Black Lightning: Year One #6As DC Comics’ June solicitations served as the de facto announcement, one of the new co-features coming in June will appear in Detective Comics beginning in June, and starring The Question. Written by Greg Rucka (who’s also writing the rest of Detective, which stars Batwoman), The Question co-feature will be illustrated by Cully Hamner, who’s also recently signed an exclusive contract with DC.
We spoke with Hamner about his upcoming Question as well as his new relationship with DC.
Newsarama: What led you here, Cully? Were you hinting around that you'd be up for an exclusive to DC, or did the offer come out of the blue?
Cully Hamner: Well, it’s a funny thing. I’ve doing comics professionally now for about 18 years, and I’ve always been someone who has played the entire field. I’ve worked for just about everybody, at one time or another, and really enjoyed that. But I started at DC, and I always seem to return to DC. So, in a way, it’s like home, I really enjoy working with them, and I’ve had a lot of longstanding friendships there. And for the last three years or so, they’ve kept me so busy that even some people at DC thought I was already on an exclusive.
Anyway, Dan DiDio and Jann Jones were both always really great about making sure I had a full plate, and they’ve both really championed me a whole lot. Last summer at Heroes Con, we were talking about what I’d like to be doing. It was a ton of stuff that we were throwing out there, and I said that I’d been, in effect, exclusive since Blue Beetle and since it looked like I’d be doing the same for another couple of years, you know, how about we make it official?
Which, I think, sort of surprised Dan. I think there had been an assumption for a while that I liked my freedom and didn’t want to tie myself to one publisher. He was like, “Seriously?” I said, “Yeah.” So, Dan just smiled and said, “Absolutely.” And that was that.
NRAMA: Is this your first time with an exclusive with a publisher?
CH: You know, I was actually under contract for a year to DC when I did Green Lantern: Mosiac in ’92, but it wasn’t an exclusive. I could still work for anyone else, as long as I gave priority to a certain amount of pages to DC. But this is my first exclusive with anyone.
And like I said, I would regularly hear that people thought I was exclusive anyway, and my thinking was that if I was going to be thought to be so, I wouldn’t mind having the benefits of it being an official, concrete situation, and continuing to work where I’m having such a good time.
NRAMA: Not to be indelicate here, but what is this going to entail? I think, most recently, your work at DC has been Black Lightning, and then before that, Blue Beetle's opening issues. Have you got an ongoing in the offing here, or will this agreement see you bopping back and forth on a variety of projects?
CH: Well, now, just to be clear: In the last three or so years, I’ve penciled and inked six issues of Blue Beetle (and designed the character), six issues of Black Lightning: Year One, and three issues of Down for Top Cow. I’ve also done fifteen or twenty covers, as well as character designs for DC, Gametap, and a feature film, and even some storyboards for another film. I’m well aware that I’ll never be what anyone would call a fast artist, but I haven’t been asleep on the couch, either.
But basically, I’ve gotten to a point in my life where there is a nice sense of security in knowing that DC always has something for me to do, and that I can stay in one place for a while—especially in the current economic climate, right?
As to what I’ll be doing: There are a couple of things, but I don’t think I’ll be doing a whole lot of jumping around. There is a pretty cool project waiting in the wings that I’m not yet cleared to talk about, mainly because it’s still being figured out. For the immediate future, though, I’ll be in Detective Comics every month, starting with issue #854. Greg Rucka and I are doing the co-feature starring The Question, which has me smiling every day. I mean, getting to work with someone of Greg’s caliber on a character as rich as The Question is about as good a situation as I could ask for. And on top of that, I was a huge fan of the run that Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan did with the Vic Sage version of the character in the 80’s, as was Greg. So, we’re both excited about the character and, I think, each other.
So, at least at first, I’ll be doing 8- and 10-pagers, with a high possibility of longer stories later on. Michael Siglain, my editor, has been pretty great about letting me play around with Renee Montoya’s look a little. And I’ve got my studiomate, Laura Martin, on colors—she did such an amazing job on my Black Lightning stuff that I almost begged her to do it, and thankfully, she agreed. Really, I’m in the winner’s circle here.
NRAMA: What led you to The Question and made you sign up for the gig when it was offered?
CH: Well, one of the most important things for me on every gig is who I’m working with. I’d never worked with Greg before, but I love reading him. I think he’s one of the best writers working in comics today—especially crime stuff, which I’m a sucker for. Add to that the fact, as I’ve said, I loved The Question during O’Neil and Cowan’s zen-influenced take on the character. And I knew from talking to Greg that he did, too, and I think the two of us quickly found that we were fairly in harmony on the character. Mike Siglain was pushing the idea of us teaming up on this pretty hard, too. And once I read the overview and the first script, I just couldn’t turn it down.
That, and I believe that Greg and Jen Van Meter decided that I shouldn’t work with anyone outside their family.
NRAMA: And who can say no to “the family?” Had you been following what Greg was doing with Renee?
CH: I hadn’t, no, sorry to say. I got up to speed pretty quickly once Mike suggested the project, and again, I was struck particularly by the writing in Five Books of Blood. I wished that I had drawn it—and that’s a pretty good indicator of whether I’ll be happy on a project.
NRAMA: That said, what are your thoughts on the new version?
CH: Well… I’ll be honest here and say that I was attached to the previous Question, Vic Sage (or Charlie Szasz, if you prefer). That was what I knew, and being honest, I initially scoffed at the idea of The Question being a mantle from one character to another. I also thought that having anything other than a male in a suit, a trenchcoat, and a fedora ruined the cool, graphic 60’s-Saul-Bass-ness look I always wanted to try to pull off on this character. But again, it was the writing that changed my mind. Greg has given her a great depth, and the passage to her of Charlie’s “face” makes a lot of sense, as written. I’m reluctant to go into a whole lot of detail, ‘cause I don’t want to give away anything I shouldn’t. But she’s intense, passionate, and motivated. And she has values, and it’s rare for that to be so apparent in a modern comics character. In a way, I kind of think she’s Greg, actually.
So, Renee won me over. My task beyond that was to make sure I could get over my initial visual concerns and find a take that worked for me. I took the weekend, read and re-read the material, and sketched. By that Sunday, I had pretty well decided that not only could I make her look cool, but that I wanted this gig. So, I wrote out an e-mail outlining what I thought my visual approach should be, attached my sketches to illustrate the point a little, and crossed my fingers that they’d like where I was going with it. And here I am.
NRAMA: Finally Cully, you’re pretty much answers this through your other answers, but one last time, more directly, why, at this time, both for you as an artist, and for DC as a company, did you feel comfortable making this jump?
CH: At the risk of indulging a cliché, it just felt like a good time to settle down a little, you know? I like the people, I like the characters, and I like knowing what I’m doing in the foreseeable future. What a lot of people don’t know about this kind of work—freelancing—is that a good chunk of it is about generating your next gig. It takes effort and time to generate projects that will pay and that are going to be interesting enough. And there is some satisfaction for me that I’ve never been out of work for more than a day or two in almost two decades. But it was time for a change of pace, and I’m just happy to do it at DC, where I’ve spent so much of my career. I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun.