Comics: Bo Hampton on Riven

Her fearful symmetries.

By , Columnist

Bo Hampton has been creating art for the better part of a generation. Over the course of his storied career, Hampton’s painted or drawn tales for all of the major comics imprints, and an impressive number of independent publishers. He’s also found the time to create storyboards for ad agencies in between his comics projects.

Along the way, he’s amassed an impressive body of work and gained the heartfelt respect of both his peers and readers alike. But while he’s recognized as an artist possessed of a startling range, Hampton’s perhaps best known for his ability to capture the deeply disturbing essence of the horror stories he brings to life with his evocative illustrations.

Now he and Robert Tinnell have teamed up to explore one of the most enduring tropes of the horror genre. The result is Riven, an original graphic novel filled with a sense of dread and unrelenting suspense, a tension relieved only by moments of sheer terror and awe.

In other words, Hampton’s in his element, and we’re all the richer for it.

Riven -- Torn sk by Bo Hampton.jpg

For those who are unfamiliar with it, how would you describe Riven?

Riven was originally called Torn. It turns out after we were halfway done that an Australian company had a werewolf book called Torn, and it debuted at San Diego last year. Bob and I support indie efforts and didn’t want to interfere. Understand—it ain't easy coming up with a title for a werewolf project. Everything has been taken that you can think of.

Eventually, doing a synonym search for “torn,” I found “riven,” and it turns out to be even more apt for our story because the definition is to “rend or tear.” But the second definition is to “distress the spirit.”

So what’s the book’s basic premise?

A young girl adopted at the age of three from a Romanian orphanage is torn away from her home and at the age of 13 she has an accident which leaves her comatose for five years. During that time—every full moon—her brain waves spike. And it’s what she has seen, her visions during those spikes, that really starts to work on her spirit.

Riven -- katy model 2 by Bo Hampton.jpg

Why pick Dark Horse to publish it? What about that imprint made it the perfect home for this OGN?

I ran it by others as well, but Mike Richardson [founder and publisher] at Dark Horse was the only one who was really excited by the premise we submitted. It turns out he likes it well enough to preview it in Dark Horse Presents, (beginning with # 14, due out on July 18) so it was by far the best company for us. Shawna Gore was our editor early on, and she was also very much into the book and played a big role in securing the connection with the company.

I understand that you and your occasional collaborator, writer-director-teacher Bobby Tinnell, approached working on this book a bit differently than you have with past projects, with you taking much of the lead. What circumstances led to the adoption of that process, and what effect, if any, has it had on the story itself?

I think Bob is actually me; he just isn’t aware of it—yet. [Laughs] Of all the stuff I pitched at Bob to get him to co-write, Riven/Torn was the only one he didn’t bitch and moan about. I took that as a “yes.” [Laughs again]

I just love working with somebody I can argue with in such a creative way. If I’m really against something he proposes, more often than not, I wind up adopting it. That’s because his ego is there, but it isn’t all-devouring. It’s more of an herbivore.

The circumstances were that we have so much in common in terms of films, books, comics, and he’s a helluva writer so I beat the hell out of him and here we are.

try this version of W W pg 138 LO FB PAGE by Bo Hampton.jpg

Did that have any effect on how you created Riven? Did you have to change your typical process for creating comics, or did it not seem to matter a great deal?

I ran the plot—a bit more detailed than usual—by him and then we started writing scenes, letting the other one edit/re-write those scenes as needed. We did this once before on Demons of Sherwood for Comicmix, so it was a bit more honed when this project got going back in 2010.

What kind of challenges did Riven present you with? How about surprises, pleasant or otherwise?

I dove into writing from a young girl’s perspective. She’s been comatose for five years, so that helped. I could legitimately portray her confusion with modern fashion, music, conversational nuance. Having two daughters, ages 12 and 21, helped as well. It’s about time I got some use out of those kids. Nice surprise there. [Laughs]

Riven Cover sketch 1 FACEBK - Copy by Bo Hampton.jpg

If I can play devil’s advocate for a moment, if the story originally began with you, and you’re wholly capable of crafting a good and effective script by yourself, why bring another voice into the mix?

I need other people, ultimately. I’ve worked with Mark Kneece and Jack Harris as well. They get invested in a project that is just too self-contained otherwise. The vacuum is huge and it goes on way too long without a collaborator. I get too close and desperately need another perspective. I think I’m getting better at prose and dialogue, but my primary writing strengths are plotting stories with interesting misdirection, and breaking down horror storytelling for suspenseful, chilling sequences. Having worked as an animation storyboard artist helps with the latter.

Riven -- WWpg 86 pencil.LO  REstif by Bo Hampton.jpg

Well, what particular skill set and tools does Bobby bring to a project that complements your own abilities?

Bob is much better than me at two things: writing characters, and zigging when you’re expected to zag. He surprises me all the time with well thought-out plot zags and the depth of emotion he can bring to characters with very few words. If he writes a novel—watch out!

Could you talk for a few moments about how you usually create your art?

I pencil on small pages, scan and enlarge—trace over with ink and brush on grey ink wash tones—then I scan the page in and digitally color that. Lettering is the last step.

Is there an average time that these pages take you to create, or does it vary according to the demands of the story and what you have to depict?

One to two days per page, including writing.

Riven -- W W pg 86 ink only Lo RES by Bo Hampton.jpg

Do you approach making a sequential page any differently than a cover image or splash page? And do you, in essence, have to switch from one part of your brain to another in order to craft those pieces, or is it all pretty much the same to you at this point?

They are wholly different approaches, but the same brain. My covers are hard to do because I don’t like montage-type imagery that much. I prefer window-on-the-world type illustrations for covers. But Riven’s cover is a montage, so I’m a hypocritical liar.

Given that you often paint your books—obviously a very time-consuming and labor-intensive process—how do you choose your projects? Are there certain criteria that you have in mind when making that decision, or do you rely mostly on your instinct to guide you?

This book is digitally colored, but I tried to give it a painterly feel. I turned down a project recently because it involved too many characters. I like to limit the main characters as much as possible. Also limiting the detail needed for environment is a big draw and allows me to “paint” more for texture than tons of finely detailed buildings, cars etc.

I lean toward organic stuff. Not a big fan of the straight edge triangle or T-square. I am a big fan of Alex Toth.

Riven - W W pg 86 grey wash.lo REF tif by Bo Hampton.jpg

What do you get from creating comics and graphic novels that you don’t get from storyboarding or any of the other creative work you might do?

Control, control, control. Except for Bob. And he is me, so that doesn’t count. [Laughs]

What do you hope readers get from Riven?

Jolted, spooked, chilled, and moved emotionally. Over the last few years I’ve moved away from the lush beauty of my old line work and opted for a more simple and expressionistic approach to accommodate the power of the dramatic story. I love beautiful lines, but that interferes with the immediacy needed to convey horror.

Berni Wrightson is amazing, but I respond more to the beauty in his stuff—not scared, per se. I spend much more time on storytelling these days. Back in the day I was Will Eisner’s assistant and it took a while for his lessons to really take hold.

I also assisted Al Williamson. I was a lucky kid.

try this version of Riven W W pg 86  color step LO RES by Bo Hampton.jpg

No kidding! Well, what’s next on the schedule?

Lunch. [Laughs] Back to storyboard work for ad agencies until the movie version of Riven sells—or until the graphic novel breaks all sales records for 2012. Whatever and whenever it is, I want to do it with Bob, if possible.

Anything else you’d like to add before I let you get back to the easel?

I want to thank Mike Richardson at Dark Horse again for the enthusiasm he’s had for our book, and all the fans I’ve talked with about the project both at shows and on Facebook. They really collapsed the vacuum a bit.

Bob Tinnell and I will be at the West Virginia Comic-Con in October. I’ll probably be at the Chicago Wizard World show in August. Thanks very much, Bill. Always fun [to talk].

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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