Cully Hamner: Giving The Question a Fresh Look

Cully Hamner: Answering The Question

Last week, the first images of Cully Hamner’s version of The Question showed up online to the delight and occasional concern of Question fans. The character, who will be appearing in the co-feature slot in Detective Comics beginning in June, will mark Hamner’s first take on Renee Montoya, as he’ll be illustrating stories written by Greg Rucka.

We spoke with the newly DC exclusive artist Hamner about his approach to The Question, and working on the co-feature.

Newsarama: Cully, when picking up a character that already exists like this, you obviously have the choice of going down the road of making it just like it was, or tweaking to suit you as an artist. You've tweaked a few things here - why'd you make the changes?

Cully Hamner: In a way, it was sort of a retrofit. I always loved the profile of the original character with the hat, and the suit and tie, the overcoat-- it was always such a classic 60’s-cool look, and I felt that had been lost. If nothing else, the hat just felt totally incongruous to me with tight jeans and tank tops and such. So, I wanted a return to classicism, but at the same time, I didn’t want her to not look like a woman. And I don’t mean that in a sexualized way. Renee’s a tough, strong woman and proud of it. But losing the Question iconography is the wrong way to go, in my opinion. Comics are all about essential iconography—Batman has to have a scalloped cap and pointed ears, that sort of thing. So, to that end, I pushed her back in that classic direction, and tried to come up with a version of it that’s a proper fit for a woman’s physique.

NRAMA: How much was Greg involved with the tweaks and changes? After all, there is some feeling of connection between Greg and Renee...

CH: Greg saw what I was doing, commented, made me defend my thinking—as well he should—and ultimately gave me his thumbs up and his trust. Once we talked about it, I think we both realized that we were coming from fairly similar places on her. We both thought that she shouldn’t have a “costume,” per se. Her costume is the mask. Renee’ll have certain things she tends to wear, as all people do. But we felt that whatever she happens to be wearing when she needs to erase her face, as it were, then that’s what The Question is wearing. If she’s in cargo pants and a leather coat, then that’s what the Question is wearing. If she’s in a track suit, fine. If she’s in a business suit with a black silk shirt, there you go. I mean, there has to be a classic default look, as I’ve said, but at the end of the day, it’s the mask and the woman that wears it.

NRAMA: What are the keys to Renee, visually? What has to be there as far as your concerned?

CH: The absolute essential thing is physical confidence, posture, that sort of thing. She’s obviously going to have to take down a lot of opponents who have a size and strength advantage, so she has to have absolute confidence in her abilities. She has to be attractive without being the clichéd comic book chick. She’ll have physicality, but not necessarily of the Playboy kind. You know what I mean? I’m trying to make her in shape, but in the way a great female athlete is. I understand that mainstream super-hero characters, female and male, need to meet an attractive ideal, but in my opinion, there are many different kinds of attractiveness out there. Female characters shouldn’t all come from the Wonder-Woman mold.

As to what else, we always need the option of returning to the iconic shape: The hat, the suit, the coat—or modern equivalent—and no face. Always.

NRAMA: What was behind the haircut?

CH: You know, I’m actually amazed that there’s been so much debate about this online. It goes back to what I just said about the Wonder Woman cookie-cutter. 99.9999 % of all female comics character are tall, with big boobs, and long hair of varying colors (just like all male characters are basically Superman with different hair). I find it tiresome and sexist in the extreme. And completely non-creative, might I add!

My first thought in approaching any job is “how can I help make this character a person?” To me, the writing isn’t the complete answer. I mean, the writing is the foundation, but my job is to grab that baton and run with it. Comics are a visual medium. Story is the engine, but pictures are the wheels. One can’t exist without the other in comics. So, I’m reading the person that Greg’s writing and deciding how visually interpret her.

Now, from what I know, Renee was a cop and is pretty no-nonsense—for one thing, that makes me think that she’s uncomplicated in her aesthetic. Look, I used to have hair down to the small of my back, and it can be a total bitch to deal with. It takes forever to dry after a shower, and in an open car or a motorcycle, it can be like needles on your face. And she just doesn’t strike me as the spend-a-lot-of-time-in-the-bathroom type; she’s low-maintenance. Also, she’s a physical person, and will no doubt often be in combat situations against multiple armed, physically powerful opponents with no rules. Why on earth would Renee want to even risk someone grabbing her ponytail or having it get in her eyes?

Also, to be perfectly frank, I just think fedoras and long hair look really dumb. That says “Britney Spears” to me, not “tough, brainy detective.” And long hair gets in the way of approximating that classic Question look I was talking about. In any case, this is The Question that I’m going to be drawing. I’m not saying her look won’t evolve over the course of things, but as far as I’m concerned, the ponytail is a thing of the past.

NRAMA: And as you note in your notes on the art, she wears her predecessor Charlie's hat? Whose idea was that?

CH: That was Greg. It was something he said to me, that she wears Charlie’s hat. I expanded on it a little in a note on sketches. My feeling is that she probably has a number of hats, but Charlie’s has sentimental value; it’s kind of her lucky charm. If she lost it, she’d never forgive herself. So, if it gets knocked off in a fight, she’ll always make sure to retrieve it before moving on.

NRAMA: Finally - did you add anything idiosyncratic to you, specifically, something that you wanted for you, not necessarily for the character or Greg, but just something you wanted in there?

CH: Hmmm… huh. You know, I guess I did, now that you mention it. I gave Renee a slight cleft in her chin. In looking at a bunch of other artists’ drawings of her, I noticed that Bruce Timm—her original designer, if I’m not mistaken—always drew her with that. So, I carried that over. Even in her Question guise, it’s there as a subtle reminder to the reader that it’s still Renee.

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