The Hellbound Web is proud to present an another exclusive interview with Christopher Monfette. This interview was conducted by email in January 2012.
THW: Hi Christopher. Thanks for speaking to us again. Since the last time, your stint on the Hellraiser comic has come to an end, and Kirsty Cotton has taken over Pinhead's position in Hell. In a sense, we all knew this was coming from the first issue, when Pinhead first declares he has the perfect replacement. Why choose to signpost the storyarc so much? Do you please this fate for Kirsty, at least was inevitable?
Christopher: First off, can I just begin by saying a big thank you not only to everybody on this board – but to anybody who cares enough to read this – for their enthusiasm and support in making this series as well received and reviewed as it was. We’re all incredibly honored that the folks here chose with their time and their wallets to make this a success. Personally, I’d come to this forum after every issue and read the comments and listen to the debates and, in some cases, make creative decisions based upon that feedback. Your opinions matter, and I’m grateful for that!
Okay, your question…
For me, it was never about disguising intent. In that very first issue, when Pinhead names his candidate and you turn the page to reveal Kirsty, that’s meant to be a fairly obvious indicator of the path these two have been set upon. If anything, that was meant to communicate that this wasn’t going to be a series dependant entirely on twists of story or plot, but of character. That might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s a rare thing for a series about an icon to actually treat the icon as anything more than a marketing tool. As for Kirsty, I think there’s something very tragic about watching her struggle for those first five issues with enough foreknowledge to suspect where she’s headed. We’re just enough ahead of the curve to have some sense of Pinhead’s intent, but not enough to know if Kirsty will outsmart him or how he intends to orchestrate this incredible choice she’ll have to make. And then, at least I hope, we were able to ramp up the tragedy by having her live through three issues knowing exactly where she’s going, resigned to this choice she’s already made.
THW: How much of the storyline was planned out in advance, and how much emerged as you were writing it? Was there any key points that you could have gone a different direction with?
Christopher: The broader strokes were there from the very beginning, but I find that it hinders the impact of the smaller moments if you over-outline. A lot of the minute details that add so much character and shading and texture -- for instance, much of issue three -- tend to emerge from the simple act of writing them. Initially, I'd outlined a kind of prequel sequence for issue four in which we'd explore how Frank attained the box, but because they'd wanted to end the first trade with Kirsty and Pinhead meeting (which had always been planned for issue five) we got the happy accident of the subway storyline. And because I was writing issue seven after it had been made clear I wouldn't be returning, I was asked not to expand upon or create new elements for Hell. Those were irksome handcuffs, but the unintended result of needing to use existing elements was the appearance of the Engineer and a greater focus on the Female. Her little character beat atop the box is one of my favorite moments in the series.
THW: The big question is perhaps, why make Pinhead human? And were you worried about alienating any of the characters fans?
Christopher: Absolutely, that was a risk, but risk and consequence are really at the heart of good drama. And if your horror lacks drama then it's ostensibly just an aesthetic exercise. It seems to me that if you feel as if you might alienate your audience -- which is to say, challenge them -- then you're probably in the right headspace. You still have to make the right choices and then execute them properly, but the unexpected or the least obvious direction is often the right one. As for why, it was really the best thing for the characters and the universe, to make sure that both remained interesting and evolved in a way that made sense, but also opened the series up into a new age, for new readers, with new possibilities.
THW: So, looking back over this arc, what are your thoughts? No doubt you're proud of what you achieved! Any regrets or things you wish you could have done?
Christopher: Interesting question…We don’t really talk about regrets, as writers, and I think that’s an important part of the process. I’d say that I have three. My largest regret was simply not being able to stick with it...I'd had the story mapped out through 24 issues, and there were elements and sequences that I wasn't allowed to develop so as not to muddy the handoff. For instance, there are allusions to a particular consequence of destroying the boxes -- even from issue one -- that would have changed how readers thought of Lemarchand and his creations. Sadly, I couldn't fully realize that twist…
Second, the new Cenobites were always meant to extend the BDSM taboo that fueled Clive's original vision into a more modern set of taboos. Exploring, re-contextualizing. Each Harrower had a particular profession/association (sex, religion, science, literature, art) with the intention of giving them an equivalent domain within the total human experience. And that would have been reflected in the designs that I’d initially suggested. That was probably Clive's biggest edit, in the end, making them more beastial in nature.
And third, Tiffany. I love that we brought Tiffany back, and I absolutely stand by how we chose to evolve that character, but I think it was some combination of the writing and the art that made her feel fetishized in a way that was never intended. I never saw fish-nets and tattoos when I was writing issue six, and I feel as if some readers simply couldn’t make the transition from the girl in Hellbound to the woman on the page. What I saw was a strong woman who’d gone too far in the wrong direction, was morally complex in a different way than Kirsty, and who would fit working alongside a human Elliott, or Harry D’Amour (who I’d hoped to include) and not feel outmatched or out of place. Overall, however, I'm insanely proud of what we created. And I hope that it was the first, and the right, step toward a meaningful expansion of the franchise.
THW: The next arc kicks off with a new writer. Considering how linked the plotlines are, how much influence did you have on the next storyline? And might we see you return to the comics for a future arc?
Christopher: Clive’s run past the horizon, so where he’ll go and what will occur, I've no idea! I was very fortunate that Clive allowed me, as both a fan and a writer, to tell a story that I would want to read. I was under the impression that Anthony DiBlasi would be scripting the series, but I recently gleaned from the credits on issue ten that Clive’s right-hand(s) Robb and Mark are also writing.
THW: What follows includes a selection of questions from fans, compiled from our Hellraiser forum. Hardcores fandom and complex mythology questions lie ahead!
THW: Mr. Monfette, i am a big fan of crossover stories and i was just curious if you've ever thought about a Hellraiser crossover comic at one point? (from jka12002)
Christopher: I think cross-over stories fall 100% into the “just for fun,” alt-universe, non-continuity mode of comic writing. That’s not an attitude that the seriousness of Hellraiser seems to embrace, but as a professional fanboy, there’s nothing I’d love more than trying to find another suitable icon to match up against Pinhead. You probably could make a solid narrative/tonal case for a Krueger confrontation – and maybe for a Michael Myers cross-over if you could crack the story – but so many of the other great icons require the kind of wink-and-nod that Hellraiser, at its best, looks to avoid. But, hey, man…Give me the opportunity and I’d do it in a second!
THW: Are you done with everything Hellraiser? Would you consider doing more comics or maybe short stories set in/inspired by the Hellraiser universe? (from wasterofgoodsuffering)
Christopher: I love this world, and I love this character, and I’d never turn down the opportunity to return to the Hellraiser franchise in any medium. If Dimension wanted to give me a crack at the remake tomorrow, I’d walk into that shit-storm with my jacket pulled high. It’s a universe that’s ultimately about something that I can relate to…Obsession, taboo, the portability of our own personal Hells…At least for the foreseeable future, however, the reigns are with Anthony, and I can only support him wholeheartedly as a fellow writer and fan of his filmmaking.
THW: In your opinion, what was Clive's best contribution or suggestion for the comic? Was there anything you wanted to do in this comic series but didn't have time to implement fully? (from David)
Christopher: Clive’s most prevalent contribution was really his suggestion that we find a way to incorporate a more grounded version of The Harrowers. Narratively, that gave us a terrific framework, but as I said earlier, I’d sincerely hoped to do something different with their Cenobite selves. Something that made them more specific and focused than simply the monster-like creatures that we were substituted for my own suggestions at the end of issue eight. Also, it’s a small tweak, but I’d initially described Pinhead-Kirsty as having a kind of flowing braid of pins down her forehead and back, like hair, something more feminine. Not simply the same design as her predecessor. As a writer, sure, you tend toward a sense of ownership – and I’d be lying to say there weren’t moments where your inner monologue is screaming, “No, no, don’t change that!” -- but the reality is that this is Clive’s world, Clive’s vision. Clive’s the reason that anybody is reading this interview right now, let alone cared as passionately as they did about the comics. And I absolutely respect those few moments where he stepped in to change an element and am fascinated to see how those charges are put to use in the future.
THW: What are the cenobites' rules in this series? The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser more or less imply that the cenobites are mainly interested in whoever summoned them and that's it, because the cenobites see pain and torment as a reward for solving a difficult puzzle and so they aren't about collecting as many souls as possible before going back to Hell. But this rule was much more loosely applied with each passing sequel to the point where it seemed the cenobites had free reign over who goes back to Hell with them. In one issue, a homeless boy accidentally solves the box, resulting in the entire homeless camp he lives in being slaughtered by chains, plus a subway train full pf people, but in the end, the boy lived. Are all those people in Hell or are they simply dead, and if they're in Hell, why did Pinhead take so many innocent people and leave the one person who summoned him alone? (from Prince of Pain)
Christopher: Love a good geek question! Okay, let me first admit…Rules are a nebulous thing, and we probably broke a few here, but hopefully always in the service of the characters or the story. Not to the dis-service of the world. In my viewings of the first two films and my reading of the novella, I’m not entirely sure that there’s an implication that collateral damage isn’t allowed. There was plenty of collateral damage in the hospital in Hellbound; Kirsty’s boyfriend never touched the box and almost certainly would have been killed by the Cenobites in Hellraiser. Also, Pinhead is tremendously bored, so his own sense of Hell’s rules is probably a bit adrift (which is really to say, our own)...As to why the boy lived, Pinhead simply didn’t care. It suited him more for the boy to be emotional bait for Kirsty than another hum-drum acquisition for Hell. Also, I never saw this Hell as THE Hell, the one-and-only Hell. I always envisioned it as a sub-section, a tenth circle. All the normal, regular, everyman folk who die throughout the day and deserve damnation, I’m not sure this is where they’re going, and it feels to me as if the Cenobites have the right to be selective about who they invite inside…
THW: On this note, one aspect often discussed is the nature of Hell and the Cenobites victims. In the original film, when the Cenobites claim Frank they take him and his entire mortal remains to Hell, leaving an empty room. This idea continues to various extents in Hellbound and the EPIC comics. However, the later films, often had mortal remains left. Considering how much the comics returned to the first two films, how much of a consious choice was it to keep this alteration from the latter sequels?
Christopher: It certainly wasn’t a conscious choice. It was about deciding in the moment what felt appropriate. In issue four, a sense of the Grand Guignol seemed in order. It felt like something that a bored Pinhead would do to these tired, insignificant humans, and of the two that actually opened the box – physically touched it – only the boy might seem like an interesting catch. In the first issue, I think Pinhead’s feeling was, “Oh, Jesus, another college kid?” That, actually, was a conscious condemnation of how the film series had evolved – and really of icon-driven horror in general. When I read the first review of the first issue, I remember somebody saying that it starts out exactly how you’d expect a Hellraiser comic might, which was absolutely the point. To say, “How fucking boring is this? How many times have you seen this play out?”
THW: I was also wondering if there were any rules laid down by Clive, or if you discussed anything about it when they were planning the story. That probably IS geeky to anyone that doesn't visit this site on a regular basis. (from David)
Christopher: The answer, honestly, is no…The process was very simple. Clive phoned, said they were doing a Hellraiser comic, and asked if I would write it. He sent over a treatment with a note saying, “This is all changeable,” and because I’d known Clive for so long at that point, and because I was such a fan of the series and had such a specific vision of where I thought it might go, I changed everything. Christ, that sounds so self-important, but it was really just a creative exchange in which I walked into the room with a very different take that I truly believed in and said, “How about this?” We talked about the endgame, what it would offer to the series moving forward, what fans might expect, how important he felt the Harrowers were…But we never talked about rules. We talked about character and story. The moment that rules get in the way of either of those things, write some words and change them. It’s fiction; you can do that. And Clive, who is infinitely generous and collaborative, said yes. Hands-down, the best moment of my creative life, and I couldn’t be thankful enough.
THW: Thanks for delving into the minds of some of Hellraiser's most dedicated fans! To end with, what do you think the future of Hellraiser holds? And what do you think the franchise has to do in order to be both relevant and popular to a wider audience?
Christopher: It’s important that I caveat this answer by saying that these are MY thoughts. I can’t speak for Clive or Anthony, and I couldn’t even tell you if they would or wouldn’t agree. But you spend a year rooting around in a certain world – even if it was constructed by somebody else – and you naturally start to have thoughts about it…For as much time and effort as we put into paying homage to – and matching the tone of – the first two films in the series, for me, it was always about tying off that storyline and preparing for the major change. Kirsty’s Hell. The white-and-red Hell. The modern-day Hell. BDSM was largely an 80’s taboo, born of a widely different cultural landscape and national sexual mindset. For Hellraiser to succeed in any longer, continuing format, it felt very important for me to identify the new taboos, the things that divide us in the modern day. It’s why I’m quite honestly disappointed that the Cenobites were changed into outright creatures. To me, they were always The Lover, The Doctor, The Shaman, The Scholar….And Kirsty, The Artist. The Cenobites were, in a way, the entire point of our endgame. A shift in philosophy that broadened the palette of taboos and tortures from which Hell could derive and parse out its bloody satisfaction. That, to me, was always going to be the thing that made Hell relatable to the readers, their fears, their secret curiosities. Graphic sex and violence isn’t really sufficient. We live in a more complicated world and the human experience is more varied than horror often gives it credit for. Weird for the sake of weird and sex for the sake of sex might give you an interesting page, but ultimately it needs to connect on a deeper level.
I also think that the narrative requires a more global perspective. I’d always planned for Elliot and Tiffany – and possibly Harry D’Amour – to strike out on a journey that pulled back the microscope on an entire world full of fears and fetishes and taboos. My style for this series was always to try and provide a one-off sensibility to a continuing story, so that each issue felt like a complete thought with a strong hook at the end. And I think in introducing the new Kirsty and these new Cenobites (whatever they might be), the one-off and the standalone will need to be carefully presented…I suspect we’ll need to spend some time in Kirsty’s Hell, and see how her redecorating has changed the politics of the place. I had always hoped for an eight-issue arc set entirely in Hell with a human Elliot exploring a city, for all its slums and boroughs, that is entirely new to him, despite having ruled over it for so long.
Ultimately, you need to completely change Hellraiser and yet somehow make it feel intrinsically like Hellraiser. That’s no easy feat. I was able to set-up that change, and while I’m disappointed that I can’t play in the sandbox, I’m utterly fascinated to see where Clive or Anthony or Robb or Mark – who whomever is scripting each issue – eventually goes with it.
THW: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions and, from everyone at The Hellbound Web, we wish you all the best for your future projects and hopefully one day your path will cross with Hellraiser again!
The Hellbound Web would like to extend its thanks and appreciation, once again, to Christopher Monfette for both agreeing to answer these questions and for his contributions to the Hellraiser world. We wish him the best of luck with all future projects.
Monfette on Twitter!