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HACK/SLASH: Cassie Hack Is Back! [Interview]

interview by Vernon Miles, originally published in IMAGE+ #16

Tim Seeley's Cassie Hack is back! New threats and new friends pull Cassie out of her isolated semi-retirement to pick up her baseball bat once again and smash some zombie heads in. Writer and rising comics star Tini Howard teams up with fan-favorite artist Celor to take over HACK/SLASH. Are you ready for a deep dive into the new series' horror influences and how to keep comics both smart and sexy?

VERNON MILES: My favorite part of HACK/SLASH is seeing Cassie as, well, a bit of a slacker. She makes her living playing video games and barely eking by. She's very resistant to going back to the monster-slaying life because it's a lot of hassle, and she’s comfortable now. How much of your attitude are you putting into Cassie?

TINI HOWARD: Oh man. Well, personally, I left the nine-to-five life because it was easy and mindless, and I wanted to get into the insane world of writing for a living! But the conflict is there—it's so, so easy to hit our stride by the time we're 25 and then pause and say, "So, am I going to do this until I retire at 65?"

It's nice to be comfortable and bored but...how long can anyone really stand it? That's definitely a part of me I share with Cassie. I'm constantly wanting to be left alone so I can be bored and chill, but the second I am...I get twitchy.
 
MILES: Much of HACK/SLASH: RESURRECTION #1 is essentially a running monologue with comments directed a couple times to Cassie’s cat. Why did you decide to keep her isolated for most of the first issue? What do you think that does for our re-introduction to her?
 
HOWARD: Like a lot of emerging comics writers, Matt Fraction & David Aja's Hawkeye run for Marvel was formative for me. I developed a real love for those weird sort of comics-as-character-pieces, especially with a character like Cassie. So much of her life and the people who surround her are completely insane—I wanted to start the series out by saying "RESURRECTION is about Cassie Hack and who she has become." The time skip is a breath of fresh air, and we get to settle in with where Cassie is.

But don't give people the wrong idea, I mean. She fights zombies in the first six pages. It's still a HACK/SLASH book. wink

MILES: I read that you came to the industry as a long-time comic book fan, breaking in with the Top Cow contest. In what ways is HACK/SLASH: RESURRECTION a book you wanted to read as a comic book fan?

HOWARD: Well, like I mentioned above, it owes a lot to books that have been meaningful for me—character pieces. I like books where a character is alone with their thoughts and having to wrestle with that. I like character pieces. I also got the chance to put Cassie into a classic horror setting (summer camp!) that's actually completely new for her. I love reading books where I feel like I can really spend time with the lead character—like it's just them talking to me and only me. 

Also there is blood, guts, girls kissing, burgers, axes, and short shorts. All good things.
 
MILES: How did you end up the new writer for HACK/SLASH? You’ve done work-for-hire in the past. Is the experience different on this project?

HOWARD: Tim Seeley is one of my favorite writers, and he asked me, and I screamed and jumped up and down in my chair and told him yes. Believe me, I can't believe it was that easy either. Tim's work is so important to me. 

And yeah—it's fun because most work-for-hire has a completely different approval process. Here, my approval process is asking, "Hey, Tim, can I?" and he almost always says yes. I have a real kinship with Cassie, so I think he trusts my gut with her a lot.
 
MILES: Are you bringing any of your personal experiences to HACK/SLASH: RESURRECTION? 
 
HOWARD: I'm a bisexual goth girl horror geek.

So, yeah. <3

MILES: How accessible is this comic for people who haven't followed HACK/SLASH?

HOWARD: Entirely. It is so important to me to be able to bring this series I love to people who may have never checked it out before. You can pick up issue one and fall in love from there, and if you can't, I've done something wrong. This is a Cassie for her old friends and her new ones. And anyone who wants to see more girls kissing girls in horror. 
 
MILES: HACK/SLASH has a huge variety of monsters. What kind of monsters get the biggest reaction from you? Are there any favorites you are hoping to be able to slip into the series as it goes on?

HOWARD: I love undead because they're such a sick perversion of the kind of life after death we all want. Really any kind of undead are what do it for me more than any other monster. I'm an old-school World of Darkness geek, so I have spent a lot of time thinking about monsters, and I think the thing that gets the biggest reaction from me aren't monsters—it's the ethics surrounding them. From THE WALKING DEAD to True Blood to World War Z (the book, the book for god's sake), horror media is full of what-ifs. My mom used to have this saying hung on the fridge—"Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it." I think it was meant to be some glurge positivity-saying, but I think about it when I write horror.
 
MILES: Were there any horror or monster movies you watched to get ready for HACK/SLASH: RESURRECTION?

HOWARD: I wanted to steep myself in my classic favorites, like Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the strange, such as Suspiria and Possession. But at the same time, I remember telling Tim during an early conversation that so much modern horror is about how people see women in media, and couldn't we bring that to HACK/SLASH? The VVitch, It Follows, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and The Babadook are all modern-classic horror movies about a woman and how everyone sees her. 

(We also get a Babadook reference into the first few pages, which seemed so right for our bisexual horror queen.)

MILES: In 10 of the first 20 pages, we see Cassie wearing very little—either underwear or lingerie in a dream sequence. It seems like there's a careful balance to a character like this, in terms of writing and in art. I'm reminded a little of Gail Simone's Red Sonja, in that these are both series that feature characters who wear skimpy clothing but aren't defined by it. Is this balance something that came up during the writing and art discussions? How do you walk that line between writing and drawing a character with sex appeal without making them caricatures?

HOWARD: I'm actually really glad you noticed that—it was a deliberate choice in the script to have her in panties and kneesocks in the beginning. Though I will say in the dream sequence, she isn't wearing lingerie. She's wearing the classic Cassie Hack outfit! Whiiiich is pretty skimpy.

Let's be honest—there's a visual storytelling element of HACK/SLASH that centers around Cassie's body. She's the most iconic upskirt in comics. I don't want to avoid that past, and I also don't want to desexualize her completely—speaking of "visual shorthand," fully realized female characters don't necessarily have to be covered up. I also don't want her to be stupid—she puts on pants to go out in the snow. Wouldn't you? 

Cassie's visual evolution was really important to me. She's aged a bit, from the perpetual sexy teen to someone in her mid-20s, someone whose pants-off parties are more of the “staying in the house” kind. I know my own relationship with my body changed drastically during that time of my life, and I think we'll see the different choices Cassie makes in her clothing throughout the series.

Maybe I'm getting a little too smart for our fun horror story, but I want readers returning to Cassie again to see that when you see her in her underwear, it's because she's at home in her space, not because you're looking up her skirt. That's a key difference to me. It sets the tone of everything I'm trying to do here. She's the subject of our story, not the object of another's desire.

Celor's art is AMAZING. I love his cartooning, his expressions, the way he plays with body forms to make them exaggerated and yeah, at times, sexy...but really, really cool. We've had one or two places where I wanted a different direction with the art, and he's been super accommodating. We work well together, I think! 

Making her sexy, putting her in a bikini—none of these things make a woman a caricature to me. But I'm so glad I got to talk about it. <3

TIM SEELEY ON THE HACK/SLASH LEGACY
TIM SEELEY: HACK/SLASH is far and away the project I've worked on that people seem to like the most, and I've spent the last several years being asked when it's coming back. Plus, I think the success of Get Out shows there's still plenty of room for a horror comedy with a unique perspective. People also seem to be ready (again) for a flawed female protagonist, and Cassie is that and more.

I first saw Celor's work on DeviantArt and I've been waiting to work with him for a couple of years. He has that combination of kinetic and sexy I wanted for this new series. Tini Howard is a writer I've been keeping an eye on since she wrote an essay about [the DC Comics series] Grayson and seemed to understand it better maybe even than [Grayson co-writer] Tom King and I did. Her pitch for a new H/S series is exactly what old fans and new readers want, and she brings an authenticity to it that I think people will really respond to.

HACK/SLASH RESURRECTION #1 debuts 10/25 and is available for preorder now.

Vernon Miles is a reporter with the Alexandria Gazette and freelance writer for Image+. He lives in a crowded apartment in Washington, DC with two roommates and a lop-eared rabbit named George. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.