Steve Pugh Talks "Hotwire"

"Hotwire: Requiem For The Dead," written and illustrated by Steve Pugh, from a story by Warren Ellis, hits shelves in February 2009. Published by Radical Comics, the series has spent many years in development before Radical came on board to release it.

According to the official press release, the four-issue miniseries is described as "taking place in a near-future when ghosts, or 'blue lights', roam the city streets. Most remain harmless until a break-in at London's Maximum Security Necropolis triggers a surge of violent, brutal hauntings. Enter Alice Hotwire, the local police force's resident Detective Exorcist-a job her fellow officers hate her for. It's a responsibility she doesn't want, in a world she doesn't understand, but she may be the only one who can save them all from ectoplasmic catastrophe."

We spoke with writer and artist Steve Pugh to discuss creating the look of Alice Hotwire, his background in comics and illustration, his experiences working on "Hotwire: Requiem For The Dead," his creative process, and the difficulties behind adapting an original story by Warren Ellis.

Who is Alice Hotwire and what exactly does she do?

Alice is a short, bleach-blond ball of surly. Blessed with amazing smarts, but cursed to be **always** right, yet **never** listened to.

She has ended up being an exorcist for the city's metro police, dealing on a daily basis with an endless roster of undead victims and villains. The dead are walking the city streets and she can't reconcile their existence with her hard-science upbringing.

What events let to you both painting and writing this book, and how has that experience been for you?

Heh, utter arrogance and ridiculous self-belief that I could rewrite a story by one of the most famous comic writers in mainstream publication.

It's been an enormous project, but I've been determined to get Alice in print for years, and I'm actually pleased it's taken this long, because artistically, I think I'm at the top of my game. I'd never have had the skills to produce the pages I am now, without the learning curve I went through on "Shark Man,"

The graphic novel is based on an original idea from Warren Ellis. What did you do to expand and add to Ellis's narrative world? How did you collaborate initially on it?

Back when Warren was just on the verge of breaking through, he had quite a few of the British artists championing him to editors. I'd said that if he got a gig, and needed an artist, to definitely give me a call.

I'd been building some momentum up at DC , and after I'd done a few "Hellblazers" with Jaime Delano, Jaime suggested me for the art for his run on "Animal Man." Pretty much the next day Warren called me up to put something together for Tundra Publishing. Luckily, DC was prepared to wait six months for me, so Warren said, "What do you want to draw?" and I said, "Girls, motorbikes and monsters."

He said something like, "bloody artists"-and a few weeks later a script full of cool stuff and cruel personal insults arrived. [laughs]

Warren's Alice was much more authoritative; other characters deferred to her expertise, a prototype for some of his later creations. But I wanted to make her "less" respected, an underdog, and that way I figured she could be much more obnoxious, more mouthy, without losing the audience's sympathy. The setup for the ghosts is different too. In the original, they were an experiment gone wrong; in the new version, they really do seem to be an actual infestation of the undead. I was trying to create a kind of "Spook C.S.I.", a mix of strange adventure and police procedural.

You're best known for your more traditional black-line artwork that you used on series such as "Animal Man" and "Superman vs. Terminator." How did the transition occur to this highly rendered, detailed, painted art? And how does that art now serve your ability to tell stories?

I've always felt more comfortable working in full art, rather than trying to convert everything I want to put on a page into linework and feathering. I'm excited by creating atmosphere and mood in a story, and I never felt like I had the final say when the pages were passed on to colorists and inkers...just typical control-freakery, really!

As I said, when I worked on "Shark Man," all my heroes from Brit comics of the 1960s were painters-Ron Embleton, Frank Bellamy, John M. Burns-and I feel that if you're creating a miniseries or graphic novel, you should take the opportunity to move it up from TV special effects to big screen action.

Alice Hotwire has a very specific look and style. How did you arrive at that? Any influences?

Alice's look has had some real changes of direction. When Warren wrote his original treatment, I was crazy about the production design in movies like "Fifth Element" and Peter Chung's animated "Aeon Flux" stories. I gave her a shamelessly aggressive sci-fi look, a strong red and black color scheme, with jet-black hair cut in a sharp fetish bob, and, God help me, a hip-mounted Uzi.

But that brash Alice looks old now, and kind of silly actually, and as her character evolved, she became more of a street-smart underdog rather than the Halloween dominatrix she started out as. I took a look at more contemporary urban fashion, and I wanted her to have a lot of geek/gamer-girl in her.

Weirdly, giving her the turned-up nose was the bit that pulled it all together. It gave her a nice, brattish edge.

Tell us about the villain in "Hotwire" and how this villain challenges Alice Hotwire physically, spiritually and psychologically.

I'll use the word "opposition." Yeah, we have villains and cool monsters along the way, but the real threat for Alice is from getting herself in the path of a big-time payback, for past injustices.

Unlike most heroes of a story, Alice's journey is to avoid change. The whole world is trying to grind the rough edges off of her, force her to compromise and fit in. I think if she can find another human being who doesn't want to push her off a roof, it will be a moment of huge personal triumph for her!

This story deals with the afterlife and the role that ghosts can play in the world of the living. Is there a broader, philosophical idea behind "Hotwire?"

The ghosts are a huge part of "Hotwire." Even when they're not directly participating in the story, characters are defining themselves by how they react to them. Some are scared of them, some exploit them and some are deeply fascinated by them. Alice, of course, refuses to believe in them at all, and is looking for an explanation. There are parallels between the treatment of the ghosts and the attitude toward the city's immigrant community, but it doesn't get preachy or deep.

In the world of "Hotwire," are there any recurring motifs or symbols that you feel express the broader idea of the story, and if so, what are they?

Alice is a believer in structure and systems. She loves the beauty in physics and science, and believes all the world's ills are caused by people using shortcuts and easy solutions instead of fixing the system itself. I think it's original to have a hero who thinks that way. I think that's very current with a shift in America's mood.

What sort of experience will "Hotwire" bring to a newcomer to comics?

Hopefully a satisfying one. With "Hotwire," we arrive, tell a cool story, and leave. No cheating, no weasel-writing. No one "dies" and then turns up alive at the end, and you don't have to sit through months of filler to get to the punchlines.

Female-driven narratives are a specific genre of modern comics. What was the attraction of writing and painting a female protagonist? What are the challenges as both a writer and an artist?

I've lived with the character in my head for quite a while now, so I just drop her into the deep end and let her react (badly) to the situation. So Alice is written as a specific character rather than an iconic female lead.

Visually, I had to be a lot more considered. I wanted to hit that Sara/Kat "C.S.I". riff, where the character is good-looking, but it's not a plot point, not her defining characteristic. She wears a little too much eyeliner, she overcompensates for her height, she's scrappy and arrogant. Her imperfections are what make her interesting. I've been lucky enough to meet a couple of girls like Alice, and you never forget them!

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