Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: You are a man of many talents, having been a creator and writer of web comics, novels, television, and graphic novels. What inspired you to pursue writing as a career?
Gavin Hignight: For me, I think like many, my creative ideas flowed from being a fan of other creators and properties. Flexing the creative and writing muscles for me started in my tweens. I would tag along with my older brother and his friends and play roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons and Star Frontiers. That evolved into writing and creating my own roleplaying game for my friends (it was kind of a cyberpunk, Shadowrun-influenced game). I really enjoyed creating the characters, adventures, and world my friends were playing in. Being such a fan of movies and TV, my interests were heavily rooted there, so, while in high school, I found a film production class (a good thing as I probably would have dropped out of school had I not found that very important creative outlet) and started writing screenplays in that class. As I transitioned into creating my own stories and ideas for scripts, I veered away from all the roleplaying games, because I had found a new place to play. I was never interested in anything else, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker and tell stories for a living. The part that was easiest for me was writing. It didn’t take a lot of money to write. For me, just a pen, paper, and a cup of coffee at a café, as I got older it turned into a laptop and a cup of coffee. When I got to Hollywoodland, I focused on writing as that seemed to be where people took me most seriously.
BD: What is the most difficult aspect of working as a professional writer, and do you find differences between working for other creators and working for yourself?
GH: I think uncertainty is a really tough aspect of writing. The thing is, I would be writing even if I didn’t get paid for it. Hell, I have projects I do now that actually cost me money, but I do it because it’s in me and I can’t change that. You’ll find that with many writers, whether it's music, comics, novels, movies, or whatever. You write because there is something in you that is compelled to tell stories, something in you that gets really grumpy if you don’t have a few hours every day or so where you can tune out and get lost in your own fictional worlds. Now, if you can find a way to make a living doing it . . . awesome! That is a hard task. Not unlike other creative endeavors like music or acting, you are constantly opening up your chest and mind, your innermost thoughts, and you are displaying them and saying, “Hey, judge me.” If you are lucky, people like what’s in your head, if you’re not, then it's constant rejection and uncertainty, and that for me is a very rough part of it.
There are total differences in writing for myself or writing for others. I’ve been very lucky, the shows I’ve worked on both TMNT and Iron Man, I worked for guys who were very supportive, not only in building the best story we possibly could for the characters but also in building me as a better writer. When you write for hire you have to check your ego at the door. You are a hired gun, and you are working in their world. You have to respect that and give them the best you can do of what they want. When you write for yourself, that’s your chance to be the little dictator. There is nothing wrong with either. Writing in collaboration can be a good thing, you bounce ideas off each other and come up with something very polished. Writing alone, that’s where you stretch, and push, and tell the world, “This is what I am capable of, these are my unique choices . . . now hire me to work on your world.”
BD: With regard to your work in web comics, you have released seven chapters of your sci-fi project, The Concrete World. What inspired you to create this ongoing story?
GH: Many of my ideas come during the day, or while I’m driving, or walking and especially when listening to music. But, this one was different. I was in a very dark place in my life, totally in a lack of control of my situation, feeling like a victim to this big, bad world. I woke up in the middle of the night in 1997, and all the ideas for Concrete World were rushing through my head. The desperation of the three characters, the addiction to Virtual Reality, the digital world they lived in, it was all there. I made it a point to get out of bed, go into the other room, and take notes (in the fear I’d go back to sleep and lose it all). Feverishly, I wrote 3 pages of notes. They served as the basis for CW; much of what you see in the comic came from those notes way back then. It was always going to be a noir, and it was always going to be about desperate people, oppressed by a future where technology was out of control. I think the message here is when you get those late-night ideas, GET UP and TAKE NOTES.
BD: Many independent creators have viewed web comics and digital comics as the next best way to make their leap into the comic book industry. What are your thoughts on digital comics and their presence in the industry?
GH: I think we are still trying to learn what doing a webcomic means. Where it fits in and where it will lead us. It is a fantastic way to tell a story. Story by any means necessary! The comic industry is tough. Like film and TV there is no standard way to get in and do what you want, and, hopefully, make a living while doing it. My first comic book project was the graphic novel Motor City. A full graphic novel, black and white, kind of a hybrid between Manga and American style. It was a fun project, and I’m glad to say we sold tons of copies. But, self-financing it was tough. I knew for my next project I wanted to do something different. I wanted more people to have access to my story, and I didn’t want to spend the money needed for a printing . . . also, The Concrete World is all about technology, and using technology to escape in stories and other worlds, which is kind of like a webcomic. So, it was a natural fit for us.
Is it a good way to break in? If I ever break in, I’ll let you know (insert laugh), but I will say it’s a good way to tell your story. And, that is super important, isn’t it? Everything good that has come to me in my creative career has come from me telling a story by any means necessary. By doing something I had no guarantee of making money from, but I did solely because I wanted it out there in the world.
I still love printed books. I’m sure there are kids now who could care less about them, but I will say as much as I’ve enjoyed doing a webcomic, I look forward to seeing a print edition when we are finished with our story arc.
BD: As The Concrete World continues, are there any exciting updates or plans that you would like to share with our readers?
GH: I think where the comic is headed is very exciting. It’s about to have a major shift in the storytelling. One of the main characters is about to be killed off, and the remaining two will be placed at great odds. If the story is in thirds, this is the final third, the home stretch; the gloves are off and we’re not pulling any punches. This is where readers will see it is truly a science fiction piece. Also, for this last year of the comic, we are cranking up guest art, and we have some awesome guest pinups coming from our friends in the comic, street art, and fine art worlds.
BD: Aside from your work in web comics, you have also been a writer on the animated TV show, Iron Man: Armored Adventures! What can you tell us about your experiences in writing for television?
GH: Writing boys' action animation is the best job ever. As I previously mentioned the two shows I’ve written on I was very lucky to be working for kick a-- story editors. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was unreal. I remember when Mike Ryan handed me the bible, I flipped through it and thought, “I’ve been doing my homework on this series since I was 13 years old. I know these guys like they are old friends (Leo, Mikey, Don and Raph).” It was also really cool to get notes from Peter Laird.
Iron Man: Armored Adventures was a dream come true. Getting to work with iconic characters everyone knows and everyone loves. It’s a great series for kids and families that are into superheroes. And, Season 2 is very strong. The animation, music, and storytelling are some of the best on TV, so I am very proud to have worked on it. Imagine getting to play with Tony Stark, Pepper, Rhodey, Iron Man, War Machine . . . you get the point. I had watched Season 1 episodes that I really liked, like the episode which introduced Crimson Dynamo (the Armored Adventures version of him is really cool), and when I heard Brandon Auman, who wrote that episode, would be story editing Season 2, I was excited. When I heard he was going to assign to me the episode that introduces Hawkeye and Black Window to that continuity, I was beside myself.
BD: I believe that you have a new episode that will be airing this summer. If we promise not to tell, can you give us few details about what we can expect from the episode?
GH: I can sum it up in two words. HULK SMASH!!!!
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about your favorite comic books and graphic novels?
GH: I definitely have a lot of favorite things. And, it’s ever changing. I think everyone should check out Dragonhead, it’s a fantastic creepy Manga with gorgeous art. Also, Monster is a Manga worth checking out. As for American books, I, like everyone, absolutely love The Walking Dead. I am a lifelong Romero fan, I even flew halfway across the country at age 17 to the Night of the Living Dead 25th anniversary at the Monroeville Mall (where they filmed Dawn). They wouldn’t even let us check into our hotel because of how young we were. Always loved zombies, even though they are a little played out now, The Walking Dead, both the comic and show still seem fresh. Great stuff. Planetary by Warren Ellis is one of my favorite graphic series right now, I’m often inspired by his work. His Ultimate Fantastic Four was awesome, and Iron Man: Extremis. I love when he puts his touch on already established franchises. Death: The High Cost of Living is one of my all time favorites. Hmm . . . Tell Me Dark by John Ney Rieber for DC. I absolutely love animation, as well. Right now I’m watching the original Beast King GoLion (Voltron) and it’s amazingl it’s nuts how violent and adult it is for a kids' show from the early '80s. I laugh thinking some exec thought, let’s cut out all the beheadings, murders, and blood and package for America.
BD: What is the most important piece of advice that you can offer to comic book fans, young and old, who aspire to work in the comic book industry?
GH: Do it only because you love it. Do it if you love to create, get lost in fictional worlds, and tell stories. If you get into it for other reasons, it won’t be as rewarding. I think if people do what they love, the rest falls into place. Something clicked for me a few years ago, I got much more into the process rather than fantasizing about the reward. It was at that point what I was creating got better, I enjoyed my life creating more, and the rewards ended up being better, too. (But, not because I focused on them.)
BD: On that same note, which creators have inspired your work?
GH: I could list so many. A few who come to mind . . . George A. Romero, Jim Jarmusch, William S. Burroughs, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, Ridley Scott, Jack Lord, Rod Serling, Clive Barker, Nick Cave, Stan Lee, Gene Roddenberry, Norman MacDonnell ,and writer John Meston. The list is random and I could go on and on. So many great creators that inspire me.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Concrete World, Iron Man: Armored Adventures, and your other projects?
GH: The Concrete World will continue running for the next year with new pages every month. It can be found at www.theconcreteworld.com.
Iron Man: Armored Adventures airs on Nicktoons and also streams for free on their site!
I am pleased to say that the short film I wrote and directed called HEAVEN SENT will be making the rounds at film festivals throughout 2012-2013. Info on that will be posted here: www.gavinhignight.com/updates
And finally, my first novel THE FREAK TABLE is being released in the later part of 2012! This is a project that is near and dear to me and the official website is www.thefreaktable.com.
Thanks so much, Fanboy Comics! As you can tell, I nerd out with the best of 'em!