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Hungry Hungry Hippo, Part 2

Comicraft's new comic book series introduces us to a strange new hero - a trenchcoat-wearing hippo named Hip Flask

By Arnold T. Blumberg     June 17, 2002


HIP FLASK: UNNATURAL SELECTION takes flight in July.
© 2002 Comicraft
Last time, we looked at the genesis of the new Comicraft series, HIP FLASK: UNNATURAL SELECTION. In Part 2, we delve deeper into the series and find out what lies ahead for Hip and his creators.

For Ladronn, HIP FLASK provided him with a perfect opportunity to flex his artistic muscles.

"HIP FLASK is the perfect combination for an artist," says Ladronn. "The characters in this book are very complex, and our story takes them from joy to anger and from hate to love. They live in a world where the line between rational and irrational is blurred. Hip Flask, Obadiah Horn and the rest of the "Elephantmen" live on the edge of a society to which they don't belong and which doesn't belong to them. The internal values of these "Unhumans" are very different to the humans with whom they must live. They are more passionate and tortured, they live their days fighting against each other, and they are forced to keep their most savage and brutish feelings from man. Their world is not filled with the fresh air their ancestors breathed, it is a plastic and steel jungle drenched in acid rain. They are, psychologically, wounded animals."

Have these poor animal-like creatures fallen into the X-Men's danger room? No, it's just another day at the office in HIP FLASK.

Casey also appreciated that HIP FLASK was a chance to work on a project that was a bit off the beaten path.

"Well, the expansiveness of the project appealed to me, from Ladronn's painted art to the production process," says Casey. "This is not normal assembly line comic book creation. I knew this was going to be a special kind of working situation. No other comic book is made this way. I like the idea of showing the bigger publishers how it's done."

Starkings is thrilled with the fact that Ladronn is taking on the task of telling Hip Flask's tale in such a lavish fashion.

"Ladronn is not only penciling and inking HIP FLASK, this is the first whole comic book he has painted himself," says Starkings. "Using a combination of airbrush, watercolor and Photoshop, Ladronn has made a work of art out of every panel. Ladronn is capable of drawing in any number of styles, and was encouraged by the mainstream companies to 'draw like Kirby' or 'render this like Moebius.' What I have been encouraging him to do, having seen his more personal sketches and paintings, is to 'Paint like Ladronn!' He has enthusiastically responded like a child rushing out from school or a man being released from prison!"

What then has inspired Ladronn to explore more expressive artwork with this character. The answer is simple - soul.

The animals aren't the only ones you have to watch in the world of HIP FLASK.

"Hip Flask has soul, charm and the deep desire to be at peace with himself," says Ladronn. "In many ways, he is far more human than any human. He was pulled from a cold, crude, scary and controlled scientific society with unnatural desires to a new and more deadly environment - Mystery City. The city itself is now the hunter waiting to trap and devour anyone or any creature that places a foot wrong."

Starkings adds that the story of HIP FLASK also touches on our own real-world relationship with Hip's less intelligent cousins.

"Hip's story is the story of Man's inhumanity to Man, and, of course, to animals," says Starkings. "Hippos in the wild only attack men when they themselves feel threatened, as do most large African animals. Rhinos, for instance, are incredibly gentle, skittish vegetarian creatures who have terrible eyesight and only become aware of men when they can smell them. Their beautiful horns are the envy of poachers who can sell them on the black market for perhaps just ten or twenty dollars (a fortune in certain parts of Africa) to idiots in Yemen who believe that daggers made out of rhino horn bestow social status upon their owners, or the Chinese who believe that ground rhino horn will help men get it up. Certain endangered rhinos must now have their horns removed, under sedation, so that poachers won't kill them for the fast buck. Unfortunately, rhinos have been hunted and killed for so many years now that they may not make it through another century. Although hippos are not endangered, their biggest enemy is still man. George Washington's false teeth were carved from a hippo's tusk, and poachers hunt and kill hippos to provide skulls and bones ostensibly 'for zoological study.'"

Obviously, Starkings has done quite a lot of research on the travails of the real-world rhino, and from that research came the underlying theme that had to inform the development of HIP FLASK.

"Having researched hippos specifically and African animals in general, I saw that Hip's story had to address Man's thoughtless and selfish treatment of these incredible creatures," says Starkings. "The Great White Hunters of the last couple of centuries never killed elephants or rhinos for food - they killed them just to prove they could, just to prove who was in charge."

While the series is grounded in some pretty real concerns, the settings are suitably far-flung.

"This is the most fully realized futuro world ever depicted in comics," says Casey. "[It's] pulp science fiction at its most expansive, its most glorious. As Richard and Ladronn have said, there are deeper psychological issues at play in this story as well. On the visual side, Ladronn has made a giant leap in his art with this one. What more do you need?"

Joe Madureira's cover for HIP FLASK

While readers will discover Hip Flask and his world for the first time in UNNATURAL SELECTION, that's only the beginning of what the creators hope will be an ongoing saga.

"I'm happy to say that Ladronn is extraordinarily committed to HIP FLASK," says Starkings. "He has been working on designs and paintings since finishing work on THE INHUMANS in the summer of 2000. Fans have at least five more issues of his work on Hip to look forward to, and Ladronn has asked me if he can continue to contribute covers to any Hip Flask projects that follow in the future. We have become fast friends in the past couple of years, and Ladronn has become almost as attached to Hip as I am. All being well, I think our creative relationship will continue for a long time."

Ladronn concurs, expressing his desire to see this story through wherever it may lead. He also feels the work has enabled him to grow in his artistic skills as well.

"Yes, my commitment to HIP FLASK is enormous," says Ladronn. "I feel very responsible for Hip's presence in the world. My real work is with paint, not just pencils and inks, but sometimes in the past I had to adapt my style to the needs of the market. I'm trying to return to my origin. Hip Flask is the next step in my evolution as an artist, and [it] has stretched me toward some new and more daring horizons. I'm a better artist now."

"The mini-series is in full production mode," adds Casey. "And with something this massive, it's hard to think about what may come after. After seeing UNNATURAL SELECTION completed, we know that the only competition we have at this point is with ourselves. We've raised the bar for comic books in a significant way. Trust us... this is only the beginning."

Fortunately for the creators behind the hippo, early response to the initial miniseries has been positive, with comic book press and professionals enthused about its debut.

"I've had a lot of overwhelmingly positive responses from retailers and professionals alike, and a number of French and Spanish publishers are falling over each other in anticipation of the foreign publishing rights," says Starkings. "It's been incredibly encouraging. Hopefully retailers have taken notice and will translate that anticipation and excitement into Big Orders! Thirty-five pages of painted art by Ladronn for $2.99 is a bargain, let's face it. And don't forget the alternate covers by Ian Churchill, J. Scott Campbell and Joe Madureira. Musketeers one and all! Collect the set!"

All the hype aside, Starkings does in fact confirm that the #0 issue mentioned earlier will indeed see the light of day.

"Yes, HIP FLASK #0: ELEPHANTMEN [will be released] next year. One at a time is all we can handle."

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

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