Top Cow's Matt Hawkins Spins Tales of Mad Science

Everyone has different capabilities. While some folks can only focus on one thing at a time, others can tap dance, juggle chainsaws, and explain the history of molecular theory all at the same time. Top Cow's President and Chief Operating Officer, Matt Hawkins, clearly falls into the latter category...at least with regards to molecular theory.

In addition to running Top Cow, Hawkins possesses a degree in Physics and displays that scientific know-how in the handful of books he writes at the imprint, including "Think Tank," "Wildfire," "Tales of Honor," and "Aphrodite IX." He even gives mini-science lessons in the backs of two of these books. Hawkins is a multitasker master, which is how he still managed to find time to talk CBR News about all his projects and Top Cow's Talent Hunt which he also heads up.

As President of Top Cow, Hawkins' first job is getting the company's Image Comics together, including the ones he writes himself. "On 'Think Tank,' [artist] Rahsan Ekedal and I wrapped the third volume last year and did an extra 'Think Tank PTSD' one-shot," he said. "We're working on the fourth volume which will launch in May or June of 2015. This one will be in color. This is my favorite thing I'm working on. It's very much a passion project and I hope I can keep it going indefinitely. I've adopted the 'Mike Mignola Hellboy Strategy' for most of the projects I'm working on now and am doing volumes or 'seasons.'

"'Wildfire' just wrapped its four-issue first volume arc, and I clearly left it open for a second arc," Hawkins explained. "I'll be working on this with artist Linda Sejic again, once she wraps the next thing on my list...

"'Tales of Honor' was a five-issue arc adapted from the 'On Basilisk Station' novel written by David Weber, and the last issue just shipped as well. The next arc will start in March or April and will be digitally painted by Linda Sejic. I'm excited to be working with Linda on this. This next arc will not be based on one of the novels, but will be an original story written by me set in that universe."

Finally, Hawkins noted a change for one of Top Cow's longest-running franchises. "'Aphrodite IX' is now 'IXth Generation' for the most part," he said. "When [artist] Stjepan Sejic and I finished the second 'Aphrodite IX' volume, we realized that it was more a team book at that point. So when we started figuring out what we wanted to do with the third arc, we decided to launch it as a new team-themed title."

Looking through the writer's various projects, you may have noticed a recurring name: Sejic. On three of the four books above, Hawkins works with married couple Stjepan and Linda Sejic, who reside in Croatia. His fondness for the artistic duo is obvious, and he's even named a character after them in the one book they don't draw (Dr. Sejic in "Think Tank"). Describing his working relationship with the couple, Hawkins had plenty of kind words to share.

"It is the most amazing and freeing thing in the world. The two of them are very different, but both have great storytelling skills and create art that's visually arresting, interesting and shows emotion in the character. Stjepan and I talk a lot about how many artists seem to have three or four facial expressions and that's it. I love looking at Stjepan's big shots and I love looking at Linda's small, emotional ones. They each do both well, but it is a lot of fun working with them," he said.

"I don't write full script, so I provide plots for the artists I work with. I'm also very collaborative and hop on Skype or the phone with the artists I work with to ask them what they'd like to draw and what they think of the story. They're each my partners and co-creators in these projects so I value their input."

Due to the types of books that Hawkins writes, he is forced to explain intricate scientific concepts in ways that readers can understand, yet also feel natural to the story. "Wildfire" focuses on genetically modified food, "Think Tank" covers a wide array of scientific interests, and while "Tales of Honor" is science fiction, it leans more to the "sci" than the "fi."

Although he carries a healthy bit of this information in his head, Hawkins conceded that research is required for his writings. As to the amount required for each book, he said, "That's hard to answer, because it's a lifetime's worth of knowledge that's all been crammed in my head. I also read a lot of science sites and journals regularly so a lot of my ideas come from that routine reading I do. To be more specific, for individual projects like 'Wildfire' and 'Think Tank,' I spend about two to three months researching very specific things and jotting notes to develop an outline with."

From this outline comes the stories read by audiences every month. Yet Hawkins said it's the characters' voices that truly make his comics come to life. For example, the protagonist of "Think Tank," David Loren, may be the smartest mind in the world, but it's his wise-cracking wit that makes him fun to follow. Hawkins wryly admitted that this character's voice is a bit easier to write than others, simply because it's his own.

"Well, I've been told from people that know me that they read the book with my voice as David's. I've overlaid my cynical, snarky personality onto his, but he's about 70 IQ points smarter than me, so I fudge the rest," the writer laughed. "I had a couple college friends that I also use as reference points - kind of an amalgamation of my own voice with a couple scientists I know. He gets the slacker from me."

Knowing Hawkins' schedule, that last part is somewhat hard to swallow. The research he did on genetically modified foods (GMOs) for "Wildfire" alone would make the average person's head spin. On top of all the science behind it, the topic is full of controversy and theories that can lead to paranoia. As a matter of fact, Hawkins conceded that his own opinion on the matter changed while writing.

"I went into my research more on the pro-GMO side and came out leaning a little more to the 'need more testing' side of it," he said. "You can't really be anti-GMO at this point. It's too ubiquitous. I know people trying to not eat GMO, and it's difficult and expensive. That's not a good combination. I avoid certain ingredients now. I tend to look for things with ingredients that are easily understood. I avoid more regularly things that look like chemical compounds, like sodium acid pyrophosphate and niacinamide."

And on the topic of things that sound frightening, Hawkins accepted a new challenge this past year and adapted a well-known piece of fiction with a large fan following: "Tales of Honor" by David Weber. While he'd had some experience adapting films and video games to comics ("Six String Samurai," "Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver"), this was new territory for the scribe.

"The most challenging aspect was definitely trying not to piss off the hardcore fans of the novels, while at the same time introducing it as new thing to people who were unfamiliar with it. I'm proud of the final work, but this next arc is a completely original story I came up with. I'm excited to add something to the Honorverse, rather than just retelling existing stories," Hawkins said.

For fans of Weber's books who might be concerned that someone's "messing" with the continuity of their universe, Hawkins assured them that he was conferring on the Honorverse David Weber all the way. "Weber was involved in the development of the treatment, and he and I met in person and had some conversations via Skype and email," the writer explained. "The Honorverse fans have been receptive and kind, although they did not like the initial look of Nimitz. He's a cat-like creature that's both furry and cute, but ferocious. We went through several designs and I think the one that the Evergreen Films guys (who are working on the movie adaptation of the novels) finished mid-first series is the winner. I included it in the back of one of my Science Classes to show readers how we were evolving the look."

Switching gears, Hawkins then moved to the topic of Top Cow's Third Annual Talent Hunt. This contest awards two writers and two artists the opportunity to work on a title for the publisher. Hawkins oversees the program, which adds to his already overcrowded plate. During the last Talent Hunt, he and his team reviewed more than 1500 submissions. As the company President and COO though, Hawkins is happy Top Cow provides this opportunity for aspiring comic book professionals and noted the program's many benefits (in addition to giving exposure to great talent).

"We definitely see an uptick in back stock sales during the talent hunt," he said. "The writers need to do their research. Talking to many of these writers, some of them are being exposed to the 'Top Cow Universe' for the first time and never realized how deep it was. So building new readers never hurts! It's a win-win for both Top Cow and the people participating. I know two artists who did not win, but were able to use the Talent Hunt submission in their portfolios to get them work."

With all that Hawkins does - including the running of Top Cow's day-to-day operations - readers may wonder what he does in his spare time (such as it is). When asked this question, he replied, "I have two sons, two dogs, a cat, and am getting married in March. That and my work is about all I have time for; although, I squeeze in some workouts."

Thus, Hawkins leaves us with one semi-scientific conclusion:

"Mens sana in corpore sano."--Juvenal, Satire X

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