Every once in awhile at conventions, fans ask artist Cully Hamner to sign a copy of the X-Men Unlimited story he wrote almost a decade ago.
"It was a Wolverine/Colossus story. Not a lot of people know about it," he laughs. "People don't realize I can write."
Hamner will be reminding fans about his textual storytelling abilities in October when WildStorm publishes Red: Eyes Only, a one-issue prequel to the Red mini-series that Hamner co-created in 2003 with writer Warren Ellis.
But this time around, Hamner will draw and write the comic.
The opportunity to write/draw a prequel came about because the original Red mini-series has been adapted into a film coming out on October 15th. The Red movie stars a who's who list of respected film actors, including Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis.
While the three-issue Red mini-series by Ellis and Hamner was a dark, noir story, the movie is an action comedy that adds a slew of new characters to the story.
Newsarama talked to the creator about his prequel, about the process of writing, and what he thinks of the changes made to Red when it was turned into a movie.Newsarama: Cully, it's unusual to see you writing. How did the idea to do a Red prequel come about?
Hamner: It was something I kind of joked about after we did the original series. I never got the impression that Warren was that interested in doing sequels or prequels to what he'd done before. And he was too busy anyway. So we kind of left it where it was.
But I think with the movie coming out, WildStorm wanted to take the opportunity to get some attention for the book, and also to get more material for another addition that could come later down the road. At the beginning of the year, the jokes about me writing it became a little more serious. We knew there would be tie-in comics for the movie version, and they asked me if I wanted to be involved, and we talked about me writing it.
At the time, I was pretty knee-deep in The Question, in Detective Comics, so I wasn't sure what kind of time I would have. But it became clear that the Question run was going to end, so it finally got to the point where they asked me to do a one-shot.
Nrama: Does this prequel relate to the movie?
Hamner: Not really. It's a direct prequel to the book, and tone-wise, it's similar to the book. The film is its own thing, and I appreciate it and think it's great what they're doing. I've read the script; I've seen the trailer. I think what they're doing is going to be a really good movie. But the book is a different thing.
I guess, technically, you could say this is a prequel to the movie, since it's something that's not covered in the film nor in the original book. But I don't really look at it like that.
I don't think it would be respectful to what Warren did in the first book if I did a prequel that steered things toward what they did in the movie. No, this will be true to what we did.Nrama: Was it your idea to do a prequel?
Hamner: Yeah, I specifically chose the idea of a prequel because I really feel that, even though it's left ambiguous at the end of the series, I think he died at the end of the book. I really feel there's no way for him to get out of that situation. So I wanted to do a prequel, but one that is a prequel to the book, not the movie.
Nrama: Do you enjoy writing?
Hamner: I do. I don't often get to write anything. I enjoy the process. I find it really difficult, but it's something I want to try to force myself to do. I'm a storyteller; that's what we do in comics. And this is just another part of the equation that I don't get to do very often. I will admit that over the years, I've come up with ideas for what to do, to see a character at other times in his life. And that was definitely the case with Red.
I've always tried to write in my little bit of off time. I'm always generating story ideas and trying to flesh out ideas I have. I don't get a lot of time to do it because I'm drawing so much. But it's something I felt that I wanted to do if I ever had the chance.
I also think it's one of the hardest jobs in the world. Whenever I see this debate about what's easier — writing comics or drawing comics — it just makes me laugh, because they're two different things that have to happen in concert for you to get a good comic. But doing the whole thing yourself is just a huge challenge. And I totally respect people who can pull that off on a regular basis. I'd love to get to that point, at some time, but right now, it's a daunting process.
Especially when you have to live up to Warren! That's kind of a tough thing to pull off.
Nrama: Did it help that you'd collaborated on the story with Warren?
Hamner: Definitely. I'd already thought about this character and already had a back-story in my head, and I was involved in the original process of bringing this character and his story to life.
But I should say that Red was Warren's story. I don't want there to be any ambiguity about that. But I think that the relationship between the writer and artist is kind of like a writer to a director. Or someone who's written a song as opposed to someone who performs a song. There is a lot of give and take and creation that goes into visually telling the story.
I've always considered myself a storyteller, and writing is something that I feel is organic to me, but I love working with great writers, and I learn something every time. And Warren is one of the best.
Nrama: When you sit down to write and draw a comic, do you actually write yourself a script? I've talked to writer/artists before, and they all seem to have a little different approach, although it rarely involves a full script.
Hamner: I wrote myself a very detailed outline. I circulated it around to people I trust, including Warren. I really didn't go much beyond writing a detailed outline because I find it hard to break things down into panels unless I'm just doing the layout. So rather than writing a full script, which just seems like an exercise in doing more work than needs to be done, I just wrote an outline, then started laying the whole thing out. Then I did the dialogue and finished the pages.Nrama: I know it's only one issue, but what can you tell us about the story?
Hamner: I'm telling the story of why Paul Moses retires in the first place. We're going to see why he's been sitting in that house for 20 years. He's still an agent when we meet him.
Nrama: Will we see some of the characters who were introduced in the mini-series?
Hamner: Yes. I'm reticent to give up everything about the story, since it's a one-shot. But you do see Paul Moses, and you see at least one other character that shows up in the original mini-series.
I think anyone who enjoyed the book we did, the nasty little tale we did back in 2003, will like this.
Nrama: Could someone pick this up without having read the original Red mini-series?
Hamner: Yeah. I think so. There are things in the story that, if you've read the original book, you're going to go, "Oh! That gives it a deeper meaning!" But if you were to pick it up by itself, it's just one simple, violent story. It does not require knowledge of the original book, but it helps.
Nrama: You mentioned that you already an idea about the back-story before you wrote this prequel. Had you been given this information about Paul's background by Warren or was it something you made up yourself?
Hamner: What I do is, I'm kind of like an actor when I'm designing characters and how they act and do things. So even if it's not in the script, I'll quite often start filling in back-story. Even if it's not overt or something I'm doing consciously. I start filling in blanks for the character because it helps me tell the story.
I think a lot of artists do that. It helps so much, especially with creator-owned books. I mean, if you're doing Superman or Batman, everybody's already got the back-story. But if you're working on a character that hasn't existed before, it's helpful to treat it like you're an actor approaching a role.
So when it came time to think about this prequel, it was one of those things where I just walked around for a few days thinking about it, then something reminded me of an idea or two that I'd had years ago, and it just snowballed from that.
The story came together pretty quickly. Literally over the course of a day, I had the entire story figured out.Nrama: What do you think of the changes they made to the comic when they adapted it into a movie? They added characters and material that wasn't in the comic.
Hamner: The Red comic was only 66 pages, and that would maybe give you a half hour film. They had to flesh the material out. The analogy I always use is Jaws. If you read the novel, it's pretty different from the movie. But I wouldn't give up the movie for anything. I love that movie.
It's obvious they had to add material to Red and expand the story and the cast. A lot has been made of the shift in tone, but I understand it. I think if they were completely literal to the comic, it would be a 45 minute, completely dark film without any appeal.
So what they did was they took the core of the story and turned it into something that has more appeal than what Warren and I did. It's just a matter of two different media.
Nrama: Besides this Red: Eyes Only one-shot, what else do you have coming up in the world of comics?
Hamner: WildStorm is also doing four tie-in comics to the film, and I'm doing the covers to those. It's basically me doing Cully versions of the movie posters. All four of them will have something to do with one of the characters from the movie.
I don't know what else I'm doing. I'm exclusive to DC, so it will be something with them. I'm sure people will hear about it soon.