Saddle up, dig in your spurs and get ready to ride in the Wild West. In anticipation of Comic-Con International in San Diego, IDW Publishing announced this week that “Hawken,” a story of vengeance with supernatural elements in the Old West, hits stores this November from “Grimjack” co-creator Tim Truman and his son, Ben Truman.
Scripted by Ben with art by Tim, “Hawken” follows gristly Kit Hawken on a one-man rampage of vengeance against the Tuscon Ring, a group of corrupt arms merchants and politicians — but Kit isn’t looking for redemption. He’s just looking for revenge — and with the ghosts of those he’s killed helping him out, there’s no telling how far he’ll go to obtain it.
Tim and Ben Truman spoke with Comic Book Resources about the broader scope and concept of their upcoming series, Kit Hawken’s mission of vengeance, the supernatural elements of the book and the experience of a father-son team working together to bring “Hawken” to life.
CBR News: Tim and Ben, tell us about “Hawken.” What’s the concept and how did you get it off the ground?
Tim Truman: Last year, [my wife] Beth and I visited Ben in Tucson, where he’s been working. We ended up doing this whirlwind tour, north to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon back down to Tombstone and Bisbee near the Mexican border.
When we were up north, we were headed to the Grand Canyon and were driving this long, desolate stretch of road. Far ahead of us we saw these two guys on horseback. I thought they were just trail riders or something. As we got closer, my jaw fell open: They were two mountain men in full regalia, faces sooty from campfire smoke, wearing beat-up, wide brimmed hats, one dressed in old buckskins and the other in a red blanket capote, rifles slung across their saddles. Absolutely dead-on authentic, like they’d just crossed through a time portal. Two historical re-enactors, obviously, but they almost looked like ghosts. I was really impressed. They stuck in my head.
The next day, Ben and I were yakking about some of the crazy stuff we tend to yak about, and he asked me if I’d ever read any accounts of guys who’d been scalped and had survived. I told him I had, told him a few things I’d come across.
Somehow, that little conversation kicked things off. “What if there was this old mountain man who’d survived a scalping…?” One thing led to another, and before we knew it this character Kitchell Hawken quickly started to take shape.
Ben Truman: Ugly. Grumpy. Old… Those were the first character attributes that were locked down.
Tim: Whew. For a second there, I thought you were talking about me, but go ahead.
Ben: As we learned new things about the land and the towns we visited — just the little tidbits about life and circumstance from back then — it all naturally lent itself to this idea that had started brewing. We couldn’t avoid making connections. Everything kept building until we had our first issue plotted by the end of the trip.
After my parents flew home, Dad and I couldn’t stop talking about Hawken. Every email and phone call eventually lead back to this battered, mean, old bastard we’d concocted. We worked on the first issue and tossed around more ideas in whatever spare time we could find, until eventually we had enough to assemble a pitch and shop it around. Almost an exact year after that first conversation, we had signed a contract with IDW.
Tim: No concept I’ve ever worked on has ever grabbed me like this one did. The character just took me over. I penciled and inked the first third of the first issue and had layouts for the rest before we’d even shown it to anyone. At night when I’d finished my other work, I’d sit in in front of the TV and churn out these fully rendered “Hawken” concept drawings, then scan and email them to Ben the next morning. “Hey, look at this one!” Nothing like that had happened since John Ostrander and I were working on “Grimjack” in the ’80s.
Let’s talk about your hero, Kit Hawken. What can you tell us about him?
Tim: The reader learns from the first few pages of issue #1 that Hawken is a guy who’s done some very, very bad things in his life.
Ben: Right. His best years are far behind him. He’s held practically every rough-and-tumble job from the Old West at one point in his life. He’s been a scout, a tracker, trapper, faro dealer, bouncer and hired gun, in the grand tradition of guys like Hickok and Earp. But it was raiding and scalp-hunting for the Tucson Ring got him into trouble.
How about the Tucson Ring? How did he get into this one-man vendetta against them?
Ben: The Ring was a group of arms merchants and corrupt politicians who played both sides of the conflict in the southwest. They would upset the Apaches to make them strike at white settlements, and they would raid white settlements to turn people against the Apaches. And the Tucson Ring would have clients who needed weapons, horses, and supplies.
Tim: Their existence is based on historical fact. As long as there was trouble, the US government would keep sending in men and building forts in the Arizona Territory. It was real big business.
As for his reasons for disliking them, there are aspects that we can’t get into because they’re intended as big “reveals” as the story proceeds. This first six-issue arc is very carefully and tightly structured and there are many surprises around the bend.
Why is Hawken striving for redemption?
Tim: Guess what: He’s not. It’s an element which separates “Hawken” from your standard “Revenge Epic.” He’s past that point. Way past it. He had one shot at being redeemed, it was taken away, and it will never happen again, ever. So it’s unchecked, merciless, brutal scorched-earth payback, no holds barred, and when he’s done with it he knows he’s going to hell…and for good reasons. The last page of “Hawken” #1 says it all.
Hawken isn’t your typical comic hero. He’s certainly not Jonah Hex. In fact, I’d be reluctant to call him a hero at all. Like I say, he’s been a very bad person. Bringing the reader over to his side is one of the most challenging and satisfying things about doing the story. Despite their better judgment, the reader will care about what happens to this man.
“Hawken” has some supernatural elements to it, as the character is followed by ghosts of those he’s killed. Who are these ghosts, and how do they help Hawken in his vendetta?
Tim: The fact that they aren’t just random ghosts, and that each one is someone that Hawken had a hand in killing, is a major factor in the story. And, believe me, he’s killed a lot of folks. So they don’t really want to help Hawken, but for some reason they seem to be cursed to do so — at least for as long as it takes Hawken to finish his vendetta. They can’t lie to him, but they can parse out what they tell him and try to trip him up or cause him doubt. It doesn’t matter whether he lives or dies, succeeds or fails. When he’s done, they’re out of there.
Ben: The thing about the ghosts is that you’re never sure if they are actually there…Did Hawken actually bring something back from when he was left for dead, or are the ghosts simply delusions created from that traumatic event? Is he like that poor homeless guy talking to himself downtown, or is he actually conversing with someone from the other side?
One thing to watch for is a key group of ghosts that, real or not, seem to reflect aspects of Hawken’s personality — questions he’s asking himself, problems he’s encountered, memories that he might be trying to push back.
Tim: It’s another element that we think separates “Hawken” from a typical revenge story. The ghosts are very important. As the story progresses, folks will find that there’s extra credit for readers who take note of what’s going on when particular ghosts show up. Tracking Hawken’s “haints” is one of the most intriguing aspects of the tale.
There are aspects that we can’t get into because they’re intended as big “reveals” as the story proceeds. This first six-issue arc is very carefully and tightly structured and there are many surprises around the bend.
Tim, you’ve worked on a lot of brutal characters, including Grimjack, Hawkman, Jonah Hex and most recently, Conan. How did your work on these characters inform your creation of Kit Hawken (if at all), and what sets him apart from the pack?
Tim: Well, you’re right, I’m certainly known for creating stories about grizzled, edgy, hard-ass heroes. In many ways, the things I’ve done before were proving grounds for this project and this character. I can guarantee this: “Hawken” isn’t like anything that anyone has seen me do before, and I don’t think it’s like anything anyone has ever seen before.
What is it about the Wild West setting appeals to you?
Tim: I’ve said in the past, western history and fiction are America’s own particular mythology. As a guy who likes to do historical research, actual events and people are almost always more interesting than anything anyone could ever make up. I get a charge out of comparing the mythological, symbolic west of books and movies with the actual Old West of history. I find that researched, realism-based movies like “True Grit,” “Tombstone,” “Missouri Breaks” and books like “Lonesome Dove” or the Terry Johnson novels make powerful statements. Then again, so can films like “Good, the Bad & the Ugly,” “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “Shane,” which embrace all the classic Western symbols and crank them up to 12.
“Hawken” plays both sides of the spectrum. Ben and I are doing a lot of research and bringing into play the personal, visceral things that happen to you when you actually see the Southwest and visit places like Tombstone, the Bisbee mines. The Sonora Desert and Tucson. But on top of that, we’re also playing with a lot of mythic symbolism from spaghetti westerns, Hollywood films and the psychological horror genres.
Ben: I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on classic westerns, but I am a fan of the samurai genre that influenced the western archetypes, and I draw inspiration from things like “Mad Max” and “Firefly,” which obviously pull a lot from the genre staples.
Ben, tell us more about yourself and your work.
Ben: I work at a documentary arts program at a high school in Tucson, where I substitute teach and do writing programs. I also write shorts as part of an online group of comic creators called Small Press Commandos and work on a project called Black Mesa, a recreation of the PC game “Half-Life.” I got involved with Black Mesa wile I was attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where I graduated with a degree in Game Art & Design.
Tim, what’s it like collaborating with Ben?
Tim: Believe it or not, it’s like collaborating with a pro who isn’t related to me. As I implied earlier, the chemistry reminds me very much of the chemistry I had with John Ostrander in the early days of “Grimjack.” A lot of energy, a lot of outrageous ideas, a lot of laughs. Ben and I are a lot alike in many ways, but are very different in others. He’s by no means a clone of the old man. We each have different strengths, specialties, approaches and interests. The differences seem to compliment rather than work against each other. Together, we find sides of a story that, by ourselves, might not have been considered. Working with him makes me dig deeper.
And you, Ben? How’s working with your father?
Ben: It’s super cool, and proving to be quite an education. But usually I’m just trying to keep pace with him. Growing up, he introduced me to lots of great artists, writers, music, movies. He still does, but now I can return the favor.
The best part of any collaboration is when you can both bring new stuff to the table. We always let the other know what we’re into at the moment, and see how that can find a home in “Hawken.”
Could you take us through your collaborative process? How does a script go from idea to words on a page to final art?
Ben: I start big and zoom in. I figure out the character’s arc, how it will begin and end, then fill in all the salient parts that break up the acts. Each act gets filled in with the mental images that naturally crop up along the way — action sequences, dialog beats, flashbacks, they all start out as separate ideas that get fit into the plot. I work them into the outline then break down each issue from page to page, then panels, then map out how each scene will turn and rough in dialogue ideas.
That draft version is then sent to Dad. That begins a series of editing loop where he gives feedback, I work over new areas, and we repeat until we have something polished for him to start illustrating.
Tim: Right. From the first rough draft stage it goes back and forth between us two or three times, sometimes more, until we’ve worked everything out. The story itself gets more and more complex with each succeeding issue, with each new installment adding new revelations on top of the previous one. So we have to work it out very carefully.
One of the things we’re striving for is to give the reader some credit for intelligence and let the story unfold in a naturalistic fashion. We don’t explain Kit Hawken or his circumstances from page 1. As the reader takes this ride with us, the mysteries deepen, then are explained.
As creators, what appeals to you most about a character like Hawken?
Ben: I like Hawken because he exists in two spaces. On the surface he’s the traditional loner — a curmudgeon who knows when to talk, when to kick ass and when to wait for the other person to slip up. But his relationship with the ghosts reveal this very different, introspective side beneath his tough exterior, his real thoughts and feelings that he’d never ever express to another living soul. Nothing saccharine, but he has insecurities and worries just like we all do.
The other thing I love about Hawken is that there is as much exciting material in his future as there is in his past. My dream would be for a collection of shorts where other artists and writers pick a ghost and flesh out the story of how the poor soul met their end at Hawken’s hands.
I hope that once people see how Hawken does business they’ll want to get involved in his mythos, too.
Tim: Like I said earlier, this project has grabbed me like no other that I can remember. After a year putting it all together, it still does. There are pages of the first issue that I’ve drawn then completely redrawn as many as five times until I’ve gotten it right. I don’t let anything slide. Right now, I’ve spent two weeks driving Ben and our editor, Denton [Tipton], crazy, trying to come up with a final design for an alternate cover for issue #1. Every aspect of this book has to be just right.
This book has it all — horror, adventure, humor, action, strangeness, big surprises and, as folks will see as each issue progresses, an amount of character depth. All that plus a blind mule named Helen and a strange little bulldog called Caramba. It’s going to be a long wait until November. I can’t wait for folks to see this tale.