Electric Blues: Steve Pugh Talks Hotwire

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Longtime artist Steve Pugh has recently thrown his hat into the writing arena, pulling double duty as writer and artist of Hotwire from Radical, based on a concept he developed with Warren Ellis. Broken Frontier spoke with Pugh about the genesis of the project, and what lies ahead for the series.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Tell us a bit about Hotwire HCthe origins of Hotwire; how did you and Warren Ellis come up with the concept, and how did it wind up at Radical? Is Warren still involved at all?

STEVE PUGH: Warren and I put together the original 48 page Hotwire some years ago, but the publisher went down before the book was finished. It was one of the few times I’d had the opportunity to have a hand in a character's creation, so I always thought of it as unfinished business.

My original plan was to just repackage the book for another publisher, but Warren didn't want his older work being dredged up, and would only be agreeable if I rewrote Hotwire myself and took full blame. (laughs)

Warren has no active role in the new Hotwire, though he likes to be kept informed. He obviously doesn't want anything substandard being published with his name on, and diluting his brand.

Hotwire's actual origin is Warren ill-advisedly asking me what I'd want to draw, and me, being a typical artist, saying "girls and monsters and bikes n'stuff!"

BF: What's been your experience with Radical?

SP: Great! They're a young company, they weren't held back by the baggage of the Big Two, and you don't have to jump through multiple hoops to get a decision on something. It's been a very positive experience, they've really been 100% supportive of the project and myself, I can't imagine ANY other company that would have trusted me to write Hotwire, without any previous track record.

BF: Did you find any challenges in stretching your writing muscles for this project? Was it very different drawing for your own script rather than someone else's?

SP: Yeah, very different. I think the main thing it gave me was confidence. The more inside the mind of the writer I am, then the more confident I am about drawing the story. I feel able to go crazier without going off message. Often you'll find yourself drawing material by writers you've never even swapped e-mails with, and have no idea of your strengths and weaknesses. I like a script to be very, very clear about the motivations of the characters, if Logo-Man loves Police-Girl who has a secret desire for Lawyer-Boy then I want a big paragraph saying so at the start of the script!  Then I can work out everyone’s body language and attitude.

With Hotwire I was on solid ground. I knew all the character's feelings towards everyone else.

Also, I could put in stuff that was hard to draw!

BF: The finished book looks very different from anything you've done before. Can you describe for us your process of creating the art for this book?

SP: It's all based on techniques I worked out while painting Shark-Man, for Image.  I've done a lot of pen and ink work for comics, but I was never very fond off how it turned out. Working in mainstream comics forces you down a certain drawing and inking style, and if you stray too far away from that look, it becomes difficult for the colorists. It's too dependent on a colorist "getting you”, working with your line-work instead of fighting it. Frankly I'm a bit of a control freak and I just wanted to do everything!

I was going to create the color art for the original version of "Hotwire" by painting it in grays, which I was then going to tint using translucent colors on a special coated acetate. What I'm doing with the new Hotwire is almost exactly that, except I'm using Photoshop to composite it. Painting in translucent colors and building up the image gives it a nice look, then I paint in the shadows and light spots which binds everything together. It could all be done in colored inks and then scanned, but it'd take me three times as long and there isn't an undo button if I screw up!


BF: One of the primary elements of the book is the presence of "blue-lights", electromagnetic phenomena that appear to manifest as the consciousnesses of deceased people. A major question left unanswered is whether these are actual "souls." What else could they be, and is this something you want to explore further in future issues?

SP: It's a question I've left hanging in the book, yes, but it's not one I want the reader to spend time second guessing. It's there as a challenge for Alice, not a booby trap for the reader. The climax to a Hotwire story will NEVER be some mad explanation for the Blues that pulls the rug from under the reader and leaves them feeling stupid or cheated. The important thing is that these creatures definitely believe themselves to be the dead, and that's the big question for Alice, how to reconcile the existence of the blue-lights with her own hard science background. She would LOVE to prove that the blues were an obscure explainable phenomena and that everyone else was wrong. She has a lot of half buried issues. Could she ever accept that the horror-voice that leaves messages on her phone really is her mother? Of course, Coroner Love nails it in the first issue- science isn't a belief system. If science is proved wrong then it becomes stronger, not weaker, because it's learned something it didn't know before.

BF: Are there any helpful/stable blue-lights, who could potentially be of assistance to the authorities on a regular basis?

SP: There's a lot more to see of the Blues. We've barely scratched the surface of how diverse their existence can be. As for ones that you can hold a conversation with, yes, we'll definitely be seeing that.  Helpful, well, possibly, but I don't think anyone would use the word "stable" though!

BF: Describe Alice Hotwire for us as a person. What drives her? For someone with a bit of a rebellious attitude, why's she so obsessed with "the rules"?

SP: Actually, I think Alice only does one rebellious thing in the whole story, and that's release the video to the news channel. Even that, in her mind, is routing around the damage in the system, that's being caused by someone breaking the disclosure protocol to protect the bad cops.

The trick with Alice is that she isn't who she appears to be. In the first pages of issue #1 it looks like she's just another kick-ass bad girl. She appears totally together, in charge, indestructible. By issue #2 she's rolling on the pavement up-chucking vodka into the gutter.

On the job she's purposeful, single-minded. In her downtime she's a mess.

Alice was a scarily intelligent, serious, child, who had very little chance to mix with other kids her age. After a traumatizing, life changing incident, she spiraled into some bad teenage years where she chemically "dumbed down" so she could make some kind of social contact.

When she came through the other side of that, she clung to the mathematical view of the world she'd learned as a kid to bring structure to her life.

Like a reformed smoker, after she stopped taking the intelligence dampers (stupid pills) Alice became evangelically anti-anti-intellectualist. She is perpetually irate that people don't just shut-up and do what she tells them 'cause she's smarter than them.

There's a bar fight in issue #2 that starts up because she's genuinely shocked to be asked "if she thinks she's better than everyone else?" Alice, of course gives her honest answer!


BF: How did you develop the design for Alice? She's a pale, almost ghostly white, which I would gather is deliberate given her line of work.

SP: I usually get asked "Is she dead? Does she turn out to be dead too???!!!"

Heh, no. She is physically small, slight. Probably a sickly child.

I wanted to contrast her intellectual weight against her size. Alice isn't an idealized "strong woman" role-model. She genuinely needs Mobey for the heavy lifting. On a practical level, she's nice to paint, it makes her easy to pick out in a crowd and her features read well.

BF: In issue #3, we see that Alice is largely immune to a fear-based attack, because she's been grappling for so long with one of her greatest fears, the possibility that there is no life after death. Why would she go into the field of necro-forensics if this is a subject that scares her so much?

SP: Hey, great question!

My nerdy "Star Trek" answer is that the Faraday cage around her skull protected her from the "injected" emotion. She just got the light show through the optic nerve. The cops just weren't as well protected.

That little stinker of a fear ghost really pushed the wrong button. Her mother’s death was always a motivator for Alice. Alice doesn't believe in life after death, she's already had to process that, accept it. Her little speech was about, “How could anything the ghost shows her be harsher than reality?"

Alice seems to have drifted into necro-forensics when she realized the access it would give her to restricted technologies!

BF: Alice lost her mother at a young age, and now gets messages on the phone from her, seemingly from beyond the grave. Why doesn't Alice make an attempt to establish contact with her, and get some answers to her questions?

SP: Alice simply doesn't believe it's her, or won't let herself yet. And we don't really hear what those messages sound like. They sure shake Mobey up!

BF: A deluxe hardcover collection of the first miniseries will be coming out in November. What can you tell us about some of the extras that will be in this collection?

SP: Well I fixed up some of the art that I felt wasn't working after a second look, and added an extra four story pages. I think it makes the ending smoother, I had to wrap it up quickly in the original issue #4, and this is a nicer lead out. There's also a gallery of Hotwire art from over the years, of Alice's various incarnations, some promo art I did to sell Radical on the idea, a 6 page color story featuring Alice and the "Filthy" character from issue #1 and also a selection of material from the original Warren Ellis scripted Hotwire story. We've probably got enough stuff left over to put some in the second collection too!

BF: What's next for Hotwire?

SP: Three 66-page books with complete stories in each (but with a linking backstory). We're going to get a better look at her world and the weirder blue-lights that inhabit it. Political maneuvering, broken promises, inescapable confrontations, and, of course, past mistakes come back to monster Alice in the present, as these things always do!

BF: Are you working on anything else these days?

SP: I’m looking at something, it's a small, but high profile job that I'll take it if I can be sure it won't interfere with Hotwire, so I'll let you know!

The Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead hardcover goes on sale in November from Radical priced $19.95

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  • Kris Bather

    Kris Bather Nov 3, 2009 at 9:10am

    Great interview Matt. Steve Pugh is one talented guy and Hotwire is by far my favourite Radical series.

  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom Nov 5, 2009 at 7:56am

    awesome inteview and you can clearly see the interviewed party took his time with the answers!! Lovely read!! HOTWIRE is one of my fav reads and this interview clearly shows why I think!!

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