Announced in the pop culture whirlwind that is Comic-Con International in San Diego, horror and sci-fi actor Lance Henriksen will bring his vision of a cursed Colorado town to Dark Horse in December with the six-issue miniseries "To Hell You Ride." Co-written with the "Aliens" and "Millennium" actor's biographer Joseph Maddrey and illustrated by Tom Mandrake, "To Hell You Ride" marks Henriksen's debut as a comic book writer. Comic Book Resources spoke with Henriksen about the project, with additional comments from Maddrey and Mandrake.
"I went to Telluride, Colorado, at one point, almost twenty years ago," Henriksen told CBR. "When I got there, it wasn't the ski resort it is now -- it had skiing, but not to the degree that it does now. I'm sitting in a bar there and I'm thinking, this is a box canyon, it's sort of the end of the world in terms of travel, and I looked around me and saw all these people and thought they were reincarnated miners and hookers. They didn't even know why they were there, but they were there.
"What leaped into my mind was a line of a Dylan Thomas poem: 'The ball I threw while playing in the park has not yet reached the ground.' Which gave me almost the whole form of the prologue of our story."
"I remember when I was sixteen, there was a Urok Indian that I met. At sixteen, I was kind of a wild kid, and this guy took me under his wing," Henriksen said, elaborating on the additional influences on the story he wrote as a screenplay in his hotel room, drawing both on the scene in the bar and his own life experiences. "His father had been an elder, a medicine man. He told me this story about something his grandfather had done. The cops came to this guy and said, 'A girl's gone missing, we can't find her -- we need your help.' And the guy walked out of his house backwards, down the road and through the town, and people were following him. He never turned around, he walked the whole thing backwards, and he ended up deep in the woods. He turned around and there was a flat rock there, and he said, 'She's here.' They flipped the rock over, and the girl was there, dead. That resonated with me and joined in with my thoughts about Telluride while I was there. This was a mining town, and it had all the old derricks and all that crap, and all the old mine tunnels, a lot of mercury in the ground at the edge of town toward the mountains. I thought, oh man, this is some story."
Henriksen's original script was lost over time, but he resurrected the idea when Dark Horse approached him about doing a comic. "This story never left me," he said.
Last year, Steve Niles' Bloody Pulp Books imprint published Henriksen's autobiography "Not Bad for a Human," which the actor wrote with Joseph Maddrey. "That brought me into the comic world. It would have never happened [otherwise]," Henriksen told CBR. "One of the things when we were doing the biography, I wanted it to be really accessible, so I didn't want to put in a bunch of pictures of me with famous people or publicity shots for movies that I'd done." Niles suggested that, instead of photos, a series of comic book artists could provide portraits of the actor. "All of these people stepped up -- Ashley Wood, [Bill] Sienkiewicz and Eric Powell -- all these guys, they did these wonderful drawings," Henriksen said. "We never told them youshould do this movie and you should do that one. Everybody just chose whatever they wanted to draw, and they ended up all drawing something different. I really loved the drawings, and I loved the accessibility that it made you feel when you were reading the book. It's not about an ego trip.
"That opened the door, so we went to Comic-Con to introduce the book and get it out there. One of the weirdest things that happened, though -- they kept moving us around, so nobody knew where we were! I think we sold about 10 books. We brought 200, sold 10," Henriksen said, laughing. "But it has been a great experience to get involved in the comic world. And now of course, through the tutelage of Mandrake and also Scott [Allie] over at Dark Horse we're learning all the wonderful aspects of comic book making, how it's done, what stages it takes place in."
Over the course of our discussion with Henriksen, the actor returned time and again to the creative process between himself, Maddrey and Mandrake. "We're using a wonderful process where, in a sense, this story is really being channeled through us," he said, adding that all three members of the creative team assisted in developing the story. "Joe Maddrey and I went to Monument Valley and to Four Corners, we went back to Telluride -- we were looking for, really, confirmation of a lot of the ideas we had come up with. We got them. Man, the writing process and the doing of this comic has been an incredibly creative thing. I'm really overjoyed.
"This has evolved out of a gathering. We're all gathering information and converting it into a story, which is really great," Henriksen continued. "We literally talk about this at least once a week, even after the script is done. As the pencils come in, we discuss it, and as we talk, we reveal so much that would have never been there any other way. You can't work at any step of this in isolation, as far as I can see, and have something really creative come out of it. The communication level between Tom and Joe and I is extraordinary. We've been enjoying it for that reason if none other."
Maddrey, too, praised the process he, Henriksen and Mandrake have employed in bringing "To Hell You Ride" to life. "Lance shared the original story idea with me while we were working on 'Not Bad for a Human.' I could tell that he was really lit up about it, and the more he told me, the more intrigued I was," Maddrey said, adding that, because Henriksen had already at one point written a film script of the story, "he could describe a lot of the scenes in amazing detail. He's a great visual storyteller."
With the original script having long since been lost, though, Maddrey said he and Henriksen "had to rebuild the plot from the ground up." "We developed a new script in the same way we wrote 'Not Bad for a Human' -- through a series of elaborate dialogues. We discussed the story from every angle, and the script evolved out of that, and it's still evolving, as we collaborate with Tom. To me, it seems like this story has really taken on a life of its own, and that's very inspiring."
Mandrake, the final member of the team, was also a contributor to "Not Bad for a Human," and according to Maddrey, it was in the course of meeting all of that book's artists that he and Henriksen chose the Mandrake to illustrate "To Hell You Ride." "We met Tom Mandrake a week or two after the 2011 Comic-Con, when the idea of creating the comic was still very new. We didn't talk much about it in that first meeting... but the seed was planted," Maddrey said. "There was never any question in my mind that Tom would bring an enormous amount of talent and integrity to the project, but even more important was the fact that he felt like a natural part of the team right away. From the very beginning, the three of us were giving each other ideas and finishing each other's sentences. Now I can't imagine doing this with anyone else. Tom simply belongs to the world we're creating. It's a true collaboration, in the best sense of the word."
"The creative process itself has been tremendously rewarding," Mandrake, the artist, said. "Joe, Lance and I hit it off right away, and when we talk, ideas fly! We have spent hours discussing the story, art and character designs. I have sketchbooks full of character designs! I've been a fan of Lance's work for years, and that adds another layer of excitement for me.
"We are creating a project that has many levels of meaning, multiple concepts expressed in single panels present the kind of storytelling challenge that really inspire me!"
As to the story Henriksen, Maddrey and Mandrake are building, "To Hell You Ride" finds the town of Telluride beset by a horrific curse, unleashed by ancient warriors whose burial grounds were desecrated during the Gold Rush. But, Henriksen said, only the prologue is set in the Gold Rush era itself. "That's where it comes from, the ball I threw while playing in the park has not yet reached the ground. Meaning, if there is such thing as a curse, it happens when it wants to, not on a schedule," he said.
"I have a feeling that this comic is going to be very controversial, and I'm looking forward to that."
Ultimately, Henriksen suggests "To Hell You Ride," his first comic book project, will influence his five-decades-long career as an actor. "This is much more specific and visual. I think my acting is going to change because of this," he said. "In order to focus on panels and storytelling through the visuals, it really forces you to be very specific about what you're trying to say. And I don't mean that it starts out as, 'I must be specific.' What it means is, if you tell a story, no matter how wild it gets or how crazy it gets, you inevitably have to draw it down into those drawings, and then you have the captions and what they're saying. In a script, you have an enormous tidal wave of vocabulary; this made it sort of more like private behavior that you're doing publicly.
"It's a really interesting process. I like it. I like the adventure, I tell ya."
"To Hell You Ride" #1 hits stores 12-12-12.