Sunday, August 19, 2012

Elsewhere In The Multiverse Part Three: Meet Tommy Hancock

Far too often, the phrase 'years in the making' is used in a reflexive way.

Not when it comes to Tommy Hancock's Yesteryear. This is a book that Tommy started working on way back in his fandom days, posting nascent version of his epic super-hero story/conspiracy thriller on his website to little fanfare. Now that he's the head man of Pro Se Press, one of the leading lights in the New Pulp movement, he's managed to perfect this story of a young man who may hold the secrets of the super-heroic world and put it out into the world. And it's not hard to see why it took so long, as Yesteryear is an essential work for fans interested in super-hero prose fiction, as he's managed to fabricate an entire history for a world where the presence of super-heros and villains threaten to warp the very fabric of morality.

Of course, being a busy man, Tommy Hancock's done a whole lot more. He's spearheaded the Pulp Obscura imprint, where modern writers are invited to revive little known characters from the golden age of pulps. And he's also one of the masterminds behind The Sovereign City Project, a shared universe revolving around a fictitious city and the heroes that operate within.

(And if things go well, The Nocturne Travel Agency will soon offer trips to Sovereign City....but you'll learn more about that in the coming months).

So let's learn more about the man who knows where all the paranormal bodies are...Tommy Hancock!

Tommy, thanks for visiting The Agency.

You've worked on Yesteryear for....well, years. How did this novel develop in your head?

Very paradoxically actually. In a lot of ways it swirled out a whole lot of chaotic images, snippets of stories, and general plot lines. But, and here's where the paradox comes in, it also arose out of one simple goal, something a lot of fanpeople have before they grow (I almost said mature, but then again, not sure if I've done that) up and become creators themselves. And that goal was to create my own take on the era of characters I absolutely adored. The Golden Age. And at the time I came up with this initially, the only concept that had really explored the effects of the Golden Age on the modern Era of comics was Roy Thomas' Infinity Inc. So I theorized...what if I went a step further...what it there were heroes....what if there was consistency and even growth of that population over decades..... Using that concept, it became obvious that, unlike the Golden Age of Comics, I couldn't start with spandex and capes. I had to go back a bit farther...The roots of this complex universe had to be in Pulps.

And that's one of the things I've really enjoyed about reading the book, is the sense that this is a fully realized world that was thoroughly changed that one day in 1929. I imagine you had countless stories in this continuum you could have told. How did you end up picking and choosing the stories to highlight in those excerpts from Ramsey Long's manuscript?

I'm glad you enjoyed it...and that's a good question that I've gotten before....but to be honest...there was no other way to tell this other than the stories that Ramsey Long wanted to tell. This whole concept....the novel, the trilogy, the stories that come out of it and grow around it, they all revolve around Ramsey Long and to a large degree his modern counterpoint. This the story of one man....a man who was there at the beginning of quite literally the birth of a brand new era and who fought through his own childhood wonder and amazement and saw the underbelly, yet kept enough of the golden feeling these heroes gave him to actually become one. So the stories that are in Yesteryear and will appear in the future volumes definitely have to be the ones told.

There seems to be this tendency in mainstream comics to deny the richness of The Golden Age--look at how DC has obliterated their heritage with their last reboot, for example. What is it about the Golden Age of Comics that appeals to you?

It's not just the Golden Age of Comics..... It's that era of creativity period. And it actually starts long before the late 20s, it reaches back to the first time Ned Buntline put a pen to paper about the adventures Buffalo Bill never had. There's a period in American culture from about 1870 to 1954 that gave birth to the strongest representations of genre literature, to the best concepts of hero and villain, good and evil, conflict and resolution. If you list the characters that people remember, the ones that inspire the creations of others.... most come from that era. Shelock Holmes (although not American) is a great example of the vibrancy of this period that gave birth to so many homages and even pastiches that still influence creators today. Before Doc Savage there was Wylie's Gladiator and even the near superhuman Nick Carter (who exhibited abilities beyond those of mortal men long before he was ever Killmaster or whatever travesty they turned him into in the 1960s).

So you approached this all as one flowing continuum, as a single entity and opposed to how some people would approach it by separating the mediums (i.e. keeping pulp characters and comic characters as their own separate 'timelines')?

Well sure, because look at how they developed. Pulps didn't give birth to comics, then just simply fade away. Yes, it's true that comics likely contributed to the death of Pulps, but it was a slow death indeed, the final breath escaping long after comic books originally debuted. So these mediums and the characters they ushered in coexisted, fed off each other, and continually reinvented themselves due to the existence of other mediums. Yesteryear deals with all these concepts, not just Pulp and Comics, but it also hints at the influence of Hollywood on the society and particularly the Heroes and Villains of the Era. These characters weren't created to live in separate continuities ever, they never have.

So are there stories that predate 1929 that might be told in future volumes?

Not necessarily. In Yesteryear, it's very clearly stated. Everything changes one day in 1929. Having said that, though, there will be connections to the past, even centuries in the past that that one day in 1929 will bring to the forefront and will have effects on the modern day, particularly of later volumes. But no, almost all, if not all the stories will be firmly centered in the post 1929 era.

When working on Yesteryear, did you have a master document, a timeline or concordance so you could keep what amounts to almost a century of history straight?

I usually don't work with an outline. In the case of Yesteryear, what I did was actually write Who's Who/Handbook type entries. I had a half page to a page on every character (most of who did not even make it into Yesteryear) and of course the entries intertwined and tangled together...but that was really it, no true timeline. I think, for me anyway, plotting out things so specifically hampers what I do as a writer, it takes away from the surprise of the process for me.

Were these Who's Who entries just prose pieces, or did you sketch out some of the characters?


There does seem to be a theme of how the nature of super-heroics have changed in the modern era, how they've become less idealized....why do you think this has happened in the comic industry? Do you think a yearning for that more idealistic, moral sort of storytelling is what is causing the interest in New Pulp as a genre and a movement?

Again, this isn't about the comics industry alone. Post modernism has taken ahold of all mediums, particularly since the 1960s, and suddenly every villain has to have something heroic and every hero must really be a dastardly crumbum deep inside. I deal with this in Yesteryear, not because that sort of story appeals to me, because it actually doesn't at all...but it's a part of the timeline that I'm writing within. And yes, there's quite a bit of truth to the idea that New Pulp and other things, like family themed movies and kiddie comics, are seeing a resurgence because some people really do want things to be more clearly defined, more black and white. But there's also an interest in New Pulp and similar things because there are creators who want to push the envelope, who want to take that concept of black and white and push it even farther.

One of the results of the journey we go on in Yesteryear is a character taking on a 'legacy identity.' Legacy identities used to be a big part of mainstream comics--it wasn't that long ago one of the comic houses defined themselves as 'the home of the legacy character'....what is the appeal of a legacy character, of the same identity being handed down from generation to generation?

Hm...I'm not sure that it has anything to do with appeal for me. Legacy characters are in Yesteryear because that is a major aspect of human nature. We pass things on, on to our children, on to those who come after, even on to those who don't want them. Legacy is part of existence and any universe, be it full of super heroes or angsty 1990s stereotypes drinking their lives away at a coffee shop, will have a component of legacy within it.

One of the more modern touches is the conspiracy angle that acts as the MacGuffin that drives much of the novel's plot...conspiracies have always been around in media, but they seem to have exploded in the last twenty years or so, infusing all of our entertainment. Why do you think people are attracted to the idea of conspiracies?

Oh, I think the interest in conspiracies has been around since the first time a caveman saw two of his cavepeers talking in hushed whispers across the cave from him. We are curious creatures, which is not unique to the human race, but combine that with our unique intelligence and suddenly we are curious with purpose. And it's not just to's to know all the angles. Now take that concept and combine it with the growth and personalization of media and communication in the last twenty to forty years and that's why there is such an interest in conspiracies. We know more faster and therefore we can concoct our theories of who done what why and when even quicker than before.

And we can get them out into the aether a whole lot quicker to a whole lot more people than we ever did!

So you're planning this story to be carried into a trilogy at this point?

Actually, it will go far beyond a trilogy. The initial three books, Yesteryear being the first, are setting the stage for what will follow and that will be a combination of tales from the rich vibrant Heroic Era told free and independently of Long's viewpoint as well as a totally new direction for the modern era of this universe that many creators, though they say they want to go there, won't do so in a modern setting. But I intend to.

Now you used real-life cities in constructing the world of another project you've been concocting over at Pro Se Press, The Sovereign City Project, you've created a fictitious city for the heroes to operate in. What prompted you to create this new background from whole cloth? What are the strengths and/or weakenesses of coming up with your own city?

I don't see any weaknesses with it at all. The joy in creating your own city is that it can have everything a real city has in it or doesn't have to have any of it. Sovereign City has the Statue of Liberty in its history, even though it may or may not be there now....And as for the prompt for Sovereign City... it basically came from the concept of having one city that in some way or another has every aspect that a city would need to have for storytelling purposes. It's got mountains on one side, a rich green countryside on the other, a Harbor, a few lakes in and about the area, a bowery, a rich section of town, etc. and so on and so forth. If a city has it, then it's a part of Sovereign.

And hopefully, it'll have a chinatown soon...chuckles

It does already. There's...two actually....and that's all I'll say about that.

That's the thing about Sovereign City...these attributes of the city aren't simply thrown in there because we want them there. There's a reason there's two Chinatowns in the city. There's a reason that Barry can write about the dark dreary streets of Sovereign in Lazarus Gray while I focus on some of the shinier parts of the city in my upcoming Doc Daye tales.

How did you decide upon this mosaic nature, with each author you've invited being asked to donate a character to the ciity?

You won't like this answer, but I just did.... It came to me that way and I asked the two writers who fit that concept the best at that point.

Can you tell us a bit about Doc Daye? Some fun facts to know and tell?


Can you tell us what to expect from the sequel to Yesteryear? From Pro Se Press in general?

The sequel to Yesteryear is entitled Nomorrow and it literally picks up within days of the end of Yesteryear. There'll be a whole slew of new characters introduced, but also quite a bit of what was set up in the first one will be built on and even resolved in some way.

As far as what to expect from Pro Se, that's hard to do and it has nothing to do with being mysterious. We set out with Pro Se Press to literally put the monthly back into Pulp and we've done that in spades. We have so much coming soon, including continuations of a lot of the great work done in the last two years as well as some stunning new Pulse Fiction.... Black Pulp.... A Savage Western... and so much more.

Any last words you'd like to share with the deinizens of The Agency?

I write to tell stories. I write to see the characters in my head become more than errant voices and walk around and do their thing. I write because people read. For those who have read Yesteryear, other things I've written, or books and magazines I've published, a tip of the fedora and a whole tommy gun of thanks.

Tommy, thank you to spending time with us here at the Agency...hopefully, you can come visit us again when Nomorrow reaches fruition!

Most definitely!

To purchase Yesteryear, The Sovereign City books or any Pro Se Press product, visit the Pro Se Press site!

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