Comics Anonymous

June 5, 2012, 2:50 pm
Filed under: Interviews | Tags: , , , , ,

David Hine has been a constant fixture in comics since the early 1980s. He is a creator you’d find near impossible to pigeon-hole or predict. He has worked both as an artist and a writer and he began his career inking on Marvel UK titles. He has expanded the mythos of many of the fanboys’ dream characters, created manga for Tokyopop, developed properties for revolutionary publisher Radical and, alongside Brit art legend Shaky Kane, created the recent groundbreaking Image title Bulletproof Coffin. I caught up with Hine at London’s Kapow! convention last month to discuss some of his past work and his newly announced collaboration with Dougie Braithwaite, Storm Dogs.

The announcement of Storm Dogs generated lots of excitement. Hine and Braithwaite have worked together before, most recently for DC, and this combined with Braithwaite’s short absence from comics since finishing his run on Journey Into Mystery meant the expectant panel crowd were positively salivating at the thought of not just another collaboration, but a creator-owned collaboration. Hine’s enthusiasm for Braithwaite and their ongoing work together was infectious.

I’ve known Dougie for a really long time, since he first got into comics really, when he was about 16. Back in the old days I used to do inking for Marvel UK and, way back, our first collaboration was me inking some of his pencils. We did a four issue Brave And The Bold for DC which has almost ended up as a dry run for Storm Dogs because it was science fiction. We actually set it on an alien planet which is exactly like with Storm Dogs, you’ve got that whole way of doing the world building, the environment, the costumes and the animals, so that worked out really well. That was the first time we’d really worked together with me writing and him drawing. We both really enjoyed it.

Hine has managed to stay relatively tight lipped on Storm Dogs plot details, but I did manage to get some information out of him around the type of thing we can expect to see in the book.

There’s quite a complex story. We have a structure that is very long term but we’ve also worked out the smaller arcs that will be covering each of the six issue seasons. We don’t really want to talk too much about the plot now but it’s basically an investigation into mysterious deaths on this planet, which is like a frontier planet. The idea is that although we’re in the future and technology has developed, because the planet  is protected and the indigenous population is protected, they are very limited in the kind of technology that they can use on the planet. They have levels of technology up to ten and they can only use level four technology so they’re having to learn to deal with a hostile environment on a much more human level, rather than by depending on technology. You’ve got this kind of retro feel at the same time, it s a real kind of mash up… I wouldn’t put it into a single genre… it’s convenient to call it science fiction or a thriller or a science fiction noir but at the same there are elements of all kinds of others as well. We originally pitched it as CSI in space. 


Hine’s enthusiasm for Storm Dogs is such that he appears to be quite relieved at being able to begin talking about it. Although he may not want to give too much away at this early stage, it is clear we’re discussing ‘world building’ on epic proportions. I’m excited to find out more and more about the mythos of the project, particularly given the length of time it had been in the works.

It’s (had) a big gestation period… well more than ten years, but originally I wanted to pitch it to 2000AD. In fact I think I actually did pitch it and it may still be lying in the 2000AD archives somewhere, never opened. It evolved over the years. Every time I would go back to it I’d tweak it a little bit.

In today’s industry, where instant gratification can be seen as paramount, it is truly interesting to talk to a creator who has been working on a project for so long and is now seeing it come to the fore. Convention exclusive announcements and seeing Braithwaite’s concept and character art projected on to a massive screen in front of a rapt audience led me to wonder about what made 2012 the right time to introduce Storm Dogs to the world and Image to be the publisher to enable it.

I wanted to do a commercial book but without any constraints, where there are no real controls over how we do it so whatever decisions we’ve come to creatively, me and Dougie decide everything. No one else is going to say ‘No, you can’t do that,’ or ‘You should be doing it this way,’ but at the same time I think it will be a very popular, commercial book and we want to do it to a very high quality. We were both at a point where we’ve done the mainstream books, we’ve done the characters that everyone loves. Dougie’s worked on Punisher, Wolverine, Thor and when he did Justice that was all the DC characters. I’ve written Batman, Spiderman, X-Men and all that stuff and we got to a point where we really wanted to go away and create something, own it and go through a publisher that gave us the freedom to do what we wanted to do. Belonging to the Image family is also good because I think people have come to know that Image is always going to give you an original, interesting comic book.

Bulletproof Coffin and its second volume, the ongoing Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred, is a collaborative effort with Shaky Kane and also Hine’s most recent creator-owned work. It’s a striking comic book and a masterfully-put-together meta-fictional analysis of pop culture and its victims. It is uncommon to find two creators so literally on the same page that they would not only share the desire to tell this story, but actually be able to pull it off.

The suff I did with Shaky, I love doing that as well. It tends to be a little bit more of a niche market but, then again, [Shaky is] somebody that I’ve known for a very long time and again we were just sitting down saying ‘Why don’t we do the comic that we’ve always wanted to do, no matter how mad it is?’. I thought it would be a hard sell because, well Bulletproof Coffin … It was very hard to pigeonhole, hard to describe … I am at a total loss to describe it. We were going to take it to Eric Stephenson, and I said to Shaky, ‘We can’t just go and pitch, we have to go with the first issue complete’. So I had the first issue and Eric said, ‘Wow, what is it?’ and I said, ‘Well I’m doing it with this guy called Shaky Kane’ and he said, ‘Sold!’. I had no idea that Eric, I mean I know he’s a big Anglophile into all kinds of British music and culture, but he was a huge, huge Shaky Kane fan from back in the late 80s and 90s when he was doing Deadline – it was the easiest sell I’ve ever had.

Shaky had some many concepts for characters, he had the name Bulletproof Coffin and he had Coffin Fly and the Shield of Justice – all these characters but no story. So he sent me a load of notes about these things and I thought ‘Yeah, we can really do something with this’, so I started building this storyline and then I think the first thing I thought about was a guy who’s job it is to clear out people’s houses when they die, people who have no relatives. The voids contractor is an actual job, it’s someone who goes into someone’s home and if there is no one to inherit then all the contents have to be destroyed. But this guy is like, whenever he sees pop culture stuff, he just nicks them basically and he comes across this pile of old comics that shouldn’t exist created by our alter egos, which we had a lot of fun creating. Our alter egos were in a parallel universe where we were the biggest names in comics, we can be anything we want! Then it gets really complex, of course: you’ve got the end of the world, the zombies … I was saying yesterday that it looks kind of chaotic because we’re throwing everything in there but it was actually very carefully structured right from the start, so everything does all tie up and make sense in that first series.

The first series was surprising to people, they didn’t know what was going to come so they were surprised but a lot of people liked it and I thought well, if we just give the the same again you’re going to lose that element of surprise. So we sat down and said we’re going to do this completely different. Each issue is different. After this I don’t know where we’re going to go. We’re going to have to cut up comics. It’s hard to know how far you can push things. We thought we’d gone over the line but people went along with it and seemed to enjoy it. 

‘Coffin’ is arguably not one of the most commercial comic books of recent years. Whilst receiving many excellent reviews, being collected as a trade paperback and getting a second volume, walking the line between creator freedom and a publisher marketing a successful title is always going to be challenging.

There are all kinds of really uncommercial things that you can do. That actually fascinates me. People were telling us that the covers to Bulletproof Coffin weren’t commercial enough. Inside (the book) do whatever you want but you’ve got to sell the thing and we just decided not to do that, apart from issue #3 which was when they said you’ve got to have a half naked woman, a big gun and dinosaurs. We had the image of Ramona in her ripped up bikini, pointing a gun and got a comic book with a dinosaur on it and sales didn’t go up at all. So I think we proved something there, although I’m not sure what.

Hine then went on to discuss a phenomena from the sixties of which I was hitherto unaware in which comics publishers, notably DC, found that if they included a gorilla or ape on the cover of a comic it would sell better. Hine and Kane tried this with issue five of Bulletproof Coffin but received no noticeable spike in sales. Perhaps in part due to this type of gorilla marketing fallen out of favour with the comics buying public.

Hine and Kane have another project in the works with Image.

We’ve got a one shot planned for later this year which is the George Adamski thing. It’s going to be a sort of parallel universe biography that this guy George has done. Our age of the flying saucer comes from George Adamski photographs of flying saucers in the 1940s and that was the classic. He was taken to other planets and these were the spacecraft in which he flew. This is the true story, he met the the Pope and everything, its all absolutely true. The Pope gave him this little medallion, then denied it. That’s the thing, no one would ever believe it. We’ll be telling the true story of George Adamski.

In addition, Hine is working with Shaky to produce Cowboys and Insects for David Lloyd’s new web comic as well as continuing to write The Darkness.

I’m really enjoying writing [The Darkness]. I get so much freedom that it almost feels like I own it. I’m hoping I’ll stay there for years.

Following a sterling collaboration with British illustrator Mark Stafford on a short story adaptation for Self Made Hero’s first Lovecraft Anthology the two are working together again for the publisher, on another much looked forward to adaptation.

The Man Who Laughs for Self Made Hero will be out next year, that’s with Mark Stafford. Mark is a genius. If there’s anyone who is undervalued in British comics it’s Mark Stafford. I think this is the book that will really break through for him. It’s not an obvious thing for him to be doing. It’s an adaptation of a Victor Hugo novel, which most people will know through the character’s interpretation by the actor Conrad Veidt in a silent movie in the 1920s. The movie poster was the original inspiration for the Joker and that’s all people know about The Man Who Laughs but there’s actually a really, really good story in there as well. Quite a serious drama. Lots of horrific elements to it. [ Mark] does great caricatures, he has great humour. Take his style and put it on serious horror. [His work on the Lovecraft collaboration) was how I realised he’d be perfect for The Man Who Laughs. I’m really looking forward to seeing that come back. Every page I see of that just blows me away. 

2012 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Hine and fans of his work. Storm Dogs is due out in October.

Linsay – @softlyspokenlas

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