Hauntings of Hector: Chatting "Hector Plasm" with Cereno and Bellegarde

Mon, January 23rd, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Justin Eger, Guest Contributor

Fans of Robert Kirkman and "Invincible" have already been introduced to the work of Benito Cereno and Nate Bellegarde with their "Hector Plasm" back-up stories that have been featured in the long running Image Comics title. When Kirkman's own CBR column announced the imminent arrival of "Hector Plasm: De Mortuis" in March, CBR News jumped at the chance to talk with Cereno and Bellegarde about "Hector," hauntings, and one big green sword. First under the glass was writer Benito Cereno.

So, let's get the who, what and why of "Hector Plasm: De Mortuis." Who is Hector, what is he doing, why's he doing it and just what is up with that funky green sword that pillages flesh so nicely?

Benito Cereno: Hector is and has been a lot of things. It was fun reading reviews of his earliest appearances and seeing people try to guess who he was or what he did - is he an exorcist? A magician? A ghostbuster of some kind? Well, to some degree, he's all of those things and a lot more. Without spoiling too much of the story, Hector's entire life path was set out for him the moment he was born, his whole destiny decided for him by a few square inches of biological material. His birth placed him right smack-dab in the middle of a cult that has existed for centuries, whose duties involve acting as something of a liaison between the worlds of the living and that of the dead. But his dealings with ghosts and demons and other such beings are really just something of a way to kill time between his real jobs...which happen four times a year on the Ember Days.

The sword is one of Hector's more important tools in carrying out his duties. That fact already should give you some idea of the differences between him and us. To live my life day to day and do my job, I need a computer and Hot Pockets. Hector needs a centuries-old sword that glows green and performs "compulsory spiritual releasement," which is something like an instant exorcism.

What about the timeline and location of the series? Whether it was just the art or the early feel, the first few pages of the book definitely have a Southern feel to them, though the timeframe seems a little questionable.

Benito: The story, for the most part, takes place in modern day, and most of the parts that don't take place in the present occur during Hector's lifetime; so from about 1980 to the present day. The locations of the story vary, because Hector's duties take him all around the world, but in this book, there is a bit of an imbalance in favor of stories set in the U.S. I think the U.S. has three regions with the perfect mystique for three very different kinds of ghost stories. In this book, we exploit two of those by having three stories set in the South and two in the Southwest and I'm sure we'll get to the third location at some point. But there are plenty of other locales in which we see Hector in this book: England, continental Europe, Japan, India, and even exotic Canada.

Where did the idea come from for "Hector Plasm?"

Benito: I'll tell you the influences of this book, but if it's anything like what happened with my last book, everyone will attribute it to drugs anyway. But regardless, "Hector" was something like the natural progression of a lot of things happening with Nate and me creatively. We both wanted to do something completely different from our "Invincible" backups, just to prove we could. So when we considered what kind of things we liked besides jokes about pirates and poops, we both unanimously decided that it had to be dudes cutting up other dudes with swords. We both also have a real love of world folklore, particularly the more grisly parts of ghostlore, so that was a no-brainer. From there, it was just a combination of old unused concepts and things we liked, like horror comics, Quentin Tarantino movies, weepy emo slice-of-life love comics, "true" ghost stories, and the music of Tom Waits.

Is this the last we'll see of "Hector," or are you planning on revisiting him after the sales numbers come back?

Benito: I don't know about the rest of the world, but I'm planning on seeing more of "Hector." Nate and I have basically his whole life story mapped out. We know what the last panel on the last page of the last book he's ever in will be. We have a whole story (or rather, a whole collection of stories) that we would love nothing more than to tell.

How long have you been at Image? Kirkman implied that this was your third book getting handled by the company. Accurate or no?

Benito: The majority of my published work has been at Image. Nate and I had backup stories that ran in "Invincible" from issue #3 until our untimely deaths in issue #20. Image also published my 2004 graphic novella, "Tales from the Bully Pulpit." The third book you mention is one that Nate and I pitched a couple of years ago that didn't get picked up, which sent us back to the drawing board, where we went through a couple of ideas for stories before hitting on "Hector." The only work I've had published (to my knowledge) outside of Image are the stories Nate and I had that ran in Hoarse and Buggy Productions' "Western Tales of Terror," and the mini-comics Nate and I printed from our own "imprint," Please Don't Eat My Comics.

What else have you been working on recently?

Benito: I've had a lot of irons in the fire for a while now, and I'm hoping that 2006 will be, in a mixing of metaphors, the year they come to fruition. I'm not one to crow about projects before it's practically certain that they'll be out, but I have a couple of done-in-one books that will hopefully see the light of day soon, as well as a number of short stories for various anthologies. Nate and I had a one-page strip that ran in the "Image Comics Holiday Special," but you probably missed it in between the ad for ShadowHawk and the ad for Spawn. It was about hot dogs and Christmas. I'm also working on the long-awaited sequel to "Tales from the Bully Pulpit," as well as a collaborative effort that was hinted at in the pages of Smith and Hipp's "Amazing Joy Buzzards."

As I mentioned before, there's a lot more Hector to be told, and hopefully we'll have the chance to tell it all. We have actually already started some work on a longer "Hector" project that will hopefully drop later this year. The title of the first story is "My Dream Girl Don't Exist," which starts to get us into some of those sappy emo love comics influences that I mentioned before.

Allright, it's Nate's turn in the hot seat now. I understand that "Hector Plasm" is your debut book, but not your first work in comics. Give us some background, if you will.

Nate Bellegarde: Robert Kirkman was either gracious or shortsighted enough to print my first work as backups in the original printings of "Battle Pope: Mayhem," back when I was too young to purchase the book, as recommended by the "mature readers only" warning. Between then and now I've been in all the things Benito mentioned, though I was in two more issues of "Western Tales of Terror" than he was, writing for Ryan Ottley and inking Tony Moore.

How did you get involved in "Hector?"

Nate: Benito and I have known each other since I was 16 or 12, I think. We were always coming up with stuff and after finally mustering up the wherewithal, we submitted our first pitch to Image. But that was rejected, so we had to regroup and think of a better idea. Benito's better idea was to ditch me and make "Bully Pulpit." After that we decided we should create something with a little more appeal, and we came up with an idea for a supernatural superhero/adventurer, and that idea became "Hector."

How much involvement did you have, both in the creative process and in the progression of the book? If something didn't work for you, did you get a chance to tell Benito, "Look man, why not this?"

Nate: I would have to say that the conceptualizing of the book was pretty 50-50. Well, to use "The Haint" as an example, I wanted to do a story with a reverse perspective, where a ghost thought he was still alive and saw Hector as some twisted specter. Benito mocked me for not having yet seen "The Others" and turned the idea into a story and scripted it. While he's doing that I'll usually throw in any ideas I have for lines of dialogue or specific beats or shots I want to put in, like the two panel sequence where the ghost is dispatched in front of the fire. There are times where it's all Benito, from plot to script, and one story in "De Mortuis" is all me. So we have a good system together.

Talk about coming up with the look of Hector and where the design process went from there. The first five pages look fantastic, with such a style shift between the ravings of the bigot and the "real-world" aspect, if you can call it that. Was that something Benito was specifically looking for, or did you just run with it?

Nate: When we were first creating "Hector" and before Benito shared his ideas for his look, my first instinct was to make him kind of fugly. I didn't really want a gallant adventuring hero who was also hunky manheat. My first pass at his design was a burly brutish guy with big fish lips. That didn't mesh so well with Benito's ideas, so I scrapped that and started heading in the direction he appears as now. I wouldn't quite call him fugly, but hes still a bit awkward and goonish. His eyes are kind of bulgy, his hairline is receding, and he has a facial scar for good measure. As for his dress, I didn't want him to really have a "costume" I suppose. He doesn't always look the same, since the stories jump around in time; sometimes he gets haircuts, sometimes he doesn't shave, his clothes get ruined and he buys new ones. The one thing that ended up as a common motif is the zip-ups he wears. I had an old sketch of a character with "4 humors" on his sleeve and when we did our first "Hector" backup in "Invincible," I cannibalized it and it kind of stuck. Now it's a fictional brand name he prefers.

The look for the book itself was something of a reaction to the "Invincible" backups and my improvements as an artist since them. I've got that artist disease where I despise all of my work after it's a few months old. But those were pretty much my first attempts at drawing a "real" comic story and not just a humor strip, so I didn't really know what I was doing for the most part. Now I've got a better grasp on this comics thing and I've redrawn the two stories that ran as backups so that they're "right." As far as everything else, I kept in mind the balance between the natural and supernatural aspects of the stories. I wanted to keep living characters fairly realistic and believable, while ghosts and demons are much more exaggerated and distorted. At least I hope that comes across to people when they're reading. I want every project I work on to have its own unique look rather than lumping everything all into one "my style", and I think the color played the bigger role in accomplishing that for "Hector." I'm fairly incompetent as a colorist, but I had a lot of specific visuals in my head as to how I wanted them executed. So I turned to our good friend Jacob Baake (pronounced Bah-key, in case you were curious). He'd done flats for Bill Crabtree and colored a handful of pinups and shorts and I knew he was perfect for "Hector." We work really closely together and he's been a complete prince putting up with my anal retentive demands. Not only that, he blows away my every expectation on each page. Sorry if it sounds like I'm gushing, but I think he's really doing a knock out job and I feel like the luckiest girl at the prom.

Again, we've only seen the first few pages, but is that change in styles something that is consistent throughout the book? Do we see more ghost stories from different perceptions, or was that just an appetizer before we get down to the main course?

Nate: The Haint sequence here is kind of a peek into the ghost world that will play a larger role in any future Hector stories we get to tell, but this is its only appearance for "De Mortuis." Randall Whiteis' colors for the sequence really helped to create the jarring contrast, I think. He is an artist I really admire who I met on the forums at www.eatpoo.com (ditto for cover colorist Alex Stodolnik) and I knew he could pull off the nightmare hyper-realism it needed. You can check out his work at www.brokencow.com and Alex's at www.redbeardead.com.

Comics wise, what's the future look like for you?

Nate: Oh my, yes. I'm going to be disappointed if this comics business doesn't pan out because I am likely to explode without the proper outlet. Right now I'm working on "Loaded Bible: Jesus vs Vampires," written by the dazzling Tim Seeley and Mark Englert is inking my scribbles. We have two really different styles and the result tickles me ever so. Besides more "Hector," Benito and I are doing some short stories for a few anthologies coming up this year. I'm also working with a talented bastard named Marcus White on a book called "Wide," it's going to be a graphic novel trilogy love/fight comic. It's beautifully absurd to an irresponsible degree and I am really excited about it. I've also got a handful of solo short stories I'd like to put out there sometime this year, if I have the time. Let's see what else... just recently I drew the fall tour poster for nerdcore rap superstar, mc chris (who many may better know as Hesh or MC Pee Pants). I guess I'm his official artist from now on and I'll be doing art duties on his forthcoming album. You can snag a tour shirt with my design at www.mcchris.com.

Bringing this to a close, how pleased are each of you with the book?

Benito: I would say I'm extremely pleased with how the book came out. Even knowing ahead of time the kind of talent I was working with, I was still surprised with each new page coming in at just how much I was floored by how it looks. Nate and Jacob both knocked this one out of the park, and I think the time and effort they put into it really shows. Heck, I'm even pleased with my own contributions to the book. This was a situation where with every new story I'd write, I'd finish and say, "Yeah, this is the best one yet." So that was kind of a rewarding feeling. And look at the cover! I don't even have to tell you how awesome that is. Your eyes have awesome-detectors.

Nate: If that doesn't echo my sentiments, I don't know what does.

Did everything go like you expected it to? Any ups and downs? Anything you'd like to try out differently next time around?

Benito: If everything turned out like I expected, I would probably spend a lot less time writing comics and a lot more time expecting to find Al Capone's gold in the top tank of my toilet. It would be pretty unprofessional of me to recount all the torrid love affairs, back-stabbings and threats of legal action by the estate of Edward Gorey that took place during the production of this book, but suffice it to say that just about any book by a relatively rookie creative team is going to have a learning curve to it, and I think the whole creative team learned something from putting this book together. Something about comics, something about life, and a little something about love.

Nate: I think the worst part was lack of reliable resources, for example, my computer is a huge piece of crap and caused more problems than anything else. But I was able to work with what I had and I think it came together pretty well. I would have liked to finish it a little faster, but I think the extra time I spent resulted in a much better finished product than what would have been otherwise. Any money we make on this book is going straight into buying a new computer and better materials to use on the next one.

Lastly, why should readers spend my pocket money and buy this book, in one sentence or less?

Nate: Less than one sentence, eh?

Benito: Ah, you idiot, you wasted your one sente-ahh, crap.

Nate: Sometimes I like to pretend I'm the funny one instead of the good-looking one.

Thanks to Benito Cereno and Nate Bellegarde for taking some time to talk to CBR News. "Hector Plasm: De Mortius" can be found in the current Previews now, and hits the shelves in May. For a little early Hector, visit the creators MySpace group at http://groups.myspace.com/hectorplasm.

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