INTERVIEW: Hotwire Writer/Artist Steve Pugh

Steve Pugh’s Hotwire chronicles a near-future where the dead simply do not go away. Instead, they manifest as ghostly Blue-Lights. Enter brilliant, brilliant (and a little mad) series protagonist Alice Hotwire, who, along with her partner Detective Mobey, investigates these apparitions, and when necessary, blast them to smithereens with shiny new science guns.

We chatted with Steve Pugh, the writer, artist and co-creator--along with Warren Ellis--about his supernatural series from Radical Comics.

MTV Geek!: There are some noticeable changes to Alice’s personality between this and the first volume. What kind of trajectory were you seeing for this character?

Steve Pugh: At the beginning of the first book Alice is a person who's been left alone to do a thankless job for a long time. One character even describes her as the city "rat catcher". The Blue-Light ghosts aren't really seen as a danger, and because she's not great around other people, Alice has hidden in her work whilst pursuing her research. After the wild events in the first story though, she's can't do that anymore. Alice has to take a more active role in her own future. She has to gain allies to defend her department from being taken over by other agencies, such as the power hungry "Homeland Enforcement."

I've also given some time over to her personal life and introduced a dangerous new character who knows her better than anyone we've seen before. The recurring theme with Alice is that she is amazingly good at her job, and amazingly bad at life. So, we won't be contradicting what we already know about Alice, but we will be filling in some gaps and adding new questions about her past.

Geek!: How would you describe her and the police force’s reaction to her after the events of the first series (Requiem for the Dead)?

SP: At the end of Requiem Alice was in a pretty sorry state. She'd ended up the hero, but was very badly injured. In Deep Cut we pick up the story six months later. Her arm's been rebuilt and her burns are healed, but she's slipped into a deep funk and become a shut-in. Her love of cheap vodka isn't helping and neither is an ex-boyfriend from a very bad time in her past.

Unknown to Alice, though, She's now a become hero to her fellow officers. She saved the whole precinct from a un-dead cop killer, and the same sense of loyalty that had once caused her to be hated by her fellow cops, has now made her everyone's new best friend.

Hilariously, Alice is really very badly equipped to deal with people being nice to her, and she hates it!

Geek!: Is it fair to say that things are kind of in a state of escalation between the living and the Blue-Lights?

SP: Things can't stay as they are, no. Generally, people try to forget about problems until they grow too big to ignore, and this is very true of the Blue-Light escalation.

They're kept out of the good neighborhoods and people try not to notice them or catch their eye, but their numbers are growing, and the suppressor tower network (which keeps them from materializing) is aging.

Geek!: She still doesn’t “believe” in ghosts. Could you talk a little about her stubbornness and valuation of logic (even in the face of the illogical)?

SP: Alice doesn't believe in ghosts, and that's perfectly reasonable. She grew up in a heavily science-based environment, and that's given her a skeptical view of the supernatural.

If Alice sees a magician turn a fish into a football she doesn't think, "Oh, magic!” she instead tries to figure out how the trick was done, that's just her nature. She feels that not knowing about something makes you powerless against it.

Alice lives in a world where refrigerators talk to grocery stores across the "data cloud." Alice knows that of course its technology that tells the store when she needs more apples, but "most folk" see it as the same magic that turned the fish into the football.

Geek!: Could you talk a little about the idea of “Most Folks,” and the idea of letting fear, emotion, and/or superstition dominate a conversation?

SP: Well, the idea of the "most folks" was formed by listening to dear old George Bush. He used it as a phrase to mean the common people, but from Alice's perspective it means "the idiot in the street."

Alice sees ignorance as weakness—it leaves you open to be exploited and manipulated. Worse still, she sees a growing "democratization" of expertise in the media, a move to claim that any random idiot's "common sense" opinion is worth the same as an actual expert. Alice is shamelessly elitist. She thinks the right to an opinion is earned.

Geek!: How are you handling essentially being a one-man show on this project?

SP: I'm going slightly crazy :) It's all been a bit of a whirlwind. Requiem for the Dead was the first script I've ever written (although it was based on Warren's [Ellis] work) and Deep Cut is only the second! In many ways, though, doing everything helps. I can make changes and edits as I go along. If a character starts to shine I can give them more time. Radical has been incredibly supportive though, and my editor is a superstar.

Geek!: Did you take the opportunity between stories to tweak the designs of your characters and world? Alice in particular seems like she has a more refined look—incredibly unique and interesting.

SP: Well, a lot of that is me getting better at drawing her! Her hair and hoodie have been refined, but essentially she's the same short, pug nosed girl I started with. Most of Alice's look is about her trying to be more intimidating. She's a short, pale, skinny girl in her early twenties, trying to assert herself in an environment full of alpha males. She wears a jacket with a fur hood to bulk up her shoulders, heeled boots, to make her taller and too much eye makeup to enhance her permanent scowl. The great thing about writing for Alice is because she's always the underdog. She can be as rude and obnoxious as she likes and still come across as mostly sympathetic.

Geek!: What kind of turns has the story or the set of characters taken that might have surprised you?

SP: Her partnership with Detective Mobey pleases me. I always had it in mind that they should slip into a combative, father/daughter relationship, but it's worked out quite well. Alice's own father is an off-screen presence, an absent super scientist who Alice inherited all her worst traits from. Perhaps Mobey is the best influence in her life right now. He's a much better father than he is a detective. We also have a new character called Burtus Rantz. He's the head of a group of private security troops that cover for Alice whilst she's on medical leave. He is in many ways a thug, but an intelligent one. Alice is intrigued by his ability to shut off his intellect and obey orders. Originally Rantz was going to be a throwaway villain, but Alice has changed my mind.

Geek!: What would you like to tease about the next issue?

SP: Suppressor field failure!

A showdown in the middle of a tsunami of Blue-Lights!

And Alice gets another cool toy!

Geek!: Do you have any word on when the next series will be coming along? Any other projects you can talk about?

SP: Radical debuted Hotwire: Deep Cut at the San Diego Comic-Con, so hopefully the next Hotwire miniseries will debut there too. This series, Deep Cut, is planned to be the first of a three-story arc. Hotwire seems to be working out to be a series a year, It'd be nice to get less of a wait between series, but I don't want the quality to drop, and Radical have asked me to generate some stories for other projects too.

Check out our preview of Hotwire: Deep Cut #2


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