Steve Gerber Interview

In his career in comics, Steve Gerber has written such books as Marvel's Defenders and Man-Thing, and written and created (or co-created) Howard the Duck and Omega the Unknown from Marvel and Nevada from DC/Vertigo. This month, he returns to another of his creations, Hard Time from DC. Westfield's Roger Ash recently contacted Gerber to learn more about Hard Time Season 2.

Westfield: For those who've never read Hard Time, what would you want them to know about the book before picking up an issue?

Steve Gerber: I'm going to answer that question three different ways.

First the basics. Hard Time is the story of Ethan Harrow, a high school student who took part in what he thought was a prank - a fake high school shooting - that turned real, leaving five people dead. Ethan was tried, convicted, and sentenced to fifty years in prison. Now, behind bars, he's discovering that he has a strange power, the ability to release his consciousness from his physical form. His body is imprisoned, but his mind is not. And his roaming psychic force can act directly, often violently, upon the physical world.

Second, I'd like people to know that Hard Time is very much intended to be read by young people. It's been pigeonholed as a "mature" title because the hero doesn't happen to wear a costume, but it's always been meant for readers, say, fifteen and up.

Finally - and I know this sounds a little strange - I want readers to know that Hard Time isn't medicine. It's not a comic book you "should" read because it's "good for you." In fact, it'll warp your mind just as thoroughly as any superhero book. So don't expect reading it to be work, just because nobody in the book wears tights. Hard Time is good, twisted, unwholesome fun.

(Small correction: Red, the goth fashion model who claimed Ethan's virginity in a prison bathroom, does wear tights now and then, although she tends to prefer fishnets.)

Westfield: Is Season 2 new reader friendly?

Gerber: Absolutely. The first issue of the new season recounts the Caulfield High School massacre from a different perspective and in much greater depth than it was portrayed in the first year. In the process, we also reintroduce some of the major characters and bring readers current on Ethan's legal and personal situation. New readers will be getting the story from the beginning - the full emotional impact, not just a dry summary - and regular readers will learn a lot of new details about the shooting and what led up to it.

Westfield: Mary Skrenes is joining you as co-writer this time around. Why did you decide to do this and how do the two of you work together?

Gerber: Mary actually co-wrote the first twelve issues, also, but because of a contractual problem her name couldn't appear on the book. We've rectified that with Season 2, and from now on she'll be getting the co-writing credit she's deserved all along.

We work together mostly on weekends, because Mary has a full-time, real-world business to run during the week. We get together at her house, in person, on opposite sides of the same desk, tossing ideas back and forth, yelling and screaming at each other when necessary, taking turns at the keyboard, working the script out page by page and panel by panel. I would say the collaboration works like a marriage, except that Mary already has one of those. Which might make it more like an illicit affair, except that her husband, J.R., is in the next room and hears everything that's going on and occasionally has to stick his head in and tell us to hold it down so he can hear the football game.

Anyway, we usually finish those sessions with something approaching a final draft. I take that home, do some final edits and polishing on it, and send it off to DC.

Westfield: What can people look forward to in upcoming issues?

Gerber: Up to now, Ethan has been the only character whose crime we've portrayed, and even in his case, we know almost nothing about his life before the day of the Caulfield High School massacre. In the second year, we're going to see some of the formative moments in the major characters' pasts, especially those instants in time that changed each of their lives forever. For most of the inmates, of course, that has to do with the crime that sent them to State. But even the characters on the outside have secrets that have altered the direction of their lives.

Ethan's nemeses in this second season are a full order of magnitude more terrifying than those he's dealt with so far. I don't want to reveal too much, but I will tell you that Ethan's major antagonist is named "Cutter." Let that name swim around in the darkest, most perverse backwaters of your imagination for a while, and I promise - you'll still be shocked when you learn who and what he is.

While all this is going on, Jack Forbes, Ethan's lawyer, is working to get Ethan a new trial. Ethan is doing his best to stay alive in a man-made hell, and his psycho-force is displaying an array of new and alarming abilities.

All in all, I think it'll be an eventful year for Ethan and the readers.

Westfield: What do you think artist Brian Hurtt brings to the book?

Gerber: Enormous talent, a highly individual style, a strong sense of storytelling, a keen understanding of mood and atmospherics, and a level of humanity you don't often see in comics anymore.

It's daunting enough for an artist to draw a book like JLA or Avengers, where there may be a cast of thousands, but at least each character is identifiable by costume. Brian has had to deal with a very wide array of characters -- inmates, guards, prison officials, high school shooting victims, lawyers, parents, goth girls, and so on - none of whom wears a costume, and he's still managed to make each character instantly recognizable on sight. And he makes it look so natural, so effortless, that I doubt even the most devoted Hard Time readers realize how extraordinary a feat it is.

Westfield: Are there any other projects you're working on you'd like to mention?

Gerber: I've been talking with DC about a revival of one of their oldest characters, and it now looks like that's going to happen. Unfortunately, I can't discuss any details yet, so we'll just have to do another one of these sometime in '06.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Gerber: Come visit my blog at http://www.stevegerber.com/sgblog for a daily peek into the glamorous life of a comic book writer.

And please, folks, give Hard Time a try. It's true, you'll get addicted, and it'll be yet another comic you'll moan and groan about having to buy every month, but I think you'll find it worth the angst. No joke - this is really good stuff.