Norm Breyfogle was one of my favourite Batman artists.
His might not be the most popular name paired with the character – over the years, there have been so many talented artists that have worked on the tales of the Dark Knight Detective, after all – but Breyfogle’s art is one that stands out for those in the know, and of a certain age.
In the late 1980’s, I was a devout reader of Detective Comics– the monthly series that gave DC Comics its name. At the time, the title wasn’t as popular as it’s monthly brother, Batman, but the stories that were published within the pages of ‘Tec were inherently more mysterious, darker, and even, somehow, colder. Gotham City was always in the perpetual month of October, it seemed. The leaves and the garbage were scattered on the ground by on oncoming winter wind, and it was always raining. Crime was afoot and mysterious, if eccentric, criminals needed to be brought to justice.
This was my kind of Batman story!
Born in 1960, Norm Breyfogle got his first big break in the comic book industry after pencilling a short story in DC Comics’ New Talent Showcase in 1984. This led to work with First Comics (American Flagg, Whisper), Eclipse Comics (Tales of Terror) and with Marvel Comics (Marvel Fanfare) amongst others. But it’s with DC that the artist will remain synonymous.
Along with writer Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle’s art visualized my idea of the Dark Knight perfectly – and no one drew a page quite like him.
His kinetic drawing style evoked movement in both anatomy and setting. Clouds raced across the nighttime Gotham skyline, establishing a sense of time. The violent movement in Batman’s cape symbolized a primal, animal presence. This Batman inspired fear! Breyfogle’s sense of hyper-realized perspective brought a sense of immediacy and emotion to the page where threat, revealed or perceived, existed in every panel. And his hunched-back, thick necked, muscular and long-armed Batman, evoked a desperate, angry and anxious Dark Knight.
And, importantly, no one drew the Batmobile better than Breyfogle. His car was European in design – and it oozed cool. And, boy, did it burn rubber.
During his three years on the monthly Detective Comics (1987-1990) and then as illustrator on the monthly Robin series (1990-1992), Breyfogle brought Grant’s scripts to noirish life and his visual creativity birthed strange and memorable Batman rogues like the Ventriloquist, Jeremiah Arkham, the serial killer called Mr. Zsasz and Amygdala. His work on Batman: Holy Terror (1991), a prestige format one-shot gave rise to the Elseworlds series of DC Comics publications – a fictional series that in many respects still exists in various forms today, nearly three decades later.
Sadly, in December 2014, Breyfogle suffered a stroke that rendered the left side of his body paralyzed. Making matters worse was the fact that the artist was left-handed. Although regaining some use of his left hand over time, he was no longer able to draw professionally.
On Monday, September 24, at the age of 58, he passed away.
Rest in peace, Norm Breyfogle. Your art will always be an inspiration to new and old comic book readers and burgeoning draftsmen and sequential artists everywhere.
And your Batman tenure will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.