As the hero of Days Missing, the Steward is a nigh-omniscent being given the self-appointed task of protecting humanity from destruction of its own making. But who controls the Steward's path?
As Archaia ramps up to produce a Days Missing hardcover on February 25th, Newsarama caught up with the writer of the first and last issue of the miniseries, Phil Hester, to talk about the silver-eyed hero's love of humanity, writing for Frazer Irving, and the Steward's similarities to Conan, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who.
And as a final warning -- MILD SPOILERS ON.
Newsarama: How'd you get involved in this project? Can you describe to us what happened when you got the phone call?
Phil Hester: Well, actually the editor for the project that brought me in the project was Rob Levin, who was my editor on the Darkness before he left Top Cow. And he's doing some freelance editing now, and they were kicking some names at Archaia and at Roddenberry to see who could handle this kind of stuff, and they came up with 3 or 4 names of guys they really liked... and decided to hire all of 'em.
And so we all got to work on one miniseries [together] and it was Rob's idea and I think it was Roddenberry's idea to have me anchor the book, with the first and last issues, and use the first issue to sort of set up the ground rules and introduce the characters and establish, y'know, his motivations, what he can and cannot do, and the last issue to sort of tie things up, and set up some potential sequels.
Nrama: With all the conversations we've been having about the book, we have to know -- to you, what's the appeal of someone like the Steward?
Hester: Well, to me, he's always been sort of -- well, I think every comic fan is familiar with the Watcher, from the Marvel Universe. And (laughs) every comic reader's really frustrated with the Watcher. He's got all sorts of power and can observe human history, yet has vowed to stay out of it. And I think the Steward is a character that is a neat play on not only that, but also the idea of another Roddenberry property, Star Trek, y'know, how they have the Prime Directive, of how you shouldn't interfere. The Steward is sort of a middle ground between those two concepts.
He's omniscient like the Watcher -- he sees everything we do -- but he cares so much about humanity that he can't help but involve himself in our affairs. He also has this sort Prime Directive instinct not to interfere in our own natural progression, so a facet of his power and the way he operates that he removes any memory of what he's done for the human race.
Nrama: When we were talking with Trevor Roth and Steven Christy, one of the things they kept talking about was his loneliness, and his devotion to humanity, that it almost felt a bit like a love story.
Hester: Exactly. When they first handed me that character, I thought, well, if he's an eternal as they say he is, human beings have been here just for a blink of an eye to him. They're the first thing that's even remotely looked like him that he's encountered, so he's desperate to keep us going, desperate to keep us alive in the hopes that someday we might operate on his level.
Nrama: That's interesting that you say it like that -- it almost sounds like there's a theological element to the character.
Hester: It's Trevor's character, there's no doubt about that, it's Trevor's creation, but y'know, he let us sort of run loose and came up all these sorts of out-there ideas about the character and one of the first things I thought of was, if this guy has been observing the universe so long, life itself must seem pretty amazing to him. So that's why I wrote the scene in the first one, where he's desperate to protect the dinosaurs from extinction. 'Cause as far as he knows, that's as cool as it's going to get. (laughs) Y'know? He's got to keep these things alive. And the fact that we're around now, and that we have a civilization, that's probably very heady to him.
Nrama: You were talking about all the crazy ideas that you and the other collaborators on this book were working on -- where there any ideas that either you came up with or your colleagues did that really stood out to you?
Hester: I think they all did. I felt really inadequate after seeing everyone else. Like my lame ideas. I had a meeting with Hammurabi, y'know, in ancient Babylon, and I thought I was so clever. And then I saw all the other ones, and I said, "wow, that Frankenstein idea is so killer, or wow, I should have had him overthrow some Latin American civilizations, too." It was sort of like an exquisite corpse exercise, where everyone handed off the story to the next person, tried to top one another. I think it produced really, really amazing results.
Nrama: Not to make you choose between your babies or anything, but do you have a favorite issue of the series?
Hester: Yeah, #5 is definitely my favorite, because #5 I think by that time, we had read all the materials, my first issue, and we had a real handle of what the character was about, and it was sort of a personal story for me too. I love, I'm a big fan of stories where machines or artificial intelligence becomes sentient. And it was a blast to sort of, through this sort of eternal character who's in love with our life form, y'know, as we exist, and then have him witness the birth of another one, that may be compatible with him, spreading to the first one. And that was a neat quandry to put him in.
Nrama: A lot of people don't associate you just with your writing, but for your art as well. How do you feel your background as an artist has helped inform how you work as a writer?
Hester: I try not to -- as an artist, I try not to make artists draw boring things. And when I do make them draw boring things, I try to reward them later, with something cool. I've been on that other end of the equation. People think it's hard to draw two-page splashes, with a three-point perspective of a cityscape, with all the heroes fighting inside of that. That's easy, that's fun, everyone wants to do that. The hard part is drawing two characters just talking on a phone. That's the rough stuff to me, and it's hard to draw yourself up to the drawing board to do that work.
So I try not to hit my artists with too much of that. And I try not to clog up my pages with too many word balloons. But sometimes space -- especially in a really talky book like Days Missing -- sometimes space is limited, and you have to sacrifice some of your own personal aesthetic in comics.
Nrama: Following up on that last one -- you know, everybody's got their own process when it comes to this sort of thing. Could you walk us through your approach, how you attacked some of these stories? For you, where did you start?
Hester: Well, what was cool about the whole pitch process in this book is that Trevor and Rob and Steven Christy at Archaia, they all presented us with the basic concept and then asked us to just pitch anything we had in our head. My first issue was actually three different pitches that got condensed into one issue -- there were concepts in 'em we couldn't let die, but we could only refer to sparingly in flashbacks. So for me, when I'm writing anything, I have to find some sort of hook inside of it. I don't write in any sort of structured, professional way. (laughs) I have to find a hook somewhere. It could be the middle, beginning, or end, but there has to be either a visual sequence --
Nrama: Like the dinosaurs.
Hester: Or the dialogue, a piece of dialogue, that I can sort of anchor to. Once I've done that, sort of driven that little crampon through the ice, I can sort of hang on to that and sort of build around it.
Nrama: Did the concept of Days Missing change any after you guys were pitching?
Hester: Yeah, I think it did. I think everyone's ideas -- and I'm not speaking for myself, I'm speaking for the other writers -- I think they're all really brilliant guys. When you get smart, creative people all collaborating on something, they're going to ping ideas back and forth to each other, and I think it's natural for the character or the concept to change. I think the character became more involved and more active than he was in the original pitch. I think Trevor initially saw him as a more kind of removed character, and being as we're all comic nerds, and some of us, like me, are artists, we're always looking for visual elements for the character, so we're thinking how can we make this character more active, more visually interesting?
Nrama: Speaking of collaborating and the like, tell us a little bit about working with Frazer Irving. What was the back and forth between you two like?
Hester: He's -- well, I could have written anything, and it would have turned out looking great, because I think Frazer's really brilliant. I felt really horrible about the amount of dialogue and balloons he had to deal with, especially in the first issue, because we were so tight on space. But Frazer's really great about thinking about that sort of thing, and he, when does layouts or thumbnails, he takes into account balloon size, balloon placement, as I do as an artist, too. So it was really a painless process -- I didn't have to compromise anything, because Frazer found a way to make it work.
Nrama: Were there any particular images or choices that Frazer made that you just made you say, "that's awesome?"
Hester: I thought the whole fifth issue was -- the whole thing was, I mean, the whole thing with the giant robot kind of creature, in the snow, and interacting with the small figure of the Steward, that's tough to do. Anytime you have a big size difference in characters, it's tough to make them interact properly. And Frazer did it in a really natural way, but still accentuated the alienm the immense alien nature of that robot. And I think he nailed every cool aspect. Every last cool aspect of that, he mined, he didn't leave anything unused. He really nailed it.
Nrama: That really was an awesome introduction to the issue.
Hester: That first page, is like one of my favorite first pages I've ever written.
Nrama: It's a gorgeous piece of work.
Hester: And then when you flip it over, and you get that double-page spread of Frazer's, you really get to show off... I really love that issue.
Nrama: He's able to tell so many different stories. You've got horror, sci-fi, you even got a little bit of black comedy in that fifth issue. How are you able to switch gears like that, and how does the character for you change?
Hester: I think that's why he's such a great character for the situation, is that he doesn't really change. That's why Conan is such a great character; Conan doesn't have any arc. Conan is the same in every story, and its the sit that you drop him in that makes for the interesting [stories]. It's sort of the same thing with Sherlock Holmes -- you know what Sherlock Holmes is going to do. It's the situation that you drop him in that are interesting. The character is sort of your anchor in the story, and the Steward is the same way.
The Steward is kind of a stick in the mud, he's kind of proper, and to drop him in different situations, wild situations, and see him act formally or properly, that can be kind of funny. Or it can be, y'know, alienating. It can be -- switching up the situations is really the key, and the anchor is really sort of your constant throughout. It's fun to drop, it's fun to drop your -- I guess that's why Doctor Who works, too. You know how Doctor Who is going to behave in almost every story, but it's watching the environment change around him that's so engaging.
Nrama: Were there any funny stories about the making of Days Missing you could tell us?
Hester: Not really off the top of my head -- we had, it's funny, well, this isn't exactly funny, but it tells how much work that went into the character. We had meeting after, y'know, phone conference after phone conference, and we exchanged tons of emails over the nature of the adversary for the Steward, that's only hinted at, that's only referred to kind of obliquely in the fifth issue. And we really actually know about that character for sure on the last page. We did as much work on the Anti-Steward, or whatever it's going to be called, we did as much work on the Anti-Steward as we did on the Steward. So we did as much work on a character that appeared on one page, and then not even visibly, just as a narrator, so it tells me something about the nature of how much Roddenberry likes to nail down all their concepts, y'know, they don't want to rule anything out in a half-assed manner. They want to hit all their bullet points before they hit something out.
Nrama: Is there an image already in place for this Anti-Steward? Do you know what this character looks like?
Hester: No. We do not.
Nrama: So it's a mystery for you guys, too.
Hester: And again, that's another thing that, to me, is a different kind of experience when you're working with Roddenberry. What they really care about is like a character motivation, the character's backstory, and when you're working in comics, almost immediately, the first thing in your mind is, "what does the character look like?" And that's a change from the normal way that comics operate. They're more concerned about what the Anti-Steward wants, and the comic nerd in me, is, (laughs) "What? What are the Anti-Steward's powers? What does his or her costume look like?"
Nrama: You guys ended on quite the cliffhanger in that last issue. Any idea of what the future of the Steward might hold?
Hester: Well, I'm sure there will be more material -- I don't know who will be involved with it, if I'll be lucky enough to be involved with it -- but I'm sure it will focus on the Steward and his adversary.
Nrama: Wrapping things up -- Phil, what's next for you? What's on your agenda?
Hester: I'm working like crazy, some of its behind the scenes and not seen, and some of its done and waiting for artists to finish. I'm writing three work-for-hire books -- I'm writing Black Terror for Dynamite, the Darkness for Top Cow, working on my last year on that book, moving towards a catacylysmic 100th issue for Top Cow, I'm writing Gen13 also for Wildstorm, but that's many months away. I'm almost done. I'm a consulting editor on the new Kevin Smith Green Hornet book, just helping artists sort of handle how he paces his books, how to stage a story when it's kind of dialogue heavy. And I'm doing my creator-owned book the Anchor at BOOM! And believe it or not, (laughs) I'm still working on my creator-owned book Firebreather, even though it hasn't come out for awhile. I'm still writing them, I'm just waiting for my artist to catch up.
Nrama: Finally -- anything else you think people should know about Days Missing?
Hester: I think Days Missing is a really intriguing concept, and I think the hardcover is a great way to jump in and check it out before the next series rolls out. If you're a fan of this type of material, I think it's an easy sell. If you're not a fan of this material, and you're reading this interview because you're a fan of my work, I think that this issue stands up with, even though its work for hire, I think it stands up to the Coffin or Deep Sleep as one of my most personal works.Read the entire first issue of Days Missing for FREE Right Here at Newsarama!