Interview conducted by Aaron Nicewonger
Dustin Nguyen was born in 1976 and started working in the comic book industry in 2000 at the age of 25. Which means he’s been in the comic book industry for over twelve years now, getting his start with Wildstorm, and eventually moving over to DC Comics, with titles like Batman and Batman Beyond (recently retitled Batman Beyond Unlimited).
So, I met up with Dustin on Saturday, and got his autograph on a really sweet Batman Beyond pic! I stayed around and chit-chatted with him for a bit, and watched him chat it up with, and entertain, his fans. He had a pretty lengthy line of people waiting to see him, so we scheduled an interview for Sunday, and what you see below is that interview. Now, I got to hang out with him for almost an hour just shooting the breeze, chattin’ it up, and generally just chillin’ out with him. Turns out, he’s a really humble kind of guy. So, here we go. I hope you all enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed getting to do it.
Aaron Nicewonger: You’ve worked with Wildstorm, and you’ve done a lot for DC, but you’ve also worked on video games and even done some toy design?
Dustin Nguyen: I used to work for Mattel for a while for a few years, and right now I’m working with DC Collectibles. So we make statues and collectibles and stuff. The game stuff, I actually work with a Japanese company, so it’s very minimal. Comics pretty much consume me.
AN: So, how did you get involved in this industry?
DN: I just did samples, like everyone else. You know, you just do samples, portfolio review, and get editors to look at your stuff. And you know you just catch that break, and you just gotta work hard to get it.
AN: So, Batman is one of the things you do more of at DC, and Batman Beyond, and Unlimited. But you’ve worked on Superman as well, what with your work on Superman/Batman and your covers for New Krypton. What’s that like, working on such icons? Part of DC’s “Trinity”?
DN: It’s something you aspire to get to work on. Sometimes…it can be intimidating, but at the same time, Batman and Superman are so big, and so out there, as long as you don’t mess it up….
AN: I gotcha. So…now you’ve gotten to work over the years with people like Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Judd Winick; people that have been involved with Batman spanning about two decades now. What was it like for you, getting to work with those people?
DN: I’ve been lucky, fortunate, to be able to work with those guys…‘cause the guys I’ve been working with, whatever you’re handed, it’s gonna be good. …. It’s great! I mean I grew up on the whole animated universe. My knowledge of Batman and everything pretty much comes from the animated universe, so it was very easy to translate any scripts that he had, because I’m familiar with the way he tells a story. I mean you know, I like to think I am. So it makes it easier, but at the same time it’s just like being a fan and getting to work with people you’ve looked forward to working with your whole life.
AN: On your site there’s a quote that says that you enjoy “sketching things he cares about.” So, in that regard, what things influenced you? What things do you care about? What inspires you as an artist?
DN: It could be anything from a song I like or something I grew up with. Obviously you see a lot of Batman, so I like Batman. Once in a while I’ll watch a movie that inspires me. There are a lot of things that I care about that I don’t draw. You rarely see me draw anything Transformers, which I love to death. But some of the properties out there, I’d hate to ruin it by drawing it myself [gives a light chuckle]. Friends, family…things I care about.
AN: So, what were some of your favorite shows and comics when you were growing up?
DN: I grew up watching a lot of Transformers, Silverhawks…Sectaurs, I loved Sectaurs. Obviously, Robotech. Some of the comics I grew up with were the Mirage Studios’ Ninja Turtles. A lot of Power Pack, that was like my favorite series growing up, with Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove.
AN: Manifest Eternity. That was your project. Was that like a big project you had plans from before.…
DN: Yeah, it was my very own project with Scott Lobdell, published through Wildstorm. Scott and I, we talked about doing a fantasy/sci-fi cross-over. So, it’s basically magic versus science. It’s something we talked a lot about doing a story like that, but we never had the time. And Scott was one of the guys who helped me get into the industry. So, we talked about it a lot, and then finally our schedules freed up. It was a really fun series.
AN: You did a story called “Off Rogue Racing, A Lil’ Gotham Tale!” You did two A Lil’ Gotham Tales with Derek Fridolfs. But you actually got to write as well, working on the story. As an artist, how different was that for you and what was that experience like?
DN: When it comes to the Lil’ Gotham stuff, it almost writes itself. I mean I’m such a…I mean they know I do that stuff even when I’m not working, so I’ll come up with that stuff on my days off. It’s very easy, because I have such a huge attachment to the Gotham characters, especially the ones I grew up with. I think it up, then write it, then draw it, then come back and look at those images and draw up some more. And it’s so much fun. And working with Derek is great ‘cause he has ideas and knows how to make it into a story.
AN: Some artists, like Jack Kirby for instance, got to provide input and influence the story line and plot. How much input and influence did you have on the stories?
DN: It depends on the writer, and the schedule. Everything depends on the schedule. Sometimes you get to collaborate, sometimes you just don’t have time to. Like, with Paul Dini, there were a few instances where Derek and I got to co-plot, which is great. And Dini’s a great person to work with ‘cause he’s very open to ideas, and sometimes you’ll come up with something and he’s like “Oh yeah! That’s great! Let’s do that!” And his ideas are so perfect, that sometimes when they come out you’re just like “That’s the way to go. There’s no need to change this!” But he’s open to it, and it’s really fun. And with Justice League Beyond I’m actually co-writing with Derek. And now I’m working with Scott Snyder, and it’s very collaborative. He gives you an idea of what he wants and you build on that.
AN: You’ve worked on A LOT of stuff. And I know artists often have trouble picking a favorite because they love so many, but what were some of your favorite projects to work on?
DN: I would say some of my favorites…any time I get to draw the actual Bruce Wayne in Gotham City. And the Manifest Eternity project was really fun, because it was the one time I got to work on the entire arc myself, and I got to control everything from beginning to end.
AN: If you had to choose any other profession, or could just switch jobs right now…what would you like to do?
DN: For the past few years I’ve been thinking of just getting a part time job at Toys’R’Us or Target so I could get all the discounts on the toys [he laughs]. And then when I quit, I’ll just be really mean about it, and throw the apron on the floor and run off.
[we both share a laugh]
AN: Fabulous! That was awesome. Thank you so much.