Christopher Hinz’s immersion into a Liege-Killer world of his own making.
Christopher Hinz has been immersed in his highly successful Liege-Killer world for some time in several different mediums, and yet manages to keep the series fresh while maintaining a sense of continuity. After reading his latest Liege-Killer novel Binary Storm, a prequel in the Liege-Killer series, I wanted to know how he did this.
You’ve had an interesting writing career.
I’ve had a passion for writing since I was very young, but I didn’t have the discipline to carry through completing anything. I only became really serious about writing science fiction, which I love, in my late twenties. We’re going back to the 1980s here, so I started writing my first book on a typewriter. I couldn’t sell it and it had a lot of problems. That was when I moved on and wrote Liege-Killer, written in 1985 and 1986 and published in 1987, which begins the Paratwa Saga. After this I sold the other two books in the Saga, Ash Ock and The Paratwa, in the late 1980s and 1990s.
I’ve been occupied largely with the Paratwa Saga universe ever since, with comic books, graphic novels and some side projects based around it. I even wrote a screenplay which I sold, but that has not yet been produced.
How is writing for a comic book or graphic novel different to writing a novel?
I treat each of the mediums differently. For Paratwa projects, there’s a different continuity in each of them. They’re all very discrete types of projects even though they’re roughly based in the same universe.
In a novel you’re writing pure prose to be discerned by the reader. In a comic book script you describe what the images are so the artist can pick up the story and do their part of the job.
Is writing for a comic book like writing a screenplay?
Yes it’s like a script where you’re writing dialogue and stage directions. Although screenplays are a cross between novels and comics in a certain sense, because you’re describing a little more of the universe than you would in a comic book script.
When I’ve worked for DC or Marvel they assign an artist. I talk with the artist mostly via e-mail. Mostly the situation is that the writer does the script, which then gets handed to the artist. There is some feedback in there, but the big companies all work in a process where the writer does the writing, the artist creates the blocks of graphics, the colourist then colours in and so on. This might seem like a bit of a production line, but I had a good experience working with those companies.
The original comic I did for DC was called Gemini Blood, which was about the Paratwa universe, but was only loosely connected to Liege-Killer.
In a novel, comic or screenplay, no matter how many things are happening in the plot, you have to maintain a narrative focus so that everything hangs together. In a comic you can’t put as much detail in and you have to supply enough direction in order for the artist to carry your ideas and storyline over into a comic which is effectively a linked series of pictures or scenes. How do you make sure this happens?
The similarity between a novel and comic is that you’re still creating the entire story. Even with a comic made up of panels you have a rough idea of where you’re going in all the different media, be it screenplays, books or comics. There are writers who write without knowing exactly where their story is taking them. You can get away with it more in a novel, but not really with a comic, because you could so easily become lost along the way.
In a comic you’re relying on the artist. You might be setting the stage and describing the scene, but the artist might not interpret it exactly as you’ve envisioned it. In the comic book you have to break things down into panels and into a certain series of steps that hopefully flow together to create the whole narrative that you’ve put together.
Do you plot out your novels? Binary Storm was my first outing into the Liege-Killer world and there was a lot going on in there, yet I was able to keep a clear sense of the plot in my head and understand the way the world worked.
I concentrate on my main characters, which in Binary Storm is Nick and Bel. They’re the highway you’re following all through the narrative. In terms of preplanning I’m probably somewhere in between the two extremes of having everything plotted out and just writing as I go along. I don’t completely plan a novel out, but at the same time I don’t leave it completely to chance. I do some plotting in advance. Once I’ve done that I get going.
Something else I think I do differently to a lot of novelists is I tend not to write in terms of drafts. I only do one draft, but I’m constantly going back into it as I’m working on it. I might be on chapter 12 and something will occur to me I need to include in chapter 2, so I’ll go back and fix that. That in turn might have an influence on something that happens in chapter 37. This means that I’m constantly going back and forth, so that when I am done the novel is essentially written, except for going back to do a final polish where I’ll clean up word problems here and there and maybe some sentence structure.
The idea of working in multiple drafts is really somewhat anachronistic today, given that the advent of computers means you can easily jump around a Word document to change something. In the olden days you had to write with a pen or a typewriter, using your carbon paper to make a copy. Then you had to go back and type a new draft. You don’t need to do that with a computer, because you don’t even have to print anything out.
For readers who are not familiar with the Liege-Killer universe, explain where Binary Storm sits in it.
Binary Storm’s a prequel to the other three books. It occurs about 80 years into our future, in the late twenty-first century. In terms of the other three books, they pick up several hundred years later.
Nick is your main character and is a very interesting kind of hero because he’s no martial arts-endowed Adonis, capable of fighting his way out of any situation.
He’s a lot more fun that way. When I created him years ago I thought of Nick not so much as an upfront character in the midst of the action, but more of a behind-the-scenes character, manipulating things, which he does through all the novels, including Binary Storm.
The superman characters can be overrated. You get to a point where they can do practically anything and they’re almost invincible. You know in a comic-book or a comic-book inspired movie, nothing’s going to happen to them.
This is why I think it’s much more interesting to have a character like Nick who’s a lot more grounded. He’s obviously incredibly brilliant and can do a lot of things by thinking his way through situations.
Putting the beautiful Annabel or Bel into the mix and creating a love interest for Nick added some depth to the novel.
Nick has no real female companionship in the later books. I thought I would have him develop a loving relationship with someone. Bel is very politically savvy, and someone who is connected with the early days of E-tech, which monitors technology and prevents it developing too quickly.
Nick also has a very grumpy sidekick, Sosoome, who argues with him a lot.
Sosoome is a very advanced robot shaped roughly like a cat. Very smart, but Nick has programmed him to be a wiseass and not always very friendly. Nick did that so he would have someone to play off. This means Sosoome is not a typical robot companion who says just what it thinks the owner wants to hear. He wanted Sosoome to constantly challenge him.
I noticed that even the focused Paratwa assassins had more depth to them than just killing machines.
The ruling breed of Paratwa of the late twenty-first century, where Binary Storm takes place, uses these assassins as tools to do their dirty work. They have become official enemies of the state. It’s far more interesting to dissect that a bit and have some of these characters who are totally evil, and some who are not. Added to that they all have different agendas. Ektor Fang, who is one of Nick’s contacts, is one of the Paratwa who is not a straightforward bad guy.
The political situation in Binary Storm sometimes makes for uncomfortable reading, because it strikes chords with that of today’s world.
I had plenty of inspiration from the real world. We have this very complex world today where we have 200-plus nations trading with one another and fighting with one another, and that’s just the governments. Then you have mega corporations who are involved with multiple governments they’re manipulating to their advantage behind the scenes. So I just tried to take that and mirrored it to give the story a realistic feel.
You’ve been immersed in the Liege-Killer world for some time. Is it something you think about quite a bit? Binary Storm gives the impression you have a sense of excitement at going back in and exploring it again.
If I’m working on a Liege-Killer universe I’m thinking about it constantly. Although whatever project I’m working on, whether it’s a book, screenplay or comic book, I’m thinking about that project most of the time.
Binary Storm took me about 10 months from start to finish. That was a much faster pace than I was used to with my earlier books. It came about that I kept thinking about that story in that 10-month period fairly regularly, even to the point of waking up in the middle of the night and thinking about a plot element, which I would write down in a notebook by my bed before I forgot it. That way I would be constantly incorporating notes into the story throughout the day.
Once I’m into a project I’m really into it.