Dissecting "Hack/Slash" With Tim Seeley

Tue, March 29th, 2011 at 8:58am PDT

Comic Books
TJ Dietsch, Staff Writer
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"Morning Glories" cover artist Rodin Esquejo supplies the cover to "Hack/Slash" #5

In 2004, readers were introduced to a young girl named Cassie Hack who realized her mother was a slasher -- a crazed killer like the ones found in horror movies -- in Tim Seeley's horror-themed comic creation "Hack/Slash." Taking it upon herself to rid the world of the slasher menace along with her monstrous companion Vlad, Cassie's career launched as a series of one-shots before quickly gaining a loyal fanbase and developing into an ongoing series. The concept continued to grow from there, developing a rich mythology, an impressive rogues gallery of killers and a supporting cast which rivals that of any classic tights and spandex hero.

When original publisher Devil's Due began experiencing financial troubles, Seeley decided to move the book to Image Comics in an effort to guarantee his being able to pay everyone working on the title and that fans of the book got their monthly dose of Hack. The Image-era of "Hack/Slash" kicked off in 2010 with "My First Maniac," presenting Cassie Hack's origin in full. That series was followed by the "Me Without You" one-shot, explaining what Vlad had been up to prior to the slasher-battling team's initial meeting. From there, Seeley has continued his story, maintaining the title's long history while ensuring the title remains accessible to readers just discovering Cassie Hack's adventures. CBR News spoke with Seeley about "Hack/Slash's" continued rise in readership, his plans for the book, horror rules and what the deal is with the long-gestating movie version of the comic.

Asked about the measured increase in readership the title has experienced since it's shift to Image, Seeley told CBR News, "I'm not really good at marketing or tooting my own horn, but we've noticed that for a while and I never knew where to talk about that. Our sales have been literally almost the same our entire run at Devil's Due. For 32 issues, we pretty much had the same [sales], which was cool. I wish it would have gone up, but at least it didn't go down, which is pretty important. We definitely gained readers going from Devil's Due to Image, because between the last issue we did at Devil's Due and the first we did at Image, we gained about 3,000 people. A lot of stores don't order from the back of the book. As many really great comic book stores as there are, with a diverse amount of product, most are pretty small shops and only order Marvel and DC and then 'Spawn" and "Walking Dead." I think having that increased visibility [lead to] retailers actually being able to give us a chance. It helps us having a book that, even if you hadn't ordered the book, you'd at least heard of it. Long term investment and consistency have really helped us, too. We actually went up from issue one of "My First Maniac" to issue four. We just keep plugging along, we don't quit, and that helps."

Starting off at a new company with an origin story also helps, a fact Seeley deliberately took advantage of when moving over to Image, treating the first mini as a kind of Year One jumping-on point that would be interesting for new readers as it laid down beats that had been referred to, but never completely shown, giving long-time readers and newcomers a story they had never seen before. From the miniseries and one-shot, "Hack/Slash" kicked off as an ongoing with a new #1 in February, picking up where the Devil's Due series left off.

"I think it would have been [confusing] had we started at Image right off the bat with the ongoing series, but I didn't want to abandon those storylines," Seeley said. "It's not like we had a choice. Devil's Due was going through some problems and it's not like I was in a position to say, 'I'm going to keep publishing my books to keep my storylines going so I have a nice neat wrap up so I can start somewhere else.' I had stuff drawn. The annual we did, "Murder Messiah," was actually the last two issues of Devil's Due stuff that had already been drawn. I needed to get that stuff done so people could get paid. Our omnibuses are so easy to find and there's only one series -- it's not like there's a bunch. I think if people liked "My First Maniac" and had never read it before, they probably got the omnibus and I think we made a pretty accessible number one issue. We include character guides that explain who these people are. When I've handed comics to people who are outside comics, those character guide things are great. It's like the "A-Team" opening credits which basically says, 'Here's the story.' Sometimes we lose that in comics because it takes up space and it doesn't look cool, but it's actually really useful. I think it helped with the first issue a lot because there were probably a whole lot of people asking, "What the hell is Pooch? Why is there an alien dog in this comic?" Getting that explained helps a lot."

Cover art for "Hack/Slash" #6

While reading the first two issues of the new ongoing series, readers get a sense that something big is on its way. The tale not only involves Cassie and Vlad stumbling across the recently resurrected slasher Acid Angel -- who they killed on an earlier adventure -- but also the ongoing exploits of the pumpkin-masked Sam Hain, the looming Black Lamp conspiracy, Cat Curio's investigations and plenty of other long-running storylines. Indeed, things seem to be coming to a head pretty quickly.

"That's why we called the first four-issue arc 'Come Together,'" Seeley stated. "That was one thing we had been building towards in the original series. I had this big storyline, and it got bumped over, [which] actually gave me a chance to sort things out a little bit. The first four issues will be all about that, and then we're going to strip it down a bit and go with the smaller cast."

Seeley wanted to keep the details of the coming event quiet for now, but the creator did talk about how the return of thought-dead characters like Acid Angel hint at a grand, unified horror theory he has developed during his time working on the book and watching horror movies. Seeley also noted that one of the reasons for bringing some of the dead slashers back is simply because fans demanded it.

"What we're going to do is have a reason," Seeley said of Acid Angel's return. "The backstory of the universe kind of comes from the accidental universe-building that these movies have done for years. In a combination of ripping each other off, adding to the last film and being able to continue so they can make more money, there are these silly little rules. We're starting to take those accidental rules and we're going to put them into a mythology that will explain stuff. It'll all tie together as to why, after 20 years, Michael Myers can come back, with our versions of that and why that happens. It'll kind of be like what we've done before in adding more and more storylines to the universe. I like starting off with a bang and giving people a feel for what this is and then also move it forward. "

In his continued effort to keep the story moving forward, Seeley teamed up with former Grimm Fairy Tales artist Daniel William Leister to pencil "My First Maniac" before moving on as the regular artist of the ongoing "Hack/Slash" title. Seeley summed Leister's contributions to the book in one simple word.

"Cheesecake. Dan brings a lot of cheesecake," Seeley said. "He loves to draw butts. With Dan, he was someone I've known for quite a while. We have the same art dealer, and he was doing the Grimm Fairy Tales stuff and obviously knew how to do horror. He knows how to do monsters and girls. He kind of comes into it already knowing how to do what people see as the veneer of the book, which is boobs and blood and he's learning to be good at what I think the book is actually about, which is the little character moments and the people. It's a win-win for both of us. I get somebody who has a cool style, sort of a hot artist style, and he's also into doing the little stuff that a lot of artists get bored by."

Seeley continued, explaining how important it is for the title and its art to remain on the right side of the line between cheesecake and smut, telling CBR, "One of the reasons I always tried to get female artists to work with is because I think they understood what my intent was for the book. I wanted it to be sexy, but I didn't want it to be sleazy. It's easier for girls to understand. Dan's got his hormones firing so he occasionally slips and I'll have to tell him to [rein it in]. But he's been great and he's doing great stuff. He's on the book for the foreseeable future."

A page from "Hack/Slash" #3 by regular series artist Daniel William Lester

In addition to the contuing ongoing title, Seeley is hard at work on a pair of Hack/Slash crossovers. "Hack/Slash/Eva" will be out from Dynamite Entertainment in May as will Moonstone's "Hack/Slash vs. Zombies vs. Cheerleaders." For both projects, Seeley let other creators take the reins of his characters, but hopes the flood of titles in May won't turn off readers of the regular series.

"Basically, Dynamite pitched me on doing ["Hack/Slash/Eva"], and I thought it would be fun. Then they said they were going to have Brandon Jerwa write it," Seeley said. "Jerwa and I used to work together on 'G.I. Joe' probably five or six years ago. I've always liked working with Jerwa; he's a great writer, and to get him involved, it was a good time. It could bring in some new readers and it will be fun for me to give someone the keys to the kingdom and have them tell the story and I'll just read it. It should be cool. I think we planned things a bit stupid where I had let [Moonstone] do a little one-shot crossover called "Hack/Slash vs. Zombies vs. Cheerleaders," and that comes out in May too. It looks like we're doing some kind of huge ramp-up. I screwed up, I should have told them to do it earlier or something. Hopefully people won't get mad at me with three Hack/Slash books that month. I know how it is when there's a book I like, when it's contained and does its own thing. I feel if there's too much, it's harder to control the quality, so I just hope people aren't like, 'Three books? I'm dropping the main title.'"

In an effort to keep regular readers coming back for more, Seeley has added a back-up story called "Hoax Hunters" written by Michael Moreci, Seeley's brother Steve and artist J.M. Ringuet. While not an official part of the Hack/Slash universe, the story's focus on the monsters of urban legend readily fits in with Cassie and Vlad's world.

"The people (or person, or organization, or animatronic bear) behind 'Hoax Hunters' is something Steve and I plan to reveal over time," Moreci told CBR. "We drop some hints in this back-up run, but we wouldn't really delve into who the Hoax Hunters work for until later in the series. I can say that the Hoax Hunters television show is just the current incarnation of a long-standing agenda to keep certain truths about the world concealed. The team we know from the series is by no means the first to do what they do -- which is ensuring that incredible occurrences, unexplainable encounters, and fantastical creatures remain the stuff of myth, folklore and legend."

The idea behind the back-up is simple: a special agent, a formerly possessed child star and an undead man go around the world investigating urban legends and presenting them on a reality show. Taking a note from the "Hack/Slash" playbook, Moreci and company developed the characters to be recognizable and archetypical TV personalities, but to also be complex individuals.

"All three of the characters in 'Hoax Hunters' have experienced unique traumas in their past, traumas that bind them together and brought them into the Hoax Hunters fold," Moreci said. "They're a family, in a sense. Not only that, they're bound by their dedication to deceit, and this goes beyond the televised program. They're not only disseminating lies, but living them as well. Ken is an actual corpse; Regan really experienced a demonic possession. But as far as the world knows, these are their characters. Jack is a little less obvious, but he's also hiding a big piece of who he is. So their dynamics are dictated by this kinship, one they're unable to share with anyone else."

While Moreci and Steve Seeley have focused on dreaming up new urban legends for their series -- like an American astronaut in Russia with a murder of crows following him around -- Tim Seeley has been putting that same effort into creating brand new slashers for his heroes to face off against.

"Most people associate slashers with something that already has a mask associated with it," Seeley said. "In "My Bloody Valentine," you've got a guy killing people who wears a mining mask, [you've got] the classic Michael Myers mask and the hockey mask from Jason. After a while, coming up with masks for your killers is so hard. More than anything, we've tried to do cool, original bad guys, and a lot of slashers are only slightly removed from costumed supervillains. I want them to be original, scary and cool and be somewhat familiar, so that you get it, like, "this could have been a movie." It's fun."

Two more pages from "Hack/Slash" #3

Of course, the villains are not the main focus of "Hack/Slash" -- that distinction falls on the strong shoulders of Cassie Hack, a character that has changed Seeley as a writer as he's developed her over the six years she's been kicking slasher ass.

"What's great about [Cassie] is that she doesn't really change," Seeley said. "As a character, she's getting more and more beat-up by the life that she's chosen, but it she always comes back the idea that 'This is my life and this is my best friend and I don't know what else to do.' Her voice gets more distinct for me every time. I don't have to think about what she says, the dialogue just kind of comes out, which is nice.

"As far as changing me, I've basically been writing this every month for almost five years. Before that, it was intermittent, but almost every month I was working on it. Sitting down and having to do an ongoing series, the shift doesn't really end for me. It's not a corporate-owned book with six issues and I'm done with my storyline. I'm responsible for it every month, I'm responsible for the characters and now I have people who can call me out for not doing my own book right. It changed the way I think about things and it's changed me a lot as a writer. I know I have to focus on smaller and smaller beats [and moments] that really carry the book along. It's not like I can have this one gimmick, it's a killer who wears an ape mask and kills people with bananas and that's going to carry me for two issues. I try to fill ["Hack/Slash] with great moments and little character stuff, always pushing the characters forwards."

While maintaining forward motion in his character's ongoing development has become second nature when it comes to the "Hack/Slash" comics, Seeley admits to having more difficulty when it comes to the movement of other projects like the animated "My First Maniac" adaptation from HALO 8.

"So far, it's still in the figuring out stage," Seeley said of the animated project. "We got excited about it and maybe announced it faster than we should have without really having exactly figured out how we're doing it. [HALO 8] is doing a few other illustrated comic films, and they look incredible. I was joking, it seems like with 'Hack/Slash ,'we're great at getting the book out but we suck at getting out anything that's related. The movie, the animated movie, the roleplaying game that they made, all of them have missed their dates. I don't know what it is, I guess it's the curse of Cassie Hack."

Speaking of the long-gestating "Hack/Slash" movie from Rogue Pictures, Seeley told CBR it is still in the works, but the process has been one filled with advances followed by long periods of stillness.

"There's definitely movement on it," Seeley said. "I don't know. It seems like it's a whole bunch of hurry up and wait. There will be a burst of forward movement and then sitting idle forever. At this point, I don't bank on it, I don't wait for it. If something happens, good, if something doesn't, I don't really care. Rogue Pictures is really working to get it made. They're not screwing around, it's just a combination of bad luck, one movie doing bad in the box office one weekend and all that sort of stuff. I'm hoping they make their announcement pretty soon. They have a big one. I know what's going on, but I don't know how much of it is set in stone. We'll see -- it should be cool!"

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TAGS:  image comics, tim seeley, hack/slash

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