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AICN COMICS Q&@: Russ Sheath chats with superstar artist Bryan Hitch about his new series, REAL HEROES!

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Q’s by Russ Sheath!

Bryan Hitch!!!

Russ Sheath here. This week see's the launch of 'Real Heroes' the new series from superstar artist Bryan Hitch and Image Comics. I'll make no secret about it.......Bryan Hitch kept me reading comics! Back in 2002 I wasn't entirely sure comics had much more to say to me, until I picked up Marvel's THE ULTIMATES. Together with scribe Mark Millar and Marvel 'head honcho's' Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada, Hitch pretty much revitalised the comics industry as the impact of the Ultimate universe had an industry changing influence across, not only Marvel but also DC and other publishers.
In THE ULTIMATES, Hitch and Millar told stories on a blockbuster scale but in a comic book format while undoubtedly proving to Marvel that their characters could, effectively, be interpreted for the big screen. Everything about THE ULTIMATES was on a cinematic scale as Hitch showed that he could draw anything from a breathtaking Himalayan vista to the desolation of Washington DC. Hitch bought us destruction and a previously unseen scale of storytelling on a scale that Michael Bay could only dream of, displaying a rare talent that showed readers, not only can he draw it....he can draw it better than anyone else. Hitch followed two smash hit volumes of THE ULTIMATES with similarly memorable runs on THE FANTASTIC FOUR where, again paired with Millar, he reintroduced the 'fantastic' to Marvel's 'first family'. AGE OF ULTRON followed a series that, not surprisingly, lends it's name to the sequel to THE AVENGERS due to hit cinemas in 2015.

Away from Marvel, Hitch went 'creator owned' with his series AMERICA’S GOT POWERS with writer Jonathan Ross and dipped his toes into the DC Universe, before embarking on his solo mission with REAL HEROES. REAL HEROES is the story of an ensemble of Hollywood's brightest stars who together portray the super hero team 'The Olympians' in the smash hit movie series of the same name. To venture into further description would take us into spoiler territory, but the tag line 'The cast of The Avengers does Galaxy Quest' puts readers on a fairly firm footing as to where, at least from first impressions, the series might take them. I spoke with Hitch about 'Real Heroes' and his plans for comics....and cinematic domination.

RUSS SHEATH (RS): Bryan, tell us about the origin of REAL HEROES and where the idea came from?

BRYAN HITCH (BS): I never really know where ideas actually come from but I suspect it was a lot of small mental ducks lining up in the right sequence to spark an idea, which was essentially PRISONER OF ZENDA with super powers. Zenda was a favourite movie as a kid; Stewart Grainger in both parts. It’s been updated several times as a concept, such as the Kevin Kline movie DAVE, the second George McDonald Fraser Flashman book, ROYAL FLASH and of course, GALAXY QUEST. In each version the basic and brilliant idea is that the lookalike is asked or required to play the real person. My very first idea was what if Christopher Reeve got to really fly as Superman but it quickly became a team book as I enjoy that dynamic.

RS: Tell us about the story, the cast of characters and the real life inspirations in REAL HEROES?

BH: It’s a group as I say and with THE AUTHORITY, JLA and THE ULTIMATES on my CV and THE AVENGERS movie being so huge I thought that a team somewhat reminiscent of that archetype would be a good start. THE OLYMPIANS is their team name and they are The Olympian, the lost son of a Forgotten God, a sort of Superman meets Thor. Patriot, the Forever Soldier who has fought in every war America has had. He’s Batman meets Captain America. Velocity, a super speedster; Longbow an archer, Tiny Titan, who can shrink or grow and Hardware, a scientist with motor neuron disease who built himself a transforming battle-suit. These are the fictional characters of the world’s biggest movie franchise but they aren’t the story. Our story is really about the actors who play them in the movies who find themselves on a world where the fiction they know is real. It’s their heroes journey we follow and they are certainly not the heroes they portray on screen. Would you ask Downey or Christian bale to really save the world?

So our story follows six people, not six super heroes. Chris Reynolds whose firefighter father died on 9/11 who plays Olympian in the movies. Danny West, arguably the greatest actor of his generation whose life has been a tabloid feeding frenzy, plays Patriot. Jeremy Roberts, an English actor with motor neuron disease like his fictional counterpart Hardware. There’s “King” Leo Washington a young singer turned actor who plays Velocity. Nichola Fox a young English girl more at home in BBC costume dramas than a Marvel movie; she plays Longbow and Jennifer Sanchez who when not playing Tiny Titan is a celebrity dieter. Really, would you ask them to save the world?

RS: You've worked in Hollywood as a concept designer on movies such has JJ Abrams STAR TREK, did it feel like you were designing for a movie, in REAL HEROES, because you are writing about a fictional super hero movie? Is it the same approach you'd take, designing for a 'real' Hollywood movie as a comic book?

BH: You’d think it would be like working on a movie given the concept, but it’s never felt remotely close. It’s a comic and it’s always felt like I was trying to do the best comic I could. I do have a sort of cinematic leaning in my approach anyway so the concept fits the style somewhat.

Although there is an element of Hollywood to the set up in the series, it’s not a story about what it’s like to be an actor or Hollywood itself; it’s really just a shorthand way of being able to introduce a cast of characters, superheroes, in a way that’s familiar to a lot of people. More people see movies that read comics but at least in this idea I can combine both into one concept.

Anyway, when you work on a movie, unless you’re the director, you’re a cog in a creative machine; in REAL HEROES, I AM the machine. I created, wrote, drew and edited this one so I don’t need to submit anything for approval and that immediately makes it both exhilarating in it’s freedoms and terrifying in how different it is to the way I’ve previously worked.

RS: You are playing with some 'comic movie' archetypes in REAL HEROES, some of which you helped create when you and Mark Millar created THE ULTIMATES, a book which very much influenced the Marvel cinematic universe. Was that odd, being so 'self referential' and purposely referencing your own work, now that it's taken a different life in the movies?

BH: It’s wasn’t odd really as those actual fictional archetypes only exist for a few pages in the first issue. After that we follow the journey of the very real and fallible people who pretend to be those heroes for a living. It doesn’t feel like THE ULTIMATES or THE AUTHORITY because it isn’t the story of The Olympian or the Patriot, Hardware or Velocity, it’s the story of Chris, Danny, Jeremy and Leo. Very different story.

RS: Folk quite often refer to your work as 'cinematic' and 'widescreen' does that make pencilling REAL HEROES easier, as you have a cinematic sensibility in your storytelling?

BH: I don’t know really. It’s the way I work and my priority is always to tell the story the best way I can. I suppose the concept felt right and felt like a good fit for my natural leanings so the writer me was very persuasive in convincing the artist in me to jump aboard.

RS: There are some familiar faces in REAL HEROES. Was that part of your original concept for the book, to follow in you’re THE ULTIMATES footsteps and cast 'real' actors in the comic?

BH: Types more than faces. I suppose I always do that, play the ‘casting game’ somewhat and I’d agree that some likenesses came out more obviously than I’d intended. I think I’ve used less photo reference than I have in more than a decade on this one ironically. I do have a shortlist of actors in mind for each role though, should it come to that…

RS: This is your first project as both writer and artist, was that a big jump for you? Are you writing yourself full script? How does it feel carrying the book entirely?

BH: It feels good, very natural. It doesn’t feel at all laborious, in fact less so than work usually is. Maybe it’s passion maybe it’s just a very fluid way of working for me but I’m having the best time I’ve maybe ever had doing this and I hope that shows.

I had thought about doing full script but after a few pages it felt redundant as I don’t really need to communicate my intent to anybody else, artist or editor, there’s nobody to approve this so I just dropped a process and wrote outlines. Then the preliminary or rough stage became a way of finishing the script for me. Not quite script, not quite Marvel style but a way of constantly refining the storytelling process for myself.

RS: You've been creating a lot of extra material, with the movie style 'character' posters and the character one shots, soon to be seen at Comic Book Resources, is that a fun 'twist' on the marketing of the book, for you as creator?

BH: It’s partly marketing but it’s mostly something that came organically from my thinking things over. The one page digital only secret origins ‘minisodes’ came from an idea of how I originally thought about introducing the characters in issue one but the changed as the story evolved so I re-used the material in a different form.

RS: You've got some superstar artists lined up to provide covers on REAL HEROES, can you share with us some of those names?

BH: Friends and colleagues ready to help! Travis Charest, David Finch, Frank Cho, Dave Gibbins, Jock, Bill Sienkiewicz and Rob Liefeld. What more could a girl ask for?

RS: How long is the series and can we expect further instalments in the future?

BH: This is six issues and perfectly self-contained but that doesn’t mean I haven’t copies notes and ideas for further volumes. That said, a sequel is another new idea not developed and I’m really itching for the new right now. I have a project with Millar and following REAL HEROES am writing and drawing something mega that isn’t creator owned but all the while, I can’t wait to start writing and drawing all the new things I have in mind. It’s the whole rest of my career ahead and it’s all more exciting than I could ever have imagined or, better yet, it’s just the way I COULD have imagined.

RS: Bryan, thanks for talking to AICN. Below are some more preview pages of Hitch’s REAL HEROES, out this week from Image Comics. Follow Bryan Hitch @thebryanhitch

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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