• Interview - James D Hudnall #2

    Interview by: DelBubs

    James D Hudnall Alpha Flight Interview
    AlphaFlight.net: Straight of the Cuff, do you remember the first comic you read and what impact did it have on you, if any?

    James Hudnall: The first comic I remember looking at was Mad Magazine. But the first comic books I read were Richie Rich, Casper, Hot Stuff and all those other Harvey comics. Really liked them when I was a little kid. I liked the world the characters lived in. When I was 7 I was introduced to AstroBoy and Osamu Tezuka by a Japanese friend. I didn't get into Marvel and DC comics until later, though I may have read a few Superman comics as a little kid. The effect these books had on me were varied, but I think the biggest effect was they developed my love of fantastic fiction and sci-fi.

    AlphaFlight.net: Is there any particular moment or event that made you say to yourself, 'yup, I would like to write comics, I could see myself doing this'?

    James Hudnall: I wanted to be a comics artist in high school, but back then (the mid 1970s) you had to move to New York if you wanted to do comics and I had no interest in going there. I was a passable fan artist, and maybe I could have developed into something better if I had the drive in that direction, but I didn't. So I went off, joined the Air Force, go off and went onto computers and lost interest in comics. But in 1981 I was feeling a little nostalgic, so I found a comic store and bought some books I remembered liking. This was the time that Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, John Byrne were all bringing a new heat to the medium. So I got back in as a fan. But when Alan Moore came along I realized that I could do some interesting things with comics given the chance. So I started looking for ways to get in and in 1985 I started working with Eclipse. The rest is history.

    AlphaFlight.net: Kinda like a double question here, from your work, it's not hard to see the sci-fi influence, but would you say that most comic books (especially the super hero book) have a grounding in sci-fi and it's the task of the writer to make the scientific premise believable to the reader?

    James Hudnall: Sci-fi is critical to superhero fiction because you need some kind of excuse for how people got superpowers and science fiction provides the most suitable means. When you delve into magic it becomes a fantasy story. The better your science sounds, the more realistic the premise of the superhero is. But of course, you need believable characterization to pull it off and stories that make sense. All of those things, together are needed to make a superhero work. Though for years bad science has been used to justify a character's powers and writers got away with it because most people don't have a good education in science, alas.

    AlphaFlight.net: Strange you should say that, one of the most common arguments I have gotten into on mailing lists is the in regards to the term mutant, Marvel seem to bandy that around to explain a multitude of powers, one aspect being the child is different from the parents cos he has power, ergo he's a mutant, but on the other hand they all have the X-factor which suggests that they are the next step in evolution which would negate the term 'mutant'. Should readers demand more depth from whoever is writing an X title or accept that if they say it's a mutant, it's a mutant?

    James Hudnall: You're right. They're trying to have it both ways. What this is, and it's rampant in the industry, is editors and/or the editors in chief are asleep at the wheel and not paying enough attention to keeping things consistent. There is this tendency to let flavours of the month "reimagine" characters and stories, pulling them farther and farther away from what made them special or interesting.

    AlphaFlight.net: In regards to sci-fi, who would you say influenced you the most, I have a deep admiration for H.G Wells, Asimov, E.E. Doc Smith, Gerry Andersen and Roddenbury, but these would probably be considered giants in the field, any lesser Joe's who made an impact, but didn't quite get the Kudos' they deserved?

    James Hudnall: For me it's Bradbury, Clarke, Bester, Herbert. The Stars my Destination was and is one of my favourite SF books of all time. I also was into cyberpunk in the late 80s and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. I also liked classic Star Trek (not so much the newer ones) and Gerry Anderson's stuff. I especially liked Farscape when it was on.

    AlphaFlight.net: When you refer to cyberpunk, what especially do you envisage, to me cyberpunk lies within Ellis's and D'raelli's 'Lazarus Churchyard' and 'City of Silence', but I realise that there is probably a damn site more that is more dedicated and pertinent to that particular genre? In regards to Star Trek, I've always found the original series to be Roddenbury's fixation on Buxom ladies, lots of ideas in the original series presented themselves, but were never as fully explored as they could have been, whereas in the later series we had buxom ladies and plot depth. If you were Roddenbury for one day, what would you have changed in the later incarnations of Star Trek?

    James Hudnall: I didn't read the two comics you mention. Generally, I have not been too impressed with attempts at cyberpunk in comics. I was the first person to do with Strikeforce:Morituri The Electric Undertow was back in the late 1980s. And arguably, with Espers in the mid-80s which some people tell me classifies as cyberpunk because of the character Linda Williams being able to hack computers with her mind.

    As for Trek, the problem I have with the new series is that they are PC and everyone gets along too well. That's boring. While we can do without McCoy's rather racist remarks about Spock, the fact that characters in the old series often disagreed with each other and almost came to blows at times and still remained friends is a lot more "real" to me than all the touchy feely crap we got from Voyager or TNG. Also, the aliens in classic trek were far more original. Only now, on Enterprise, are they going back to alien-looking aliens, but for years the aliens were always central casting actors with putty on their nose. Yawn. And the ideas were more challenging in the better Classic Trek episodes because they hired SF writers. The new trek is just generic TV plots with alien of the week inserted. What I would do is create more dynamic tension between characters. Have serious consequences happen when relationships go bad, and it takes months for things to get patched over,. I would make the interpersonal politics more like real life. Especially like it is in an office. These people are stuck on a ship for months on end. You'd expect more stuff going on between characters that we get. And I would hire SF writers to come up with challenging stories that made you think more. That's it in a nut shell. Think the Sopranos in Space.

    Sure TNG and a few others had the odd good story. But usually, the plots would serve as well as an episode of any other cop show by taking out the space stuff. That's not what Trek should be.

    AlphaFlight.net: I know numerous people who desire to write for one of the big two if poss., but would love to write a comic that would see the light of anywhere if poss. That kinda dedication is something I don't have, how much is self believe and how much is sheer bloody mindedness?

    James Hudnall: It's critical. Or, you could say, you need to be too stupid to know any better. Entertainment is a tough business and more likely than not you will fail. It's especially hard in comics because people don't seem to be willing to accept new characters. The industry needs new ideas and new characters, but there is a resistance from fans to try them. In my case, most of my work is original characters. That has been my focus. I'm still trying, even though it's been a hard road. A lot of people I've known, who were much bigger names have given up on comics because it can be so hard, but I'm willing to give it more time.

    AlphaFlight.net: In regards to new ideas and new characters, do you find that the big two stick to what they know and it's the smaller indies that are willing to encompass new ideas and run with them?

    James Hudnall: It's hard for companies to risk their money on a new idea. There is a lot of investment that goes into a series and they lose big if it fails. So I can understand why they are reluctant. Smaller companies have no choice but to give people a shot because they don't have anything of their own. But I mostly self publish or package books for publishers now. I take the risk, but I own the rights. And that's too my advantage as I have had several TV and movie deals in the last few years.

    AlphaFlight.net: Are you happy with creator owned work, or is there a inner self which would like a shot at a major title, do you consider the restraints of writing an established series (i.e.: Avengers, X-Anything, Superman etc) too confining for what you want to convey with your writing?

    James D Hudnall Alpha Flight Interview
    James Hudnall: Sure, if I was offered a book I would do my best to make it as interesting as I could. I love getting paid to write. When I did Alpha Flight, I was trying to make it as true to the Byrne concept as I could and move it forward. I felt Mantlo disregarded the material too much. I loved writing Superman and Batman for the few stories I did with them. But the problem with doing these kinds of characters, is you are usually hostage to editorial edicts and continuity that makes it very hard to do interesting work. Even on Alpha Flight, my hands were tied a lot of the time.

    AlphaFlight.net: In regards to Alpha Flight, how did that come about?

    James Hudnall: I was working on Strikeforce: Morituri and my editor Carl Potts also edited Alpha Flight. He and Bill Mantlo had a falling out, so he asked me if I was interested in taking the book over, which I was more than happy to do. They had me do a fill in before, so they know I could do it. That was issue 63.

    [AZ]Alpha Flight are a classic example of continuity going out of the window. You said that you tried to stay as true to Byrne's concept as possible, but how difficult was that, what with trying to encompass what Mantlo had done to the team during his tenure?

    James Hudnall: Very difficult. Mantlo's continuity was all over the place. He didn't show a lot of interest in the established history of the characters, from what I could see. He did what a lot of comics writers do, and just went off in his own direction. Sales were going down on the book and they wanted me to save it. I tried to wrap up the Mantlo storylines and go from there. In hindsight, I should have done what Alan Moore did with Swamp Thing and reboot the series in one or two issues. I took too many issues to wrap up the Dream Queen story which I had to finish with no notes from Mantlo on where it was going. Also, Marvel wanted me to change a lot of stuff in one issue, which prevented me from doing it the way I would have liked, such as returning Sasquatch to his male body. On top of that, my editor on the book (Marcus McLauren who took over from Potts) second guessed everything because he had a different idea of where it should go than I did. So we ended up compromising a lot and that hurt the book, in my opinion, but I did manage to throw off the whole Mantlo storyline and was taking it in a different direction. A direction that has been imitated in some ways by later writers. I came up with the idea that there have always been an Alpha Flight protecting Canada, even in ancient times. And we see that idea used a lot now, in books like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But I did it before anyone.

    AlphaFlight.net: The artist during your run on Alpha received a lot of flack from fans in regards to his renditions of the team. Was that criticism unfair and as a writer, how much did you have to change from your original ideas to fit in with Callimee's style?

    James D Hudnall Alpha Flight Interview
    James Hudnall: John Callimee is a nice guy, but I hated his art with a passion. Unfortunately, he's the artist they wanted on the book. If we had someone else I think we could have done a lot better. Calimee could not handle a lot of the things I wanted to do and he often ignored my script directions and did unsuitable things in return. He just wasn't skilled enough to do that book at the time. He got better on other stuff, later. But Marvel made a mistake putting a beginner on a book they wanted to save. I tried to write to his strengths, but that really limited what I could do. The artist I wanted on the book was Hugh Haynes, who did 63 and 67. I felt he was much better and would have improved with more experience. But Potts didn't like his art as much. Too bad I couldn't have worked with Jim Lee, who was the artist on Alpha Flight before I took it over!

    AlphaFlight.net: The main part of your Alpha tenure was taken up by the Sorcerer storyline, did you have any plots worked out after that story and what where the circumstances of your leaving the title?

    James Hudnall: Yes, I had a years worth of stories worked out that were pretty cool. But Danny Fingeroth took over as editor and he wanted someone else as the writer. So I was told to tie up my storyline in two issues. I did what I could. Fingeroth told me he wanted to take the book in a different direction and wanted a new writer to do it. His ideas were even less successful than mine. The sales were stable when I was on. Around 70,000. The book was cancelled a few years later, so what does that tell you.

    AlphaFlight.net: If there was one more Alpha story you could write, which artist would you like to work alongside and which characters would you use?

    James Hudnall: It would be cool to do the book with either Jim Lee or Byrne. I would like to explore the characters histories more. Making it more character oriented. Not so much a soap opera as a gene rational epic. A story that takes place over two decades. I think the series was different. I liked that it was in Canada. I did a lot of research on the place and tried to do more with Canada than anyone else had done. In my story, I would weave even more Canadian history into the story and show how Marvel history interwoven with that.

    AlphaFlight.net: Moving on to your creator owned work, when you have an idea, do you lay down your initial concept with a specific artist in mind, or see which artist best suits your idea?

    James Hudnall: No. I come up with an idea, work it out, then I think about what kind of artist would suit the story. In my latest book, 2 TO THE CHEST, I was searching for an artist who could convey the gritty crime feel I wanted, and a realistic tone. I found the perfect artist in Jose Aviles who starts with issue 2.

    AlphaFlight.net: We've previously talked about your fondness for Sci-fi, but your work encompasses numerous genre's, fantasy, espionage, super hero etc, is sci-fi the one you find yourself happiest with, or do you feel comfortable with any of them?

    James Hudnall: Well, as you stated, I have handled a lot of genres. That's intentional on my part. I want to try new things and see what I can do. I think, if you look at the bulk of my work, however, there is a slight Sci-Fi element to most of it. I mostly like to write believable characters in slightly or extremely unbelievable circumstances. SF is more helpful to that, because if you do it right there is a logical explanation for things.

    AlphaFlight.net: Is there any one story, which may not have found fruition yet, but you have definate plans to do, when time or circumstance allows?

    James Hudnall: I have a lot of stories I want to tell. Hopefully, that will always be the case. Right now I am doing 2 TO THE CHEST which is a thriller with religious undertones. After that I have a vampire story I want to do that is unlike any vampire story you have probably seen. There's a superhero story I want to do that is epic in scope but doesn't involve known characters. That one would take years to do properly. So I can't do it until I can afford to, or some publisher pays for it. And I'd like to do stories about real people, with no genre trappings. Stories about life and dealing with it. So, hopefully I'll be able to most of all of these at some point.

    AlphaFlight.net: '2 To The Chest', sounds like something a C.S.I. would say, when can we expect to see #1 hit the shelfs and will it be coming through 'Image'?

    James Hudnall: 2 TO THE CHEST is coming out this month from my company, Dark Planet Productions. It shipped from the printer last week. If people can't find it they can order it from my website at www.darkplanet.biz. They can also read a 10 page preview of #1.

    AlphaFlight.net: I know I am probably over simplifying here, but if we take 'Espers' (Sci-Fi) and 'Age Of Heroes' (Fantasy), how wrong would I be to say that both genre's have a common middle ground in the Super Hero genre?

    James Hudnall: As far as those two books go, yes. Espers was intended to be a more adult an realistic take on the X-Men. I was also influenced by Japanese superheroes and anime, like the film "Harmageddon" by Rin Taro. Age of Heroes was sort of a take on a classic superheroes done in a fantasy motif. You can see parallels with certain superheroes. But I wanted to be more about the characters than the plots. And I wanted to make the stories more about what makes someone a hero.

    AlphaFlight.net: And Finally (you've been more than generous with your time and patience), apart from '2 To The Chest' (ltd or ongoing?) what else can we expect from you during the next twelve months, or are there things that need to remain a secret?

    James D Hudnall Alpha Flight Interview
    James Hudnall: 2 To The Chest will be a five issue series starting in February. We're putting it out monthly. In addition to that I can tell you about AFTERMATH, which I am doing for Humanoids. I don't know when volume 1 will come out in the US, but in France it will be called TRIGS and come out in March. Other than that all my other projects are on the planning stages so I can't really talk about them now. But I am in the process of finishing Devastator and putting it out as a color Trade sometime this year. I'm hoping to get all my creator owned stuff in print again as trades. Keep checking my website www.jameshudnall.com for more info.
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. DelBubs's Avatar
      DelBubs -
      With hindsight, not my finest effort, very generic.
    1. Ben's Avatar
      Ben -
      yah, but that was several years ago, I look at some of my older content and feel much the same.
    1. Flightpath07's Avatar
      Flightpath07 -
      A nice interview.

      "a gene rational epic" ? That's a hilarious typo, love it.