Bulent Hasan on Black Project

Black Project is an upcoming comic by Bulent Hasan currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo.

PHILLIPS: What inspired you to enter the indie comics arena?

HASAN: I’ve been a comic book fan all my life, and to this date I have about 20 long and short boxes of comics filled from edge to edge. Everything from Marvel, Star Wars, DC, and Image. I started at around 8 years old when my family had a restaurant that the entire family worked, so after school we had to be at the back room of the kitchen, so I’d get my escapism through comics. I’ve worked in a comics shop and know about “the best day ever”: Wednesdays. And soon after, I got into the film industry here in Vancouver as a storyboard artist. For about 8 years straight my directors and producers always said I should make comics but I still had that mentality to ‘make films.’ But one day after seeing a binder full of drawings for one feature, I realized that that was a graphic novel sitting right there. I found no more excuses and decided to dive straight into making my first comic.

PHILLIPS: Tell us about the origins for Black Project?

HASAN: Black Project is a story I started writing immediately after high school (1993), and I had no idea how to write it down properly, so I started writing my ideas down and drawing all this rough concept stuff out, weird tunnels, characters. But soon after that I signed up for film school to learn how to write screenplays and then later for the full time film program at Vancouver Film School. And from there I worked to make Black Project my first real screenplay. After years of it going nowhere because of how the film industry works (you can’t sell without an agent, an agent won’t represent you without a sale), I put it on the shelf and moved on. I found other work as an editor, a multimedia designer, a camera man, produced corporate videos, and then afterwards got into storyboarding, where I’ve stayed for 12 years now. Only when I was exploring what story to tell as my first comic, did I find my script for Black Project on a hard drive and the rest is history.

PHILLIPS: So what’s Black Project about then?

HASAN: The ‘elevator pitch’?

PHILLIPS: Yes, let’s start there.

HASAN: Black Project is “Stranger Things meets The X-Files”. The logline for it goes like this: ‘When a simple teenage boy is bullied at school he unknowingly sets off a genetic trigger alerting the Agents Nexus, the people who created him. Now a danger to everyone around him, he’s about to discover how deep this rabbit hole goes into a world of secrets and shadows!”

PHILLIPS: That sounds pretty intense!

HASAN: It is I guess!

PHILLIPS: So this “Nexus”… they’re the bad guys? What’s this I heard about them being “men in black”?

HASAN: Well when I first wrote it, it was long before Will Smith’s movie ever came out. So my Men in Black were always intimidating, heavily inspired by The Terminator, except they acted as one, like a hive mind, like the borg. So seeing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones run around and crack jokes and dancing to hip hop music completely devasted me. I knew then I couldn’t get Black Project even looked at by an agency or a production company in the ‘90s.

PHILLIPS: Will Smith was all the rage then after the Fresh Prince show.

HASAN: Yes he had “Big Willie Weekend” then during the summers whenever a film he did opened.

PHILLIPS: So if you wrote this back in the ‘90s and you use “Stranger Things” in your elevator pitch, what are the real inspirations for Black Project?

HASAN: Using something like “Stranger Things” in your pitch helps you connect someone to the property. It’s a selling tactic, only because it’s currently in the modern lexicon of pop culture. If they know what X-Files is based on and who the heroes of Stranger Things are, they’ll immediately connect.

But the real origins are shows like Unsolved Mysteries that turned me onto the myth of “Men In Black.” In fact, that episode where people talked about meeting them scared the heck out of me as a 12 year old, so I started watching anything and everything I could about Men In Black, UFOs, secret bases, secret Air Force, anything. Then shows like Sightings came on and then later on X-Files brought a more popular view to the UFO phenomenon. I’m also a child of the ’80s, so Star Wars, The Terminator, John Carpenter’s Starman, and films like that were massive inspirations for me, as well as smaller popular films like Flight Of The Navigator were a massive influence.

PHILLIPS: And the Stranger Things connection makes sense since everything about that show takes place in the ‘80s and the influences there are from everything you’ve mentioned.

HASAN: Exactly! In fact when I started this book I was painting it on 11×17 paper with India ink and put on Stranger Things on Netflix, and my wife immediately started yelling “Honey that’s your book! Right there!” It was a scene that Eleven was put into a large glass tube full of water and she went to the ‘upside down’. That shot mirrored a page I’d done for chapter 1 (months before Stranger Things ever aired) of a baby in almost the same situation, submerged in water and attached to breathing apparatus. My wife said “Can’t you sue them?”

PHILLIPS: But that shot matches the scene in Empire where Luke is in the bacta tank.

HASAN: Exactly! We’re all influenced by the best films of the ‘80’s. The key is to make it your own.

PHILLIPS: Are you working on Black Project alone?

HASAN: I was at first, drawing every page, and then digitizing, enhancing them on photoshop, then the lettering. But after the massive 24-page opening, I was finding myself burnt out, and I still had another 30 pages to complete! So I asked a good friend of mine, Josh Whittall, to come in as dialogue writer. He’s got experience working in film and produced a few projects on his own, and he’s also a great writer to boot! He’s done an amazing job and I have kept using him for dialogue and story editing. He’s been invaluable to the process.

PHILLIPS: Who is this book for?

HASAN: The appeal of this book is for anyone who loves the classic hero’s journey as perfectly described by the late Joseph Campbell himself, and for anyone who’s really into excitement and escapism in comics. I treat it like a film that Spielberg would have made in the ‘80s. We’re working hard to make this the most cinematic graphic novel series out there.

PHILLIPS: So how much have you gotten done then?

HASAN: We’ve actually completed all of chapters 1, 2, and 3, with each book coming in at over 70 pages. And we’ve created a special “Making of Black Project” at the back of every issue. Chapter 4 is being completed now; we’re very close to lettering, and we have written chapter 5 and 6 story outlines.

PHILLIPS: So this is a 6-part story then?

HASAN: Yes, and so far we are at 400 pages of story.

PHILLIPS: Tell us about the crowdfunding and what your goals are?

HASAN: We’re on Indiegogo now, and we are asking for $1000 to get the book printed and shipped. We aren’t like a lot of crowdfunders asking for completion funds; we are actually finished and ready to go. We’re including other rewards like prints of the poster as well as trading cards by other artists that we were able to commission in the last year, and we’re really excited show everyone what’s in store.

PHILLIPS: So I see that you have this available digitally now to read. What’s the difference between the digital and the print campaign on Indiegogo?

HASAN: The digital editions are the ones with my covers only. We’re big believers in the digital format and have made it available on many formats now. But to make this special and inviting to people to join in on the Crazy Pencil Comics family, we’ve commissioned a cover by Hugh Fleming. It’s a stunning cover and we’re super excited to show the world this book. I’ve been a fan of Hugh’s for years, and I was so happy he came onboard as our artist for this cover. We wanted something special and he delivered.

PHILLIPS: Do you have formal training, like have you gone to any school to make comics?

HASAN: None. I’m self-taught. I’ve spent my whole life drawing, but more importantly I have spent hours looking at other artists and working hard to study how they put lines down. I’m always learning and improving.

PHILLIPS: What tools do you rely on?

HASAN: We started this book on pen paper and ink. Now with the way life has taken over, I don’t get as much time on my drawing table being a father, a husband, and a full time storyboard artist, I switched to the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil and the app Procreate which has been instrumental in getting not only this book but the next 4 completed. I’m able to draw at lunches or when I’m on the train; it has proved to be more useful than I could ever imagine.

PHILLIPS: So what’s next for you after this?

HASAN: We plan on getting Hugh back to do covers for the print editions for chapters 2-4 and as well as completing 4, and then beginning chapter 5. We also are starting to collaborate with other writers and artists to bring out another series that we will probably crowdfund at a later date.

PHILLIPS: Anything else you would like to share?

HASAN: Yes, it’s live now on Indiegogo!

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Mike produces books and documentaries about comics. He's now trying to write his own comics. He tells everyone else at Sequart what to do. Do they listen? Eh.

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