Conversation with a Misanthrope: 90 Minutes with Hannibal Tabu

Posted: May 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

2013-08-26 23.14.45

© 2013 G.N. Jacobs

Who is Hannibal Tabu? A quick web search might get you an answer like oh, he’s that guy with the Buy Pile column on Comic Book Resources who kicked over an anthill busting Marvel on the crappy portrayal of Cage in 2009. I know him as the entertaining, highly acerbic guy standing near the New Comics box in our shared comic book store, Comics Ink in Culver City (Overland near the Sony lot), who always has something to say about our shared passions of comics, books, movies and the writing that makes them possible.

In strict point of fact, I frequently miss the Hannibal Tabu Show, which is part of the greater show called Wednesday Shipping Day at the Comic Book Store. The truth for this is two-fold: I either don’t have the budget for a graphic novel that week, or since I personally gave up on comic books versus collected trade paperbacks and graphic novels, which don’t require me to be Wednesday Current, it means I can skip the crowds for a more relaxing time on Sunday. But, as I frequently say about many things “when I rewrite this for the movie,” I will say that I had an attack of “Gentlemen now abed in England shall hold their manhood accursed…” (Not entirely true, I’ve got my own writer’s ego, but in this case it’s a nice bit of hyperbole for a writer I respect) when I found out what his discipline and writing days are like. You see it’s because I started reading his book…

So when we sit down at a Starbucks both of us foolishly not checking the business hours so that we barely get our food before we have to repair to a nearby outdoor bench, my first question was tell me the story of how your parents came to name you Hannibal?

“My mom was part of Fred Hampton’s Illinois Black Panther chapter before he was assassinated by the Chicago Police Department,” Hannibal said. “Some quirk of fate transpired that she’d been sent away just before the raid…”

I prompted him with the history of the original Carthaginian who was just about the only black man in history with an army ripped enough to scare European powers enough into committing genocide during the Third Punic War – “They make a desert and call it Peace (Plutarch).”

“Yeah, I’m sure that was part of it, which at the time would’ve been her only frame of reference for the name. It was well before either George Peppard or Anthony Hopkins,” Hannibal continued.

Hannibal moved to California with his family soon after with a stop for a few years in Memphis. He grew up seemingly the smartest person in the room until the age of 18, which fed his self-described deep-seated misanthropy.

“This is at the core of my writing,” Hannibal said.

He cited several mentors who directly aided him on his journey from brash student to working writer, including some teachers from high school: Georgia Newhart and Mike Coe. During that time, he found in acting class that he wanted to be behind the camera where there is more control, though there have been tentative attempts at voice acting.

He also specifically mentioned mentors at the Los Angeles Sentinel, one of the oldest black-owned newspapers in California, from when he started work there in 1993, including Marsha Bray, James Bolden and, the now deceased, Dennis Schatzman.

“When I started work there, Dennis said to me ‘you can’t beat being me, I F— with people for eight hours a day and then go home to my family,’” Hannibal said allowing the glint of fond memories to light up his eyes. “That made him one enticing role model.”

And like a lot of writers he cites a laundry list of literary influences whenever he gives an interview from which other interviewers can crib. He cheerfully admits to loving Star Wars, even the prequels (no accounting for taste there). J.R.R. Tolkien gets a nod for the thoroughness of how Middle Earth was realized and Hannibal just can’t stop talking about Christopher Priest and his work on Black Panther.

So how did this man go from expert commentator to soon-to-be-published comic book writer? He entered the 2012 Top Cow Talent Hunt, a free contest, and won with a script for their series Artifacts, featuring Michael Finnegan as an Irish archeologist of the weird. However, he doesn’t recommend joining any contest that requires paying an upfront entry fee.

“I have a policy I take checks, I don’t give them out,” Hannibal said.

Winning the contest brought more attention from all around the comics industry. Steven Grant, co-writer of Two Guns, approached him for a guest writing stint on Watson & Holmes, a black take on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classics. Both issues are winding their way through the editorial process as of this writing.

Asking Hannibal about his writing schedule was eye opening for me (see above to the semi-facetious Henry V reference). He blocks out three to four hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday after 8:30pm, where if his girls have a reason to still be up the wife has been delegated to deal with it because it’s Daddy’s writing time. He chews through the many tweets, comics (Wednesdays) and articles that inform his various columns and then the remaining time is given over to whatever project is at the top of his many lists. I gulped to hear the assertion of 50,000-60,000 words per week completed factoring in both columns and creative work. Like many writers, Hannibal supplements the output from his scheduled writing times with mobile apps and stealing writing time whenever it presents (usually in a slow-moving line). He uses Textastic, which most people use to write HTML code, on both his iPhone and his iPad, because he releases most of his work directly to the web.

“My girls can’t stand how protective I am of my iPad, but I say to them ‘this is my iPad, get a job and get your own,’” Hannibal said.

When this writer got over the output issue, I was less surprised to learn that Hannibal approaches his craft in a highly methodical and detailed manner. He sketches out his characters and plots to the Nth degree in that he probably can tell you what the guy in the back of the bar hitting on his female protagonist had for lunch three days previously. The same goes for his plots, which allows him to know where he’s going even if he needs to take a long digression and later come back.

“I mostly had to do it this way, even if I don’t need most of what I create because I was always thinking that I would write in collaborative media like comic books where an artist tells half the story,” Hannibal explained. “We all have different cultural reference points and it wouldn’t be fair to say ‘make this guy like Michael Jai White’ and make the artist look things up, so I just give him everything I have and set him loose.”

Hannibal made an important distinction when asked if he felt his characters talked to him, “No, I rather think they talk through me, I’m not sure I would to talk to them. A lot of them seem quite crazy.”

Music plays an important role in Hannibal’s work from many reasons whether a character issue about knowing what the character listens to or if it’s just about setting the mood and tone of a piece. He also cited how musical influences as disparate as Sting and Public Enemy induced him to spend more time looking things up because he hadn’t gotten the references.

“I was nine and I didn’t know what Scylla and Charybdis were when I heard Sting sing about them,” Hannibal said. “I looked them up and it led to the wider world of Greek Mythology.”

Ultimately, I really just wanted to talk about his e-book Crown: The Ascension. I had started reading it that morning and had quickly blown through seven chapters and hadn’t read anything quite so awesome. A young man meets a seemingly young woman in the LA club scene and gains superpowers when she falls in love with him. The book came about when enough artists had backed out of an unspoken agreement to illustrate a project that finally he just wrote his books.

“That kind of thing just kind of fed my misanthropy that other people are bad,” Hannibal said. “So I just wrote the story my way.”

We discussed the book and that I thought it would be an awesome movie except for not knowing who could play the leads of James and Tonya. Hollywood hasn’t recently produced any new African-American stars in the Under 30 category, where all the big names right now are over forty too old for both leads. He mentioned Jaden Smith as being boring and so…

When speaking to Hannibal Tabu a factoid like a dearth of young African-American stars will lead to other tidbits that inform the listener that he is watching the media industry very closely to see if hiring practices will open up anytime soon. Something, I knew walking in the door when we had this exchange a few days earlier.

Q: Hannibal, how are you?

A: Insane.

Q: So is that insane, but not yet caught, which is good, or insane but caught which is bad?

A: I’m American and black, so of course I was caught.

He doesn’t hold out much hope of getting a job at either Marvel or DC citing that Marvel hadn’t hired a black writer since 2009 and at DC it had been since 2011. However, he is perfectly content to keep networking, commenting (loudly) and sending out his work all with the goal of scoring gigs with independent publishers like Top Cow, Image and the like.

“Will I reach 70-percent of the population? No,” Hannibal said. “But, stealing a quote from Robert Rodriguez ‘I have a lot of technology in my corner, I don’t have to submit.’”

Even more so than his perception of race relations, bad unoriginal writing really sets Hannibal off…

“I know Shakespeare did say ‘there’s nothing new under the sun,’ but you should at least try!” Hannibal asserted.

So after a pleasant 90 minutes I asked my closing question…

Q: You are given the power to green light one project, which because it’s a hypothetical situation, will have the resources to make it artistically perfect without drowning it in too much money. What would you use it on? 

A: Static Shock by Dwayne McDuffie, because he was far less misanthropic than I am and I was just pleased to get to know him as little as I did. I seem to gravitate towards villains, sick ones at that…

Fact checking corrections quoted directly from Hannibal:

– My mother, her boyfriend and half the chapter were sent to Joliet the night of Fred Hampton’s assassination by the COINTELPRO-hired security director for the chapter, in order to make the raid have less chances of police casualties.

– I moved to California by myself.

– Since our discussion, Marvel hired Felipe Smith for Ghost Rider, and he’s their only Black writer hire since releasing Hudlin from Black Panther in 2009.

– I don’t know if that’s a Rodriguez quote, but it’s surely his philosophy.

Additional sources: http://www.examiner.com/article/hannibal-tabu-wordsmith-wonder

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