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Haunting with David Hine Part. 1

Written by Greg Anderson-Elysee on Sunday, October 25 2009 and posted in Columns
 David Hine returns to Face To Greg just in time for Halloween to discuss Radical Comic's FVZA: Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency and DC's Arkham Reborn!

Welcome back, Dave, to Face To Greg! How have you been?

David Hine: Life has been crazy in many ways. Insane. But professionally at least, things are looking good with several of the projects I've been working on for the past year finally seeing publication. Arkham Reborn and the second series of Spider-Man Noir are both almost finished and are solicited to appear before the end of the year. Hanzo is finishing up the tones for Volume 2 of Poison Candy and Shaky Kane is well into drawing the second issue of Bulletproof Coffin.

 Greg: Now in a few days, just in time for Halloween, FVZA from Radical Comics is coming out. This has been getting some good publicity and thus far great reviews. Can you tell us what's it about and how you got tapped to writing this?

David: Yeah, this is really good timing. A zombie/vampire book for Halloween and just when the public interest for the Undead is reaching fever pitch. I guess this was good forward planning from Radical. I remember when they first approached me to write a series based on the FVZA web site. I met up with the Radical guys and the production company who had bought the rights to the property at San Diego in 2008 and pitched my outline to them, which they went for. At the same Con there was a preview edition of a comic for an upcoming show called True Blood. Believe it or not I was worried that there might not be room for two new vampire series.

That concern has definitely diminished. I think the FVZA series would be popular anyway. It's such a well-defined concept and the art that Roy Martinez, Kinsuh Loh and Jerry Choo have produced has been amazing. I can't stop raving about it. In this business it's very hard to get really good art on a book that isn't published by Marvel or DC.

I should qualify that. There are some amazing artists out there working on independent books, really unique gifted people, but if you draw in realistic 'mainstream' style, the chances are Marvel or DC will have snapped you up and given you a contract. And we did want a realistic, digitally painted style on this book. I was looking at some new pages that came in today for issue 2 and they are just fabulous.

We sent out some preview copies and the reviews have been very good so far. That means a lot to me. I'm not one of those guys who doesn't give a shit about the reviews. I am pathetically thin-skinned when it comes to my work.

Um, sorry, forgot the question... what is it about? Vampires and Zombies! FVZA actually stands for Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency. As I said it's based on a web site created by Richard Dargan who has formulated an entire alternative history of the USA where the vampire and zombie viruses arrived with the influx of settlers. The Agency was set up to combat the Undead threat. They have a military wing to hunt and destroy vampires and zombies and a scientific section that worked on the original vaccines. Vaccines that unfortunately don't work on the new strains of the viruses. Actually it's quite fortunate for us. If the vaccines worked it would be a very short and boring series.

Our story follows the grandchildren of a former director of the FVZA who have been trained from birth to slay vampires and zombies. The FVZA itself was shut down in the seventies when it looked like the Undead menace was defeated. Now they are back with a vengeance and the FVZA has been reformed.

Over to you, Greg!

Greg: Wow, sounds intense. Now in this very recent time, we're getting quite a bit of an overflow of  vampire and zombie books, movies, etc. While it's obviously selling, people are also claim to be tired of the same ol' same ol'. What are you planning to do that's different and to feel fresh for the folks reading this upcoming series?

David: I know you've seen the preview edition of the book, so you know that there's a very detailed alternative history that has been established on the web site. That history gives a feeling of authenticity to this book. The scenes of bounty hunters bringing in vampire and zombie corpses on the backs of mules, the pioneers who set up the first vigilante groups. I don't think that has really been done before. We're used to seeing a zombie virus suddenly appearing and wreaking havoc on our world but here we have a world where this is part of history. Every school kid is aware of the Undead but it's in the past and they don't relate to it any more. There are statues to the fallen heroes of the FVZA, tattered old posters in airports warning against bringing the virus into the country. This is a world that is one step off to the side from our own and paradoxically I think that makes it seem more real.

We're also concentrating on plot and characterization. Even the zombies are being portrayed as people with personalities, rather than just cannon-fodder. And we have vampires who are good guys, desperately fighting to retain their humanity. I've blurred the borders between good guys and bad guys. That's something I always do in my books because I'm not a great believer in heroes and villains per se. Even the worst of the characters have redeeming characteristics and the heroes have serious flaws. Hugo Pecos, who leads the battle against the Undead is an obsessive character who seems willing to sacrifice too much of his humanity in his efforts to save the human race. He brings up his own grandchildren in this bizarre environment where they aren't allowed to have a normal childhood and that has terrible consequences for them.

So what you're getting with FVZA is a more sophisticated story than a lot of the stuff that is pumped out in the Undead sub-genre. A story that is complex and involving - at least it is if I've done my job right. Of course there are also some really horrific scenes in there. I wouldn't want to deprive the fans of their blood, gore and brains

fvza_1.jpgGreg: Heh, excellent. Can you go into details of the main characters we'll be meeting? You've already mentioned Hugo Pecos...

David: Yeah. Hugo is the central character in the sense that he is the one guy who has kept on fighting the good fight. He's a former director of the agency and he's now in his eighties, but still keeps up the martial arts training so he's fit for his age. His grandchildren, Landra and Vidal have been trained in every aspect of specialized combat against vampires and zombies and also know the science of what makes them tick. Landra is the real kick-ass warrior type, while Vidal is less enthusiastic. He's more the sensitive type and you get the idea that he just wants to go and live a normal life.

We have some really cool vampires. There's Nephilis, who has been around for over three hundred years. He's a disgustingly perverted old bastard who has learned to survive by his wits. In his old age he prefers to live in the shadows and avoid attention. There's a recently turned vampire called Mandrake who represents the militant wing. He wants to assert their place as the superior race through acts of terrorism. Essentially he's planning to unleash the zombie virus on the USA as an opening act in a war to take control of the country.

Yaelis and Chaucer are older vampires who are dispatched from Europe to get Mandrake under control. We also have a couple of Vamps called Tess and Jules. Vamps are young goth-types who are inspired by the legends of the vampires. They have romanticized the whole vampire tradition. They wear black clothes and stay out of the sun to preserve their pale complexions. They even have permanent fang implants and suck each others' blood. Just like real-world goths! (They also listen to far too much Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus). Once they are recruited by Mandrake they discover that the reality of vampirism is more Nosferatu than Twilight. Theirs is a tragic love story and as the story progressed they grew from support characters to having a more central place in the story. That happens sometimes. Characters take on a life of their own and demand more attention.

So this book will sorta be an eye opener for those pesky lil' Twilight lovers?

David: I hate to mock the afflicted especially as the Twilight Disease is rampant in my own household.  I forced myself to read the first volume at the insistence of my partner and son and was dragged kicking and screaming to the movie. I truly cannot understand the appeal of that smirking glittery git. If you want to romanticize vampires there should at least be the promise of a good shag in there somewhere. What's sexy about celibacy? And vampire baseball is even more boring than bloody Quidditch! Let's just change the subject.

Greg: Haha! Yes, we move on. Since we're now talking of movies, I read there may be plans for a FVZA flick?

David: This was always conceived as a "forthcoming movie." The rights to the FVZA property were obtained by Contrafilm, who are a movie production company. Although I crafted the script as pure comics I always kept in mind that the concept and basic storyline had to be workable as a movie as well. I tend to run my scripts through my head as a movie anyway, but I was very conscious that this story should also have the three-act structure of mainstream cinema. This is true of all Radicals books. They all have the 'high concept' in place. The great thing about Radical is that, given that the concepts are perfect for movies, once you start in on the project the quality of the comic is everyone's priority, so you don't just get the screenplay/storyboard kind of comics that are so commonplace these days. For me it's the comic that counts and if it gets made into a movie, all the better. I'll buy my popcorn, sit back and enjoy. That's a long-winded way of saying, yes there are plans for a movie, but I have no direct involvement in that side of things.

Very understandable. So have you heard any feedback thus far from the regular posters on the FVZA site? Any death threats if you mess up their franchise?

David: All positive so far but I know those vampire hunters are a very unforgiving type so I'll be watching my back. I met Richard Dargan at San Diego and he was very excited about the whole thing. I saw that there's a clip of Hugo Pecos actually signing a copy of the preview, so I guess he must like it too. I think he's secretly pleased to be finally getting the recognition he deserves for his tireless devotion to the cause.

Greg: That's awesome to hear. Can you tell us about the artists that are working with you on this book?

David: We had a lot of artists do sample pages for FVZA and although there were some good artists fvza_2.jpgnone of them really hit the perfect notes. I worked with Roy Martinez on the Son of M series for Marvel and loved the work he did on that, so I suggested sounding him out. It turned out he has a deeply fetishistic love for zombies. His sample page and character sketches captured the feel of the book perfectly so we snapped him up.

Then we set out to find the perfect digital artist to do the colors and Kinsun Loh came on board. The thing with Kishun is that he doesn't just have the computer skills that a lot of digital artists have. It's one thing to know how to use the art software but Kinsun is a brilliant artist too. He knows how to draw, he knows figures and lighting and how to create texture and atmosphere. There are a lot of people out there who can create the slick surface but Kinsun gets under the skin. You can see the bones under the flesh, see the bodies move under the clothing. That's a rare skill. Put Kinsun and Roy together and you've got a fantastic partnership.

Kinsun shares the digital coloring with Jerry Choo from his studio. I don't know how the work breaks down but the result is seamless. A very fine team.

You'll have seen from the solicits that the third issue is laid out by Roy and penciled by Wayne Nichols. Roy has had some health issues that meant he wasn't able to complete the art on the last issue. We were lucky to get Wayne to step in to complete that last issue and I'm very happy with the result. The storytelling is still Roy's and the finishes are still Kinsun and Jerry so the transition is very smooth. The result is some of the best realistic painted art on the shelves.

The covers are the icing on the cake. And very classy icing it is too. We have a stunning piece of art from John Bolton on the first issue. It was actually produced for a different project but when I saw it I was bowled over by it. The female character was perfect for one of our vampire and the depraved creature that's lurking behind her is the perfect representation of the corrupting influence of vampirism.

Our regular cover artist is Clint Langley and what can I say? The man is a genius. He has done a whole series of covers for us and every one is a gem. Clint has done quite a few covers for Radical books but I can safely say he's done his best work for us on FVZA. Vampires and Zombies just seem to bring out the best in people, don't you think?

Greg: Seems so, I'd say. So since this isn't completed editorial mandated, I'm expecting you completely cutting loose again, ala Strange Embrace maybe?

David: There is a lot less editorial control than I've been used to at Marvel and DC and none of the restrictions on language and violence, although nipples are still taboo for some reason. It's less experimental and personal than Strange Embrace though. I'm still setting out to write a commercial mainstream project here. With Strange Embrace I had no audience in mind but myself. I'm aware that there are expectations for FVZA both from the site's creator and the production company. You'll have to wait for Bulletproof Coffin to see another really personal book where literally anything can happen.

 Greg: Now FVZA isn't the only horror work from you coming out this week. There's also your upcoming Batman: Arkham Reborn mini from DC. Tell us about that now.

David: Funnily enough that book is probably quirkier than FVZA even though it's a DC book and part of the Batman stable. I was given a lot of free rein on the Battle For the Cowl Arkham one-shot and that book left a lot of loose ends. This new mini-series, Arkham Reborn, follows those loose ends. That's not to say that everything is neatly tied up. There is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery at the heart of the asylum. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

This time round there are more of the established Batman characters, including Batman himself. We have Clayface, Mr Freeze, Doctor Phosphorus. Basically the villains who have been rounded up over recent months and thrown back in the asylum. There's also a new character called Alyce Sinner. I don't want to say too much about her because almost anything would be a spoiler. Let's just say she has an interest in the Seven Deadly Sins. I've been very lucky with the Arkham books because these are very offbeat stories that probably wouldn't normally get a massive audience. Because it was part of the Battle for the Cowl event, the one-shot sold over 40,000 copies, which is very healthy. I was a little worried over the reception it might get from Batman fans. My characters, No-Face, The Hamburger Lady and the Mirror Man aren't villains and have no super-powers but that didn't seem to bother people. I do see speculation on message boards debating what kind of powers they will develop and what villainy they have planned but they really aren't like that. My work in the mainstream is a constant test to write popular comics without big fight scenes and standard good v. evil scenarios. There is a fight scene in this series when Batman shows up but really the interest should be in the interaction between the characters and the torment of their mental illness.

Oh yeah, and there is a character called The Raggedy Man who is about as twisted as any character I've written but you know... he can't help it. It was his parents' fault.

Greg: Ha! Nice. So how's it been like writing in the Bat-verse? Thus far we have this, the Arkham Asylum one-shot, and that Two-Face one-shot from a while back. How do you compare it to when you were that guy who wrote those mutants over at Marvel?

David: It's a similar experience in some ways. Mike Marts was my editor on the X-books at Marvel and  now he's my editor on the Bat-books at DC. Mike is great to work for. He's incredibly efficient at getting books out on time and he is always looking for ways to allow me enough leeway to do the kind of stories I want on mainstream titles. There is the problem of fitting the stories into the larger continuity. I remember some frustrating times on the later X-books when I was getting involved in major crossovers. That can be restrictive on creativity and a major headache to avoid contradicting what happens in the other books.

On balance I think my writing style is better suited to the Batbooks - a darker world altogether and more opportunities to work with genuinely bizarre and disturbing characters. The Marvel Universe is definitely more grounded in reality - albeit a reality that involves mutants and super heroes. With DC you're entering a much more surreal alternative reality.

There are still some crossover problems. Only yesterday I was wrestling with the timeline between the main Batman title and the third and last episode of Arkham Reborn. I think we've ironed out the inconsistencies but there will always be something that falls between the cracks. So far though, the experience at DC has been very positive.

That's very fun to hear. Now Halloween is in a week and both these books are coming out in a few days just in time for it. What is it about horror that appeals to you so much?

David: I honestly don't know. It's something that cultural analysts and psychologists have picked over endlessly. Is it a way of confronting our own deep-seated fears and anxieties? Probably. To confront your worst nightmares in the pages of a comic-book or novel or in a movie theatre is a very healthy way of dealing with those anxieties. Horror is about death and it's about physical and mental trauma. Being tortured and mutilated or falling victim to flesh-eating diseases or losing the people you care about. It's about isolation and being powerless. It's about facing the void. All that makes sense. What I find harder to explain is why I find it so damned entertaining. I guess in the end it comes down to laughing in the face of death.

Before we conclude this interview today, what are your mischievous plans for Halloween? Trick or treating, watching a horror flick with the family, or dropping hot tar from a cauldron on fellow trick 'r treaters on top of your roof?

David: Halloween isn't quite such an elaborate affair in the UK, although it's bigger than when I was a kid. Our trick or treaters are usually a bunch of the neighbors' kids accompanied by Mum and Dad, so I couldn't get away with the hot tar thing. In the past we've thrown a couple of great Halloween parties at our house, decorated the place with cobwebs and skulls and carved pumpkins, played theme music from all the greatest horror movies and been treated to some truly excellent costumes from our friends. Dougie Braithwaite and his wife Sue in particular managed to scare the crap out of me when I answered the door to them.

These days we don't seem to have the time for that so after the Orbital Comics Halloween signing I think it will probably be a horror movie. My son Alex is a huge Darren Shan fan, so Cirque Du Freak will be on the cards for sure. I still haven't seen Zombieland so maybe that too.

Greg: Well, that'll be it for today! Readers, be sure to check out FVZA and Arkham Reborn coming at you this Wednesday in time for Halloween! Come back and discuss! Turn in next time for Part 2 of Haunting with David Hine where we discuss Spider-Man Noir: Face Without a Mask, Ryder of the Storm, Bulletproof Coffin and more!


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About the Author - Greg Anderson-Elysee

Gregory Anderson-Elysee is a Brooklyn born and based filmmaker (director and editor), playwright, comic book writer, model, and part time actor. He was one of the first writers and interviewers of The Outhouse. He is the writer and creator of the upcoming book Is'nana the Were-Spider. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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