Artist James Stokoe draws Clownhunter's origin for Batman Annual #5

Batman Annual #5
(Image credit: DC)

First, pictures of a bat-wielding, tie-wearing punk vigilante showed up on Twitter. Then, he debuted in the monumental Batman event 'The Joker War.' And now, at last, fans will learn the origin of DC Comics' Clownhunter, to be revealed in this week's Batman Annual #5.

Batman Annual #5 cover by Derrick Chew (Image credit: DC)

Created by James Tynion IV and Jorge Jiménez, Clownhunter's take-no-prisoners attitude has made him one of the most interesting personalities to enter Gotham in recent memory, but it's his design that first got a lot of fans talking. Bringing that design to the page in Batman Annual #5 is artist James Stokoe, known for the Image fantasy comic Orc Stain. 

Ahead of the DC book's release this week, Newsarama spoke with Stokoe about the character and the experience of drawing his Gotham City. Read on to learn more.

Newsarama: James, I want to start by talking about your designs for the characters, particularly the Joker and Batman. Can you give us a window about how you put your own spin on those icons?

James Stokoe: The Kelley Jones Batman designs struck hardest for me. He's all silhouette and menace, and I love how expressive he always is, so that was my main inspiration for his look. Joker is just impossible facial anatomy and a dapper purple suit, so he's pretty easy to get a grip on, art-wise.

Nrama: And speaking of your own spin on icons, can you talk about how you approached coloring Gotham City? You put so much color, even bright color, in a typically dark, gothic cityscape.

Stokoe: I really thought I was coloring it darker than I usually do, but looking at it again, I really didn't! I guess I can't help myself. The linework is fairly hatch-heavy, so I try to balance that out with brighter bits of color so it doesn't end up like mud. There's not a ton of Earth tones in my work.

Nrama: Should we be on the lookout for Easter Eggs in Batman Annual #5? I noticed a tea kettle that reminded me of Tim Burton's Batman, but was I wrong about that?

Stokoe: Mr. Whistles? Yeah, that wasn't really a nod to anything, I just wanted to draw a novelty tea kettle. It does kind of look like one of those big Joker balloons in the first Burton movie, now that you mention it. There are a few nods to other Batman things in the story, but most of those are cues from James's script. The clown gang from the Joker War Zone short we did make a little cameo, too.

Nrama: This issue focuses on one of The Joker War's biggest mysteries: the identity of Clownhunter. Without spoiling too much, what makes Clownhunter different from Gotham's other vigilantes?

Stokoe: I think the main thing that sets him apart is that he's entirely grown up with the idea of Batman and all the other vigilantes and villains, so it's all totally normal to him. When he goes from playing video games to beating the tar out of Clowns, it's not a huge leap as you would think because his reality is so skewed.

Batman Annual #5 variant cover by In-Hyuk Lee (Image credit: DC)

Nrama: One of the first things you notice about Clownhunter is that his lettering (done by Clayton Cowles) is different. Why is that the case?

Stokoe: You'd have to ask James about that to get the real answer, but I read it as part of his mask. He only does that when in costume, and it's all part of his new persona. Like him doing a Clint Eastwood voice to sound tough, or something.

Nrama: In your segment of Batman: The Joker War Zone, we learned that Clownhunter is picking off clowns in the Narrows. What makes Clownhunter able to defend an entire section of Gotham City by himself?

Stokoe: Mostly because it's a comic book, haha! 

I think it fits somewhat with most of Batman's gallery of characters, as to why a seventeen-year-old can do so much damage. Not a lot of them have actual superpowers, they just have strong traits that put them above your average person. 

Like, making really wild riddles or looking a bit like a penguin wouldn't make you all that scary in real life, but in Gotham city it does?

Nrama: How does Joker feel about Clownhunter? Do we see any of the Clown Prince of Crime in Batman Annual #5?

Stokoe: He shows up in a short, but pretty crucial scene. Like most things, I imagine that he just thinks Clownhunter is funny.

Nrama: On the flip side of that, how does Batman react to someone murdering villains in his city?

Stokoe: I don't imagine he's thrilled about it, but can understand the impulse. I think he looks at Clownhunter like a younger version of himself that went a little too far off the rails, and he hopes to give him a bit of the support network he's always had to keep him steering straight.

As James Stokoe puts his spin in the Dark Night, check out Newsarama’s countdown of the most influential Batman creators of all time.

Grant DeArmitt
Freelance writer

Grant DeArmitt is a NYC-based writer and editor who regularly contributes bylines to Newsarama. Grant is a horror aficionado, writing about the genre for Nightmare on Film Street, and has written features, reviews, and interviews for the likes of PanelxPanel and Monkeys Fighting Robots. Grant says he probably isn't a werewolf… but you can never be too careful.