Gabriel Hardman on Horror, Comics, and The Belfry [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: THE BELFRY is a one-shot tale. What kind of story is it?

GABRIEL HARDMAN: THE BELFRY is a dark and dreamy horror story of a pilot who crash-lands his plane on a remote island and must try to save his passengers from the creatures that inhabit it. It's dark and a little surreal, with a fair amount of nudity and eye-gouging violence. But there's a beauty to it as well that balances out the scream from the id.

IC: You and co-writer Corinna Bechko are in the middle of big run on INVISIBLE REPUBLIC. What do you get out of switching over to a project like THE BELFRY?

HARDMAN: I've co-written and drawn 13 issues of INVISIBLE REPUBLIC so far, which is one more issue than I've ever drawn of a series. Twelve issues of Hulk [with writer Jeff Parker] was my longest run prior to this. And while I love the world of IR, it has a very particular tone and visual style that can't really be deviated from. I think stories demand specific things of the creator and it's our job to follow through—stay on target. But with that comes the risk of not growing creatively. I feel like I need to challenge myself with different projects in different genres. That's why writing and drawing a wildly different project like THE BELFRY one-shot makes a lot of sense. It's a self-contained trip into another world where I can stretch different muscles.

IC: Do you approach projects like this as a chance to experiment with form or style, or even the physical act of making a comic, or is the process pretty similar to INVISIBLE REPUBLIC, co-writing aside?

HARDMAN: THE BELFRY started as a script I wrote for a horror anthology that never saw the light of day. Trust me, the comic industry is littered with half-finished or barely started anthologies. Over the years Corinna and I, both individually and together, have written multiple scripts for a bunch of them.

Late in 2016, between the second and third arcs of INVISIBLE REPUBLIC and after a long gig working in my other career storyboarding Logan (the third Wolverine movie), I dusted off my BELFRY script and started drawing. There was no plan to do this. I started on a whim, not even intending to finish it all in one go. But as I worked on the pages and adapted that old script liberally, I got very excited about the freedom of creating comics again.

Even working on a passion project like IR, making comics can be exhausting. Granted, my cure for this was just to make more comics, but look, I'm not a scientist. I just know it worked. Over the course of drawing, the long short story became a 22-page one-shot, so I decided to finish the entire thing. I colored it, lettered it, worked with our regular IR graphic designer Dylan Todd on the logo and back matter, and sent it to Eric Stephenson when it was done to see if Image was interested in publishing it. I didn't ask for permission before making THE BELFRY, I just did it. That's the beauty of being able to sit down and create a comic all by yourself.

IC: It takes its inspiration from a pin-up you drew a couple years ago. What was it about that pin-up that made you want to explore it more deeply? Was it the mood, the subject matter, or some combo of the two?

HARDMAN: So, I really hate doing covers. The job of a cover is to sell a book, and the Venn diagram where art and advertising overlap is damn mysterious to me. A pin-up, on the other hand, doesn't have any of those demands. It's just about creating an evocative image. After drawing that pin-up I felt like there was a story in it. While the precise circumstances depicted in the pin-up aren't in THE BELFRY, it was a clear jumping off point. I wanted to go into that world.

IC: You colored this story as well, a change from your work on KINSKI. Is this breaking new ground for you?

HARDMAN: I've colored my own work before, primarily on another one-shot, Station to Station from Dark Horse Comics. I enjoy keeping total control over the look of a comic, but for a monthly book, it's just not practical. Thanks to my years having to work quickly as a storyboard artist, I can dependably knock out comic pages at a fast pace. But colors take me longer to finish than your average colorist, so that's not a recipe for hitting deadlines. THE BELFRY had no deadline though. I didn't even tell anyone it existed until the entire book was finished.

IC: You've done horror before in HEATHENTOWN. Do you have a particular affection for the genre, particularly in comics, or does your interest come from the story first, and genre second?

HARDMAN: That's difficult to parse. I love the horror genre, I think it's the most underrated genre because you can talk about nearly anything through the lens of horror, no matter how difficult or explicit, but it's thought of by many as a knuckle-dragging genre. But some of my biggest influences are in the genre or around the edges of it. Charles Burns' Black Hole, Gene Colan's work on Tomb of Dracula, Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, movies like Kaneto Shindo's Onibaba, Hitchcock's Psycho, Ingmar Bergman's Hour of the Wolf, or producer Val Lewton's cycle of literate RKO horror films from the '40s, including Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie, and The Seventh Victim.

That said, a story never starts with genre. It starts with an idea that organically leads to other ideas. Sometimes they take you into a definable genre, or sometimes, as in the case of my quirky dognapping thriller KINSKI, they don't.

THE BELFRY is available for pre-order now, and arrives on 2/22.