Batman, the masked detective of DC Comics, has been in plenty of tight spots.
So has Greg Capullo.
Capullo grew up on Foster Avenue in Schenectady’s Goose Hill neighborhood and said he endured emotional and physical abuse at home. He fooled around a bit in school, preferring to draw comic book characters like Captain America on the backs of his algebra tests. He dropped out of the city’s former Linton High School in 1980, before the end of his senior year.
“My start was really rough,” Capullo said Friday afternoon during an assembly in the Mont Pleasant Middle School auditorium. “Most people, when they start out this way, usually don’t have a happy ending.”
Capullo’s story has a happy ending. As an artist for DC Comics, he draws for DC’s “Batman” comic book, the character’s flagship title. He told teenagers in two separate lectures they should also strive for happy endings and never to give up on themselves.
Dressed in a charcoal gray, long-sleeved shirt, blue jeans and a ball cap marked “BLS” — for the rock band Black Label Society — the 52-year-old Capullo told kids to push back against negativism.
“Sometimes, the voice in your head is your worst enemy,” he said. “When somebody says, ‘You can’t do this,’ ‘You can’t do that,’ you say, ‘Oh yeah? Watch me prove you wrong.’ ”
Capullo, who now lives in Guilderland, said he always liked drawing. He kept drawing while he worked as a bellhop at a local hotel for seven years. He and a friend took their work to New York City, home to comic book powerhouses DC and Marvel, and received their shares of criticism and rejection.
“We thought we were going to kick down the doors and revitalize the art scene,” Capullo said. “It was not the case.”
Capullo kept going back to his pencils, scored some advertising work and landed in comics during the early 1990s, working on Marvel’s Quasar and X-Force titles. His work impressed Todd McFarlane, who had written Spider-Man for Marvel and left the company to form Image Comics. McFarlane convinced Capullo to take over pencil work on the hellacious Spawn. Capullo won the right to draw Batman’s cape and cowl in 2011.
The lectures also featured slideshows, with Capullo’s art beamed on a large screen placed on the stage. In one, Spawn battled a foe with mechanical upgrades.
“Look at this guy, he’s got a buzz saw for an arm,” he said. “Comics are cool!”
Capullo’s appearance at Mont Pleasant came after art teacher Thom Piejko heard him on comics and movie guru Kevin Smith’s podcast, “Fat Man on Batman.”
“He thought my story was somehow inspirational and invited me to come, so I did,” Capullo said.
“Greg’s story gave students something to relate to, as well as a better view of a possible future,” Piejko said. “Many of these students have an interest in a career in art, but some do not have the support they need at home. Greg’s story shows students that believing in yourself, rather than getting discouraged by other people’s opinions, is what helps you to succeed in life.”
Capullo said he wants young people to have positive beliefs in themselves.
“Knock down one goal after the next, and that builds your confidence,” he said. “You can accomplish anything you set your mind to.”
Capullo answered bunches of imaginative questions posed by his audience — like favorite characters to draw.
“It’s like what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream,” he said. “I want them all.”
Batman vs. The Mighty Thor in a fair fight? Capullo told the teens the Dark Knight could have trouble against Marvel’s god of thunder — but would probably trick Thor into beating himself.
Batman against Iron Man, another current Marvel darling in comics and movies? Capullo takes the man in black over old Shellhead.
“Nobody’s smarter than Batman,” Capullo said. “His true strength is his brain. Can’t outsmart Bats.”
Capullo said time goes into every panel.
“The biggest challenge is all the sacrifice it takes, the deadlines never move,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re uninspired, you’re sick, if there’s a death in the family. It never moves, there’s no mercy.”
Batman has been drawn in different styles since Bob Kane created the character in 1939.
“To me, Batman should be intimidating, even just as a shape, a silhouette,” Capullo said. “I make mine very thick in his build and his cape very sharp. He looks like somebody who would injure your shoulder if you bumped into him — and he can slice you to ribbons with his cape.”