Son of Hitler is the rather strikingly titled–and covered–upcoming graphic novel from Image Comics written by no stranger to historical fiction, Anthony Del Col (Assassin’s Creed, Kill Shakespeare), and Geoff Moore, illustrated in painted style by Jeff McComsey (Fubar, Flutter). The story spins on a real historical rumor that Hitler might have had an illegitimate child while stationed as a soldier in France during WWI, but peels out into a sprawling “What if?” story steeped in the world of espionage during WWII.
Central characters include Hitler’s oblivious male progeny raised in France to become a baker’s assistant, Pierre, and renegade female British spy “handler” Cora. Her main goal in life, which you might have guessed by now, is to kill Hitler, and for that she needs Pierre to know the truth. While Hitler and WWII historical pieces are immensely popular in publishing, as well as in TV and film, any title using Hitler’s name and face on the cover is doing something a little risky. I’m glad we got the chance to talk to Anthony Del Col and Jeff McComsey about Son of Hitler and hear first-hand what motivated them to create this story that hits the shelves on June 20th, 2018.
You’ll find that extensive discussion below.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Could you tell us a little bit about your choice for this project to be an original graphic novel vs. a series of single issues? I ask because it’s a choice that seems increasingly open to creators, especially with the growth of graphic novels on the book market. What made this format seem “right” for the project?
Anthony Del Col: The answer boils down, quite simply, to the title. Any story dealing with Hitler as a character runs the risk of being controversial, and some were afraid that if we released this as an ongoing series that people might believe we would make the deadbeat father Hitler a sympathetic character (which he isn’t – at all). It was actually Eric Stephenson, Image’s publisher, who suggested it be released as a graphic novel and we immediately knew it was the right choice.
We debated changing the title but we just couldn’t. It’s such a provocative title that immediately makes people sit up and wonder what it’s all about.
Jeff McComsey: I think with the OGN format you can sort of slow boil a story on the front end and not have to worry if it’s compelling enough to maintain a readership through to its conclusion. I loved the idea that Son of Hitler would be designed as a package from start to finish. Image was very supportive of any thoughts we had on what the final product should or could look like. There’s a lot of great movement in the OGN book market and it’s exciting to be a part of it.
HMS: The solicit for this book alludes to “rumors” from which the concept for this book may have sprung. Were rumors your starting point? Where did this journey begin for you?
ADC: The rumors absolutely were the starting point. I was sitting down with my eventual co-writer Geoff Moore and he mentioned the legend that Hitler fathered a child while stationed in France in World War 1. My mind immediately started racing and I started to think about who that person would be, and what role – if any – he could have played in Hitler’s life.
My favorite stories are “what ifs”. They always lead to thought-provoking and fun tales – and that’s exactly what this one turned out being.
HMS: Regarding the controversial aspect of the title mentioned above, It seems like the use of the name “Hitler” in the title of a book, as much as the story, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, WWII is one of the most appealing subjects on TV, for instance, and shows like the “Hunt for Hitler” have a following. On the other hand, he’s a big taboo subject where overt curiosity might make people feel they’ll be mistaken for being enthusiasts. How did you overcome any trepidation you might feel about creating a book around someone who generates so much curiosity and revulsion?
JMcC: I know I always thought of the title in terms of like the classic horror films, Bride of Frankenstein, etc. Hitler was the monster in this movie. This was definitely a topic of conversation between us throughout production. The title hooked me right away and we ultimately felt it would hook others as well, but as with anything featuring WWII Nazi iconography we knew there’s a line. That’s why we went with the cover image of Hitler being strangled. Just in case anyone was worried, it says to me “Hitler has a son, and that son is not a fan of his father and neither are these authors”. I hope anyone who is skeptical of the title will give it a flip or read before whipping copies at us.
ADC: I’ve gotta give Jeff props for coming up with the concept for that cover. It’s genius and immediately assures anyone that this is an anti-Nazi book.
I’ve always thought that Hitler and Nazis are the perfect villains for storytelling. I always figured they were in the past, and who wouldn’t want to punish Hitler and his men? Unfortunately for the world today, neo-Nazis and white nationalists have started to raise their ugly heads and become public, which to me is so revolting. It’s even *more* timely that we tell a new story with Nazis as the bad guys and show some of the depraved things they do.
As mentioned above, I immediately could see this as a riveting story. I did have a moment of pause to wonder if this would be too controversial, but then quickly shushed that. At its core, Son of Hitler is a story about two people who are driven to find and kill Hitler, and their journeys become much more than that.
HMS: Can you talk a little bit about the characterization of Pierre? I think at the Image Expo you all mentioned that he’s a character who we might easily see some dangerous qualities in, like a propensity for violence. So in what sense is he a protagonist? Or is he?
ADC: Like all great characters, Pierre is a complicated individual. Yes, he’s prone to violence, but he also enjoys peaceful, comforting activities like baking. In creating Pierre, we took into account two important things: nature and nurture. If he has some of Hitler’s blood in him, he’s going to exhibit some of that man’s facets (like violence and art). But he was also raised by a poor single mother in France and mentored by a war veteran-turned-baker. So he’s got a number of features from all these sources.
Is Pierre a protagonist? He is. But Cora, his British spy handler, also is. She’s obsessed(!) with killing Hitler and isn’t afraid to use people to get the Hitler. In their journey together, Pierre’s able to bring out both the best and worst of her.
It was a LOT of fun creating Cora. There weren’t many female spy handlers in World War II and it was great to see how she’s able to manipulate others. It was funny that at the end of the project, I realized that this story is almost the prequel or origin story for the Judi Dench version of “M” from James Bond.
HMS: What sort of personal goals did you have in creating this book? Was it to simply entertain, or make people question known history, for instance?
JMcC: I’m a big fan of WWII and spy fiction in general, and I know that for me, whenever I work on something in that ballpark, I just want to do something that’s worthy of comparison to my favorite WWII movies, comics, and books.
ADC: In everything I do ,the number one goal is to entertain. We’re so overwhelmed with entertainment options in today’s world that it’s important to tell an interesting story. But that’s not enough these days. And that’s why, almost halfway through the process, we came up with a spin in our story that takes it in a completely different direction. And in doing so, it allows us some commentary on today’s world. I can’t get too much into it without spoiling it, but the action the final forty pages takes place in a completely unexpected area.
HMS: What did you have in mind when you approached the aesthetic design of the book, and what ideas led to your decisions on texture and color for the work, Jeff?
JMcC: We knew we wanted to do a monochromatic approach to Son of Hitler and that we’d change that color depending upon location or flashback. It both helps create a mood and helps keep readers clear on where and when we are in the story. In addition to that, I went with a traditional painted approach for the finishes, in part because I love the texture/grain you get from scanning that work. It calls back to a lot of black and white WWII movies that I’ve always loved, chief among those The Longest Day. I got a chance to paint a graphic novel and I think it lent an air of authenticity to the look of the pages(hopefully!) in this story.
HMS: For those who follow you on social media, Jeff, they may well have seen the gradual posting of process artwork on this book, though you kept it vague enough that I wouldn’t say that it was easy to guess what you were up to. What are the challenges of working on such a long book over an extended period of time in terms of keeping your career moving and your own personal sense of momentum going?
JMcC: Indeed! With something like Son Of Hitler, sharing work in progress is a little easier than if it was a licensed character, for instance. I can tease out a WWII project I’m working on and then eventually the announcement has more weight for anyone who had been following along. Working on long projects like this can be very tricky, both financially and creatively. I’ve been fortunate enough to teach a few classes a semester at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design for the past three years. It both helps out with income and allows me to get away a day or two a week from the grind of illustrating comics. Sometimes that distance is just what I need. As a freelancer, a big part of making it work is working on rounding up the next job or two while midway through another. I had two projects waiting for me when I finished up Son of Hitler that I was very excited to get to. That can help on those long nights.
Thanks to Anthony Del Col and Jeff McComsey for taking part in this extensive interview!
Son of Hitler arrives in hardcover from Image Comics on June 20th, 2018.