Bryan Hitch has been a professional artist for more than a quarter century, so it makes perfect since that after all that time he would want to try his hand at writing as well as drawing a comic. This year saw the premiere of such an effort, the Image Comics six-issue miniseries Real Heroes.
The premise is direct: A group of actors portraying a team of superheroes gets thrust into an alternate universe, where they're forced to portray actual heroes. Two issues will be released this month (Issue 4 arrives Wednesday, followed Nov. 12 by Issue 5) in an effort to catch up to its its schedule, before the series wraps up on Dec. 10.
In our interview, Hitch discusses how much he enjoyed writing and his intention to write more, and elaborates on his decision to have his last creative word on superheroes be his next project.
Tim O'Shea: How early in the development of Real Heroes did you realize you wanted to include a physically challenged character like Jeremy Roberts?
Bryan Hitch: That was immediate. Sometimes things come whole cloth, as it were, and when I realized my initial thought about the project as solo character story didn't work as well as a group would, they all sort of appeared in my head at once. I suspect there were many threads that had been floating around the back of my mind looking for a home, and this just clicked: Stephen Hawking as Iron Man. It was interesting to have his power/armor eventually give him back what his disease had taken from him, however temporarily. One looks for elements to add depth to a particular character's story within the overall picture and it can't be having your planet blow up or your parents shot in the case of these characters; it had to be much more human than that.
Over the course of the six issues, did you feel increasingly more confident in writing certain characters' voices?
Probably. I don't really know, to be honest. I tried to be distinctive with each of them; maybe I became more confident in general. I've been drawing longer than writing dialogue, so I suspect I have a steeper learning curve anyway. I could certainly hear their distinctive voices but I'm likely not objective enough to judge. Let's say "yes" and pretend I absolutely did ...
Was there a point in developing this series where you realized all the pieces had come together for a project you frequently have referred to as a high point in your career?
It happened very quickly, actually, and has been ridiculously smooth. So smooth, I keep waiting for the bubble to burst. It does feel like a high point for me, though, as I've been aiming at writing since my first day of pro drawing 26 years ago. I've had several run-ups to doing it and it not working out for a variety of reasons and written some stuff that hasn't been published and likely won't be. But here, I only had myself to please and had no editorial input whatsoever. It could have become self-indulgent, I guess, but it seemed to go OK. I've had plenty of guys like Mark [Millar], Joss [Whedon], BKV [Brian K. Vaughan] and other friends to fire stuff at fast, if I felt I needed advice, and you couldn't ask for better. Not a single day of doing this has ever felt like work, and that's rare indeed.
After a long period of being exclusive to Marvel, I was pleased to see Laura Martin was able to color this series. How important was it to include her in the project?
Laura colored the first three issues, but unfortunately too many other commitments meant longer and longer delays for her, issue by issue, and she had to bow out. She's very, very goo, so I'm always pleased to work with her, especially as we did Authority and Ultimates 2 together. I wish we could have kept it in one piece for the remainder, but her former mentor at Wildstorm, Jeromy Cox, has stepped into the breach and is pulling things around splendidly.
Given that this is your first foray into writing a comic, I'm curious if you felt more relaxed when drawing the series?
Actually yes, and it was quite a surprise. I think it has to do with trying to put oneself into the story when somebody else has written it. It can take time to fully grasp what the story is, what the writers intentions might be and how that all translates into pictures. In writing it myself, I seemed to have solved many of the problems subconsciously before I’d even got my paper out and it went swimmingly. In fact, I’d never found drawing this easy before and it's had a profound effect on my general productivity. After far too long, drawing stopped being a process I almost dreaded and became a joy again. Still is; having such a great time on all my projects right now.
You really surprised me when Brainchild almost seemed like a sympathetic character in Issue 3. How challenging was it to paint the lead seeming series villain in a way the reader feels for him?
I just tried to write a person, not a villain. The characters and, of course, the readers would assume that Brainchild was indeed the series villain so it was nice to play against type. Also, those guys aren't superheroes with a history of fighting against Brainchild's menace so they reacted as people to what he said and did. If he seems reasonable, then maybe there's more to him than meets the eye. In fact, the full truth about him is revealed in Issue 4.
Judging by your Twitter feed, am I correct in thinking you have a really strong rapport with letterer Chris Eliopoulos?
Chris is great. He does all my lettering and is absolutely reliable in all respects. Plus, he's a great cartoonist as well. Never lets you down, goes the extra mile and is the easiest guy in the world to work with. A total pro and so, also the best letterer in the world. The hardest part of doing creator-owned stuff isn't staying on time yourself, it’s that you have inkers, colorists and letterers who do the bulk of their work for DC and Marvell, so -- and I've found this with inking and coloring -- you can get left behind somewhat from time to time. It’s often been frustrating. I don’t have the best rep in the world for being on time myself, but I worked my nuts off trying to get Real Heroes out each month on time. I'm seeing pages just colored I drew at the end of last year, so it's been patchy and tricky just getting it done. Never with Chris. He's just the best.
Also, I have to ask about this recent tweet: "The project out after Real Heroes (for 2015 and which I'm already underway on) is going to be my last word on Super Heroes for a long while." What kind of work do you want to do post-superheroes? Any plans to write more of your own stories? Would you ever consider writing a project that someone else would draw?
I'm considering that now, actually. I've just fully written an eight-issue thing I'm drawing next, and then I have a project with Mark Millar, something we've been aiming at for a while now. I have too many stories to tell that I couldn’t possibly draw them all myself, but then who do I persuade to draw them? I might be terribly fussy and micromanage everything! Then again, there's a list of guys who I know I'd love to write a story for so I'm never saying "never." Let's see how it works out. As long as it seems like a fun thing to do and we'd all be able to make a living out of it, I'm game!
As for the next project being my last word in superheroes, then yeah, it feels organically like it's time for some new horizons. I've done so much work in the genre and I don’t want to feel like I'm repeating myself. I would probably have moved on after Real Heroes but something came up that was too good not to do and so that next thing has become my last word. It's not that I want to do a four-issue series about a guy making shapes with cigarette smoke, I still want to do big-scale, high-concept stuff but I've probably done all I can do with straight super hero stuff. You'll all be getting bored with me.