Image Comics and Macon Blair Go to HELLCITY

Image and Macon Blair Go to HELLCITY

How do you picture hell? Is it all fiery pits and cavernous holes in an unforgiving underground lair? Or is it more of a dark castle, with cold metal and casts of demons out to torment whomever they see? What if Hell is actually a sprawling metropolitan city, with the Devil sitting on ruling it all?

That’s the case in the graphic novel Hellcity: The Whole Damn Thing from Image Comics, as a new resident of Hellcity (and former living soul) is tasked to use his gumshoe skills to sniff out why the Devil has been acting so weird as of late. It’s dark, it’s horrific, but there’s also room for some pitch-black humor as one guy seeks to find out why the big man has gone wrong.

Finalized, finished, sent off to the printers and set for release on August 24, Hellcity has been a long journey for writer Macon Blair and artist Joe Flood. Originally created back in 2004 and published in 2006 by boutique comics label Gigantic, Hellcity’s subsequent second and third volumes never saw the light of day until now, when all three volumes are collected in one book, with the banner subtitle of “The Whole Damn Thing”. Newsarama talked with Blair, who we deemed an up-and-coming talent back in 2007.

Newsarama: Macon, what can you tell us about the city of Hellcity?

Macon Blair: Hellcity, population infinity: the nastiest place you could possibly imagine. Take every annoying, obnoxious, rude-ass thing about any big city in the world, multiply it all by a thousand, and then rub it all over your face every single morning for the rest of your life. Every single person that you have to deal with during your day — your roommate, your boss, the bartender at your local dive, anyone — it's their stated mission to make your life as cruddy and miserable as possible. They're demons, that's their gig, they're good at it.

Nrama: So … Hellcity is in fact "Hell"? And the Devil is the major? Tell us about that power structure and what the Devil’s up to.

Blair: Yep, Hellcity is the main metropolitan area of the lower realm collectively known as Hell. But this realm is vast ... so we see the rural areas, too, and we see the swampy outer-wastes and the desert parts. We go all over. Not the suburbs but...who knows, maybe there's a sequel. The Devil isn't technically "the mayor" ... he's just The Boss. The top dude in charge, after all it's his place, right? But he has the equivalent of a city council that he has to contend with, he has a police department trying to keep things in order, there's a press corps making things hard for him. Performance polls, pundits ripping his policy decisions, all that. So, yes, in many ways he has to operate like any other municipal politician. And he's ruled for so long because he has this reputation as The Most Evil Guy Around, he's the boss because everyone believes he's the boss, not to be trifled with. But then he starts .... well, he gradually starts acting like a wimp. Writing poetry and being friendly and smiling at people. And if really freaks everyone out and that's what sets the story in motion...

Nrama: It seems to be hard to be boss — even if you’re the Devil. But it’s probably harder to be a human who died and ended up being the newest citizen of Hellcity, but a human detective named Bill Tankerslee is it. Can you tell us about Bill and what he’s doing?

Blair: Bill's been encouraged ("blackmailed" might be a better way to put it) to dig into the Devil's private life and determine what's causing his apparent nervous breakdown. And Bill's the type of guy who, as much as he may complain about it, lives for this type of thing. Dangerous work. Extreme risk. And this job is about as risky and dangerous as it gets so, for the first time since he's been in Hell, Bill is actually enjoying himself. But what starts out as just another job/adrenaline kick soon becomes something much more personal. And frightening. And the tough, tricky questions that he's got to answer turn out to be about himself, much more so than the Devil.

Nrama: How did Bill end up in hell?

Blair: He killed himself. It's a no-no.

Nrama: It’s a moral story. [laughs]

What was Bill like before he came to Hellcity – and what’s his life — or unlife — like now?

Blair: That's kind of what this all hinges on. Bill was good, he was very very good at his job. As a detective, he was a pro. But as a man? As a husband and a friend and as a good person he was a failure. Very selfish, very unconcerned. And now that he's been remanded to this lesser existence where he's forced to confront that on a daily basis, to kind of sit in his own mess, he starts to wonder if being a cunning badass private eye isn't the most important thing. Maybe being decent is important, too. But then this strange case comes along and reminds him how delightful it is being a cunning badass private eye and so he's torn.

Nrama: This seems like a supremely odd idea — Hell refashioned as a city with the Devil in the head chair, being investigated by a human detective. How’d this all develop?

Blair: The idea of these cosmically terrifying and infinite things--the afterlife, the underworld of our souls, God and Satan and all of that — being hamstrung by the same idiotic bureaucracy as, say, the DMV has always been amusing to me. And maybe comforting, too. If you think that you can put the sum total of what you've done with your life in terms of a few Scan-Tron sheets that can be filled out with a #2 pencil, that's easier to live with. Make sure I can always check this column and not that one. So I guess that was my starting point. And beyond that I just love pulpy detective stories and I love monsters and I wanted to write something where I didn't have to choose between the two.

Nrama: This book was originally published by the small boutique comics label Gigantic. What led you to bring it to Image?

Blair: Well, only the first of what would have been three chapters came out with Gigantic. After the first one came out there was an unfortunate series of events--let's say for good copy that the Yakuza was involved — and the final two books were shelved for a while. But! Never doubt the tenacity of Rick Spears. Rick was the owner/operator of Gigantic and instead of writing the whole thing off as a loss like a lot of people might have done, he brought it to Image and worked it out with them so that the whole thing--the previously released Volume 1 and the never-before-seen Volumes 2 and 3 — would be published as one big book. That's where the subtitle came from, "The Whole Damned Thing," because on one hand it kind of refers to the state of being damned that our hero is in ... but it also kind of winks at our own notion, Rick's and Joe's and mine, that "the whole damn book is finally being released."

Nrama: Macon, I really loved your previous work — and even saw you doing some stories for Marvel before you seemingly dropped off the map. What have you been up to?

Blair: Working on screenplays. Working on movies. Writing a novel. Going on acting auditions and stinking up the room. Babysitting for my friends' kids. Trying to eat more salad and less fried chicken. Going to my day job. Vigilante justice. Shark fighting. The usual keeping-busy type stuff.

Nrama: How’d you hook up with artist Joe Flood to do this book?

Blair: Rick Spears had seen Joe at several comic conventions and thought his art was fantastic. (And he was right, because it is.) And Rick had read Hellcity, which was a screenplay I'd written, and he thought Joe's art would fit well with the story (and again, Rick was right) and so he introduced us--this was years ago, 2004 maybe?--and proposed the project. And then, of course, Joe and I did the ceremonial blood dance under a full moon and were henceforth telepathically linked and six years later, here we are.

Nrama: With this whole story finally being released, I hear you’re already working on a new project with Joe. What can you tell us about that?

Blair: Oh, yeah, it's a fun one. It's got the same sort of crusty, irreverent spirit as Hellcity but it's a very different type of animal. It's called Long Road To Liquor City...and the 'city' thingy is coincidental. Joe pointed that out to me, "Two books with 'city' in the title in a row?" But I didn't plan it that way and they're not at all related. It's a 1930s hobo adventure story. It's romantic and comedic...but it's not a romantic comedy, if that helps? Joe's at the top of his game and I feel like my knives are a sharper now so, we'll see, I think folks will like it. It's still in the early stages of production though. For now we're just gonna enjoy seeing Hellcity finally get its day.

  Looking forward to a trip to HELLCITY?

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