Hunter Black – Kickstarter and INTERVIEW!

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When Troy Brownfield told me to check out Hunter Black and it’s Kickstarter I figured I’d watch the KS video, read enough of the webcomic to get a feel for the quality, and maybe write up a little article. I then expanded my plans to include reading the whole first book as, after all, that’s what the kickstarter is for. Then Hunter Black took over my life. I read all that is available in matter of days and my only regret is that I wasn’t introduced to this sooner.

Hunter Black is a badass archer and The Known World’s best assassin. Then the shadowy bastards for which he worked betrayed him. Hunter was imprisoned in the criminal mine known as the Hell Pyramid (seriously, how cool is that?). Hunter is now free but suffering from a devastating disease that causes him to waste away over time. Luckily for us (and him too) he has a magic sword known as Revenger that can keep him healthy so long as it drinks betrayer’s blood. Too bad Hunter is an archer, not a swordsman!

The Kickstarter is for the funding of Hunter Black Volume One: Betrayer’s Blood, a 276 page paperback collection with all kinds of cool bonus material such as maps, scripts, notes, etc. Hunter Black currently updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at http://www.hunterblackcomics.com, so you don’t have to take my word for it. Check it out ASAP and join me in making this awesome project a success!

I reached out to writer Justin Peniston and artist William Orr and they were kind enough to answer some questions and I think we had a pretty awesome conversation.

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Hey guys! Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer some questions!
First off, I see you guys making loads of pop culture references, from Darwyn Cooke to Tolkien to Samurai Jack. What would you say are the biggest influences, both on you as creators and on Hunter Black specifically?

Justin: First off, one has to make pop culture references in this business. Every reference we make builds common ground on which we can stand with the audience, although saying so makes it seem more calculated than it is.
There’s no doubt that the single biggest influence on Hunter Black is Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptations of the Parker novels by Richard Stark. I mean, the first book is called The Hunter…and our title is no accident, it’s a deliberate call out to the book that inspired us. When we were brainstorming the project that would eventually become Hunter Black, we looked at Cooke’s work and said to each other, “We need to do something like THAT.”
That said, I don’t think that Darwyn Cooke is a huge influence on my writing style, if only because I’d developed a lot of who I am as a writer before I really discovered his work. I get a lot of who I am from trying to emulate writers like Greg Rucka and Matt Wagner. I tend toward the school of thought that says to make my characters suffer and to tell stories that are born in the darker parts of my brain. Of course, I came of age in the 80s, so I’m heavily influenced by Frank Miller and Alan Moore, the masters of the field…and I get a lot of my visual stylings from reading a ton of Scott McCloud.

Will: First and foremost, Genndy Tartakovsky is a HUGE influence for me. Samurai Jack blew me away when it first premiered. So simple and elegant in its design yet so action packed and insane, Samurai Jack was a game changer. Even its sillier episodes were wonderful (looking at you, shoe episode). I can sit and watch every episode over and over again. My all-time two favorite episode where “Jack in Egypt” and “Jack and the Haunted House”.
Darywn Cooke is wonderful. For me, New Frontier is THE comic book. Much like what I just said about Samurai Jack, I can sit and read New Frontier from front cover to back over and over again without being bored. Other influences of mine are Bruce Timm, Skottie Young, Sean Galloway, Mike Mignola, Ruben Martinez, and Samwise. Just to name a few.
I think that all of these creators really contribute to the look of Hunter Black; I honestly do my best to make sure that every area of this world is unique compared to the other. I do a fair deal of research when creating our establishing shots. The real world is a wonderful source of inspiration for our fantasy realm.

You guys seem to be great friends. Does this dynamic play a role in the process? Is there an Epic Dungeons and Dragons-esque origin story for how you came to be forging this fantastic visual narrative together?

Will: I think that our friendship is a huge reason why we are able to work so well together. We both trust each other immensely when we create, and rarely do we have to step on each other’s toes. We always say that Justin writes 90% of Hunter Black and I draw 90%. The other 10% is the collaboration.
Justin and I met at our day job; we both work for the Hard Rock Café. I originally worked at a different Café that closed and the company moved me to another location. One of our Managers at the time introduced the two of us. After we felt each other out (saying you are a writer and actually writing are two different things, and vice versa) we started collaborating together on various projects. Hunter Black is our longest running project together.
Justin: Yeah, Will pretty much nails it. A bunch of people tried to push us together early on, and when we found out that we were both serious, we tried our hand at collaboration. Our first efforts didn’t really pan out, but a friendship was formed out of that.
Hunter Black wasn’t supposed to be what it is; we never planned to do a webcomic. When we started, we were planning to do an animation pitch. We just wanted something to show at conventions, something to fill out Will’s portfolio. We were supposed to do multiple pitches, too. But Hunter Black rapidly became something we HAD to do, even after we decided that the things we were coming up with weren’t going to do it for any of the animation studios or networks.
After vacillating for a while about what medium we were going to do, we finally decided that doing webcomics had the perfect combination of being doable and leaving us free to do whatever we wanted.
Also, we met in a tavern, were hired by a shadowy cabal, and slew a dragon. But you don’t want to hear about that.

I’ve seen you guys mention making changes to each other’s ideas. Has there been a time when you fought for something and were glad to be “wrong”? Did the other change your plan and you’ve been harboring resentment for years?

Justin: Will and I have such an easy time collaborating, I’m afraid that he’s going to spoil my ability to work with other artists. Every once in a while, one of us will question the other, and we almost always find that it’s best to let me do my thing when it comes to story and to let Will do his thing when it comes to art and design. For example, when Will told me, way back in Book One, that he was dressing Hunter “like a ninja,” I thought he was crazy, but I never try to veto something without seeing it first. And of course, it was amazing.
We’ve had a couple of differences of opinion over the course of the time we’ve been doing this, but I can’t think of a single disagreement that lasted more than five minutes, honestly. Once we differed on the way a panel should be presented, and that was the only time I can remember thinking that my way really was better than his. I think he still disagrees with me (it was the panel where we showed off the Divine Quintet for the first time), but it was such a minor thing that he let it go.
The other time was a character design. I gave a certain description that he HATED, and he went as far from it as he could get…and produced a picture that I HATED. (The picture was awesome, and the design was one we should use somewhere else…but it wasn’t the character I was writing.) In the end, Will just did a second design that was a totally third thing. It fit what I needed without being what I wanted, and I think he’d say the same. But again, our disagreement over it lasted just a few minutes.

Will: Yeah, everything Justin just said is how I feel as well. Like I mentioned before, we work so well together. It’s just easy when the person you collaborate with has such a small ego when it comes to the creation process.
When we do have a fight, it’s usually minuscule.

Justin: That’s actually a great point that I neglected to make. No one in our lives would say that either of us lacks for ego…but for whatever reason, we don’t bring that to Hunter Black, AT ALL. Each of us is more interested in doing something awesome than in being right.

Do you have a favorite character? Which people do you find yourselves drawn to when working on the comic?

Will: Hmmmm. Right now I’d have to say Zezem the Cruel is my favorite character. He’s an old D&D patron I created for an evil campaign that I ran for my buddies years ago. He then transitioned to a comic I created, Dash Steel: Freelance Adventurer, as the high priest of Nergal (Babylonian god of fire, death, and the underworld). The name was just too cool not to use, and he made his transition into the world of Hunter Black.
As for who I’m drawn to when I……draw, right now it’s Tzetzem’Tze’Tzemoze. He’s my homage to the Tzimisce clan from Vampire the Masquerade. I really wanted to do a vampire, and I’m a fan of the scary Nosferatu/Strigoi monster vampires. However, I also needed a wizard, and the idea of a creepy flesh warping vampire wizard seemed f’n cool. I just dropped the “vampire” side of things when I finally sold him to Justin and instead turned him into a Djinn Devil (creepy flesh warping wizard). I’m not sure when this interview will be published but, wait till you see Tzetzem’Tze’Tzemoze’s battle form.

Justin: Well, leaving Hunter out of it (because Hunter is AWESOME to write…he’s so pure in his motives, it’s unreal), my favorite characters to write have been Maliya Pel, Iosephus the Trader (yes, he’s Trader Joe), and Jasoom Badrali.
Maliya Pel is the greatest swordsman in the world…and just happens to be woman. To me, that one sentence sums up so much about her story. I love that everyone just accepted that she’s the bad-ass of the story. She brought out a lot of Will’s best work and I feel like she had a very clear voice. I was proud of her. The best part of her is that we planned her as a man. She was Hunter’s mentor and was supposed to fill that “old man” archetype…think Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Albus Dumbledore. Then I thought, “What if the old man was a woman?” Everything about the character was suddenly clear to me when I asked that question.
Iosephus is just an ASSHOLE. (Can I say that? I’m saying that until you tell me otherwise.) He’s manipulative and scheming, but he’s also just so HONEST. He’s one of the characters that is more noir than fantasy, and I don’t feel like we have enough of those.
Like Zezem the Cruel, Jasoom Badrali is a character from an old D&D campaign, although he was a PC of mine. I didn’t get to play the character long, but he resonated with me and with my DM at the time. He was an al’Qadim character (the 2nd Edition “Arabian Adventures” setting), and I got his name from some really classical sources. “Jasoom” is what the Martians call Earth in The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The princess in Aladdin (not the Disney version, but the actual tale from 1,001 Arabian Nights) is named Badralboudour, and I just massaged that into Badrali. Jasoom is pure Lando Calrissian. His good humor and seeming cowardice (he’s not a coward, he just knows when he’s in over his head…whatever his motives are, they aren’t worth dying for) make for a good counterpoint to Hunter’s grim moods and reckless style of combat.

I feel there is a trait in some Eastern comics of having a planned beginning, middle, and end to the overarching story in mind from the beginning, while the more western approach is to be concerned with smaller storylines and let the overall growth of characters and story happen organically. Without spoilers, do you know how you want the Hunter Black Story to end? Has it already progressed to places you never imagined?

Justin: I know very loosely how all of this ends, yes. Will and I don’t talk about it much, but we pretty much agree on the broad strokes, I know that. It’s the middle that keeps shifting and changing in our minds, I think.
More than anything, we just want each story to give us cool things to work with in subsequent stories. If we know that we need something, I try to plant it in the characters early on, so that when certain things happen down the line, they don’t come out of the blue.
That said, we’ve gone to all kinds of crazy places that I’d never envisioned. Of course, that’s when making the comic is the most fun, for me, anyway.
I’m not gonna get anymore in depth with this question or I’m sure to say something that I shouldn’t.

Will: We have an ending already mapped out, how we get there is entirely up to how long we feel like doing this. The fact that Hunter is so willing to screw himself over to get revenge means that the stories are endless.
Yeah, I know at some point he will have to kill one of these guys, and then he will get all of their memories and know who everyone is. Of course at that point, he will be able to find them but, we will be able to mess with him for a while.

If you were to make a Hunter Black soundtrack or playlist, what kind of music would you choose to invoke that HB aesthetic?

Will: The Who’s “Behind Blue Eye’s” speaks to me when I think of Hunter.

Justin: Okay, that trips me out. The Who is the last band I expect Will to be thinking of EVER. That’s totally awesome.
All I know for sure is that I wanted “Wherever I May Roam” by Metallica to be playing in the background of our Kickstarter video, but I could see us getting in real trouble over that, so I never even suggested it. For whatever reason, that song has ALWAYS made me think of D&D, probably because I gravitated toward rangers for a long time.

Now for a couple quick, HARD HITTING questions to get to the bottom of things.
-Favorite D&D Character you played?

Justin: I am AWESOME at D&D. I had this one character back in the 90s that was so iconic in the campaign that people just called it the “Blackwood” campaign, which was my character’s name. That said, Will ran this wicked horror 3.5 game for a while, and my character was this aged and cowardly spellcaster, which is playing COMPLETELY against type for me. That was a blast. His name was Castigan Corvington, and he lent his name to one of The Thirteen in the comic. His look in my mind was basically a shorter version of what Will eventually drew in Hunter Black.

Will: Right now I love my 5E Cleric, THRACE STORMBORN!!! He is a VIKING and he crushes faces. I think my all-time favorite character was, the Deathgigas. He has a war-forged warlock that I played in one of Justin’s 3.5 Eberron campaigns. He had a portal to hell in his chest, was Lawful Evil, but was found and controlled by a gnome artificer. The way I played him was I needed permission to engage my target, I always wanted to oppress the masses, but my damaged programming prevented it. It was a lot of fun. Eventually he would have become a hellfire warlock but unfortunately real life got in the way and we had to stop.
Justin: Thrace Stormborn uses his own name as a battle-cry. It’s hilarious and it totally works. He’s certainly the coolest character in our current game.

-Favorite comic (that you didn’t work on)?

Justin: Does anyone have A favorite comic? That’s too hard. If I have to pick one thing, I guess it’s JLA: New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke. If you’d asked me yesterday, I might have said John Byrne on the Fantastic Four. Tomorrow, I might say Strangers In Paradise by Terry Moore. How about Paul Chadwick’s Concrete? I can think of very few comics that have influenced me as much as James Robinson and Paul Smith on Leave It To Chance. The webcomic Ménage À 3 is the furthest thing from my usual oeuvre and I look forward to that more than anything else I’m currently reading. I love Matt Wagner’s Grendel with a passion that might bother my wife. The current Star Wars comic by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday (I haven’t read any issues by Stuart Immonen yet) is the BOMB.

Will: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. and Atomic Robo.
Justin: Atomic Robo is the coolest thing ever. I’m ashamed that I left it off of my list.

-Favorite film?

Justin: Come on, now. I refuse to believe that The Empire Strikes Back isn’t EVERYONE’S favorite film.

Will: Hmm, Iron Giant? The Dark Knight? How to Train Your Dragon? I just can’t name one.

-Star Wars or Star Trek?

Justin: How dare you? This question is an abomination that no one should ever answer. That’s like asking if I prefer Mary Ann or Ginger, when each clearly holds appeal for a different part of my personality, and in a perfect world, I’m allowed both.

Will: Flash Gordon…..bitches.

-I’m taking you to lunch: Where are we and what is your order?

Justin: I’m a simple guy and I’m assuming you’re not made of money. Take me to wherever I can get the best Italian hoagie. That is food perfection.

Will: Jersey Mike’s for lunch (The number 13 probably) Bossa Nova for dinner (Churrasquinho No Pao). (That’s a fancy steak sandwich.)

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Big thanks again to Will and Justin. You guys are awesome and if you are ever in my neck of the woods I look forward to some D&D and fancy sandwiches!

One last time: Kickstart this project HERE and check out all things Hunter Black HERE!

Be safe and stay nerdy,
Captain Rob

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