So Dave, continuing from last time how was your Halloween?
David: It was great. That Saturday I did the signing at Orbital Comics in London along with Mike Carey, Garry Leach and Glenn Fabry. Barry Levine, publisher of Radical comics was in town and came along too. We went for dinner after and talked about future projects at Radical. Obviously too early to talk about those but there should be some very exciting things happening with Radical in the next year.
I was accosted by a bunch of zombies on the way home but otherwise this was a very low-key evening. My partner, Vikki was away in France and arriving back around midnight, so I watched a movie with my son. We went for The Dark Knight. It's the first time I've seen it since I watched it at the movies and it really stood up well to a second viewing. Heath Ledger really was absolutely brilliant.
But I have to ask, where were the trick-or-treaters? We ended up scoffing all the candy ourselves.
Greg: Yeah, sadly it seems people are losing their Halloween spirit. Seems you have to go to the city to find every one dressed up and having a ball, but it's mostly adults. Before I left, there were only a handful of kids dressed up trick-or-treating. I'm thinking everyone should be visited by the ghosts/spirits of Hallow's Eve.
David: It may be localized. I hear that Halloween was massive in central London but as you say, mostly grown-ups going to parties. I read an interesting comment from a journalist talking about how great it is that for one day kids can knock on their neighbor's doors and talk to them even if they never speak to them for the rest of the year. It can make a great sense of community. Maybe next year I'll put a sign out: "Trick or treaters welcome!"
Greg: Well as we mentioned last interview, FVZA and Arkham Reborn came out in time for Halloween. First off congrats on FVZA selling out. I've even gone to three shops which sold out there. Glad I got my copy. And most reviews have been fairly positive. How you feel, Dave?
David: Very pleased. FVZA in particular has had blanket coverage and sold out at distribution level. It was quite a big print run too, so that's good news. I'm even more pleased that the stores seem to be selling through. There's nothing worse than seeing unsold stacks of your books in the remainder bins. I'm told we're going back to a second printing. I guess people's thirst for Undead stories isn't quite sated yet.
Greg: Man, that's exciting news. Arkham Reborn has also been getting some good reviews also. Now, we didn't get to talk too much about this book last time. From the first two issues we know that Jeremiah Arkham has rebuilt the asylum as more of a "suite" for the insane in hopes of really pushing forth to cure them. We have folks like Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, Clayface and also new characters: Hamburger Lady, No-Face, Mirror Man, The Raggedy Man and Alyce Sinner. What can you tell us about them and what exactly inspired their creation?
David: The Hamburger Lady, Mirror Man and No-Face were created for the Battle For The Cowl one-shot. Jeremiah Arkham has always come across as a weak and ineffectual character who is not only hopeless as a psychologist but hasn't been too good at keeping Gotham's psychopaths under lock and key. I wanted to, just this one time, show his success stories while also exploring the themes of self-image and self-esteem. The thing The Three Beauties have in common is an obsession with their own physical appearance. No-Face destroyed his own face in a misguided attempt to get the attention of his mother, who was obsessed with physical beauty. The Hamburger Lady has a face so hideous that she believes anyone who sees her will go insane and Mirror Man is infatuated with himself to the point that he spends most of his time gazing at his own reflection like the Narcissus of Greek legend. It's an extension of my own interest in masks and the facades we all hide behind.
I prefer to create new characters whenever possible, so I did it again with the new series. This time we have The Raggedy Man, a serial child-killer who wears a bizarre costume fashioned from souvenirs taken from his victims - a patchwork of children's clothes, dolls, pacifiers, and toys. The objects we associate with childhood innocence take on a horribly sinister aspect. I was hunting around for a name for a character and stumbled across the poem, 'The Raggedy Man' by James Whitcomb Riley. I believe it's quite well-known in the USA but it was new to me. It purports to be an innocent children's rhyme but it struck me as very sinister. It starts off with lines like: 'O the Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa; An' he's the goodest man ever you saw!' But a couple of verses in there's a farm burning down where the Raggedy was working, then later a line where the Raggedy Man plays the part of a robber, kidnapping children and taking them off to his cave. It just gets creepier and creepier. I used a few of those lines in the story.
The new assistant director of the asylum is Alyce Sinner. She is the survivor of a cult who committed mass suicide after their unsuccessful attempt to pass over to paradise. Alyce changed her name to Sinner to demonstrate her acceptance of her own sinful nature. We'll see how far that goes as the series progresses. The point is that everyone is presenting a mask that obscures their true nature or intentions. That has always been the key theme of the Batman books.
Greg: Are you trying to challenge yourself of creating creepier and creepier characters in your story?
David: Yes, I guess so. I also want to keep an air of mystery about them, so we don't know all there is to know about Mirror Man or The Hamburger Lady or The Raggedy Man. I don't want to dissect them too much or they'll lose that element of mystery.
Greg: Also in the issues, we get inside Sinner's head who's completely against Jeremiah's way of thinking to cure his patients. Later on she's with the new Black Mask plotting against New Arkham. We're going to be seeing Jeremiah slowly driven mad, a much common theme in your work?
David: Heh. What can I say? Jeremiah himself admitted in the BFTC one-shot that he's dancing on the edge of insanity and frankly aren't we all? (Or is that just me?) Seriously I do like to push my characters to the limits to see how they'll react to the pressure. Jeremiah is used to being universally despised and is putting a lot of trust in Alyce. As usual, his judgment is way off.
Greg: Oh yes it is! Well, we won't go too much in Arkham Reborn because I'm a dude who loves a good surprise. So let us move onto your next Big 2 book, this time to sequel of fan-favorite Spider-Man Noir. Can you tell us about this?
David: The new series takes place a few months after the death of the Green Goblin and someone is trying to take over as the new Kingpin of New York - no it's not THE Kingpin. In fact it's a re-working of a villain who featured in one of the earliest Spider-Man comics from the Lee/Ditko era. He turns out to be even more brutal that Norman Osborn and there are some gruesome crime scenes for Carmine Di Giandomenico to work his magic on.
[Besides Sandman] we’re keeping our villains under wraps for the moment. There are three major villains in this series and we also have Felicia returning as well as Robbie Robertson. Robbie is a contemporary of Peter Parker’s so he’s a teenager in this series. He’s working as a journalist for The Negro World and investigating the rise of Nazi organizations in America in the years leading up to the Second World War. In the first series we examined the politics of the Depression, concentrating on the socialist movement. This time we see the other side of the coin with the growth of Nazism among German immigrants with organizations like The Bund and The Friends of New Germany, both of which drew support from traditional racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, who were losing popular support during the Depression.
Greg: In the first series, we were introduced to a much different Parker. He was a lot darker and in one scene didn't hesitate to actually kill one of his enemies until Aunt May tore him a new one for doing so. Will we be seeing more of this darker Spider-Man or is he still learning to follow his upbringings?
David: The whole tone of the new series is, if anything, darker than the first. Spidey can be quite brutal sometimes and there is one scene where he really does behave like a true pulp anti-hero. We got Carmine to draw Spider-Man with a Shadow-style hat to go with the long coat. With the aviator goggles under the hat, he really looks cool and menacing. He busts up an illegal drug and prostitution den and at one point grabs a tommy-gun to make his point. But after Aunt May yelled at him for killing the Vulture he is attempting to refrain from killing anyone. It remains to be seen if he'll stick to that. He does undergo some serious provocation in this series. Some truly horrible things happen to people he loves.
Greg: I've a feeling you're going to advance Felicia and Peter's relationship. Am I right? Will we be meeting another femme fetale?
David: Yes, their relationship has developed in the months since the first series ended. It's problematic though because while Peter is a young and fairly innocent guy with a very firm set of moral principles, while Felicia runs a club selling illegal hooch to a clientele that includes mobsters and bent politicians. She has had a lot of affairs with some dodgy characters including a strongly hinted-at relationship with Norman Osborn. This is not the kind of girl you take home to Mom (or Aunt May).
We'll see another of the traditional girlfriends in this series too, one that Aunt May would be a lot happier to see on Peter's arm but Felicia is the real femme fatale here.
Greg: Now what is it about Spidey Noir that you enjoy writing? It's not a particularly usual David Hine book although there are some touches here and there that has some of your trade-marks.
David: I like the history. The research is something I enjoy and often throws up plot ideas. And I'm a big fan of old black-and-white gangster movies so all those Noir and Pulp elements are appealing. I do have a soft spot for Spider-Man who was my favorite Marvel character when I first discovered American comics. It's really cool to be able to mess with the character, put him into a plain clothes version of his costume, make him darker. When Sandman first appeared he was already one tough bastard but the Comics Code didn't allow him to do much more than punch people really hard. It's fun being able to let him really give vent to his sadistic impulses. This is the kind of hard bitten characters and violence that were the trademarks of the pulp magazines of the 1930's.
Greg: After Spider-Man Noir, can we expect you veering more into Noir/Pulp type books, maybe in your creator-owned stuff?
David: Ryder On the Storm, my next book from Radical is very much this kind of stuff. We're describing it as Chinatown meets HP Lovecraft. It also has elements of retro science-fiction like Bladerunner, but it's essentially Pulp/Noir with horror elements.
Greg: Well, Dave, since you're gonna go ahead and mention Ryder on the Storm, you need to get into more details than that! Tell us more. What is it about?
David: Looking at the Radical web site I see that there's a summary that fills in quite a lot of the plot detail, so I guess I can say more than I thought. It's a supernatural mystery with a Film Noir style, set in an alternative reality. Ryder is a private eye hired by 'femme fatale' Katrina Petruska, who incidentally really is a very fatale femme. She wants Ryder to investigate the bizarre suicide of her lover and that leads him to discover the horrifying truth - Daemons walk among us! The Daemons have been around for a very long time and behind the scenes, a cabal has gradually taken control of the city. Ryder teams up with the last Daemon hunter, a scary old dude called Charles Monk who's the spitting image of Miles Davis in his later years - y'know if Miles Davis had been a murderous gunman and martial arts expert instead of a jazz musician.
We've got slimy things lurking in tunnels under the city in the best Lovecraftian tradition and kinky sex and mutilation. All good clean fun! Jim Steranko has worked on the designs for the book and we've got Wayne Nichols nailed down for the art.
Greg: Who doesn't like kinky sex and mutilation? How'd you come across/come up with this story? Was it presented to you like FVZA or is this all from your head entirely?
David: The process was very different on this book. Radical once again came to me with an idea and a title but whereas FVZA was a fully realized concept and a web site full of background material, Ryder on the Storm was pitched to me as "Chinatown meets HP Lovecraft." Demons in a retro future. I think that was about it. That appealed to me as a fan of both Lovecraft and film noir. Not to mention the fact that 'Chinatown' is one of my all-time favorite movies. This book is work-for-hire again but Radical compensate me very well for the work and I also have a contract that guarantees me first crack at the screenplay if it goes to movie. That's something I'm looking forward to.
Greg: Well, how about we move on now to what is truly creator-owned... The long awaited Bulletproof Coffin which you're co-creating with The Shaky Kane. What's a Bulletproof Coffin?
David: A Bulletproof Coffin is where The Coffin Fly lives. The Coffin Fly is one of the characters published by Golden Nugget Comics in the early 1960's. The company was bought up by rival Big Two Publishing who almost immediately cancelled almost all the books and killed off the characters. The hero of our book, Steve Newman, is a collector of ephemera and a big fan of the Golden Nugget books. He works as a Voids Contractor - those are the guys who clear buildings when the occupant dies without an heir. He comes across a whole stack of comics featuring the Golden Nugget characters, but published after the books were cancelled.
The plot thickens when Steve finds a hidden Coffin Fly costume and the boundaries between fiction and the real world become blurred. Each issue will feature a self-contained 8-page comic featuring one of those characters from the 60's. Ramona the Jungle Girl, Shield of Justice, Red Wraith, The Unforgiving Eye and Coffin Fly. As to the Bulletproof Coffin itself, we did toy with the idea of never showing the Coffin so the title would remain teasingly enigmatic, but Shaky has done some terrific drawings of the coffin and as we went along it became an integral part of the plot.
Greg: How did you hook up with Shaky Kane?
David: I've known Shaky since the late 70's when we were both part of the small community of punks in Exeter, where I was at Art College. Later he lived in the same house as me for a while. I published his first comic strip in 'Joe Public Comics' a self-published comic I put together at college. We followed parallel paths for a while, working in the music press and various British comics but we lost touch for many years. We met up again a couple of years ago at a British comic convention and realized we still shared a lot of similar ideas and obsessions.
Shaky had this concept for a comic called The Bulletproof Coffin. He had loads of great ideas for characters and we started throwing story ideas back and forth. Shaky's stories are from the William Burroughs 'cut-up' school of literature, very fragmented and hallucinatory. I guess my job was to put them into a disciplined structure and whip them into shape without losing the spontaneity. The chemistry between us just seems to work and we each recognize one another's strengths. This is the most truly collaborative work I've done and it only works because we know one another so well.
Greg: When exactly can we expect this to come out?
David: I think we're aiming for June launch with a preview ashcan special at the Bristol Expo in May.
Greg: Seems like you have a hell of a busy plate. When do you find time for all this?
David: I do have quite a lot of work at the moment, although some of the things that are seeing print now were actually written a while ago. The second volume of Poison Candy, for instance, was finished well over a year ago. I think my busiest period was when I was writing Spawn every month and a couple of series for Marvel at the same time, plus my weekly column for Broken Frontier. I had to drop the column because it was taking a day out of my schedule every week. A pity because I enjoyed having a forum to rant about whatever was annoying me.
Ideally I think two books a month is the most anyone should be writing. I know some writers do more but I know from experience that although its perfectly possible to write a book in three days, it's not going to be as good as the book you write and then re-write and then re-write again.
Greg: Now I know my best bud is going to hate me if I don't ask the status of Poison Candy 2. What's going on with that?
David: It's done, it's all done! All bar the lettering, which should be under way as we speak. And it's looking great. Hanzo pulled out all the stops on the art and it's his best work yet. I'm hoping to announce the release date soon. I know it's been a long time coming but it's worth the wait.
Greg: Now I have a feeling you also aren't telling me everything. What else do you have stored in that noggin' of yours? What else is coming out you haven't talked about or that you'd like to reveal to your ol' boy, Greg?
David: Well there are a few other projects in various stages of completion. I've returned to a four-part series for Top Cow. I wrote the first two parts a year ago. It got put on the back burner for a while for various reasons. We had an artist lined up, who was snapped up by Marvel and we were hoping he would find time for the series but it looks unlikely now. That's the perennial problem with new talent, particularly artists. The Big 2 have a lot of books out there and they suck in a lot of the best new people. We're looking at a couple of possible artists and then I'm going to bribe, plead and threaten them to stay away from Marvel and DC until the series is drawn.
What is the series? It's an existing Top Cow property. That's all I'm at liberty to say right now. It should be ready to solicit early next year.
I'm also working on another major series for Radical. This one is based on a concept that was brought to the table by a screenwriter and production company. So again the concept is in place and it's my task to make it work as a comic. I do have a very cool high-concept idea for a Radical book, so when this one is completed I will be pitching that to them.
Then there are two prose books in the work, both coming out from comic-book publishers and illustrated by a leading artist. Both under wraps for the moment. And I'm waiting for the green light on two DC projects.
Last, there's a 22-page story for Richard Starkings' monthly Image comic, The Elephantmen. That's written and I've now started on layouts. I admit that getting back to the drawing board is tough for me. In the past five years, I've only drawn a six-page strip (again for Elephantmen) and nine new covers for Strange Embrace. I think I have a touch of Artist's Block, but once I'm into it, I'm sure it will all come back to me.
Greg: Heh, ‘bout time! Now before we leave, what can you tell aspiring writers or any one trying to break into the biz?
David: The standard response is "Don't give up the day job." The fact is that if you want to do a job that's based on your creativity and talent, it is incredibly competitive, whether you're a writer, artist, film-maker, actor or musician. I read somewhere that in the UK, for those who list 'writer' as their occupation, once you take out the top 10%, like JK Rowling, the average income per year is barely £4,000 - that's somewhere around $6,000 a year! You really do have to be prepared to work hard and live on very little money for a long time (or have a regular job to supplement your income).
In practical terms, if you want to write comics, you have to get a competent artist to interpret your words and get limited editions of your comic printed up, to send to publishers, because they won't read unsolicited scripts or concepts. They just won't.
On the up side, if you really do have an exceptional talent, you'll get work eventually for the simple reason that most aspiring writers are crap. That's unpalatable for a lot of would-be creators but really, 99% of the unpublished work I see, whether script or art, is so unbelievably awful it makes me want to tear my eyes out. But if you do have talent and work at it and make the effort to put it in front of editors, believe me, those editors will use you eventually. As long as you're part of the 1% that ain't shit...