|Getting DOWN with Cully Hamner
By Rik Offenberger
For 14 years Cully Hamner has been bringing us his unique vision. From super heroes to the mob, Cully has done it all. Cully took some time out to chat with us about his career and share a few pages of his new comic Down.
Rik Offenberger: What type of art training do you have?
Cully Hamner: Besides a lifetime of looking at art and comics and movies and reading books, and of drawing for my own jollies, I did work at a commercial art house for the two years previous to breaking into comics. It was great training, and I got paid for it. Not much, but it was worth every second of getting lunch, sweeping up, and doing other people’s errands to have learned what I was able to learn. That, and being around people like Brian Stelfreeze, Karl Story, Adam Hughes, et al. for thirteen years.
Offenberger: When did you get into the Japanese style of art?
Hamner: See, now, this is a funny misconception. I’m not into Japanese stuff really at all. I appreciate it as an artist, but it’s not my cup of tea. I’m not sure why there’s such an assumption that I’m into Manga; I’m very influenced by film and television, of course, and by a number of very good artists, American and European. If there’s any Japanese influence at all, it would be the indirect influence of the various studio-mates I’ve been lucky enough to be around at Gaijin over the years.
Offenberger: How did you get the job on Green Lantern: Mosaic?
Hamner: Well, let’s see… I had gotten to be friends with the group of guys who would later form Gaijin, and one of those guys was America’s Best Inker Karl Story, who was working on Legion of Super-Heroes at the time. Karl introduced me to his editor at DC, Michael Eury, and Mike’s officemate was Green Lantern editor Kevin Dooley. I guess Kevin saw my samples on Mike’s desk or something, and called me. He offered to pay me to do samples, and that was that. I ended up doing eleven or twelve issues, and made some good friends in the process.
Offenberger: What did you think of the concept that John Stewart had to keep peace on a patchwork world?
Hamner: Well, I thought it was interesting, and would have afforded us a cool opportunity to comment on society, but there were a few things that were against it:
First, the industry went and changed on us, and an introspective book like this just wasn’t welcome in the midst of the Image Revolution. It was a concept that was hard to shoehorn into work-for-hire super-hero comics at the time.
Second, as I was told at the time, it didn’t fit with DC editorial vision (whatever that means). Sales didn’t matter, fan support didn’t matter; the first issue sold about 210,000 copies and my last issue sold about 70,000, so there was plenty of support for the book. It was marked for cancellation when issue #5 came out, and they allowed Gerry Jones a year to wrap it up, but there was no doubt that it was being cancelled because somebody upstairs just didn’t care for it. So, I had a feeling after a while of creatively being against a brick wall, and got out before the end. You pays your money, you takes your chances. That’s the biz.
Third, and probably most important, it was my first gig, and I just wasn’t mature enough of an artist or storyteller to really help make it all work. Sometimes I wonder what it would turn out like if I did that series today. But the cool thing is that somehow, people actually still remember it and compliment me on it, so I guess it wasn’t too far off the mark. And isn’t funny how familiar John Stewart’s costume on Justice League Unlimited looks…?
Offenberger: You did a fill in on Silver Surfer while on Mosaic, how did that come about?
Hamner: Actually, that’s wrong. I was done with Mosaic when that happened. It’s possible that my Surfer issue came out before my last Mosaic came out, but I was done before I ever started on the Surfer.
That being said, I had become pals with Ron Marz, who was writing the book at the time, and he asked me to do it. It was fun, although I did a really horrible job on it.
Offenberger: After working at DC and Marvel, why did you leave and go to Malibu?
Hamner: A few reasons: it was a chance to do something new, different, and refreshing; it was a chance to work with James Robinson; Malibu’s Ultraverse was an exciting, new company at the time, and it was the ground floor; and they offered a great rate. I had a great time and made more good friends.
Offenberger: With the Ultraverse the creators had an ownership interest in the heroes; do you own a piece of Firearm?
Hamner: Yes, I do. Not that Marvel will ever do anything with the character, but yeah, I do have a financial interest in it. I wouldn’t mind revisiting the character sometime in the future, but I wouldn’t expect it’ll ever happen.
Offenberger: What do you think about the rumors that Marvel is refusing to use the Ultraverse because they don't want to pay the original creators?
Hamner: Oh, good lord, who knows? Sounds like internet monkey chatter to me, and we all know that Everything On The Internet Is True. If Marvel wanted to bring Firearm back, and if they had the right pitch from the right creators, who knows? I’m afraid I don’t see conspiracies behind every door. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. I have no more insight than anyone else. Anyone can make a groundless accusation. I say, “prove it.”
Offenberger: Did you get to design the character?
Hamner: My pal Howard Chaykin designed the character, and I tweaked heavily in the course of drawing the issues I did.
Offenberger: What's it like being on the ground floor, trying to build the Ultraverse to replace the Image Universe?
Hamner: It was exciting for me; I was still so new to the business. In retrospect, I think it’s folly to try to build a comics company on a just-add-water instant universe. You end up trying to get people to treat it like they do Marvel and DC’s Universes, like there’s a history they should know and care about. Marvel and DC didn’t start out like that; their continuities grew and evolved organically. Even Image didn’t start out as a shared universe (unless it was convenient). This is how it should be, and personally, I think that’s why they all fail, from Ultraverse, to Comics’ Greatest World, to CrossGen. Just do a group of good books. If there’s a story reason to cross over, then do it… then forget it happened, and continue with your stories! Trying to shoehorn a company-wide crossover (“Break-Thru”) into a bunch of books that had just started (for Firearm it was issue #4!) seemed just contrived and silly to me.
Nobody explained what the point of that whole story was to me, and the entire effect on Firearm #4 was that two characters who were fighting stopped to notice a glowing woman in the sky through a window… and continued fighting. That was it. Just pointless.
But let it not be said that I didn’t have loads of fun; I did! I wouldn’t trade that experience and camaraderie for anything.
Offenberger: After Firearm, you seemed to do a lot of fill in issues but no regular work, do you prefer this?
Hamner: Sometimes. I’d just done a year-long run on Mosaic, and six issues of Firearm. I wanted to play the field a bit. I ended up playing it for the next ten years!
Offenberger: Any chance we will ever see you on a monthly title again?
Hamner: I would never say “never,” but there are some stars that would have to align first. But you never know.
Offenberger: Brave was a creator owned character, you did for Dark Horse, why a mob story?
Hamner: Brave never saw print, so I have to say first that I’m shocked and amused that people still ask me about it. As to the story: I like True Crime, and I’m a big fan of THE GODFATHER. I still feel I’d be good at that type of story. Brave may see the light of day in the far-flung future, in one form or another. Again, I’ll never say “never.”
Offenberger: You wrote as well as drew Brave; do you prefer writing your own stories?
Hamner: “Prefer” is probably too strong a word. I enjoy it. Even on stuff I don’t write, I like having input into what story I’m telling (even though I don’t always get that). Writing is a different kind of hard. It’s not as physically draining as drawing a book is, but it’s extremely frustrating when it’s not going well. It’s also really rewarding when it is.
Offenberger: What is the difference between working at DC, Marvel, Image, Malibu and Dark Horse?
Hamner: There are always little differences, but I’d ascribe that more to the editor and the project, rather than the company. Aside from that, you do your pages, you get your check.
Offenberger: You did some highly acclaimed work on Red, how did you get together with Warren Ellis?
Hamner: Long story short, Warren and I had been threatening to work together for years, and had talked about doing a project at Dark Horse called Magic Bullets (some of the ideas of which, if I remember correctly, ended up in Red). I finally got tired of fartin’ around and e-mailed him an idea for a story. He responded within about 30 seconds with a different story idea, saying “I was "literally" just about to send you this…” And it was Red.
Offenberger: You were working on Brave and Red, were you intentionally trying to stay away from super heroes?
Hamner: Not necessarily. I actually like super-hero stuff a lot, when it’s different and done well. My criteria for a project is always A) Is it a good story; and B) Can I bring anything to the table? Well, and C) How badly do I need a job?
And incidentally, Brave wasn’t THAT far off from being a super-hero: He had abilities that others didn’t have; he was battling a particular injustice; and he had a costume. Superficially, sounds like a super-hero to me…
Offenberger: How did Batman: Tenses come about?
Hamner: Joe Casey and I had done a little Halloween story for DC that never saw print, and had hung out a bit at cons and on the phone, making each other snicker. That’s pretty much how half the books in this business start out: Two creators become friendly and decide they want to work on something. Anyway, he had pitched this book as a Legens of the Dark Knight arc to Bob Schreck and suggested me to draw it. Bob called me and that was that.
After that, DC decided that wanted to do it as a two-issue, Prestige Format book. To be honest, I’m still not quite sure why, but hey, they own the character!
Offenberger: Was Batman one of the character you had always wanted to draw?
Hamner: Oh, yeah, totally! I’ve loved the character all my life, so yeah, it was kind of a dream realized. Wouldn’t mind doing it again sometime.
Offenberger: It was a very violent story, did DC give you any trouble with the level of violence?
Hamner: Actually, not at all. In fact, I don’t recall anybody having a problem with the violence. If anybody was a little leery, it was me, believe it or not! There were at least a couple of times I tried tone it down just a little….
Offenberger: Your currently collaborating with Warren Ellis again, how did you join Down?
Hamner: Well, it came about because by the time all of the scripts were in and Top Cow wanted to get going on it, Tony was committed elsewhere. Tony and I are old, old friends; we both were there at the beginning of Gaijin Studios, and we were roommates when we were starting out in comics. We come from a similar place, creatively. So, beyond the first issue, which had already started, he asked me to step in, and I was happy to do it. I’m like the second Darren!
Offenberger: Tony Harris is still doing the first issue isn't he?
Hamner: Yeah, the first issue is all Tony.
Offenberger: What's it like coming into the middle of a mini series?
Hamner: It’s a little odd, because I’m used to starting what I’m expected to finish. But not a beat was missed.
Offenberger: This project was on the shelf for 4 years, what got it started again?
Hamner: Warren finished up the story, and Top Cow wanted to get it rolling again, simple as that.
Offenberger: This was changed from a 6 issue series when Tony started it, to a 4 issue series when Warren gave it to you. Did he rewrite the last 3 issues to play to your strengths or were they rewritten prior to your joining the team?
Hamner: I have no earthly idea. By the time I was brought in, it was locked in at four issues. I never saw or read another version.
Offenberger: You have been in the industry for 13 years, which are the characters you would like to work on but haven't had the chance?
Hamner: Fourteen,actually; I started in 1991.
Oh, there are a few. Never really done much with Superman, that’d be fun. I’d like a real shot at Daredevil sometime, maybe. I’d still like to do a Hawksmoor mini for Wildstorm; that was something that came close to getting off the ground awhile back, and I’d still like to do it someday. Wouldn’t mind more Batman, either. Captain America wouldn’t be bad.
Honestly, if it’s a good story, you’ve got my attention, no matter what the character is…!