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Interview with ‘The Grave Doug Freshley’ Writer Josh Hechinger

To mark this week’s release of The Grave Doug Freshley hardcover, we asked writer Josh Hechinger a few questions to give you better insight into what the book is about!

How did you come up with the idea for The Grave Doug Freshley?

JOSH HECHINGER: A friend lent me “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” in high school (first time I’d seen it), and the next day I doodled an undead cowboy and a little Huck Finn kid. A year or so later, mpMann had come to me asking about a hitman rom-com I’d just handed to another artist, so I remembered that doodle and made up the bones of the story on the spot to keep him around.

What’s the story behind the unique and clever title?

HECHINGER: Oh man…for as many puns as I’ve inflicted on my friends, that was actually Marv [Mann] saving the book by coming up with a way better character name than what I’d originally had down. So, he came up with “Doug Freshley” and I came back, no doubt grinning, with “The Grave Doug Freshley.”

Are you a fan of westerns? If so, what are some of your favorite movies, TV shows or books in the genre? If not, what about westerns proved to be the best genre to tell your story?

HECHINGER: Outside of “Maverick” and “Blazing Saddles,” I wasn’t until “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly.” Then I just inhaled all the Leone Westerns I could find, before starting in on stuff like “Django,” “El Topo,” “Cat Ballou,” “Support Your Local Sheriff/Gunfighter,” “A Fistful Of Semi-Obscure Westerns To Make Me Look Like I Know What I’m Talking About,” etc.

(It’s weird…I still haven’t seen any John Wayne Westerns, or John Ford’s work, or Howard Hawks’. Just Italian stuff and comedies. Going with what I like, I guess.)

Comics wise, I was reading the original Bat Lash stuff just before and a little into writing GDF; those eight or so issues are still my favorite Western comic (also the only “vintage” comic I collect the actual single issues of). O’Neil/Aragonés/Cardy were such a bizarre, perfect, once-in-a-lifetime team and their work was a good…five years(?) ahead of its time or so. It’s great.

(I’m also fond of that Ennis/McCrea Hitman Annual that was a big Leone riff, and what I think was Eiichiro Oda’s first published gig, called Wanted.)

Is Doug Freshley a zombie?

HECHINGER: From the start, I didn’t want to make him a zombie-zombie, and I sort of realized a month or so after I first finished the script that I’d basically been writing a Terry Pratchett type: someone who’s basically alive, except for the whole “being dead” thing.

So the technical answer is “yes” if you love zombies and “no” if you think they’re played out.

Bartholomew is a tough, rambunctious kid with a problem with authority. What were you like as a kid?

HECHINGER: I was precocious, and got on well with adults, but was also prone to flying off the handle like a nutter. So let’s say Bat’s both a little more well-adjusted and righteously scrappy than Josh the Kid, but Josh the Kid was better read and had parents who were still alive.

What was it like to work with artist mpMann?

HECHINGER: If I said all the good things I could possibly say about him as an artist and collaborator, we’d be here until the heat death of the universe.

Not even going into professionalism, or him sticking with the book, or taking a chance on a then-snot-nosed-nineteen-year-old’s first OGN…just sticking strictly with the “making a good comic” aspects: anything I could throw at him in the script, he could draw. The man’s versatility, and his ability to have the characters “act” on the page instead of just being talking heads, were absolutely key for the kind of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink book a “supernatural Western buddy comedy revenge fable” has to be by its very nature. If he had notes on the script, they were good notes. If I needed something tweaked to get the effect I was after across, he was open, but not blindly so.

I could not have asked for a better first collaborator on my first OGN.

How would you convince someone to give The Grave Doug Freshley a try?

HECHINGER: It’s an Archaia book, so you know it’s going to be a visual treat. (Which it is.)

As for the story…the most frequent (and delightful) compliment I’ve seen is from people who go in not digging Westerns, or zombies, or whatever, and end up still really enjoying the story because it’s, at best, a pleasant surprise, and at worst, a sincerely enthusiastic yarn.

Readers, you don’t know me from Adam, but I promise you, I did not write this comic to bum you out or waste your time.