Writer Phil Hester is no stranger to eccentric characters, and Brandon Hull might be the best (worst?) of his impressive stable. The ability for Hull to do evil things and not flinch is what makes him such an interesting focal point, and in Hester and artist Tony Harris' new book Blood Blister, there will be a new take on the tortured soul as crimes of his past will rise to the surface in a very unique way.
Blood Blister will be coming from AfterShock comics, and ComicBook.com recently had the chance to talk to Hester about the new book, and where the inspiration for it came from.
It turns out that this story was one of the first ones pitched to AfterShock, but it took some time to find the right artist.
"Well it's actually something I pitched to Joe Pruett when AfterShock was just beginning," said Hester. "I think even before AfterShock had to meet with the publisher. And it's one of the first things Joe said yes to. But it's taken us this long to find the right artist to sort of bring it to fruition. And Tony became available at the right time. Tony came aboard, and everything I do that's creator owned I count the artist as the co-creator. So we're partners in the project."
As for the lead character, Hester doesn't have a very positive view of him, nor will readers once they get to know a bit about him.
"2016 has sort of been the year of the asshole. And he's sort of emblematic of that," Hester said. "He's this person that lives a completely unexamined life. There's actually a long speech, it's not long, but there's this speech he does with his son in the first issue where he explains, 'Look, whatever you do to take care of your family is kosher. No matter what. Sometimes you have to do bad things for good reasons.' So if you have to cheat somebody, if you have to steal from somebody if you're doing it to protect your family, it's legit. And I think that's a pervasive sentiment-in the world these days, and he's emblematic of that."
Inside the arrogance is also a level of being a sympathetic figure.
"He's always been a kind of perfect person, at least outwardly," Hester said. "He's fit, he's handsome, he's well-dressed, he's rich ... but his soul is rotten.
"He does things that are objectively bad to get where he is and to gain the success that he has. And I was playing with the idea of using all these sorts of demonic possessions, horror elements, that we're also familiar with, but making the source of those things internal not external. I was wondering about what if demons are born. What if we give birth to them. What if they are us? What if we internalize our own nastiness to the point that it becomes sort of malignant cancer inside of us that takes on its own life support. So instead of the possession that he undergoes being something that inflicted him from the outside, it's something that he earned. It's something that he felt inside himself. And it does not make it any less supernatural. It still has all those crazy horror elements that you expect from a supernatural horror comic, but there are things that he had dealt with himself. It's not something that's being inflicted on him. He's his own devil."
The book starts from a more psychological angle, as Hull can't figure out if this whole thing is real or in his mind, but horror elements quickly take root.
"For a while he's not sure if he's just going crazy or if he's paranoid or if he's obsessed about something. Cause he suffers what should be a minor wound, and it doesn't go away, it doesn't heal. It festers and becomes something that he picks at and plays with. And it grows worse and worse. It becomes something that he takes great pains to hide from everybody," Hester said. "But he even describes that he's had these horrifying visions and he's haunted by these certain images from his past. He describes all that to maybe he's septic from this wound, when in fact, it is the beginning of this strictly supernatural horror trip that he's about to go on. And the wound is really like the beginning ... It's like the physical manifestation of the rot that's going on inside of him."
Most stories have roots in real life experiences, and Blood Blister is no different. Hester had a life or death battle that inspired some of the writing.
"It's funny cause its sort of was born from this time period in my life a couple years ago when I got really sick, gravely ill. I have never been in that position before in my life where I felt like my body was betraying me," he said. "I never really thought about my body much at all. I was just sort of this vehicle for my imagination or whatever. I had reached a point in my life where it was failing me and so this whole idea of, how could your body betray you and that could signal something deeper that might be wrong with you inside. The demons just sort of came to the front while I was sick. You'll reach a point, no matter how you're in great shape or bad shape, you'll reach a point where your body doesn't do what you want it to do, and, again, that's sort of whole crisis point is where the story was born."
While he's not someone you'll find yourself rooting for early on, Hester does say there is a story of redemption at play here.
"I hope so because he is sort of emblematic of an average, not an average, a successful working American from the good and bad that is. He is a devoted family person. He does do what he does to try to secure a life for his family. But he doesn't care that he's wiping out other people's families," he said. "In a way, he's almost lucky because a lot of people- I listen to a lot of those nutty paranormal radio shows and podcasts while I'm penciling, and one of my favorite shows had an interview with an old-timey, renegade exorcist who said 'If somebody was perfectly possessed they would never know it. If you were perfectly possessed, if you were an evil person and possessed, you would never know it. It would just be part of your everyday life.'"
Hester said that Hull doesn't have to wonder if he is a bad person, because he can see it all over his body. This can actually work in his favor, as he can't ignore the behavior anymore.
"Why Brandon Hull is lucky because he has shown this flaw, this flaw that manifests on you physically, and he knows that something is a miss and he knows that his life is no longer completely in his control and he's got a chance to fix it, which is more than a lot of people get," Hester said. "So he's at this crucial moment in his life where he can go one way and fix it all or succumb and let it consume him. And because he has this family that's anchoring him to the light, the good side, he decides to fight, so it's a matter of what he does to overcome. Not only the evil that's afoot in him but to undo the evil he's unleashed on the world through his previous actions."
Sometimes the most important step is simply self-awareness, and in this case, it has hit Hull like a freight train.
"Yeah, this is his wake-up call. And it just happens to be really terrifying. It just happens to come in the form of mind-bending horror. How he chooses to react to that. The first, probably three or four issues in the book, are just him at first disbelieving it than accepting what's happening to him. And so you're very much seeing from his view point. You're introduced to the horror the way he perceives it. For a little while, you're not sure if he's maybe just a crazy person or the stuff is really happening to him. But once it's cemented in his brain that this is real and this is in me, what he does about it is sort of where the drama of the story comes from."
While things will take shape organically over the course of the series, Hester already has his ending in mind.
"Yeah. I have a definite there are two big movements to the story. And the first and most important, him fighting to save his soul. And then the second is, once he's done that emergency, you know, once he's in the triage to stay alive and stave off that complete possession it's what he does to undo the past evil that he's done. So you've got two stages that he has to go through on his journey. And there are prices to pay along the way. It's not like at the end everything's swell because ... A lot of the things he has done cost people their lives. That's stuff you can't make up. So he's gonna, if he's trying to, he can't make amends to certain people cause they're gone or their families are destroyed or whatever. So he's gotta take a larger view of humanity as a whole and try to do, try to make amends for what he's done for humanity."
Hester is incredibly accomplished, but he doesn't view himself as the main attraction on the book. He said that position would be Tony Harris.
"At least one member of a creative team is sort of an A-lister. In this case, Tony is the A-lister. Am I right?" he said. "On my other AfterShock book, Warren Ellis is the A-lister and I'm along for the ride. When you have talent like that working for you, they're in high demand everywhere so it pays for aftershock to be a little bit flexible on their release date."
Hester recently took to Twitter to share a common annoyance, that being when superheroes are called by their first name, like when people call Batman "Bruce".
As to why it annoys him Hester said, "Because Superman is Superman. Then there's Batman. He's not Bruce, he's Batman. Spider-Man is Spider-Man. When you think about them, when I think about them, I think about them in the totality of their character. It's like calling Tarzan Lord Greystoke. That's not who is he, 'He's this guy.'"
"Yeah, the stuff us mighty writers think makes Bruce tick, the character, that stuff comes and goes. Batman's been kicking ass for 75 years because of something very essential about the fantastical nature of the character and the trappings of literature that, kind of come and go, that we place on him. Like, I said, they're transient. But there's something really special about Batman that at the core of that character and that's, He's Batman."