Back when I spoke to Matt Hawkins in March, we spent a little time talking about the sexual legacy of the first ten years or so of Top Cow. We also spoke a little about Witchblade–a title about a woman who carries a living weapon disguised as a bracelet–which is being resurrected in December, with a new main character, under the pens of Caitlin Kittredge (Coffin Hill) and Roberta Ingranata with Bryan Valenza colouring.

Ingranata (like Laura Braga, who drew a year’s worth of Pezzini-Witchblade before cancellation) is an Italian artist. She has worked on Zenescope comics as well as one Magdalena cover at Top Cow (the Planned Parenthood benefit–yes, a Planned Parenthood benefit cover, for a comic about a Catholic Nun in leather who kills for the glory of God, bless us every one). Her draughting is strong and reliable; she seems very much at home drawing thin, highly toned, long-haired white women in fetish costumes. A new Witchblade in the mode of the old Witchblade should not be a stretch.

Kittredge’s Coffin Hill starred a lady cop with a supernatural secret and on-page unexpected nudity, making her a similarly obvious choice for scripts about a lady cop with a supernatural secret and on-page unexpected nudity. That is, if Alex Underwood is a policewoman like Sara Pezzini was [update: she’s a journalist]… and if the Witchblade is still the devoted clothing-shredder it was in ’96.

All this news (and the fact that I’ve been reading Dark Horse’s licensed “archive” collection releases of Top Cow’s Tomb Raider series) has me nostalgic. Let’s sink into a comfy chair and revisit the parts of my convo with Hawkins when we spoke about ol’ Bladey.

Hawkins: Part of the reason I cancelled the original Witchblade, was because we could never seem to, uh, get past that sort of stereotype. The last ten years of Witchblade, I don’t think it was a fair discussion! What that character was about–it was very rare that she would be shown semi-naked, in the Ron Marz run of that book.

Napier: Mhmm.

Witchblade 185 cover, Top Cow 2015, Keu Cha & D-Tron

She solves crime and kills ghosts, as you can tell.

[pullquote]You know, where the problem came in, is you would get guest covers, or variant covers, and that’s what these artists would do. You know? They would do these sort of sexy versions. And even though the interior versions of the comic would be less so, they would have this sort of titillating cover on it, and then people who weren’t reading the book would assume it’s more of the same. [/pullquote]Hawkins: And we sort of made an effort to try to, uh, you know make it a little more tasteful. You know, where the problem came in, is you would get guest covers, or variant covers, and that’s what these artists would do. You know? They would do these sort of sexy versions. And even though the interior versions of the comic would be less so, they would have this sort of titillating cover on it, and then people who weren’t reading the book would assume it’s more of the same. You know. The crazy thing, is right now, our best-selling title is Sunstone.

Napier: Yeah. [laughs]

Hawkins: Which is a book about–we never showed full nudity [in the past], you know what I mean? Let alone did we show any actual sexual activity, let alone a subgenre of sex like S&M. And uh, here’s this book about these two gay women, who are having, you know, a love affair, and learning how to please each other with S&M. And he shows graphic sexual content, and, and situations. Uhm, and they have, you know, graphic discussions of it; it’s a mature title. And yet, we’ve not received a–And the covers of those books are very titillating. You know? And the people who read these books are women. And, and people in the S&M community–I have not seen a single comment, not one ever, about how “Top Cow’s a T&A company for publishing a book like Sunstone!” And yet when we would have, you know, like a bikini, or whatever. You know, the [swim]suit variant, on Witchblade, we would continue to be accused of that. So–Sunstone volume 4 by Stjepan Šejić, Top Cow 2016

Napier: I think that the… The difference is just that Sunstone isn’t lying. Like, it is a book about sex, so it looks like it is a book about sex. But with Witchblade, it was a book about a cop with a magic bracelet, and yadda yadda, but it looked like it was a book about sex. Specific styles of sex. And–Lady Pendragon, like–the tweet that I made to you, that started our whole discussion–I picked up the book on a lark, because the cover did not make it look like a serious pursuit. It looked like, uh… it was meant to just be titillating; [it was a close-up on blonde hair, lip gloss, squished up cleavage;] “imagine if that was a knight and it… bent over a lot.” But then I read it, and it was actually… quite good, and I was like… “well what the hell is this then? I’d have been reading this at the time if I’d known.” But I didn’t, because the cover… lied, it didn’t tell me what was actually going on. I think the difference is, uh… Just getting the balance between the look and the actuality… is really important.

Hawkins: I agree with you. I think, you know, in hindsight, it’s– because I’ve lived through all of this, you know?

Napier: Yeah. [The problem, of course, is so have I.]

Hawkins: It was kinda the era, and that was kinda just the way it was, it was what was selling, and–we would take these sort of racier covers to conventions, and they would always outsell the non-racy covers. So, and I think, at the time–you’ve gotta keep in mind that at the time, especially in the ’90s, that we were doing comics for… men.  And boys! I mean that was the target audience, and there was not really even a thought–we never discussed that we’re developing comics or writing comics or doing anything for women. You know, that was never even–I don’t recall ever having any of those discussions, until the mid-2000s. 

Hawkins: So, you know, we were doing comics for boys. And I, look– in hindsight, am I ashamed of some of that stuff? Absolutely.

Napier: [disbelieving laugh]

Hawkins: No, I’m, I’m not gonna lie. I look back at some of that stuff, and I’m like “God, this is… dreck. It’s drivel.” It’s sort of ridiculous.

Napier: I’m actually–I really appreciate hearing that. I didn’t expect to, but, that, that actually does–sort of, make a difference to me. Thanks. [laughs]

Hawkins: You’re welcome and I–You live and you learn, you know?

Napier: Yeah.

[pullquote]I’m not gonna lie. I look back at some of that stuff, and I’m like “God, this is… dreck. It’s drivel.” It’s sort of ridiculous.[/pullquote]Hawkins: And now I’m a 47-year-old guy, and I have two teenage sons, that… are taller than me, it’s frightening… I’m on my second wife, and I think… you know, I gotta tell ya, one of the most profound things that’s impacted my life–was having children and getting divorced. I mean, and ah–I have full custody of both of my sons, and I always tell people when I get into these discussions, I think that’s all I really need to say about my ex-wife. [sort of laughs, but not really.]

Napier: ‘Spose it would be, yeh.

Hawkins: So it’s very rare for a man to get full custody of his children in the United States. Especially in California. But, ah–you know, and I married my second wife, despite sort of making a pledge to never getting married again, and uh, I think it’s–People change. You know? I’m not the same person I was when I was 25. And it’s weird, because now I’m a much more… I would say sexually liberated man. I’m not… obsessed with religion, and sin, and these things that sorta held me down when I was a younger man.

Napier: Yep

Hawkins: I’m much happier now. In my life, in what I’m doing, and I think a lot of it is just giving agency to these characters, and, and making them realistic. I think you hit the money–you hit the nail on the head there… it was misguided, and I think it was mistargeted, you know?

Napier: Yeah.

Hawkins: And uh… like Lady Pendragon, you’re right, there were a lot of racy covers. But we did that, because that’s what sold!

Napier: Yeah.

Hawkins: You know? And you would do–it was weird, it was reinforced! Every convention, every time you would do solicitations, because you’d list the book with two covers, and the racy ones would always sell more copies. And so it was sort of this self-fulfilling prophecy of chasing sales,

Napier: [ironically] Yeah.

Midnight Nation #4 cover, Top Cow, Written by J. Michael Straczynski; Penciller: Gary Frank; Inkers: Johnathan Sibal, Jason Gorder, Jay Leisten; Colorist Matt MillaHawkins: There was a period of time where–and Filip Sablik, when I brought him in, I hired him away from Diamond, and brought him out to Los Angeles to work with us at Top Cow, I wanna say that was two thousand four, two thousand five–when I did that, I specifically told him, I said look. We have this T&A image, at Top Cow. I’ve always hated it. I fucking hate it. I don’t think it’s fair, um–we’re doing books like Rising StarsMidnight Nation, you know and Wanted, and all these sort of titles we were doing in–in the 2000s, I said–even Witchblade, despite having some covers, was not like that, because it was Ron Marz and Stjepan Sejic at that point, doing that book. I said how do we sort of, break out of this stereotype? And uh… we tried! You know, and I think, what are we in, 2016, 2017? 2017, right?

Napier: Yuhuh

Hawkins: So…

Napier: [laughs]

Hawkins: Ten years? You know? And in a weird way, you see this is the thing! I think it was the cancellation of Witchblade that worked.

Napier: Mhmm.

Hawkins: And, and I know that people who criticised me for doing that before getting to issue 200 or whatever it was–I sort of identified that we didn’t have a really good plan to go forward with that title, and it might be better off to just end the character. And–despite its ups and its downs, I stand by that character as being a good character. A good story. There’s 20 years–the nice thing about that book is we launched it, and we cancelled it 20 years later.

Napier: Yeah.

Hawkins: And I think it’s the only comic book character that aged, sort of in real time. [Not entirely true, but neat all the same.] You know, and so, she was 25 when she started, she was 45 when we ended the book, when she retired. And–I don’t know if you read Witchblade #185, I wrote half of it. Ron Marz wrote the other half–Witchblade 185 - Top Cow Comics (2015)

Napier: I did, yeah, I did.

Hawkins: But I felt like it was a… it was a good sort of emotional send-off to that character, you know?

Napier: Yeah, no, I agree.

Hawkins: Because for me it was always about she was afraid to give away the Witchblade. She didn’t really want to give it away because the idea of it was that she–and this is something we tried to develop in the film and TV stuff, was that the reason why she kept the Witchblade for as long as she did and allowed it to kind of ruin her life, because if–

Witchblade TV series, starring Yancy Butler

Hawkins: She was afraid of someone else getting it that would be worse that her.

Napier: Mm.

Hawkins: And that was sort of what drove her, and ah, I think that’s where she had to kind of just let that go. And identify that you know, she carried that burden for 20 years. And it was finally that realisation that she didn’t want it–she really didn’t want it. Which was why I played the little gimmick of it keep coming back? 

Napier: [laughs]

Hawkins: And it allowed me to sort of loop in the Magdalena, and all these other characters, sort of gives it that nice little sendoff. But uh–Because I read, it’s odd, I wrote, what was that, a 14-page story? That’s the only Witchblade story I’ve ever written. 

Napier: Oh!

Hawkins: And uh, that’s it! You know, her first 184 issues, I didn’t have anything to do with, creatively. But when I went back to write that, I wrote–because Ron Marz had written this, his half of this thing, which was the ending of it, and I read it and it–I liked it, and it wrapped up his story. It did a good job of wrapping up the story that he was telling. 

Napier: Yeah.

Hawkins: I just didn’t feel like it was a good sendoff for the character itself. So I actually added my story specifically for that reason. I said you know, I can write this. I can do this, I’ll just do it. I’ll tack it on as the second story to Ron’s story. Um, and uh, I went back and read issue one to #180, whatever it was at the time, and uh, it was… interesting!

Napier: [laughs]

Hawkins: I mean… long-running titles are hard to do.

Napier: Yes.

Hawkins: Uh, there’s piles of swings in story and art–there’s arcs of that book that I think are genius, there’s arcs of that book that I think are… complete garbage?

Napier: Mhmm!

[pullquote]…obviously a character that’s that well-known for us is not just gonna stay, you know, out of circulation forever.[/pullquote]
Hawkins: And uh… There was stuff that was introduced and never followed up, there’s conflicting continuity, there were so many things that I never even really noticed or thought about, until I actually sat down and read the whole thing. But–and I’m sure that’s the case with every long-running title, you know. There’s highs and there’s lows. But. The decision sort of came, we can wrap it on this 20th anniversary sort of thing, we can wrap it up–we’re already in the process of developing a new one, um, obviously a character that’s that well-known for us is not just gonna stay, you know, out of circulation forever. So, we’re developing a new title, once we have the team, and everything ready to rock and roll, we’ll go out there. But uh–I… I don’t think it’s required, but I like it, when you hire people of similar sort of, gender and ethnicity, to write characters of the same gender and ethnicity.

Napier: Yeah.

Hawkins: And I think gives it, a more authentic feel? Which I think is why Sunstone works. You know? I don’t think there’s anyone that doesn’t realise that Sejic and his wife are in S&M.

Napier: Yeah.

Hawkins: You know, I mean, everyone knows that and he talks about it freely. You know so, I, that’s why I think that book works so well.

Sunstone by Stjepan Šejić, Top Cow 2016

Sunstone by Stjepan Šejić, Top Cow 2016

Hawkins: And he does these great sort of quirky character expressions, and he’s sort of this–I just love it, I love what he does, and I love the title. So, when we decided to do a companion book for that, for Swing, it was really hard for me to write. And I have to say Swing, which Linda is drawing now, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. Because I’m used to using, like scientific marvels, technology, and, and, like special effects, and dragons, and crazy shit like that, to sort of make interesting visual storytelling elements. 

Aphrodite IX, Top Cow, 2013

Aphrodite IX, Top Cow, 2013

Hawkins: So when you remove all that, and you just get down to the basics, David Mamet kind of conversations between people, that’s hard to do!

Napier: [laughs]

Hawkins: To make it interesting!


So. Witchblade is relaunching with women, if not at editorial level, on script and lines. Will it be a true sequel? Will it have a serial premise, as Sara’s series did, or will this volume (season?) set a goal and try to take its character there? Will it be the Kill La Kill of American comics (sorry, Emp)? Most importantly, what I want to know is will it be good and will I like it.

I can’t quite find it in me to be excited about this, but I am interested: my scholarly eye is upon it. Can there be a good Witchblade, without it being Yancy Butler?

Time will tell. Let’s wait. It could be interesting.