EXCLUSIVE: Matt Hawkins Ponders "Think Tank" Year Two

Like any good think tank, the comic of the same name has garnered unexpected results. Written by Top Cow's President and Chief Operating Officer Matt Hawkins and drawn by Rahsan Ekedal through the Cow's Minotaur Press imprint, "Think Tank" will now continue past the originally proposed twelfth issue end point.

The series stars Dr. David Loren a genius scientist who was recruited into a government-run scientific research group at a very young age. He's developed plenty of ways to kill enemies of the state, but it's starting to get under his skin. The first arc of the book found him working on a plan to escape and getting into a lie-filled relationship with a woman named Mirra who secretly worked for his bosses. The second arc saw Dr. Loren creating a way of killing that could differentiate between targets' genes. He assumed the project would be too heinous for anyone to really use and didn't expect it to be implemented, but things don't always go as planned.

With the series beginning its third storyline and Hawkins announcing exclusively to Comic Book Resources that "Think Tank" will continue for a while after that -- to #20 as of now with potential for more -- the writer definitely has a lot to talk about. CBR News chatted with Hawkins about the major events that ended the second arc, moving lab rat David out into the field and his vision for the series' second year.

CBR News: "Think Tank" #7 saw one major character kill another in front of main character Dr. David Loren. How does that play out in the rest of the series?

Matt Hawkins: The eighth issue wraps the second story arc, "Genetics," which is also conveniently the second trade paperback volume. David Loren has been involved directly or indirectly in the deaths of thousands but he's never seen anyone die up close. I wanted him to feel the blood on his face and see what it was like. That may sound morbid, but it's what happened. The eighth issue deals specifically with how he reacts to this death. He feels responsible and his cavalier attitude gets a back seat for an issue as he confronts his own feelings towards death. I think this issue is my favorite to date. Rahsan really stepped it up I love his character emotions. The art in this book really does tell the story.

The second volume of "Think Tank" hits stores July 17. Do you have plans for extras in that collection?

I do a four-page Science Class in each of the 32 page books. We do a combined version of that for that trade paperback. It will also include all of the covers and some of Rahsan's development sketches. Typical stuff for trades.  For anyone who got "Think Tank Volume 1" and enjoyed it, the second volume is actually 32 pages bigger!

How did the decision to continue the series past #12 come about? Did the concept just keep speaking to you as far as future stories go?

I've always wanted to keep it going it's just tough to guarantee a new book will [sell]. People always "announce" books as ongoing that get cancelled or converted to miniseries. With this book I've just been straight-up with people. If it continues to build an audience we'll keep it going.

I really dig this character. Every issue gives me about 100 new ideas I could write this character for years. Stylistically I think it's pretty tied into Rahsan's art so part of the continuation discussion was whether or not he'd want to keep doing it. He does; we're both having a great time. One thing I've always noticed about comics is that the fewer people creatively involved, the end product is usually better. As long as the book sells a base number that allows us to keep doing it -- and Rahsan wants to do it -- I'm in for as long as possible. We're committing to do through issue #20 at this point.

It must be gratifying creating, developing and writing a series like "Think Tank" that's proven popular enough to continue on further than originally expected.

It's very gratifying to work on a book that people read and enjoy. I got tired of spending $3 or $4 on comics that I'd read in three minutes and never think of again. "Think Tank" and "Aphrodite IX" have both been my attempt to give the readers something more. A more immersive experience that gives people at least one thing to think about after they put it down.

At this point, do you have the arcs through issue #20 mapped out, the general ideas or do you prefer to write them as they come?

I have through issue #12 mapped out. Since we just made the decision to continue through at least #20 I do not have it planned out yet. That's both exciting and scary but plotting the stuff out and the research I do is the fun part for me. I think I may do #13-16 as a series of one-shot stories and then do #17-20 as another arc. Have not 100% figured it out yet.

In addition to being super smart David's proven to be clever and resourceful, but the third arc finds him out in the field. How does he function out in the real world?

Well, that's the real question! David is a smart dude, but he has no real world experience. He's never been in a fist fight. He's not MacGyver or Ripley from "Aliens." He's in for some interesting experiences and his solutions won't be the typical fare people are used to reading or seeing in films.

As you mentioned, David has zero field experience. Will he have people he can trust watching his back? Will those characters become important to the ongoing "Think Tank" story?

There is a Navy Seal that he meets and befriends in issue #9 that will be very important to that arc. The core group is David, Mannish and Mirra. I see them in all possible iterations of the ongoing story but all the other characters are up in the air as to whether they live for long. Ultimately, these are dangerous, high stake games these guys participate in and a lot of them get killed.

"Think Tank" is part of a growing group of comics like Jonathan Hickman's "The Manhattan Projects" based around the basic idea that science can be cool. Why do you think that's becoming such a popular genre in comics these days?

Because science is wicked cool! I think it's one of those happy coincidences. Jonathan Hickman is one of my favorite writers and I read everything he does. Just a genius level dude. For me, it was a conscious decision, I don't know about anyone else. When Michael Crichton died I realized the world had lost a great storyteller who included real science in his work. I thought there might be an opening for someone to fill some of that void and thought I'd give it a shot. I've got a physics degree so I have a fair knowledge of the field and read the science journals so I try and keep up. It's also an exciting time in science with so many advances happening in the wake of the Human Genome Project.

If you don't mind me asking, how did you go from earning a physics degree to working in comics?

I was still in school when I started working at Extreme Studios with Rob Liefeld at the beginning of Image Comics. It's a combination of things in comics were very exciting -- and profitable -- and the science field was particularly impacted in the early '90s with the end of the Cold War sending a lot of smart people into the work force competing for jobs, many who had 20-30 years of experience. I've always looked at my science background as a nice fallback in case I ever need to go teach. Using the knowledge clandestinely as a writer is fun though, I hope people learn by default!

David's spent most of "Think Tank" dealing with various emotions: guilt over the deaths caused by his inventions, love for Mirra, betrayal by the same person as well as his entire organization and now even further betrayal by Clarkson. What other emotions are you looking to explore as the series continues?

Wow, you sum it up and make it sound so dire. I'd like to take David on the whole gamut of emotion from love to despair. Seems I've hit a lot of those notes already but he definitely loves Mirra still and the events in #8 should hammer that home. One thing to keep in mind about this guy is he's a man-child. He's 28 but he's led a very sheltered life and been kept from a lot of things. Imagine experiencing the teenage experience as an adult.

What new scientific ideas have you read about recently that you're excited to incorporate in future issues?

I'm fascinated by the neural network in the brain and how it can interface with technology. The "singularity" is an interesting thing to write about but not as relevant as how we can use tech now to enhance and better the human condition. "Gattaca" is here already, we've got the ability to custom-build children and the next few decades will see more and more of them walking among us. I think quantum computing, customizable materials, the next generation of 3D printers that will take us that much closer to the Star Trek replicator. Every day I check the science sites. I try and look for things with an application. So much of pure research and science they don't know what to use it for. I try and look at that and create an application. I was honored when a rep from a 3D printer reached out to me about what I did in "Think Tank" #6.

How has you working relationship with Rahsan evolved over the course of this book?

I've grown to have more and more respect for Rahsan as an artist. I've considered him a friend for years at this point, but he's moved from journeyman to artisan to master in the last two years. His layouts and storytelling are some of the best in the business. My writing relationship has evolved with him in that we have more comfort in working together and I leave large parts of the plot for him to have some fun with.

"Think Tank" #9 by Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal hits stands from Top Cow's Minotaur Press imprint August 7.

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