Talking Top Cow, "Think Tank" With Matt Hawkins

The comic industry is packed with busy individuals. Writers take on multiple books at various companies while artists draw their hands off making their deadlines. But some of the hardest working people in the industry do the behind-the-scenes work. Take Top Cow's Matt Hawkins, for example. In addition to his duties as the company's President and Chief Operating Officer, Hawkins is also responsible for the monumental task of going through Top Cow's latest talent search entries, bringing the Pilot Season one-shot "Theory of Everything" to Fox for feature consideration and writing his own book "Think Tank" for the Cow's Minotaur imprint.

The "Theory of Everything" news broke in December when it was announced that the one-shot by Nick Nantell, Dan Casey and Thomas Nachlik was optioned by 20th Century Fox. The sci-fi action tale was developed by Nick Nantell of The Dan Jinks Company and written by Casey, who has signed on to write the screenplay as well. The story focuses on a disgraced scientist looking to save his wife from a parallel dimension.

Hawkins and artist Rahsan Ekedal's "Think Tank" also follows the adventures of a brilliant scientist, this one named David Loren, the inventor of weapons of mass destruction for the government. After realizing the pain and damage he's caused through his work, Loren decides to leave his current employment -- a difficult proposition considering his work consists of top-secret projects the government is none too ready to allow him to walk away from.

CBR News spoke with Hawkins about the next arc of "Think Tank," what was involved in brokering the "Theory of Everything" deal and the surprises that came from the latest Pilot Season talent search.

CBR News: You've got so much on your plate, considering your role as Top Cow's President and COO as well as reading through the talent search entries and writing "Think Tank." How do you balance it all?

Matt Hawkins: Time management is a constant war I have every day. Prioritizing things is key. A lot of low priority items just never get dealt with, unfortunately.

In "Think Tank," David's out in the real world now, with only his genius to help keep Mirra and him safe. Lacking access to the unlimited tech he's used to, how does he adjust to this change?

Well, therein lies one of the first things readers of "Think Tank" #5 will see is that he's back in the lab at the start of that issue. Previews have been running online, so I don't think there are too many spoilers in that. The fourth issue ended with the revelation that Mirra was working for General Clarkson. Issue #5 starts back in the lab, with David presenting a new idea for research. He's wanting to develop genetic weapons that target an individual or a group connected genetically. This should be a shock given the first trade's story, but it will make sense -- I promise! During his two month "vacation," he was just hanging out with Mirra on some tropical retreat somewhere. There wasn't much tech stuff going on. I show scenes of the two months in flashback to explain how David discovers that Mirra isn't what she said she was and how he comes back to the lab.

The second arc is about genetics, race and developing custom weapons and how he fits into all that and its development. The aftermath leads directly into the third arc where we will finally see David out in the field a bit. I don't want to reveal too much, and although I have tons of longer term ideas, I've only mapped out through issue #12 at this point.

We saw a few glimpses of David's past in the first arc. Will we get more of those in the second?

Definitely. There were a lot of intentional Easter eggs in the "Think Tank Military Dossier" one-shot special that came out last month. In there, it reveals who David's family is. At this point, we've not seen any of them, so I'm looking forward to inputting his dad into the story at some point.

What kind of new, experimental tech will we see in the coming issues?

In the fifth issue, we get into the specifics of DNA targeting and how to isolate certain individuals for targeted kills. The idea is that you can create a poison that will only affect a single person based on their DNA. Drop that into the water supply, and that person would die from what would appear to be natural causes. In the sixth issue, there are 3D printers and how they could be slaved and used to create things clandestinely for surveillance. I'm really looking forward to issues #9-12 -- the tech we're using there is unbelievable. It will be a first-hand look at how this tech is being used in the field.

Do you model any aspects of David's character on existing scientists or tech people?

David's sarcasm and dry humor are from me; people that know me say they hear my voice when the character talks. I'm nowhere near a super genius, so that is fictionalized, obviously. I know a lot of different scientists, and I'm sure I've picked apart pieces of different personalities for this. I've tried to give him a unique voice.

Part of the fun of the series is getting inside the head of a scientific genius. What's it been like, living in that headspace while writing the book?

That is the hardest part as I'm not one. My knowledge of science is greater than most, though, so it's easy to fudge. Plus, research is everything. I've changed the story multiple times based on things I've uncovered doing the research. I think the easiest thing about David for me to write is his voice. He's a conflicted guy on so many levels and I know how that feels. It's interesting to live with countering ideas in your head at the same time, but it makes life interesting. He also doesn't have much of a filter and says what's on his mind...again something I get accused of often.

In addition to running Top Cow and writing "Think Tank" you also recently helped make a deal to bring "Theory of Everything" to Fox, were you guys shopping the book around or did they approach you?

We did the typical song and dance of pitching it around town.

Would you say shopping a one-shot like this around is more or less difficult than a comic with more history like "Witchblade?"

The cop out answer is "both." It's easier when there is less fleshed-out with the story, sometimes, as the studio can mold it into something they already wanted to do and were looking to fill in a slot. It's harder because, with no pre-awareness or a longer running property that's more well-defined, you tend to lose a little control over the process creatively and they try to pay you less since the project is not as "well known."

For the most part, sales of comic books, whether huge or small, are still not enough to warrant a movie being made based on that alone. It's more the source material and whether or not whatever packaged elements you bring along with it (director, writer, actor) are sexy enough for the buyer. The one thing to always keep in mind when shopping IP is that the people on the other end are looking for content, but the way they filter it is to find a reason to say "no" to yours. You need to treat it almost like a sales pitch, which is what it is, and have answers for any possible objections raised. You also need to be aware of what else is being pitched around town.

When a creator produces a Pilot Season issue like "Theory of Everything," is it considered work for hire or creator-owned?

I like to call it creator-shared. It's a hybrid, where the underlying creators have ownership in the property but it's usually split 50-50 with Top Cow.

Was part of the deal from the beginning getting Dan Casey to write the first pass at the movie script?

That was the intent, yes. Nick Nantell came up with the idea originally, and he and his boss Dan Jinks (Oscar winning producer of "American Beauty," "Milk") brought it to me to develop as a comic book. Nick brought Dan Casey in, and he also wrote the comic book. From first meeting to studio sale was almost exactly two years.

You and [Top Cow CEO] Marc [Silvestri] are executive producers on the project.What exactly does that mean, and how different is it than producing comics?

It's very different than producing comics. When we make comics, we're pretty much involved on every level. When we Executive Produce films or TV shows or whatever, we're usually more involved on the front end. Marc was more involved with the "Witchblade" TV show, where he was on set, etc., but generally on these things, we're working with the writers to help shape the script into working order. The "Line Producers," which are usually just the "Producer" credits, are on set and involved in more of the physical production. Silvestri, I know, has interest in production and has been involved in various things, but for me, I'm content in developing ideas and working with writers.

How did the talent search go? Can you say anything about what the next step will be?

I read 800 written proposals from writers. That alone is a daunting thing. It took a lot of time, but made me realize how much talent is out there and available and completely underutilized. We'll be announcing the winners of the contest next week. Then, the process of working with them to get those actual books done will begin. It was a lot more work than I was anticipating, but it was rewarding to talk to so many excited up-and-coming writers. I'm looking forward to doing it again next year. Experience is everything -- I'll definitely change a few things.

What kind of changes do you have in mind?

For next year's talent hunt, I think the main difference will be that I'm going to let people create villains if they want to. Purely optional, and they'll have to sign a waiver if they want to, but there were a lot of people that wanted to do that -- even knowing in advance that it's work for hire if we pick it up. Being more specific on a few things that I've learned will help, and also setting up a message board where people can go talk about it and have a FAQ. I was answering stuff on Twitter and Facebook, but I'd get the same questions over and over.

"Think Tank" from Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal continues with #5 on Feb. 5 with #6 debuting later in the month on February 20.

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