A few weeks ago, the Hoax Hunters introductory issue #0, published by Image Comics, made the Biff Bam Pop! Wednesday Run as the hot comic to pick up. You can read that particular column here. Inspired by conspiracy television shows such as Ancient Aliens, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded and Destination Truth, Hoax Hunters turns the genre on its head as the comic book’s protagonists attempt to disprove life’s oddities in front of the camera –while covering up dark mysteries behind it. Writers Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley and artist JM Ringuet were kind enough to talk to Andy Burns and JP Fallavollita via email about the series, the creative process, monsters, cryptoids, television and much, much more.
Michael Moreci: You know, it’s interesting you mention the bit about the electronic age. Because I think our culture of access and ease has all but eliminated our sense of wonder. We’ve lost our sense of awe, and that’s pretty lamentable. A century ago, people could still have the experience of witnessing something for the very first time with their own eyes and really experience the sensations of surprise and imagination. Now, everything is so systematically spoiled—anything that happens is spread around the internet in the flash of an eye and broken to pieces by talking heads on news shows. So the idea of a hoax, of pulling the wool over the eyes of a bunch of people, is pretty thrilling. I mean, seriously, how awesome was Bigfoot in a freezer?
Because of how things are, we all think we’re so versed in the world (Modest Mouse wrote a great song about this called “We’ve Got Everything”). The Hoax Hunters turn this concept on its head by playing into our egos and saying, “you were all right, Chupacabra is just a crazy myth, go on with your day!”
Nonetheless, the great thing is that there is still a fascination of the unknown in a lot of us, however latent it may be—we know that the existence of the Loch Ness Monster cannot be true, but we still wonder, “what if?” I mean, if we weren’t at least still curious, shows like Destination Truth or Finding Bigfoot wouldn’t exist. And I guess that’s what it comes down to for me—I want to be shocked and surprised. I want to believe that there are things out there beyond my understanding. I know Josh Gates is never going to find anything, but I love watching him try. Because maybe, just maybe…
JP Fallavollita: Hoax Hunters was originally published as a back-up in the pages of Hack/Slash for a year. What did you learn about the world of Hoax Hunters and the art of storytelling after having it run in that shorter, serial format?
Michael Moreci: To never do it again! Just kidding. We loved doing the backup, and we’re exceedingly lucky to have done it in such a great series with Hack/Slash.
What we, Steve and I, really took away from the experience was the art of dynamic compression. Now, when you’re talking about comics storytelling, there’s good compression and there’s bad compression. I think bad compression can be a result of a few things—problems with pacing, uncertainty in the story, and an unnecessary rush to cram too much story into too small of a space.
Steve and I like to believe that our Hoax Hunters backup run (and subsequent issue #0 collection) was a product of good compression. In a way, the backup format forced us into a creative corner that was ultimately beneficial. We couldn’t figure out story elements as we went along; there wasn’t any time or space. So we had to be precise with every panel, every page, every bit of dialogue. And it’s a lesson that has carried over to writing the series. Steve and I are extreme plotters. Before we even think about scripting, we have long sessions of talking out the entire story and working out the beats we want to hit. And because our universe is so deep in our minds, we’re able to maintain a sense of fullness to the story, which I think is only going to benefit us going forward.
JP Fallavollita: Steve, you’re an accomplished artist yourself. How does it feel to be on the writing side of a story?
Steve Seeley: Good question. Honestly it’s not much different. The actual painting part of my art (putting the paint on the surface) is the easy part. It’s the conceptualizing of the idea, or I guess, the “writing” part of painting that’s more difficult and at the same time, the most fun. Comic writing is pretty close to that for me. Luckily for me, once we do all the creative fun parts together, Mike (a born and bred writer) does the tedious parts of actually scripting and formatting.
Andy Burns: You illustrated the iconic cover of issue #0 (which has been receiving universal love, I might add – it looks great!), as well as some promotional art for the series. Was there ever any thought to illustrating Hoax Hunters yourself?
Steve Seeley: Thanks and yeah, it was considered. But I’m pretty damned positive I couldn’t do it. I don’t think sequentially like that. I’ve tried in the past to no success. My attempts at comics are nonsensical messes. If I could do a full page spread, static image comic for 22 (boring) pages, yeah, I’d do it, but the panel-to-panel flow is not only terrifying but also extremely difficult for me.
With that said, I’ve got the utmost respect for comic artists and the comic book art form. Always have, always will. Its not easy work.
JP Fallavollita: JM, Hoax Hunters has a very distinct look: thick, expressive lines that, to a certain degree, reminisce creepy wood cut art in some instances and Saturday morning television cartoons in others. It’s pretty striking. That style, coupled with the crow and black-feather motif on several page layouts – how much work went into the conceptual stage of Hoax Hunters?
JM Ringuet: The real inspiration for my line work (done with a digital brush) is traditional Chinese and Japanese ink painting and artists like Paul Pope, Frank Miller and Yoji Shinkawa who all have amazing expressive brushwork, but I can see the woodcut/TV cartoon reference. They’re probably an influence too. What I’m really trying to achieve with the inking is expression, movement, energy. I did careful, precise inking for years and I realized that it only created stiff, dead lines. Better be bold and wrong than careful and half right. I think comics are ultimately very kinetic; drawing comics is all about communicating movement, action between and inside panels. At the beginning of Hoax Hunters I was evolving my inking style to something more expressive and I thought it was a good idea to use it on that story which is quick and has a lot of action scenes. Making Hoax Hunters different and stand out is also something I was striving for. I’m using the same style on my next project, Repossessed.
Andy Burns: You’re drawing lots of environments in this #0 issue: from deserts to downtown Moscow streets to office and laboratory building interiors as well as isolated wooden cabins! What were some of the biggest challenges for you in visually interpreting the script/story?
JM Ringuet: I love the fact that Hoax Hunters goes to so many different places. It gives a tremendous scope to the story. I don’t like comic stories that all happen in one single boring place: I think readers have seen enough of NYC back-alleys and rooftops. I did a lot of research for each location in Hoax Hunters #0, so everything should look rather accurate and authentic. Most of the story is set in Russia but in a lot of different places, I tried to give each of them a different mood. I think mood is very important. So the challenges were to find enough authentic details to give the setting the right feel and texture without making it a caricature, and create mood, atmosphere with inks and colors. Each location has a different color palette to reflects things like time of day, temperature, materials but also more subtle things like who are the people living and using this place.
Andy Burns: Some of the characters on the Hoax Hunter team seem to have arcane powers of their own – not to mention strange names like “Ken Cadaver” or the mysterious “Murder”. Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about these characters?
Michael Moreci: That’s an interesting question, because who these characters are and what they can do is one of the ways Steve and I plan on digging deeper into what the Hoax Hunters, as an organization, is really all about. For example, Regan is a former child star who was once possessed by the devil. So, with her being such a high-profile persona, her needing an exorcism is something that the Hoax Hunters would need to “deal with.” Now how they dealt with Regan and the nature of her powers are something that will be explored a little further down the road—but, be assured that Steve and I know her exact history, and how it’s enveloped into the grand scheme of things.
The same goes for Ken, who was once a NASA scientist until something…happened.
What’s cool is that these character stories enable us to explore the duality behind fact and fiction. There’s the truth you’re presented with, then there’s real story. On the Hoax Hunters show, Ken and Regan play “characters” that are designed to distort who they really are—because behind those onscreen personas there are real people who are essentially living a life of fiction.
Andy Burns: There’s mention made to the Hoax Hunter team receiving assignments from “up top”. There’s obviously more going on here than meets the eye. Maybe the team needs to be “debunked” themselves? What, if anything, are you saying about pop-culture conspiracy/mystery/paranormal “reality” television shows?
Michael Moreci: Steve once said something that is perfect for Hoax Hunters, thematically. “We believe what we’re told and question what we see.” That’s the beauty of these shows, in that the Ghost Hunters can go into a house, freak out over absolutely nothing, but frame it in a way that makes a whole lot of people believe something actually happened. But we all watch the episodes, we see it with our own eyes—nothing happens! And that’s the case with so many of these shows. We witness the absence of actual proof, but Josh Gates losing his shit over a blip on a heat sensor camera is somehow supposed to mean something.
But this goes back to my early point—despite our cynicism, we want to believe. We’ll take the tiniest morsel of unexplainable blips on a heat sensor and turn it into a monster lurking in the night. There’s a strange duality there, in our relationship between fact and fiction, and it’s in this gray area that the Hoax Hunters are able to exist. The show piques our curiosity while validating our hardened cynicism.
Andy Burns: This issue of Hoax Hunters ends with a preview of the upcoming first issue wherein the team is investigating the claims of a swamp monster deep in the Louisiana Bayou. (Nice teaser by the way!) What can readers expect from the series later this year?
When Steve and I sat down to really get into this first arc (titled “Die Off Another Day”), the main thing we had in mind was expansion. First and foremost, we wanted to open up the Hoax Hunters universe—get to know the characters better, show how they operate, things like that. We also want to tease the bigger story we have in mind—the Hoax Hunters universe conspiracy, so to speak. There are different levels of hoaxes being played in this world, and we’re going to start peeling back the layers of secrets and lies and what their consequences are.
We’ll also maintain the level of oddity and weirdness we’ve established thus far. You’re going to see crazy monsters, bizarre science, things like that. We’re striving for a good balance of fun, drama, and cool brain candy; I think readers will really enjoy what’s to come.
JP Fallavollita: JM really set the tone for Hoax Hunters with thick and confident line work, employing an effective use of shadows and highlights. Axel Medellin is now working on the upcoming issue #1. What artistic aesthetic does he bring to the series?
Steve Seeley: I’m a huge fan of Axel’s art. He’s a fantastic storyteller. It’s been extremely easy working with him, because, simply put, he gets it. Plus I think his tends to have a more “realistic” style, which lends itself real well for that reality TV show feel we are trying to accomplish and at the same time he can draw a helluva’ monster.
JP Fallavollita: Finally, is there a specific conspiracy theory, mystery, cryptoid or renowned weirdness that fascinates you – that you’d like to either see explained or debunked?
Michael Moreci: There’s so many. But the Montauk Project conspiracy is pretty amazing. You’ve got it all—time-travel, mad scientists, a weird monster…what more can you ask for?!
Thanks to Michael, Steve and JM for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop! about Hoax Hunters, and to Jennifer deGuzman at Image Comics for helping make this happen. Be sure to check back tomorrow when Biff Bam Pop! talks more with Michael Moreci about his other new project, Reincar(Nate).