Jonah Hex is Hollywood ugly but riding tall in his first graphic novel
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“Jonah Hex” the Jimmy Hayward film starring Josh Brolin and Megan Fox opens in theaters Friday, and the reviews have been just like the anti-hero himself -- brutal and ugly. But the Old West loner still rides tall on the page, especially with “No Way Back,” the first full, original graphic novel featuring the character whose adventures date back to 1972. The book was drawn by Tony DeZuniga -- who actually co-created the avenging cowboy back during the Nixon administration -- and written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. I caught up to Palmiotti and Gray for this edition of five questions. Down below you can also find a four-page preview of the graphic novel. -- Geoff Boucher
GB: Like other long-time readers of “Jonah Hex,” I was intrigued to see Tony DeZuniga’s name on this project -- he was a defining part of this character’s publishing odyssey. Can you talk a bit about your collaboration with him and also what he means to the character of Jonah Hex, as we know him.JP: Tony drew a large number of Jonah’s adventures. When we first got the book, we immediately looked Tony up and got him working with us, and when the movie was announced, we pitched the graphic novel with him as artist. I have always been a huge fan of Tony’s work and have followed his career, and whenever I get to shows on the West Coast, I make sure to see Tony at them.
GB: This is the first original graphic novel for the Jonah Hex character. That’s both an opportunity and a challenge -- what can you tell us about the tale you tell and the way you approached this project?
JG: There were several factors involved, one is that we had to tell an important and engrossing story that meant something to the progression of Jonah Hex for existing fans and hopefully anyone that is curious about Hex as a result of the film. Two, we had the pressure of trying to do something that would make John and Tony proud, and lastly we wanted to do something original rather than an adaptation of the film.
JP: The simple idea of Jonah having a brother came from Tony telling us he and John Albano talked about one day writing an issue that dealt with just that, but they never got around to it. We figured that idea and a few others we had put together could make for one big, epic tale, and the graphic- novel format was perfect to dig in and write 128 pages -- something we never get to do.
GB: The idea of Jonah Hex having a brother will make a lot of readers lean forward with interest. There were a lot of ways you could have gone with that story thread. What were your priorities as you made your story choices.
JP: To give the reader something they haven’t seen in the monthly title and at the same time make the book approachable to people who have never read a Jonah Hex comic before. For a lot of people, this will be the first time ... and the format demands that we give them their money’s worth. It had to read easy, look fantastic and be a story that a reader would take with him long after they were done with the book.
JG: It was very important to make the relationship work on a number of levels to have the emotional impact needed. Hex is very different from his brother in many ways, but there are strange similarities. There’s a fun-house-mirror effect and a questioning of nature-versus-nurture taking place in this story. It forces you to ask what kind of man might Hex have been if he hadn’t been abused, abandoned, enslaved and scarred. In meeting Joshua, who appears almost saintly in comparison, there are also questions about his mind, and his behavior illustrates how no one is perfect. Joshua may appear to be morally superior and yet he doesn’t have the courage and conviction to uphold that morality under any circumstances the way Jonah does.
GB: Superheroes rule in comics. War, romance, horror and western themes really faded through the decades as the capes took over. Why is it then that the Old West anti-hero Jonah Hex has endured since the Nixon administration?
JG: Maybe I’m nuts, but I like to think the attraction goes beyond the violent nature of the character and keeps alive some memory that America has had to fight and die for ideological freedom and that we built a nation on the idea of rugged individualism, courage and exploration. The world knows cowboys and westerns; we created the genre based on real lives and real hardships. Not all of it was pretty, not every cowboy was as noble as John Wayne, and Hex took the Man With No Name into a more cynical and angry place, but his morality and sense of justice also appeal to people. Jonah Hex is not some pretty boy who wears his emotions on his sleeve and can’t stop talking about himself. Hex feels like a cultural dinosaur, and yet he’s charming and dangerous; he smokes, drinks and [has sex] and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him.
JP: Jonah Hex is just damn cool. He looks like half a monster, has a short temper and rights just about every wrong on his radar with some pretty extreme violence. This kind of character was created in a time when anti- heroes were popular, and it seems that in a world where we really never feel there is sufficient justice because of politics, it’s fun to read a character that doesn’t have that day-to-day stuff to get in the way of him gunning down a guilty man. For a lot of people, these books are an unfulfilled fantasy and a pretty solid escape from a very complicated world to simpler times.
GB: Watching Hollywood take Jonah Hex to the big screen must be a bit surreal and a jumble of emotions. Not to be rude, but the advance word on the film hasn’t been wildly optimistic either. How are you feeling about the entire experience right now?
JP: Like everyone else, I will be seeing the film Friday, and the scenes I have seen so far have been a lot of fun. The movie itself is a Hollywood version of the character, and we respect that it has to appeal to a wider audience than the book has. The entire experience has been a bit surreal, and fun, and exciting and somewhat odd. ... We happen to love the casting on this film ... especially Josh as Jonah and Megan as Tallulah.
JG: I genuinely want the film to do well, and I think if you go into it looking to have fun and escape reality for two hours, that’s what you’ll get. We’ve been writing every issue of Hex primarily to entertain ourselves because we didn’t expect to still be here five years later, and we sure as hell weren’t thinking about a film being made. I really like Josh, Jimmy and Andy. They were extremely passionate and energetic about the film, they welcomed us with open arms and genuinely wanted our thoughts on set. There are some fantastic actors in the film; [costar Michael] Fassbender is going to be huge, but you never know what kind of movie you have until it is done and even then you have no idea how people will respond to it. If you’ve never seen or heard of Jonah Hex, you’re going to have a completely different experience than someone who has been following Hex for three decades. There is some imagery and similarities, but the only tangible connection between what we’ve added to the monthly comic book and the film is the character of Tallulah Black. I couldn’t be more proud or excited to see a character we created and I personally love take a leap that far in pop culture that quickly. I really respect Warner Bros. and everyone on the film for giving her a chance to be a bigger part of the Jonah Hex mythology.
-- Geoff Boucher
Keep reading to see a four-page preview of the graphic novel ...
Art credit: DC Comics
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