Taking "Green Hornet" From Words to Pictures

Thu, January 28th, 2010 at 12:58pm PST | Updated: January 28th, 2010 at 3:15pm

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

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Phil Hester's thumbnails and Jonathan Lau's final pencils for a page of "Green Hornet"

Already, the glimpse's comic fans have seen of writer-director Kevin Smith's upcoming "Green Hornet" comic series for Dynamite Entertainment have confirmed the unique process by which its creators have crafted a tale of the pulpy crime fighter and his Kung Fu-fighting gal Friday Kato. From Smith's own process for breaking his former movie screenplay into a ten-issue comics series to designer and cover artist Alex Ross' aims at amping up the superheroic elements of the Hornet for the comics market, Dynamite's first series with the masked vigilante is taking the time to assemble the building blocks for an entirely new franchise. And on the art end, "Green Hornet" will see a mix of classic action and slick 21st Century stylings thanks to the editorial input and layouts of artist Phil Hester and penciler Jonathan Lau.

"At one point very, very early in the process, Ande Parks and I volunteered to handle the art, but the book turned out to be a huge commitment that neither of us could swing and maintain our respective writing gigs. A 'Green Arrow' reunion was not in the cards," Hester told CBR. With their stint with Smith on DC's emerald archer Hester and Parks have more experience drawing the director's ideas on the page than anyone in comics, which is why Dynamite publisher Nick Barrucci brought Hester in to unpack Smith's dense script pages. "Once Nick broke down just how many issues Kevin's run was going to be, he realized Jonathan might need some help in wading through the dense, complex scripts Kevin was turning in. I've had some experience in that area, and Nick knew on some of my writing gigs I do thumbnails of each page for the artist, detailing basic compositions and balloon placements. Dynamite brought me in to do those same sort of layouts for Jonathan."

The process that resulted from Hester getting tapped in brought Smith even further into the comic game. While the writer finished all ten scripts for the series before one page was drawn, having Hester along for the ride has kept Smith coming back to add and revise ideas with each new issue. "Kevin gets my thumbnails and gives us notes, or sometimes even additional scenes, and then we let Jonathan tear into them. I think Nick deciding to add this layout phase to the book is actually speeding everything up. If Kevin decided to make a change once the book was pencilled it would be a nightmare for all involved. In issue #1 he added a four-page exchange that only took me a few hours to adapt, but if it had been after the pencils came in it would have added a week."

For his own part, Lau seems to have dug right in to his role on the series – particularly when Hester delivers him action-heavy scenes. "I always enjoy doing frenetic fights scenes, if the script allows it, so that's what I will be looking forward to, as well as interesting new villains that will hopefully be a staple in his world," the penciler explained. Lau also added of his expectations for what he'd be drawing, "I initially had the same issues to the way people are reacting to the upcoming GH movie. But I'll be approaching it with new eyes and setting aside preconceived impressions. It's more entertaining that way."

Hester and Lau tag-team an action sequence

Hester went on to say that "Green Hornet" should hopefully work to break preconceived notions about what a Kevin Smith story will bring to the franchise while still retaining the characterization and humor comic fans have come to admire in the director. "It's definitely a Kevin film, but by way of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' The interplay between characters is what most of his fans would expect, but the last two or three issues get very widescreen, very action oriented. The cool thing about that is, we've spent six or seven issues building tension and creating relatable characters so that when the widescreen stuff starts to go off, you really care about it.

"His dialogue is certainly his strength, but one of the things that's hardest to translate is his humor, and not just the over the top stuff, but the really subtle character bits that can be lost without proper timing. I think that's the most important thing to learn as an artist dealing with one of his scripts. There are natural beats to his dialogue, and even his character's movements or gestures, that I had to learn to represent in a static medium. That means adding reaction shots, combining foreground and background actions and making sure the balloon placements read between them so readers perceive them in that order, stuff like that."

Like the other members of the creative team, Lau said that his first connection to the hero came through the 1960s TV series, and that its realistic treatment of superheroes will influence the physical take he brings to this new Hornet/Kato duo. "I got drawn to that show because one of the actors is a fighter in real life, that added a sense of authenticity. So it's more about the action I was anticipating from the show. Although I was still too young to understand bureaucratic discourse from the show, the mystery, gadgets, and secret machinations entertained me enough. Moreover, it felt different from the rest of the superhero genres at that time. It feels like a superhero show for grownups, I'm thinking ‘Wow, I have no idea what they're talking about,' and my confusion captivated me as a kid.

"People are always interested in vigilante stories, but exceptional to Green Hornet is that they're wanted by both the authorities and criminals. From the TV, when I hear dialogues like ‘Boss, it's the cops!' it gives a sense of suspense and makes my impression of superheroes more grounded and believable. In addition, I think it's the novel concept of the Green Hornet and Kato's harmonious partnership that makes it exotic, two adults from east and west that compliment each other reciprocally as brain and brawns. Moreover, they're very serious, cocky and fearsome; and compared to the Batman [television series], they're the ones who are truly the dark knights at that time. They're like the bullies of the underworld.

The artist added of the Hornet, "I like the flowing coat and dress - that helps a lot in conveying movement and I'm thankful it acts almost like a cape since I'm very fond of superheroes, too. However, GH is one of those characters (Like the Question or the Shadow) that blend right in the middle of crime-noir and the extraordinary; a realistic approach to superheroes suits me just fine."

Things get explosive for Green Hornet

Hester agreed that the more hard-edged elements of the character would come to light in the series, from the crime-busting aspects to Britt Reid's no-nonsense newspaperman attitude. "I think Britt Reid has the best day job of all heroes. He's not a reporter; he runs the whole damn paper. Also, I always felt his relationship with Kato was unique. Kato is definitely not second banana, but rather Green Hornet's equal and partner. I mean, when I was a kid, I wanted to be Kato, didn't you?"

Speaking of the high-kicking handywoman, the new female Kato of the series presented a point of departure not just from the franchise but from the normal type of superhero action fans are used to seeing in monthly comics. "There are certain considerations for a female fighter. For example: a guy can knock off an opponent unconscious with one punch, whereas a female fighter can't do that effectively, relying instead on her kicks to achieve that same result. So yes, there are definitely differences readers will notice. However, she's still as an efficient fighting machine as Bruce's Kato. In fact, as a woman she'll be more deadly in executing her moves to finish a joust quickly. Personally, the exciting part is going back to illustrating some martial arts sequences."

Ultimately, both Hester and Lau hope their contributions will acheive Dynamite's stated goal of reestablishing the Green Hornet as a viable comic book hero for the long term under Smith's helm. "What I think is so engaging about Kevin's comics is that he explores familiar comic book tropes with his unique filmmaker's sensibility," Hester said. "I mean, Green Arrow began with Superman and Batman ragging on each other like Randall and Dante from Clerks. He really understands character and imbues what could be two dimensional characters with real humanity. That's a roundabout way of saying Kevin's screenplays are a lot like his comics, and that's good for both. Green Hornet has a more action driven feel to it than some of Kevin's earlier comics, but it has that same sort of breakneck pace as our 'Green Arrow: Sounds of Violence' arc."

Lau concluded, "I think any writer will utilize the possibilities made broader from that mixture. Although it is firmly grounded on crime drama, the mask adds to sensationalism. Alex, in fact, modernizes GH's costume with a pair of spandex-tight arms. That should give a subtle hint to the direction for this incarnation. In addition, it's still crime-noir in its twisted way, because the justice they execute is somewhat selfish. They intimidate criminals to make deals, and that makes them enemies on all sides. In a way, its just like the Batman of today with convoluted plots and more political dialogues, an area Kevin is notable for. But I'm hoping there will be less talking heads and more action."

"Green Hornet" #1 ships in March from Dynamite Entertainment with covers by Alex Ross, John Cassaday, Stephen Segovia and J. Scott Campbell.

TAGS:  dynamite entertainment, green hornet, kevin smith, phil hester, jonathan lau

 
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