When thinking of superhero vehicles, or even just vehicles from comic books in general, there’s pretty much only one name on the list followed by wannabes and pretenders: The Batmobile. What would Batman be without it? Slower, that’s for sure. Over the years there have been dozens if not hundreds of distinct Batmobile designs by talented artists and craftspeople, which featured in print and toy, television and film, live action and animation. We can now add a brand new design to the list and it’s been realized by Los Angeles-based artist Nathan Sawaya whose chosen medium is something everybody loves: LEGO.
I was lucky to get to go into Sawaya’s personal Batcave — his studio, The Art of the Brick, of course — to get to see the fruits of months-long labor. During San Diego Comic-Con this summer, a panel was held wherein DC Comics co-publisher and comic book artist Jim Lee, on the spot, created a new Batmobile design taking suggestions from the audience. The result was a throwback to which featured some new design elements. Using those suggestions and his own imagination, Sawaya spent the next three months honing the design and getting ready to build a full-sized, 18-foot-long car made of solid LEGO bricks, 500,000 of them to be exact. That’s right: half a million.
“Jim did a great job of detailing out the wings and that there’d be the exhaust, and such like that,” Sawaya told me as we circled the amazing piece of physical art. “Then I put my own interpretation on it. For example, one of the things Jim wanted to do — he had Batman, and Robin sitting behind him in the Batmobile, but he had more of an open cockpit. I decided to fill it in. They’re still in there. You just can’t see them.”
The detail on the car is insane. You can’t see it from the pictures, but the wheels have little Bat Symbol holes in the spokes, made by putting LEGO bricks together. No carving was done either. “Not everyone, but there’s going to be someone — and it’s usually probably someone this tall,” Sawaya said, indicating a wheel-height young person, “who will notice that, and it’s for them. It’s for those kids out there who spend the time looking at all the details of a piece like this. I want to reward them a little bit. If you’re really looking, you’re going to see little things like that.”
Timing for such a piece was a huge issue. The car is going to be part of an art exhibition called The Art of the Brick: DC Comics, jointly sponsored by DC and Warner Bros., which will literally tour the world along with dozens more of Sawaya’s pieces related to the popular comic book company. From the panel at SDCC to the unveiling in late September, Sawaya has basically worked nonstop. “This took over 480 hours, and I wish I could have spread them out over a longer period, but that was done in two months,” he said, only a couple of days after completion. “That’s like 6-7 days every week, 10-12 hours every day, just living, breathing Batmobile, because this exhibition opens in November, and this has to go out on a boat. It’s being shipped by boat to Sydney, so I had a limited time frame to get it done.”
And it wasn’t just that; the logistics of the whole thing were intensified. Half a million LEGO bricks tend to be pretty heavy, especially when one has to build things that can be viewed from any different angle. “It weighs several hundreds of pounds,” Sawaya said of the car. “I ended up buying a real jack that can lift three tons’ worth of weight, so I could lift it, just so I could get underneath it to make some tweaks. That was something new for me. I had to crawl under this whole thing, and I thought, “Wow. If I die under a LEGO sculpture… it’s kind of fitting in a way.” Yeah, but it’s also the Batmobile.
The whole of the piece is amazingly complex and detailed, from the red, transparent windshield which will have light behind it to the turbine at the back with an explosion of fire. It looks alive. I was so impressed that I asked him, rather tongue-in-cheekly, if he had any ideas for a second full-size DC Comics vehicle to build in LEGO. Sawaya said firmly, “I do, and it’s invisible.”
The Art of the Brick: DC Comics will begin its world tour in Sydney, Australia in November. For more information, and for more pictures of Nathan Sawaya’s amazing LEGO art, you can visit his website BrickArtist.com.
Images: DC/Warner/Art of the Brick