Talking With Paul Hanley And Ian Richardson About New Comic ‘The Unthinkables’

by Olly MacNamee

We recently shared with you the new Kickstarter campaign for a new comic book series The Unthinkables. A series that tells the story of a world in which all of its superheroes have suddenly dropped dead. Now the pay defence the Earth has is the supervillain community. And last time we checked, they were the bad guys! 

Today we catch up with co-creators, writer Paul Hanley and artist Ian Richardson to discuss the campaign and the comic which has juts over a week left to run with their original goal well and truly met and smashed. 

Olly MacNamee: You currently have a very successful Kickstarter going for new comic book series The Unthinkables. As I type these questions up, I notice its already smashed its original target after just a few days. So congratulations on this, guys as I know the has been a series years in the making. But, let’s dial it back for a moment and ask where did this all begin?

Paul Hanley: I started writing an early version back ’round 2003, way before I had anything published, thinking it’d be an indie comic I’d draw myself. I got about 12 issues written and 8 pages drawn before I realized I wasn’t cut out to do sequentials, so it all went in a drawer.  In 2009 I started getting things published as an artist and began keeping an eye out for a collaborator who could draw it. There were some interesting near-misses, but ultimately I found Ian’s work and was like, “this guy’s perfect”.  That was 2012.  It became a side thing we worked at off and on.  

By 2014, we had enough to start shopping it around, but ironically… turns out most publishers are kinda snooty about anything even resembling superheroes if you’re not an A-lister (I don’t know what letter list I’m on – it’s probably toward the end of the Cyrillic alphabet). And they hate “funny” cape stuff, so this ticked all the wrong boxes. It ended up languishing for a good long while, but we kept pecking away at it, even though there was no clear path to publication.  Around 2018-2019, we finally got a yes from a reasonably big indie publisher, and also from a few smaller ones – but I got an unethical vibe from most of the contracts we were being offered. At that point we had around three issues’ worth of material, and self-publishing looked like the answer.  But that was gonna be such a struggle (I didn’t have the finances for it and doubted I could get that far with crowdfunding on our own).  

Then in March of this year, I got what we’re pretty damn sure was you-know-what and everyone in the house got atrociously sick.  We had some rough months and things weren’t going well. I got to a point of “f**k it,” and put out an ashcan versions of the first two issues as a perk to my Patreon backers, right before I went into the hospital for surgery. I was in a mindset of, “dying is annoying enough, but it’s really gonna piss me off if nobody ever reads this”.

Because of that, my buddy Mike Dolan read it. He passed it on to Laurie and Erek Foster at Unlikely Heroes Studios, who collaborated with Mike’s late brother Zack on his series SUPER! as well as some other things. They were a cool little company I was plenty aware of, but I never knew they’d consider taking on “outsider” work, otherwise I would’ve asked years ago.  Fortunately they loved it, and I knew because they’d had Mike’s and Zack’s seal of approval that they weren’t dicks, so… here we are.

Ian Richardson: What could I possibly add to that?! Yeah, what he said, haha.

OM: The set up is simple enough. All the heroes of the world are dead and so it’s up to the super villains to save the day. But, the tone of your accompanying text for your Kickstarter, clearly indicates this is a comic heavy on humour, isn’t it?

PH: It was a total comedy at the outset, but became more of a hybrid as things went along.  The characters kinda “got real” on me after being stuck in my head 17 years. It works, though.  They’re weirdly believable, multi-dimensional people stuck in an absurd Marvel/ DC type mainstream superhero universe that’s gone off the rails. We just kinda let the book go where it wants to.  Sometimes it’s deadly serious (and even deeply fucked up) and sometimes it’s ri-goddamn-diculous.

IR: Also, I think both aspects compliment each other. From a reader’s point of view, it doesn’t become at all ‘lightweight’ because it’s overly reliant on constant  humour & it doesn’t become too ‘dour’ because it isn’t too mired in becoming overly serious.

OM: What’s more, you have an impressive array of guest cover artist working with you too? Martin Simmonds (The Department of Truth) and Glen Fabry (Preacher) are both contributing covers.  That’s an impressive list. How did you twist their arms to be involved?

PH: Yeah! With Martin, that’s just the luck of knowing him a really long time, before he started landing Marvel and Image gigs. We might have another project in the vault too, but that’s all I’ll say about that for now.  

Glen Fabry was just luck and… brutal honesty… having some money to throw around briefly, years ago.  He was open for commissions, and I talked to his art agent and worked it out (also, I traded his agent an original Bryan Hitch Ultimates page and a Chris Weston Enemy Ace page). Not the most exciting answer, I know.

OM: Super villains saving the world. But, from what exactly? What can readers expect from this series going forward? And, how often are you hoping to release each issue given the initial success of this current campaign?

PH: Well… ARE they saving the world?  That’s the logical thing to do, but like we hint in the Kickstarter pitch… these are damaged people who’ve demonstrated some lousy decision-making skills getting where they are.  Saving the world is an appeal to logic, and that’s not a strong suit for a lot of these guys.  If this was Suicide Squad, Thunderbolts or Mystery Men (hell, even Megamind), saving the world’s just a matter of some misfit types working out their personal shit and blowing up whatever’s causing the big destructive skybeam.  I don’t wanna spoil too much, but this might be the time where a familiar setup goes totally haywire.

Like our original tagline said: “Turns out getting a bunch of supervilains together to save the world was a really f***ing stupid idea.”

As for what killed the heroes, well… this is where I feel like 1990s David Lynch being asked who killed Laura Palmer.  I’ll just say that there’s a How, a Who and a Why, and you’re gonna get the answer to one of those in each of the first three arcs, but probably not in the order you’d expect.

Going forward, expect a story set (cue the Don LaFontaine voice) in a world, totally reliant on superheroes, that suddenly has a superheroes-shaped hole in it. 

As far as a timeline… I’m gonna cryptically say some of that depends on how well the campaign goes (we might have a big announcement coming if we hit the 10K stretch goal soon… hint, hint). But we’d like to get the six issues that make up Volume 1 all out in about 12-18 months.

IR: There’s very little in the way of any altruistic behaviour from any of the main gang here, trust me. And they’re all either out for number 1 or have no other choice in where they find themselves. For Volume 1 at least. Appealing to your better nature in order to save the world, as Paul says, would be a seemingly logical & natural response… That just ain’t the case for these guys!

OM: As the series has progressed and evolved, have either of you got any personal favourites to write and to draw, guys? 

PH: Oh man, I love writing so many of ’em. Marya (a.k.a. Bloody Mary, a diehard communist superspy left over from the Cold War) is always great because she’s so bitter and disappointed in humanity, but also ruthlessly pragmatic and has zero tolerance for stuff like pretense and self-pity.  It makes for a character who reacts to problems in interesting ways.  Sublime (who has the surreal ability to alter states of matter without changing their temperature) is a mix of rational and batshit that I’m probably a little too comfortable writing.  She’s maybe my favorite in terms of keeping the story moving in original directions.  Verve (a sweet-natured Beverly Hills airhead who can cancel out all forms of kinetic energy) is hilarious to write because she has absolutely no filter. Jeb (aka White Devil… II… the down-to-Earth nice-guy son of America’s most hateful racist supervillain) is great because he’s kind of the one “normal” person in the entire book… which makes him different and strange with this crowd.

IR: This is a little out of character for me drawing The Unthinkables, because anyone that knows me knows I usual go for bombastic American super-hero types, but it seems to be the more ‘normal’ characters that have hit a chord with me. It’s been about Jeb (White Devil II) again and his problems with trying to go against type, then the completely non-powered characters like Cooper (the freckles do it for me) & Frenzy. Oh, Devilfish too… cos, c’mon, who doesn’t like drawing monsters?

OM: I mention that this book has been years in the making, and so I’m wondering how much has been revisited and revised from the initial plans?

PH: The 2000s version I wrote almost reads like some “What If” series now, it’s so different.  We’re still headed in the same general direction, but, like I said earlier… the characters have spent so much time in my head now that they have a life of their own. There’s a major twist in an early issue that went down a totally different way when I tried to write it again.  I got to that scene and two characters were like, “Hey, f**k your plans – we’re gonna go this way.” The nice thing about doing all that writing back in the day is that we know where we’re headed – all the big mysteries have answers, and we know what problems are waiting out there for the characters. That gives us the freedom to let them find their own way there.

IR: Plus, I think recent changes in the size of each issue has contributed a lot to, not necessarily changes, but additions. We’d initially had a much longer first issue for such a long time that’s now a more concise and impactful read and that’s letting us add new pages to the second issue. Which means we can show of extra details about some characters we’d previously not had the luxury of. Plus, it means I get to draw more shit, which is always a welcoming prospect!

OM: With the hope that we can get back to some semblance of a comic convention schedule, are there any plans to take this book on the road? 

PH: I’d love to, eventually. Right now my health’s not so hot (even if the pandemic were over, I’m not up to travel and 11 hr days on a con floor right now). But down the road, hopefully!

IR: Yeah, I think that ball is definitely in my court. I do usually have reasonably busy convention schedule, before 2020 kicked that into touch. So, we already knew we’d be having a bunch of books heading over to me in the UK to look after our European readers and as soon as we’re back on those con floors, I’m definitely planning on having books with me for people to snap up & just chat about if they’ve already picked the book up!

You can show your support for this campaign by backing The Unthinkables #1 here now and read a preview of the first issue here.

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