Cereno and Bellegarde on the New Hector Plasm - Totentatz

Cereno and Bellegarde on Hector Plasm

Hector Plasm isn't your typical superhero. Consider him more an adventurer –- a righter of wrongs, in a world of the supernatural and suspense. Hector Plasm roams the earth trying to keep the piece between ghosts, humans and demons. Hector Plasm was created by writer Benito Cereno and artist Nate Bellegarde after being spurred on by Robert Kirkman to create a "Tim Burton superhero". First coming to notoriety in comics for their backup strips in Kirkman's Invincible where Hector Plasm debuted, the character went to his own one-shot in 2007 entitled Hector Plasm: De Mortuis. In it, the creators carve a fictional narrative while remaining as faithful as possible to the myths and legends that their stories are influenced by.

In November, a new second release is coming due called Hector Plasm: Totentatz and we talked to Cereno and Bellegarde for more.

NRAMA: Thanks for talking to us, guys. What can you tell us about this new Hector Plasm one-shot?

Benito Cereno: The new one-shot, Hector Plasm: Totentanz is, like the previous book Hector Plasm: De Mortuis, a collection of shorter stories that center on a loose theme. Last time we looked at stories that had to do with respecting the boundaries between the living and the dead, and this book--as the name Totentanz, or "dance of the dead" implies—is something more of a celebration of the dead. As such, we look at Halloween and Halloween-like holidays from around the world and their significance to those who have passed on. Collected in this book are three "Hectorween" special stories that were previously only available online around Halloween, a brand-new centerpiece story that's the most ambitious thing we've done so far, a two-page artifact unlike anything else in the book, and a non-Hector Halloween story that was among the first collaborations between Nate and me. AND we have contributions from friends and artists such as Ed Tadem, Jess Fink, Dean Trippe, John Campbell, and Scott Wegener, all of whom help you figure out something to do with your own Halloween.

Nate Bellegarde: We hear a lot of, "What happened to that Hector Plasm book, when are you guys going to do another?" There are obviously plans on doing a lot more Hector in the near future, should we have the opportunity. So I suppose its a matter of it being time to remind people we're still alive and kicking, as well as introduce the book to new readers. It was definitely time for a new Hector book. We'd accumulated new short stories and got to work with some people we really admire, in a way its like our own tiny little anthology slumber party.

NRAMA: The origins of Hector have a dose of real life – he's a 'benandanti', which were an 16th & 17th century Italian cult. How'd you come across that idea, and how much does research play into writing Hector Plasm?

Benito: To answer both questions at the same time, research—whether that means looking through books, searching online, or just listening to people tell stories--is very important to me in the creation of this book. The reason for that is that I feel there is a real difference between "authentic" ghostlore and literary horror. When I say authentic, I don't necessarily mean "true" stories as in, "This is a story that really happened and Bloody Mary was a real person and she will really come out of the mirror at you for real in real life," but rather there is something about folkloric, passed-by-word-of-mouth, campfire, local legend type ghost stories that have a heft to them that makes them feel authentic. Literary polish, even by absolute masters of the genre, removes something of the immediacy that comes from "No, this really happened to my friend, I swear," even if you don't believe it. As such, I'm trying my best to find the things that people actually believe or have believed about ghosts and spirits and demons and what have you, because I want these Hector stories to feel as if they are taking place in a real world full of "real" things that reflect actual beliefs. It would be really easy to just make up my own rules about ghosts and how they operate like Ghostbusters and hundreds of other movies and books have, but that just feels bullshitty and insincere to me. While it might work for others (especially Ghostbusters, clearly the best non-Back to the Future movie of all time), it feels dishonest to me as a storyteller to follow that path. So, all of that said, I have a number of books full of ghost stories and international ghostlore that I reference for that authentic feel, and it was while scanning that book that I ran across the idea of the benandanti cult and the power of the caul. It seemed like the perfect catalyst for a combination story of ghosts and a supernatural hero, so we ran with it.

Nate: Yeah!

NRAMA: Is the first one-shot, Hector Plasm: De Mortius, still available for order?

Benito: Yes, yes, absolutely yes. If you would like to order the book Wizard ranked as #189 in its "Best 200 Comics in Wizard History" list, ahead of Criminal #1, ahead of Brad Meltzer's Justice League, it has been conveniently offered again in Previews next to Hector Plasm: Totentanz. Your retailer can easily order it from the Diamond retailer website using just the name, but just in case, the order code is SEP08 2227. Any retailer with a Diamond account can use this code to order the book; if they tell you they can't, they are lying to you, and maybe you should get it from, say, heavyink.com.

NRAMA: You two are returning to Hector Plasm after a doing the Invincible Presents: Atom Eve one-shot for Robert Kirkman, who you've also done backup stories in Invincible for in the past. How do you think that work will help this upcoming one-shot?

Benito: I can only hope it helped to get our names and work in front of more people. The initial orders on Atom Eve #1 were very nearly literally ten times higher than the initial orders on De Mortuis. A lot of people read Invincible, and I appreciate Robert giving us the opportunity to reach a wider audience. And as much as I love Invincible, and as good a time I had working on Atom Eve, Hector is our real passion, so--in my opinion--the Hector stories are stronger than the Atom Eve stuff.

Nate: I might have mustered up some reader crossover off of my work on Brit. I wonder what the Venn diagram of people who enjoy Oversexed Senior Citizens who Punch Shit and people who enjoy Ninja Detective Campfire Horror looks like.

Benito: I think you'd be really surprised.

NRAMA: Any plans for a crossover – I think Hector could take Invincible on!

Benito: Man, I love crossovers. And while the characters from my other book, Tales from the Bully Pulpit, could pretty easily cross over with any number of similarly-minded comics-- Amazing Joy Buzzards, Atomic Robo, Helen Killer, Dr. McNinja, what have you--or even more mainstream superhero fare (in fact, I think Nate snuck a cameo of the Bully Pulpit itself into one of his forthcoming issues of Brit), Hector exists in a kind of fictional reality that would be difficult to reconcile with superheroes. While Hector does exist in a wide universe of characters and concepts (many of which are hinted at in the story "Born with a Silly How" in De Mortuis), I can't fit sci-fi or superhero stuff in there. So don't expect any aliens or irradiated giant monsters or robots or anything. All of which are important to the Invincible universe, you know?

Nate: Yeah, we even call it the Hectorverse. Is that embarassing? I'm not embarrassed. I actually subscribe to Erik Larsen's philosophy of crossovers. Where sure, Savage Dragon can show up in Invincible and vice versa, but that doesn't mean the Invincible in Savage Dragon is the same Invincible in Invincible. They're separate universes where the characters exist in each others realities, but different from their home realities. That frees you up from tricky continuity, and you can say "Yeah, that one fight from Dragon happened to Invincible, but that other time where they had sundaes didn't," and there's no mess. So, conceivably a version of Hector Plasm could exist in the Invincible universe that is separate from the one in the Hectorverse. Maybe he's friends with Damien Darkblood or something.

Benito: Man, now that you say that, I can totally see a Hector/Damien Darkblood/Astounding Wolf-Man thing working out.

NRAMA: How did the two of you meet, and end up working together on comics?

Benito: Like socially awkward lovers, we met on the internet. Back in 1999-2000, there was a whole mess of aspiring comics creators that posted on the Wizard School message board. This was, obviously, back when the Wizard website ran online comics tutorial features called Wizard School. I used to lurk pretty heavily on this board. Tons of guys who are doing pro work in comics were there: Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Cory Walker, Khary Randolph, Mark Brooks, tons of guys. Also, a young lad of 15 posted there, showing up some of the older guys. That was Nate. Anyway, eventually that site folded and was largely usurped by Penciljack.com, which ended up playing host to even more people who work professionally in comics now. Once the PJ board was up and going, I eventually decided to start posting, and one of the first guys I had to contact was Nate, because we had very similar sensibilities in terms of humor and story ideas and influences, and because he drew basically how I wished I could draw (whenever, that is, he wasn't just swiping Jhonen Vasquez--he was 15, what can you do?). We tossed around a lot of ideas, but the first actual story we did was an inside joke-laden three page story featuring the moderators at Penciljack, including myself. After that, the next real story we did was a quick three-pager trying to make the deadline for an anthology book with a Halloween theme that had some pages to fill. We just missed the deadline by a smidge, and the editor didn't like the fact that Nate had hand-lettered the story. The spot was taken up by some jerk named Ryan Ottley, who fortunately has faded into obscurity and with whom I have thankfully never had to share a hotel room. We then stumbled around from idea to idea, including an anthology title called Action Hour Ballyhoo Go!, which featured Nate's characters Fetorpse and Deep Fried Monkey, as well as strips starring Nate and me that eventually evolved into the kind of strips we did for the Invincible backups. We got that gig by doing a two-page strip to congratulate/make fun of Kirkman and his just-started superhero work at Image. When we sent it to him, he said, "Yeah, I'll run this; want to keep doing them?" And so we did.

Nate: The earliest memory of Benito I have involves him getting a fight with Cory Walker to defend my honor. After the Ultimates line was announced, for fun, I started doing my own revisions of Marvel characters. Cory started giving me flack because my version of Cyclops' powers had destroyed his original eyes, and they (along with his visor) were replaced with robotic ones and therefore he no longer could be Cyclops because he shot out of his two eyes. Then Benito came along--out of nowhere like a magnificent avenging spirit (his message board screams, btw)--and curb-jobbed Mr. Walker by telling him that Cyclops doesn't actually mean "one eye."

Benito: That is completely true. It actually means "round-eye," and it's questionable whether Homer's Polyphemus only had one eye. He's definitely referred to as having multiple eyebrows, so take that as you will.

NRAMA: Finally, where did the idea for Hector Plasm originally come from?

Benito: It ultimately comes from learning about the benandanti from that book, as I said before. Nate and I originally applied it to a character in a hypothetical Ghostbusters comic proposal, back when everyone was doing licensed 80s properties. Our version would never have been picked up, because we totally ditched the original guys and made up new ones who took place in much more serious ghost situations. Sometime around the same time, Nate and I had our pitch for a book called Wizardry turned down, and we were looking for something else to do. I think Kirkman told us we should do something like a "Tim Burton superhero." So we came back to the benandanti idea, added some swords (this was thanks to Kill Bill being in theaters), cooked up the Southern gothic meets sea shanty meets urban legend meets well-stamped passport feel, and we were off.

Nate: I only vaguely remember when we made him up. I know he looked goofy like hell.

Benito: You were really into Fables at the time, if I recall correctly, so early Hector designs look a lot like Bluebeard from that book.

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