Hard Time Q&A

As promised, here’s the interview material that didn’t make it into *Wizard* #164. The interviewer is writer Chris Lawrence.

**Chris Lawrence:** How did *Hard Time* Vol. 2 come about? Was it a DC promotional idea, something you came up with, Dan DiDio’s notion…?

**Steve Gerber:** *Hard Time* began its life under the DC Focus imprint. When that imprint was discontinued, *Hard Time* was its sole survivor. Since we’re relaunching the series under the DC bullet — unfocused, as it were — we all thought it should debut with a new volume designation1 and a new #1 issue.

**CL:** The series developed something of a cult following during its first run; characterize your feelings about (or your hopes for) the second volume.

**SG:** Well, it would be nice to expand the cult by a hundred thousand or so.

Specifically, I hope young people will discover the series. Fans and the comics press have tended to pigeonhole *Hard Time* as a “mature” series, because the protagonist doesn’t wear a costume, but it’s very much intended to be read by kids Ethan’s age. As much as anything else, the book is about that stage of life when hormones are raging and alienation is a natural state of being. It’s about the prisons life erects for us, those we build for ourselves, and how to survive in them or, better yet, escape. “Mature” readers can relate to that, too, of course. Once you’ve been sixteen, you never quite forget it.

**CL:** Critics and fans alike seemed to enjoy *Hard Time*, Vol. 1; how would you describe the success of the first dozen issues?

**SG:** Depends on how you define “success.”

Artistically, creatively, we accomplished a lot. *Hard Time* is different from virtually everything else on the stands in terms of tone, setting, and the kinds of characters and situations we deal with. We created a very large and diverse cast of very interesting characters. And, amazingly, we managed to achieve the right mix of gritty realism and bizarre fantasy. Balancing the inherently dark and violent prison setting with the strangeness of Ethan’s powers and the legends of Sumerian warrior princesses was difficult, but I think we pulled it off. And, as far as I know, we’re the only book on the stands with a serious recurring character named “Fruitcake.” That’s a distinction all by itself.

In terms of recognition for our efforts, there were many positive reviews and many favorable fan letters. Almost everybody who actually read the book loved it. We were nominated for a GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) award, which was a terrific and unexpected honor.

But we hit a couple of huge brick walls in the direct comics market. The first, of course, was that our main character doesn’t wear tights or body armor and doesn’t bear the name of a 1940s-70s superhero, which made the book an unknown quantity. The second was a misunderstanding of the Focus imprint. Fans assumed — totally incorrectly — that Focus was a new universe, that you had to read all the Focus titles to understand what was going on in any of them, and that misconception was widely promulgated on the Internet. Predictably, many fans reacted to what they saw as a marketing ploy by buying none of the Focus titles, and retailers ordered accordingly. That hurt us.

On the other hand, the first trade paperback seems to be doing well so far. The series is gradually finding its audience, and DC seems to have faith in what we’re doing. We’ve been “renewed” for another twelve issues.

**CL:** What’s in store for the second season? Will it be handled like a relaunch, or will it actually be like the beginning of a second TV season, picking up (in a way) where the last issue left off? If it’s the latter, how will you bring the new readers up to speed? Will it be as simple as a a “Last Season on *Hard Time*…” page?

**SG:** No, not quite that simple, but we’re not doing a typical relaunch, either. No major changes in artistic personnel. No “bold new direction” hype. Not even a Jim Lee cover.

But we are going to turn up the intensity of our bold *ongoing* direction. The first issue of the new season recounts the Caulfield High School massacre — the incident that landed Ethan Harrow in prison — from a different perspective and in much greater depth than it was portrayed in the first year. In the process, we also reintroduce some of the major characters and bring readers current on Ethan’s legal and personal situation. New readers will be getting the story from the beginning — the full emotional impact, not just a dry summary — and regular readers will learn a lot of new details about the shooting and what led up to it. This issue also sets in motion the storylines for our second year.

Ethan’s nemeses in this second season are a full order of magnitude more terrifying than those he’s dealt with so far. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I will tell you that Ethan’s major antagonist is named “Cutter.” Let that name swim around in the darkest, most perverse backwaters of your imagination for a while, and I promise — you’ll still be shocked when you learn who and what he is.

**CL:** Did you take some time off from the series during the hiatus? If so, how’s it feel to pick things — the characters, the storylines, etc. — up again?

**SG:** We all needed a breather after the first twelve issues. It gave us a little time to catch our breaths, take stock of where we were with the series and where we wanted to go, and it enabled us to come back to it refreshed. To be honest, I’d like to take another short break before — fingers crossed — season three.2 If it’s accepted practice for *The Sopranos* and *Deadwood*, why not for a comic book series?

**CL:** No doubt, a lot of people thought the book was being cancelled after the last issue shipped—did you get much response from readers about the end of volume 1?

**SG:** We did, and I replied personally to as many messages as time permitted. The fans of this book are very devoted. It was nice to be able to tell them that we wouldn’t be away for long.

**CL:** As always, if there’s anything I’ve forgotten or if there’s something you wanted to address that wasn’t covered by my questions, feel free to let me know.

**SG:** Just that I’m very grateful to DC Comics, and Dan Didio in particular, for standing behind the series. To Brian Hurtt for his fabulous artwork on the book. To Joan Hilty, the editor, for putting up with a very contentious and opinionated writer. And to my writing partner, Mary Skrenes, for her invaluable and, until now, uncredited contribution to the scripts.

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1As most of you know, since the time this interview was conducted, “Volume 2” has become “Season 2”.

2While it would be nice to take a break again between Seasons 2 and 3, everyone concerned would prefer that our next hiatus be *drastically* shorter!

2 Responses to “Hard Time Q&A”

  1. Alistair Says:

    Very interesting interview. I really can’t wait for the next series.
    “Fruitcake” what great name for a character!

  2. J. Alexander Says:

    I will be ordering the second season and the third (and on and on). By the way, HARD TIMES is a great name.