Going Viral: David Hine Talks FVZA - Part 1

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David Hine is well known for his work at Marvel on such books as District X, Daredevil: Redemption, and Son of M. But in October, he takes a trip outside of the superhero world with FVZA, also known as the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency, a taskforce dedicated to eliminating the threat of the undead. In Part 1 of this two-part interview Broken Frontier spoke to Hine about the book and its development.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Tell us how you became involved with FVZA.

DAVID HINE: A couple of years back I was at San Diego Comicon and bumped into my old friend, Dave Elliott who originally picked up Strange Embrace for Tundra back in the nineties. He was editor-on-chief of this new company Radical, who had a booth plastered with amazing production art on all these projects that looked like they were already movies. It was an audacious launch for a company that didn’t actually have any books published. I guess I probably said something like "So where are the comics, Dave?"

The following year I was introduced by Publisher Barry Levine to a couple of producers from Contrafilm, who had bought the rights to FVZA and wanted Radical to produce a comic book. I pitched a plot that would make a great comic book series and was also perfectly suited to be adapted as a big budget movie. Everybody went away from the meeting happy.

This year Radical’s stand at San Diego was crammed with published comics. Cool comics. They delivered.

Come October FVZA hits the stores.

BF: Have you enjoyed working with Radical so far?

DH: It’s one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in comics. The guys at Radical are so respectful of the creative process. After doing work for hire for companies who can treat you as a script machine, it has been very gratifying. No-one is dictating how a story should be told, or how characters should be developed. No-one is arbitrarily re-writing scripts. I’m consulted at every level, from art, to production to the way the book is publicized. A lot of care is taken to make sure every aspect of the book is the best quality we can achieve. I have a great working relationship with my editor, Luis Reyes. At Marvel and DC there is often a feeling that the editor is boss. The better editors will give you a lot of leeway but there is always a point where you are going to be over-ruled. Luis is a demanding editor. He’ll pick up on any weaknesses in plot structure, character, pacing – all the things an editor should be doing, but in the end if I feel strongly about something, it stays in. I guess it’s more like the writer/editor relationship in traditional book publishing.

Radical are also great at looking after their creators on a practical level. The pay is good, I get flown out to San Diego for the convention, signings are well organized and the book is being promoted to the hilt. The ashcan edition we were giving away at the Con was a beautiful thing to behold.

BF: This book is based on the website FVZA.org, which developed a sizable fan following. Why do you think it became so popular? Do you think it has to do with the way it treats the subject matter as if it were real?

DH: Yeah, that’s it absolutely. The FVZA site immerses itself in the history and science to an incredible degree. Richard Dargan created the site and he has literally taken on this alter ego of Hugo Pecos, a former director of the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency. The agency was dismantled in the mid-seventies when it looked like vampires and zombies were extinct, but good ol’ Hugo is convinced they will be coming back and he wants to keep the world prepared for the worst.

Everything you could possibly want to know about how the vampire and zombie viruses are transmitted and the biology of the victims is there, as well as some things you would probably prefer not to know. There’s a detailed history of the Undead from mediaeval times to the present day, including biographies of famous vampires. The site is constantly growing. Checking it out this week I see we now have a section on the riot at Woodstock after zombies invaded the site and the FVZA tried to cancel the show just before Crosby Stills Nash and Young began their set. And there’s a section on Vampires in the Vietnam War. It’s all done completely deadpan. I love it.

There’s a lot of opportunities to interact with the site too, with members of the public submitting their own sightings of the Undead from all over the world.


BF: Do you have room to develop your story, given how much detail Richard Dargan put into the background of this world? Are most of the characters and developments in this story of your own invention?

DH: I don’t feel any restrictions. On the contrary, what the FVZA site does is to give me this library of information on the science and the history up to 1975 so all the backstory is there. But beyond that point I can do what I like. So I’ve set the story in the present day. The point where Hugo Pecos’s predictions come true. The vampires return, this time as a radicalized group who are using the zombie virus as a biological weapon. The book plays well to public paranoia about terrorism and the outbreak of a highly contagious killer disease. This was written before the Swine Flu outbreak but it has been obvious for some years now that fear of disease has replaced the Atom Bomb as the universal nightmare for the American public.

All the characters are new, except for Hugo Pecos himself and an ancient vampire called Nephilis, who is mentioned on the web site. I have introduced the vampires, Mandrake, Yaelis and Chaucer, and all the new agents. The key characters are Pecos’s orphaned grandchildren, Landra and Vidal, who have been home educated by Pecos. He has trained them obsessively to be the perfect warriors to combat the undead. They have had a totally screwed up lifestyle and that shows when they try to interact socially. But they are the best when it comes to kicking the ass of the Undead.

My personal favorite characters are Jules and Tess. These are a couple of Vamps, a kind of Goth youth cult who have romanticized vampires and live the lifestyle, dressing in black, protecting their pale white complexions, getting permanent fang implants and even drinking one another’s blood. It all goes horribly wrong for them when they get transformed into the real thing. Vampires are not romantic. Their hair falls out, they become impotent and their entire existence revolves round the endless quest to feed. We follow this tragic couple as they try to hold onto their love for one another.

BF: Have you gotten any feedback from Richard Dargan?

DH: Yeah. Richard loves what we’re doing so far. We finally met at San Diego this year. I think he’s particularly pleased with the stunning artwork and the fact that we’ve remained faithful to his concepts and his down-to-earth approach to the genre.

BF: What's it been like writing this as compared with your past work? Is it very different than writing a superhero comic?

DH: Totally. I have never been comfortable with the standard concept of heroes and villains. I like to blur the boundaries, play up the faults of the ‘heroes’ and make the villains sympathetic – even the really nasty ones. That’s not to say my stories are amoral. There is a very strong moral core to all my work but it’s more about how all my characters are struggling with their own inner demons and frailties. I also have a lot more freedom to depict sexuality in a realistic way, to have my characters cuss like real people and depict violence and horror. I don’t want to show gore for its own sake, but I prefer to show the real consequences of violence, rather than some sanitized slugfest that is there purely for entertainment. Those endless punch-ups that superheroes indulge in are just stupid and unreal and boring. Violence should be gross and repulsive. You get punched in the face and it fucking hurts! I’ll never forget meeting a guy many years ago who was paralyzed up one side because a bouncer hit him just once. Fighting is not glamorous or cool. I would prefer people to be repelled by the violence in my comics.

Join us tomorrow for the second part of this interview...

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  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Sep 9, 2009 at 6:18pm

    This project sounds fantastic and anyone who has read the highly-recommended STRANGE EMBRACE knows just how well David Hine does macabre. And all just in time for Halloween by the sounds of it too! Looking forward to part 2 of this interview...

  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom Sep 10, 2009 at 4:19am

    I like this premise a LOT and that art is just...the colorist should get a medal!!

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