In our latest Indie Comic Spotlight, we speak to B. Alex Thompson of Approbation Comics about his comic book HASS. A 2014 glyph award nominee, HASS deals with mature themes, yet they do not seem all that far fetched when you look at the current troubled times we live in. HEre is B. Alex to shed a little more light on his work.
So to start off, can you tell us what HASS is about?
For a simple answer: It’s a “Romeo & Juliet”, meets “American History X”, story that shows the dramatic events that makes a Black man become a Neo Nazi.
For a longer answer: It’s about a young Black man starting college thinking he has the world figured out and his life under control, but a few major events turn his POV upside-down. There are a lot of internal struggles he’s tried to suppress and these major events cause him to unravel mentally. Will he be able to bring his life back on track before he goes too far down the wrong road?
Is there any character in the series that stands out as your favorite?
This sounds like a cop-out answer, but I honestly love all the characters for different reasons. Josh is the protagonist, so you spend the most time with him. Because of that, you see the world and story experiences through his eyes. Between that and how he is such a likable person, you’ll go along for the ride even when he makes some questionable decisions.
Cole is our main antagonist and though he does some very, very terrible things, like Josh he is also charming and charismatic. With Cole, as a reader you go through a sort of battered spouse syndrome. You know that Cole is a terrible person and that he destroys everything and everyone around him. But he’s so interesting and does everything with such maniacal glee, that you can’t help getting swept up in his madness.
Maggie, Yvonne, and Asher are beacons of light in the story. Maggie might be beautiful and sarcastic, but she is also responsible and a source of empathy. Her strong emotions sometimes makes her lash out in anger or frustration, but those same emotions also make her such a caring and forgiving person. Yvonne is a bit more stern and authoritative, but it’s because she has seen and experienced racial hardships first-hand. She tries to give guidance, but we usually rebel against older influences to make our own mistakes and come around after the fact. Asher is great because of his intelligence, humor, networking abilities, but mostly his optimism. Asher provides some of the best bright spots to the story and Josh’s life during this dark and tough tale.
What was your inspiration for HASS ?
I’m usually a horror writer, but traditional monsters aren’t scary to me. I write about them because they’re interesting, the designs are creative, and the stories are more about the characters dealing with their own personal demons as they deal with supernatural situations.
So as an exercise in improving my craft, I made a list of things that actually scare me. Many of those things became scenes and themes that culminated into Hass. Hell, a lot of them made it into the first issue itself!
What is your primary role on HASS?
Everything but the final artwork. So writing the scripts, approving line art, approving colors, formatting the art, lettering, editing, pre-press, sending to press, promotion, distribution… I tend to wear the majority of the hats.
Can you tell us a bit about the other people working on HASS?
Federico Santagati is the line artist (pencils and inks). Though he made a comic book for art school, this is pretty much his first professional work. He does such fantastic artwork… it blows my mind how he brings the Hass characters and their world to life. Being new to comics, getting used to the schedule and time management has been a challenge for him. But he’s improving, which is something us creative types continuously strive for.
Russell Vincent Yu is our colorist supreme. He has become my “go-to” guy for a majority of my coloring needs. Not only is he amazing at his craft, but he’s able to change tones to fit each different project. I can’t say enough great things about Russell’s colors. You’ll see for yourself when you read more of the collaborations we’ve done together.
John P. Ward is a good friend and a great writer in his own right. We constantly bounce ideas and projects off each other… it’s a great time. He’s a huge help in finding things I might have missed and giving alternate perspectives on things I thought were obvious, but could be presented differently.
How did you guys meet up? Did you know each other before? Were there a mutual friends, did you meet at a con?
John, I’ve known in real life for years… since my first published work of Vampires Unlimited: Shades of Things to Come #1 back in 2002. Federico I found on Deviant Art… I saw his artwork and instantly knew that he was the guy Hass needed. With Russell, I needed a colorist for Hass and a few other projects, so I auditioned a ton of colorists… he ended up being the one that stood out. I forgot which project I originally hired him for, but eventually I learned that he was even more skillful than I initially realized.
Do you intend for HASS to be an ongoing, mini series, maxi series, one shot?
Hass will be a four issue mini series. I have general ideas for a potential followup mini series, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, we’re putting everything into making Hass the best stand alone story it can be.
How long did it take to complete HASS, from the first time you put pen to paper?
Concerning conception and scripting, I started the project seriously around 2010. I took about two years to write the story and do revisions before it was in a place to where I could start looking for an artist. Even with Federico on board, I would still continue to tweak the scripts for better storytelling and to better fit his art. After getting art, I’m always reworking dialogue.
So that’s the long answer. The short answer is that it’s never done until it goes to the printer, lol.
Did you pitch this to other studios, or was this something you wanted to handle from the start?
Image was the only other publisher I strongly considered for this book. I usually go into my personal projects with the mentality of “Image or I do it my damn self,” haha.
What clever ways have you come up with to market HASS?
I have a few marketing ideas, but I haven’t started any of them just yet. Once all full issues are completed, I’ll try to put some interesting campaigns together.
Where do you see HASS 3 years from now?
Hopefully Federico will have finished drawing the mini series by then! lol
On a serious note, I’m an independent creator who does mostly horror related subject matter. So I’m doing a small genre (indie comics) inside a smaller genre (horror comics) inside an even smaller genre (indie horror comics). Where most of my stuff is “fun” or “horrific” and could possibly be set aside disposable entertainment, Hass could actually be one of the stories that could really make people stop and think.
Race and racial issues in America is something that still needs to be worked on. If you’ve even glanced at the news within the past five years, you know that racism has not gone away like many have hoped or thought. Sweeping it under a rug and walking around with rose colored glasses won’t solve the problem. It has to be dealt with directly, firmly, and fought until it is eradicated. America has progressed a lot in the past 200 years, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done as we move into the next few centuries.
What is the next step? Are you done with this story and moving on to something else, or is there a follow up ?
I’m CONSTANTLY working on projects, lol. As this team works on Hass, I’m still working on Act 2 (#21-40) of the Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies series. The graphic novel The Vessel is only a few color pages away from being sent to the printer. I’m lettering Flesh for the Unborn (Action/Horror), The Burden (Action/Superhero), and the last chapter for the Vampires Unlimited: Shades of Things to Come TPB. Southern Hospitality 2 (Action/Horror) is in the works along with a lot of interesting tales.
Where can people pick this up?
At the moment you can buy a special advance edition directly from me at conventions in the Southern California area. We’re working on POD (Print on Demand) options you can order online. Once the project is completed we will go through Diamond distribution and you will be able to pick the series up at your local comic book store.
After some one has put down your comic book , is there any one thing, or experience that you hope the reader will come away with.
I hope that the reader is left with a variety of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I’d like metaphorical cages to be rattled and for people to be inspired to take a stand and do something to move humanity forward in a positive manner. It doesn’t have to be something major like taking a day standing on the front lines of a peaceful protest (though that’s a good choice). It can be something small like taking a moment to see past your own prejudices (we all have them) to look past a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, economical position, whatever and see a person for who they are as an individual.
Where can people find you, or find out more about the book?
You can find me all over the internetz!
Before we go is there anything we haven’t touched on that you’d like people to know?
I’d like to thank everyone who takes the time to seek out good stories, no matter the publisher size. Superheroes are fun, but there are so many more genres out there to enjoy. Please continue celebrating diversity in comics and keep on supporting independent comic books!