Michael Hawthore - The One Man Gang behind "Hysteria"

Fri, January 27th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

"Hysteria: One Man Gang" #1 & #2
Now, I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill, bad guys-with-guns action. I'm talking about Kung Fu, flying leaps, non-stop, ball-breaking action.

Robert Kirkman ("The Walking Dead," "Invincible," "Marvel Zombies") wrote about this kind of action in one of his recent "Buy My Books" columns right here at CBR. In this particular column, he writes an open letter to God, thanking him for unapologetic action films like "The Transporter" (both 1 & 2) and praying for another sequel in this franchise. Kirkman writes about the unadulterated joy he feels when the main character does an impossible leap or something big goes BOOM!

Well, if there are any readers out there with sentiments similar to Mr. Kirkman's, Image Comics is publishing a book this March that should appeal to your inner-Jackie Chan: "Hysteria: One Man Gang," written and drawn by Michael Hawthorne (artist of "RUULE, Vol. 1," "3 Days in Europe"). CBR News contacted Hawthorne to talk about this book and his future "Hysteria" plans.

To begin with, if the title of the book sounds familiar to you, the reason is that this book is a sequel of sorts. "Hysteria" was a graphic novel written and drawn by Hawthorne and published by Oni Press. He had planned for the sequel to be published by Oni as well, and was working on the book until an unplanned emergency forced him to put the book aside.

When he was able to get the book back on track, the writer discovered that Oni had booked up its schedule for 2006, which he said he "totally understood." Hawthorne had known Eric Stephenson (Executive Director of Image) for a long time, and Stephenson approached the creator with the idea of bringing the book to Image. So, long story short, that's where it is now.

Along with a new publisher, the book also has a new publishing plan. As opposed to another graphic novel, "Hysteria" will be an ongoing book with "One Man Gang" composing the first four-issue story arc. Not only that, but fans can eventually look forward to 'Hysteria' comic stories at Hawthorne's website as well. And the writer-artist already has plans for the eventual trade of "One Man Gang."

"The trade is going to be different from the floppies," Hawthorne explained. "The miniseries will have four unique wraparound covers, and a six-page backup story. The trade will not feature the wraparound covers or short stories. It will have an all new cover and a different short story, done with a series of pin-ups drawn by guys like Jim Rugg, Andy MacDonald and Jamar Nicholas."

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While the idea of differentiating the trade from the singles has lots of potential, there are some who might grumble that this plan requires fans to buy the same material twice in order to get all the fun extras. When asked about this, Hawthorne was happy to clarify.

"You know, I'm glad you asked this. See, for me it's the opposite: I think most people buy either one or the other. How many times have we heard '...waiting for the trade.' So, it's either the floppies or the trade. I feel that fans rarely buy both. At least, that's the case with the fans that have contacted me or come to see me at a con.

"I wanted to make each book special in its own way. Sooo, if you get the floppies, you don't feel gypped because there is special stuff in the trade but nothing special in the floppies.

"I do worry about it appearing as a way of raking everyone over the coals. I assure you, that's not my intention. I should also make it clear that the back-up story is a short from Vol. 1, called 'Destruction Junction' (which had just about all the characters in 'One Man Gang' in it). It's a 24-page story that will be broken up into six-page chunks in each issue.

"If you already read Vol. 1 [the trade Oni put out a couple years back], then you already have this short. But, if you're new to the series, it will help you with some back-history on the gangs, Bruce, and Detective Toledo.

"And yes, eventually all this stuff will run on my site as the daily web comic. So, everyone will be able to get it for free."

As mentioned, the book is a sequel of sorts; however, Hawthorne made it clear that knowledge of the first book is not a prerequisite for enjoying this new run.

"'Hysteria' is an action-comedy tale. It follows this small group of friends who all work for a ragtag antiterrorist unit on this little island called Port Aesteria. It's a little like Archie, only with guns, fight and 'splosions!

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"On the island there are four gangs: The Eggs, The Giant Midgets, God's Thugs, and Bruce Lopez - The One Man Gang. Bruce is more of a neighborhood patrolman than a gang, but he keeps his neighborhood safe but clams it as his 'turf,' thus keeping the other gangs out.

"'One Man Gang" is what happens when Bruce accidentally starts a gang war with all the other gangs on the island. Detective Toledo Santiago, who some will know from Vol. 1, gets caught up in the fight and tries to help Bruce get a little girl to safety. All-out ass-whoopage follows as Bruce has to fight his way to Toledo to get the girl to her."

With this great description in hand, CBR News asked for some clarification about the little girl - who is she and how does she start this gang war?

"Well, she's crossed the line to get a ball that has bounced out in the street," said Hawthore. "Bruce crosses after her to stop her from being hit by a truck. So, it's really random. I knew right out of the gate that I wanted a random-ass reason to start a gang war...makes it funnier to me while I'm in the studio drawing the fight for one hundred pages!

"So, no, the gangs aren't gunning for her. But, they're not exactly concerned about her either. So, if she happens to be there when they decide to jump Bruce then so be it. Bruce is left having to find a safe place to dump her, so he can take care of the gangs. She's also fairly young, so he can't just drop her on any old street corner, you know?"

Based on everything Hawthorne has said about the book, the series' title of "Hysteria" seems apt. Interestingly enough, this title wasn't his first choice.

"It came about by mistake, actually. Originally, years ago, it was called 'Aesteria' (named after the story's setting). I was talking to some good friends, back in college, about the series and they always thought I was saying 'Hysteria.' Once we all figured it out, I just thought 'Hysteria' sounded cooler. It fit with the manic ideas I was going to be throwing into the book."

Since the city's location plays such a large role in the story, one may wonder where Port Aesteria is, or if it even exists. Hawthorne cleared up any confusion by explaining, "It is made-up, but it's loosely based on Puerto Rico. My mother was from there, and most of my family on her side still lives there."

Just like Gotham City is a fictitious location that operates under its own rules, Port Aesteria is the same - just don't expect to see anybody with a cape flying around. The creator described the city as "more 'Kung Fu Hustle' than superhero city - definitely a city that allows for 'hyper-reality.' I just wanted a locale that would enable me to open the floodgates and go as nuts as I feel like."

Hawthorne himself has described the "One Man Gang" story as a 100-page fight scene. The thought of this would probably scare many comic book artists. After all, how does one choreograph a fight scene of that length? Thankfully, the writer-artist was willing to share his secret.

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"I went out and fought a bunch of gang-bangers, and had my friend videotape it. So all the stuff you see in the comic is me. Only, I didn't have a girl with me. I had a stand-in for her - a midget named Carla…

"Seriously."

Writer-artists have the freedom to choose if they want to work from an outline or a full script. I've even heard of a few individuals who supposedly figure out the story as they draw their art. Naturally, Hawthorne has his own preference.

"For 'Hysteria,' I don't write a traditional script," he explained. "I kinda storyboard it, actually. I have a rough idea for the plot typed out, then I just go to a sketchbook and get busy on fleshing the action out. I add dialogue here too.

"Then, I do the roughs on large sheets of Bristol, scan and blue line, and then ink it on a fresh sheet of paper. After that, I start typing the dialogue, pushing and pulling it, till it sounds right.

"The process is a lot more natural than writing a full script and illustrating it later. I know that's how it's usually done, but it's not natural to me. Not for a visual medium like comics."

With regards to his overall plan for the "Hysteria" series and the arcs that follow "One Man Gang," the writer-artist said, "I have a publishing plan in place for all of 2006. You'll see a reprint of my original four-issue mini I self-published in '98/'99, and that'll be titled 'Hysteria Vol. 0: Big Bang.' There will also be a Halloween issue, as well as a bunch of other cool stuff."

Included with that "cool stuff" is the online "Hysteria" comic which Hawthorne mentioned earlier in the interview. When asked when fans can expect to see this, he replied, "I'm hoping for either March (so it runs with the first issue) or February. I could run the stuff tomorrow, but I want to have the site redesigned and all pretty-like."

Hawthorne also briefly mentioned the art he did for Beckett Comics, which included both "Ruule: Ganglords of Chinatown" and "The Ballad of the Sleeping Beauty." In the current state of the comic industry, new publishers crop up with big announcements and even bigger plans, and then just as quickly, they sometimes disappear. With Beckett's announcement that they will be published through Image, the hope is they will be around for some time to come. It's clear Hawthorne feels the same, based on his experience with the young company.

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"It was awesome. I got to help lay out a new company and create a visual signature for them. 'The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty' let me stretch a bit, too," said Hawthore. "I loved it. [Writers] Jeff [Amano] and Gabe [Benson] have mentioned they want to do new stuff, but time will tell. I'd be down in a minute, if my schedule allows for it."

And on the topic of his schedule, Hawthorne also informed us of future projects fans can look forward to: "I have a ton of stuff coming up. I'm writing and drawing a short for my buddy Eric Powell's book, 'The Goon.' It's great, because Eric is gonna add the dialogue later, so I have no idea what the Goon is gonna be saying!

"I also have another series coming out with Image called 'Umbra.' It'll be with Mirage Studio writer Steve Murphy, who is starting his own imprint. The story is this great, X-Files-type thriller set in Iceland.

"I'm also hoping to start a book for a French publisher, and I have a series I gotta start called 'Ballistic Fist' with Mike Oeming and Miles Gunther."

"Ballistic Fist"? It sounds like readers can expect more explosive action from Hawthorne. If it's as fun as "Hysteria," let's hope he never decides to give peace a chance…

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