrosse players, so I think I fit in a little better there and it gave me a new chance to figure out how a new group of people would perceive me. ANYHOW, when I came back to Pittsburgh I have a very specific memory of a couple of girls I'd gone to school with for the last four years giving me a "Whoa, look at Chris Burnham all grown up" look... but then I immediately launched into a discussion about the markets in Spain selling bull testicles and skinned rabbits, and they snapped right back to "What the fuck is wrong with that dude?" Haha. Bitches.
 Looking back, I definitely could have dated a lot more girls... I think the key is actually talking to them rather than creepily leering at them from across the lunchroom. Who knew? But then again, if I were a swinging dick stud in high school, maybe I would have knocked up my girlfriend and had to work in the plant to feed my family and never been able to follow my dreams & draw comics for a living. And I've got a great lady, to boot (Hi, Erin!), so I guess it's worked out pretty well.

I see that you have answered questions like this before. This 20 Questions should go really well... So Question 2: So people's art evolves over time, it is part of the artistic process. Art should grow and change, sometimes gradually and sometimes radically. For me, one of my earliest shifts occured when Walt Simonson took over X-Factor way back in the day. The angularity of his lines and the chunky spot blacks that he uses to denote soft rounded objects was incredible. Can you think back to anytime when your work has had one of these radical alterations, and if so, what do you think was the catalyst for that evolution?
I can think of two big style shifts. When I was first trying to break in around ten years ago I was trying out a bunch of different styles... from a Jim Starlin / John Buscema sort of thing to trying to be John Totleben to Katsuhiro Otomo, without much success. Granted, I was doing a terrible job of marketing myself... if I would have put my stuff on Penciljack at that point I'm sure my career would have taken a drastically different turn. Anyhow, when I moved here to Chicago I started developing this character, Valentine, with my roommate Nathan Allen. He was a pulpy spy-smasher sort of character and I thought that trying to do an open linework David Lloyd sort of thing would be perfect. I tried the style on one little sketch, saw that it worked, and jumped right into inking the story! We printed up 1,000 copies of this 14-page ashcan and gave them to everyone. I started getting work based on that, and for the next few years I worked pretty exclusively in a David Lloyd/Milton Caniff/Jean Paul Leon sort of style. Heavy black brushwork, not much detail.

A few years later I read an article about Richard Starkings starting up Elephantmen. I'd given him the Valentine ashcan, he really liked it, and we'd kept in occasional email contact. So out of the blue I emailed him to ask if I could do an Elephantmen backup. He agreed, and as I was flipping through Ladronn's Hip Flask artwork to look for reference and inspiration I became taken with the idea of applying some Milton Caniffish shadows to Ladronnish linework. It worked pretty well and my career took off with Elephantmen leading to Nixon's Pals to Fear Agent to X-Men to Marvel Mystery... And it's been a much more subtle growth since then... adding in some Darrow for Officer Downe and then mixing in some Quitely for Batman.

That was some significant sequential art name dropping going on there. Truth be told, I am going to need to spend a good day just looking for these references. Clearly some of them I know off the top of my head, but others are a bit more obscure. Question 3: How would you describe your style to someone who is not versed in the nuances of sequential art and its artists?
Oh, jeez... hopefully it comes across as detailed art with dynamic compositions and clear storytelling. I dunno! I certainly draw the shit out of backgrounds and people getting killed in horrible ways.

Boy! Howdy! You do know how to off some people in bizarre ways... always well-done, but Bi-Zarre. Question 4: Your work seems to be almost made for Bat-stories, is there a character or book out there that you dream of regularly drawing?
I'd love to try my hand at the New Gods, who seem to be alive and kicking again. I wouldn't want to draw Kalibak or Desaad, tho... Kirby killed those guys himself and I think they should stay dead.

I dunno, maybe do Challengers of the Unknown as kindof a Tom Strong or Planetary sort of thing? Or the Fantastic Four? Or adapt Thor's Journey to Utgard somehow?

So, you have a near encyclopedic knowledge of all things sequential art and/or comic book-ish. This means, that you must pretty much eat, drink, sleep, and breathe comic books. Which leads to my Question 5: when you are not drawing/reading/signing/etc... comic books, what do you do? Your vocation is my hobby, so what are your hobbies, what does a Chris Burnham do during his down time? (was that Inside the Actors’ Studio enough of a question?)

Heh. I suppose I don't really have one at the moment. Yikes! I listen to a lot of forensic shows... I've seen/listened to just about every episode of Unsolved Mysteries, Cold Case Files, Forensic Files, Disappeared, Dateline, 48 Hours, The First 48, Crime 360, all that shit. Disappeared is the best show of its kind ever. Discovery ID. Live it!

Kids, if you're ever arrested for anything, shut up and get a lawyer! The cops ain't got shit on you!

(Also, don't commit any crimes)

Question 6: Do you see any of your love for forensic procedural shows creeping into your books or, worse yet, your daily life? For example, Wow, Honey, if I were mad at you, this ditch would be a perfect place to hide your blood drained body. I could dump a 50 pound bag of lye on it and the remains would be nigh unrecognizable... Please pass the salt.
Hmm... The more of these shows I watch, the more I'm convinced that the only way to get away with murder is to kill a random stranger... and where would be the fun in that? Err... what I mean to say is killing is wrong, kids!

I CAN recall one night after I'd gone on a serious forensic binge, and I could not sleep... my brain was stuck on murder mode and I seriously could not think of anything for more than 5 seconds before my brain spun it around to murder or prison. It was absolutely terrible.

Question 7: Do you think that the abundance of these forensic dramas is ruining actual prosecution’s cases because the level of technology in actual crime labs is no where near the fake level of technology shown in the shows? Do you think that juries are looking for more definitive evidence that is only available in TV shows?
Um, I think you're misunderstanding what I'm watching. Forensic Files, Dateline, 48 Hours, etc are all documentary shows - actual crimes, interviews with the victims, police, reporters etc... I don't think I've ever actually seen an episode of CSI.

I don't really have an educated opinion on the so-called CSI effect. I've never been on a jury and I don't have any evidence on whether or not it actually exists. Sounds plausible, I guess, but if a prosecutor isn't able to convince a jury that the defendant belongs behind bars, then he hasn't done his job properly, right? Reasonable doubt and all that. I do know that eyewitness testimony is horseshit and people give false confessions all the time... I think juries should be far more skeptical of that kind of evidence than they are.

Oh, man, how about that Cameron Todd Willingham case? I've seen his story on three or four of my shows and every time it gets my blood boiling. Really seems like Texas executed an innocent man. State-sanctioned murder, if you ask me.

No, I got that you were looking at the real deal, I was curious, since I imagined you have seen some of the procedural forensic dramas, if you thought that the fantasy versus the reality could be tainting a jury’s conclusion of “reasonable doubts.” I think the more documentarian shows that one finds on A&E, the Science Channel, Discovery, etc... show more realism than the dramas. I think it would be really interesting to see a drama that dealt with reality in a crime drama. That being said, I am not sure I would want to watch a lab tech titrate some chemical to get a precipitate to put into a mass spectrometer... Maybe the dramas have it right for the entertainment value.

There are too many death penalty cases where post execution, the person was exonerated by newer techniques and new details. It really is state-sanctioned murder. seriously states, you are better than that, don’t stoop to their level.

So, I was good in chemistry in high school, but I hated it as a subject. seriously, I was a badass at stoichiometry, but I hated the shit. Question 8: Any school topics, high school or college, that you were good at, but could not stand?
Hmm.... I'm fairly certain that while many people on death row have been freed, I don't think anyone who has actually been executed has been legally exonerated after the fact. Independent examinations point to a lot of innocent people being executed, but I don't think any courts have come out to put a legal stamp on approval on those investigations.

This might sounds douchey, but I was really good at school (Summa Cum Laude, motherfucker!) and didn't really like much of it. I guess I liked math all the way up through Algebra and Geometry, to the point where I wanted to be an engineer. But trigonometry and calculus beat it out of me. I was able to memorize all the right formulas etc, but I never really understood or enjoyed what I was doing, despite being good enough to get a 5 on the BC Calculus AP test (5 is the highest score on the APs, by the way). Perfect score on the math half of the SATs, too. I was seriously so good at algebra and geometry that the questions might as well have been 2+2.

Most of that knowledge is gone, tho. I'll do some basic algebra to figure out panel dimensions if I'm doing something tricky like wanting 4 panels in a row that get smaller and smaller at a uniform rate, but that's about it. I was trying to do some basic subtraction a year or two ago (like, 1,153 - 827 sort of thing) and totally forgot how to borrow and carry. Ha! Comics will rot your brains, kids!

I majored in mother fucking math, jackass, I got your math theory right here. I, however, only got a 4 on the AP Calc test, so bask in your AP glory, mister, but fear my ε - δ definition of limits knowledge. I still got set theory chops and I remember some of my Calc... I have, however forgotten all my LaPlace Transform info, and my advanced diffy-q knowledge I have forgotten more math.... I think it would take another 4 years of courses to get back to my mathematics fighting weight.

Question 9: One of my favorite questions coming up: I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, moved to Montgomery, Alabama, then to Birmingham, Alabama, went to college in Kent, Ohio and settled in Columbus, Ohio.... What is your geographic story?
Haha! No sets for me, and I have no idea what those goofy squiggles mean. You win, Scotto!

I was born in Connecticut (no city for you, identity thieves!); lived in Avon CT until I was 7; moved to Sewickley (suburb of Pittsburgh), PA; went to college in Washington, DC; lived in Pittsburgh for one more year; moved to New Haven, CT for a year; and have been in Chicago, IL for the last 9 years.

Question 10: Which of those places resonates as your “home-town?”

I went back a few weeks ago for the first time in over two years. I really miss it. The roads are so much fun to drive on & our woods are so awesome. My brother and I found a few caches of vines that would have made for some awesome swinging if we had a solid afternoon to get them cut and the runways cleared. Next year!

Question 11: Since comic books are relatively geography-less and you can pretty much do your job anywhere there is computers, scanners, and the Internets, what is keeping you in the Windy City?
The people. I've got two great circles of friends here, based around The House Theatre of Chicago (the theater company I did design work and illustration for seven years), and the Chicago comic book community. Plus a bunch of other buddies I've picked up at random jobs, parties, etc. It'd be tough to leave all of them.

Friends will do that to you. It is nice to have a large local cadre of friends to draw on... or so I am told. I tend to find more community online than in real life. There are some people I have never met that I call friends. Which leads me to ask. Question 12: How has the blossoming of social media and social networks affected your interactions with people or your life in general?
Hmmm... well, I certainly waste more time on Twitter now that I'm on Twitter! It's cool to keep in casual touch with comics buddies who I normally only see two or three times a year, and those casual interactions pay off when we get to see each other in person at cons. And it's a nice ego boost when some pro I think is awesome starts following me before I start following them. I thought I was really hot shit when Ilya Salkind friended me on Facebook... until I realized that he's friends with almost everyone in the industry. Still, being fake friends with the producer of Superman is awesome!

I guess I'm developing a halfway decent fanbase. I'm closing in on 2,500 Twitter followers... (@theBurnham) hopefully that'll translate into increased sales of the new Officer Downe hardcover, but who knows? I certainly follow a bunch of people whose comics I don't regularly buy. Too much shit out there to read everything, but I like to know what people are working on, if only to avoid overly awkward conversation when I see them in person.

There's only thing worse than the despair in someone's eyes when you've never heard of their project is their despair when they've never heard of yours!

Seriously, if you can get your 2500 followers to send you $20, you could pocket $50k (before taxes or expenses). You should make that request of your followers and see if you can just live off them like that friend who is “just gonna stay on your couch for a few weeks until I can find a place.”

Question 13: Since this is Q13, do you have any superstitions? A certain way you have to have your materials laid out before you can start working on a page, you have to circle the bed three times before you can lay down to sleep (like some kind of family pet), NO WIRE HANGERS!!!!.. You know some kind of superstition? Anything?
Ha! I should do a 50/50 Twitter raffle! Winner takes half the pot, Burnham's Home for Wayward Comic Artists takes the other. Genius!

I'm sure I've some lingering superstition somewhere, but I really don't have much patience for that stuff. If it doesn't actually exist, why waste your time on it? (says the guy who makes his living drawing fictional characters. hmmmm...)

I guess I'll knock on wood, but I treat it more as a reminder to not take anything for granted. Plus I think it's funny to say "Knock on, err.. particle board" or whatever non-wood substance is at hand.

Yeah, when I stopped playing sports is when I lost my belief in the superstitions. The ritual of putting on the sporting vestments was VERY superstitious, but since then I can’t think of anything superstitious either.
Question 14: So, other than Walking the Room, are there any other podcasts that you listen to?
Oh, man... a bunch. Going down my iTunes list, the ones I'm actively listening to are...
The Economist
Jordan, Jesse GO!
Judge John Hodgman
My Brother, My Brother and Me
NPR: Planet Money
The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe
The Tobolowsky Files
This American Life
You Look Nice Today

and the occasional comic podcast when the interviewee sounds interesting... War Rocket Ajax, Word Balloon, iFanboy, Around Comics.

I listen to, or have listened to many of these, so looking at it that is about maybe 20 hours of padcasts a week, correct? If you like Walking the Room, might I suggest subscribing to Never Not Funny with Jimmy Pardo. It is not as sad and pathetic and a bit more whimsical.

One of my mantras in life is “Funny over nice.” Often if there is a nugget of funny in a situation, I will try to mine the funny prior to showing any significant compassion. Question 15: Do you have any personal mantras?
I used to listen to Never Not Funny. If memory serves, I thought the free content was annoyingly shilly and rather than upgrading to the $ version I stopped listening altogether. I do think those guys are funny, but the show always shut off just as it was getting good, and it started to feel like thy were purposefully doing a shitty job at the beginning to make me pay for the good stuff.

Personal mantras...

"The hard part is over. Here comes the hard part." At the moment I'm doing it, I feel like each and every stage (of the creative process, or learning, or growing up, or whatever) is the most difficult thing in the world and am looking forward to the next stage, which I'm sure will be a cakewalk by comparison. It never is.

And some storytelling ones I learned from my film professor, Dr. Thiel.

"Get inside the action." "Realize is not a verb." "If I didn't see the handkerchief, there's no handkerchief."

I have always loved Pardo. I dig his stand-up and have for a while, and his payment scheme is not too bad for me, but I couldn’t afford all the podcasts I listen to if they all had that model. I think the 20 minute free version of NNF was always a commercial for the full version.

I adopted my wife’s family mantra, “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.” And until recently, I have been letting the fuckers get me down, but I am working on that.

We are closing in on the end of the interview, so thanks for sticking with me so far (interviewee and reader) Question 16: Who is the coolest person you have met? Not necessarily the most well-known, just the coolest, and I hope it is not someone well-known.. That makes for better radio.
Ummm... Natasha Henstridge's husband Darius was pretty cool. I assumed he was a 40-ish European billionaire prince or something, but it turns out he's just a 30-something millionaire pop star... Kinda disappointing in retrospect.

Honestly, the coolest person I can recall meeting was this 10-year old kid at a comic convention a year or two ago. This kid was just so self-assured, casually inquisitive and well-adjusted... seriously the most socially capable human being I've ever met and he was only 10. That dude is going to be the president of the universe.

Question 17: Any questions that I should have asked you?
Q: What's the awesomest shit ever?

A: Getter Robo. Nearly all of it is available as free scanlations at

Shit is super fun. Brilliantly mindless entertainment. Most of the anime versions are pretty cool, but the manga is tippity top.

And you provided a link. You are the awesomest!

Question 18: Any questions that you want to ask me?
You've been a Ten Tonner for quite awhile... how'd you get involved? Confession: for some reason I used to think you were Jason Baroody's girlfriend!

Okay, the confession was completely unnecessary, because deep down aren’t we all Jason Baroody’s girlfriends?

Maybe 5 years ago I started remembering how much I loved to draw. I was in a dead end job that was not taxing me creatively and I started to frequent the comic books section of The Drawing Board. I started drawing again over there in little baby steps. I was a lurker for a while because I hadn’t picked up a pencil for drawing a good long while. In college I was only a few courses away from a studio art minor with a focus on pen and ink. And then I stopped drawing for 10+ years and lost most of my ability. After lurking I started contributing there. Over there I was only mmmpig.

That forum is a great forum, but it was a little bit too sunny for me. Very little solid criticism and more of a “you can do it, keep trying, way to go” vibe. I was always impressed with the work Baroody was posting there and most of what he was posting there was associated with some kind of Sketch Challenge thingy. 4 yrs ago I followed him back here and devoured the art all of you were throwing up, and as I read the threads I realized that this was a much better community for me. Crits at TT are solid and never unprofessional. The banter is way more vulgar and snarky and a bunch less cream-puff and sunshiney. So I stayed and slowly I have been trying to recover the drawing skills that I let get too rusty.

So my goal now is to win a Ten Ton Sketch Challenge

Question 19: How can people see your work in person and online?
Is this a subtle dig at me for never updating my website or posting art? ;)

I've got a slightly out of date portfolio at chrisburnham.com and I'm fairly active on Twitter where my handle is @TheBurnham. I'm on Facebook but don't really do anything on it other than look at pictures of my niece and nephew. And of course I'm on Ten Ton.

Convention season is over for the year, so other than bumping into me at Dark Tower Comics or Challengers Comics & Conversation (both here in sunny Chicago), I think the next chance for people to see me in person will be the Emerald City show in March and C2E2 in April.

In the meantime, the Officer Downe: Bigger Better Bastard Edition comes out on December 7th (pre-order yours today, kids!), and what was originally going to be Batman Inc #10 comes out, um, eventually! Hang in there, kitty cat, it's gonna be great!

I want to thank you profusely for taking so much time with me. Especially since this interview will be seen by at most 31 people. I got juice... I got juice. Since this is the last question, let's make it retrospective. Question 20: Did you come away with anything particularly interesting from this set of 20 questions? Learn anything about yourself through answering the questions? and/or did you at least enjoy this long drawn out process?
It's always fun to answer questions I haven't been asked before. Thanks!

Holy Shit! Amaziballs! This was an amazingly fun. Thanks so damn much, Chris!

To recap:
Wifey is out of town until Sunday evening
Sweet Jeebus and all that is Holly! That is a long time away from now!
This weekend is Mid-Ohio Comic Con!
I will be at table 1024 with the amazing Brett Wood
Sitting next to William Grapes and Matt Horak
There will be drawings
Spaghetti for dinner?
The kids will like it
Me? not so much... I am kind of tired of the spaghetti
Not sure that I will partake of the pasta meal
So, who likes the tumblr?
That’s who
Have a great weekend everyone