"Gates" by Hal Hefner is the first digital comic being presented by the legendary Heavy Metal Magazine. The comic will also feature a music soundtrack -- just like the Heavy Metal film released in 1981. Hefner chatted with MTV Geek about Gates, the influence of Heavy Metal (the magazine and the movie) on his work, and working in digital.
MTV Geek: Could you give our readers a brief synopsis of Gates?
Hal Hefner: The story centers on a specially-conceived young man, named Gates, who is living a wretched existence in an isolated negative utopian society, deep within the caverns of an industrial mountain complex. When Gates breaks free from this colony he is thrust onto a lush alien world filled with strange creatures, and ruled by Soloman—a nightmarish, god-like overlord, whose malevolence reigns supreme. With organic plant-based technology, Soloman captures Gates and his two human companions Adria and Kano. With the arrival of the humans, Soloman is instantly obsessed with the extermination of mankind and all life on the world. With the help of a tribe of intelligent indigenous creatures, Gates must learn to use Soloman's organic technology to defeat him and take back a planet which is rightfully his.
Geek: You’ve noted that you were a big fan of the Heavy Metal movie and comic. Could you tell us a little about how they might have influenced this project?
Hefner: I always loved artists like Moebius and Richard Corben when I was a kid and would grab Heavy Metal magazine off the newsstand anytime I could. As a young punk growing up in upstate NY, Heavy Metal actually introduced me to some very cool non-commercial art that you couldn’t normally find in a small town, like HR Giger. In the 80’s-early 90’s Heavy Metal was a great source of exciting new sci-fi in a boring and over-inflated commercial comic market I had grown tired of. I loved how Heavy Metal was raw, and real and didn’t apologize for it—ever.
But in all honesty, I LOVED the movie most of all. I rented the VCR tape often and was obsessed with memorizing the lines and drawing images from it. One of my favorite cinematic lines ever is from Taarna, “Death, Death to all who oppose us!” I loved the rawness of the animation and the variations of styles ranging from the Bernie Wrightson-like horror short, B-17, to the lovable loser Harry Canyon. I particularly loved the fact that it had a soundtrack with bands like Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, DEVO and Stevie Nicks. It was a unique and free piece of movie making that seemed to sum up my childhood/teens and at the time was very cutting edge. Heavy Metal was a great “screw the system” film and I have always been an “eff the system” kind of guy so it felt me well and spoke to the creative beast inside me.
With Gates I really wanted to capture the feel of classic storytelling, stunning psychedelic visuals and of course—a soundtrack. As much as I am excited about my story, I’m so grateful for the amazing musical soundtrack I’ve discovered as well. All the details about the soundtrack will be revealed in due time. I also have a secret little plan to tie Gates in with the original Heavy Metal movie—further down the road. Those of you who pay close attention to the details might be able to figure it out.
Geek: One of the dominant themes in the story seems to be “a better controlled life through chemistry.” Could you talk a little about the story and its world’s relation to science?
Hefner: When I first began to imagine this world in which Gates was born, I imagined something really cold, emotionally. I wanted to capture the terror and diabolical sounds of Pink Floyd’s, “Welcome to the Machine” and the foreboding lyrics of Zager and Evans' ”In the year 2525.”
I am personally very interested in and I guess, fascinated with, the theory of Transhumanism. For those of you that are unfamiliar, Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement that champions the use of science and technology to improve human existence, including mental and physical characteristics and capacities. Quite possibly, Transhumanism could evolve the human race in a number of ways whether it’s genetically enhanced humans, cyborgs or a combo of the two. It’s a wide open, polarizing topic that is very exciting to think about, yet there is an element of terror at the same time.
From my research in Transhumanism, the ConGenement was born. ConGenement simply means, Controlled Genetic Management. In this world, the ConGenement is a utilitarian government using science and religion to control the population. Science is God and the only way to achieve a higher state of spiritualism is to allow science to “recycle” you through a ceremony called Ascension. I really wanted to project a very scary but somehow realistic view of the future of humanity. In short, I imagined what would happen if we allowed science and technology to fall into the wrong hands of a corrupt, religious system and combined that with an extrapolation of recent things that our government is doing to take away our freedom with laws like the Patriot Act.
Geek: There’s a good deal of hybridization suggested in this world—the organic life outside of the city appears to be a mix of genotypes and even the human characters are pan-ethnic in some way. How does this wild mix of traits affect the world of the story?
Hefner: This story truly is the “ultimate biological melting pot.” Again, I really wanted to project a creepy future for humanity and what would happen if we allowed science to fall into the wrong hands of a corrupt religious government system. I imagined the ConGenement having a small pool of elite genes to pick from in order to “produce” people for their mechanical society. It seemed logical to me that after many years of mixing this gene pool, everyone would become culturally mixed. It’s really a current reflection of modern times, modern families and I believe a logical statement as to where we are heading as a human race. More and more the modern family is mixing races and merging cultures. In my mind, Utopia is a world where the racial lines are blurred and humanity is one united race of cultures. Right now we are moving in that direction and I believe it’s a great direction but things such as religious values still seem to be clogging that process of harmony. That’s what I wanted here, cultural harmony—but with a dystopian undertone.
Soloman on the other hand is a different evil altogether as he uses sing organic plant-based technology to create a twisted world of alien life. Like the ConGenement, Soloman also manipulates the genome, but doesn’t relegate it to humanity. Soloman’s history promises to be a real important and dynamic part of the story. Without giving away too much, I can tell you that Soloman is not a fan of humanity and this disdain is what causes him to experiment with animals. I actually think people will find the chlorophyll based creatures like the Zeenupods, very, very interesting too.
Geek: This story—like some of the most effective sci-fi—starts off in a dystopia. Where do you personally see us going as a species?
Hefner: Honestly, I wish I had more hope for humanity, but when I watch CNN or read the newspaper, all I can do is shake my head at the compassionless actions of people. I actually think we’re heading into some really scary times, if we allow them to be. When you look around at such a politically divided country such as America, mired in a strange economic frontier, it seems to be a microcosm of the world. These issues we face in America are everywhere, in various forms, and it’s kind of frightening how we seem to be losing our grip on “freedom”. Intellectually I often wonder if we’re regressing as a species rather than growing with technology. Is technology making us smarter or lazier?
I believe that in every one of us there is the ability to be something special, but I think there are some outside forces that keep people down. I’m very inspired by Orwell, Huxley, Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, HG Wells and other great sci-fi futurists. Many of them predicted the social and political events happening today. I just reread 1984 a few months ago and it’s very disheartening to see Big Brother really taking shape in America. Are we to believe the version of history that's presented in our school text books, everything from Christopher Columbus to the justification for the Vietnam War? Were there really weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Listen to the government's justification for TSA screenings. Look at the government's reaction to Wikileaks. And so on.
It seems that as a society we are becoming more self-centered in a world of our own technology. Next time you go into a restaurant pay attention to the couple next to you not talking to each other while eating, yet texting on their smart phones. Look at how many people are in their own little technological world the next time you walk down the street, go to a mall or drive in your car.
It also seems like we’re becoming more preoccupied and “dumbed” down as a society to pay attention to what’s really happening at the government level. More people care about what OchoCinco said on Twitter and who won Dancing with the Stars than exploring the stars and question governmental policies such as the Orwellian, Patriot Act. It’s easier to just ignore those things and I think the media really does a good job at jamming these distractions down our throat.
But having said all of these unflattering things about society, I also see an awakening. There are people out there paying attention to what’s truly going on with our government and other world governments. I see a disdain for our politicians that is growing and more and more I find people on a daily basis that really do “think for themselves and question authority”, as Timothy Leary stated. In researching Gates, I really studied conspiracy theories, new scientific theories and other off the beaten path speculation brewing in our culture. I found a lot of it terribly disturbing, yet terribly real. It amazed me how as a society we question the facts that are fed to us very little. For an example, how many Christians know the true origin of their religion, or even the true origin of the Christmas tree? I bet many would be appalled at what they’d find as far as Egyptian and Pagan roots. But to me the history of humanity is what I yearn for not causally ignore. And to me, history is what will guide our future.
Truthfully, I have no idea where we’re headed as a society, but if a religious government faction took control of science and technology like I honestly could see happening, we could be in trouble. And to that end, Gates is my sci-fi allegorical speculation. But I like to think, that no matter what, there will always be someone that possesses that innate quality we call heroism. I hope that there will always be someone who will rise above and evolve intellectually to persevere with compassion. Someone who will fight the evil agendas pressed down upon us by those in power who aim to take our freedoms away. Someone like Gates.
Geek: You’ve got the honor of being the first online comic from Heavy Metal. Why go for digital distribution with Gates?
Hefner: Going digital seemed like the natural thing to do. But in attacking this new frontier of digital distribution, I also saw an opportunity to really bring in some of the core features that really cemented a Heavy Metal audience back in the 80’s—music. With digital distribution it allowed me to bring in music and other transmedia related pieces such as video, animation and more. The online space seemed like a natural fit for Heavy Metal. I actually see Gates as just the beginning of what could be a huge outreach of very cool and radically different medias in the future—for Heavy Metal. I really want to give people an experience and take comic book reading and enjoyment to another level. People are hungry for new ways to be entertained and I think we’re onto some really great things here artistically and musically, with some really talented people.
Geek: How did going for a digital release affect the production of the comic or its style?
Hefner: It is definitely a different production schedule as opposed to the bimonthly release of Heavy Metal Magazine. I would say the most challenging thing though is that the entire comic is digitally painted, written, lettered and laid out by me. I love detail so it’s been a long, exhausting but extremely rewarding process. Stylistically it has allowed me to be myself. At heart I am a painter. I love to paint so really this is the only way I know how to do it. The reception from fans of Heavy Metal has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s truly a joy and honor to create this story for such awesome, loyal fans.
Geek: There’s a multimedia component—the comics, an ARG, a soundtrack—to Gates. How did these elements come together?
Hefner: In addition to my illustration career, I have a background in the advertising industry. I’ve been around marketing and advertising for the last twelve plus years and I’ve worked with some of the most talented people and companies in Los Angeles. I picked up a lot from every place I’ve worked and Gates is the culmination of all of my talents in one place. It has taken a lot of planning, hard work and luck to put this together.
I’ve had some assistance along the way from some amazing friends in various industries that have helped me develop some of these ideas and put them together. I’ve also had the luck of working with three awesome bands, which will be part of the soundtrack, LoveKrafty, Inside The Black and Rusty Eye. And of course I’ve been very privileged to work with the great Kevin Eastman. I’m a lucky, grateful dude.
Geek: What’s the planned release schedule for the book?
Hefner: The plan is pretty simple; Gates will be released in issues. I will release anywhere from 20-28 pages an issue online for free. The first day I will release five pages, then one page, each week thereafter. After the initial run of the issue I will allow it to stay up for free on the website for a period of time. After this time, I will then pull down the entire issue, make it available for sale with some extra goodies, a few more pages, some more blood, nudity, etc. and distribute it in various channels online and via mobile and other applications.
Then I will start the process all over again with a new issue, continuing the story. At the end of the run of the issues, once the initial series is complete, I will compile a printed graphic novel book with all sorts of extra material such as sketches and other fun things.
The channels of distribution are organic and I plan on exploring new ways to do things all the time.
This is just the beginning and Gates is a very rich universe loaded with stories and I honestly see it going on forever and evolving in story, media and format. It’s a very exciting time.
Geek: Could you give our readers a little tease of what to expect in Gates?
Hefner: What people can expect is an exciting universe filled with strange creatures and endless possibilities. Expect sci-fi, horror and fantasy all wrapped into one exciting tale with stunning digitally painted visuals. This project is very dear to me, so you are getting my passion, all 100% of it.
Gates is well thought out storytelling that is deeper than it appears on the surface. Yes there is blood and action but this is not a mindless tale with nudity for the sake of nudity. People are intelligent, especially comic fans. They want good stories and violence and nudity and action. Take out good storytelling and you’ve got garbage. I am really excited to give the fans a great piece of art and a great story.
As I alluded to earlier on, there are also lots of surprises hidden in the story and around the internet that will pop up here and there through the evolution of Gates. This I think will have true Heavy Metal fans going crazy and hopefully convert a new generation of Metal Heads to join us for the ride.
We’re also working on some really cool opportunities that are in negotiation right now with the soundtrack. If all works out as planned, ideally we will partner with some really famous rock legends, charities and more. It’s very exciting.
I also plan on pushing the transmedia boundaries. Ideally I’m targeting video comics, animation, online games, live action movies, action figures, apparel and more. My commitment to the fans is that I am going to push it to the limit in every way I can and in true Heavy Metal style, it’s “balls to the wall!” and “Death, Death to all who oppose us!”
You can read Gates at http://gates.heavymetal.com/
And don't forget to watch the official trailer below!