Hickman on New Grounds

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Even though he has self-published a handful of comics over the years, it wasn’t until his Holley Crullers comic was republished under the Top Cow banner as Common Grounds that the public started to take notice of Troy Hickman.

Now that the writer is slated to take over City Of Heroes this month, following the opening arc by the now-DC exclusive Mark Waid, his name is becoming even more ‘common’ around the industry—with two Eisner nominations under his belt, it was about time!

BROKEN FRONTIER: You’ll be taking over City Of Heroes this month for a three-issue run encompassing issues #4-6. What have you got in store for the title?

TROY HICKMAN: Hopefully one great superhero story! I guess folks will let me know. My story is largely devoted to the "hero" part of City of Heroes, the basic goodness and courage of the citizens of Paragon City, both those wearing spandex and otherwise. It features the Freedom Phalanx super team taking on the evil Circle of Thorns, a nasty bunch of mystical types. There will be copious amounts of drama, humor, action, quirkiness, and people in colorful costumes. I think you'll dig it!

BF: Will you expand on the groundwork laid by Mark Waid, or will you be telling a totally fresh and stand-alone story?

TH: Actually, I plotted my story before I had any idea what Mark would be doing, but I've been reading his issues and plot synopses as I'm doing the actual scripting, so there might be an idea or two in there that I can use as a springboard. Basically, though, it's like most of my work, a story that can stand completely on its own.

BF: How do you open up the world of Paragon City, which is based on a popular video game, to readers who have not played the game?

TH: By writing a compelling story. Given that there are no previous comic book exploits of the Freedom Phalanx, there's no problem with non-gamers picking up the comic and enjoying it. I'm really doing my best to make the arc accessible for everyone, and I'm doing it by telling a story that, hopefully, anyone can read and be drawn into. If you enjoy stories like Steve Englehart's run on JLA or Avengers, Wolfman's Titans work, etc., you should probably dig this. Or, if you liked what I did in Common Grounds, this might float your boat.

BF: Are you a player yourself?

TH: Yeah, I've been playing for quite some time, and I just love it, for so many reasons. For one, you can create virtually any kind of hero you want, with a huge number of options for costumes, powers, etc., and more on the way. Even better, though, is the team play, as it lets you put together a group of super people and interact with all sorts of interesting folks. Truth be told, I'm not much of a video game guy, but this one really has me hooked.

BF: Do you have much leeway to create the story you want to tell, or do the people at NCSoft keep close tabs on what you do with their property?

TH: Well, I've been working closely with Sean Fish from Cryptic Studios, and he's helped me tremendously with background info and the like. Sure, they want to make sure the property gets the proper respect and treatment, but it hasn't really hindered the story I want to tell in any way. I think they know the kind of work I do, the kind of respect I have for both the medium and the genre, and they know they can trust me not to toss that out the window.

BF: One of the strengths of your writing is a very humane quality of your characterization. Is that something you will be adding to the mix of your City Of Heroes arc?

TH: I sure hope so. I think if there's one thing I can bring to the series, it's my ability to, as Jim McLauchlin describes it, "super-humanize characters in very few pages." I'm taking characters that don't really have a back story in comic form, and trying to make the readers care about them in 66 short pages.

If you've never tried it, believe me, it's not as easy as it looks! But that's hopefully been a trademark of my work. I think if you understand the character in your head, and you can transmit that idea to the reader with a few carefully written details and lines of dialogue, you can create someone that comes off the page a little. At least that's the theory.

BF: Is this really a three-issues-and-I’m-done gig, or will you be alternating script duties with Mark Waid for some time?

TH: Golly, I can't tell you how much I'd love to work on CoH again. I guess that's up to the powers-that-be, though. I know that after my arc, Dan Jurgens is doing #7-9, so that should be very cool. But if they'll let me, I'll certainly be back for more.

BF: Fans of your work know that City Of Heroes is not your first endeavour in the comics industry—that would be Common Grounds, the project you referred to earlier. Do you plan on releasing some more superhero stories set at the book’s donut shop?

TH: Let's keep our fingers crossed. The book did all right in its monthly form, and the trade paperback sold—and continues to sell—very well. The folks at Top Cow tell me it's an "evergreen" that people keep buying and then recommending to friends, so it has a continuing shelf-life. What might also help are the Eisner nominations the book has received for Best Short Story and Best Anthology. I'd dearly love another opportunity to write some CG stories. The scripts for the first series were taken from my Holey Crullers mini-comic, which ran from 1994 to 2000, so it would be wonderful to see how I could do now, with a little more writing experience under my belt.

BF: In City Of Heroes and Common Grounds, you’ve only written superhero stories thus far. Are you itching to write a project that doesn’t feature any spandex?

TH: You know, it's interesting, really. Before Holey Crullers (the original title of Common Grounds – ed.), all I had done were non-superhero comics such as Tales of the Pathetic Club (about people with OCD), Yoyo the Dieting Clown (a dark comedy about a bulimic funnyman), and Made-Up Stuff is Stranger than Fiction (sometimes described as "George Carlin meets Robert Ripley"), and yet these days I'm primarily known as a superhero writer.

It also shows you the bias of some folks; when I was self-publishing things like Pathetic Club, I was considered a "serious" writer, but now that I'm also doing superhero stuff for a major company, some of the same folks who enjoyed my books back then probably wouldn't pick up my new stuff, even though it's every bit as good, in my opinion. More's the pity.

I have so many ideas for comics, though, and they run the gamut from superhero to western to stuff for kids to slice-of-life. I'd eventually like to do an autobiographical graphic novel telling the story of what happened to me over the last few years, and how I went from the worst time of my life to the best in a period of months. Mainly what I want is to be writing comics on a full-time basis, so hopefully that will manifest itself soon—I'd love to be doing a regular monthly title. I guess we'll see what happens!

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