The comic industry lost a giant earlier this year with the passing of artist Tim Sale, and at Emerald City Comic Con today, friends and peers celebrate the life and work of the man behind Batman: The Long Halloween, Spider-Man: Blue, and Superman For All Seasons, to name just a few of his iconic projects.
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Good afternoon, all. It's Saturday here at ECCC, and we're at the Remembering Tim Sale panel, ready to share everything that's said as it happens.
Present on the panel are Jared Michalski, Mark Chiarello, Ian Churchill, Jim Krueger, Richard Starkings, and Sale's art rep Jason Schachter.
Michalski is talking about the first time he and Sale met, when he "bribed" him to come to a convention by offering baseball tickets. He says that his favorite memory of Tim is coming to Seattle in 2006, where the two spent the day with Sale's parents at a baseball game. "We sat there for the very last minute watching Tim draw at the kitchen table."
Chiarello says that he "just can't remember" meeting Sale for the first time, but he thinks it was likely with Jeph Loeb. Churchill says that he, too, was introduced by Loeb to Sale. "At the time, me and Tim were the two artists who'd had the good fortune to work most with Jeph."
Churchill says that he looked at Sale as a big brother. "He used to call me little brother when we were together ever since [meeting]." Remembers driving back to Malibu with Sale and Loeb and ducking into pharmacies to get make-up for his girlfriend at the time, with Loeb driving while on his phone, veering in and out of traffic, with Sale and Churchill both being terrified of Loeb's skills behind the wheel.
Krueger collaborated with Sale on a short story for a Matrix anthology. "I don't know what it is about this con, but I'm telling my most embarrassing stories," he says. "I had my first job for Marvel, I was going to get to do this 10 page Nightcrawler story, and I didn't want any of the normal artists." He called up Matt Wagner to tell him how much he appreciated his work, and asked him for Tim Sale's number. "I'm such an idiot. I'm such an idiot," he jokes. "Feel free to call me for other people's numbers."
Starkings remembers Sale visiting him for his birthday in 2018. "Every night, I said, where do you want to eat, and he said, Tacos!" They went four times to the same place on the same trip, because Sale said that he couldn't get good Mexican food where he lived.
The first time that Starkings lettered Sale's work was the Nightcrawler story that Krueger wrote; it's in Excalibur #75 for those who are looking for it.
Starkings remembers that the Long Halloween had to be pasted up very quickly, and there's a splash page with the Riddler standing against a wall. "I looked at the page and between the Riddler's thighs was some visible lettering." Starkings says that, written by Tim was some lettering that says "Fuck you, Amy," that he had to whiteout the art to disguise that on the page. "That was the phone call when I started to get to know Tim."
Phone calls with Sale lasted a couple of hours, Starkings remembers, and he wouldn't work while talking. Calls would end when he would remember that he had to finish a page.
Sale started his comics career late, and worked on indie books "when it was not fashionable to work on indie books," Starkings said. The two would eventually start visiting each other to talk for six or seven hours, and record the conversations; those talks became the Tim Sale Black and White book.
Schachter met Sale as a fan, and visit him at Heroes Convention. By accident, he invited himself to Sale's hotel room while Sale sketched for him. "He was very kind," he remembers. "Eventually we got to talking and became friends." He would go on to help him with art sales. "It was amazing."
"It was always very interesting to chat with him, no matter what it was. Film or music or art, or girls if it was me," Schachter says. Michalski remembers that Sale could talk about anything, from highbrow to lowbrow. (Schachter admits that he was more about the fart jokes than others would.)
Michalski asks the panel to choose their favorite Sale work, recommending to the audience that they track down some of the more obscure work he did. "We used to do this little exercise when we got together with Tim, and to bust his balls, I'd say Wolverine/Gambit, and he'd say 'shut up, you.'" Sale admitted that it was financially successful, but artistically unfulfilling.
Churchill's favorite Sale work is Daredevil: Yellow, which he thinks is the peak of Sale's career. Superman: Man of All Seasons features an unexpected Churchill influence, when he did layouts of a particular sequence Sale was blocked on, "and it was enough to get him over the hump." They never collaborated officially, but it's the closest they ever came, he says.
Krueger says that Daredevil: Yellow "was so special, and Tim loved Daredevil, he really did." He also mentions Blades, the Legends of the Dark Knight story he illustrated with James Robinson, but adds that his Batman stories with Jeph Loeb "just stands [up]" as an all-time classic collaboration.
Chiarello says that he remembers the pages coming in for Superman: Man For All Seasons, and a senior executive at DC didn't like the way Sale drew Superman. "I looked at him and told him, you're a fucking moron," he remembers. "He wrote me up with HR." Sale's Solo issue is his favorite Sale work, however.
Schachter's favorite work is Batman: The Long Halloween, but he also loves the Loeb/Sale Marvel color books. "I don't know, they've got more heart."
Starkings loves Hulk: Grey, because he thinks it's where Sale's sense of humor comes out the most. "He had that energy of Looney Toons," he says. "There's a page where the Hulk is falling to the ground just like Wile E. Coyote." Loeb and Sale took all the elements of early Hulk and did something better with it than the original comics. He also has a soft spot for Catwoman: When In Rome. "I can't believe you haven't put the Elephantman story up there," he jokingly admonishes Michalski of the titles displayed on the screen.
Michalski says that he grew up with the first Christopher Reeve Superman film, and says that the character resonates with people because he does the right thing because it's right; he says that Superman: Man For All Seasons is his favorite Sale work, but he re-reads a lot of his work on a regular basis.
What did the panelists most respect about Sale as an artist. "I do remember that when he started Captain America: White, he wished he'd never started doing the wash because it was like inking the page twice," says Starkings. Remembers that Sale asked Loeb to put no more than three panels on a page, inspired by what Darwyn Cooke did in DC: The New Frontier. "If Darwyn can do it, I can," Starkings remembers him saying, adding that he could do so much with so little on the page.
"Whenever he started a project, the newer ones, I'd ask, is it going to be ink washed? and he'd say, fuck no, I'm not doing that," Schachter remembers, complimenting just how well Sale used the wash. "I don't think many people can do that these days."
Chiarello says that he and Sale talked about Alex Toth a lot, but that "Timmy was as good as any of [the masters]."
Krueger says, "I just loved Tim's abstraction," likening it to Roman Polanski's direction for Rosemary's Baby. "I always wanted to look around the corner and see what was happening."
Churchill agrees with the rest of the panel: "When he used the wash, it just came alive." He also admired that Sale found his own style and never faltered from it no matter the fashion.
"We were at a convention in Detroit, and he'd almost finished this beautiful commission piece and he accidentally dumped this ink over it," and Sale managed to use the ink and make it beautiful. "He ruined my table," he joked. Michalski adds, "I have a commission that has a pizza stain on it. He knew it, but he wouldn't admit it."
Finding the right collaborator was important to Sale, says Michalski. "I had countless conversations with him about why he couldn't find the right writer after Jeph." What was it like to work with Sale, he asks? Krueger says that he almost feels the need to apologize for working with Sale in the '90s, because of editorial restrictions. "We did it, and for years later, I would get faxes of how he wanted to reinterpret the first page. When he would do a story, he was always still rethinking it long after it was over."
"I'm so glad I got to do the Matrix story with him afterwards, because I got to write for him the way he wanted," Krueger said. Michalski asks if that project wasn't as heavily edited, and Krueger said that the two were basically left to their own devices. "Tim was into it."
"Tim was really professional, but sometimes he'd be late on deadlines," Chiarello remembered, saying that the two would have calls where they'd not get around to actually talking about the deadlines.
Starkings said that he worked with Sale on all of his projects after Legends of the Dark Knight. "He was the easiest person to work with. Jeph, different story," he joked. "We would actually team up against Jeph. If Jeph wanted to move something and Tim didn't, I'd back him, and vice versa. I never didn't look forward to working with Tim because it wasn't work. It was three hour phone calls."
Three panels a page meant that it stopped Jeph overwriting, Starkings notes, dryly.
Now they're talking about Tim Sale's issue of the DC series Solo, noting the variety of the stories in the issue. (For those who haven't read it, you really should; it's a genuinely amazing piece of work. No-one asked me, but it's my favorite Sale issue.)
"Everything was tonally very different," Michalski said of the issue. He asks Chiarello what made Sale the perfect artist to launch the Solo series with. "I'm dumb, but I'm not stupid," says Chiarello, who edited the series. "It was an easy pick."
"Tim was doing a Spider-Man book, and he was really late with it, and he went on vacation with his then-girlfriend, and he did these sketches, and he sent me jpegs of them. As a joke, I wrote it," Chiarello said, explaining that story eventually became a short in the Solo issue.
Michalski is pointing out his love for Prom Night, another short from Solo, of a teenage Clark Kent taking Lana Lang to prom.
Churchill said that Sale "found his own style, but he played with it." Churchill was encouraged to draw like Jim Lee to get work, and he did, but Sale stuck to his guns. "I wish I'd done more of that." It was hanging out with Sale that inspired him to draw more like himself in professional work. "Tim just seemed to go from strength to strength. I'm very jealous."
Krueger says that something important to remember about Sale was that he "was so nice, he was kind." He liked to talk to people.
A fan asks if the panel have projects they wished he was going to be able to work on, but didn't. Starkings said that he was about to start Batman: The Last Halloween. He got three pages into it. It was going to be a 10-issue series. "It wouldn't been perfect." Chiarello reveals that Sale and Loeb were originally going to do the Batman strip for Wednesday Comics, but it fell apart at the last minute.
Michalski says that he wishes Sale and Loeb had been able to work on a Shazam series. Krueger pitched Sale on a digital Batman story where they told the origin of Batman from the Batcave's perspective. Tom Raney worked on the finished piece as it eventually appeared in the digital Legends of the Dark Knight series. "It was like the Giving Tree, but with Batman."
Michalski is teasing that Sale was discussing a DC Black Label series with Brian Azzarello centering around Black Canary, but it didn't happen.
Another fan asks about Catwoman: When in Rome, which he (the fan) feels was an important if underrated part of Sale's evolution. "He loved working with Dave [Stewart]," Starkings says. "It is interesting that Tim worked with different colorists," going on to say that Sale was inspired when he saw other comics and wanted to play with colors and textures.
"You really start to see [comedy] in that book," Michalski says, citing a page with Catwoman and Riddler where she kicks him off a building. "You start to see a lot of that with the relationship as they played out." Sale's Chuck Jones influence started to come out towards the end of his career, especially on covers, he suggests.
As the panel closes, Michalski thanks everyone for attending, fans and panelists alike. "I will be forever grateful to Tim for bringing me into his circle," he says, saying that the relationships he formed because of Sale will last a long time. It's been a very nice, sweet panel, and a fitting tribute to Sale. Thanks for reading, everyone.