With Second Sight, writer David Hine and artist Alberto Ponticelli take the serial killer crime procedural and give it … hair, a brisk cocktail of horror, obsessions and pure evil that proves sometimes the best and only cure is more. Second Sight gazes into the abyss that is Ray Pilgrim, a one-time 1990’s celebrity of sorts, who has the ability to see through the eyes of London’s finest perverts, murderers and psychopaths … chief among them, the Reaper. But absolute Evil corrupts absolutely and before long Pilgrim’s power becomes his bane. Now, Pilgrim’s estranged daughter, Toni, is following in dad’s footsteps, sort of. She’s about to speak truth to power with an exposé outing a long-standing secret ring of pedophiles and abusers that reaches into the most powerful circles of British society.
Hine and Ponticelli are a matched set, creators willing to take risks, to ‘go there,’ in order to do their job as storytellers as well as ask those impolite and dirty questions about our society and ourselves. Not to mention, in the Reaper they’ve created a genuinely iconic character to rival any fictional evil.
Keith Silva for Comics Bulletin: David, how did you develop (ahem) Second Sight?
David Hine: Second Sight has been gestating in various forms for over 20 years. This isn’t the first psychic detective story in comics. It’s virtually a sub-genre of crime fiction now but it’s still a valid way of showing a character trying to get inside another person’s head and figuring out what makes them tick, which is what I have to do as a writer every day. The story is set in two time periods, twenty years apart: the 1990s and the present day. When I started out on this concept the first time period was the 1970s! An earlier version of the idea was originally written for what was going to be a creator-owned series for Marvel UK, but that fell through. All that remains is a single 8-page strip published under the Frontier imprint at Marvel UK under the name Evil Eye. After Frontier folded there was a period of almost ten years when I totally gave up on my career in comics and worked as a commercial illustrator. I was still writing though, and I completed two full drafts of a novel called Second Skin, developing the same theme of a man who inadvertently uses psychotropic drugs to boost his innate psychic abilities and promptly finds himself sucked into the minds of serial killers.
Those manuscripts, along with sketches and notes have sat on a shelf in my study for many years and when Mike Marts asked me to pitch ideas for his new comic book imprint, Aftershock, I dusted them off, worked up an outline and sent it off along with a couple of other concepts. Second Sight was the one that Mike went for and it has been incredibly gratifying to finally seen the characters come to life through Alberto’s art. All of them seem like old friends that I have lived with and know intimately.
CB: Alberto, what attracted you David’s script?
Alberto Ponticelli: The world David is setting is really interesting, since I grew up listening to a lot of punk music and living a lot inside the world of squatters etc. Plus, I feel pretty close to the character in his current life, I like his “antihero” side, I think it’s easy to empathize with him. He is not perfect at all, he is like a survivor (I think I am the same age of the character, so I can understand him).
The thriller aspect looks really politically incorrect. I love comics when they try to push over the stories. I think comics should take more risks, in order to give more interesting stories to the readers. David is great at this. And this gives me the opportunity to use my style, which is usually dirty and “ugly,” so I hope it could fit the story.
Congratulations to both of you on creating the ‘one to beat’ for most disturbing image of 2016. So … what’s up with … what would you call that … outfit … costume?
Hine: The costume is indeed the symbolic heart of the story. The costume is worn by the Reaper, the sickest serial killer in the annals of (fictional) British crime. It also becomes a metaphor for evil. It’s the ‘second skin’ of the title I gave to the unpublished novel. When Ray enters the mind of a killer there’s an obvious blurring of boundaries between the characters. He is doing more than just observing acts of evil, he’s participating. I’m also indicating that I as writer, and you as reader, are becoming complicit in those acts. The costume itself is based on more extreme fetish clothing but I also sent Alberto pictures of African masks and fetishes, which he incorporated into the design. So there are elements of sexual fetish and the fetish as a supernatural or magical object.
Ponticelli: As soon as I read the script for the first issue I was so enthusiastic! All the characters (and that outfit, but I can’t say more I presume!) are so interesting because they are realistic and surrealistic at the same time. It’s so interesting to put creepy details to put the reader in a disturbing mode. I think this is the best way to immediately give the sensation that something horrible is going to happen.
CB: As storytellers, how does this early reveal (on page two!) impact the narrative as opposed to saving it until the end?
Hine: I wanted to open with a powerful image that sets the scene and lets our readers know exactly what they are in for. Without giving too much away in advance, there is also a circularity to the first issue, and the revisiting of the costume later in the story puts it into a very different context that makes its meaning more ambiguous. Second Sight is a detective story but it’s a lot more than a ‘whodunnit’. The contemporary storyline follows an investigation into child abuse that reflects a number of cases that are being pursued in the UK right now, where people in positions of authority have sexually abused and exploited young vulnerable victims. In parallel, Ray Pilgrim is revisiting his past cases from the 1990s and in particular his involvement with The Reaper. We become aware that Ray was dangerously corrupted by his contact with evil.
Ponticelli: I think the scariest thing is always one you can’t see completely (the truck driver in DUEL, just to better understand). But in this case I know David is saving a lot of revelations for the rest of the story, and the costume is only the surface, the introduction to a terrible abyss that we, as readers, are going to witness.
CB: Both of you are known for your work in weird horror especially monsters (David: Strange Embrace, Crossed and The Darkness; Alberto: Frankenstein Agents of S.H.A.D.E, Godzilla, Dial H). How does Second Sight expresses this idea of horror and the ‘monstrous’?
Hine: It’s a case of “He who fights with monsters” and gazing into the abyss. All that Nietzschean stuff… As you rightly say, this intimate contact with evil characters is something I’ve explored in Strange Embrace, Crossed and The Darkness, and to an extent in Spawn as well. I think most of us are fascinated by and perhaps even drawn to evil. I have never been interested in the idea of heroes and villains as simplistic stereotypes. The archetype of the anti-hero is far more interesting but I want to push the character of Ray Pilgrim way beyond the ‘flawed hero’ and explore a character who has been truly corrupted, yet is not beyond redemption.
Ponticelli: I am attracted by the grotesque side of the humanity. I am fascinated by freaks, or people who live outside the “good world.” I love to find the “beauty” inside the ugliness (hopefully that makes sense?). Monsters are always something I can create, invent, and modify in order to empathize the grotesque aspect of their life. It’s pure fun, in general. But the monster here is something different. He is SCARY, because it has to do with real world. It’s a challenge for me, since it has to do with something that could really happen, so as an artist, I must give the right disturbing mood, in order to place the reader in a situation which is … dangerous?
CB: David, serial killer procedurals have been around for over a century. What’s fascinating to you about this twisted limb of crime fiction?
Hine: The serial killer represents the most extreme of anti-social behavior. This is someone who sets out to make a career of murder, with no real motivation beyond self-gratification. The sociopath is the most terrifying and fascinating kind of criminal. How do you empathize with someone for whom empathy doesn’t exist? Motiveless murder is the subject of many of what I consider the finest works of fiction: Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment, Albert Camus’s The Outsider and Georges Simenon’s The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By, among others. I’ve often asked myself why I’m so drawn by the subject. Clearly it’s a common fascination and a great British tradition. I think the answer is that by looking at why a human being would commit acts of pure evil, we come to understand why we have a natural inclination to overcome that instinct and choose instead to live as social animals who co-operate, develop relationships and learn to co-exist with people whose personalities and ideologies we loathe. At this point in history that co-existence is becoming more fragile by the day and in many parts of the world seems to have broken down completely. And it tends to happen where free expression, art and literature are censored or curtailed.
I hope those comments aren’t making the book sound too weighty. This is the subtext we’re talking about here. I hope the book is also entertaining and even humorous, though the humor is very, very dark.
CB: Along with horror and crime, Second Sight is also a family drama. Why include this bit of egg to an already rich pudding?
Hine: The personal drama is absolutely vital to the story. While the plot is about solving crimes and tracking serial killers, the real story is very much about Ray reconnecting with his estranged daughter, Toni, and with all the people he has betrayed or damaged over the years. He’s a complex character and I want our readers to have their suspicions about him. He shouldn’t be too easy to empathize with. The more sympathetic character is Toni herself as she starts to follow in her father’s footsteps. Violence and conflict surround Ray like a destructive force field and the dramatic conflict arises from the effect that has on everyone who gets too close to him. So, yeah…family drama with perverts, murderers and psychopaths.
CB: Ray’s bookshop seems to specialize in fringe genres (Victorian Erotica, Occult and Esoteric and Vintage Crime). How does this detail inform Ray Pilgrim and David Hine?
Hine: The central character of The Bulletproof Coffin was an obsessive collector of comics and Ray plays a similar role as my alter ego here. I’m a fanatical book collector. I love bookshops, particularly second-hand bookshops. You’ll notice that the shop is called ‘Bibliomaniac’. That’s collecting as a mania not just a hobby. The exterior of the shop bears a striking resemblance to one of my favourite bookshops in Brighton. I’ve always had this vague fantasy of running a bookshop of my own where I would only sell really excellent books. I would never ever sell a book that I disapproved of, so no Fifty Shades and definitely no Jeffrey Archer! It will never happen of course, because I would stock amazing books and then be unable to part with them. To actually run a secondhand bookshop you have to be able to let go.
CB: Second Sight is being published by a new independent publisher, AfterShock Comics. What does this new player at the table say about the state of creator-owned comics?
Hine: Having creative control is very important for me. I’ve worked on many, many characters that I don’t own and I’ve been lucky with titles like Spawn, The Darkness and even The Spirit in that I’ve been allowed a relatively free hand. There were several books for Marvel that I also felt very comfortable with. District X, Daredevil: Redemption and Spider-Man Noir were all titles where I could explore themes that interested me without feeling a heavy editorial hand. But there have also been times when I did feel restricted, particularly when I was working on ‘bigger’ books that involved cross-overs and events, where the story often felt secondary to the perception of characters as corporate properties. Story is absolutely vital to me and I felt increasingly frustrated when I had to compromise my work to fit those limitations. I guess there’s also an awareness of a fan base who have their expectations of the characters that have to be respected. I don’t regret the work I did for Marvel and DC. The exposure you get from working for the Big 2 is what allows you to build your own fan base for independent work. It’s a lot tougher to build a readership from scratch. The combined sales of my monthly books for Marvel ran into the millions and that helped to get attention for the more personal projects like The Bulletproof Coffin and Storm Dogs.
One of the problems with owning a property is the sheer amount of donkey-work involved – handling the publicity, the editorial work of physically putting a book together. Aftershock is proving a perfect balance for me, because I have a great editor in Michael Marts, with Joe Pruett also reading scripts and Lisa Wu handling publicity. This is a great team of people who are dedicated to a relatively small number of books. There’s a feeling of being part of that team and also of having creative control and input into every aspect of the book’s production.
In more general terms, I’m amazed by how resilient and diverse the independent comic book market has become. It’s still very tough to actually make a living but overall the art form has never been healthier. I think the only thing we’re missing right now is one single mind-blowingly original voice in comics. I’m waiting for the new generation’s Jack Kirby, Robert Crumb, Jim Steranko, Hernandez Brothers, Chris Ware…
CB: Second Sight #1 fulfills the reader’s deepest desire: “… and then what?” So what future debaucheries in the life of Ray Pilgrim can readers expect?
Hine: Somebody dies! Actually a few people die, but there’s one death that I feel particularly bad about. We will also experience some weird head trips when Al The Chemist comes back on the scene. There’s a visit to the red light district of Soho in the 1990s as Ray goes looking for snuff movies and a truly disturbing act of violence in issue 4 that is on my schedule to write in the next couple of weeks. I’m getting a little twitchy about that scene. I’m not one for writing within the constraints of ‘good taste’ (anyone mention Crossed?) but I do have my boundaries and it will be tough to manage the scene with the right emotional nuances. Also there will be more Reaper, lots more Reaper…
Second Sight, published by AfterShock Comics, debuts February 10, 2016 (DEC150957). So get yourself a copy (or six), you (sick) maniacs.