From the Longbox: How to Draw Batman & The DC Comics Superheroes

There’s a lot to like about the animation style of the Bruce Timm & Eric Radomski DC Animated Universe. The simple lines of Toth and Filmation with the atmosphere and fluidity of Raw, Vortex and Fleischer Superman. I grew up with these shows and tried and failed to draw my own strips in the style. My family bought this for me at an art supply store while staying with them for a visit. Don’t remember exactly what occasion but it was over a week so either some kind of school holiday or summer break. It’s a shrunk-down Omnibus style collection of pages from 4 different “How to Draw” books published by Walter Foster in the 90s. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and DC Superheroes.

The Batman and Superman ones were done by Ty Templeton, who was drawing the later volumes of Batman Adventures comics in the style of the Bruce Timm animated Batman and Superman cartoons.

I don’t think he had done any animation or boarding work on them. The artists for the Wonder Woman and DC Superheroes portion of the book are Ron Boyd & John Delaney. They were the Penciler & Inker team on Adventures in the DC Universe, the 1997-99 tie-in comic to the WB Animated Series.

The book expanded on the Flash, Aquaman and Green Lantern introduced in Superman the Animated Series and introduced a lot of other DC Characters including a memorable issue with Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and The Question. The fascinating thing about this book is that it’s using then-current very distinctive character designs that would date it. Especially compared to the versions of the characters that would eventually appear in the Justice League cartoons of the mid-2000s.

This was published in 1999 and the character designs -The Atom’s open-hair costume, Nash mist and the Justice League Europe lineup, white-eyed shiny Flash costume, Black Canary with short hair and Connor Hawke fighting that version of The Key- put production of it somewhere from November 1997 to June 1998.
Some pages about the mechanics of cartooning, using perspective and size to give 2D drawings the appearance of depth.
Fate’s tower is an interesting choice to demonstrate Perspective, since it’s one of those non-Euclidean “Bigger on the Inside” dimensional soft spots.
A height comparison. The Flash doesn’t get his own page, but he appears along with Green Lantern and Wonder Woman as a guide offering helpful tidbits about drawing & quick character bios.
This is basically the model sheet used in the Animated Series bible. I like the switch to bright blue on the wraparound cape so young artists can see how it folds better.

The first of the Character Design sections is Batman. There are a few pages of different poses and a lot of the Bat-Family and villains.

At this point in the ’90s, Harley was still exclusively an Animated Series & “Adventures” books character.

Next up is the Superman section.

They don’t mention Oracle or Nightwing in the book. Canary and Huntress had appeared along with Catwoman in a oneshot & miniseries subtitled “Birds of Prey” but the team name & ongoing series was still a year away. Black Canary was originally going to appear in Batman the Animated Series, but some toy company executive didn’t think she would sell enough Robin Dragsters or whatever. I don’t know who designed this Huntress costume in ’96 but right when the How to Draw book was being made Huntress’s origin and an explanation of the redesign was drawn in the phenomenal Batman/Huntress Cry for Blood miniseries by Batman Adventures finisher Rick Burchett.
Happy Birthday Kryptonian, I give you Oblivion.
Steel looks like the version in Superman the Animated Series, but with a red cape. Clone Superboy and “The Cyborg” Hank Henshaw the Cyborg Superman, never made it to the Animated Universe
The Wonder Woman design is essentially what got used in Justice League, although the hair was simplified for animation. If this book had been made 6 months later they may have drawn Animated-style Hippolyta instead of Diana since Wonder Woman was dead/ascended to godhood at the time. Flash was replaced by his future self and Superman was blue too. Fun time.

There’s a few pages more about Wonder Woman’s characters and setting too. Hippolyta was redesigned for the Justice League series to look less like Diana to prevent confusion. Civillian Donna Troy was 1998’s stop in her long, convoluted history. I wish they’d included Templeton-style Perez designs for the rest of the New Teen Titans in here too.
Feline form Cheetah with the human-looking “mane” of hair from her post-Crisis design. The Justice League cartoon would simplify the spots for animation simplicity and she wouldn’t have the hair. Circe was really 90s with the sheer costume and giant chains too.
Did J’onn ever fight the Giant-Brain Kingpin version of Blockbuster from Nightwing in the comics? Martian Manhunter looks bulkier and brighter green here than he would in the Justice League cartoon.
The asymmetrical chest design & “Crab Mask” on Green Lantern, chasing Doctor Light, who was usually a Titans villain.
90s Bearded Hook Hand Aquaman was great. It’s interesting to look at this design next to the simple, classic Black Manta that never really needed updating. Manta never made it to the Justice League cartoons, since he was being held for a live-action Aquaman show that never surfaced. This is a kids’ drawing guide so they won’t mention that Black Manta murdered Arthur’s infant son on-panel back in the Adventure Comics run.
Connor knocking out The Key with a boxing glove arrow is directly out of JLA #9
The header is The Power of Shazam but they were still calling the character Captain Marvel. There’s really no anatomy or consistency to drawing Plastic Man.

Here’s one that never made it into the cartoons or even the Adventures in the DC Universe comic: Jack Knight

I’m pretty sure the grunge-ish plainclothes designs of Jack Knight & The Mist in this book surprised me enough that it’s what got me into the series in the first place. I remember liking the Harris covers and asking the owner of the shop at the time about it. He told me to pick up the “Wicked Inclination” TPB in the middle of the series first. I’m not sure if it’s because the Sandman crossover story was one of the highpoints of the series or if it’s just what he had in stock at the time. I wish the book had given more detail to the super art-deco Opal City setting of the Starman book. Maybe even a page like Metropolis or Gateway & Themyscira will get later in this book.

90s Hawkman was a Thanagarian outlaw who had some ‘edge’ to his design with dirty jeans and long-greasy hair under the mask. Kenner or Mattel made an action figure of this version too.

Back to Templeton for a few Superman villains

Some great villainous poses from Luthor and Parasite.
The Animated Series designs of Bizzarro and Mxyzptlk (not Mxyztplk) have some wonky anatomy that’s probably good practice for broader cartoon styles.
A really Kirby looking Ares and Neron, the Mephistophelian Big Bad of a crossover from ’95 who’s rarely been seen since.
There’s some good instructions about perspective and vanishing points in the City section. They had a couple pages of Gotham reprinted from the Batman one, plus new designs for Gateway City and Themyscira.
Kyle Rayner, the Green Lantern here, was a comic book artist in his civilian life. A running gag in the GL series was that he didn’t like drawing hands.
A section on Female Features because yeah this animation style is weird and sexualized, with most of the book focused on the men characters as the ‘standard’.

Facial expressions and a showcase of b-listers who didn’t rate their own pages in the book. Can you name them all? The woman on the bottom row to the left of Green Lantern is fairly obscure if it’s who I think, and the guy on the top left: I have no idea who that is.

Tag yourself I’m Frightened Ted Kord
On further inspection I did have the oversized “How to Draw DC Superheroes” in its original size printing but I already took pictures of the collected version and most of the pages of this one have my scribblings all over it but here are a few that didn’t make the reprint.
The cover to the standalone “How to Draw DC Comics Superheroes” book at the original 26x33cm size

The Moon Obelisk style of the JLA watchtower was another lift from the then-current Morrison & Porter series.
Shame they couldn’t include Tommy “Hitman” Monaghan.