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DF Interview: Bryan Hill goes Postal at Image Comics
By Byron Brewer
The townsfolk of Eden, Wyoming, wake up one morning to the first official murder the hamlet has seen in a quarter century. Their reaction to this isn’t normal, and there’s a reason for that.
Eden operates as a haven for fugitive criminals who remain here while new identities, often including facial reconstruction, are created for them. There is zero tolerance for any illegal activity that might draw attention to the town and an “official murder” is the last thing they want.
Writer Bryan Hill is joining with co-writer Matt Hawkins to bring this criminal Witness Protection Program to the comic book page. Dynamic Forces met with Hill just east of Eden to see what we might learn.
Dynamic Forces: Bryan, tell us how you and Top Cow top dog Matt Hawkins came together on this new crime thriller?
Bryan Hill: Matt has been a good friend of mine since I first worked for him on Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box. We've been looking for the right thing for us to do for a while, not really finding the perfect fit. I've been busy screenwriting and Matt's been doing great work on his own with projects like Wildfire, Think Tank and Tales of Honor.
Six months ago, we had a cup of coffee, really just catching up and jawing about life, and he mentioned this idea about a "town full of criminals" and I just couldn't get that out of my head, this concept of a utopia built by sinners. Matt had a strong sense of Mark, the main character, and the broad ideas of a story. I told him that I might have an approach for a comic series and a couple of days and a couple of glasses of whiskey later, I shared my approach with him and he dug it and we immediately got started.
I really wanted a project where I could explore character and bring in some stark ideas about human nature, so this was a perfect fit for me.
DF: Describe the setting to us, its uniqueness: Eden, Wyoming.
Bryan Hill: To me, and Matt may feel differently, Eden is really based on the kinds of places I knew growing up. I grew up in Saint Louis, but have a lot of family and friends in the smaller Missouri towns, in the places between the cities. Those places, those small towns, move at a different pace than the rest of America. They're tiny cultures, insular cultures. What's interesting to me is that there are a lot of transplants in those places, people who have moved from big cities to small towns to start over, or put something difficult behind them. My experience in those places became the blueprint for Eden.
As a writer, you wind up taking whatever job will pay your bills while you're building your career. One of the jobs I've had was adult education of felons who were recently paroled. That experience taught me about how difficult it is to get a second chance in America. I saw people who wanted to start a new chapter in their lives get marginalized, constantly judged and continually pushed away from mainstream society. There's a fraternity and sorority among people that have committed serious crimes and either made their way through the system, or on their own attempted to leave that life behind them. In writing about "Eden" I wanted to create a place those people may have gone to find their second chance.
The name is a dead giveaway for what the town means symbolically. "Eden" in the biblical sense was a place built on the fragile safety of one principle rule: avoiding the knowledge of good and evil. The Eden in Postal shares that. It's a place that's perfect as long as everyone in it agrees to avoid knowing too much, about the world and about each other. See no evil, speak no evil, do no evil. It's a collective agreement that works philosophically, but never works pragmatically for too long.
No matter what we do, our past seems to follow us until we face it and when it confronts us, it can take different forms.
DF: Tell us about your protagonists.
Matt's initial idea was framing the story around Mark, a postal worker in this town that has Asberger's. I thought that was compelling, a different kind of protagonist and a way for us to approach Asberger's as a difference and not a disability.
Mark has a mind like a divining rod, an ability to perceive the world around him with a clarity that people with Asberger's possess. In a town full of lies and subtext, Mark sees things in a frank and clear way. In that way, there's a little bit of Columbo in him. He's got a tie to those other literary characters whose simple, clarity of thought helps them perceive the hidden truths around them. When Matt brought the concept to me, I thought there was a lot of literary potential in Mark, sort of our own version of an unlikely detective.
For the other characters, Matt and I referenced works like Twin Peaks and more recently True Detective, wanting to populate the world of Postal with characters who might be in the same town, but come from very different circumstances, and bring the weight of their histories into the ongoing narrative.
DF: With a whole village full of criminals, who could possibly be the big-bad of this tale?
Bryan Hill: Well, that's the thing, isn't it? I wanted to make a distinction between someone who committed a crime or a series of crimes, and evil itself. There are former criminals in Eden, but they're not necessarily evil people. They're working together, trying to maintain the fragile structure of their town and their lives within it.
However, truly evil people do exist in the world of Postal.
For this first story arc, I wanted to explore the idea that there could be a character that represents the darkness the people in Eden are trying to run away from, a character that could represent their collective sins coming to haunt them. The murder of the girl and Mark's investigation of that murder are the way I can explore that idea.
Matt has given me a lot of space to explore potentially controversial ideas and face some stark truths about human nature. It's great to be able to work without constant censoring and the result is a crime thriller that has a philosophical core. We're both proud of what we've done and we're excited to see where it all can go.
DF: Bryan, can you give us a peek behind the shared writing with you and Matt: who does what when?
Bryan Hill: Well, I'm a crazy person so often times I'll put down a flurry of ideas that were born from electronic cigarettes, Johnnie Walker Black and club soda. I'll send those ideas to Matt and we'll talk about them and I'll generally execute the script and get his thoughts and then we'll finish it off in subsequent drafts.
DF: Any inspiration behind the creation of this series from some other media?
Bryan Hill: Earlier I mentioned Twin Peaks, and that was a big influence for us. The first issue features a "dead girl, wrapped in plastic" and that's an obvious nod in the direction of Laura Palmer. As much as I love David Lynch there's not much verisimilitude in the worlds he creates and I wanted something that had that Lynchian strangeness, but also had the real world issues of the work of Michael Mann, for instance. Tonally, I'm in constant admiration of Terrence Malick's work, and for this Badlands is a particular influence.
True Detective is the most recent phenomenon of "small town violence," but while I'm a huge fan of that show I looked more at the work of Ernest Hemingway. I read his Hills Like White Elephants before I write anything. Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery. Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects and a touch of H.P. Lovecraft.
When writing, I listen to a playlist with a lot of dark, American folk music. Robert Johnson. Johnny Cash. Southern gospel from the 20's and 30's.
DF: What is it like working with Top Cow Talent Hunt winner, artist Isaac Goodhart?
Bryan Hill: Issac's great. He really go in sync with the tone of the book nearly instantly, and he's got an expressive quality in his work, in the way he renders characters, that really promotes the narrative. I didn't give him very detailed descriptions of the characters, but he nailed them on his first attempt.
DF: If this becomes an ongoing, where do you see the story going from here (non-spoilers please)?
Bryan Hill: This first arc sets down the dynamics of the town and Mark's evolving role in the town. We're only seeing a few characters among the populace in this arc, so there's limitless stories we can tell about the pasts and the futures of the people in Eden.
All the stories of Eden are about the struggle to maintain the fragile order of the town and the threats, internal and external, that seek to destroy that order. I know Matt has a concept for another arc, and I do as well so hopefully we'll get to explore more of Eden with future stories.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Bryan Hill for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Postal #1 hits stands February 4th!
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3. 11/19/2020 - DAVE BAKER
4. 11/16/2020 - RYAN O'SULLIVAN
5. 11/16/2020 - RYAN O'SULLIVAN