We Are The Art Life: Paul Hanley Interview

Welcome back to Matt Armitage’s and my bi-weekly column showcasing the art and artists inspired by Twin Peaks, and in some cases other Lynch works. This week I talk to the supremely talented comic illustrator, Paul Hanley, about his Twin Peaks creations and what other TV and film inspires him. 


25YL: Thank you for talking to us here at 25YL. We’ve been huge fans of your Twin Peaks character illustrations.

PH: Thanks!

 

25YL: You created 119 pieces reflecting Series 3 is that right? Had you always planned it that way?
PH: It’s about 75% Series 3, with some “classic era” pieces in the mix (mostly early on).  The series started off almost a year ago as a private commission of just the original series and Fire Walk With Me FBI characters- but once I opened that door some of my Patreon backers (who fund a lot of the time I put in on fan art) wanted in and started requesting the Log Lady, Laura, etc.  Originally it was just going to be a sampling of some of the most iconic characters, but at some point I just decided “screw it, I’m drawin’ damn near everybody”.  It became my therapy for dealing with the anticipation for the new series.  Then the new series actually started up and that was like throwing gasoline on the fire.
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Blue Rose
Eventually I got the idea that the “end product” for the new series portraits would be a group shot where I layered everyone together, but it became increasingly clear it was too many characters (and worlds) to put in one pic.  So the idea of doing it as four posters developed: one for the Black Lodge/ Dutchman side of things; one for the White Lodge (if that even is where the Fireman’s residing- I like that it’s ambiguous) and Purple Sea/ space stuff; one for the town of Twin Peaks; and one centered around the multiple Coopers and the FBI/ Buckhorn/ Vegas side of things.

Ultimately, only about half of the time I put in on it was covered by commissions and Patreon requests- the rest was my general mania for coping with what the new series did to my brain (I mean that in a good way!).  I eventually decided I needed an arbitrary cutoff point for the new series pics or I’d never stop, so… #119 seemed like an obvious choice!  A little sad, because there were still tons of characters I would’ve loved to draw (the Fusco Bros, Mandie & Sandie, Sam & Tracey, modern-day Denise, etc, etc..).

I’m still planning on doing about 25 or so more “classic” pieces, because there’s still a lot of stuff I gotta cover there before I consider this crazy undertaking truly “done”.  Those will be coming out at a much more relaxed pace, and it’ll all end with one final group pic for the town of Twin Peaks circa 1989.  Given the way the series ended, it feels appropriate to end at the beginning.

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25YL: With 119 pieces it will be a hard choice no doubt but do you have a favourite creation?

PH: For the individual portraits, I think maybe it’d be the Margaret & Hawk one – though that has a lot to do with things external to any skill I brought to it, of course!
As far as the four group shots, the Cooper-centric one is probably my fave.  I managed to figure out a way of arranging everything so that everyone on the Mr. C/ side mirrors something on the “Dougie” side in a thematic way: Diane and Janey-E; Richard Horne and Sonny Jim; Ike the Spike and that f***er Ray (both hitmen sent to kill Coop); Hutch/ Chantal and the Mitchum Bros (gun-toting duos who act as Cooper’s loyal sidekicks)… Ruth Davenport’s head balancing the Arm… and of course there’s the Polish & Farm Accountants.
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Margaret and Hawk

25YL: Everyone has a tale about how they first got into Twin Peaks, what’s yours? Were you a fan back when it originally aired?

PH: I actually saw the premiere when it went out!  My mom was out for the night and asked me to tape some new show that was premiering… and it turned out to be Twin Peaks.  I was 13 and grew up in a house where stuff like Dallas and Falcon Crest was always on the TV, so the show’s bizarre, mutant take on the primetime soap was like discovering punk rock for the first time.  I  read the Secret Diary and “My Life, My Tapes”… I had the cards and the soundtrack… all that stuff.  I remember getting very worked up over all the scheduling shenanigans and is-it-or-isn’t-it-cancelled drama with Season 2.   And I’ll never forget that June 10th, 1991 was a Monday (I can’t read that date without hearing it announced in my head by Kimmy Robertson).  I was devastated when it ended the way it did.  And then there was the movie, which I saw opening day (twice), and all the bittersweet heartbreak of realizing it was going to leave Laura and Coop in the Lodge.  So yeah, I was obsessed.  It was always the one show I wished would come back (but never thought it would- thank god I was wrong).

25YL: Do you have a favourite character you just love to draw?

PH: I don’t think I can narrow it down to one.  Harry Dean Stanton’s face is an artists’ dream, so that was fun for the two Carl portraits.  Much more minor character, but Ella from the Roadhouse was a magnificent subject.  Such a perfect mix of beauty and shiver-inducing grossness (“Lynch’s Mona Lisa” as one of my friends called her).  Jacoby’s wardrobe is so nutty and colorful – that was always a blast. The Black Lodge spirits were all great because I could really cut loose on those – BOB, the Jumping Man, faceless Laura, the Woodsmen… I was really happy with how all of those turned out.

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25YL: What medium do you use and how long does it take you create a piece?

PH: It’s a very typical modern comic book way of doing things – pencil roughs on regular ol’ paper, then inks, scanning it, and coloring it in Photoshop.

Also, full disclosure, I should mention that I’m usually working from a lot of photo ref and often even using a trace from stills and screencaps as a jumping-off point (a lot of fan artists do, but usually don’t cop to it!).  I don’t always work that way, but when you’re trying to nail an actor’s likeness and don’t have a lot of time… it really speeds things up.  But it’s never just one source picture, it’s a bunch “Frankensteined” together along with bits I’ll just sketch out freehand.  I also do some of the poses for characters myself (and no, those highly embarrassing photos will never see the light of day).  The trick is to make sure the end result doesn’t have a static quality and doesn’t just look like some production still or shot from the show that fans have already seen, it needs to be something new and “transformative”.  I’m not saying I always pull that off, but that’s the goal.

25YL: You know I really want to see those character pose pics now!

Series 3 has divided fans in many ways, how did you feel about it and what’s your take on the finale?

PH: I’m all in on what Lynch and Frost (and everyone else involved) did with The Return.  It probably helped that my expectations were factoring in everything from Lost Highway to Inland Empire,  I didn’t expect 1991 Lynch to show up and continue things in the same tone.  But back in the original series when Coop had the first red room dream, it seemed to promise a very weird future and that’s exactly what we got!  It feels like it’s exactly the 18-hour epic Lynch wanted to make, and that alone’s enough for celebration.  Any time spent with the characters we loved from the early 90s, well, that was a bonus.  I never thought we’d see any of them again, so it all felt like a gift.  I know some people were angry “the real Cooper” was largely absent from things, but I feel like that misses the point of Mr. C.  “Our” Coop is supposed to be gone, and it would’ve undercut that amazing Series 2 finale if we got him back easily.  I was impressed with how much they embraced the idea of an evil Cooper (which was the unresolved plot thread that haunted me most for the last 25 years).  It wound up working for the story that the show was gone so long it had more impact having the doppelgänger running around for 25 years and leaving a trail of awfulness in his wake that made Leland Palmer look like an amateur (I’m grateful most of the worst stuff happened off camera, because it was pretty vile).
That said… man, that finale had me jumping out of the chair and screaming at the TV.  Not exactly rage just a feeling of disbelief that Lynch had managed to push the exact same buttons he pressed on us with the finale of Season 2 (and really, FWWM as well).  Coop and Laura (if that’s even who they are anymore) appear to be in a worse place than ever before.  I had to think about it for a night (and since I live in Texas and had to drop some friends off from the viewing party, I was driving around very much like “Richard” and “Carrie”), but I eventually got to a place where I was okay with it.  It felt true in a way I don’t think a conventional happy ending would’ve (which I think was a point Pt 17 made pretty well).
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The Accident

I like that everyone walked away from that ending with wildly different takes on what it all means.  Mine is that the ultimate question of the show is, “Can we make sense of why bad things happen?”  It’s kind of the same question Jeffrey asks Sandy in Blue Velvet, “Why are there people like Frank?  Why is there so much trouble in the world?”  Twin Peaks is a story that keeps trying to make sense of this horrible killing of Laura Palmer but ultimately there IS no answer that’s going to make sense of it, so the story always reboots and Coop always finds himself back in the Red Room.  I like to think that the international version of the pilot is actually a prequel to the series, Coop comes to town, realizes the killer was some random drifter named Bob, feels frustrated with the inadequacy of the answer and… there he is in the red room with Laura.  She whispers in his ear and the story starts over with just enough differences that maybe THIS time he can fix things.  Who knows how many times he’s been in this loop.  Maybe he wasn’t even always “Cooper” in the story maybe he was Jeffrey Beaumont and Laura was Dorothy Vallens (and Linda… formerly known as Diane… was Sandy).  It’s an unending attempt to understand and contain the evil things in this world.  I think the loop probably kept repeating while we were away from the show for 25 years, too and that’s why some stuff doesn’t sound quite consistent with the show we remember.  Are we really meant to believe that somewhere in the last episodes of Series 2, Coop and Briggs were having secret meetings about Judy and hatching a plan to stop her?  I don’t really think so.

By the time we get to The Return, Coop’s become as “woke” as a character can get.  He understands that he’s fictional (a dreamer inside a dream) and thinks he’s finally figured out how to break the loop, undo Laura’s murder altogether.  This is why he never seems all that concerned about the showdown in the Sheriff’s station, he goes through the motions, but he knows it’s just one more story with an ending that won’t really fix anything, no matter how happy and perfect it appears.  But rescuing Laura undoes the story of Twin Peaks altogether, and the only way he can truly save her is to find her soul/ essence in another story… and that’s what Part 18 is about.

Another part of me making peace with the ending was figuring out whether all the characters we loved still existed like they did before.  I think they do (and “The Secret Dossier” seems to back that up… at least as far as Mark Frost sees it).  Every resident of Twin Peaks is dreaming their own version of the story. Some versions are wildly different from others (that may have something to do with the nature of what’s going on with Audrey and all the stuff surrounding “Billy”), others are almost identical.  I think that’s what Big Ed caught a glimpse of in his reflection – the version of himself from some other dreamer’s story that’s just a fraction different from his.  Maybe that slightly heightened awareness is what that meditative moment he has in the RR is about.  He doesn’t attempt the wildly hubristic meddling Cooper tries with Laura – he just gives his story a little nudge that moves things toward a happy ending.  Maybe that same meek quality is what let’s Andy and Freddie (and probably Margaret) act as agents of the White Lodge without succumbing to the temptation to try controlling too much like Cooper did (and maybe Philip Jeffries too, once upon a time).

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The Palmer House

25YL: I absolutely love your take on it all, and totally agree that we have witnessed only a couple of the ‘timelines’ but they are probably happening endlessly. The endless triangles on the ‘Secret History of Twin Peaks’ cover hint at that for me.

The Twin Peaks fan community has been hugely supportive of your work and rightly so! How’s the experience been this past 10 months?

PH: Fantastic!  Everyone’s been really positive and encouraging, and I also got to discover the work of some other amazing artists in the process – the world of Peaks fan art was bigger than I expected, and there’s some wickedly cool stuff out there in a vast range of styles.  I don’t know if it’s the show’s surrealism or Lynch’s art background, but the Twin Peaks brings something out of people where they get a bit more arty and experimental than most fan artists you encounter online.

I should also mention that the official Twin Peaks twitter account was a giant supporter, as well as a lot of the cast – I even had one actor contact me and ask if their character was going to be in the portrait series at one point, which was just the most flattering thing ever.

25YL: Are you a full time artist? Or is this something you do on the side?

PH: More or less, nowadays.  It’s not quite making full time levels of money though. *laughs weakly*.  My first published thing was a Buckaroo Banzai comic for Moonstone Books back in 2009.  I’ve done covers here and there for comics like Godzilla and Judge Dredd, along with various covers for books and CDs, art for board games… I’ve done a little bit of everything.

25YL: Now that your series 3 project is wrapped, what’s next for you?

PH: I have a few things, but the main focus is finally getting The Unthinkables, my original comic book series, out this year.  That’s something that’s been in the works for ages (I write it, do some of the covers and design most of the lead characters – my pal Ian Richardson does most of the heavy lifting on the art, but there’s also a slew of other talented people contributing to it that’d be too long to list here).  It’s a series about what happens to a Marvel/ DC Comics style world when all of its superheroes mysteriously drop dead.  It’s kind of a response to some of the things I think aren’t so great about this age of superhero-saturated fiction we’re living in (and a reaction to the real world that’s consuming it).  Though that’s probably too pretentious a way of pitching it, because a lot of the story still comes down to people with super-powers smacking each other around.
On the fan art side of things, I have a lot of stuff on the list, but… the anniversary of The Return’s premiere is just a little over two months away.  So you might see ONE more new series portrait from me in May.  Maybe.
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The Unthinkables

25YL: I noticed you’ve been creating pieces on Doctor Who too!

PH: Yep!  that’s probably what I’m best known for.  I’ve done a little bit of official work on licensed stuff (even got to design one of the Doctor’s companions for a video game) but it’s mostly fan art.  For the last few years I’ve been working on a portrait series of the Doctor’s companions that’s even more epic than the Peaks project (that one’s up to #222 and still has a long ways to go – there’s quite a few of them once you factor in 50 years of tie-in comics, novels, radio plays, etc).
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A Great Spirit of Adventure

25YL: We’re covering all sorts of shows and films at 25YL now, including Doctor Who. Are you looking forward to the new Doctor?

PH: Absolutely! l’ll miss Peter Capaldi (I love all the Doctors, but he was my fave of the modern ones), but Jodie Whittaker’s great in everything I’ve ever seen her in.  I’m really curious what her take on the part will be.  I’m glad they’ve finally taken the training wheels off the concept of regeneration, too – it’s just more interesting if the Doctor can be anyone.  I know some people have tried to paint the new casting as some kind of political statement, but it really shouldn’t be.  It’s an idea classic Doctors Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton talked about as being a totally valid possibility way back in the 80s.  If anything, politics are what was keeping limitations on the idea till now.  Doctor Who’s all about change, and it’s usually at its best when it’s challenging itself and shaking things up.  
Doctors 2018 WEB
Doctors 2018

25YL:  Have you been inspired to create by any other shows or films recently?

PH: Just lately I’ve been tinkering with the idea of doing a series of portraits from my favorite movies – one character for each film.  Some would be very mainstream and some would be crazy obscure stuff (I’ve been rediscovering my love of Italian horror lately).  It’d be a speedy way of getting around to a lot of subjects I’ve wanted to cover for ages.  Needless to say, a lot of Lynch stuff will pop up in that if I do it.  Also, I’ve been promising a friend for a while to do a Blake’s 7 commission (I’m betting most US readers will have no idea what that is) – I love that show, so it’d be a lot of fun.
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Screaming Red

25YL: Can we purchase your work anywhere? 

PH: Man, this is where I wish Unthinkables was out so I could say “ask for it wherever comics are sold or get it digitally on Comixology!”  Hopefully we’ll have that sorted out in a few months.

Right now, the best place to get stuff from me is on Patreon ( https://www.patreon.com/PaulHanley ).  People can get prints and original art there, and commission stuff (including portraits of the classic era Peaks characters I still want to get around to for as low as $25).  And even at the lower pledge levels, it helps me keep drawin’.

25YL: Well, you must let us know when it is out as we would love to see more of your work! Thank you so much for speaking to us, it’s been great to talk to you and fascinating to see all your creations, we look forward to your new Twin Peaks piece for the anniversary of The Return (hopefully!)

PH: Thank you!!!
To see all of Paul’s latest artwork follow him on twitter here

Are you an artist inspired by Twin Peaks/Lynch?  If you would like to be featured in ‘We Are The Art Life’ drop me an email at lau.stewart@outlook.com  

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