Criminals are always looking for the next big score, but banks are becoming harder and harder to heist… but what about churches?
That’s the thought that comes to mind for the mastermind behind the upcoming Image/Top Cow series The Tithe. By the Think Tank duo of Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal, the four-issue series mixes cinematic heist stories like Heat and The Town with thoughts on modern religion, morality and online activism from the likes of Anonymous.
Newsarama talked with Hawkins about The Tithe in advance of its April 15 debut, speaking about the religion, heist stories, and the Robin Hood allegory.
Newsarama: From the solicitations and the cover, The Tithe sounds like a very hot button topic. What can you tell us about it, Matt?
Matt Hawkins: The Tithe is a combination of my desire to do a heist type story like Heat or The Town and also to incorporate my thoughts on religion which continue to evolve. This story is not anti-religious I want to get that out right away. Yes, I'm an atheist but I was raised Christian and most of my family is devout so I respect people's beliefs. There are three key characters in this story: one is a smug atheist (think Richard Dawkins), one is a kind non-judgmental Christian and the third is an agnostic. The religious overtones are part of the story, but more a basis for the character's viewpoints. The story is a heist story, the religion is secondary.
Nrama: Followers on your Facebook page know you keep informed about news and events, and this seems to pull from the idea of mega-churches, terrorism and the rise of Anonymous. How'd this idea for The Tithe all come together for you?
Hawkins: I'm a big Michael Mann fan and The Town is probably my favorite film of the last few years and I wanted to do a story like that, but the idea of robbing banks or art museum heists is so overdone at this point I wanted to come at it from a different angle. So I started thinking about where there are large stores of cash, even temporarily, that someone could steal. Bounced that around in my head for a few days and thought about mega churches. They rake in tens of millions a year in cash. So if you hit them at the right time, you could take it. Did some research and started coming up with the bare bones of the story and it evolved from there.
Nrama: And the person doing the robbing is a entity called the Samaritan. How would you describe it?
Hawkins: Samaritan is perceived of as a "group" like Anonymous, but it's actually a single person. I'm not giving too much away, that's discovered very quickly in the story. This hacker has put together a team to do the physical robbing and how that came together is a big part of the story as well. Samaritan is the Agnostic who wants to make the world a better place and hates hypocrisy. The basis of the story (again this is given away in the first 10 pages) is that she hacked the FBI's own list of churches that they were investigating for potential fraud. Investigating this, she discovered that they were indeed fraudulent and she decided to steal their money and give it to what she deemed more worthy causes. I've given away the gender, hard to answer that without doing so...but that's also key to the story and discovered early in the first issue.
Nrama: And who are the FBI agents out to get them?
Hawkins: Here are two FBI agents:
Dwayne Campbell (50’s) -- Dwayne is a family man, loves his wife, has four daughters, only one still at home the three oldest are educated, married professionals. He’s dedicated to his job and attends a small Baptist church in their hometown in suburban Austin, Texas. He wants to give his family everything he didn’t have as a child. He’s always wanted a son and Jimmy (the other agent) becomes a proxy of that for him. Raised in the foster system, Dwayne had no parents to speak of. In his job, he’s smart, well respected, but considered a bit of a Luddite. He never advanced beyond his field agent status because of his unwillingness to sacrifice his family for career. Dwayne is a Baptist and a believer, which causes him some comedic friction with Jimmy. Despite his confident aura, he’s never quite felt like he fit in the world, not comfortable in his own shoes. He has nightmares about his childhood, but he hides this and compartmentalizes it and has never sought therapy as an adult. He doesn’t allow his family or work to see the weak side of him. Jimmy knows more about his childhood that Dwayne’s wife does.
James “Jimmy” Howard (late 20’s) -- Jimmy is a hacker that was caught infiltrating the FBI database at age 14 and was recruited in lieu of going to jail. He’s young, good-looking, smart, charming, likable and a bit of a womanizer. He has a bad boy image inside of the FBI, but most of it is a façade he continues to cultivate. When he applied to be an actual field agent instead of just in cyber crimes, Dwayne took him under his wing and has a soft spot for Jimmy. He's a genius level hacker but Samaritan is younger/smarter and knows the new tricks -- this drives him nuts. He's our atheist.
Nrama: These mega-churches Samaritan robs from -- is there a face to them here in The Tithe?
Hawkins: The story centers on three separate mega-churches and uses all three as key set pieces. They're located in Anaheim, California; Henderson, Nevada; and Phoenix, Arizona. I didn't model any of these churches off of real churches or their pastors.
Nrama: Dealing with religious subject matter, even just here with religion as a business, is touchy. Was there any apprehension on you personally or as Top Cow publisher in doing a book like The Tithe?
Hawkins: No because there's no religious bashing. I talk about religion incessantly. It's obsessed my life and constantly debate it with people. I was a Christian until I was 28 and then rejected it. I intentionally do not try to talk people out of their faith. Why? I envy people their beliefs. Atheism offers cold comfort for the real questions of life and death. I look at religion just like anything, it can be used for good or evil. Most religious people are good people and I won't shit on their beliefs. Like I said above, the story has three viewpoints and there will be some discussions of religion but Dwayne is our most likable character and he's a believer. My mom is super religious, btw, she'd never let me get away with smearing religion. [laughs[
Nrama: How many issues will The Tithe be?
Hawkins: It's initially a four issue arc that Rahsan Ekedal and I are doing between Think Tank arcs. He's almost done with the fourth issue now. Once he's done with that we'll be back working on the next Think Tank arc which will be in color just like The Tithe. After writing this, I can see multiple continuations of this storyline, but as always it's dependent on sales and artists availability.
Nrama: As you mentioned, this is the second major work between you and your Think Tank collaborator, Rahsan Ekedal. You've worked with a number of artists as writer, editor and publisher -- what makes this partnership with Ekedal something you wanted to come back to and do more of?
Hawkins: Rahsan is one of the best artists in the game. He does amazing layouts. His storytelling blows me away every time I see the pages come in and he adds little details to characters that enhance the stories. I also appreciate his ability to convey emotion and have more than two or three facial expressions which is a common thing I see amongst artists today. Most artists can make an action scene interesting; Rahsan is the rare one that can make two guys sitting at a table having a conversation interesting. I'm fortunate to have him as an artist, collaborator and friend and hope we'll be working together for as long as possible!