Writer David Hine (“The Darkness”) is turning out a bizarre and twisted horror tale in the new story-arc that began in Crossed: Badlands #14. Hine tells the tale of a hedonistic writers retreat, secluded from the rest of the world, as the Crossed epidemic spreads further into the breaches of humanity. The story is filled with enough plot twists and brutal gore to delight even the sickest of horror hounds.
Hine sat down with Bloody-Disgusting to discuss his brutal take on “Crossed”, his upcoming “Night of the Living Dead” series from Avatar, his creator-owned book from Image “The Bulletproof Coffin”, and how he manages to find inspiration in dark places.
BD: Tell us how you got involved with the Crossed franchise?
Hine: Avatar publisher, William Christensen was looking for writers to feed the appetite of the semi-monthly Crossed schedule. I think Rich Johnston put my name forward. This was over a year ago, when I had just pretty much burned whatever was left of my bridges with Marvel and DC. I was looking for indie projects and Rich knew my preference was for horror titles, so it seemed like a good match. Meanwhile my old buddy Rob Steen, who coloured Strange Embrace for the Image version of the book, had given a copy to Garth Ennis and on the strength of that he approved me for Crossed. I met William at the New York Comic Con and we talked about my ideas for the series and also for the new ongoing Night Of The Living Dead book he had planned.
BD:Were you previously familiar with the book had you read it prior?
Hine: I’m not sure how much of the series I had read at the time. Certainly the original Garth Ennis series, and I think I may have read Lapham’s “Family Values” by this time. William gave me a big stack of trades to catch up on the rest. That was one heavy reading session!
BD: Talk a bit about the inspiration for your Crossed arc “The Golden Road”…
Hine: The key to Crossed is that there is nothing in the book, no matter how depraved, repulsive or twisted, that hasn’t been done by one human being to another, without the excuse of contracting the Crossed disease. The point is that without the taboos and codes of behavior that society has adopted over the ages, without the sense of morality that human philosophy has developed, this is what mankind would be reduced to – a feeding, fucking machine, seeking pleasure, often through domination and inflicting pain and suffering. It’s humanity reduced to instant self-gratification without boundaries. In “The Golden Road” I set up two parallel communities – one is a town where the Crossed epidemic has arrived, and the other is a small group of students who have joined a creative writing retreat run by a transgressive writer, whose work sets out to challenge our concepts of acceptable behavior. He deliberately encourages the students to explore their primal desires, by allowing them to act out the roles he creates for them. The roles are based on written self-assessments that the students have submitted. The writer, Gideon Welles, gives them permission to behave as badly as they need within the confines of his estate.
There was a real-world model for this. When I was a student, I went on a similar retreat in an isolated farmhouse for a week, where we explored the theme “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” The writers running the course came up with the idea that we all, students and writers included, wrote a character description, then we randomly swapped characters and acted them out. There was a secret agent, a murderer, all kinds of fairly extreme characters. I was seriously mentally and physically disabled, which meant I could barely speak and had trouble feeding myself. That was a challenging role to act out as a very shy and insecure teenager. I’ve written a lot of that experience into “The Golden Road”, exaggerated a little of course. What I wanted to show was that even sane, rational, decent human beings can easily be reduced to a state of almost subhuman behavior, if they can be persuaded that there are no consequences. That fairly rapid disintegration of civilized interaction parallels the mayhem that is going on with the Crossed in the nearby town.
BD: For the most part every other Crossed arc has been about survival and the drastic measures that are necessary in order to survive. The thing I found interesting about your arc was that the Crossed epidemic almost took a backseat to the story of author Gideon Welles’ hosting a writers retreat at his estate. The Crossed don’t really show up until the third issue…
Hine: The first couple of issues keep the two storylines separate. Welles and the students are completely cut off from any communication with the outside world, so they have no idea what is going on. In Part 3, the two storylines begin to converge. It’s a little different to the previous Crossed stories, but there are the obligatory scenes of mayhem in those early issues too. There’s bestiality and mass rape and murder in the first issue, with Crossed sewing guys’ heads on women’s bodies and vice versa. That actually seems less shocking than the mental trauma and humiliation that Welles forces the student Clooney to endure. It’s the premeditated intent that makes his actions appear more cruel than the instinctive behavior of the Crossed.
BD: The story is building to an epic showdown between Gideon Welles and Clooney. What can you tell us about the battle between them and where it’s headed?
Hine: I prefer not to say too much about it. Let’s just say that Clooney is pushed a little too far and comes up with highly imaginative ways achieve payback.
BD: You began this arc working with artist Georges Duarte and then he was replaced by Eduardo Vienna. What happened?
Hine: Georges was great as long as he was on the book. His previous work seemed to be fantasy based – elves and stuff, very cute and drawn with a clean line, and that actually worked very well on this kind of material. It plays against expectations, which I think Jacen Burrows also does by drawing with almost minimalist clarity and precision. Unfortunately Georges went AWOL after the first issue. No idea why. He just disappeared off the face of the earth. I hope the experience of drawing the Crossed wasn’t too much for him.
BD: Crossed typically pushes the boundaries of things that are considered morally reprehensible or even obscene. Is it harder to find inspiration when dealing with such extreme subject matter?
Hine: It’s not hard to come up with the material, but it can be tough to actually put it onto paper, without some form of self-censorship coming into play. There’s a reason why this material is so repulsive and the instinct is to hold back, but paradoxically the more extreme the representations of violence and depravity are, the more moralistic the work becomes. Normally my stories are about pushing back the boundaries, questioning morality and rules of behavior. Crossed forces you to re-examine your own values, to question where you are going to draw a line.
BD: Is there a line or subject that you wouldn’t tackle as a writer?
Hine: Thematically, no, but there are some things I can’t bring myself to put on the page, and actually a couple of covers that have really repelled me, to the extent where I wouldn’t buy those particular editions. And I guess that‘s the point. It’s about finding your limits. Crossed is an interesting experiment and I think, an important book, though I quite understand those people who find it objectionable.
BD: You are also writing a Night of the Living Dead: Aftermath series for Avatar. What can you tell us about that book and getting the opportunity to play in George A. Romero‘s zombie sandbox?
Hine: I’ve been very lucky in the books I’ve had the chance to write over the past decade. I’ve written some of my childhood heroes, like Spider-Man, Batman and Green Lantern, I got to write the Spirit, which was my favorite character-based strip of all time. I’ve written iconic indie characters like the Darkness and Spawn. Now here I am on a comic based on one of the most startling and innovative movies I ever saw. I have to underline here, that I saw the original Night Of The Living Dead on its first UK release, when we really had never seen this kind of horror movie. Previously I guess the most extreme thing I had seen was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I saw Dead as a support film, back in the day when the price of a cinema ticket got you two feature-length movies. It was a complete surprise to me. It shook me up and delighted me in equal measure. I know that by today’s standards it’s quite tame. My son’s reaction was ‘Meh’. Couldn’t understand what I was raving about. But in the context of the time, this was bloody, gory and disturbing material. A kid eats her father for Christ’s sake! Who could have known that one day there would be “Saw” and “The Human Centipede”?
Now I have the chance to build on the original concept with stories of my own. That first movie took place over a 24-hour period. The ongoing “Aftermath” series will eventually cover years. Our story opens ten years after the original outbreak, in 1978 in Los Angeles at a punk concert where the band and fans wear make-up to emulate the appearance of zombies. Co-incidentally a new zombie outbreak is about to be unleashed on the West Coast. We’ll be following one of the survivors from LA as she heads across country to join her father in Las Vegas, which is gradually transformed into a fortress to keep out the undead hordes. The theory is that Las Vegas, in the middle of the desert, should be easy to isolate and defend, but I hardly need to tell you that it all goes horribly wrong. We’ll be following a group of survivors on their exodus across America, struggling to stay one step ahead of the Zombies as the epidemic takes hold on the USA. The Las Vegas arc has been fun to write. I spent a few days there some years ago and it’s the perfect setting for that kind of siege mentality. You can spend 24 hours in an environment without natural light, gradually entering a mindless zombie state as you endlessly feed the slots, drink the complimentary cocktails and become hypnotized by the flashing lights and the clinking of coins. In its natural state, Vegas is only a shambling step away from being a city of the Living Dead.
I’m putting together a very mixed cast of punk singer, state senator, professional gambler, soldier, a family of survivors from the first outbreak, a couple of pensioners who are on their second honeymoon in Vegas, a guy who sold zombie insurance policies in the sure hope that the scientists were right when they promised it could never happen again. It’s a group of people who will be butting heads with each other as much as they will be slaughtering zombies. The six-issue Vegas arc is followed by a trek to what they hope will be a safe haven, where the horror really starts to ramp up.
BD: Did you follow the current comic series or did you go back and re-watch the films to refresh yourself on the source material?
Hine: I read all the new material that Avatar has put together, which is all set in the sixties, some of it written by John Russo who co-wrote the original movie. I have gone back to watch it a couple of times and also Return Of The Living Dead, co-written by Russo, which I love. I haven’t re-watched the rest of the Romero movies recently, but I’m sure a lot of that stuff will filter through.
BD: With the sudden popularity of zombies do you as writer have to stay clear of other zombie books/movies/comics because you don’t want to be influenced in any way?
Hine: No, not at all. I watch The Walking Dead and read the comic. I’ve seen 28 Days/Weeks Later, Shaun Of The Dead. It doesn’t bother me what may or may not influence me. It’s quite possible I may subconsciously include stuff that I have seen in those books or movies, but so what? Everything anyone writes or creates is built on what they already know, and in the case of zombie fiction I really don’t worry about it, because after all Night Of The Living Dead is the original. Everything else is perched on its crumbling shoulders.
BD: Tell us a bit about your other creator owned book for Image The Bulletproof Coffin. What can fans expect if they’ve never heard of it or never checked it out before?
Hine: The Bulletproof Coffin is my first major creator-owned book since Poison Candy for Tokyopop. It’s co-created with Shaky Kane, who came up with the concept for the characters. He had been working for years on the idea of a giant coffin on wheels, which is being piloted across an arid wasteland by a hero called the Coffin Fly, trawling for ancient pop artifacts from the ruins of a forgotten civilization called America. I turned it into a metafictional story of two legendary comic creators, who happened to share the names of myself and Shaky – the creators of a line of comics back in the 1950’s and 60’s which was bought up and ruined by Big 2 publishing. In the present day, a fanatical collector stumbles across a stash of comics that shouldn’t exist and realizes that his heroes are still illicitly publishing their comics. The series includes insert comics from the fictional creators – the kind of insane, wonderful comics that might have existed if the horror and science fiction comics of the 50’s hadn’t been censored out of existence. It’s an alternative universe of American comics. The twist is that the characters from these comics have entered the real world and it looks like the fate of humanity depends on their being able to survive the attempts of Big 2 to have them assassinated by the sinister corporate lawyers – The Shadow Men. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a comic book about our own love-hate relationship with comic book industry. Mostly loving the comics and hating the industry.
BD: What’s next for David Hine?
Hine: The big one is Storm Dogs, my next creator-owned book for Image, co-created with artist Doug Braithwaite, who has drawn a range of mainstream comics like Justice, The Punisher, Wolverine and his last major series Journey Into Mystery, with writer Kieron Gillen. For the last year we’ve been working hard putting together the first six-issue arc of the book. It’s a science-fiction crime thriller, set far into the future on the outermost frontier of the known universe, where our team of investigators sets out to solve the mystery of a series of violent deaths. It’s traditional science-fiction in the sense that we are doing a lot of solid world building. Doug has created a totally convincing setting – a hostile environment where human settlers are trying to exist side-by-side with a unique alien species. Our line-up of characters reflects a future where there is no more discrimination of gender, race or sexual preference. But this is far from Utopia. The settlers are the dregs of human society, and the frontier town of Grievance is a hotbed of vice. As the murder investigation digs deeper, we’ll see that there are bigger secrets to be revealed that will affect the future of the entire human race. We’re aiming to pull off the double whammy of a character-driven story that also has an intriguing long-term plotline. This is a major project for us. We have an outline for several years of story, told in six-issue arcs with brief pauses between arcs, so this is effectively an ongoing series.
I’m also currently wrapping up The Man Who Laughs, a 160-page graphic novel adaptation of the novel by Victor Hugo. The 1920’s movie adaptation was the original inspiration for the character of The Joker and the book is a fascinating study of social injustice, an indictment of the corrupt class system of England and ultimately an uplifting story of love and the nobility of the human spirit. This one has fabulous art by Mark Stafford and will be published by Self Made Hero early next year.
Then there’s Cowboys and Insects with Shaky Kane, which will run on David Lloyd’s digital comic site Aces Weekly. That will also appear in the first half of next year. The story is pretty much what you would expect. It’s about giant insects and the men who ranch them.