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EXCL: Hawkins & Robertson on the Duality, Dark Tragedy of Dante

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
EXCL: Hawkins & Robertson on the Duality, Dark Tragedy of Dante

Hitting stands in January from Top Cow Productions, “Dante” is an all-new one-shot that explores the story of a hired hitman with an unusual vendetta. Expecting to walk away from his secret life as a killer to wholly dedicate his life to his family, Dante is sabotaged, emerging from unconsciousness with a missing family, strange tattoos and a curse thrust upon him by a mysterious Asian woman.

CBR had the exclusive opportunity to speak with the creators behind the one-shot — writer Matt Hawkins and artist Darick Robertson — in a conversation that spanned the origins of the character, moral complexity, duality, tattoo culture, where the property could be headed, and much more.

When you’re through checking out the interview — along with the preview pages dispersed below — be sure to sound off with your thoughts on “Dante” with fellow fans in CBR’s Independents forum!

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CBR: What brought about the creation and your involvement with the Dante one-shot?

Matt Hawkins: Cryptozoic approached me about writing this book on behalf of Strange Turn (entertainment company) and TV writer Jason Ning who had come up with the initial idea, some designs and a one page outline that they wanted to flesh out into a full fledged graphic novel.

Darick Robertson: I was approached by my old friend John Nee, on behalf of Cryptozoic. The idea had a different title on the outset and evolved into “Dante.” I liked the title as it brought mind “the Inferno” which our character definitely seems to enter.

Is there a specific inspiration for the tone and visual aesthetic?

Hawkins: The visual aesthetic was intended to be symbolic of tattoo culture, but that was all Darick so he did a ton of research. I sent him some reference I found online that I buried in the plot, but he picked and chose what he wanted to include.

Robertson: I got the feeling what Jason Ning and Matt Hawkins were imagining was a modern day, gritty, crime noir style thriller, so I went for that element in the visuals. Serious tone, authentic backgrounds, set in the seedy element of Los Angeles.

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You explore themes of duality over the course of the story. Why was that important to tackle?

Hawkins: The core idea of the story is that this man led two very different lives. He tried to compartmentalize them, but as we all have found over the long course of our lives, this is very hard to do. Almost always, things bleed into aspects of the part of our life we’re trying to shelter. This is a universal thing and something any reader can understand and empathize with. Dante is not a “good” man but he’s a good “family” man. His deeds as an assassin have now come to haunt the family he tried to keep separate.

Robertson: As Matt said, Dante is a man leading two lives. To awaken and have your shame exposed as a permanent element of your exterior means hiding your inner evil becomes impossible. Now Dante has to be the better man and can no longer walk in shadows and illusion.

Do you see Dante as a hero? Why?

Hawkins: Wow that’s a really tough question given the story, but I’d have to say yes. Dante at his core believes he was taking out bad people. He realizes assassinations aren’t a “good” act, but I don’t think he’d sees them as evil either. He loves his family, feels like he’s doing a job and saving money to keep his family living a good life. It’s tragic what happens to him. And this dark tragedy sets the stage for his redemption and it’s through this redemption that he will ultimately become a hero. By the end of this first volume I feel like he’s identified what he needs to be to be a hero and wants to become that.

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Robertson: No, I see him as selfish, but sympathetic.

Dante’s a liar, and a hired killer. We don’t know much about his ethics before we meet him in issue one, but when his sins become a part of his external body and all his tattoos represent something evil he has to set right, you see that he’s a pretty horrible person who’s done horrible things. A hero is someone who is altruistic, and even in Dante’s redemption, he’s about getting his own family back and fixing his own problem. Perhaps in the course of his redemption we’ll see a hero emerge, but for now, he’s a pariah.

There’s a genre vibe to the one-shot, though it’s pretty grounded — will you explore anything more mystical/supernatural going forward?

Hawkins: Yeah the setup is definitely supernatural in origin, based in that eastern mysticism and the curse the elderly Asian woman lays on him. His body is covered in tattoos, each representing an evil act that he needs to atone for.

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Where’s Dante headed after the one-shot?

Hawkins: There’s a definite set up for considerable sequels and follow-ups. A lot will depend on how well this first one is received. Since this is work-for-hire and I don’t own the character, I can’t speak to any definite plans. Although I know that since Jason is a TV guy I’m certain he’ll use this to try and set up a TV series.

Will future outings with the character proceed as serialized or more episodic?

Hawkins: Again, hard for us to say since we don’t control the character. I like doing volumes, so if they’re up for it I’d love to do additional arcs with the character. So many ways you could take it.

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Top Cow’s “Dante” one-shot hits stands on January 25, 2017.

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