The Hulk is on the verge of a new era with an impending relaunch of the classic Incredible Hulk title, but before that up and coming Marvel writer David Pepose and artists Caio Majado and Edgar Delgado are flashing back to the Hulk's horror roots in a 'found footage' style story in May 17's Hulk Annual #1.
David Pepose is no stranger to Newsarama - he's a former review editor for the site in his pre-Marvel days. And that means he's also a former co-worker, and now a close friend of mine. So when the rare opportunity to interview him came up, I jumped at the chance to get him on the record about his Marvel work.
Along with going in depth about his story in the Hulk annual, David and I spoke about the human side of the equation including his own fear at taking on a character like the Hulk, and got a few hints at what lies ahead for him at Marvel and elsewhere.
And we've also got an early look at some pages from artist Caio Majado and colorist Edgar Delgado.
Newsarama: David, we've been friends for a long time, and we've talked comics a lot - but never really in depth about the Hulk. What were your thoughts when you were asked to do a Hulk story?
David Pepose: Honestly, the first reaction was pure, abject fear. (Laughs) The Hulk feels like such an unknowable character to me, you know? He's like a force of nature, but one that also represents one of the most blinding emotions in the human experience — pure, uncut, white-hot rage.
That's a character that can be really intimidating to dig into and explore — and that's BEFORE trying to live up to the legacy of creators like Peter David, Al Ewing, Greg Pak, and Donny Cates.
But thankfully, I realized there was a fun way to explore that fear of the Hulk by examining him almost at a remove — to show the long-term consequences of someone like the Hulk existing, as well as the real-world dangers of someone having to survive in the middle of a Hulk-fueled rampage.
Nrama: It's funny you say fear, because you went right back to horror, to the Hulk's roots for this story. What made that feel like the right choice for your take on the Hulk?
David Pepose: Well, my big thing over the years has been about splicing different genres and pop culture influences into my work — I think that inspiration comes from Peter David's noir take on X-Factor after his run on Madrox. So I'd been wanting to do a found-footage comic for a LONG time, but never really had the right angle to make it worth the effort — but going back to the unknowability of the Hulk, this inability to look a force of nature straight in the eye, I realized that the lens of the camera might be the perfect way to explore that.
I was thinking a little bit of Blair Witch, but also a little bit of Twister — the idea that in a world of superheroes, there aren't just storm-chasers out there, but actual Hulk-chasers. And I think it also let me lean on my own background a bit — I got my start in journalism, working in a small-town county in rural Massachusetts. So being able to take a journalistic approach — to find the real story of poverty and heartbreak and grappling with your identity as a proud, self-sustaining town — that felt real to me.
But ultimately, the idea of going found-footage meant we could find some new ways to hopefully get under our readers' skins, in the same way that movies like REC or Cloverfield would — there's always this idea of what isn't the camera seeing? What dangers are lurking just behind our poor doomed cameraman? And I think that mindset wound up fitting with the Hulk in such a cool way.
Nrama: So you're repeating your own process of examining the Hulk from the outside on the page a little bit. And you're also bringing back a classic Marvel Monster, Giganto. How did you pick Giganto, and what does having that connection to the roots of the Marvel Universe bring to the story?
David Pepose: Yeah! I think my favorite part about writing for Marvel is figuring out what kind of giant monster I can throw in any particular story. (Laughs) Devil Dinosaur, Ultimo, the Tri-Sentinel, the Juggernaut, I just think those kinds of big guys represent the best parts of Marvel, the big, bombastic spectacle that's tempered by all-too-human heroes with unavoidable feet of clay.
So when I was putting this story together, I tried to think of a monstrous character that might pair nicely with the Hulk, but might also fit some of the economic and environmental messages I had in mind for the town of Viridian, New Mexico. Without spoiling too much, Giganto and his unique history made him the perfect choice for this story, and offered me some really cool opportunities to bring this story to some truly harrowing places. He's not quite a villain, but he's absolutely a threat - and I think that's something that the Hulk can really relate to.
Newsarama: You mentioned the "poor doomed cameraman." Tell us about the human element in this story. Who are these Hulk-chasers?
David Pepose: So we've got a really fun camera crew who are going to find themselves at Ground Zero of this Hulk-versus-Giganto standoff. It's very much in the spirit of camaraderie that I felt while working in a newsroom, or how I've felt with a creative team putting together a comic. In this case, we've got our cameraman [Manny], who's really our eyes and ears as far as this story is concerned — but as you'll see, the camera isn't always the most reliable narrator, so there will be some dangers lurking just outside of his point of view.
Meanwhile, we have Karla, who's our tough interviewer, very much in the vein of a Lois Lane if she were working in the independent documentary scene; and then we have Donley, our impish sound tech, kind of the class clown and the comic relief of our group.
And finally, they're all brought together by Rylend, their Hollywood bankroller and producer, who's looking for that one perfect shot that will make him immortal. Together, their ambitions start out pretty down-to-earth — they're filming a documentary in Viridian, New Mexico, whose economic decline is tied inextricably with the Hulk's creation.
But as this team gets in over their head with an actual Hulk sighting, this camera crew's personalities and ambitions might put them at odds — if they all manage to survive, that is.
Nrama: You've only got a single issue for this story. How does that shift your priorities with a character like the Hulk, as opposed to a story like your recent Savage Avengers run where you had ten issues to dig in?
David Pepose: That's a GREAT question. Honestly, knowing my runway is the best and most helpful thing for me whenever I'm crafting a story — because like you said, having 10 issues to dig in on Savage Avengers yields a very different kind of story than when you're writing for a standalone, done-in-one narrative over the course of 25 pages.
So when you're doing something like an annual, you structure things differently — you're not writing a cliffhanger for the next chapter, for example, but you can do fun things with your ending to leave readers on the edge of their seats a bit. In my experience, you also find yourself leaning more towards the human element when you've got limited real estate like this — sure, you're able to throw in bits of action, but so much of an opening chapter is just about introducing a character, and so I think doing it done-in-one like that means you've got to bake in the exposition in as interesting a manner as you can.
I think a tighter runway also gives me more incentive to take some risks with the narrative and the structure — I think part of the reason I'd held back on doing a found-footage comic was I didn't know how to sustain that over several monthly issues. But a single annual with an extended page count? That's the perfect launchpad for something like that — and I think it gave me the opportunity to really dig into the ripple effects of the Hulk in a more holistic manner, varying up the perspectives and the exploration and the tone in a way that feels different from loading everything up with pure action.
Nrama: Let's talk more about that found footage aspect. How does that translate to Caio Majado's art as he's brought the script to life?
David Pepose: He's fantastic — honestly, Caio Majado deserves a medal for taking on this story, because it's such a tricky and technically challenging script, and he's brought it to life in such a fun and unique way.
This is the kind of story that I think goes against the grain for what a lot of superhero comics wind up doing — I think of what Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross did with the camera's eye in Marvels — and so Caio I think did a really great job of turning our camera crew into living, breathing characters who you'll get nice and invested in. Not to mention building up the town of Viridian into a fully realized, three-dimensional location!
I think working with Caio as well as our colorist Edgar Delgado really helped convey the found footage elements of this story, and I'm excited for readers to see how hard our entire creative team has pushed themselves to deliver this story.
Nrama: No matter how much I pry in conversation, you remain stoically silent on what your next Marvel projects are. So now that it's on the record and you HAVE to answer, once this Hulk annual is out, what else do you have coming up with Marvel and elsewhere?
David Pepose: I'm very excited for everything I've got coming out in May — in addition to this Hulk annual, I've got a story in Darth Vader: Black, White & Red that I'm really excited about, an action-packed story pitting Vader against a creature inspired by one of the greatest sci-fi franchises of all time.
And then I've also got a story in Extreme Venomverse, where artist Ken Lashley and I are introducing a multiversal version of Venom called the L.M.V. — it's our love letter to '90s comics, as the Venom symbiote finds itself forcibly bonded to a custom-built S.H.I.E.L.D. Life Model Decoy designed specifically to cage symbiotes.
But the most exciting stuff I'm working on hasn't even been announced yet — I've got two more storylines you'll get to hear more about in the coming weeks, and you might even hear an announcement about my next big project very soon.
As far as that last project is concerned, the only hint I can give you is this — it's starring a character that I've already written before…
Nrama: What do you want readers to know going into Hulk Annual #1? What do you hope they'll take away?
David Pepose: They say the Marvel Universe is the world outside your window, and I hope that when readers check out our Hulk Annual, they're reminded that world isn't just the bustling streets of New York, but also the forgotten towns with everyday people trying to make ends meet with their own quiet, personal struggles. And I also hope they see that the introduction of superheroes into that world — particularly a force of nature like the Hulk — has its own stakes and its own consequences.
The otherness of the Hulk is honestly the perfect mirror to reflect back upon our society and ourselves, and I hope that when readers check this book out, they're left thinking about our story from a thematic, technical, and, hopefully, a personal lens. We poured a lot of ourselves into this Hulk Annual, and I'm excited for readers to get to witness firsthand of what it's like to have an encounter with The Strongest One There Is!
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