Last week on Face to GreG
I review David Hine
's Strange Embrace
, this week the twisted crafter himself comes for a visit to discuss the process of developing Strange Embrace
, the therapy of writing, and an exclusive Spawn
Hello, all, to my mind once again and I’d like to welcome special guest DavidHine
. Say hello, Dave...DavidHine:
Hey GreG! Good to be here. Greg:
First off, I’d like to say fantastic work on StrangeEmbrace.
This has surely been one of my absolute favorite reads, all biasaside. This was just a fantastic piece of horror and I just have to ask how didyou first come up with the idea for this story?DH:
Thanks. It means a lot to me that people like Strange Embrace
. It’s the mostpersonal thing I’ve done to date. The idea grew over a very long period. Thesedays I’m always actively trying to come up with ideas for stories to feed thescript machine, but Strange Embrace
grew organically. When I was at college andaway from home for the first time I rented a room in a big old Victorian house.I lived in the attic and the rest of the house was more or less preserved froma bygone era. I would occasionally see the old man who owned the house,wandering in the corridors or sitting in his dining room, eating dinner aloneat the end of a table big enough to seat thirty.
He’dusually scurry away when he saw me. All I knew about him was that his wife hadcommitted suicide. Over the years I built up this imaginary story about hispast, including a lot of my own obsessions about religion and African art.Greg:
Heh, very interesting. Now I see that some of the characters have someconnection to you. I’ve noticed in a few interviews that you've mentioned howyou lived in that building with that old man and you basically wrote your storyaround him, his name being Anthony in the story. But this is what intrigues me.In your story, the man trying to peel back the layers of Anthony is a sadisticbastard named Alex who takes pleasure in causing people misery in order to findout things about people. Alex was also writer and lived in that building, muchlike you. So what I'm asking is: are you Alex? Did you base yourself on thischaracter and why if you did?DH:
You mean, am I a sadistic bastard who exploits people for the sake of a goodstory? Well, yes and no. Honest writing means exposing both yourself and thepeople you know. I'm often aware that when dramatic or emotional events aregoing on around me, I'm making mental notes, which may seem a little cold butit’s impossible not to do that. Alex suffers from alienation, an inability toconnect. He doesn’t get to know people as much as to POSSESS them. In a senseall writers do that and it’s why I prefer to write fiction. I can’t imagineever writing an autobiography, unleashing all that analysis of people’spersonalities and failings and actually naming them. It must take a huge egoand a very thick skin.
Iprefer to disguise my insights under the cloak of fiction. It may be lesscourageous but it’s also a way of being more honest. The truth is in fiction!But in answer to your question, there are aspects of myself in all thecharacters, Anthony as much as Alex and even in Sarah. You have to delve aroundin the depths of your own personality to inhabit all your characters; otherwisethey’re nothing more than ciphers.Greg:
Damn, that’s some really deep stuff, man. And all around truth when it comes towriting. So in connecting every one of your characters to aspects of yourself,you’ve found a way to make them quite human. In Strange Embrace
, nearly allyour characters have positive attributes that allow you to feel and fall forthem and flaws and negative aspects that draws you into their story, even ifthey disturb and disgust you, which I was on many occasions. Once again,they’re quite human. And one thing I know about writing is that it can be quitetherapeutic. When you were writing this and pouring your heart and thought outinto these characters, was it a self-reflection through your mind, your flawsthat you were going through at the time? Was this a way of therapy for you andhas it helped?DH:
Writing is not only therapeutic, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than aprofessional analyst! If you can make a living at it, you're laughing! StrangeEmbrace
was a very bleak story and although my work always has a sense ofalienation at the core, my more recent stories also have a lot more warmth anda feeling that relationships and acts of personal integrity give meaning to ourlives. That probably reflects that I became a father in the intervening years.
Butenough of the deep meaningful stuff! I actually think sleep-deprivation and aplentiful supply of Jack Daniel’s were the most significant aspects of thecreative process.Greg:
Heh, I remember reading about you drinking and smoking pretty hard whilewriting this. But how long exactly did this story take to craft? Was this wholeidea stuck in your mind for a good portion of years before you set pen onpaper? And can you tell us about both the writing process and art process? Theart is quite simply beautiful and goes so darn well with the creepy writing.You've no idea how many times I got creeped out and taken back at some panelshere and there.DH:
The process was very slow. Writing and drawing a 200-page graphic
novel with noguarantee that it will be published is a hell of a commitment. I was getting alot of work inking for Marvel UK
and doing bits and piecesof illustration but I was getting very frustrated with that work, from acreative point of view. I made notes and character sketches for years before Ifinally decided that it was now or never. I had enough money saved to survivefor a year, so I just closed the door on all job offers and started writing.
Ittook about six months to finish the script. I was very meticulous. I re-wroteover and over and there’s very little left of the first draft. I learned toedit myself brutally. There are some scenes that I still think work well inthemselves but they didn’t contribute to the story, so I cut them. Once I had adraft I was happy with, I started the drawing.
Idrew at the rate of about 3 pages a week, pencils and inks. A lot of my drawingprevious to this was based on photo reference but I always felt that the artwas a little static and bland. Using photos is okay, provided you don't get toodependent on them. But for Strange Embrace
I wanted a more expressive style, soI just drew the way it felt. I drew in pencil on watercolour paper, which isn'tideal for inking, but again I wanted to get away from the slick inking styleI’d used on my Marvel work. Using a quill pen on watercolour paper was theopposite of slick. The pen would dig into the rough surface of the paper andcreate ragged lines. The ink literally spilled out as the nib split apart. Themore intense the scene the more I let the pen have its own way with the paper,so there's a spontaneous expressionistic feel to it.
Ican safely say it was the most enjoyable period of my working life. And as anadded bonus, shortly after I started drawing, I showed the script to a guycalled Dave Elliott, who was editor in chief at Tundra UK
. He loved it and offered topublish it with the promise that there would be no editorial input apart fromadvice on the covers. So I ended up spending 18 months on the book and gettinga very healthy advance for it too.Greg:
Wow. Just wow. There’s one thing I know about artists, I say that includingwriters, musicians, etc. When years pass and they look at some of their workfrom the past, they sometimes cringe and think, “Oh goodness, I could have madethis SO much better, what the hell is this, what was I thinking?” Does thatever happen to when you look at Strange Embrace
and see it age, especiallygiven how hard and long it took for you to get the book done?DH:
A lot of my past work makes me blush with embarrassment, especially the earlystuff, but I’m still happy with Strange Embrace.
There are things I wouldimprove in the dialogue in some places but the plot and story are fine. Thecharacters are fine. I can get very picky with the drawing and I did considerre-drawing a few panels but I realized that if I started, I wouldn’t be able tostop. In the end I re-drew just one panel - the profile of Sarah when she firstmeets Anthony. That one drawing always bugged me for some reason, so I patcheda new face in.
Thething is that you have to accept that all your work is a learning process, soyou shouldn’t obsess about the mistakes you made. Just move on and make thenext piece better. Aim for perfection, but recognize the fact that you'll nevereven come close.Greg:
One thing also about writing is that although you may come with an originalidea for a story, there are some things you'd check out for influence or in away “help” to form your craft. Was there works that inspired your writing anddrawing for this?DH:
Oh, everything influences me I guess. But there are specific writers andartists that I know had a big influence on Strange Embrace.
I was reading a lotof European comics at the time and my drawing style came from Jose Munoz
, theartist who drew a series was called Alack Sinner
which was in one volume of Joe’s Bar
(the best crime noir comic book ever). Didier Comes
, who wrote anddrew Silence
, and Jacques Tardi
who has done a lot of period noir.
The painterEgon Schiele
was the model for the young Anthony Corbeau. You’ll see Anthony’sfeatures and hairstyle in Schiele’s self-portraits. Expressionist cinema of the20’s and 30’s. [Roman
’s movie Repulsion
, David Lynch
. Theplot of Strange Embrace
draws on 19th century novels, especially the sub genreI like to call the Crazy Lady in the Attic
novel, epitomized by CharlotteBronte
’s Jane Eyre
and Wilkie Collins
’ The Woman in White.
Iguess I have very eclectic tastes. The wider you cast your net the more“original” your writing is going to be. That’s very important. If all you readis American comic books your work is going to look bland and derivative. I’vebeen reading far too many mainstream comics in the past few years out of necessity,because I’ve had to check continuity of various characters. I think my work hasprobably suffered for it. I know my brain has.Greg:
Would you ever want to branch out from comics for a while? Novels, poetry,movies...?DH:
I always wanted to write a novel and in fact I did spend a year writing onewhile I was working in commercial illustration. I touted it around to agentsand got a couple of initial bites from two of the big British agents, but inthe end it never got off the ground. Novels are even harder to get publishedthan comic books. Spawn: Book of the Dead
is the closest I've gotten to seeinga novel in print so far.
Moviesare something I'm getting more interested in. I’ve been reading a lot ofscreenplays and tele-plays recently and I envy the writers with the ability toget really involved in dialogue. Because of their nature - 22 pages per month –it’s not really possible to let conversation tell the story too much inAmerican comics, (unless you’re Bendis). I usually end up cutting my dialogueby about 50% from the original script. It’s good discipline to make every wordcount but you lose a lot of the natural flow of conversation. Also of course,so many more people watch movies and television. It must be amazing to knowthat millions of people have sat in a theatre or in front of their TV to watchyour story.
Poetry– I’ve written a few songs for Poison Candy
and there was a rap song back inMutopia X
. I really enjoyed writing them. Some day it would be cool to hearthem put to music.Greg:
Haha! That’s right. When you were writing Jazz. Well, now that we're on thatsubject, I'm going to put you on the spot and tell you to give us a taste ofJazz’s, aka David Hine’s rap...DH:
Well, you know, I’m not Jazz. I can’t turn out rhyme on a dime. It takes metime. Greg:
Rhyme right there, heh…DH:
…But... I have a little Spawn
rap on the back burner as it were. BasicallySpawn is wandering through the pits of hell moping about Wanda as usual. Thisis a rough-cut of a couple of lines...Greg:
(Starts beat-boxing) DH:
“Hecan’t forget her;
Shestill rings his bell.
She'sso damned hot
She’shot as Hell!
Couldshe ignore the rot?
Couldshe ignore the SMELL?!
Andwhen they get to kissing...
Ohcrap... his lips are missing.
Thatain’t the worst.
Justwatch him now - staring in the chasm.
Thinksof Wanda, starts to spasm.
Chillout now, Spawn!
You'regonna... Shit! He did.
Hefilled his shorts with necroplasm...”
Betyou wish you hadn’t asked.Greg:
Hahaha. Sorry, I had to Dave, that was too awesome, hahaha! Damn good Spawn
Butyeah, about movies. It's been mentioned before that Strange Embrace
was pickedup for the big screen. Any updates? And whom would you cast as your charactersand whom would you put in the directing seat? DH:
The option took long time to hammer out. Many months have gone by but we have avery good contract that has just been signed at my end. I think there’s a goodchance that a movie will come out of this because it's a guy called PeterGriffiths who has bought the option. Peter is a very well establishedscreenwriter and producer. It’s the screenwriter part that's the key. He’sgoing to be investing a lot of personal time in the screenwriting, so he'llreally be pushing to get it made.
Thereis a director lined up but we're too early in the process to name him yet. He’sa guy with a cult rep and a real talent for innovative visuals. That’s yourclue...
Actors.James McAvoy would make a good young Anthony, I think. Keira Knightley as Sarah.Johnny Depp as Alex. John Hurt as Old Anthony. Sean Penn as Edward.
Youcan see I’m thinking low-budget (laughs)Greg:
Wow, Dave, heh heh. Can’t wait for that movie. Especially with allthese films from comics coming out now. We need some good horror comic flicks.
Now,in this upcoming hardcover collection we’ll have the colors of Rob Steen
whodid a fantastic job. And I don't want to leave everybody out; everyone involvedin the production of this new release has done an amazing job. Elephantmen
on letters, Chino Martinez
(who I'm still not too surewhat his job was) and John “JG” Roshell
who did a fantastic job on the web siteand myspace page. DH:
I’m not sure about Chino either. I’ll have to askRich.Greg:
I’ve become good friends with all the Active Images crew over the years. I meetup with them at San Diego and my family and Rich’shave visited in LA and London. I see Rob in New York or London whenever we’re in the samecity. I owe those guys a lot. They have put so much work into Strange Embraceand without that I wouldn’t have a career in comics.
Richis editor and letterer and First Pussycat of Active Images
. He’s the guy whodragged me back from obscurity and thrust me into the limelight of the comicsworld once more. At Active Images
he’s published a very impressive line ofbooks including Skidmarks
, Spiral Cage
, The Nightmarist
,The Tim Sale sketchbook
and of course the flagship Hip Flask
came up with the aged paper effect on the colour version of Strange Embrace
,designed the font for the title and put together the web site and Myspace siteas well as doing a whole load of the work that comes under the generaldescription of Production.Rob
is a very accomplished artist who has drawn a couple of issues of Elephantmen
, and a Wormwood
graphic novel with Garth Ennis. Oh andhe did a series of illustrated books featuring the Flanimals
with words by somecomedian whose name escapes me… Greg:
Awesome! They all did a fine job with the book. And that aging page that youmentioned, you have no idea how much I loved that and it actually added to themood of the book. So beautiful job and I cannot wait for this hardcovercollection and other folks to pick this up!
Iknow Rich has been bugging you for a sequel to Strange Embrace
. I'm not sure ifI’d want one, though, because Strange Embrace
is such a fantastic story and Ithink to keep it as it is just makes it maybe sweeter and a little creepier. Sowhat are your thoughts on a sequel?DH:
Oh, I don't think we'll have anything you could strictly call a sequel. I wouldnever want to write anything else about Anthony, Sarah and Edward. Their storyis done. It is possible that Alex will turn up again in some form, simply as acollector of stories.Greg:
Can we expect another “signature” type work where we'll be seeing your pencils,inking, and having your blood, spit, and sweat on each page like StrangeEmbrace
I certainly hope so. As I’ve said before, I was able to spend 18 months drawingStrange Embrace
because I just didn't have the expenses of a family andmortgage back in 1993. I do seriously plan to put aside the funds to be able todo that again. There are two projects I’d like to write and draw - one wouldprobably run to 150 pages, the other more like 300 or more. It's essential tome to have absolute control - meaning no publisher’s approval oreditorializing. There aren’t really publishers who will finance that kind ofgamble up front, so it isn't likely to happen for a while.
Inthe meantime I’m planning to do more creator-owned projects with artists whocan draw a little faster than I do.Greg:
Spawn vs. Alex. Who would win?DH:
Alex is like Mammon - far superior in wit and intellect to Spawn - so I thinkhe'd easily outwit and manipulate Spawn. I think we'd end up seeing Spawn nolonger moping in the alleyways but sitting in Alex’s cafe, mumbling over a cupof cold coffee for all eternity.Greg:
Heh, so Dave! It was wonderful having you here at Face To Greg!
Thank you somuch for everything. Is there anything else you'd like to say before we exit? DH:
Thanks for having me and good luck with your own work. I know you’re a buddingmovie-maker and scriptwriter, so maybe next time round maybe I'll beinterviewing you.Greg:
Have your people call my people!
The order number for Strange Embrace is: APR08 2187
retailing for: $34.99 or it can be ordered from Amazon with a hefty 34% discount at $23.09.
This hardcover edition will include the original graphic novel, written by David Hine
and coloured by Rob Steen
, plus four short stories, sketches, cover art and interview.
You can contact David Hine at:
The Spawn forum: http://board.spawn.com/forums/member.php?u=39811
Image comics forum: http://www.imagecomics.com/messageboard/viewforum.php?f=37
Strange Embrace: http://www.strangeembrace.com/index.html
Posted originally: 2008-06-05 22:28:07