DAVID LISS: Flash Gordon has been around since the 1930s. What are the core elements of this character you absolutely wanted to include, and what are some original elements your story adds to the mythos?
JESSE HAMM: I definitely wanted Flash to face off against his archnemesis, Ming. Ming’s such a classic villain that it’s hard to imagine writing Flash without him. I’ve also long enjoyed the weird triangle between Ming, his daughter, and Flash, so I was pleased to include nods to that as well.
Among the newer elements we brought in are the Phantoms, Jen and Lothar — who were certainly never present in the early Flash stories! It’s been great fun to include them in this adventure. We’ve also made Aura more of a mad scientist than she was in the past, and allowed her to concoct a “beast-man virus” that turns humans into beast-men. That’s been a fun development to explore.
DL: I find the collaborative arrangement of this book interesting, especially with both you and Jeff Parker doing the writing and you doing the art. Can you explain how the process actually works for the two of you?
JH: Our contributions vary, but generally: Jeff sends me a synopsis of the storyline for each issue, and I write the dialogue and flesh out certain scenes. Then, if something in the script doesn’t ring true, he’ll suggest revisions. Once we’re happy with the script, it’s time for me to get drawing!
DL: Maybe it’s personal bias here, but I tend to think it’s easier to translate costumed vigilantes from their early 20th century origins to a contemporary story â whether one told in the past or the present. Some of the characters in Kings Cross, like Mandrake and Prince Valiant, might present a greater challenge. Can you talk a little bit about your approach to giving these characters a modern sensibility?
JH: Prince Valiant has probably been the easiest to bring into a modern setting. In his case, we simply dragged him into the 21st Century, straight from the 5th Century, with no changes at all. He doesn’t know how to use a cell phone and he doesn’t care!
Mandrake required more updating because he’s actually supposed to be native to our modern era. In him, I see a bit of Niles Crane: more prim than most, but perfectly at ease with modern mores and technologies.
Fortunately, most of this story occurs in Ming’s jungle kingdom, so neither character has to interact much with our modern society.
DL: When doing the art for a series like this, which features characters who have appeared in Dynamite before, and who have long previous histories, how do you go about putting your own stamp on their appearances â or do you try to adhere to a particular classic representation?
JH: Apart from following their basic hair color and body types, I felt free to interpret the characters in my own style. The main exception to that is that I minimized scribbly shading techniques that I often use but that rarely appear in classic renditions of these characters.
DL: Comics with a large ensemble cast always present a story-telling challenge â giving each character enough to do so no one gets lost, but still moving things forward coherently. What is your approach?
JH: In adventure stories, there are usually several tasks the hero must accomplish in order to defeat the villain: sneaking through a window, stealing some ammunition, freeing a captive, etc. So, when there are several heroes present, I just make sure those tasks are doled out evenly among them. It’s less about inventing new tasks for the extra characters, and more about splitting up the existing tasks required by the plot.
DL: Ming the Merciless is such an archetypal villain â a guy who wants to do bad things because he’s bad and that’s what bad guys do. How do you remain true to that history but still give him the sort of realistic and believable motivation contemporary comics readers require?
JH: I think most real-life criminals are less “mustache-twirling” than Ming because they lack the power to behave that way and get away with it. Criminals with relatively little power, like we find in most crime stories, must be circumspect about their crimes; they’re therefore easier for normal people to relate to. But the more power somebody has, the more freedom he feels to take bizarre risks, and to be needlessly and extravagantly cruel. I think some of the behavior we’ve seen from the world’s dictators in recent decades bears this out. As the boss of an entire planet, Ming is the happy exemplar of this regrettably human tendency.