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 rap!
Greg: Hello, all, to my mind once again and I’d like to welcome special guest David Hine. Say hello, Dave...
David Hine: Hey GreG! Good to be here.
Greg: First off, I’d like to say fantastic work on Strange Embrace. This has surely been one of my absolute favorite reads, all bias aside. This was just a fantastic piece of horror and I just have to ask how did you 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 most personal thing I’ve done to date. The idea grew over a very long period. These days I’m always actively trying to come up with ideas for stories to feed the script machine, but Strange Embrace grew organically. When I was at college and away 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 from a 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 alone at the end of a table big enough to seat thirty.
He’d usually scurry away when he saw me. All I knew about him was that his wife had committed suicide. Over the years I built up this imaginary story about his past, 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 some connection to you. I’ve noticed in a few interviews that you've mentioned how you lived in that building with that old man and you basically wrote your story around 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 sadistic bastard named Alex who takes pleasure in causing people misery in order to find out things about people. Alex was also writer and lived in that building, much like you. So what I'm asking is: are you Alex? Did you base yourself on this character and why if you did?
DH: You mean, am I a sadistic bastard who exploits people for the sake of a good story? Well, yes and no. Honest writing means exposing both yourself and the people you know. I'm often aware that when dramatic or emotional events are going on around me, I'm making mental notes, which may seem a little cold but it’s impossible not to do that. Alex suffers from alienation, an inability to connect. He doesn’t get to know people as much as to POSSESS them. In a sense all writers do that and it’s why I prefer to write fiction. I can’t imagine ever writing an autobiography, unleashing all that analysis of people’s personalities and failings and actually naming them. It must take a huge ego and a very thick skin.
I prefer to disguise my insights under the cloak of fiction. It may be less courageous 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 the characters, Anthony as much as Alex and even in Sarah. You have to delve around in the depths of your own personality to inhabit all your characters; otherwise they’re nothing more than ciphers.
Greg: Damn, that’s some really deep stuff, man. And all around truth when it comes to writing. 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 all your characters have positive attributes that allow you to feel and fall for them and flaws and negative aspects that draws you into their story, even if they 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 quite therapeutic. When you were writing this and pouring your heart and thought out into these characters, was it a self-reflection through your mind, your flaws that you were going through at the time? Was this a way of therapy for you and has it helped?
DH: Writing is not only therapeutic, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than a professional analyst! If you can make a living at it, you're laughing! Strange Embrace was a very bleak story and although my work always has a sense of alienation at the core, my more recent stories also have a lot more warmth and a feeling that relationships and acts of personal integrity give meaning to our lives. That probably reflects that I became a father in the intervening years.
But enough of the deep meaningful stuff! I actually think sleep-deprivation and a plentiful supply of Jack Daniel’s were the most significant aspects of the creative process.
Greg: Heh, I remember reading about you drinking and smoking pretty hard while writing this. But how long exactly did this story take to craft? Was this whole idea stuck in your mind for a good portion of years before you set pen on paper? And can you tell us about both the writing process and art process? The art 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 panels here and there.
DH: The process was very slow. Writing and drawing a 200-page graphic novel with no guarantee that it will be published is a hell of a commitment. I was getting a lot of work inking for Marvel UK and doing bits and pieces of illustration but I was getting very frustrated with that work, from a creative point of view. I made notes and character sketches for years before I finally decided that it was now or never. I had enough money saved to survive for a year, so I just closed the door on all job offers and started writing.
It took about six months to finish the script. I was very meticulous. I re-wrote over and over and there’s very little left of the first draft. I learned to edit myself brutally. There are some scenes that I still think work well in themselves but they didn’t contribute to the story, so I cut them. Once I had a draft I was happy with, I started the drawing.
I drew at the rate of about 3 pages a week, pencils and inks. A lot of my drawing previous to this was based on photo reference but I always felt that the art was a little static and bland. Using photos is okay, provided you don't get too dependent on them. But for Strange Embrace I wanted a more expressive style, so I just drew the way it felt. I drew in pencil on watercolour paper, which isn't ideal for inking, but again I wanted to get away from the slick inking style I’d used on my Marvel work. Using a quill pen on watercolour paper was the opposite of slick. The pen would dig into the rough surface of the paper and create ragged lines. The ink literally spilled out as the nib split apart. The more 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.
I can safely say it was the most enjoyable period of my working life. And as an added bonus, shortly after I started drawing, I showed the script to a guy called Dave Elliott, who was editor in chief at Tundra UK. He loved it and offered to publish it with the promise that there would be no editorial input apart from advice on the covers. So I ended up spending 18 months on the book and getting a very healthy advance for it too.
Greg: Wow. Just wow. There’s one thing I know about artists, I say that including writers, musicians, etc. When years pass and they look at some of their work from the past, they sometimes cringe and think, “Oh goodness, I could have made this SO much better, what the hell is this, what was I thinking?” Does that ever happen to when you look at Strange Embrace and see it age, especially given 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 early stuff, but I’m still happy with Strange Embrace. There are things I would improve in the dialogue in some places but the plot and story are fine. The characters are fine. I can get very picky with the drawing and I did consider re-drawing a few panels but I realized that if I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. In the end I re-drew just one panel - the profile of Sarah when she first meets Anthony. That one drawing always bugged me for some reason, so I patched a new face in.
The thing is that you have to accept that all your work is a learning process, so you shouldn’t obsess about the mistakes you made. Just move on and make the next piece better. Aim for perfection, but recognize the fact that you'll never even come close.
Greg: One thing also about writing is that although you may come with an original idea for a story, there are some things you'd check out for influence or in a way “help” to form your craft. Was there works that inspired your writing and drawing for this?
Oh, everything influences me I guess. But there are specific writers and
artists that I know had a big influence on Strange Embrace. I was reading a lot
of European comics at the time and my drawing style came from Jose Munoz, the
artist 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 and
drew Silence, and Jacques Tardi who has done a lot of period noir.
The painter Egon Schiele was the model for the young Anthony Corbeau. You’ll see Anthony’s features and hairstyle in Schiele’s self-portraits. Expressionist cinema of the 20’s and 30’s. [Roman] Polanski’s movie Repulsion, David Lynch’s Elephantman. The plot of Strange Embrace draws on 19th century novels, especially the sub genre I like to call the Crazy Lady in the Attic novel, epitomized by Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.
I guess 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 read is American comic books your work is going to look bland and derivative. I’ve been 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 has probably 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 one while I was working in commercial illustration. I touted it around to agents and got a couple of initial bites from two of the big British agents, but in the end it never got off the ground. Novels are even harder to get published than comic books. Spawn: Book of the Dead is the closest I've gotten to seeing a novel in print so far.
Movies are something I'm getting more interested in. I’ve been reading a lot of screenplays and tele-plays recently and I envy the writers with the ability to get 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 in American comics, (unless you’re Bendis). I usually end up cutting my dialogue by about 50% from the original script. It’s good discipline to make every word count 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 know that millions of people have sat in a theatre or in front of their TV to watch your story.
Poetry – I’ve written a few songs for Poison Candy and there was a rap song back in Mutopia X. I really enjoyed writing them. Some day it would be cool to hear them put to music.
Greg: Haha! That’s right. When you were writing Jazz. Well, now that we're on that subject, I'm going to put you on the spot and tell you to give us a taste of Jazz’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 me time.
Greg: Rhyme right there, heh…
DH: …But... I have a little Spawn rap on the back burner as it were. Basically Spawn is wandering through the pits of hell moping about Wanda as usual. This is a rough-cut of a couple of lines...
Greg: (Starts beat-boxing)
DH: “He can’t forget her;
She still rings his bell.
She's so damned hot
She’s hot as Hell!
Could she ignore the rot?
Could she ignore the SMELL?!
And when they get to kissing...
Oh crap... his lips are missing.
That ain’t the worst.
His body’s cursed.
Just watch him now - staring in the chasm.
Thinks of Wanda, starts to spasm.
Chill out now, Spawn!
Too much enthusiasm...
You're gonna... Shit! He did.
He filled his shorts with necroplasm...”
Bet you wish you hadn’t asked.
Greg: Hahaha. Sorry, I had to Dave, that was too awesome, hahaha! Damn good Spawn exclusive.
But yeah, about movies. It's been mentioned before that Strange Embrace was picked up for the big screen. Any updates? And whom would you cast as your characters and 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 a very good contract that has just been signed at my end. I think there’s a good chance that a movie will come out of this because it's a guy called Peter Griffiths who has bought the option. Peter is a very well established screenwriter and producer. It’s the screenwriter part that's the key. He’s going to be investing a lot of personal time in the screenwriting, so he'll really be pushing to get it made.
There is a director lined up but we're too early in the process to name him yet. He’s a guy with a cult rep and a real talent for innovative visuals. That’s your clue...
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.
You can see I’m thinking low-budget (laughs)
Greg: Wow, Dave, heh heh. Can’t wait for that movie. Especially with all these 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 who did a fantastic job. And I don't want to leave everybody out; everyone involved in the production of this new release has done an amazing job. Elephantmen’s Richard Starkings on letters, Chino Martinez (who I'm still not too sure what his job was) and John “JG” Roshell who did a fantastic job on the web site and myspace page.
DH: I’m not sure about Chino either. I’ll have to ask Rich.
DH: I’ve become good friends with all the Active Images crew over the years. I meet up with them at San Diego and my family and Rich’s have visited in LA and London. I see Rob in New York or London whenever we’re in the same city. I owe those guys a lot. They have put so much work into Strange Embrace and without that I wouldn’t have a career in comics.
Rich is editor and letterer and First Pussycat of Active Images. He’s the guy who dragged me back from obscurity and thrust me into the limelight of the comics world once more. At Active Images he’s published a very impressive line of books including Skidmarks, Spiral Cage, The Nightmarist, Solstice, Temptation, The Tim Sale sketchbook and of course the flagship Hip Flask.
JG 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 site as well as doing a whole load of the work that comes under the general description of Production.
Rob is a very accomplished artist who has drawn a couple of issues of Elephantmen, Afterlife for Tokyopop, and a Wormwood graphic novel with Garth Ennis. Oh and he did a series of illustrated books featuring the Flanimals with words by some comedian whose name escapes me…
Greg: Awesome! They all did a fine job with the book. And that aging page that you mentioned, you have no idea how much I loved that and it actually added to the mood of the book. So beautiful job and I cannot wait for this hardcover collection and other folks to pick this up!
I know Rich has been bugging you for a sequel to Strange Embrace. I'm not sure if I’d want one, though, because Strange Embrace is such a fantastic story and I think to keep it as it is just makes it maybe sweeter and a little creepier. So what are your thoughts on a sequel?
DH: Oh, I don't think we'll have anything you could strictly call a sequel. I would never want to write anything else about Anthony, Sarah and Edward. Their story is done. It is possible that Alex will turn up again in some form, simply as a collector 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 Strange Embrace?
DH: I certainly hope so. As I’ve said before, I was able to spend 18 months drawing Strange Embrace because I just didn't have the expenses of a family and mortgage back in 1993. I do seriously plan to put aside the funds to be able to do that again. There are two projects I’d like to write and draw - one would probably run to 150 pages, the other more like 300 or more. It's essential to me to have absolute control - meaning no publisher’s approval or editorializing. There aren’t really publishers who will finance that kind of gamble up front, so it isn't likely to happen for a while.
In the meantime I’m planning to do more creator-owned projects with artists who can 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 think he'd easily outwit and manipulate Spawn. I think we'd end up seeing Spawn no longer moping in the alleyways but sitting in Alex’s cafe, mumbling over a cup of cold coffee for all eternity.
Heh, so Dave! It was wonderful having you here at Face To Greg! Thank you so
much 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 budding movie-maker and scriptwriter, so maybe next time round maybe I'll be interviewing 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