Recently I posted about a graphic novel ‘The Bronx Kill’ coming out from DC Vertigo Crime next January, and in the post I raised the fact that while growing up I was an avid comic book reader. It’s no real surprise; most kids of my generation were. But the subject got me thinking, and I realised that my novels these days are as influenced by my early comic book heroes as they are by the contemporary crime and thriller characters that I’ve grown to love.
This realisation made me dig deep and look into the generation of my latest character, Joe Hunter – Dead Men’s Dust and Judgement and Wrath – an ex Special Forces soldier now making his way in the world as a vigilante cum gun for hire. Reviewers have often compared Hunter with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, automatically assuming that Reacher must be my greatest influence because both guys are tough ex-soldiers kicking the arses of bad guys. Well, it’s not so. I’m a big fan of Lee’s, and admire Reacher, but the big guy had no part in the formulation of Joe Hunter. Hard to believe? Well, it’s true. Some reviewers have pointed out that I thanked Lee in the acknowledgements page of Dead Men’s Dust. I did. But that was because Lee was kind enough to congratulate me and offer his support, and kindly agreed to read my book. He’s that kind of person; a true gentleman, and eager to help new authors establish themselves. I owe Lee my thanks ten-fold for that. But I didn’t base Hunter on Reacher.
Here’s how Hunter came about:
One of my favourite comic books growing up was 2000 AD, and the iconic character from the comic was Judge Dredd – a tough as nails, no-nonsense lawman in a dystopian future. Now, at the same time as I was reading 2000 AD I was also consuming volume after volume of the 1930’s pulp fiction of Robert E. Howard and H P Lovecraft. I probably started writing in earnest to emulate Howard and Lovecraft’s styles and rattled off many pastiches based upon Howard’s Conan and the Lovecraftian Cthulu mythos. While doing so, I also wrote a coming-of-age teenage novel, but to be honest I really wanted to write fantasy and horror. I wrote a couple of fantasy novels, the most notable of which was called Shadowstalker. It was a gothic horror, an action thriller, and it featured a tough as nails, no nonsense lawman in a violent and dystopian fantasy world. See the connection? I think that the character of Andra Kendrick was my way of paying homage to Judge Dredd, albeit Kendrick made his way through his world with a sharp sword as his law giver.
Along the way, I was also reading Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan, George G Gillman’s Edge and AdamSteele, the so called men’s action books of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. All of these tough dudes resonated with me in a big way. They still do. I loved their no-nonsense approach to doling out retribution.
Wanting to write similar stories, I gave up on trying to write fantasy/horror and went on to write crime and thriller stand alones – sadly, none of which I could interest an agent or publisher in either. So it was back to the old drawing board, or more correctly the old computer. I looked around at what was selling, what was on the book shelves, and looked at the contemporary authors around today. I loved the humour and the visceral action of Robert Crais and Harlan Coben, and the dark moody supernatural undertones of John Connolly. These were the authors I wanted to emulate. Something I realised immediately was that they all wrote about on-going series characters, something I hadn’t done up until then.
I’d just completed a crime thriller called Covenant of Dead Names which remains unpublished at this time. But I loved the characters of Phil Ellis and Dave Oxford, two tough guy private eyes, and thought to make their adventures into an on-going series. On the back of this I started writing Dead Men’s Dust (under the title of Jubal’s Hollow) with Ellis and Oxford as the leads. But, they just weren’t working for me. So it was back to the old drawing board again. At this time I looked back to my earlier creation of Andra Kendrick (who was loosely influenced by Joe Dredd, Conan and the weird goings on in Lovecraftian territory) and I thought; ‘maybe I can up-date Kendrick to a contemporary setting’. The only thing was, I didn’t want to write about a cop or a P.I. but I wanted a character with the skills and world experience to place him in very dangerous situations. Hence, I decided my lead would be an ex Special Forces soldier, now retired and adrift in the world. Influenced I guess by Mack Bolan, I made him a vigilante waging his own private war against the evil people of the world.
So I guess you’d say that Joe Hunter was born from Phil Ellis and Mack Bolan via Andra Kendrick and Conan the Cimmerian, all the way back to Judge Dredd. Dave Oxford became Jared ‘Rink’ Rington, Hunter’s best friend and brother-in-arms, and I moved their adventures from the UK to the much larger and culturally diverse USA, still a fantasy world of many readers this side of the pond.
When/if you look closely, you might recognise these influences in my writing. Even Howard’s and Lovecraft’s influence stays with me to this day – the bad guys from my first two books, Tubal Cain and Dantalion, are both characters you’d perhaps define as sons of ‘Weird Tales’. And watch out for a nod towards Mack Bolan in book three.
So there you have it, a potted history of the genesis and generation of my character, Joe Hunter.
If you’re reading this, I’d like to think that you’ll look back on your own past and think on how your own characters were born, and what their lineage is. You might be surprised at what you find.
Matt Hilton is the author of the Joe Hunter Thriller series, including Dead Men’s Dust and Judgement and Wrath. The third book in the series, Slash and Burn, will be released 1st April 2010 in the UK.
Matt Blogs at Matt Hilton Thrills at: http://matthiltonbooks.blogspot.com/
and with Col Bury, he posts short crime, horror and thriller fiction at Thrillers, Killer ‘N’ Chillers at: http://thrillskillsnchills.blogspot.com/
and has his website is at: http://www.matthiltonbooks.com