When Michael Cho received an offer to work with one of the biggest comics publishers in the world, he initially turned it down.
DC Comics – home to Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern – contacted the Toronto illustrator in 2012 to see if he would like to contribute a Batman story. “At the time I was doing a lot of illustration assignments that were very quick turnaround,” Cho says. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, they need someone to fill in, and they need something really quickly.’ So, I said, ‘No, I don’t have a Batman story.’”
A month and a half later, an editor at DC Comics called back and offered Cho the opportunity to draw a story written by legendary book designer (and Batman super-fan) Chip Kidd. This time, he was more receptive. “I said, ‘Yeah! Absolutely! I’d love to. I love [Kidd’s] stuff!’” Cho remembers.
That turned out to be the start of a fruitful collaboration. After working together on the Batman comic (which appeared in 2013 as part of the “highbrow” Batman Black & White series), Kidd invited Cho to pitch a book to Random House U.S. imprint Pantheon Books, where he oversees the graphic novels division. Cho had already completed the artwork for 40 pages of a manuscript about a struggling writer who shoplifts to make herself feel alive. In September, Cho’s full-length graphic-novel debut, Shoplifter, will appear across North America.
The book is the culmination of a long-held aspiration. Over the years, Cho has built a reputation as a respected editorial and commercial illustrator, but he always longed to create a graphic novel of his own. “You could see my stuff at the doctor’s office if you were there for an appointment while you flipped through a Maclean’s, but I always wanted to do a book where I could put my name on the front,” he says.
Cho is what you might call a comic nerd’s artist. His style practically sings the history of comic art, from the classic lines of Silver Age greats such as Wally Wood and Jack Kirby right up to the offbeat sensibilities of indie creators such as Seth and Chester Brown.
“Mike had a strong, bold graphic style from the very beginning,” says Tim Davin, a veteran Toronto art director (and sometime Q&Q collaborator). “He was largely influenced by people like the Hernandez Brothers’ Love and Rockets and Daniel Clowes’ Eightball, but brought his own thing to the table.”