Some of you may remember that a few months ago I reviewed Hoax Hunters #0, an odd little genre title that I found highly enjoyable. The basic premise revolves around a Destination Truth/Fact or Faked type reality show cast that go around the world debunking high profile weirdness, the twist is that the weirdness is very real and the shows cast uses the cover of a reality show to cover it up. Starting life as a two-page back up in the pages of Hack/Slash it will soon be making the jump to becoming an ongoing series from Image Comics I was able to talk to the series co-creator/writer Michael Moreci, a relatively new writer but one that over the course of our conversation proves to be a guy that puts a lot of thought and effort into his craft. Spandexless: Alright well the first thing I want to ask is how you got started in comics, you did some shorts for some UK publications correct?
Michael Moreci: I did, though it seems like a lifetime ago. I cut my teeth by writing some shorts for UK magazines that published shorts in the vein of 2000 AD. Horror and sci-fi tales with twist endings. I knew nothing about the industry, how to make it as a writer, how to publish, not a thing. But I wanted to put out comics, and I wanted to hone my craft. And it just so happened that I got lucky with a magainze called FutureQuake. I sent them a script, and they liked it enough to pair me with an artist. In fact, I was incredibly lucky, because that artist was Keith Burns, who I still collaborate with to this day--most recently on ReincarNATE, which is coming out this summer with Viper Comics, digitally, then I'm self-publishing a print collection of the trade.
S: That's really interesting to me because I never really took into account that American’s might work for those books too.
MM: Yeah, I think I did it backwards.
S: Haha, well the american comic market being as competitive as it is it might have been the right choice. America doesn't have any of those big genre anthologies and certainly none that team writers and artists outright. So after that what was your first work in the american market?
MM: Well, my first GN, Quarantined, was with a UK press (Markosia) but was released through your typical comics channels--Diamond, Comixology, iBooks, etc. But, in terms of my very first work released by an American publisher, that was the first installment of Hoax Hunters.
S: Wow, what was the gap of time between these projects? I know in comics work can come out incredibly quickly or torturously slowly given how long you can sit with the material.
MM: Not much, actually. Just a few months. Hoax Hunters came along very, very quickly. Tim needed the backup and there was only a short window to get to him. You're right, most comics projects take forever. Hoax Hunters was one of the few projects that came together quickly and was released right away. Steve and I have been lucky with this project since the start.
S: How did you and Steve initially come to work together? I know very little about Steve except that he's Tim's brother and that on his website he has a painting of Batman riding a Bear, which I'm pretty sure means he wins the internet.
MM: Haha! Steve does often win the Internet, although he doesn't use it often. I actually first met Steve while on a hike in Wisconsin; I found him in the woods, shivering and nude behind a rock. He had no social skills, and a vocabulary of six words. It took a few months, but I integrated him into modern society, and shortly after we created Hoax Hunters. That, obviously, isn't true. We're just friends who share similar weird ideas and obsessions. So working together made sense. We were tossing around ideas to put together and pitch when Tim offered us the Hack/Slash spot, so things naturally came together--a rare occurrence. And Steve does also do gallery paintings, just like I do my own solo writing. We both do our own things, but our collaborations is central to our endeavors.
S: Which I guess brings us to the main reason we're talking tonight: Hoax Hunters. I reviewed issue zero and enjoyed it a lot. I think my only question was in terms of the books pacing which was originally released in two page installments. How do you go about writing a story like that in terms of plot and action beats?
MM: It all came down to a simple question: "What would Kirby do?" It sounds funny, but really, what would the master do? To the best of our knowledge, Kirby would utilize each installment to its utmost fullest, and that's what we did. That was our top objective, to make the most of our space. And that doesn't mean to cram in word balloons and a half dozen panels per page, but to write in a way where there's text and subtext; where the narrative is rich and dense. And we wanted each installment to be its own set piece. Except for two, they all start in a different place. And JM added a nice touch with his coloring, in giving each two-page component its own feel. We knew the story we were telling in the backup, but we didn't want to write it as a standard issue and have the breaks fall where they may. We wanted each piece to be its own thing. Also, thinking of Kirby, we wanted to build suspense and stop on a (mini) cliffhanger with each installment--really ramp up the action and mystery and intrigue.
S: That makes a lot of sense for that kind of story, now with the series becoming an ongoing are you approaching the storytelling in the same way or are you taking a new approach?
MM: Much different approach. We still have a focus on layered text and storytelling that's compact without being cramped. But now, we have the room and ability to telling a story on a grander scale, that's exactly what we're going to do. I think we're utilizing the strengths from issue zero as a foundation for the more involved, long form story we want to tell. See, we had a year to dwell on Hoax Hunters, while we were doing the backup. And in that year, we came up with a lot of story, a lot of Hoax Hunters history and lore, and it's only gotten grander since. But, like I said, our principles remain the same; our focus is, and always will be, on intelligently crafting a compelling story.
S: I did like that about issue zero, in how we were only got a quick glimpse about what the Hoax Hunters actually do, If you can, could you go into how your approaching the books cast? With the end of issue zero the cast included a tough as nails secret agent type, an undead scientist, a girl with powers of demonic origin, and a spacesuit filled with spectral crows. That’s a pretty eclectic group.
MM: Yeah, that pretty much covers it. Jack, the agent, is our spiritual core of the group, the rock. Ken Cadaver is a reanimated NASA scientist; Regan is a former child star who suffered a demonic possession that left her with unusual abilities; and Murder is...well, he's an astronaut crow hybrid, living in a spacesuit. All of these characters have fully realized histories, which Steve and I will reveal over the course of the series, as it's relevant to do so. Again, we want there to be intrigue. We're not going the origin to story route; the origins will come in time. I can say that every character has a unique role in the Hoax Hunters organization, and their role in the overall mythology reflects that.
S: I think that’s the way character should be handled, starting at a characters beginning works to a point but I think allowing the reader to see the characterizations get pulled back is ultimately more rewarding.
MM: I agree. I think comics is an origins obsessed medium, and that ultimately kills pacing for a good story.
S: Yeah, Its gotten to the point where retelling Superman's origin has almost become a yearly occurrence.
MM: Like Before Watchmen. Watchmen is my favorite piece of fiction, possibly ever. But I won't read a single Before Watchmen issue. Not just because the Moore thing, but I also just don't care. What happened before the events of Watchmen? Who cares?
S: Yeah, It just seems completely unnecessary no matter how much you pretty it up with sweet sweet Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner art. Speaking of art (I am the master of all the segues) the only main difference with the Hoax Hunters ongoing is that art will now be handled by Axel Medellin, taking over for JM Ringuet. What does Axel bring to the table artistically for the book?
MM: You know, I think he brings a more traditional style. JM is great, but there's no question that he was more stylized in his own way. Axel is more traditional, more character-centric--he can bring emotional nuances and depths to life in amazingly subtle ways. That's exactly what we wanted for the book. Yes, it's a horror/sci-fi romp (and believe me, Axel illustrates some spectacular monsters, such that would impress Bernie Wrightson), but at the heart of the series is the characters, the human story. Axel really brings this to life.
S: I get that, I definitely dug JM's style (He will always have my respect simply for the fact he did concept work on Clive Barkers Jericho, a game I'm pretty sure only I remember) but I understand the need to bring a more human quality to this kind of story and from what I've seen of Medellin's art he definitely brings that. Moving away from Hoax Hunters for a moment, you have another cool project lined up in that you'll be co-writing and Issue of Hack/Slash which will be the first time you'll be playing in somebody else's sandbox correct? What will your approach be for something like that?
MM: It is the first time, and it's great to happen with Hack/Slash, which has long been a favorite of mine. The approach was, as the gurus of Pixar would say, to simplify. It's a method I've stuck to most of my writing career, and I realize the better I get at simplifying things, the better my writing is (at least I think). With Hack/Slash, it was a matter of focusing on the core essentials of what Steve and I think makes the book work so well. We wanted to strip it down and tell a single story that expressed the basics of Cassie and Vlad's story. The story we crafted is, to us, a reflection of that. We didn't want to take it in a new direction or reinvent anything--we wanted to look at what's there and dig out the building blocks.
S: Hoax Hunters is coming from Image at a pretty exciting time as its currently celebrating its twentieth year as a publisher. Does that fact add any extra pressure to yourself and the Hoax Hunters team?
MM: No, not really. It's an honor, more than anything. I still remember the exact moment I bought my first Image book twenty years ago. It was Youngblood #1, which I purchased from the local comics and sports cards shop in my neighborhood. Image has instructed so much of my career and passion, and I’m proud to be part of this momentous occasion.
If anything, Image’s anniversary, and their recent surge, has been a great boost to Hoax Hunters and has relieved pressure. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats, and I would be remiss not to attribute the healthy Hoax Hunters orders to the current state of Image. I think more people are excited about Image than they have been in a while, and retailers are confident ordering their books. That’s probably the hardest part of the successful book equation, getting retailers and readers to take a chance on your work. Right now, we’re lucky that people are willing to do so.
Thinking strictly of our work, I love that we’re being published alongside Brian K. Vaughn, Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, Tim Seeley, etc. These are the stars I’ve steered by for so very long. It creates a healthy competition, in that I want Hoax Hunters to be considered in the same ranks as Saga, Manhattan Projects, and the like. We’re not junior partners—I want Hoax Hunters to be the best book on the shelves, month in and month out. I’m not saying we are, not at all, but that’s our ambition. I’m a pretty competitive person; if you’re in this game and not trying to be the best, then why even bother?
S: Lastly I wanted to talk to you about the aforementioned ReincarNATE, particularly how you recently concluded a successful Kickstarter campaign for it. I'm a guy who thinks that crowd sourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indie a Go Go are going to become even more important in financing comics in the coming years and when I recently talked with Mark Andrew Smith about this he said that a big advantage of crowd sourcing is it gives you a direct access to your readers. With the completion of ReincarNATE do you have similar feelings or any other thoughts on crowd sourcing and how it effects the relationship between creators and readers?
MM: That's a good question. Because, yes, I had a successful Kickstarter drive but I still don't know how I feel about the whole thing, weirdly enough. In its purest sense, I think this kind of crowdsourcing is great, for many reasons. Like Mark says, you can reach fans directly; you can increase your revenue by leaps and bounds; you can have complete control over your project. But, at the same time, I think the system has been abused. Being honest, I can't quite come to terms with artists (in any medium) asking for enough money to provide their complete sustenance for the duration of their project. In fact, I think it's absurd. And, yes, I'm coming from the point of view of an artist with a day job, but that's not why I hold this perspective. I just don't think it's the responsibility of your readers, fans, patrons, whatever, to directly support your life. Artists need to have business acumen to survive these days, and by acumen I don't mean, "give me forty grand, ten of which will go towards the work you're supporting." I think it's absolutely fair to ask for money that directly goes to funding a project, and everything you make beyond that is gravy. Like Mark--he and James now have an awful lot of money now, and that's terrific. But the idea of allocating, say, 60% of a Kickstarter goal to one's rent seems to be missing the point.
That being said, who knows the future holds for my relationship with Kickstarter. It's very tempting for all the reasons I point out, and illustrated by Mark's success. Because the truth is, with Kickstarter you have a much, much higher ceiling for generating revenue and reaching fans. Sullivan's Sluggers, I'm sure, will be a great book. But no matter how spectacular it may be, the odds of it generating over 90K in the direct market system is damn near unfathomable. To reach those kind of heights is very attractive. It's great that the possibility exists.
Hoax Hunters #1 is written by Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley with art by Axel Medellin. It's an Image Comics title and will be in comic shops everywhere
THIS Wednesday, July 4! Celebrate America's independence with ghosts! EDIT: NEXT Wednesday, July 11! (Though you should still celebrate July 4 with ghosts.)