Cully Hamner talks about the BLUE BEETLE

cully-hamnerCully Hamner has been the go to guy for specials, one-shots and miniseries for the last ten years now he is going to become a monthly guy as he joins the post-Infinite Crisis/“One Year Later” DC Universe as the artist of the new Blue Beetle series, co-written by Keith Giffen and John Rogers. And just so we’re all on the same page – nope, it’s not Ted Kord. As Giffen told us late last month, Kord is dead…snuffed…finito…el dead-o.”Ted Kord is dead. There’s no zombie stuff. It’s not going to be Blue Beetle vs. Blue Beetle. I should say, that’s never going to happen as long as I’m on the book. And I believe that John Rogers, who is the guy doing the dialogue on the book — my co-writer, actually — is also pretty well dedicated to seeing that it’s a Blue Beetle book, that it stands on its own, and that it doesn’t sink into that kind of, “gee I think I’ll churn up a cliché.”

“It honors the name Blue Beetle. It honors … well, c’mon. I’m not gonna dump on Ted’s memory. Ted was my man! But if you never read a single issue of Blue Beetle or Justice League and had no idea who Ted Kord was, you can still enjoy the Blue Beetle series. If you were there when Ted died and you were there during the Justice League days? I think you’ll be satisfied that we’re not dumping all over him or twisting it around in such a way that we’re doing a retcon on his character. No. This is just a new take on a classic character.”

So then – over to Hamner

First Comics News: How did DC approach you to do the new Blue Beetle series?

Cully Hamner: It was simpler than it normally is.  Normally, larger-scale project-type stuff comes about for me in one of two ways:  A)  I either develop a relationship with a writer or editor, and we come up with something together; B)  I call around and beg.  But in this case, I got a cold call from editor Joan Hilty, asking if I was interested, and that was that.  I mean, just out of the blue!  I’d never worked for her, and she really knew me only by reputation.  Which, come to think of it, makes even more amazing that she called me…1st: That said, what convinced you to join the Blue Beetle team?

Cully: Well, it was a combination, really.  I’d never worked much with Keith before, and I’d always wanted to.  Keith, if you’ve never talked to him, is wildly inventive and hilariously outspoken, just a creative geyser.  I figure anything he’s involved with has to be fun.  Also, DC just seems to me to be kind of an exciting place right now.  There’s a lot going on, they have a lot plates spinning.  It’s cool to be where things seem to really be happening.  And finally, I responded to the notion of being in on the ground floor of a new character, and the challenge of bringing a different design ethic to the party.  Beyond that, I’m more and more convinced that Keith and John are on to something, story wise and character wise.  There’s just a lot to like.

1st: For the past few years, you’ve been known as an artist who handles miniseries and specials here and this. This is neither – it’s a monthly. Any trepidation or worry about getting back into that monthly grind?

Cully: Honestly?  It’s a little scary.  I’ve been a “special projects” guy, a short-story guy, a fill-in guy for about ten years.  I haven’t done a monthly since Firearm, and even then, I found it to be extremely difficult most of the time.  I’ve made at least one attempt in recent years to try to do a monthly, but honestly, my head just wasn’t in the right place for it, and it imploded.  So, that is on my mind, but I will say that this whole project feels different to me.  Keith and John Rogers are great guys, and really accommodating to work with.  Joan and her assistant, Rachel Gluckstern, are awesome.  There’s a real feeling I’m getting from people at DC that they’re in our corner.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever had all those things come together at once before.  It makes it much less of a job, and much more of a fun way to spend your day.

1st: Had you been a fan of the Ted Kord or the Dan Garret Blue Beetle?

Cully: “Fan” is a strong word.  I wouldn’t necessarily say so, to be honest.

1st: Did you know who he was at least?

CH: Oh yeah, absolutely. I liked the character, especially Keith’s version of him from Justice League, and I had a vague familiarity with him from reading about the Golden Age and 60’s versions of the character when I was a kid.  But for my job, drawing and helping to tell the story of a brand-new version of the character, there’s not a whole lot of study required.  As Ketih has said, this isn’t Ted Kord, and it’s not Dan Garrett.  It’s a brand-new thing, with no regular characters carrying over from series that have featured the other Blue Beetles.  Which is not to say that there’s absolutely no connective tissue, but not the way everybody thinks.  I’ve seen a lot of the commentary on message boards, and I haven’t run across oneperson who’s gotten it right…

1st: Fair enough. Given that, as you said, it’s a brand new character with hints to the legacy, you got to do the character design for the new Beetle, what type of guidelines were you given?

Cully: You know… much as I’d like to go into detail, I just can’t.

1st: The suit has to do with the story?

CH: Something like that, so I can’t really go into it without giving away some things that you should learn by reading the book.  I’ll say that what I did get was an overview of the characters and stories for the first six issues, and that was more useful than anything.  I was sent some attempts by a couple of other guys at a design, but DC told me up front they there was nothing they liked.  So, I looked at all the material I had, and put it aside for a while.  I came into the studio one day, and decided to just jump into it.  The first drawing I sent them, they approved.  There was a tweak here and there, but what you’re gonna see in the book is essentially what I sent them that first time.  I don’t think it was anything like what they had in mind at first, but luckily for me, they went for it.

1st: What goes into designing a new character for you? Do you draw upon classic motifs, eras, or is each a different beast unto itself?

Cully: All comic book character design should start from the point of what I just said, who is this person, what’s this person about, what can this person do, what’s this person’s goal as a character?  Also, a visual motif is important here, ’cause there’s gotta be some blue in there, and there’s gotta be some “bug” in there.  But the main thing for me was trying to come up with an iconic silhouette.  To me, all great comics characters have that, so that was a goal.  It’s up to you guys reading this to tell me whether or not I’ve succeeded…

1st: That said, Blue Beetle has become a legacy hero, what type of influences will we see form the previous Beetles?

Cully: Well… as we’ve said, the new character has no personal connection to Ted Kord whatsoever, so there’s no personal legacy there.  The Dan Garrett scarab is involved, so there is a mythological legacy, a talismanic kind of thing.  Visually, the version doesn’t have much in common with previous versions, but there is a slight graphic nod to Ted Kord in the costume design.  The one legacy that I will say we’re trying to very much to uphold is that the new Blue Beetle will be a hero.  There’s a path the character takes that is very much the traditional heroic journey.  I can’t really say much more than that.

1st: Keith Giffen’s plots often come in the form of thumbnail layouts, is that easier or harder to work with?

Cully: I wouldn’t know, because Keith hasn’t given me any thumbnails!  That was something he used to do back in the 80’s and 90’s, but we’re not doing that here.  Keith and John co-plot, John writes a full script, and I work from that script.  So, I hope it doesn’t disappoint people looking for the old Legion-style nine-panel grids.  It ain’t gonna happen!

1st: The comic takes place in El Paso, Texas; are we going to see El Paso landmarks and structures in the series?

Cully: Yes!  There are a few little things in there that I hope people in El Paso will notice, though I won’t say what.  On the other hand, I’ve never been to Texas, so I’m relying on internet research.  Hopefully, I won’t make any glaring mistakes.  But yeah, keep your eyes open!

1st: This comic is coming out in June, have you started working on it yet?

Cully: Oh, yeah, I should be done with issue #1 in about a week-and-a-half, if all goes well.  I’ve seen a couple of colored pages from my Red colorist, David Self, and they do look sweet.

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