The beauty of a comic publisher like Image Comics is its ability to give creators the opportunity to create original stories. Superhero comics are great, but there are many original tales just waiting to be told. We spoke to writer and artist Gabriel Hardman about his upcoming original one-shot The Belfry which goes on sale February 22nd with an FOC date of January 30th. We also discuss his past series Star Wars: Legacy, Batman, and more!
AiPT!: Thanks for taking the time to talk. What inspired the story in The Belfry?
Gabriel Hardman: The original inspiration was a pin-up I drew for a horror anthology a couple years ago depicting a woman with bat wings on the ground in a cave being approached by men with flashlights. I kept coming back to the idea of going further into that world. I felt like there was more to the story behind that pin-up. Initially, I thought it would be a little more elegant and whimsical than where I ended up but as I went, the story demanded to be darker and more violent. What can you do? As a storyteller, you have to go where the story and characters tell you.
AiPT!: The comic isn’t out yet, of course, but do you see yourself exploring this world and its characters in a future one-shot or ongoing?
Hardman: I definitely want to tell more horror stories. It’s often looked down upon as a genre but I think horror has enormous possibilities, particularly in comics. While you can’t do the cheap and easy things like jump scares in a comic, those are also the least interesting elements of the genre. With horror, you can connect with the reader in a raw, emotional way that can be very compelling, and that’s exactly the kind of thing comics do well.
I’m not ruling out a return to the world of The Belfry but this one-shot is really meant to tell a self-contained story. Many of the the comics I look back fondly on like Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s “Hold Me” story from Hellblazer #27 were self-contained. I want to make the kind of books I’d love to read myself.
AiPT!: How much research did you have to do in regard to bats?
Hardman: This isn’t a particularly naturalistic depiction of sadistic naked bat people, but on the other hand I’m married to Corinna Bechko, who has a zoology degree and is very interested in real-life bat conservation, so I imagine some of that rubbed off. I’m at least not coming from a place of total bat ignorance.
AiPT!: Speaking of bats, this story makes me think you have a Man-Bat story in you. Would you ever want to do a Batman story arc?
Hardman: I’d be interested in writing and drawing a Batman story, though, honestly, there have already been a LOT of Batman stories. I was recently reading that huge Golden Age Omnibus collecting the first few years worth of Batman comics and they had already explored a lot of the character by the early 1940’s. I’m not in any way against doing work for hire but I think there are a lot more original stories out there waiting to be told.
AiPT!: You do it all when it comes to producing a comic, just like with The Belfry, and I’m curious, do you have a favorite part of the process? Layouts, writing, color?
Hardman: When I’m writing, drawing and coloring a comic myself, all those things are so intimately intertwined, it’s difficult to separate them out. Every step of the way you’re engaged in telling the story so you’re always making big storytelling decisions, even at the coloring stage. That said, with each new project I try to challenge myself to do something different with the art. I almost always draw comics traditionally because I love the tactile and improvisatory quality of drawing with ink on paper, but also because for my day job as a storyboard artist for films I have to draw digitally for workflow reasons. For The Belfry I actually drew the original art much smaller than the standard 11 x 17. That way, I got a grittier look that set this apart from my other comics.
AiPT!: I was a big fan of Star Wars: Legacy and it’s sad to see it not continue! Do you have any opinion on Star Wars canon now that Marvel has taken over? Follow up, if they asked, would you be willing to do a book like Legacy for Marvel?
Hardman: I’m sure they’re doing a great job but I haven’t read enough of the Marvel Star Wars comics to comment. I can’t see doing another long-form Star Wars book simply because I feel like Corinna and I already explored that world, even if it ended more abruptly than we’d have liked. But I could definitely get excited about something like a Han Solo one-shot.
AiPT!: Could you elaborate on any ideas you had that you didn’t get to?
Hardman: We had a bigger arc planned for the series. We were able to do a shorthand version of the ending we were planning in the final arc but it would have been much more satisfying if we could have finished it the way we intended. Particularly if we’d been able to tell the story of the wise, old, assassin droid AG and his connection to the Solos. But you know what? We don’t own Star Wars and the people who do are allowed to do anything they want with it. It’s their property. There’s nothing wrong with that. Corinna and I can do anything we want with our long-form creator-owned series Invisible Republic that Image publishes. Because we own it.
AiPT!: Who are your heroes? They can be comic-related or not.
Hardman: I’m much more likely to see the grey areas, so hero isn’t a word I throw around a lot. But I recently visited South Africa and read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom and you can’t help but deeply admire that this man sacrificed so much to oppose the institutionalized racism and oppression in his country and prevail over it. Nothing is ever simple, perfect or finished but the strides forward that the people of South Africa made are heroic. It’s something to think about as we face a dark and perilous future in the United States.
AiPT!: What do you wish someone had told you about the comic business when you first started?
Hardman: I feel like I’ve always approached comics with my eyes open. It’s extremely demanding but creative work is hard work. There are no exceptions.
AiPT!: Okay, I ask this question to everyone. What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
Hardman: Working on a project I’m not supposed to be working on. As a matter of fact, that’s how The Belfry came into existence!
AiPT!: Thanks for taking the time to talk!