Reginald Hudlin is not just another “Hollywood” dude.
The accomplished writer/producer/director, and lifelong comics fan, is aiming to give the industry a revamped and revitalized Black Panther this winter. Riding shotgun and heavily stacking the odds in his favor, is fan-favorite artist John Romita, JR., offering yet another one of his bold visions for the Marvel Universe. The new age begins on February 2nd, and Hudlin was kind enough to stop by this week, and give Ambi. readers an essential primer for the new series, including shedding further light on his motivations for Black Panther and comics in general, and why only hot chicks can save the industry.
Let’s get started…
Brandon Thomas: What inspired you, and ultimately led you down the path to becoming a writer/producer/director?
Reginald Hudlin: I was lucky enough to have an older brother, Warrington, who was a successful independent director, this in the era before independent was even a term. They were called “underground” filmmakers. Anyway, he showed me you can tell your own stories your own way, and not ask for permission from Hollywood. I always wanted to make films in Hollywood, but that opportunity happened because of the efforts by my brother to build institutions like the Black Filmmaker Foundation, so independent filmmakers can build an audience for their work.
Thomas: What was the first independent film you ever finished, and what did you learn about the entire process of moviemaking from it?
Hudlin: The first feature film I made was House Party, which was financed by New Line Cinema, so I guess you can debate whether that is independent or not. Unless you’re very wealthy, every filmmaker is dependent on somebody. Certainly, we made our own movie. I wrote it, directed it, my brother produced it, and with some scuffling, got final cut.
I learned everything. The difference between not having made a film, and making one is gigantic. But I learn a lot every time I make a film. It takes me years to understand what really went right or wrong with films I’ve made.
Thomas: At the risk of venturing into fanboy territory, my favorite project of yours is without question Boomerang. Can you say anything about that one in particular, and is there any one of your movies that looking back, really came together?
Hudlin: The two that fit that category are House Party and Boomerang. It’s funny, because the production process for the two films was completely different. House Party was based on a short film I did in college, I wrote it myself, we had very little money, but I had rehearsed and storyboarded everything, so we were really organized. The studio pretty much left us alone.
Boomerang was a studio film based on an idea from Eddie Murphy, written by SNL guys he worked with a lot, but I ended up doing a lot of rewriting (with great improvisations from the amazing cast). The set was a lot more chaotic because stars will be stars, ’nuff said. We had plenty of money, but a lot of studio pressure. But both films came out great. I’m proud of both.
Thomas: After spending several years working in Hollywood, what makes this the right time for Reginald Hudlin to be doing comics?
Hudlin: My first films were very successful, in part, because they were very personal films, but Hollywood pays the most for projects that interest you the least. Creative people are basically taxed for wanting to do something different, and I wanted to get back to doing projects that I wanted to do, regardless of how much they paid, which is how I became successful in first place. So, when Axel Alonso offered me the Black Panther, it was the right project at the right time.
Thomas: What’s the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make from a creative or conceptual standpoint in writing for comics, in comparison to scripting movies?
Hudlin: The upside is no budget issues, no casting issues. The tradeoff is no music or sound effects. The big adjustment is thinking in panels, pages and issues, instead of shots, scenes and episodes (I say episode because an ongoing comic is more like a television show than a feature film). But it’s basically the same. I’ve been reading comics since I could read, so it’s not like I’m learning some weird new medium.
Thomas: In regards to the industry itself, it seems that comics are constantly facing an issue of legitimacy in the eyes of the “mainstream,” and though this is gradually improving, the willingness of creators from other media to create comics has become a way to garner some much deserved attention to the entire industry. From someone who’s worked in Hollywood for several years, how do you see comics as being perceived by your own Hollywood peers, and by people on the “outside” who don’t quite realize the relevancy of modern comic books?
Hudlin: Several years ago, I was at dinner with several friends, and we realized that all of us were forced to work in film and television in Hollywood for a lot of money because we couldn’t get a job in comics, for a fraction of the pay. So, I can testify firsthand there are definitely pockets of people in Hollywood who love and appreciate comics. Of course there are people here who don’t like or “get” comics, but the numbers are growing in the other direction. After all, it’s a town full of nerds who figured out how to be cool.
As for the general public’s acceptance of comics, hey, the struggle continues. It all comes down to hot girls. If hot girls gravitate around a scene, then that scene is cool. Anything that repels hot girls is stigmatized. Girls may or may not like sports, but they “get” sports. You see hot girls singing along happily with the most misogynistic rap songs. But those same hot girls, by and large, don’t get comics. The only area of the comics industry that seems to attract women, and attractive women at that, is manga.
For the sake of my daughter, and for the sake of lonely fanboys everywhere, I’d love to figure out how to make comics appeal to more women. Whether we need to make changes in content, or marketing, or both, we need to do it to grow the business. God bless the women who do read comics, but we need more.
Thomas: Definitely a good point, and something we could likely talk about all day, given the opportunity. So, let’s switch gears a little, and dig into your upcoming Black Panther re-launch. Do you remember the first Black Panther comic you ever read?
Hudlin: Sure, his debut in the Fantastic Four. My brother Warrington was a very thorough collector, and he would insist I wash my hands before I touched his books. Harsh, but now I understand.
Thomas: Your first storyline on the book is titled “Who is the Black Panther?” To you, who is the Black Panther?
Thomas: It sounds like the Panther’s home country of Wakanda will almost become its own character, based on some of your previous commentary about it, and its obvious importance to the history of the character. Besides Wakanda, what are some of the other more relevant aspects of the Black Panther?
Hudlin: That’s a very apt observation. Wakanda is indeed a character in itself to me. The mineral resources of Wakanda, namely Vibranium, have been long established, but it’s not what you got, it’s what you do with it. That’s why I spend the whole first issue establishing Wakanda as a scientifically advanced warrior culture, and in subsequent issues you’ll see their spiritual side as well. I want to show the mentality that created such a utopian environment.
Thomas: Is the crux of the initial storyline, T’Challa’s battle to preserve Wakanda, in the face of an outside world that wants to know how and why this “utopia” has come about?
Hudlin: It would be nice if all the outside world wanted from Wakanda was information, but no, they don’t really care about how and why Wakanda is such a lovely place. They just want the stuff. The technology. The petroleum. The Vibranium. The invasion is about greed, revenge and the fear of the unknown.
Thomas: Comics seem to be enjoying a train of thought that examines and comments on the acceptable use of power on a superhuman scale. Black Panther might have the most “authority” we’ve seen from a mainstream character in recent history. Will this be an aspect of your approach as well, that for all of T’Challa’s remarkable qualities, he may also be incredibly dangerous to everybody else?
Hudlin: Sure, this is a theme beyond my initial two arcs, but it’s an inevitable question the series will address. The Panther is a national leader on a continent in crisis. What should his response be? Wakanda has taken a very isolationist approach in the past, to keep them from turning into an imperialist power. But does that mean turning your back on people in need? And does really fixing the problem lead you into a world war?
Thomas: With a league of very passionate Priest fans that followed BP in its previous run, is there any pressure to preserve aspects from it, while still pushing things forward?
Hudlin: I’m a fan of Priest’s run as well, so I will be availing myself of many of the great concepts he brought to the character during his run. You will see echoes of every era of the Panther in this book.
Thomas: What are some of your favorite Black Panther stories from other eras?
Hudlin: Hmmm…off the top of my head, his origin story, the issue of TALES OF SUSPENSE when he’s fighting Cap, that McGregor issue that ended with him being thrown over a waterfall, the Kirby issue with him as the unknown opponent, and the reveal that he was spying on the Avengers. I could name more, but that would require digging in the crates.
Thomas: What kind of personal expectations are you bringing to Black Panther? Do you go into a project with a very clear mission statement of how you want the character left behind when you’re done writing him?
Hudlin: My goal is to write the definitive Panther. I will write the book for as long as people want to read it, but I know that by the end of the second arc, the character will never be seen the same way again.
Thomas: Speaking of that second arc, as excited as I am about the first story, what I’m really looking forward to is the Black Panther/Cage “buddy movie” coming in the next storyline. What’s going to make these guys the perfect, or maybe the “imperfect” duo?
Hudlin: Cage is that guy your wife does not want you hanging with. But he’s your boy, he’s that guy who’s done it all, and can break down whatever you’re going through with a refreshing cynical take on human nature. To Cage, The Black Panther is the one black leader that’s the real deal. He’s not on the take, he’s not a punk, he really gets things done.
They are an odd couple that respects each other.
Thomas: On top of re-defining the Black Panther, you’re also taking on the writing chores for Marvel Knights Spider-Man. Millar’s work on the book cast a greater light and focus on the rogues gallery of Peter Parker, along with presenting a darker, grimier side of Peter’s life as a superhero. Is this a thread you want to continue in your run, and if not, what will become your main focus on the book?
Hudlin: The great thing about it being Marvel Knights Spidey is that you can be edgier than you can in a straight up Marvel book, which fits in with my sensibility just fine.
Millar did a great job with the book. The only way to follow it is to go in a different direction. So, I did what any writer does when given a national treasure, you re-examine the core concepts of the character, and you figure out how to express that in an original way.
The core of the title is Peter Parker, a grown up Charlie Brown with superpowers, so my first arc will be driven by his personal problems, and how they end up affecting his life as Spider-Man.
Thomas: Rumor has it you’re introducing a somewhat familiar mild-mannered reporter into Peter’s life. Is this an effort to make the Daily Bugle more of an integral part of the title?
Hudlin: Well, that’s a byproduct of this particular storyline. I don’t think of Spider-Man as a situation-based book. It’s really all about the character of Peter Parker, and finding relatable situations for him as an everyman. It’s all about pulling away the football, to make a Shultzian analogy. But one of the things I always loved about classic Spidey, I mean, going back to Stan Lee on the title, is a darkly comic sensibility. Things were always so bad for Peter they were funny. That’s the vibe I want to capture in the book.
Thomas: That kind of “darkly comic sensibility” is what I thought really made the movies work on several levels, because they definitely portrayed a sense that Pete’s life is so bad it just has to be funny. What do you think ultimately makes Peter Parker the character that you just HAVE to root for?
Hudlin: Because he’s a completely relatable hero with feet of clay. He’s a good guy who keeps getting screwed over by life, but won’t stop doing the right thing. That’s real world heroism.
Plus, he’s got jokes. Who doesn’t like the guy with jokes?
Thomas: I’d like to thank Reginald Hudlin for dropping by, and encourage everyone to give the new Black Panther series a good long look, when it hits store shelves in a couple weeks. Special thanks also to Marvel’s Axel Alonso, for providing the visual aid.