With titles like Radical’s FVZA: Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency, DC’s Arkham Reborn, and Marvel’s Spider-man Noir: Eyes Without a Face, the upcoming follow-up to the hit Spider-man Noir, David Hine is a very busy man. But David took the time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about all his latest projects.
In this 2 Part Interview Series, we talk to David about how he got in the business, how he approaches his projects, and we get an intimate look into his newest titles.
Alex Rodrik, Features and Interviews Editor
Alex Rodrik: How did you get involved with comics?
David Hine: I was a fanatical reader when I was a kid. I read everything I could lay my hands on. One or two books a week, magazines and of course comics. I always associate comics with my maternal grandmother. Comics in the UK were weekly collections of short one or two page strips. Humour comics like The Dandy and The Beano, or adventure titles of which The Eagle was the best known. I had two brothers and a sister and we each had a weekly comic. My Gran would bring them to our house every Monday. That was a real treat, to get home from school and have the comics waiting for us. We’d read our own then swap them around.
When we went to visit her, my Gran would treat us to extra comics and I’d always go for these big 68-page collections reprinting old horror and fantasy comic strips from the 50’s. I got to know Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko from their monster and science fiction strips long before I discovered the Marvel superheroes. I guess I was ten when I stumbled on the original American imports of Marvel and DC comics and I was hooked from day one. By fourteen all I wanted to do was write and draw comics. Primarily to draw because back then it was the artists that got all the attention.
So I went to art-college, self-published a few comics while I was there. Primal Scream, Joe Public Comics and a punk magazine called Spit in the Sky. I’d do one issue and move on. Attention span of a gnat. After college I moved to London and lived in a squat while I was looking for work as an illustrator. It was tough because the squat didn’t have a phone so I would call art editors from the callbox at the end of the road, bugging them for work. My earliest commissions were for music papers, The New Musical Express, Sounds and Record Mirror. My first comic book work for the underground comic, Knockabout, then inking for Dez Skinn’s Warrior, inking for Marvel UK, then finally drawing for 2000AD, Crisis, Deadline, most of the British comics of that period.
That period culminated with writing and drawing Strange Embrace for Tundra. When the comics industry went into a downturn in the 90’s I concentrated on commercial illustration for almost ten years. It was only when Strange Embrace was reprinted by Richard Starkings at Active Images, that I came back to comics, this time as a writer. Joe Quesada saw Strange Embrace and offered me work at Marvel and it all took off from there.
AR: Considering that you’re an artist as well, how involved are you in the art that goes into your scripts? Do you find yourself being very specific in your panel descriptions or do you feel allowing the artist freer range provides for a better book?
DH: It’s always difficult to know how much instruction to put into the scripts. I do have a very strong idea of how the story would be told visually and I do thumbnails for myself, where I try different camera-angles and pacing until I’m happy with the way the pages are working. I then describe those thumbnails in the script. So the artist will always get my suggestions of how to frame each panel, how to pace the story. Sometimes the artist will stick very closely to what I’ve described; sometimes they’ll come up with something different. There are artists who will add a panel to give more resonance to a scene. If you break a piece of dialogue across two panels, that can give more room to interpret the character’s intentions. Most of the changes are improvements. Occasionally I’ve had artists deviate too far from the script to the extent that the meaning is altered. Usually I’ll go along with changes unless they obscure the clarity of the storytelling.
AR: What would you consider to be the most challenging project you’ve been a part of?
DH: Each book has different challenges. Working on a big crossover event means having to adapt and compromise to the other books involved in the crossover and other writers may have a very different idea of what the intentions of the global story should be. That can be frustrating because decisions are often made by editors that are to the detriment of your own story. A book like Daredevil Redemption was very challenging from the point of view of research. I knew very little about the American legal system and I wanted to get the trial scenes as authentic as possible. I read entire transcripts of murder trials, researched the death penalty and more specifically I read everything I could get my hands on about the “West Memphis Three” because that was the inspiration for the story. I think I spent at least a month purely on research. So that book was the hardest work but it was also the most rewarding.
FVZA [Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency] has been challenging in other ways. To adapt someone else’s ideas and maintain the integrity of the original, which is of course, a website, while also creating a new story that works equally as a comic book series and potentially as a blockbuster movie — that was certainly a big challenge.
AR: Now that you mentioned FVZA, we’ll start with the obvious. What’s story does FVZA tell?
DH: We’re starting from the premise that vampires and zombies have been around for centuries, the result of twin viruses that were imported to North America along with the early wave of settlers. Originally they were dealt with by bounty hunters and local militias but as the diseases became more widespread a national armed response force was created, trained in the specialized techniques needed to battle the Undead. That force ultimately developed into the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency. With the development of vaccines the Undead menace was successfully contained and eventually vampires and zombies were officially declared extinct. The FVZA was shut down in the 1970’s.
Our story takes up when a new strain of the zombie virus is released in the USA and it turns out that vampires were always around, hiding in the shadows. Now a fanatical group of vampires is trying to establish a power base in America, using the zombie virus as a biological weapon. Former FVZA director Hugo Pecos has always known the Undead would make a comeback and has obsessively trained his own orphaned grandchildren to be the perfect soldiers when the FVZA is reformed.
AR: What inspired the idea for FVZA? Did the website really come before the comic?
DH: Absolutely. It has been around for years and has developed into a massive database. There’s a very complex background story that has been developed there and it’s incredibly useful for me to have the site as a source of information.
AR: To what extent, if any, are you involved with the content of the FVZA website and videos?
DH: I have no direct involvement at all with the website. Richard Dargan is the writer who created it and it’s still running independently of the comic book. I have met Richard though and I know he’s very pleased with the way the comic has turned out. I occasionally communicate with Hugo Pecos on MySpace. Hugo keeps in touch with a lot of volunteer vampire and zombie hunters around the world who keep him up to date on sightings of the Undead.
AR: Tell us a bit about Landra and Vidal.
DH: Landra and Vidal are Hugo’s grandchildren. They lost their parents when Landra was seven years old. We’ll learn more about that in later issues of FVZA. Hugo took the children in and dedicated years of his life to educating them and training them to continue the work of the FVZA. He appeared to be almost delusional in his obsession with the Undead. It meant that Vidal and Landra never had a normal childhood. That had a more serious effect on Vidal who felt that he had lost his childhood. Landra took more naturally to the training and is accomplished in several martial arts disciplines. That makes her a natural warrior and leader in the reformed FVZA but her isolated childhood takes its toll on her when it comes to her relationships with other people. In many ways she has become as obsessive as her grandfather.
AR: As is typical of Radical, the artwork of this book is beautiful! How was it working with Roy Martinez and the rest of the art team?
DH: I love Roy’s art. I have worked with him before on the Son of M series for Marvel where he did a fantastic job on the Inhumans. He made them more regal and elegant than they have ever been depicted before — a true royal family. When I was looking at his online portfolio I saw that he was focusing on horror, particularly in his personal work so I pushed to get him on this book. He has a real talent for storytelling and a deep love of drawing zombies. Once we put him together with Kinsun Loh and his digital art studio the sparks really flew. The combination of Roy’s evocative pencils and Kinsun’s textured mood-enhancing digital paints has proven to be a unique and very popular style. Digital art can often be all in the surface but on FVZA we have an artist who understands human interactions as well as an ability to do the spectacular action scenes. Kinsun and his assistant Jerry Choo are unusual in that they are not only expert with the digital software but they are also accomplished artists in their own right, so when they render a figure or clothing, it’s not just the surface they’re painting. They understand what makes a human figure work all the way down to the muscles and bones.
AR: You said to me once that when you sat down to write Spider-man Noir, you didn’t sit down with the intent of writing into a genre, but rather you wrote a story in the way you felt you would have written one at the peak of said genre. What was your approach to crafting a story like FVZA?
DH: What I meant by that is that I wasn’t interested in writing pastiche. When people write Noir they are often just throwing out the standard clichés derived from the more popular B-movies and pulp novels of the 30’s through the 50’s. What I tried to do was imagine myself as a writer in 1933, given the brief of creating this character, The Spider-Man. What would I have come up with, given that I would have been reading The Shadow and writers like Raymond Chandler and given the politics of the time?
With FVZA I tried not to worry too much about all the other vampire and zombie books, movies, comics and TV shows. I was aware that there was the danger of a glut of these kinds of books. I knew that the website had created an original take on the mythology and using that as a springboard, I just set out to tell the vampire story I would like to read. I wanted to get inside the heads of the newly turned vampires and even the zombies, to strip the vampires of their romanticized veneer and treat them realistically.
AR: How does FVZA differ from the zombie and vampire comics of the past?
DH: I think we’ve got a unique dynamic going on with the interactions between humans, vampires, zombies and Vassals. The vampires are exploiting the zombies as cannon fodder in their war on humans and the Vassals are the human servants of the vampires. You’ll see in part 2 how that symbiosis works. This is all made possible by that extensive history that was established on the website. There’s a real sense of a solid history laid down that we can draw on. Humanity has learned to live with the Undead over centuries. They are more than the legend we’re familiar with in our own reality. In the world of FVZA they are a reality that every child has learned about in their history lessons. Probably in their biology lessons too. That takes away some of the mystical elements but it makes them more frightening because they are a reality, not the stuff of legend and fairytale.
DH: I think I put aspects of myself into all my characters but I think I would probably identify most closely with Jules, a human who is infected with vampirism in Part 1. I was a bit of a Goth in my youth and I always identified with the tragic loser.
AR: Issue #1 leaves the reader craving more. Without giving it away, what monstrosities can we look forward to in the coming issues?
DH: There are lots of cool plot twists coming that I hope will keep everyone guessing. We are also introduced to some really ancient vampires in the shape of Nephilis and Chaucer who have both been around for centuries. Time takes its toll on the body and mind of a vampire and these two are truly twisted both physically and mentally.
One of my favorite scenes was inspired by the fact that zombies retain certain memories and instincts and one of the last reflexes they hold onto is the association of music with dance, so we have this really horrific scene where a group of captured zombies are shuffling around trying to dance to “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Huston. Probably inspired by my own sad attempts to shake my stuff on the dance floor.
Check out Part 2 of
our Interview Series with writer David Hine, coming this Wednesday, November 11th.