Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Interview with Susan Hillwig #1

When folks ask about people that have chronicled Jonah's adventures one will quickly answer Albano, Fleisher, Palmiotti and Gray, Lansdale, Hillwig......... HILLWIG?!?!?

Yup, Susan Hillwig whose writings over at DC2 probably rank her as the third most prolific Hex writer (behind J/J and Fleisher and ahead of Albano and Lansdale). Starting in 2009 (yeah, I move slow) and into last year I shot her a few questions and one thing that I have learned from all of this is that if you ask a writer to write their answers, you'll get some greatly detailed answers! So, without further ado, I present to you the woman that explained how Jonah got home from the future...Susan Hillwig

Matching Dragoons:  So tell us a little bit about yourself, at least as much as you want published to the entire world.
Susan: Well, I'm a mid-30's gal living in the frozen wilds north of Detroit with my husband and a massive load of toys and books.  I've been reading comics since I was about ten or so, and started making a serious stab at writing around high school.  I'm currently shopping around an original novel I've written, though I've had no luck landing either an agent or publisher (if anybody reading this works in those fields, drop me a line).  It's a mish-mash of Western and fantasy along the lines of "Connecticut Yankee", with some horror and spiritual aspects thrown friends call it the "genre-buster".  Somewhere in between that and the fanfiction, I manage to hold down a paying job.
MD: Would you like to talk about Weird Western Quarterly?

Susan: Hope you've got a lot of free time, because I'll talk your ear off about it.
MD: Tell us how it started and how you got involved.
Susan: To do that, we've gotta take a step back to early 2005, when DC announced that Jonah Hex was getting a title again.  I got crazy-excited about that, but was also holding a grudge because of the whole "Future Hex" thing...y'know, not having any proper answers regarding how Jonah got back home.  Knowing that DC was very likely never going to give us a solution to the problem, I decided to cook up my own.  I knew nothing about fanfic at the time, I simply had a lot of writing experience and a desire to finally set the record straight, and was actually going to post my entire story directly on a DC Message Boards thread when I stumbled across  So I signed up, then spent months pouring over comics and bugging people online for minor bits of info until I was sure I had a concrete, in-continuity story that nobody could disagree with, which became "The Long Road Home".  Of all the Hex stories I've done, that's still my pride and joy -- I still get reviews from time to time about it, so that makes me happy.
In the midst of doing this, DC2 site founder David Charlton was soliciting around the DCMB for writers -- DC2 had not yet launched, and the staff was rather slim to start.  I told David that I had a story in progress over on, and it turned out he'd been following it, so we got to talking.  The whole idea of DC2 was a "square one" sort of approach, so my story wouldn't work there (it relied too much on established DCU history), and his suggestions of titles for me to work on weren't jazzing me, so I said, "What if I did all the DC Western guys in one book?  You know, not just Hex, but Nighthawk and Johnny Thunder and Bat Lash and all that?"  I also had the condition of not being a monthly title, just so I could still work on my novel and have a life.  I didn't think David would go for it, but he responded with, "Great!  We'll call it Weird Western Quarterly."  So basically the book was tailor-made for me.
I've done other work on the site since then, like the first 5 issues of Seven Soldiers of Victory and a couple quick stories here and there, but mainly I'm just the WWQ gal...I've pretty much got the run of the entire 19th Century.  There is another writer, Don Walsh, who does the Johnny Thunder stories on the title (and who also took over SSoV once I was done), but other than that, I'm in charge of the book's direction.  I get to decide which character gets the spotlight every three months, story-wise, and I talk to the cover artists about what the art will be on each issue.  I like to think of it as a companion book to Jonah's regular DCU title: you can read both and get a fuller picture of both Hex and the rest of DC's Western era.
MD:  Why Jonah Hex? What draws you to write about the scar-faced bounty hunter?
Susan: There's two reasons.  The first is to bring attention to the character.  I've run into a lot of people the last 4 years who've said, "I only know Hex from the Batman and Justice League cartoons," or that their only comics exposure to him is his cameo in Crisis on Infinite Earths.  So I write these stories that revisit events from Jonah's past or expand on some small thing we know about him for those people in particular, the ones that know nothing about him but his face and his name.  There's the old comics adage that every issue is someone's first...well, for some folks, my stories are the first time they've heard about Jonah's time as an Army scout or his marriage to Mei Ling.  One reader compared what I do to a novelization, filling in the blanks between the comics panels with prose...and in some instances, there's a lot of blanks, or there's inconsistencies, or conflicting dates.  So I also get a chance to straighten out where things are crooked, or at least draw the best conclusion based on evidence at hand.  That's when I have to walk a fine line, though, because I've had people take what I've written about Hex as gospel, so I can't just spew out anything without considering its impact on the character.  In an early story, I touched upon the notion that Jonah might be illegitimate since it's been implied in pervious comics that his mother slept around, but I never said it straight out, nor would I ever unless I knew for sure, because that's an earth-shattering change in my opinion.
The second reason, which goes hand-in-hand with the first, is pure love of the character.  If you push aside the future junk and the worm-creatures and such, you get a real person, who's had all the sorts of ups and downs you get with real life, and who is far from perfect.  I mean, he comes from a broken family, he's a drunk, he can be cruel in one moment and tender in the watch him go through these trials and sometimes it makes your heart ache.  I've read Hex stories where I've genuinely felt bad for what's happened to him -- Jonah Hex (vol. 2) #50  is a recent example of that, it's just beautiful and terrible at the same time.  I just have this bizarre devotion to somebody that doesn't immediately come off as likeable, and that unlikeability almost reinforces the's weird.  Let me put it like this: When I first started reading comics, I would eat up anything with Batman or any of those related characters in it, but the last few years, I've just found myself not caring about them, comics-wise -- they've skewed so far from what got me interested in them that I've stopped following those stories.  But when they threw Jonah Hex into these crazy-ass situations in the future and over in Vertigo, I hated the stories but still cared about Jonah.  I didn't want to abandon him, I just wanted to see him get through this nonsense.  You care about this guy so much that you want to see him have a good day, just once.
MD: Would you jump at a chance to write an issue of Jonah Hex? Have you ever submitted a story to DC?
Susan: I've never submitted to DC directly.  The closest I ever came was when I submitted an open letter to Dan Didio on the DCMB months before the first new issue of Jonah Hex came out.  I stated what I hoped to see in the new series, and touched upon the fact that I was working on this fanfic that would "fix" the Future Hex problem.  I offered to give them the idea straight out on the condition that they publish it and make it canon, adding, "If you don't do something about this, I will."  So I basically threatened DC, for all the good it did.
There's this honor-system sort of rule that DC employees can't read fanfic, and fanfic writers can't make money off of their has to do with copyright laws and keeps regular folks like me from getting sued.  So even though Jimmy & Justin know I write this stuff, they can never "officially" read it and I can't send it to DC.  Plus it's hard for a writer to break into comics because writing talents are hard to judge at a glance, unlike artistic talent -- if you're a writer, it's best to have a good artist backing you up when you're shopping around your story idea.  All in all, I have no real desire these days to work in comics, but if I get anywhere with my novel, and if DC one day rang me up and said, "How'd you like a gig?"...yeah, I'd jump at it.  Of course, my smartass self would slide a copy of "The Long Road Home" across the desk first, just to see if they'd bite.  For now, though, I think Jimmy & Justin are doing a very good job with Jonah Hex, and I wish them a long and healthy run with the old man.
Next Time: We get Susan's insight into Jonah Hex as presented by the other writers.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Hey, the interview's up! Or at least the first part. I still find it strange that I've been interviewed, though I'm flattered as well. As for length...reckon if we'd done this over the phone, the answers would've been shorter, but less coherent. :P