Believe Nothing: Phil Hester talks "The Atheist"

He's an unsympathetic, cold-hearted misanthrope that they call "The Atheist" -- but not to his face.

And he's Phil Hester's new tool for weird fun.

Coming in February from Image Comics is "The Atheist," with story by Hester ("The Wretch," "Green Arrow") and art by John McCrea ("Star Wars," "Teen Titans Go!"). "The Atheist" is the story of Antoine Sharp, described as a "scalpel on two legs bent on cutting out the disease infesting the human race, even if it kills the patient." CBR news recently caught up with Hester to chat about his latest creation.

"'The Atheist' is my cipher to do strange storylines," Hester says. "He's basically my tool to do whacked-out sci-fi/horror stuff. This was basically caused by me watching too much 'Dr. Who' as a kid. I want this character to deal with strange menaces like Dr. Who did, but to be less ridiculous."

The Atheist's first adventure takes place when he's called in to investigate the dead possessing the bodies of young people for one simple reason -- they're sick of being dead, and they want to return to this planet to party a little more.

"Instead of demons, these are normal people sick of the afterlife -- so they forcibly possess people. Instead of eating brains, they party. They basically hijack young people and party them to death," Hester explains.

The Atheist is very clinical and rational, and he believes that these aren't possessed young people -- just foolish kids. But clues along the way lead him to believe differently.

"Most people don't believe there are people being possessed, they think it's just youth culture. [The Atheist] believes it's a virus or a mental illness. But eventually it's proven to him, and he has to believe it's true even if he doesn't typically believe in these things."

Hester loves that the name of the book is eye-catching, but it was the character that was born first, not the name.

"I pretty much started this idea up when I was working on the 'Wretch.' The good thing about the Wretch was, you could come up with any type of whacked-out character for the Wretch, but the Wretch was actually mute, so he was limited," Hester says. "I had some creepy ideas, but they needed a proper antagonist. I also like writing an unsympathetic main character -- it's interesting to me."

Hester, well known as an artist, has found a fountain of youth by writing comics.

"Writing has sort of rejuvenated my career -- I've been drawing them for a long time. But I feel like I'm at the beginning of my writing career. Whenever I get a new writing assignment, I feel like I did when I was first starting out drawing, the excitement of getting a new assignment. I still remember how excited I was to draw 'Ghostbusters,' and that was a horrible comic!"

With Hester leaving "Green Arrow," he's already hard at work on his next penciling gig, but for now he must remain mum on the book. But as for leaving "Green Arrow," he has plenty to say.

"It's really bittersweet, it's been the greatest gig. I worked with great writers, a great editorial team, and I got to work with Ande (Parks). But we've done almost 1,000 pages of 'Green Arrow.' I'm ready to move on from the character. I've said everything I could," Hester says. "In issue 42, I had to draw Ollie falling off a building. I think it was literally the 10th time for me to draw Ollie falling off a building. I'm ready to move on."

"The Coffin's" screen treatment also came up. Hester said he saw Guillermo Del Toro recently, and Del Toro told him that he had turned in a treatment for the screenplay. Del Toro would not be the director, but he would be the screenwriter, while one of his protégés would direct.

"I try not to think about it," Hester said. "All I know is that they bought us out, I got the check, and I can see from my house where the crane is digging the hole that's going to be our new house."

Hester, who has lived in Iowa for the past 10 years, said he was happy to stay put in his little town outside Iowa City.

"It's so Mayberry. Actually, it's more like Mayberry is the town we'd visit to get groceries. I love living in a tiny town. I think it's what got me into comics. I wasn't into drinking, so I had to get into something."

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