David Hine has never been a writer who creates in one genre. From the haunting villains he created for DC's Arkham Asylum to his experimental indie-toned The Bulletproof Coffin, his stories rarely fit into a tidy little box.So it's no surprise that his latest creation, the Image series Storm Dogs, is a mix of several genres.
Hine's tagline for the series is "CSI in space," since Storm Dogs combines crime scene investigation with sci-fi world building, giving it the unusual distinction of being a "science fiction noir thriller."
Oh yeah, and it's kind of like a Western too.
Co-created with Doug Braithwaite, Storm Dogs also stands out because most of its main characters are women, although Hine isn't shying away from his usual habit of putting the characters through psychological trials as the story progresses.
Starting in November, Storm Dogs will be a six-issue "season" with plans for more. The comic will be one of several from Hine coming out this fall, including a story arc of Crossed and an ongoing series of Night of The Living Dead for Avatar, as well as his continuing run on The Darkness for Top Cow.
Newsarama talked to Hine to find out more about Storm Dogs and what he hopes to do with this sci-fi world.Newsarama: David, this comic is described as a "sci-fi crime-noir thriller," and it takes place on a "frontier planet," which sounds like it might have a little bit of Western influence. Just how many genres are you mixing here? Is that part of the attraction of the story to you?
David Hine: There’s definitely a Western feel to the book. The TV series Deadwood and the novels of Cormac McCarthy have made a big impact on me over the past few of years. When I started seriously putting my ideas together for Storm Dogs I found there were elements from all kinds of genres filtering in and it seemed absolutely appropriate. I think this cross-genre thing is happening a lot at Image Comics right now. There are no set rules of genre, style or subject and that’s very liberating for creators.
Nrama: How did you come up with this concept of mixing science fiction with a noir-type thriller? What inspired it?
Hine: I’ve played around with the idea of a Crime Scene Investigation in space for a very long time. When I was in my early teens, I was totally into Agatha Christie and then I got into science-fiction in a big way, so it was natural to want to combine the two.
I had a basic outline and I would go back and tinker with it every few years. I also had a couple of other science-fiction concepts that never really reached the stage where I could sell them.
A couple of years ago I began mixing and matching elements from those different concepts and there was a point where it all came together. The selling point was always that “CSI in space” tag line that I pitched to Eric Stephenson at Image. I don’t usually go for high concept pitches. I normally find myself waffling on for ages to get the point across, so I felt quite smug that I could sum it up in three words.
It doesn’t beat Walking Dead, but it’s close.Nrama: What's the basic premise of the story as readers start this journey with the characters?
Hine: On the edges of the known universe, there’s a planet called Amaranth. It’s home to a couple of intelligent native species called the Elohi and the Joppa. They have a sophisticated social structure but are not technologically advanced, so they have protected status. That means no highly advanced technology can be used on the planet, so when there are mysterious deaths among the miners working on Amaranth, the Federal Union that polices the member states sends in a specialist crime investigation team who have to fall back on primitive techniques to solve the murders. Once they start digging they find that there are all kinds of dirty secrets waiting to be unearthed and that no one is innocent.Nrama: So you're basically stripping these characters of their accoutrements. Is that symbolic, since, knowing you, I have a feeling they'll be "stripped" psychologically too?
Hine: The story is set way into the future and clearly the technology would be so advanced that if this crime had happened on a more advanced planet the whole story would have revolved around the science. What interested me was to take this group of people out of their comfort zone and force them to rely on their wits. You’re quite correct in guessing that this will remove a lot of the protection of being part of a universal community and force them to ruthlessly examine themselves.
Nrama: The solicitation says they will "learn what it is to be human," which I assume is part of the theme. Any hints you can give about that tagline?
Hine: As mankind moves out through the galaxies and encounters new species that are entirely alien, there will be a tendency to find the common traits between species, to aim for some kind of equality. One of the themes is the capacity of humans to continue to commit monstrous acts despite our cultural development. Placing our characters in extreme situations will test their own capacity for good and evil and by implication, what it is that makes our species uniquely human. That’s something that inevitably grew out of the plot. Every murder story on some level is about what defines human morality. But I don’t want to make Storm Dogs sound too heavy. At heart it’s a Whodunnit with plenty of action and, I hope, some fascinating interactions between a very diverse set of characters.Nrama: You're working with several female characters. Why that choice? Was writing them a challenge? And what does it bring to the story?
Hine: I’ve been doing this thing for a while now, when I’m creating new characters for a story, where I try swapping their gender, race, sexuality to see what happens to way the character is perceived and what will open up the most potential for the characters to develop. I did a lot of that with this cast of characters and this gender mix is what I ended up with. I’ve never felt it too much of a challenge to write specifically female characters. Decent fiction writers don’t write only what they know from experience. Who wants to read about a white male, comic-book writer living in cosy domesticity in South London? If you have a good imagination and empathize with other people’s experiences, you should be able to put yourself into the skin of a character no matter what their background or gender. It’s a wee bit tougher to get into the head of an alien, but on the other hand who’s going to say I’ve got it wrong?
What I do hope I’ve succeeded in doing is avoiding stereotypes. These are all unique individuals. There may even be scenes where two or more women are discussing something other than men.
Nrama: Can you introduce us to a few of the characters?Hine: The team leader, Cassandra Burroughs is an old-school detective who specializes in homicide, Siam Locke is a weapons and single-combat expert who provides the muscle, our forensic pathologist, Jered Hofman, is one of the few who still knows how to slice up a corpse, and Masika Zenda is a cultural expert and diplomat who is there to keep the relations between settlers, natives and cops as smooth as possible.
We also have the local cops, Sheriff Starck and his deputy, the unsavory Bronson. Starck is an enigmatic character and it will be interesting to see whether he turns out to be a man of integrity or a self-serving bastard – think the Humphrey Bogart character, Rick, in Casablanca.
Maya Kaneko is head of the mining corporation that is exploiting the mineral wealth of Amaranth and is our obvious big bad evil villain – maybe.
Then there’s my favorite character, Doll. I can’t say a word about Doll without giving too much away. The most enigmatic characters are the alien Elohi, but again we don’t want to give away too much about them yet. They feature on the cover of issue #2, and I think that visual is enough for now.
Nrama; What's it been like working with Doug? What has he brought to the table?Hine: I love working with Doug. It helps that we have been friends for donkey’s years and that I think he’s one of the best artists in comics. We worked together on a four-part science-fiction story for DC’s The Brave and the Bold and that experience confirmed that we could work well together and that we shared similar aims and standards for our work. Doug has all the obvious skills of storytelling, scene setting and superb figure drawing and page design. More importantly he gets under the skin of every character and brings them to life as unique individuals. I love that I can write a silent beat for a character that will tell us more about the character’s internal thought processes than a dozen captions – and without over-emoting. In Doug’s work, as with the best actors, it’s all in the eyes.
What was also vital with this project was the world building. This kind of science-fiction demands a lot from the artist. We have to believe in every aspect of this future world. Doug has done an amazing job of developing the aliens visually, along with all the flora and fauna of Amaranth and the costumes and retro-future technology of the human characters.Nrama: The solicitation also says "Season One." Does that mean there's hope for more? Do you have a grand plan for more stories set in this universe?
Hine: This is effectively an ongoing series, but it’s impossible to turn out work of the standard Doug is producing on a monthly basis, particularly as he is still doing some other illustration work. Ulises Arreola, who handles interior colors also has other work on his plate too, so we’re going to be doing this one season at a time with a break between each season to make sure we maintain the quality. We do have a long-term plan for this story. There is a lot going on in the background that will become more evident as the story progresses. We are telling a very big story here and we know exactly where we’re going with it, though the path we take to get there may take a few detours on the way.