Make the Words Flesh: Lance Henriksen Writes To Hell You Ride

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Dec 27 2012 at 10:16am

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Lance Henriksen To Hell You RideDuring his 50-plus-year career, actor Lance Henriksen has run the full gamut of characters and genres, from a stint on the daytime soap Ryan’s Hope, to one of his most beloved roles as the android Bishop in Aliens, to countless movies, television shows, and even videogames. Now he’s bringing his unique perspective to comics with Dark Horse Comics’ To Hell You Ride, a five-issue supernatural horror story focusing on a mysterious Native American curse that comes alive in the Colorado mountains.

We were able to chat with Lance, his co-writer, Joseph Maddrey, and artist Tom Mandrake (Batman, Night Force) about the seeds of To Hell You Ride, their unusual style of collaboration, and what comes next — read our interview, below. Also, make sure to check out our three-page preview of To Hell You Ride #1, available now! Good morning! How are you doing?

Lance Henriksen: I’m good, I’m good. We were all Skyping this morning about issue #4. We Skype at great length with this material and all the subtle and written changes. It’s really an exciting process. Is that how you and co-writer Joseph Maddrey tend to collaborate?

LH: Well, Joe and I and Tom (Mandrake, To Hell You Ride’s artist), we all collaborate together. That’s really interesting, bringing the artist into it. How does that work?

LH: First we do a script, and then we discuss it and potential issues that are going to make it better. And then Tom does pencils, and we all share the pencils and talk about them and what’s missing, what could be added to it. It’s all about details, the point of focus in the story. And then by the time the finished inks are done, we’re good.

It’s a great way of working, because normally, in comics, a writer will write the whole script, and then hand it off to the artist, and then they don’t speak again, which is a terrible mistake, especially for the story we’re doing. This has great demands on it, so that’s how we’ve been working from the beginning. That’s how we set it up, we wanted to work that way. It’s unusual. Can you tell us about the genesis of To Hell You Ride?

To Hell You RideLH: Almost 30 years ago, I had written a movie. I was hitchhiking all over the country and needed a break from movies — I was on an adventure, really. And I got to Telluride and saw this little town there, and so I tried to dig into the history of the town with the locals, ask them about everything. I realized it was a strange phenomenon, a box canyon town, with a road that leads nowhere else. It turned out it had been a mining town, and they used to keep slave miners by having guys with guns up on the ridges so no one could escape. It would only take four or five riflemen to do that.

I thought, that is horrible! And I suddenly thought, “These people don’t know why they’re here–they’re back, like they’re reincarnated to finish unfinished business, whatever it is.” And then I remembered a poem from Dylan Thomas, and it read:

I have heard many years of telling,
And many years should see some change.
The ball I threw while playing in the park
Has not yet reached the ground.

And it gave me the image of a curse on this place that came to fruition in its own time–it didn’t happen overnight, it happened over a hundred years.

When I got home I wrote the whole script, probably in a week. I was very lit up about it, and I had gotten exactly what I wanted by getting on the road like that. But it went fallow, because I was a young actor, and nobody was was going to make a movie that I wrote. I think in the movie world, an actor with a script under his arm is the most terrifying thing a producer can see.

Then over the years the script was lost. But I never forgot it, it was always in the back of my mind. And when I met Mike Richardson, and he said, “Lance, do you want to do a comic?” that came right to the forefront of my mind, and I said, “Yeah, I’ll do one!” It was a handshake deal, and here we are, a year and a half later! It’s the most phenomenal process I’ve ever been involved with. I really enjoyed it, especially because of the way we’re working. The story has gotten richer and richer, and by the time you get to the last comic, you’re going to be absolutely blown away. It’s building into something, each comic is getting better and better.

To Hell You Ride #1 Preview Page I’ve heard from a lot of people who originally came from writing TV or movies that it was an easier transition to writing comics. Is that how it was for you?

LH: No, no. The last comics I read, I was probably seven or eight years old, and it was old Tales From the Crypt, with all the wonderful artists of that time. I wasn’t into superheroes. Except for the Sub-Mariner, I liked that one. It was very edgy. But I think the thing that lends me to comics is that I think in pictures, I don’t think in words so much, although I have a skill with dialogue. I really think in pictures, and of course that’s what comics are.

One of the most amazing aspects of comics is that you have to be really specific and selective about the visual. You don’t have sounds or movement, not even limited animation. It has so much restraint in it, but the best kind. I think without restraint, there’s no art. It becomes jazz, and that’s something else. So in the case of this comic, we’re walking on the edge of razor blades, because we really want to tell this story in a precise way, and comics lend themselves to that, if you have a vision about it. It’s very lyrical and spiritual thus far. Is any of the Native American lore based in reality?

LH: No, we came up with that. We created our own mythology, but the truth of it all was based in fact — the nature of the spirit world with Native Americans. But we’re being upfront: the first issue is “White Man’s Guilt.” We’re trying to say right off the top that we are not Native Americans writing about it. What we’re doing is something much different. We’re trying to do it out of respect and admiration.

The climate of the world right now is so violent and so crazed with fear, and we’re all living with it. We’re trying to ignore it as much as we can, but we can’t. So this story is trying to give an answer to what that’s all about. To Hell You Ride is current, but it’s about something very real and old. Really, in the Native American world, what happened yesterday is the same as what is happening today. There’s no break, there’s no past. We’re all part of everything that’s ever gone on, and it’s still here, it’s still alive.

To Hell You Ride #1 Preview Page When we first meet Seven George, also known as Two-Dogs, he’s pretty down and out. What has brought him to this state?

LH: Despair. When you think of the history of Native Americans, they’ve been very attacked. And when you get into the modern age, everybody’s still not come to terms with what’s gone on in the past, and we’re trying to bring it to the present. We’re saying, it didn’t end, and it’s still not over. When you think of the idea that people went and shot the buffalo for their skins, but they were also shooting them to take the food away from the tribes, who lived on them, it’s horrible.

But we’re not trying to preach, or anything like that. We’re here to entertain, but to enlighten. Why is Jim Shipps so invested in Seven George? What’s their relationship like?

LH: Well, in the next comic, you see that Shipps was in Vietman with Seven George’s father. They fought together in Vietman, and Seven George’s father ended up killing himself, so Shipps took Seven George on as his protector, and to help him. When you go to war, the people you fight beside become closer to you than anyone on the planet, because of the high stakes involved and the experiences they had. Really, we will never know what that is, because we’ve never done it, and never been there.

And so what we’re creating is, what are all the bonds that draw people together, that hold them in each others’ lives? I think in the world we’re living in, what’s being lost is real connection, because the material world is so enticing and so comforting. You can lie back forever and be surrounded by material things, but in reality, the only thing of any value is connection. The rest is sold or auctioned off the minute you’re gone. I heard that in the original script, Jim Shipps was the main character. Why the change?

LH: Well, after 30 years of thinking about it, I realized really where the story was. Shipps is an instrument now, and a good one. Because of the symbol of war. One of the lines in an upcoming issue is, “You can’t catch rain with a fist.” And I’ll show that there’s a feeling that sacrifice is the mother of sacred things.

To Hell You Ride #1 Preview Page Speaking of sacrifice, the first issue opens with these braves sacrificing themselves during a ritual that becomes a curse. Did they intend to create a curse?

LH: No, no, not at all. What went wrong is that the whites started killing them. It was capricious shooting, because the ritual was to ask forgiveness for not protecting the sacred ground, their burial ground. So when the whites stopped it by shooting these guys, what ended up happening was it turned into a curse, the curse of the white man, really. If you meddle in certain things, you’re changing their outcome. During your career, you’ve worked in pretty much every genre: you’ve done action-adventure, sci-fi, horror, videogames . . .

LH: And Westerns — I’ve done about six Westerns. My intention is to live a thousand lifetimes, so I want to play all these characters, doctors — you name it!

I’m not done yet, I’m far from done. I just got back from Detroit playing a surgeon searching for immortal life, it’s incredible. It’s a movie called Needlestick. I always dig into the background of things, and I found that 800,000 people on the planet get accidentally stuck by needles in the course of one year. And when they do that — we’re talking about caretakers, we’re talking about nurses, doctors, police, firemen — they know the danger of getting HIV, or Hepatitis A and C, which is deadly. There’s so many outcomes to whatever you choose to do in your life. How do comics fans compare to the other types of fans you usually run into?

LH: You know, I’ve always called them the tribe, I don’t call them fans. I think we’re all involved in a search. When you think about why there are vampire films and superhero comics, all of these things that are an aspect of our own considerations. It’s the American pastime, to dabble in all of the aspects of creation. It’s like we created ourselves, in a way. But we were something already before we created all of these different reflections. Do you plan on writing more comics after To Hell You Ride?

LH: Oh man, by the time we get to the end of the series, it will be two years that we’ve been working on this. So I want to share a bottle of champagne with Joe Maddrey and Tom Mandrake. And then take a nice nap.

To Hell You So Joseph, what’s it like working with Lance?

Joseph Maddrey: It’s great, because Lance is a natural storyteller. A few days ago, he said to me, “I’m not a writer. I’m more of a lawyer plant. Things that happen around me get stuck in my quills.” That spontaneous metaphor just goes to show what a great storyteller he is!

He’s a keen observer and a very thoughtful person . . . and he genuinely believes in the power of story to change people’s lives. We both share that belief, and I think it’s why we work so well together. Lance mentioned that you, he, and Tom Mandrake work together via Skype–what are the advantages of that approach, as a writer?

JM: The main advantage is that we’re producing a much more detailed and nuanced story! If a writer (or an actor, or an illustrator . . .) works in isolation on a story for only a few days or weeks, there is a very limited number of thoughts and influences you can bring to that world. You’ll end up with whatever thoughts and ideas you can summon on cue.

We’ve been working on this story now for over a year. A lot of the detail and nuance has come out of living with it for so long, allowing the characters to evolve in our minds, and being completely open to each others’ ideas. When you allow a story to exist in your life over a long period of time, it becomes something else . . . it sort of takes on a life of its own. What makes Seven George a compelling character?

JM: I think what makes him compelling initially is his vulnerability. He’s vulnerable in a way that’s easy to understand: He knows he’s not being the best version of himself. He knows it, but he doesn’t know how to change. Over the course of the miniseries, I think he becomes a compelling character for different reasons. He becomes more enigmatic, and I think more inspiring. This story is basically his journey out of that place of vulnerability, so he’s going to change a lot. We’ve seen a little of Five George’s story — Seven George’s grandfather. Will we be learning more about the others?

JM: Six George is a big part of issue two . . . and we’re definitely not done with Five George yet.

To Hell You So the Native Americans’ original ritual was transformed into a curse by the white men–why is it revisiting the land now?

JM: Lance says that one of his original inspirations for the story was a poem called “Should Lanterns Shine” by Dylan Thomas [referenced above]. The last two lines are:

The ball I threw while playing in the park
Has not yet reached the ground.

He was fascinated by that phrase and it gave him the idea that the ritual/curse plays out “in its own time.” I can’t give you a better answer than that, except to say that this mystery is right at the core of the story we’re telling.

We’re all wired with this instinct to try and explain things rationally. If we can explain something rationally, then we’ll accept it. If we can’t explain it, often we reject it . . . or we call it “super-natural,” which might or might not be a dismissal. But I think the “super-natural” is usually just a label for things that we can’t explain yet. That’s what’s going on in this story . . . the characters don’t understand it yet. What’s your favorite part of working on this comic?

JM: Every time Tom sends new pages, I just sit and stare at them in awe. The same is true when Cris (Peter, To Hell You Ride‘s colorist) adds the colors. Being aware of all of the choices that go into every step of this creative process has dramatically changed the way I read comics. A while back, Lance — who is a compulsive potter — said that when he looks at a piece of pottery, he doesn’t see a finished piece, he sees the process that went into making it. That’s how I feel now about comics, and I’m really grateful for that. What do you think readers will be most affected or excited by?

JM: Honestly, I hope that readers are affected and excited by different elements of the story. We have tried to tell a story that will resonate on many different levels . . . a story that people can keep coming back to and always see something new. If it works out that way, we’ll know we did our jobs right.

To Hell You Tom, how did you become involved with To Hell You Ride?

Tom Mandrake: Steve Niles contacted me and offered me a chance to do an illustration for Lance’s autobiography, Not Bad For A Human. I jumped on that, as I’ve been a fan of Lance’s work for years. After the book was published Joe contacted me and invited me to a horror con in Cherry Hill, NJ to sit with him and Lance, sign some books, hang out a bit. I jumped on that too! I felt immediately comfortable with Joe and Lance and had a great day, ready to go home happy, but later that night they started talking about this idea Lance had years ago. They wanted to develop it into a comic book series. I somewhat cautiously said I’d like to be involved and they both gave me a, “We were hoping you would say that!” look, and we were off and running! What has been the biggest challenge for you, bringing this world to life?

TM: Our story moves from one time period to another, sometimes three eras in one issue. It’s important to keep the storytelling clear and not lose the reader in the time changes. There is also a wide range of types of characters, some visually very broad, others more refined. I’m trying to be aware of the presentation of each character as they relate to the story. What are your influences, artistically?

TM: If we’re speaking specifically about comic book artists, my first introduction to the field were the 1960s Marvel artists. My attention quickly broadened out to the DC, Gold Key and Charlton books and artists of the same era. Simultaneously I was discovering the Warren books, those artists expanded my thinking to include a fascination with black and white work and following their careers back into the ’50s helped me discover EC Comics.

My dad was always a comic book and strip fan. He was constantly feeding me new information, new artists to look at, Foster, Raymond, Eisner, his favorites. Dad was an artist and my first real art teacher, the first person to show me how to pull a good line. I’ve always enjoyed a wide range of styles, and if there is any one element that is most important to me, it’s storytelling. I love good storytelling, regardless of style! My experience going to the Joe Kubert School, learning from Joe and the other instructors was a peak experience. Joe and dad are the biggest influences on me as an artist.

Beyond the comic book field I’m a fan of the Brandywine school of painters and other great illustrators like Gordon Grant, Gibson, Parrish. I guess I could go on at length, there have been so many great artists to draw inspiration from in many different areas of illustration, painting, and graphic storytelling. As an artist, what’s it been like to directly collaborate with the writers throughout the process?

TM: It is the best kind of collaboration, one that is always focused on being true to the story and the storytelling. A rare opportunity for an organic back and forth flow among the creators that creates tremendous energy and opens the project to moments of true inspiration. We have long conversations that add new dimensions to the story at almost all stages of the process. Lance and Joe are supportive, enthusiastic collaborators always open to trying new things. I feel lucky to be part of To Hell You Ride!

Our sincere thanks to Lance, Joseph, and Tom for taking the time to talk with us. Make sure to pick up your copy of To Hell You Ride #1, and pre-order the rest of the series to save 20%!


Have you read To Hell You Ride? Are you excited to discover the rest of the story? Post your comments below!

  • Jason Hill

    Great interviews. I really enjoyed the first issue and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.