Smash Pages Q&A: Sean Damien Hill

The artist of ‘The Hated’ discusses how he works, his influences, drawing horses and more.

Sean Damien Hill has been working on comics for years now, on projects ranging from Dark Shaman to Route 3 to The Gilded Age. His linework shows traces of a number of influences, finding ways to incorporate manga and classic American illustrators. The result is work that manages to be detailed and dynamic, with an impressive sense of design and layout.

Hill is an immensely talented young artist, and his new project, with David Walker, is The Hated #1. The comic is a Western set in an alternative world that Walker described as part spaghetti Western and part blaxploitation. It’s out now from Solid Comix, and Hill was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and how he works.

To start, how did you come to comics?

I was indoctrinated, actually. [laughs] My mom and grandfather read a lot, and comics was a regular part of their stuff. I was into drawing because of my grandfather and got into comics because of the art. After a few DC Comics books I was hooked. 

How did you end up drawing The Hated

Well Román Govea over at Myth Division actually showed David some work of mine at a comic convention when they were talking. After that he told me David liked the work and wanted to talk about doing something together. Of course I was floored because it’s David Walker. Then I got the courage to start talking to him, and we would go back and forth on the possibility of doing different things, but it eventually came down to him wanting to do his own publishing and focus more on indie work. He told me he had a screenplay he was developing into a script based on the old spaghetti westerns. 

How did David pitch the project to you and what interested you?

It was pitched as sort of an alternative history post-Civil War America, with a tough female protagonist. I was intrigued because of Araminta; she seemed driven by the massive trauma of losing her family, but tries to fill that void by enforcing justice. I’m always into characters that can take an inner turmoil and use it as a reason to make the world right. 

Tell me about Araminta and how you approached her?

So Araminta is pretty complex. She’s suffered a huge loss in her life and that pushes her to enforce a kind of justice. She carries this void in her, and she tries to fill it as best she can. So I try to keep that in mind with her body language and expression. 

Are you a fan of Westerns?

Not specifically, but I used to watch a far amount of those Sergio Leone Westerns. The way those scenes are shot is a master class in schematic storytelling.

How much reference and research was required for this project?

Okay, don’t laugh – whoever reads this don’t laugh! – but during this time I was obsessed with Red Dead Redemption 2. I played that thing so much a lot of stuff just got engraved into my brain. But when I wasn’t doing that, I had a huge amount of Pinterest pics and movie posters that David would send me. I remember being sent pics.

Was that a big difference from how you typically work? So much of the work of yours I’ve seen is contemporary and takes place in our world (sort of).

Well, I have about 200 or so references saved in my Pinterest right now. The clothing wasn’t the fun part, but the guns were tough. Those weapons are made with a certain craftsmanship that isn’t around anymore. Modern guns look kind of clunky and mechanical. Guns back then look like they were designed by artisans. Horses were also heavily referenced. There’s not a horse in that story I didn’t have to reference.

How do you like to work? I’m asking in part because you pencil and ink. Do you thumbnail? Draw loose pencils? Work in sequence?

I actually do work in sequence. It’s rare I’m going out if order unless I’m trying to manage my time on a project more strictly. I typically like to start the week off opening a page in clip studio and working out a rough layout of the page. From there, I go into tighter penciling which is still fairly rough. At minimum I’m working out basic line work and shadows. Then from there I start inking. A large amount of the work takes shape there. 

I’ve been going through some of your un-colored pages online, and do you think about the colors? Are you working and talking with the colorist or do you see the pages as finished when they leave your hands and the colorist does their thing?

Well, I think if I’m providing a good finished page to a colorist, it would only make the colorist’s job easier. I try to work out everything as best I can so the colorist can identify what’s going on. But not in terms of trying to see work I should leave up to them. I want the colorist to have fun coloring my stuff and not have to figure out to much stuff. 

I just know a few artists who know it’s getting colored, will work with the colorist, but they think of “their” pages as a finished, black and white piece. 

Yeah, I do consider it done when I’ve finished, but I’ve had experiences where the colorist didn’t know how to approach something because I left it to vague or confusing. My job is to make a solid visual story that won’t trip up the next artist to complete the process and for the reader to understand and hopefully enjoy it. 

I think horses are one of the most polarizing things for comics artists. Some love drawing horses, others hate them with a passion. Where do you stand? 

Oh no, I was fine with drawing horses. There is a lot of mood and narrative you can get by just playing with the body language of a horse. Think about the Death Dealer painting from Frazetta. The horse helps set the mood of the art with its head sunken and low. It wouldn’t feel as foreboding if its head was proudly up high. 

And is that where you stood on the issue before The Hated?

I think not long before The Hated I was really getting into a lot of older illustrations that pulled more narrative elements from things like background and atmosphere and props of the main subject to tell its story. Al Williamson was a big influence, actually. Along with Frazetta and Billy Graham from the old Black Panther books. 

Were you going back to their old EC stuff, or what’s the work of theirs that really resonates with you?

I’m more inspired by a lot of Frazetta’s ink drawings. I don’t think they’re as popular, but I learn so much looking at such simple stuff. 

As for Williamson I’ve been really into his Flash Gordon stuff, especially his pinups 

I can see some of that influence on this and your work. Your backgrounds, some of the figure details definitely draw on this more illustrative school they belonged to. But when you were talking about guns back then, the whole world back then was a much more handcrafted world.

It was and it definitely shows, I guess the industrial things got the more we started to loose that quality in our inventions. Though I’m not really complaining; I’m a city boy from D.C.

So what’s next for you? More of The Hated? Other things? Anything you want to mention, in and out of comics, take it where you will?

Definitely more of The Hated. I also have The Crossing with 133Art coming up. Some really incredible stuff with Rae Comics’ Okemus series and I’m looking forward to working with Greg Elyseè’s Isnana character. Definitely much more to come. 

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