Monday, May 20, 2019

Interview Time: Bryan Edward Hill

Bryan Edward Hill has been doing great work for some time now, but I didn't realize how much I loved his work until I started reading some stuff he's worked on more recently. I adored his work on the mini-series, "Wildstorm: Michael Cray," and have tweeted extensively about the fantastic comic, "American Carnage," in addition to talking about his work on, "Batman and the Outsiders." I reached-out to Mr. Hill and inquired if he would be willing to do an interview about his work, and I was delighted when he said that sounded great! We engaged in the interview for a number of days via email and it can be read below.

For my readers who are not familiar with whom you are, would you mind introducing yourself?

I'm Bryan Hill. Sometimes credited as Bryan Edward Hill. I'm a writer. Filmmaker. TV scribe and screenwriter. From Saint Louis, MO. Currently living in Los Angeles and I'm eternally grateful to have the opportunities I have.

You've worked in film, television, and comics, how does your writing process differ depending on the format?  

I'm a crazy person so my process is equally crazy. I don't see much difference between the formats, in terms of how imagination works, but comics have less space for storytelling. They're an incredibly efficient medium so that requires the most heavy lifting, in terms of narrative economy.

I read and loved, "Wildstorm: Michael Cray," considering it one of my favorite mini/maxi-series of 2018. You had a complex challenge in that is spun-out of Warren Ellis' series, "The Wild Storm," and then spun the character back-in as the series nears its conclusion. Was it tricky to take this character and know you had to get him from Point A to Point B within a certain time-frame, or was that actually helpful?

Thank you!

Well, it's always intimidating to be working with Warren Ellis, but he was incredibly welcoming to me. Telling the story in the time-frame wasn't the difficult part. The difficult part was getting into his head (which was already crowded with an alien) and making him live and breathe, like a real person would. I don't like to write archetypes, full stop. I like to invest into them and see what makes them tick. In this case, I had the space to do it because it was a new relaunch and there was more road in front of me than behind me.

One thing you just said sticks out to me, about how you wrote Michael Cray and your effort at, "making him live and breathe, like a real person would. I don't like to write archetypes, full stop. I like to invest into them and see what makes them tick." This grabs my attention because your characters do indeed, "Feel," very real. I'm not sure if is your masterful flow of dialogue, how you seem to really dig into the people you write, or what it is, but none of the characters I've seen you writing feel lacking in dimensions. How do you go about getting into the nitty-gritty of these characters and making them feel so fleshed-out? Are you the kind of person who makes a huge, "Bible," for his work breaking everything and everyone down, do you make a loose outline of concepts and fill them in as you progress? Some other methodology?

I take my notes and have a place for all my random ideas and thoughts. In the writing, I approach it like acting, sort of. I'm not an actor, but I've studied acting and known a bit about the process. I try to imagine the story through the eyes of each character, sort of living through them and that usually opens up their manner of speaking and doing to me. I have to imagine them as kind of "real" in order to write them. That's why I'm careful about what I write, which jobs I take. Sometimes I don't want to be in the head of certain fictional characters or explore their worlds.

"The Wild Storm," was going to have other series spin out of of it but that seemed to not occur, do you know why your book still was able to happen, is the secret just that you did such a stellar job on it?

That's the business side of it and I deliberately keep myself ignorant of all of that, LOL. I'm sure whatever decisions were made were considered carefully. I'd love to see more writers and artists be able to explore what Warren is doing.

Within, "Wildstorm: Michael Cray," you have Michael face a variety of twisted-versions of popular DC characters. One thing that struck me was how some of them don't exactly come-off as evil. I felt really, really bad for the mentally disturbed Barry Allen who seemed just as desperate to forge a human connection with Cray as he was to kill anyone whom he felt threatened his mission. 

Sometimes, I will write pure good, pure evil. Definitely pure evil, because that's easier to imagine. I reserve that for my work in horror (my favorite genre). In this case, I wanted to explore causality. Why people become destructive. I felt more interesting than having him up against simple characters with little dimension. Cray isn't particularly heroic himself, so it's a lot of the pot shooting the black kettle in the face for being black. Mixing up the metaphor.
Can you disclose if you have another works relating to, "The Wild Storm," or any potential follow-ups to it in the near future? I know I"d love to see more about Michael Cray! 

All is quiet on the Western front as far as I know, but maybe there's something in the works. I'm not sure [since this interview was conducted a new title unrelated to, "Michael Cray," has been announced, "Wildcats."]

"American Carnage," is probably my favorite new series right now. It follows a former F.B.I. agent named Richard Wright, who is biracial and able to, "Pass," for white, which allows him to infiltrate a white supremacist group led by wealthy industry-leader, Wynn Morgan. How did you get the idea for this series?  

Essentially, one of my friends growing up became a white supremacist and I needed to explore my feelings about that so I started work researching the world, speaking to people in the movement, trying to find a way in that wasn't just "racists bad - The Comic Book."

Part of my goal as a storyteller is to explore the uncomfortable things, the cosmic horror that lives inside the human mind. Our capability. I like to follow the monsters and write about what they're like up close and in person.

One thing that I found both incredibly interesting and distributing is how Wynn Morgan could be considered an intelligent man, but he's also incredibly hateful and ruthless. In issue #6 hearing him break-down his views about why White people deserve power and respect made me extremely uncomfortable in that we know he is wrong, but he states everything so clearly and matter-of-factly you can see how his twisted logic makes sense to him and enraptures followers who agree that the White Christian deserves respect.  How did you create the character of Wynn Morgan and make him so unpleasantly, "Real?" Did you do extensive research into these kinds of groups and their ideologies? 

Unfortunately, all you have to do is watch YouTube for a couple of hours and you'll hear all that rhetoric. It's the same rhetoric I got in person when I visited with people in the movement. My job as a writer was not to judge Wynn, but to write him and let the reader determine where they fall. It's more of a Kubrickian approach, the presentation without judgement, but that's the approach that I prefer. I don't like telling people what to feel. To me, that can be condescending.

I had to write Wynn and make him convincing, because people like Wynn Morgan can be convincing. Anything else would have been a self-serving lie.

 Reading, "American Carnage," I am also intrigued that you don't exactly paint things as a Democrat VS Republican issue. Wynn Morgan seems disconcertingly able to appeal to anyone who wants to blame others and states that is why he is entering politics as an Independent. Within the comic both Republicans and Democrats seem equally inept at truly understanding how much hate is manifesting in our country, and the threat is poses. There is no, "Good guy," here, just a bunch of hapless people and Morgan, a really bad guy. Looking out the window at our world today do you think someone like Morgan actually would be able to run for office and even win in our current MAGA-era?

Could someone like that win? It's possible. Politics is always a hot mess of a thing. Especially these days with the 24 hour news cycle and social media. Within chaos there's a lot of potential for anything to happen. Good and bad.

Both Republicans and Democrats have their issues. I didn't want to lionize one and demonize the other. I'm very liberal. Everyone knows that, but I'm not in allegiance to a party because I don't believe the two party system works to our benefit. There's prejudice on both sides of the aisle. That's obvious. Making this book a screed against one party would have been an oversimplification of what is a complex and layered issue within our society.

 I recall you saying that, "American Carnage," was not exactly an ongoing-series as you have an endpoint in mind. How many issues do you anticipate the series going for, barring any sudden dramatic change in plans? 

We're doing 9. I always wanted the book to be a single sit down read. A bullet train through Hell.

"American Carnage," is an amazing comic, but I could also picture it being a stellar television show. Seeing as you've done screenwriting is that something you'd ever want to pursue, or do you want this to remain strictly a comic for one reason or another? 

I never really think about my comics as other media. That would depend on a lot of factors. Who was interested and why and what is their vision of the show.
You are a man of color/Black, and sometimes your writing touches on the subject of race, diversity, and politics. I notice that you write characters who are Black however, not Black characters, e.g. their race is the most notable thing about them. Comics as an art-form seems to have at times struggled to have main characters who aren't just white men. What do you think is the way to have more diversity within the art-form of comics? More diverse voices, creators stepping-out of their comfort zone to write characters that may, "Look," different from them? 

I should hope that my race isn't the most notable thing about me. That's a very narrow way to define yourself. My goal is to make things easier for other creators of color, to be an example of how we can contribute to the culture of art in all forms.

On the subject of diversity in comics, why do you think there has been an emergence of some so-called movements protesting any kind political message, racial/gender/sexual diversity in these past few years? Comics have always been political but suddenly it seems wanting to make a statement within a comic results in an online battleground of name-calling and hate. Why has this happened and what can be done, in your opinion? 

That's just America. There are always going to be groups and individuals who will protest anything they think threatens them, attributing some kind of dark agenda to it. Being said, I keep myself out of all of that back and forth. Why be negative? For what? Yelling at people on twitter doesn't solve anything.

I try to treat people with respect and appeal to conscience when I can. You use the term battleground, and that's accurate but wars have casualties and that's not the best way forward. Never meet anger with anger. Rudeness with rudeness. I believe you have to engage with your work. Demonstrate your ethics with your art. Don't waste your energy arguing with people on the internet.

I read and quite enjoyed the first issue of, "Batman and the Outsiders." May I ask whom your favorite character on the team is to write? 

Cassandra Cain. I'm the world's biggest Cassandra Cain fan.
At the end of the first issue we meet a character who seems to be a bit of a riff on Marvel's character, Cable, at least as the internet has interpreted it. Was this an intentional homage or has the mental-association people have made just happened by chance? 

Hahahaha. Saw that.

All I'll say is: Just because someone SAYS something about themselves, that doesn't mean they're telling the truth.

I saw in the news how the creator of Black Lightning, Tony Isabella, was not a fan of the character being folded into the, "Outsiders," team you are writing the comic of. I made a blog post discussing how I consider you both friends of mine and respect both your opinions/decisions (plus, as I'm a fan of your writing I am eager to see how you write the character). I just wanted to ask if since the initial hubbub things have settled down, or if you and Tony spoke at all? 

I have!

Look, Tony is a passionate creator and Black Lightning came out of his imagination. He cares so much about what that character is and what that character can be. I understand that. I'm going to try and honor his viewpoints the best I can, but ultimately I have to tell my own story and let it speak for itself.

 BOOM! released as a surprise the #0 issue of their new comic, "Angel," which I imagine ties-in with their, "Buffy," series they recently started since acquiring the rights to the character. You're the writer on the series and as the whole comic even starting was a secret I am curious how hard BOOM! and you had to work to keep the thing under wraps. I imagine it can't be easy to be working on this title and not be able to say anything until right around the day it actually starts--that would be like if you wrote a movie and were unable to talk about it until it suddenly released in theaters! How did you keep it secret? Did you tell ANYONE? 

Due to my schedule, I rarely socialize, hahahaha. That makes it easy to keep a secret.

When I feel the need to vent, I tell my dog.

I am a resident of Saint Louis and have noticed you mentioning the city in a number of comics ("Batman and the Outsiders," just had a character buying a ticket to there) or setting certain events within the city which makes me smile. This resulted in me looking on Wikipedia to discover you moved to and lived in Saint Louis for a good chunk of your life (or still do, not sure if you still live here, I'll alter the question as needed). I moved here myself back in 2011 and am not a native, but have been introduced to things such as the local cuisine. Therefore, as another individual who isn't a native but lived here awhile, I've got to ask, what do you think of Saint Louis Style Pizza AKA Provel Cheese AKA Imo's Pizza

I'm in LA now, but provel cheese is fine? I don't mind it. I need to lose twenty pounds so I'm not eating much pizza these days, hahahaha.

 When you're writing--for any format--what kind of environment do you prefer? Do you like silence in a home office, working at a coffee-shop, playing music, eat a snack while you write, or so forth? 

Definitely my home office. It's my temple. I work to make it a creative oasis from all the distractions. I'm like Doctor Strange. Nothing disturbs my sanctum sanctorum.

You have written both pre-established characters and worked on series you have created yourself. How is the process different when you're starting something brand-new versus making something new but which draws from a mythology (e.g. much of super-hero comics)? 

Everyone has a different approach. When it comes to something I didn't create and don't own, I try to understand the essential aspects of the world and characters and make sure what I'm doing doesn't break that. That's the real difference for me. When it's not something I've invented, I feel a responsibility to stay within the established tone and foundation of the world I'm working within, so I don't turn it upside for fans without good cause.

Besides writing, what other hobbies do you have? Are you a video-gamer, do you play an instrument, could you secretly be a master chef? 

Music is a love of mine. I write music when I can. For a film I'm planning to direct this fall I'm working on the score. I do like to cook, when I have the time.

You are directing a film and writing the score for it? Can you tell any further details--the title, the genre? 

Oh, it's a micro-budget, indie film that I'm self-financing, writing and directing. It's really an opportunity for me to experiment with film. It's a horror-film, of sorts, but it's more personal and experimental in its construction.

What is a property/characters/etc. that you have not yet worked-on that you'd love to tackle? 


You have discussed your love of horror here in this interview, and I for sure got a bit of a body-horror vibe from, "Wildstorm: Michael Cray." Plus, "Angel," has horror themes and, "American Carnage," is terrifying in its own unique way. I recall you have said, "The Exorcist," is your favorite horror film, and that is loaded with gross body-horror and scary imagery plus religious themes as well. It is a terrifying concept, this idea of a loss of a control over own self, and I was curious what other horror-concepts interest you and which you might like to explore (you mention, "Hellraiser,"  and that is loaded with all kinds of subtext from religious to sexual for sure)? 

I lean towards the supernatural. I don't personally enjoy pure-suspense as an experience, so most slasher things, for instance, they don't resonate with me, not without some kind of elements of the preternatural.

Philosophically, I like to explore the causes, the effect and the sources of evil. For me, that's what mythology does best.

What is a book/movie/show/comic you could keep coming back to and revisit an infinite number of times, you love/value it so much? 

RED DRAGON, by Thomas Harris. I love his prose. I read that book often.

You have worked with some stellar artists on your comics, such as N. Steven Harris on, "Wildstorm: Michael Cray," and  Leandro Fernandez with, "American Carnage." When you are doing a new comic with an artist you have not worked with before, what is your process? Do you and the artist often speak before you give them a script, do adjust the script based on whom the artist is, so forth? 

I like to speak with an artist and the first question I have is "What do you love drawing, and what do you hate drawing?" That way I can try to write scripts that aren't frustrating. I try to be as collaborative as I can be, and make the process as enjoyable as possible for an artist. I tend to work best with artists who view themselves as storytellers. I like to let the images do as much work as possible.

Do you have any upcoming projects you're able to discuss that you'd like to tell my readers about? 

I can't announce anything yet, but follow me on twitter: @bryanedwardhill 

I want to thank Mr. Hill for taking the time to do an interview and encourage everyone to read his works!

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