Growing up in the 90s, we saw the dawning of the greatest creators in the indie circuit. From modern-day film legends like Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle to Jon Favreau and Kevin Smith, we got films that would define a generation — but film wasn’t the only medium experiencing an indie renaissance. At the same time, Marvel and DC were starting to get competition, as new independent publishers popped up left and right. Not only was the demand for comics changing, the tone was, too. With standout books like SIN CITY, SANDMAN, and HELLBLAZER, readers were looking for darker stories with sexier heroes.
No one attacked that ideal stronger than Brian Pulido with Lady Death. She first appeared in EVIL ERNIE #1, and didn’t stop there — Pulido went on to create more demonic vixens like Purgatory, Chasity, War Angel, and La Muerta. Most recently, he created another new vivacious beast to kick our asses: Hellwitch. Using the Kickstarter method, Pulido launched HELLWITCH: HELLBOURNE a year ago to rave reviews and the support of his fans. Thanks to how well the first book did, he’s ready to unleash more hell with HELLWITCH: THE FORSAKEN, launching this October 23 on Kickstarter. As someone who was constantly drawing Evil Ernie and Lady Death as a kid, I was anxious to speak with him and find out how all these maleficent beings were spawned from his head.
Famous Monsters. It’s funny, I was talking to my editor about chatting with you, because I grew up reading EVIL ERNIE and LADY DEATH stuff. I used to draw Evil Ernie all the time. “You want to talk to Brian?” Yes, why are you even asking? Yes. Yes. Send him my way.
Brian Pulido. That’s awesome. Ah, my son, Evil Ernie. What a fine young man he was. It’s funny, because that’s sort of how Evil Ernie started for me, too. There were things in the back of my mind in 1987, the height of the thrash metal era. I recall going to a Megadeth show, and I was looking around, going “what would scare people?” My answer — us. I had my hair down to my belt at the time, and I had been unconsciously drawing these little scribbles on pieces of paper, which thankfully I kept, and it ultimately formulated into Ernie. So he started out as a scribble for me, too.
FM. And that sort of leads into my first question, which is, when you look back at indie books from the 90s, not many of them survived that era. There are only three major ones I can think of: McFarlane’s SPAWN, Mignola’s HELLBOY, and your very own LADY DEATH. She pioneered extreme sexiness while being super badass. She’s no damsel in distress. What’s it been like, having created something that has stood the test of time? Where do you still find inspiration for her stories?
BP. Well, first of all, thank you for putting me in such rare stratified air. I’m a big fan of both of those guys. The honest answer is that I’m not entirely sure. It might be a happy accident. Lady Death was forged from a recipe of love for female horror hosts, heavy metal music videos, and being raised in a household where women were the shot-callers. When LADY DEATH first came out, she was commanding; she flaunted her sexuality, used it as a weapon. She had no apologies about it. And she was never tethered to a man. I’d also have to give a big-up to Vampira — the character she created was never domesticated. I don’t know if those are some of the ingredients that keep people attracted to Lady Death. Her story, like mine, might be one of persistence. As you mentioned, she’s just completely uncompromising. I think anyone can look up to that sort of character. We all wish we could do that in real life.
FM. That’s a great answer.
BP. It feels remarkable. Sometimes I’m going through life with my nose down, working hard, and then I’ll look up — more and more as I get older, because I have more gratitude of what life has given me and provided. To have a character like Lady Death who I continue to be enthusiastic about and relate my own journey is remarkable. I definitely consider it a gift. Here’s the crazy thing — I have Lady Death’s storyline roughly plotted out for an additional 25 years. We just celebrated 25 years this past February, and her story is detailed out for at least another five years. I’m always having the experience that I don’t have enough time to tell all my stories. So it’s not a matter of being inspired, it’s a matter of having enough hours in the day to get all the stories out!
FM. That’s amazing. And to continue with the Spawn and Hellboy references, they’re two characters that have quite a bit in common with Lady Death: being connected to Hell, having an animated film, being the best Halloween costume you could possibly get… but there’s one thing she has not checked off yet, and that is getting a live action film. With comic book movies being so prevalent right now — everyone in Hollywood wants to get their hands on one — do you have something in mind? And just for sh-ts and giggles, who would be your pick for Lady Death?
BP. There always are plans afoot… I have a producing partner, Sherry Marsh, and we have assembled some very interesting talent for the potential of showing an iteration of Lady Death to studios. We’ve had various versions of it. I would say that it’s only a matter of time. Interestingly… actually, I can’t announce it yet, but there’s something coming involving Lady Death in the space of filmed entertainment. And it’s funny, I don’t follow these topics so closely, but let’s have a conversation about [casting]. Who would you recommend? I mean, Jennifer Lawrence would be great. She’s an A-Lister, she’s a phenomenal actress, she could very much look the part.
FM. She’s got the attitude, that’s for sure.
BP. And she has the range. It’s tough with this character, right, you can’t just cast based on looks. It has to be someone with an emotional range.
FM. Well, I’m the art director, so I’m very visually driven. So my first thought is oh, we’d have to get someone who looks the part. But it’s true. For me, I almost want Charlize Theron, because she’s so commanding on screen.
BP. Yeah, that’s a great suggestion. She has that type of presence. One is Margot Robie. The look, the attitude, the acting chops. I’m sure she could do it. The challenge is to have an actor who’s willing to step up and understand that the character uses sexuality as a weapon. Lady Death, to me, espouses the aspect of a dominatrix. A true alpha. I could also see Lady Death as a Western. Whoever is involved just has to be able to jump into that world.
FM. There’s a lot of depth to her.
BP. People love her origin story — renouncing her soul to save her mother from the Devil. And here we are, 25 years later! One of the first things I wrote for her story back in 1994 was, “To know her is to know a woman cursed.” That’s another guiding principle. For every step she takes, she has to pay for it. I’ve always loved characters like that, redemption-type characters or those who come from a school of hard knocks where it’s never easy. It makes for more gravitas and more drama.
FM. I want to backtrack a bit. I know you’re a huge comic book nut in your own right and have a big collection of CAPTAIN AMERICA and other noteable pieces. One might not expect that you have a heavy metal exterior. You’ve got your biker vest on; you exuberate hardcore metal. But something tells me there’s a WHAT IF? world out there where you could have been a writer for Spider-Man, or some other Avenger. What caused you to create the plethora of dark characters that you have instead?
BP. Straight up, dude? I think I was born with a dark heart. I tend to view the world through that lens. It was fostered by my mom, and I mean that in the best possible way. My mom loved horror films. I remember being curled up on the couch at the age of 4 with my mom watching THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON. She took me to see NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on the opening weekend at a drive-in. She would wake me up in the middle of the night saying, “Brian, wake up. Vincent Price is throwing dead bodies into a pit of fire.” She loved horror. So in a sense, being connected to horror makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Probably like a lot of horror fans, there are some things I may not want to see, but as a completist, I really try to see as much material as I can. I do adore superheroes, and I read them to this day, but I didn’t really aspire to writing them. An acquaintance of mine, Mark Waid, who’s written stuff like THE FLASH and KINGDOM COME, asked me, “I know you love Captain America, but why didn’t you ever write it?” I’m a fan of it, but I’ve never had the compulsion to write that heroic ideal. Who knows, maybe if somebody asked me, it’d be like a new frontier. But when I wake up in the morning, the characters that I love tend to be antiheroes.
FM. So you’re one of us!
BP. Oh dude, I am a monster kid. Absolutely.
FM. I think that’s a good segue into talking about your newest installment of HELLWITCH. But before we do that, I’d like to give readers an idea of what your work is like. I can only come up with one way of putting it: if Quentin Tarantino, Clive Barker, and George Romero had a baby, the child was raised by Elvira, and then it grew up to write comic books.
BP. Wow, yeah. [laughs]
FM. For those who have missed out on previous volumes of HELLWITCH, what can you tell us about this new one?
BP. HELLWITCH is a story that takes place entirely in Hell. In this case, the Hellborn are the endemic population of Hell. The fallen, Lucifer, and all the Archdukes of Hell are all interlopers and colonizers. So this is a character who began her life as a lowly hatchling in the lowest caste at the bottom of the magnificent Hellhive, destined forever to be a pit slave, discarding body parts into the pain pits. But through sheer drive and determination, she rises through the castes to become a warrior, take a lover, and gain respect. Ultimately, her story is one of ascent, of how a lowly character becomes the queen of her hive. It’s an R-rated story, inspired in part by Warren magazines and Heavy Metal comics — nudity, sex, violence. Her new storyline is HELLWITCH: THE FORSAKEN. “To avenge her murdered lover, Hellwitch slaughtered a queen and burned her hive to the ground. Now she’s become Hell’s most notorious rebel, with a price on her head to match. Forced to wander the wastelands, Hellwitch finds herself haunted by old enemies that will stop at nothing to finish her. Can Hellwitch defeat her ruthless adversaries, or will a twisted rival from her past annihilate her very soul?” And let me be clear: Hellwitch is a villain. Each chapter is how she descends into villainy.
FM. It’s interesting, because you can’t help but root for her and want her to succeed just as you would a hero. To hear that she’s actually the bad guy…
BP. That’s another thing I’ve always been interested in — how to take characters and make them likeable while they are also really, really [horrible]. In entertainment I like redemption stories, stories of people’s moral descent, characters on the margins. In this new story launching on Kickstarter, she has to learn a lesson in eliminating empathy.
FM. You have so many characters that you’ve created over the years, and sometimes they’ll hop over into each other’s worlds, but you haven’t had a huge crossover. With Lady Death as a hero, could she be someone going up against Hellwitch?
BP. Funny you should say that, because that’s sort of where things are heading. We’ll definitely see Lady Death and Hellwitch square off in the future. What I can tell you is that in 2020, Lady Death is actually going to return to her evil roots. And the year after, we’re headed for a massive crossover event where all the characters do have to come together for a threat that’s clearly bigger than them all.
FM. I remember one of the homage covers for the first volume was the two of them emulating the Superman/Spider-Man cover.
BP. As I tell people, sometimes covers are prophecies. One of the fun things about comics is casting a net out there, story-wise, and maybe knowing the outcome and beginning, but not being entirely sure how the middle goes. After 28 years in the game, I still like that.
FM. I agree. To head back to the covers — you’re no stranger to variant covers. The first HELLWITCH volume had variants, collectible trinkets, stickers… all adorned with art from some of the most talented people in the industry. Can you tease the lineup for this Kickstarter, and what goodies people can expect?
BP. The ultimate tier of the Kickstarter, the most rare edition, comes from the painter Lucio Parillo. He’s a badass. He’s done covers for DC, Dynamite, and the print runs on those are crazy. We’re audacious enough to have Lucio do a set of three covers, 60 copies of the set, and then retire that cover forever. I’m very interested in bringing back authentic collectability. We live in a world where publishers will do “limited editions”, while we all know it’s not really limited. But if you take an A-level artist and put him on something extremely limited, it actually drives interest. Some of the other artists involved include Ale Garza, Sun Khamunaki, Mike Krome and Ceci de la Cruz, Dawn McTeigue, Dan Mendoza… we have Monte Moore doing a “heavy metal” edition, which is literally a comic made out of metal. We’re bringing in Lorenzo Sperlonga, a painter of Heavy Metal covers and risque subject matter. I see my role as art director. I am personally casting these cover artists, working with them, providing a theme, creating a groundwork so they can do their finest work. You can expect some other surprises. The crazy stretch goals will remain a secret until they’re unveiled.
FM. That’s a phenomenal list of artists.
BP. If you think about it, for as many people who have contributed to our company in the long history of our cover art, there are still tons who haven’t. Alex Ross has never done a Lady Death. Neither has Olivia, or Milo Manara. And that’s in the face of all the people who have, like Boris Vallejo, Brom, Joe Jusko… these titans of the industry. Part of what makes it fun for me is getting new contributors.
FM. Now, lastly… what movie monster world would you want to live in?
BP. Wow! I guess I have to say NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1968. Something about that movie caught my imagination, and it continues to this day. It’s frightening, nihilistic, claustrophobic… I’d love to see if I can keep my loved ones alive. I mean, it’s terrible that I have to pick one, because also, can I live in the world of ROAD WARRIOR? I’ll give a Cerebus three-headed Ghidorah of choices: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), ROAD WARRIOR, and the third… I mean, I adore the movie CHILDREN OF MEN, but I don’t think I’d want to live in such a sad world. This one might be kind of out of left field, but let’s live in the world of SHIN GODZILLA. I just want to see what happens next!
FM. You and me both.
BP. I would also like to say something to Famous Monsters readers: I’m coming at you as Brian Pulido, creator of EVIL ERNIE, a male horror character that ran throughout the 90s. About a year and a half ago I started getting the itch to write a male horror character again. We’re now in active production of a series we’re calling “Untitled Extreme Horror Project”. This will be a love letter to horror fans, and I’m hoping that when we get ready to release it next year, Famous Monsters readers will be open to taking a look at it!
HELLWITCH: THE FORSAKEN #1 launches on Kickstarter Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at 7:00PM PDT / 10:00PM EDT.