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Living a Hexed Life

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With Jonah Hex #13, scheduled for a November 1 release, series writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti kick off a three-part storyline that unveils the origin of everyone’s favorite DC cowboy. And if reading all about Hex’ early beginnings isn’t a nice treat all by itself, the writers have brought along European sensation Jordi Bernet to provide some of the best veteran comic book art you’ll see this side of Joe Kubert and John Romita Sr.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Jonah Hex #13 marks the start of a story arc that will unveil Hex’ origin, which makes me wonder, why wait over a year to tell his origin, and not do so right away in issue #1?

JUSTIN GRAY: The rationale was to buck tradition and offer up a ‘Legends of Jonah Hex’ style format. So often in comics, particularly superhero ones, the origin begins with the first issue and follows a timeline. With Jonah, we wanted to vary the stories inside their single format so that each month you were given a different story.

JIMMY PALMIOTTI: It’s just a good choice I think, since his “origin” isn’t something like that of a superhero so much as it is an accumulation of key events that create the man we present in the series.

BF: Perhaps it’s a bit of a redundant question since you will be telling his origin, but in your opinion, does a definitive take on Jonah Hex exist today?

JUSTIN: Sure, the basics of his origin are spread out over several issues of the first series, but Jonah Hex began with his story already in motion as opposed to a 'Year One' approach. All we’re doing is pulling it together and building on established truths and history.

JIMMY: I’d say issue #13-15 are as close as I think you can come to it.

BF: Looking at the character’s history, he’s been around since 1972 when he made his first appearance in All-Star Western #10, yet, he’s failed to make a lasting impression on fans. Today, the book struggles to find an audience as well. Do you think that’s largely because he’s not a superhero in a market they dominate?

JUSTIN: I’d argue that Jonah Hex did make a lasting impression but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has to run for 500-plus issues. In fact, I don’t believe we’ll see a western from a mainstream publishing company that will be able to rival his 92-issue run. The direct market is owned by the cape and boots crew but there is room for other genres, just not at the top of the sales charts.

JIMMY: Whenever we tell people outside comics that we are writing Jonah hex, the first thing they say is “ I used to love that comic” or “ I remember him…the guy with the scar”, so I think a bigger impression has been made by his character than most introduced in the 70’s. You should see the smile on creators’ faces when we ask them if they have any interest in drawing a Hex story or cover.

BF: To set the record straight, here’s your chance to tell people what makes Jonah Hex a great title. Mind you, “because we’re writing it, dammit!” isn’t a valid answer. [Laughs] The fact that each issue up until now stood on its own, in a market crowded with series featuring multi-issue story arcs, now that would be a good argument…

JUSTIN: Jonah Hex is extremely accessible for first time readers and provides complete stories in one, two or three issues, as opposed to multi issue crossovers, events and tie in books. You don’t have to be a fan of westerns to enjoy it. The artwork is fantastic. Oh, and people tell me it is well written. [Laughs]

JIMMY: It’s a great title because you do not have to be a western fan to get involved and drawn into the morality tales we are spinning. It’s great because we have some of the most fantastic artists in our field working on it and because it is on time every single month. The book should never let you down.

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BF: Over the course of the first 11 issues, what do you feel is the most important thing you’ve added to, or tweaked about, the character’s mythology?

JUSTIN: Jonah Hex is meant to be pure entertainment that isn’t dependant on shocking you, offering up startling revelations about the character or putting a fresh spin on a property that is decades old. Hex is not only timeless, but it transports you to a different and yet familiar world. Each new tale builds on his legend and contributes to the work that came before. The landscape of these tales is vast and limitless within the time he existed.

There are character insights that come into play that make him more three-dimensional and I think our contribution was to show that Hex is against the world or God or any kind of power over the simple people… Of course, he couldn’t have known what the DCU would be like 100 years after his death, but he does pave the way for certain things.

BF: Now that you mention it, what’s striking is that the previous three Jonah Hex books—Two-Gun Mojo, Shadows West, and Riders of the Worms and Such—were all Vertigo titles, while the current ongoing itself is, as you say, branded as being part of the DC Universe. What led DC to make that decision?

JUSTIN: Dan DiDio is a fan of the character and wanted him back in the DCU where he started. I think the time was right for a straight western as opposed to the idea that supernatural elements needed to be added to make the book more interesting.

JIMMY: Yeah. They wanted him back where he was created and belongs.

BF: For the origin story arc, you’re in good company with one of Europe’s finest veteran craftsmen on your side. How excited are you to be working with someone of Jordi Bernet’s stature?

JUSTIN: I’m still in a dream state about it. I never imagined I’d be working with someone as legendary as Jordi, or Tony DeZuniga either. It has been a fantastic experience.

JIMMY: I got a call two years ago from an editor saying he was looking for a writer for a Jordi Bernet illustrated short story…I was freaking as the message was playing, thinking I may have had a shot of working with one of my heroes, but by the end of the phone call what the editor was really asking was if I happened to have Garth Ennis’ number.

My heart was racing and then was crushed inside one minute. Cut to a year later and we are told we can have Jordi for 3 issues of Hex. You cannot imagine how excited I was…and still am. I must have done something really good in my previous life!

BF: Is either one of you familiar with the work he’s done in Europe, like Torpedo and Kraken?

JUSTIN: I’ll let Jimmy blow you away with his answer…

JIMMY: Yes and Yes. I have in my personal collection 5 commissions of Torpedo from Jordi as well as just about everything he has ever drawn, some in English, the rest in Italian and Spanish. For a nice overview of Jordi’s work and career, please check out the book called Bernet from Auad publishing. It has an introduction by Will Eisner and a foreword from another hero of mine, Joe Kubert. It features over 200 pages of photos, illustrations and storytelling spanning his entire career. Like I said before, having Jordi work on these books is one of the best presents I have ever gotten.

BF: The book has seen a lot of different artists since Luke Ross left with issue #7, from Phil Noto and Dylan Teague to David Michael Beck and the aforementioned Tony DeZuniga, who also worked on Jonah Hex in the 80s. Was a revolving ‘cast’ of artists a deliberate decision on your, or DC’s, end?

JUSTIN: We had hoped that Luke could stay on the book as long as he liked and we knew Steve Wacker (the title’s editor… before he bolted to Marvel, that is – ed.) was talking to Tony, but when Luke left the book we realized the opportunity for bringing in several different artists.

JIMMY: We would have loved one artist, but the reality of publishing a monthly makes that difficult, and in the long run having a sort of revolving door for the past year just gave us a chance to work with some of the best talent out there.

BF: Is there anybody slated to take over as the regular series artist following Jordi Bernet’s arc?

JUSTIN: Not as of yet, but we do have Phil Noto on board for at least eight issues.

BF: Nice! Now, where do the two of you plan on taking Jonah Hex following issue #15 and the unveiling of his origin?

JUSTIN: We’re sticking with what works, single-issue and double-issue stories.

BF: Finally, you both recently signed a DC exclusive contract for two years. Are there any upcoming projects you can discuss, or at least offer a bit of a tease?

JIMMY: Sure, we can offer up some info. We have Supergirl #12 coming soon featuring the new Terra character that sort of leads into the Terra mini series starting the New Year. We have the Friday the 13th series solicited for December through Wildstorm…that should keep everybody home for the holidays. [Laughs]

If sales pick up on Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, we may have more of a future for those characters and finally, we will continue with Jonah hex for as long as possible, which we hope is many years from now.

Other than that, we got something big coming, but that’s a story for another day.

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