REFLECTIONS: Talking "Hawkgirl" with Simonson

Mon, March 20th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

Reflections, Volume 2 Number 7

Every comic fan has those three or four creators that stand out as his all-time favorites, for reasons perhaps creative or personal. Mine would be Dan Jurgens, Jeph Loeb and…Walt Simonson. His amazing work on "Orion" was one of the first comics where I stood back and realized that there are no borders to the medium, and since then I've collected everything from him I can get my hands on.

When it was announced that Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti were leaving "Hawkman" after their well-written run, I was disappointed. I was less disappointed when I heard that the new creative team was Walt Simonson and Howard Chaykin. The book is undergoing a name change with issue #50 to "Hawkgirl," and Simonson's first issue is part of DC's One Year Later event.

Simonson took a few moments to sit down with me and talk about his work on "Hawkgirl." I tried very hard to suppress the inner fanboy…

Robert Taylor: Let's get the obvious question out of the way first-which has an obvious answer naturally-- why the heck is the book now called "Hawkgirl?"

Walt Simonson: OK. If all the questions are like this, I'm going to be able to breeze!

RT: I aim to please.

WS: As of issue 50, Hawkgirl will be the focus of the title. The Hawks both went off to the Rann/Thanagar War and only Hawkgirl returned.

"Hawkgirl #50" picks up her story a year after her return to Earth, without Hawkman. She's gone back to her home in St. Roch; she's working in the Stonechat Museum. Essentially, she's picked up the threads of the life she had before the war, at least as much as she is able to. With Hawkman gone, that's not easy. She's still trying to work it all out.

In a sense, Hawkman's presence in the book is manifested by his continuing absence. He may be gone; he is most definitely not forgotten.

RT: What drew you to the book that you couldn't find elsewhere?

WS: Mike Carlin, Howard Chaykin, and a steady paycheck (laughs). Do I dare say "not necessarily in that order?"

Actually, it was pretty simple. Mike called me up out of the blue to ask if I'd be interested in writing the title from issue #50 on. He and I go way back. Mike was Mark Gruenwald's assistant when Mark gave me the assignment to write "Thor." The new assignment was tempting because I've always liked the Hawks. And while I was thinking about it, Mike called up again and say, 'How 'bout if Chaykin draws it?'

And I was onboard instantly.

RT: Did you read Gray and Palmiotti's work on the title? How'd you like it?

WS: I've enjoyed their run. I especially liked their multiple headed voodoo guy; we may be seeing him again after awhile.

RT: How are you approaching the book in terms of storytelling style?

WS: Forty panel pages and thousands of little figures. I've always wanted to make Howard's life a living hell!!

Sorry. I was carried away for a second. (laughs)

RT: I was having "Orion" flashbacks there.

WS: Mainly, I'm trying to give Kendra's life two aspects related by a single event. The event is the absence of Carter Hall/Hawkman.

The first aspect is represented by her work at a post-Carter museum in a post-Carter world. Kendra has a life, she has friends, she has a job, and all of it, every day in St. Roch, is in some way a reminder that Carter Hall is gone. I don't see Kendra as a figure of tragedy walking around every day with the back of her hand nailed to her forehead pining "woe is me, woe is me." But she has chosen to pick up the threads of her old life rather than throwing everything out and trying to start a brand new one. So she's buried herself in her work and every day is still a reminder that Carter/Hawkman isn't around.

The second aspect is her emotional life, seriously upended by the removal of Carter from her everyday experience. Kendra's young, she's resilient, and she's held it together for a year. Now, things are starting to happen around her and some of the cracks are beginning to show.

There was another consideration regarding the storytelling, something else Howard and I discussed before we began doing any writing or drawing on the comic. We both want to make the city of St. Roch is a virtual character within the strip. This, of course, is a lot more work for Howard than me. I can just ask for a crowded restaurant; he has to draw it. I think he's doing a spectacular job of infusing the city visually with a life of its own.

RT: Can you expand a little on what kind of character you see when you look at Kendra?

WS: She's young. Tough. She's basically an optimistic, inquisitive, charming girl who's become a woman while living through some fairly difficult experiences. Now, maybe she reacts to things with just a touch of cynicism because as a super-hero, she deals with lots of people at their worst. And she's been to war; that changes you. She's got a great deal to work through and sort out.

RT: How are you enjoying "Infinite Crisis?"

WS: I like what I've seen, but I prefer to wait and read limited series like that as complete stories, so I still have to sit down and read the whole thing as a unit.

RT: Can you tell us about some of the villains that'll be popping up in "Hawkgirl?"

WS: In the beginning of the book, we'll be seeing a new villain or two because I always like starting off on a fresh basis rather than instantly referring back to the existing catalogue. After that, there's an interesting Hawk rogues' gallery to draw upon and I expect to draw upon some of them. Always had a soft spot for the Gentleman Ghost. And I enjoy seeing Howard draw fancy dress!

RT: Who doesn't? Now, why aren't you drawing the book?

WS: Howard wouldn't let me. He threw himself on the floor and held his breath till he turned blue. What could I do?

RT: Now that is a guy devoted to his work.

WS: Also, I have several other projects I'm involved with, not least of which wrapping up the mini-series, "Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer," which I hope to finish in another two months or less.

RT: What appeals to you most from the Hawkman/Hawkgirl mythology?

WS: Wings! And the guys and gals who fly around with them. Ever since I saw Joe Kubert's drawings of the Hawks when I was young, I've been in love with the whole idea. I wanted my own set, especially as drawn by Joe.

RT: Is this a long-term gig or are you only staying around for a few issues?

WS: Only our editor knows for sure. Howard and I both expect to be on the book as long as our editor and DC want us to be. And that looks to be for an extended period of time.

RT: What other comics are you reading right now?

WS: "Usagi Yojimbo" by Stan Sakai-- the comic I always read. Love it. Stan quietly does beautiful work, art and story, month after month, year in, year out. Go Stan!

And right now, "Samurai Executioner" by Koike and Kojima, the two guys who did "Lone Wolf and Cub." More stories of feudal Japan in a culture at once comprehensible and mysterious. (I say "right now" not because I expect to drop the series any time soon, but because it's a limited number of stories and, eventually, the series will end).

And I keep hoping that Evanier and Aragons will go back and do more Groo.

RT: I love Groo, too! What else do you have in the works right now?

WS: Once "Elric" is finished, I have about three other projects in various stages of development-- geez-that sounds a lot like movies doesn't it-- but I don't want to talk about stuff I haven't actually begun yet because, as we all know, there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. So I'll just say for now that I have enough work up ahead to keep me busy. And I'll have more to say about that stuff when the time comes.

RT: What was your first comic book?

WS: Hard to say exactly. The first two I remember reading are "A Princess of Mars," an adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel by Jesse Marsh, and "All Star Western #50" with a Zorro-like bad guy (except he really was a bad guy) named El Fuego, drawn as it turns out by a young Gil Kane before he changed his name! But I was reading Carl Barks duck comics right in there somewhere as well.

RT: What is your favorite comic book of all time?

WS: Don't have just one. And this isn't a list based solely on quality. FF 51/This Man, This Monster: Stan and Jack at their best. The origin of the Lone Ranger in a 25-cent special: beautiful Tom Gill work. Uncle Scrooge and the Flying Dutchman-the specific Barks story, BTW, changes week to week depending on when you ask me. "The Land Unknown," drawn by Alex Toth. Toth and dinosaurs; doesn't get any better than that in comics. "Journey Into Mystery 118/119," the first Destroyer story. Marsh's "A Princess of Mars" because it was so entrancing to me as a kid. And they've all held up pretty well as comics now that I'm an adult!

RT: Has there ever been a comic book that touched/changed your life? What was it?

WS: "Thor" #122. Not necessarily my favorite Thor, but the one that changed my life because when I was unable to find it on the newsstand, I sent a desperate letter about it to Marvel Comics. (This was pretty much pre-conventions/pre-comic shops, etc.). Flo Steinberg, may God bless her, sent me a copy of the issue and, probably, saved my life. I think that gesture is what really kicked my appreciation of comics into the magical and set me on the path to working in the industry.

RT: If you could only write/draw one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?

WS: That answer is probably different every day I get up, but the top contenders would be "Thor" for Marvel, "Orion" for DC and "Elric" with Michael Moorcock. And if I could go back in time, I would draw anything Archie Goodwin wanted to write.

RT: …

WS: Robert?

RT: Sorry, I was drooling when you mentioned "Thor" and "Orion" in the same sentence…now, what's the best comic book movie ever made?

WS: Perhaps "The Iron Giant," best Superman film out there and maybe the best comic book movie period.

RT: What is your weirdest convention experience?

WS: I was once asked to draw a picture of Rogue on a lady's breast at a San Diego con. Where was this stuff when I was young and single!?

RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

WS: Making good comics.

RT: Amen to that.

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