Ask Me Anything: Hannibal Tabu, The Hard Man of American Comics

Hannibal Tabu
Jan 11, 2018

Reviewer, pundit, raconteur, ne’er-do-well and author Hannibal Tabu (www.hannibaltabu.com) of the Operative Network (www.operative.net) takes on all questions in a no holds barred AMA that will give the internet a bad sprain! The Top Cow Talent Hunt? Aspen Universe questions? Indie comics Menthu or Project Wildfire or Watson and Holmes? The state of the industry? The creative process and the business of it? Everything is on the table as Hannibal prepares for his appearance at Black Comix Arts Festival (sfmlkday.org/bcafcon) in San Francisco and releases the print edition of Menthu: The Anger of Angels (bit.ly/theangerofangels — available digitally 1/16)!


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What inspired you to do Project Wildfire?

Jan 9, 9:03AM EST1

Money. It’s a fun story. Larry Stroman made a post about Black creators working together, so I posted that I’d be open to collaborations. Quinn McGowan (now my creative partner) posted that he wanted to ask me to work on his book, so I said, “does it pay?” We were off to the races.

Originally, I was supposed to write four issues, bringing in a key character. I saw that it made a bigger tableau and we started talking and “work for hire” became more of a creative partnership as I developed the entirety of the “story” of Wildfire. Quinn made the beginning and I fleshed out the middle and the inevitable end. We both know what the last page of Project Wildfire is, and we’re anxiously moving towards it as fast as we can. 

The purity of writing a genuine hero, and making his altruism have real character roots, appeals to me and I’m so overjoyed to make characters that my kids and my friends’ kids can see themselves in. 

Thanks for asking! 

Last edited @ Jan 9, 3:14PM EST.
Jan 9, 1:41PM EST1
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What’s the title of your first novel that you made when you were just 8?

Jan 9, 6:05AM EST1

Ha! Literally nobody has ever asked me that, thank you. Well, I spent weeks wrestling with possible titles and (if memory serves) I think “Whispered Secrets” was what I finally settled on. It is my life long mission to make sure no one ever, ever finds that collection of notebook paper, jammed in a box somewhere in my varied possessions. Spirit, it’s terrible ... but thank you for asking, that’s a funny memory! 

Jan 9, 1:20PM EST0
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What is the most challenging part of making the webcomics?

Jan 9, 4:03AM EST1

To fit in the ritual of it with everyday life. For example, I *intellectually* know I have to have stuff done by X time, but the something goes crazy at work or an audition pops up for a daughter & I have to drive or whatever in life distracts me and the next thing I know it’s the morning the thing is supposed to be online and I’ve done nothing — not sized the image, not prepared the social media promotions, nothing. I’m okay at it, but it can be a grind. Getting ahead *long* before you start is the best method of avoiding the problem, so if you are inclined, I’d launch with six weeks worth of posts ready to go. Thanks for asking! 

Jan 9, 1:22PM EST0

How did you branch out from creative writing to music?

Jan 9, 3:51AM EST1

I don’t know that I ever made a very hard switch from one to another. I’ve been writing songs & humming self-made melodies since I was maybe ten, I took piano and played drums (well, a drum machine) and piano in high school. I wrote a lot of music journalism for Vibe and MTV and the Source and other outlets, so I was around musicians a lot. After my 2003 divorce, I dove head first into karaoke, then hosting karaoke, then DJing, which is a hoot. There’s a constant soundtrack going in my head (“Epiphany” by Staind right now, because it’s raining) so music is rarely far from my thoughts, all the way down to many lyrics incorporated into my writing. I guess the answer to this is “through hard work,” as I worked to develop my knowledge and then skill as a vocalist and DJ before asking people to pay me for it. Thanks for asking!

Jan 9, 1:25PM EST0
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Hannibal Tabu is a Los Angeles based comic book writer. Here are some looks at his recent work.

Jan 8, 9:58PM EST0

I relly like your work.

Jan 11, 9:32PM EST1

That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. Hopefully you’ll pick up the three books I have out — Irrational Numbers, Scoundrel and Menthu: The Anger of Angels, which should be available digitally next week! Thanks for reading! 

Jan 11, 11:45PM EST0

What basic tips can you give to aspiring comic book writers out there?

Jan 8, 8:34AM EST1

Thanks for asking. I always say "finish things." Getting good isn't always easy or fast, but finishing things is something anybody can do. Malcolm Gladwell said that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything, so the first half of that is likely to not be very good. The more you finish, the more you get out of the way on your way to being amazing, so start writing -- prose stories, scripts, everything you can, especially if somebody will pay you -- and don't stop.

Jan 8, 10:00PM EST0
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Considering the number of roles you have under your bucket, what is a day in your life like?

Jan 8, 5:54AM EST1

Thank you for writing and asking this question. It can be exhausting. Weekdays start at 6, taking kids to various educational things. Then I head to my day job, do some of that, sneak in some comics writing or social media brand management, write at lunch, get home, sneak in writing wherever I can, sometimes work into the night and so on. I write a lot at night, when I'm in line at the supermarket on my iPad, when people aren't watching. I review comics late into the night every Wednesday, which is when I watch most of the TV I see. Basically, I embody the hash tag I use -- "nonstop" -- because my great uncle told me two important things. First, I have to be three times as good to get half the credit of others, and second, that there's time to rest when I'm dead. He's dead now, coincidentally ...

Last edited @ Jan 8, 10:11PM EST.
Jan 8, 10:03PM EST0
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Do you have any future projects brewing right now?

Jan 7, 10:08PM EST1

Thank you for writing and asking this question. I'm launching the print and digital sales of Menthu: The Anger of Angels (bit.ly/theangerofangels) at Black Comix Arts Festival in San Francisco King Weekend, but if you're fast you can read it all online for free before I take it down. I'll be launching issue 2 of the historical fiction mini series Scoundrel from Wunderman Comics that weekend on ComiXology, and you should probably see the vampire historical fiction mini Irrational Numbers (also from Wunderman Comics) doing issue ... four around that time as well. Wednesdays, you'll see Project Wildfire: Street Justice (a free web comic, bit.ly/streetjustice) for free and I'm working on a few more things (a web comic with actor Damion Poitier and maybe a third series with Wunderman Comics) that I can announce soon as well.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 10:11PM EST.
Jan 8, 10:07PM EST0
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How does it feel like winning the 2012 Top Cow Talent Hunt? Did you expect to win onset?

Jan 7, 9:49PM EST1

Thank you for writing and asking this question. I didn't expect anything. I was very Mushashi about it. I overperformed and wrote relentlessly and poured myself into it. I'd been trained in writing, I'd done a lot of it in multiple formats, so I worked hard and used all I had learned and it paid off.

I found out I won the weekend of Wondercon 2013, and all of a sudden, people who wouldn't take my call all of a sudden wanted to talk. It literally changed my life and I'm eternally grateful to Matt Hawkins, Marc Silvestri and everybody at Top Cow for jump starting my comics career.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 10:11PM EST.
Jan 8, 10:09PM EST0
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What keeps you creative every single day?

Jan 7, 11:40AM EST1

Thank you for writing and asking. I feel like stories are bursting out of my head, desperate to be free. The tiniest thing can get my brain spinning off characters and narratives. I simply try to respect that muse because, for me, writing isn't a choice, it's a calling. I'm literally driven to create.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 10:11PM EST.
Jan 8, 10:10PM EST0
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What inspired you to do your prize-winning script?

Jan 7, 9:07AM EST1

Great question, thanks for asking. I took the advice of Christopher Priest, the first Black editor in mainstream comics, who told me that sometimes you write for art's sake, and sometimes you write for commerce. I didn't really know the character so I read literally every appearance of Michael Finnegan and got a kind of "scoundrel" Han Solo vibe from him. Then I spoke extensively with a co-worker who was from Ireland, who gave me a lot of information about Irish slang, which I incorporated as well. The pieces started swirling in my head and the story came from their interaction in my brain juices.

Jan 8, 10:15PM EST1

What work, aside from the winning script in the talent hunt, are you most proud of?

Jan 7, 8:22AM EST1

That's fun, thanks for asking. My normal answer is "my next one," as I always try to look ahead, not resting on my laurels. I've done the most work developing Project Wildfire from its roots into a much grander, much deeper story without losing any of its charm or humor. That'd be one of my largest works. My personal continuity including my two novels, The Crown: Ascension and Faraway, are where I'd like to live creatively but I keep putting checks and deadlines ahead of it, to my wife's chagrin.

Jan 8, 10:17PM EST0

Who is your greatest writing influence growing up?

Jan 7, 7:04AM EST1

Easy answer: George Lucas. Star Wars has shaped so much of my life, my philosophies and my behavior that he deserves every dollar I've spent on lightsabers and movie tickets and action figures. The struggle for balance is something that happens inside me, so I respect it being played out on a galactic scale. Thank you for asking, I never tire of talking about Star Wars (and yes, I'd run a bus full of orphans off the road to write some Star Wars stuff).

Jan 8, 10:18PM EST0

How do you handle criticism and negative reviews, if any?

Jan 7, 6:50AM EST1

As someone who has done reviews for years, I don't take them personally. I've already spent the money, so it doesn't affect me financially. If it's work for hire, I make sure the person who hired me is happy. If it's my own work, I make sure I'm happy with the product. Negative reviews don't factor in. A mentor of mine said it was all good publicity if they spell your name right, so I don't worry about that sort of thing. Thank you for asking and for your interest.

Jan 8, 10:24PM EST0
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Do you have a youtube channel or considered having one? Do you think it's an effective platform for you to showcase what you’re currently doing?

Jan 7, 3:38AM EST1

For what I'm doing? No. A video of me sitting in an Ikea recliner with an iPad in front of me is not very intriguing. If I was gonna make videos with the kind of of production value I like, I'd take time away from telling better stories, or my wife, or my kids, or my job. The one time I really did a video to promote the work (youtu.be/INfdl9SA-44) I didn't have time to promote it properly. I have a YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/channel/UCGH8IB5qCMlsgXZ2VbXvOJg) but the content there is just random -- mash ups I recorded because I couldn't get them out of my head, random things that happened in my life and so on. It's less promotional and more whimsical. I don't know any comics writers using YouTube successfully, but if I was an artist, I could see the value of process videos. Thanks for asking.

Jan 8, 10:30PM EST0

What is the most gratifying compliment you ever received and whom did it come from?

Jan 7, 2:54AM EST1

A fifth grader came up to me at a mall and quoted a poem that I read on a stage three years before. She said it really stuck with her and affected her. For my work to hit somebody that much, it really impressed me. Great question, thank you.

Jan 8, 10:30PM EST0

When did you decide to make a living out of your own passion? Is your family supportive?

Jan 7, 12:59AM EST0

What I do as a creative is a "side hustle," because I grew up a southerner who believes paying bills takes first priority. I work a "day job" because it gives my kids benefits and it takes care of my household, but this year I made 20% of my day job money in comics. That's not bad. I hope to do more next year. My family mostly indulges me. Fair question, thanks.

Jan 8, 10:33PM EST0
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Have you ever made a costly mistake before, and what did you do to overcome it?

Jan 7, 12:19AM EST1

Not in comics, but yes. I had a job offer from a hugely prestigious ad agency that was $5k below what I was making. It was the dot com era, so I found that insulting. I should have taken it, as the dot com where I was fell apart a few months later. I overcame it by redoubling my efforts and working harder -- I was making comparable money freelance a year later. When I hit a roadblock, I reinvent myself and find another way to use my skills for financial benefit. Great question, thank you.

Jan 8, 10:36PM EST0

Do you have other interests that you still want to pursue and add to your belt of achievements?

Jan 6, 3:51PM EST1

I'm not the DJ I'd like to be. I'm not the singer I'd like to be. I haven't written a tenth of the stories I'd like to write. I have many ambitions to work towards. Miles to go before I sleep, and so on.  Thanks for asking.

Jan 8, 10:36PM EST0
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Do you manage your own website, or do you have a team to do it?
Jan 6, 3:11PM EST1

I do it myself in raw HTML. I had a Wordpress that got hacked and decided, as said in Ghost Dog, "sometimes the old ways are best." I've been working professionally on the web since 1999, so I'd have to have some impressive collaborators to hand over the reins. Thanks for asking!

Last edited @ Jan 8, 10:38PM EST.
Jan 8, 10:38PM EST0
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