We Interrupt This Broadcast: The Eric Hobbs Interview
Even decades later, the story of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast (and the widespread panic that ensued) is legendary. It was a pivotal event in American history, as well as an inspiration for many. That list includes writer and artist Eric Hobbs, who turned the bizarre and frightening real-life event into the springboard for his vividly entertaining and harrowing book The Broadcast. Here’s how he was inspired.
The story of Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds is fascinating. What drew you to it in the first place and inspired you to create a graphic novel around it?
I'm a little embarrassed to say this, but I'd never heard about the broadcast until I was in my first year of college. It's funny, I don't remember anything from that class except for the day I was introduced to Orson's play. I was sitting near the back of the room, jotting down a bunch of story ideas, when my professor walked into the room, dimmed the lights and put a CD into a boom box he'd brought from home. Within minutes, I was on the edge of my seat. By the end of class, I was plotting ideas. It's the only time I've ever had an idea hit me like that. I knew I had a great concept—from there, it was just a matter of executing.
How much research did you have to do to depict the period properly?
Not a lot, really. I read a lot about people who were listening that night and how they reacted. There was actually a town in Washington that lost power just like the people in our story. More than anything, though, I exposed myself to a lot of material that was written in that period. I spent a lot of nights rereading John Steinbeck's work as he's pretty much, for my money anyway, the best writer to come out of that period. His essays, his novels—I just read anything I could get my hands on with his name on it.
How did you and artist Noel Tuazon work together to achieve the right look?
I'd seen some watercolor work he was doing as he and Josh Fialkov were developing Tumor (an excellent book, by the way). I wanted something that felt like an old black-and-white movie from the ’30s and think he really hit it out of the park. I know his art can turn some people off, but I don't think there are too many people in comics who can tell a story the way Noel does. Obviously his art isn't going to fit every story, but when Noel's working on a book that fits his style, there's not too many people I'd rather work with. I was really lucky to hook up with him on this book. Really lucky.
This is your first published graphic novel. What did it take to get it published?
A lot, man. Jesus, you have no idea!
Because I'm new to the industry, I don't have a strong network of connections like some guys do. I had to rely on the shotgun approach and sent proposals to just everyone in the industry. And I mean everyone! I think I had something like 15 or 16 rejections. That can tear you up when you've put your heart and soul into a story like we did, so the response has felt vindicating. And, in the end, NBM was probably the best home for the book.
How long did you spend working on it?
I've been working on this one for a long time. The class I mentioned was more than 10 years ago! I was a hungry writer back then, but I wasn't very good. And that's putting it nicely. Truthfully, though, understanding that was an important step in developing as a writer. Too many guys think they're Stephen King right out of the gate. I did, that's for sure. I finished my first script and literally checked the calendar to see if I could get it done in time to be eligible for the next Eisners. The moment I realized I sucked was the moment I finally started to get better.
Anyway, I didn't want The Broadcast to be one of the bad scripts I turned out while I was learning to write. I was very conscience of that. I just wasn't ready to tell the story. I sat on the idea a while, but once I started working, it took me about six months to write and took Noel about two years to complete.
Was this a difficult story for you to write?
Oh, yeah. In the 10 years since that day in class, I've had a lot of starts and stops. And again, it's just because I wasn't ready to write it.
In the beginning I was injecting a lot of unnecessary stuff into the story that made my job easier but was weakening the story. At one point I thought about setting it on a college campus with a group of kids reenacting the play. Not because I thought that would be a better story, but at the time I knew I could write college kids really well.
I had a weekend where I thought about putting real aliens in the story, if you can imagine that. It was a stupid idea, but I was coming up with a lot of stupid plot devices like that because I was having a hard time building a thriller with just ordinary folks in 1930s America. It took a while before the story finally start clicking.
Who were—and are—some of your influences?
That's tough. I draw inspiration from all over the place: comics, novels, movies, television—all forms of storytelling. I'm a huge fan of Spielberg's early movies. Hitchcock. Stephen King is a pretty big influence. Brian Vaughan. Lost! There's a lot of great comic work out there right now that inspires me to do better. The Parker books at IDW. Amulet at Scholastic. Most of the books coming out from Vertigo. More than anything, I like telling stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, so I dig creators who are doing that kind of work. High concept but character-driven work.
Do you identify personally with any of the characters in The Broadcast?
All of them! I know that's the cliché, but there's a little bit of me in all these guys. Kim is a writer looking to leave her small town behind—I played that role for a lot of years. Gavin's a guy who's madly in love but has to put up with a disapproving parent—I've been down that road too. Even Jacob, who goes a little nuts on us, at his core he's just a guy looking to protect his little girl. I'm a parent and there are few things I wouldn't do to save my kids. There's a little of me in him too.
Which of the scenes in the book most resonate with you now?
There's a scene that's up on the NBM blog that I'm pretty proud of. It's the scene in the book where readers finally understand that the stakes are really high, that these people are inches away from turning violent to protect their families against an alien attack that we as readers know is never going to come. It's the moment when readers see that this story could turn tragic in the blink of an eye.
What are you working on next?
I have a book coming out from Arcana in the first part of next year called Awakenings. It's set in the future and is about a detective on the trail of a gruesome serial killer who finds himself on the run when every lead in the case points to the one person he never would have suspected…himself. It's a thrill-ride of a book, but it's an emotional roller-coaster too. It's got some sci-fi elements, some supernatural elements. I self-published it for a while and it has a small but loyal fanbase that's been looking forward to a printed collection for a long time.
Beyond that, the project I'm most passionate about right now is an all-ages series I'm trying to set up. A lot of us complain there aren't enough comics made for kids, but then we don't really do anything about it. I think kids are waiting for a comic series on par with Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or Hunger Games or whatever. I want to write a series like that and then aggressively work to make kids aware of it. Go to the schools, go to the libraries—do everything a YA author would do. It's exciting to think I could use my work to get kids excited about reading and think the book is my best work yet. It's just a matter of finding the right situation to get the book out there.