If you read Steve’s reviews of Dark Horse’s subversive superhero book, The Answer, you’ll know that he loved the title for its off-kilter and uniquely bizarre take on the genre by mixing capes and tight-fitting spandex with cults and new age semantics. At the 2013 New York Comic Con, Steve sat down with Dennis Hopeless and Mike Norton - the book’s creators - to talk about what it was like to work together on the title, what to expect in its upcoming second series and whether or not each of them are actually robots. Our first question comes from Comic Bastards Capitán, Dustin Cabeal: Mike Norton, to prove that you are not, in fact, some kind of robot, how many pages do you produce in a day, week or month; whichever time frame you’re most comfortable in defining your deadlines.
Norton: [laughs] Oh, my speed is deceptive. It seems like I’m doing a lot, and I guess I have done a lot of projects, but I stagger them. That’s the secret to how I do it, but it’s actually catching up with me. I used to average at least two pages a day, and I’d jump from project to project, but now that’s starting to mess with my mind a little. Now I’ll find myself not even finishing one page in a day. Over the span of a week, I’ll get the same amount done, but it never feels like it’s done in a timely fashion. But no, I’m definitely not a robot ... or if I am, I’m an old, broken down one.
Hopeless: Yeah, it’s tough! Last year was my first doing comic books for a living, and I got two Marvel ongoings at the same time we were finishing up The Answer, and basically I was learning to do Big Two-level promotion ... and it was a mess. I was working all the time, I was behind on everything. Mike wanted to kill me!
Norton: He got dropped into the fire, and he learned really quick.
Hopeless: So I handle a full script a week now, which is the only way I can wrap my head around it. If I stick with that, I’m totally comfortable. But yeah, it was insane last year.
So, we know how you both work individually, but how did that come together? Mike, you’ve said previously that Dennis took over with the day-in, day-out stuff for The Answer, in terms of things like plotting. What was the collaborative creative process like working on such a classic yet modern, completely non-straightforward yet totally unique take on the superhero genre? How did you guys come together to make something like this work?
Norton: Well, I think what you just said is kinda how it worked. I had an idea of what it was, and that was something that was new and old at the same time. I basically then gave it to Dennis, and he took care of the rest. I had my vision, and he came in and did it his way, so it was old [points to self] and new [points to Dennis], quite literally! [laughs] So I mean, I had this idea of a classic character set in a modern mystery take, and Dennis ran away with it. I just had an idea in my head for ten years, he actually turned it into a story.
Hopeless: Mike had a lot of different elements he sent me, like weird notes that all made sense, but weren’t yet tied together. But I don’t think I did as much as he thinks I did. I just took the story he had and kind of structured it to fit. Then I found the voice for [main female protagonist] Devin and had everything runs through her; I think the story works the way it does because of her.
Norton: At this point in the series - and we’re working on a second series now - the story is as much Dennis as it is me. He’s made Devin a certain person, and while I had that idea in my head, he brought it to life. I was gonna try to do it without him ... but I can’t. I need him.
Norton: Yeah definitely ... it’s kind of gross, but it works. [laughs]
In terms of the story The Answer is telling, Dark Horse has been making a concerted effort to get into the superhero genre more than it ever has before, and this book is one of the titles at the forefront of that renaissance. What about The Answer do you think appealed to Dark Horse so much that it was used as one of its flagship superhero titles?
Norton: Even when I came up with the idea a while back, The Answer was never going to be just straight-up, punch-you-in-the-face superheroes. I mean, okay, it is that on the surface; that’s the whole idea of it, sort of a “wham-pow” with this undercurrent of a mystery story. And Dark Horse didn’t want to do just regular superheroes, so I think that’s why it appealed, that’s why I think we got to be a part of the launch. Now Dark Horse has the old properties that they’re reintroducing and there’s even more superhero stuff coming next year.
But yeah, it’s very much influenced by that sort of “paranoid Ditko” sort of take - not just thematically, but visually: the character looks like something that’s out of that era. So there’s that strong influence, but hopefully not as much a copy; we’re not injecting our own politics in it either, because otherwise, we’d be crazy ... not that Ditko is or isn’t! I mean, he’s a big influence on me, so I’m not gonna just call the man crazy ... he’s in his 90’s for god’s sake, let’s show some respect!
Plus, he’s earned a bit of crazy.
Norton: Yeah he has!
Speaking of crazy, The Answer ended without many ... answers, but with fans still wanting a lot more. Can you tell us what to expect in the follow-up series you mentioned? And please don’t say “the unexpected.”
Hopeless: You’ll get some answers, but there are more questions in the book. That was the idea all along: we wanted to build new questions while we’re building the old ones. We wanted to keep the mystery to it without stringing people along for too long.
Norton: Yeah, we took a big gamble with that ending. We were conscious that people would be upset about not “getting answers.” I can say that in the next one, you will find out things. You will get answers about this character. We’ll explain a lot of the stuff that people wanted to know, because if there was one complaint we got in the reviews - and we got a lot of good ones - it was that they didn’t learn enough about the character...
Norton: Yeah, that was insane, but I warned people that if they stuck with us through issue four, then they’d be fans for life! So yeah, I’m looking forward to getting started on the second series so people can actually find out what we’re doing and where we’re going.
When can we look forward to getting our hands on that second series? Are you starting soon and can you announce a release date?
Norton: We don’t have a release date yet. Dennis has been doing a lot of Marvel stuff and I’ve been overcommitting myself with other projects, so time has been an issue. We have an outline for the story right now, and at this point we’re working with Dark horse on a schedule so I can start drawing it. So we’re looking at probably next summer at the earliest.
And will it maintain the style you’ve set up thus far? That sort of explosive spandex veneer with the conspiracy subtext behind it?
Norton: Oh yeah, it’ll be a lot like the first one, with Devin being your main eyes and ears, except this time she has a lot more experience under her belt.
Hopeless: Yeah, Devin’s life just keeps getting weirder and weirder as the story goes on, and just as she becomes comfortable with one level of weird, there’s a whole new one waiting for her.
Norton: This will be a good book in that way, because she is going to be a completely different person from where she started and where the book will end.
Speaking of endings, we’re about out of time, so can you each tell us any other books, creator-owned or otherwise, that you are looking forward to releasing?
Norton: I love working on Revival right now for Image with my friend Tim Seeley. I do Battlepug every week, too, but I don’t really think of that as work. With Revival, I’m just as excited as I am with The Answer, just to see how people will respond to it. We’ve got tons of crazy stuff going on in that book and even more coming. It’s one that I’m always on pins and needles to see what people actually think of it.
Hopeless: The Answer is really the only creator-owned book I have coming out soon-ish, but one of my Marvel books, Avengers Arena is getting ready to end with issue 18. I’ve been doing that book for about a year with Kev Walker, and we’re continuing that in a book called Avengers Undercover, which we just announced. That one takes some of the survivors of the arena undercover in the Masters of Evil as they try to take it down from the inside. But because of what they experienced during Arena, they find that they actually fit in better with the villains and run the risk of “going native,” becoming bad guys. So I’m really excited about launching that book, which I think comes out in March.
So it’s like Training Day meets superheroes?
Hopeless: Yeah, it’s a Training Day meets Breaking Bad meets Donnie Brasco sort of thing.