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Getting Hellshocked with Jae Lee

By Kurt Amacker     December 20, 2006


Hellshock #1
© Jae Lee
Greetings, Comicscape faithful, and Merry Christmas, happy Chanukah, and have a spectacular holiday-of-some-other-obscure-nation-or-alternative-religion.  If I don’t say that part, someone will remind me about Yule or something.  Anyway, in an act of total coincidence, I’ve interviewed Einser-winner Jae Lee about his upcoming Hellshock collection, which will finally see print in hardcover on December 28th.  The paperback collection will follow shortly thereafter.

Over eight years after its first issue saw print, Image and Dynamic Forces will finally release Jae Lee’s complete Hellshock in a single volume that includes the unpublished fourth issue.  Lee published a four-issue Hellshock miniseries through Image in 1995.  Dissatisfied with the outcome, he abandoned the idea of continuing the original story and instead started over with the dark, intensely personal tale of Christina Marceau, an intern at a psychiatric hospital.  The very realistic horrors she encounters there weigh heavily on her, until she meets Daniel – a young man that might possess divine powers.  But, unlike the Rambo-as-angel version of Daniel from the first miniseries, this character exhibits little in the way of the supernatural.  He merely evokes a reaction in Christina unlike anything she’s ever felt.  As she spirals into a squalid pit of morbidity and despair, she realizes that Daniel may hold her only chance at salvation.  By the end of the story, Lee allows the reader to wonder if Christina has experienced an epiphany or merely joined the ranks of her patients at the hospital.  This new volume only contains the second miniseries.  I spoke with Jae a few nights ago about Hellshock, including its evolution from the first series to this one and the book’s lengthy delay.  The interview contains light spoilers.

Kurt Amacker: I read the new Hellshock collection yesterday and I really enjoyed it.  I actually read both the first and the second miniseries back-to-back.  I wasn’t really wild about the first one. 

Jae Lee: The first one, yes, it’s horrible.  There’s a reason why it’s never being reprinted. 

KA: I was under the impression that the second volume was supposed to be a sequel to the first one, and it didn’t really seem that way.  Did you intend it as a loose sequel of sorts, or was it a total rewrite?

JL:  It wasn’t mean to tie in at all.

KA: I figured that one would follow the other and I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to have to tactfully tell him that this book sucks.’  But, the second series didn’t feel like the first one at all.  If really feels like comics-as-literature, not like standard mid-90s Image.

JL: The first one was more from a 19-year-old’s mind and it definitely showed. 

KA: The art was good and it wasn’t wretched or anything, but the second one was much better.  It’s much more powerful and compelling.  When I read it, I thought that it was literature and not just stupid superhero bullsh-t.  I think it’s been worth the wait.  Let’s talk a little bit about the project’s conception.  Obviously, the first project is very different.  It’s more of a superhero story.  Tell me about the transition from the first to the second.

JL: Well, before I started Hellshock, what I thought was cool in art and writing was pretty immature.  And, in fact, my earliest version of Hellshock – which is included in the new collection as black and white pages in the back – I had Hellshock as some kind of bounty hunter that goes around killing demons.  He was going to switch minds with a cop.  It was a terrible.  I had no idea what I was thinking.  It definitely shows a younger sensibility.

KA: Kind of “x-treme” like early Image stuff?  Like big muscles, big guns, and darker than Marvel?

JL: Yeah, and at that time – before I started Hellshock and even when I was doing it – I had no concept of storytelling.  I never thought it was important, even though I was trying to tell my own story.  The story was so thin and conventional that it didn’t matter.  It wasn’t until I finished the first Hellshock miniseries and I was extremely disappointed with the way it turned out.  I just realized that in order to get better I needed to sit down and expand my craft, both in writing and art.  If I wanted to tell that kind of story, I had to become a better artist and storytelling.  That’s how Hellshock volume two came about.  There was a really long break in my career between volume one and two.  That time was spent doing a lot of reading and research into the subject matter that I wanted to deal with, and just practicing my art and becoming better.  If it wasn’t for Hellshock, I don’t know where I’d be.  I don’t think I would’ve made that growth illustrating other people’s stories.  I think I could’ve become a casualty of the ‘90s.  I don’t think I would’ve tried to get better.  When you’re working on a monthly comic like I was before Hellshock – and I used to get this all the time – when you were working for Marvel back then, you were able to do regular work.  And the thing is, it’s one thing when you’re drawing Namor, written by someone else.  It’s another thing when you’re trying to tell this story that you have in your head and put everything down on paper as passionately as you can.  Being challenged in that way that makes you evolve.  If I’d just been doing regular monthly comics for Marvel, I don’t know if I’d be working now.

KA: Do you think that your desire to give Hellshock a second try and to improve it led to a creative maturity?

JL: Right.

KA: The difference between the first and second is leaps and bounds.  The second one impressed me not only for its darker sensibility, but for the way you use the mentally ill as a plot point – not as a passing reference or a joke.  You put your protagonist in a situation where she has to deal with them in the line of her work and deal with the consequences.  That’s pretty heady subject matter for a popular comic.  I appreciated it, because it lends a kind of maturity to the story.  What was the reason for the delay between the third issue and this collection?

JL: When I was working on the second miniseries, each issue was taking too long to produce.  I spent so much time just trying to get it right.  I didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes I’d made in the first one.  I decided that instead of trying to hit a monthly deadline, I’d wait until I felt like I was done with the book.  That’s a very bad idea when you’re trying to publish a comic book.  Fans become impatient.  The companies become impatient.  By the time I finished issue three, I just couldn’t continue.  I think issue eight had been solicited and I was so far behind.  And, frankly, the project was way too ambitious for my abilities.  I didn’t have the writing experience and I still wasn’t even that comfortable with the art.  I still see Hellshock volume two as a learning experience – a step in the right direction.  But, I don’t think I was there yet.  Because there was so much time between the issues, I just kept dwelling on what I could’ve changed.  I was working on issue four, but at that point I was no longer enjoying it.  I was riddled with regrets.  Then, Marvel Knights and The Inhumans happened and I just said I’d get back to Hellshock later.  I couldn’t deal with it and I think if I had, my career would’ve been over.  I would’ve been producing a comic once a year.  You just can’t do that in this market.

KA: Did you intend to write it as an ongoing series initially?  You mentioned issue eight being solicited.

JL: Yes, it was an ongoing.

KA: So you just decided to wrap it up with the sort of mental-fantastic journey that Christina goes on in the end?

JL: I never saw it as wrapping it up.  It’s more of a continuation.  It’s the end of that story arc, but it’s not the end of the book.  What she does next with her life would’ve been the later issues.  But – just going back to that time – every day I was getting phone calls from Image asking ‘Where’s the book?  Where’s the book?’ and I’d only have two pages done.  Issue three had shipped six months ago, at that point.  When the opportunity to return to Marvel came, I took it.  The great thing about Marvel Knights was that Marvel had learned from its past mistakes, with the way they’d treated their creators before Image as opposed to afterward.  Image did a lot for creator’s rights.  Marvel decided to respect creators.  The whole concept behind the Knights imprint was that they wouldn’t treat you the same as the old Marvel.  It was their way of saying that things had changed.  Because Joe Quesada was in charge of Marvel Knights, it meant working under a creator that respected other creators.  Someone offered me a chance to come back and work under an ideal situation.  All I had to do is draw instead of worrying about writing and promoting the book and the business aspects of it.  It was like someone came by, talked some sense into me, and picked me up by my collar and said, ‘We’re here to save you from this hole that you’ve dug for yourself.’

KA: Is your intention to continue Hellshock at any point?
JL: I definitely want to continue it, but because of the subject matter, I didn’t find it much fun to work on.  It was a torturous process.

KA: It’s very, very bleak.  There’s no doubt about that.

JL: Yeah, there was a point when I was writing it when I would just lock myself up in a room and listen to the most depressing music.  I’d sit in front of the computer screen trying to get random thoughts down.  The book was driving me crazy, literally.  I found it so depressing that I couldn’t continue with it.

KA: Well, I found it compelling because, though the subject matter has an air of the fantastic, you really got down into the muck of honest human despair.  You deal with the mentally ill and the homeless.  It’s not some sort of high-minded, epic tragedy.  It’s not an uber-Gothic, romantic, Anne Rice kind of thing.  This is honest-to-God, true, gritty human suffering that you see every day.  That’s interesting because a lot of comic writers are afraid to touch that kind of thing.   You can see it right outside your window.  I appreciate it and I think it’s very ballsy of you.  What drove you to deal with realistic suffering versus more fantastic imagery?

JL: I’ve always been attracted towards darker subject matter.  Bright, fun superhero comics weren’t for me.  I think it started out harmlessly enough, because when I first started Hellshock I just thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if this guy was a demon hunter?’  I started out pretending to be dark and cool and edgy and Goth, but then I kind of got caught up in it.  It made me think about the problems you face that are universal.  I think most people go through a period when there’s an oppressive feeling of despair.  It’s hard to explain, because it doesn’t have to be for any particular reason.  I had a good job, my parents raised me correctly, and there was no reason for me to feel that way, but there I was – unhappy with my life.  I was just trying to get those emotions across.  It’s not like I have a troubled past and I had to write about my experiences.  I grew up in Virginia, I was a straight-A student, my parents are great – I had absolutely no reason for this.  I don’t know where it came from.  I still don’t know.  But, I just remember feeling so much despair in those times.  The ironic thing is that now I live in New York, I’m married, and I’ve grown up a lot.  When I was writing issue four, I couldn’t write in that same despairing tone.  I think that’s why there’s such a difference between the darkness of the first three issues and issue four.  At the end of the third issue, Christina tries to kill herself.  But, issue four has a more optimistic outlook.  It says, ‘Hey, just go on.’

KA: I noticed that in the first three issues, everything is literal.  If you see it, it’s happening.  There’s not much in the way of dream imagery, and it’s a relatively straightforward story about a woman training to be a psychiatrist working with a patient.  But in the fourth issue, it’s much more figurative.  Christina goes on this kind of fantasy quest that seems to be in her mind – she’s not literally there.  That lends itself to a lot of the ambiguity in the story.  Can you expound on the transition from the very literal, stark imagery from the first three to the very fantastic and ethereal imagery of the fourth?

JL:  The idea behind the ongoing story is that she finds herself in the fantasy realm.  At the time I wrote it, the year 2000 was approaching and I was going to time it around then.  We were all fascinated about what was going to happen.  Everyone predicts the end of the world.  The Mayans pegged 2012 as the end of the world, or at least the end of their calendar.  But, the story could branch out in so many directions and I have such a hard time narrowing it down.  I myself don’t know.

KA: At this point, it could either turn into a fantasy story or the very stark imagery of the first three issues.  Do you have any idea of any kind of a timeline on any future work on the project?

JL: It’ll be a long time.  I have a day job with Marvel.  I have this fantasy that in my free time, I’ll do creator-owned work and write again.  But, it’s pretty impossible to find that time.  Even just trying to wrap up issue four of Hellshock showed me how little time I have.  The collection was solicited a year ago, and I found myself doing the same thing.  I just couldn’t wrap it up.  I couldn’t get back into it.  I fell into the same trap of being late again.  If I go back to Hellshock or another creator-owned project, I’ll finish it before we even solicit it. 

KA: What else do you have coming up that you’d like to talk about?

JL: I’m working on Stephen King’s Dark Tower comic series for Marvel.  That’s going to keep me busy for the next three or four years.  I’ve been working on this for the past year and a half.  I didn’t even have any comics come out last year.  That was the first time I’ve gone an entire year without publishing anything.  I feel like I’ve been working in a vacuum.  This miniseries is a prequel to the Dark Tower books.  It deals with Roland the Gunslinger as a youth.  The first miniseries is an adaptation of Wizard and Glass – book four of the series.  But, that’s more of a way to reintroduce the world to the readers that are familiar with the book and to introduce the characters to people that have never read the series.  Having read book four, the characters are just amazing.  As much as we would’ve liked to have started with a brand new story, I don’t think we could’ve done that.  There are just so many emotional things that happen in that story that need to be told to get the series going.  After the first miniseries, that’s where all the new material comes in.  But, I’m not allowed to talk about the story.  We’re trying to give the long-time Dark Tower fans a look into Roland’s past and reveal all of his adventures that have been touched upon in the book.

KA: Have you been able to work much one-on-one with Stephen King or has it all been through Marvel?

JL: It’s all been through Marvel.  I have a letter from him, which is quite amazing.  He sent it to the Marvel offices.  He talks about the art and that he loves it.  Marvel gave me a copy of it.  I asked for the original, but my editor wanted to hold onto the original.

KA: Thanks, Jae.  It’s been great talking to you.

The Spinner Rack
By Al Brown and Kurt Amacker

Al: This week: The world's first Santa Claus special that makes sense! Turn your bedroom into a museum for only $300! And somebody remembers when he used to be...worthy. Also: dick club.

Kurt: I thought we agreed – never mind.  Here comes the smut, just in time for Christmas. 

DARK HORSE COMICS

Bakers Meet Jingle Belle (one Shot) $2.99

Banya Explosive Delivery Man Vol 2 TP $12.95
Al: Ha. Knock Knock?
Kurt: Who's there?
Al: Explosive Delivery Man.
Kurt: Explosive DeliBOOM!

Bottomfeeder Novel $12.95

Conan #35 (MR) $2.99

Criminal Macabre Two Red Eyes #1 (of 4) $2.99
Al: This dude's camera sucks.
Kurt: Well, I can tell who hasn’t read Dracula.  Loser.

Ghost In The Shell 1.5 Human Error Processor #3 (of 6) $2.99

Little Lulu Vol 13 Too Much Fun TP $9.95

Reiko The Zombie Shop Vol 5 TP $12.95
Kurt: Dude, if there were a zombie shop, I’d buy the place out and unleash my teeming hoards of the undead into the homes of everyone I don’t like.

Rex Mundi #3 $2.99

Saffron And Brimstone Strange Stories Novel $14.95

Spider Kiss Novel $12.95

DC COMICS

52 Week #33 $2.50

Albion TP $19.99
Kurt: By Leah Moore and John Reppion – good, not great.

Aquaman Sword Of Atlantis #47 $2.99

Aquaman Sword Of Atlantis Once And Future TP $12.99

Batman Legends Of The Dark Knight #213 $2.99
Al: W00t! Batman fights "The Otaku," a Japanese nerd supervillain! God, last week in Batman #660 it was Johnny Karaoke, and now this? Did the DC editors all get together and decide that their only goal was to make me happy? Well, it worked.
Kurt: He…fights…an…anime…geek?  Sweet Christmas!  That’s the best present I could ever get!

Birds Of Prey #101 $2.99
Al: Manhunter gets her ass kicked.

Catwoman #62 $2.99

Checkmate #9 $2.99

Deadman #5 (MR) $2.99

Fables #56 (MR) (note Price) $3.50
Al: A special 40-page issue featuring Santa. And this makes the first comic ever where a Christmas issue starring Santa actually makes perfect sense. It is Fables, after all.
Kurt: But since its Fables, it’s probably an evil Santa, right?

Fables Vol 8 Wolves TP (MR) $17.99
Al: Yay, new Fables trade!

Hellblazer #227 (MR) $2.99

Ion #9 (of 12) $2.99

Justice League Of America Hereby Elects TP $14.99
Al: I don't think toilet paper would be a very good member ot the JLA, but I guess that's why I just write about the comics.
Krypto The Super Dog #4 (of 6) $2.25

Man Called Kev #5 (of 5) (MR) $2.99

Moon Child Vol 5 $9.99

Omega Men #3 (of 6) $2.99

Red Menace #2 (of 6) $2.99
Kurt: I was going to make a horrible, filthy joke about Al and an STD, but since it’s Christmas, I’m restraining myself.

Red Menace Var Edition #2 (of 6) $2.99

Scooby Doo #115 $2.25
Al: Shaggy dresses up as Santa! Wanna sit on his lap?
Kurt: Only if I can call the cops afterwards.

Secret Six #6 (of 6) $2.99
Al: I so wish this had been an ongoing. I loved it.

Shadowpact #8 $2.99

Superman 1/4 Scale Museum Quality Statue $295.00
Al: Note: Museum quality, dude! The Guggenheim's gonna be in line for this thing! Bring camping gear!

Superman For Tomorrow Vol 2 TP $14.99
Kurt: Wouldn’t it suck if Superman always showed up tomorrow instead of right now?  Like, “Help, I’m trapped in this burning car!” and Superman goes, “Sorry, I’m the man of tomorrow, remember?  See you then!”

Teen Titans #42 $2.99

Testament #13 (MR) $2.99

Texas Chainsaw Massacre #2 (MR) $2.99

Y The Last Man #52 (MR) $2.99
Al: "Motherland" conclusion.

IMAGE COMICS

Bomb Queen Vol 2 #3 (of 3)(mr) $3.50

Darkness Compendium Edition TP $59.99
Darkness Level 0 $2.99

Deadworld Requiem For The World TP (MR) $16.99

Elephantmen #5 $2.99

Freshmen Vol 2 #2 $2.99
Al: I thought volume 1 was passable, but found myself pretty bored by the first issue of volume 2.

Magdalena Vol 1 TP $19.99

Pirates Of Coney Island #3 (of 8) $2.99

Wonderful Wizard Of Oz GN $9.99
Al: An adaptation of the Wizard of Oz originally published in France, where it won some crazy French award. Buy only if you hate freedom.
Kurt: I’m going to eat me some freedom fries!

MARVEL COMICS

Anita Blake Vh Guilty Pleasures 2nd Ptg Var #2 (of 12) $2.99

Avengers Disassembled HC $24.99

Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes II #4 (of 8) $3.99

Cable Deadpool #35 $2.99

Civil War Front Line #9 (of 11) $2.99

Civil War War Crimes One Shot $3.99
Al: Wilson Fisk offers to hunt Captain America for Iron Man. Good idea.

Criminal #3 (MR) $2.99
Kurt: Ed Brubaker successfully defends his “I Kick Ass” award for another month.

Daily Bugle January Newspaper PI

Daredevil Father HC $24.99
Kurt: I know this is like making fun of someone in a wheelchair or something, but let’s all point and laugh!

Fantastic Four #541 Cw $2.99

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #15 $2.99

Iron Man #14 CW $2.99

Iron Man Captain America Casualties Of War One Shot Cw $3.99
Al: Why two Civil War one-shots in one week? That seems like a bad strategy. Anyway, Cap and Tony meet to try to work things out. Didn't they already do this, and Tony totally screwed Cap? That dude is naive.
Hippy: Of course he is, dude.  If he was honest, he’d be, like, Captain Imperialist Oppressor or something.  We’re already living in a police state, I swear.  Pass the bong.

Magician Apprentice 2nd Ptg Var #3 (of 12) (PP #743) $2.99

Marvel Adventures Avengers #8 $2.99

Marvel Select Flip Magazine #20 $4.99

Marvel Tales Flip Magazine #19 $4.99

Ms Marvel #10 $2.99

New Avengers #26 $2.99
Al: Alex Maleev does the honors as Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch return.
New Avengers Illuminati #1 (of 5) $2.99
Prof. X: Hey, are you a dick? Me too! We should have a club or something.
Dr. Strange: Yeah, a dick club!
Reed: You know what would be smart? If we, like, pissed off the Hulk.
Iron Man: You know what else would rule?  Let’s employ super-villains to do our dirty work and piss off the Punisher.  It’ll work out great!

Punisher #42 (MR) $2.99
Al: "Man of Stone" conclusion.

Sensational Spider-Man #33 $2.99

She-Hulk 2 #14 $2.99

Thor Blood Oath TP $14.99

Thunderbolts #109 $2.99
Kurt: Ahhhh…Warren Ellis’s time draws near.

Ultimate Spider-Man #103 $2.99
Al: Bendis and Bagley break the record for longest continual run that's not Groo.

Union Jack #4 (of 4) $2.99

Wolverine By Claremont & Miller Premiere HC $19.99
Al: "Am I worthy now?" This mid-80s miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller was a watershed moment for the psycho midget. It's breathtakingly awesome. Also includes Uncanny X-Men #172-175, featuring Wolverine's wedding and the beginning of Storm's punk phase, which was pretty much the only time she was interesting. Ooh, question for discussion: I know we're all sick of Wolvie now, but all of us thought he was a badass once, right? What's your favorite Wolverine story?
Kurt: The one where you guys were in prison together.

Wolverine By Claremont & Miller Premiere HC Var ED Vol 3 $19.99

X-Men First Class #4 (of 8) $2.99

Zombie #4 (of 4) (MR) $3.99
Kurt: Who wants brains for Christmas?

Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at comicscape@cinescape.com.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 6 of 6
1 
noblenonsense 12/21/2006 8:27:00 AM
One of my issues with Civil War (we all have a list don't we?) is what they did with Dr. Strange. He agrees to have the Hulk tossed off the planet and then...nothing. Seriously? Sorcerer Supreme is on the sidelines? Not interfering? Not saying "bad! BAD Tony! No beer for you!"? Oh and I finally picked up Thunderbolts...and loved seeing a NORMAL team book (JLA/JSA not up to par just yet, Uncanny X-Men in space, Avengers bites...) and am disappointed that it just won't last...:-/ Oh and kudos to Kurt for interviewing Jae Lee. Love his work.
lister 12/21/2006 11:12:58 AM
Agreeing to have the Hulk sent away (and he has a long history with this character) is different than allowing mankind to work out its problems. That is what a Sorcerer Supreme should do. He can't go around casting spells to create his magical Utopia.
noblenonsense 12/21/2006 12:11:31 PM
Fair point lister. I enjoy the character of Dr. Strange but he's really lacking in stories. I may have to pick up the recent mini to see if they can do SOMETHING with him. He may have the "Superman complex", ie being too strong to be used well.
lister 12/21/2006 2:12:05 PM
I don't think it's a question of power level. The original stories with the Ditko art is really fantastic stuff... fantasy in the best sense of the word (try to find it collected somewhere if you like old comics). And I also enjoyed the series from the mid-80s with Rintrah. It was my favorite book for quite a while (before it got destroyed in the very short-lived Marvel-horror branding of the '90s). The new limited series is pretty good too... do check it out...
noblenonsense 12/21/2006 2:53:11 PM
I'd seriously pick up a series based on Dr. Strange. DC has pulled off a "supernatural" spin with Shadowpact (although a bit lame...) and Marvel's answer is Dr. Strange. Could really play out. There's talk he'll be doing more in the next year.
retroroger 12/22/2006 1:21:23 PM
The Illuminati "dick club" scenario makes me want to see Al and Kurt MST3k a whole issue. Just white out the words in the balloons, write in your own dialogue, and ignore those pesky copyright restrictions, guys. What could possibly go wrong ...?
1 

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