THINK TANK is Top Cow’s latest critically acclaimed hit. Written by Matt Hawkins and drawn by Rahsan Ekedal, the book’s a sharply detailed trek through Doctor David Loren’s life of hijincks… and occasional dickish-ness.
Recently, we were given a chance to talk to the men behind the series, and we tried our hardest to pry into their new fictional world.
UTF: With your involvement with other Top Cow properties (like the upcoming Cyber Force) and acting as President / Chief Operating Officer is it hard to find the time to chart your own original series?
Matt: It is a difficult balance yes, heh. It’s why I haven’t written any new series in about 10 years. I’ve had my hand in a lot of the various creative endeavors but have always wanted to write more. Frustrating sometimes, but I just made it happen recently and don’t plan on pulling back anytime soon. Enjoying it a lot.
Rahsan: Matt is the single busiest man I know. Puts the rest of us to shame.
UTF: On average how long does it take to complete a script for Think Tank?
Matt: I am not writing Think Tank full script and the research takes a long time. I mapped out the basic story structure for this in a long outline I wrote last year. It’s changed a lot, but I was able to tweak the plot itself fairly easily and make it work. Rahsan drew the pages and then I came in and added the dialogue and David’s internal narrative after the art was all in. I am more of a rewriter than a writer. I write a first draft of dialogue very quickly then rewrite it a few times over the next few days. Think Tank 3 took me a lot longer than the first 2 because it was really tricky with the escape elements. They all had to work and be believable that someone could actually pull that off. I spent a lot of time agonizing over how to make that all work.
UTF: David Loren is a very relatable character with what seems to be a solid back-story, what were the key inspirations behind the formation of this complex character?
Matt: I based a lot of his weird stuff on my own personality. I’m not all that smart so I had to BS all that. I’m a smart ass and sarcastic. I went through a divorce a few years ago and the period following that was a very complicated, confusing time for me. I took a lot of that emotion I had from the divorce and overlaid it with David’s situation. I realize that marriage and career are not the same but there are these conflicting emotions that you want to stay together but you want to split up. It parallels David’s working life. He wants to create and realizes that environment is the best one for that…and he has this great support system…but he knows it’s not ultimately going to work for him. I know a lot of reclusive smart guys and also some slackers so I kind of merged the two personalities to give his character more depth.
Rahsan: Yeah, David sort of emerged fully formed from Matt’s brain. He described the character to me and he felt so complete that my very first character sketches are pretty much exactly the same as the way I draw David today. That’s an unusual situation – usually characters go through a couple of visual iterations before I settle in on the final version. But David has a very strong, clear presence in my mind and obviously in Matt’s mind, too.
UTF: How has it been working together? Do you bounce ideas off of each other?
Matt: Rahsan has been a joy to work with. He designed all the characters and gave the book its tone and depth. He even changed the General from a man to a woman in the script but I rolled with it, heh. He sends me links of crazy military stuff and I do the same to him. He’s been a great collaborator and it’s been one of the highlights of my 20 year comic career.
Rahsan: It’s been awesome! We’ve developed this great method of working together that allows a lot of collaborative energy to grow between us as we create each issue. There’s room within Matt’s scripts for me to experiment and push the narrative and character drama in different directions, and the story always evolves a little bit from story to art to finished dialogue. It’s really rewarding and I’m having loads of fun drawing each new issue. I feel like this book will be a creative landmark for both of us.
UTF: Will there ever be a colorized issue?
Matt: Maybe. The decision for B&W was mine and was a fiscal one. I ran the numbers and knew what our breakeven point was doing it that way. When you launch a new book you have zero idea what it’s going to sell. You put your heart and soul into it and people either respond or they don’t. Fortunately with Think Tank the response has been great and sales are going up. Now that we’ve done a few issues I like the black and white. It gives it a weird feel. The story is hyper real but the black and white gives it an unreal feel. That dichotomy is at the heart of the Think Tank story and character conflict and I kind of dig it.
Rahsan: For the moment, you can see what David’s world looks like in color in the brilliant work that Brian Reber has been doing over my lines for the covers. It’s a taste!
UTF: Rahsan, what’s the thought process like when you go to sketch a page?
Rahsan: Well, story always has to be the first priority in comics, so my first step is to ask “What’s the key information that the reader NEEDS to get on this page?” Then it’s a matter of making sure those things are clearly going to appear in the panels. After that, I ask “What’s the most exciting moment on this page?” And I design the panel layout around that moment. So you’ll notice that my pages are usually designed to emphasize one panel, and the other panels tend to either support that panel or flow from it. Sometimes the most important moment is a big action beat and you need to have a big splashy panel with robots and explosions or whatever, other times it’s an emotional beat, and all you need is a zoom on a character’s face. So, I guess the answer is that my thought process is always focused on how to best tell the story while making each page exciting to look at. Everything else is secondary.
UTF: Matt, what do you absolutely need to have when you sit down to write?
Matt: Quiet, the sugar free, blue Monsters, my airbook, one of the four soundtracks I listen to while I write.
UTF: With Cyber Force coming into play in the new Top Cow universe is there a chance that David Loren might somehow crossover with them? Two tech based series, it just seems like a logical and potential intersect.
Matt: No chance. Think Tank is a standalone book and a story based on a real world scenario. Cyber Force is science fiction now. I think people will be surprised with the first CF arc, hopefully in a good way but it’s a pretty serious departure from the original.
UTF: I imagine social media can be a great asset for a comic book property, but it also seems like it can be a pain in the ass. How do you feel about the extra exposure that the internet affords?
Matt: I dig social media. I love the instant feedback and the interaction with people. The annoying parts are basically the same as any message board and you need a thick skin and the ability to ignore the trolls regardless of media so it is what it is. The response to Think Tank has been pretty positive so we’ve not gotten a lot of negative barbs. The marketing that social media affords is pretty damn cool. Wish we had it earlier.
Rahsan: Like Matt said, I really enjoy being able to interact directly with readers and fans. There are a lot of very dedicated folks on Twitter who support us and I’m always amazed at their kindness and their love for Think Tank as well as other projects I’ve done, like Echoes. I think social media is most valuable when it’s not just being used as a promotional platform. Developing real relationships with people who love art and comics, that’s where the value truly is. That’s why I follow fans back on Twitter, and always try to reply to their comments and questions.
UTF: I know we’re only 2 issues in, but this series seems like it could make a great transition to the big screen. Do you have any plans for that? Any hopes?
Matt: When I started developing this a couple years ago my initial thoughts were to develop it as a TV series but the interest from Hollywood has all been on the film side. We’ve got the property in development with someone but we don’t announce the dev deals anymore because 9 out of 10 of them go nowhere and if you announce all of them eventually you look pretty stupid when nothing gets made.
Rahsan: You have to get used to riding that rollercoaster and not getting excited by anything. If it happens, it happens. We’re just going to keep making a good comic book.
UTF: How do you feel about digital comics? Are you excited by the transition, or do you think paper will always be superior?
Matt: I like both and think they both have their pluses and minuses. I’d be pretty sad as a creator to only ever have my comic books be distributed digitally. It just wouldn’t feel real to me. Holding that book in your hands is like a reward for hard work. Digital comics are more convenient and space friendly.
Rahsan: Yeah, digital definitely appeals to my desire to de-clutter. One thing about digital that artists have to consider these days is the high resolution and ability to zoom in on the artwork in a digital comics reader. You can examine the lines and nuances of the art in much greater detail than on the printed page, where details tend to get lost or minimized. There’s very little barrier between the original art and the reader’s eye in a digital comic, and that can keep me up at night haha.
UTF: Fuck, Marry, Kill….. Jackie Estacado, Sara Pezzini, David Loren
Matt: heh, kill, fuck, kill.
Rahsan: I don’t think I could successfully kill any of these three even if I tried, and I’m already married, so that leaves me… um, well, in a pretty awkward position really.
UTF: What’s your vice of choice when creating these books? A gigantic double cheeseburger with all the fixins? A double Scotch and a fat stogie? What is that single indulgence that you just NEED in order to get the creative juices flowing?
Matt: Outside of the energy drink I mentioned above that’s about it. I’ve tried writing while drinking it doesn’t work for me.
Rahsan: Aspartame and caffeine, apparently. Coke Zero, coffee. Ah, for the caffeine-free days of yore. How we miss thee.
So there you have it! Make sure you pick up the new issues at your local comic shop, and check back here at UTF for the latest reviews.