Interview with Russell Hillman – Freaktown

Please introduce yourself and your business.

I am Russell Hillman, the writer and driving force behind the modern miracle that is Freaktown Comics – The Best “F” In Comics – a tiny but mighty small-press, self-publishing empire specialising in horror and drama projects. We currently have three titles available through our ComiXology and Big Cartel stores, all of which have been reviewed here recently.

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 What led you into this area of work and when did you start? Were you a geek and into superheroes beforehand?

Oh, definitely. I’ve been reading comics as long as I’ve been reading. I grew up on a combination of British comics like Whizzer & Chips, Battle (with and without Action Force), Eagle and 2000AD, and US superhero titles – initially in reprints, graduating to the imported originals as availability improved. I’ve been primarily a superhero reader since the late eighties, switching primary allegiances between the big two, as my interest in their current ranges waxed and waned.

I would classify myself as terminally nerdy; I have a tattoo of the Spider-Man head from the UPC code box because that’s the perfect image of Spider-Man’s mask. I live tweeted a marathon viewing of all 12 films in the Friday The 13th series. I appeared on a podcast last year to sing the praises of Arm-Fall-Off Boy and Stegron the Dinosaur Man.

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My first work in comics was back in 2003, for a long-since departed site called Working Title Comics. I submitted a short called ‘It’s the Beer Talking’, a flat-share sitcom in comics form. Sergio Calvet drew it and a couple of people liked it. It even got a review.

From there, I moved to editing the long-running web comic ‘Halloween Man’ when the writer, Drew Edwards, put out a general call for help with a script. Drew is a great writer but he’s not the best typist. I helped fix his typos, a creative partnership was born and we’ve worked together ever since. We’ve worked with some folks who went on to become bigger names than either of us – people like Mike Henderson, currently drawing the incredible Nailbiter at Image, David Baldeón, currently drawing Web Warriors at Marvel, and Nicola Scott of Wonder Woman fame; and we did a crossover with Hack/Slash, which was awesomeness squared.

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A few years later, I decided to collect the few ‘It’s the Beer Talking’ stories that Sergio and I had done into a mini-comic, which I sold at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds. A chance meeting there with some roller-derby types led to me writing ‘Fast and Frightening – A Comic About Roller Derby’, which led to the birth of Freaktown Comics.

Do you have anything in the pipeline that you’re working on, which you can tell us about? Any plans or special events coming up?

Currently, about halfway to being drawn (by CJ Camba, taking over from Ron Joseph) is my epic slasher story, Slashermania. This one’s a lot bigger than anything I’ve done so far – the main story is 126 pages of brutal violence, foul language and nudity. Here’s the blurb:

  1. Troubled teens from New York and Los Angeles are taken to a summer camp facility to be trained as counsellors and mix safely with other people their own age. Little do they know they are being watched by an audience hungry for sex & violence. They are the designated victims for a bizarre contest of murder and mayhem – WELCOME TO SLASHERMANIA!

 Masked maniacs from across the USA, Canada, Italy & the UK compete in various categories: Best Male Solo Death! Best Female Solo Death! Coitus Interruptus! Sin Punishment! Most Creative Kill! Biggest Multiple Death! The coveted Slasher of the Year award!

“And the Slashie goes to…”

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I’m in the process of pitching it around at the moment, but if nobody bites then I’ll put it up on Kickstarter to cover the print costs and get it out there myself. I did try that before, but I was asking for way too much and it was an utter failure. I’ve learned from my mistakes and (fingers crossed) it should work a lot better this time around.

Beyond that, I have a collection of shorter slasher stories and another full-length slasher script ready to go, together with a few other scripts that are in various stages of completion.

How do you deal with blank page syndrome?

Badly.

They tend to come for me part-way through a project, either when real life intrudes too much and I have to take too much time away from the actual bum-on-seat, fingers-on-keys business of writing, or when another concept starts taking over my mind-space and demanding my attention. When that happens, I put what I’m working on to one side and start on the next thing. The beauty of self-publishing is that I never have any deadlines, so if it takes me forever to actually get something finished, it doesn’t matter to anyone but me.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you do as a career instead?

Well, first of all, I’d have to be doing this as a career! Freaktown Comics is what I do when I’m not doing a normal day job (or looking for one, depending on circumstances). I would need to be a lot more prolific and shift a hell of a lot more comics to do this as a career.

If I had to have any other career, I think being a supermodel sounds like it could be fun. A short, chubby, 40-year-old, bald, bespectacled supermodel. It could happen, don’t stomp on my dreams …

Who’s your favourite superhero or character and why?

It’s a clichéd choice, but my favourite superhero is Spider-Man. Because he’s brilliant. A perennial loser in life; the guy who puts on a costume and fights the good fight because it’s the right thing to do, even though it almost always makes his personal life even more of a mess. The guy who has worked alongside pretty much every other Marvel hero you can name, but still struggles with his self-worth and self-confidence. The guy who battles against unbelievable odds and wins through by a combination of awesome powers, determination and sheer bloody-minded refusal to give in and let life beat him. He’s amazing. He’s spectacular. He’s sensational. He’s web of.

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Runners-up include The Thing, Daredevil, Molly Hayes, Martian Manhunter, Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), She-Hulk, Impulse, Jack Knight, Jay Garrick, Wally West, Wildcat, Faiza Hussain, Rogue, Hercules, Jessica Jones, Ms America, the current Ms Marvel, Puck, Tim Drake, Black Canary, Oracle, Robotman, Nightwing, Volstagg and any number of others.

And Superman, above everyone. Because Spider-Man is my favourite, but Superman is the best.

Who do you most admire, and why?

In comics, Kieron Gillen, Tim Seeley and Alex de Campi. They’re the most obvious influences on my work; they have all done projects that I would love to have written (Phonogram, Hack/Slash and Grindhouse) and they seem to be doing quite well for themselves creatively. Plus, Kieron is an awesome DJ and an enthusiastic dancer, two other enviable skills.

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I admire so many artists, because I have the drawing ability of a blindfolded Thompson’s gazelle. In the rain. Without pens or paper. If I could draw like any of the artists I’ve worked with (Sergio Calvet, Daniel Bell, Carlos Pedro, Keith Chan, Ron Joseph, CJ Camba), I would be incredibly happy. If I could draw like Jamie McKelvie I would probably never stop drawing. Ever.

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Oh, and Paul Cornell. Because he’s just lovely. Nicest man in comics, and about as talented as it gets. And Jay Edidin of the Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men podcast, because they’re just the best.

Give us one unusual little known fact about yourself?

One? I’ll give you three!

 I once approached Karen Berger at a UK con and, while everyone else was getting her to sign their Swamp Thing/Hellblazer/Sandman comics, I asked her to sign my copy of the Legion of Substitute Heroes Special.

At Thought Bubble last year, DMC held the mic out to me a couple of times and I rapped along for a couple of lines. That may be my proudest moment in comics, even though it had nothing to do with my comics at all.

On more than one occasion, I have taken part in the Moonwalk – an overnight walking marathon through the streets of London and Edinburgh to raise money for cancer charities. Like many of the (mostly female) participants, I did so wearing a bra.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Masturbation, same as everyone else.

I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I openly love slasher movies, I watch Strictly Come Dancing every year and vote for my favourites from the beginning, I like Kylie Minogue, the Ramones and old TV theme tunes, and watch collections of old movie trailers.

I read and write comic books. Once you’ve told people that, watching Desperate Housewives, eating peanut butter and Sriracha hot sauce sandwiches or wearing a t-shirt celebrating your love of the Motown in-house backing band from the 60s (The Funk Brothers) seems completely normal by comparison.

 

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