The concept of Hell and the nature of eternal suffering has long been a subject of curiosity for theologians and philosophers, as well as writers and artists. Depending on the person, Hell might be a place we build in our own hearts or a spiritual locale fraught with fire, brimstone, the whole nine. Beyond that, however, creators have used the idea of timeless torment to reflect on the human condition, who we are as people, and whether or not humanity is capable of redemption or even needs it.
Writer Ryan Ferrier has applied his own take of Hell in his new comic book Hot Damn from IDW. While the book is brimming with wall-to-wall hilarity with a take of the Guff unlike any you’ve ever seen, Ferrier uses his story to address matters of sin, regret, and how we know who we are. Mr. Ferrier spoke with me recently about the idea behind Hot Damn and how we construct and deconstruct the idea of Hell.
FreakSugar: First of all, thank you so much for speaking with us! The book was fantastic.
Ryan Ferrier: Thank you! My pleasure, I really appreciate the chance to chat about Hot Damn.
FS: For folks who might be considering picking up the book, how would you describe Hot Damn?
RF: Hot Damn is a lot of things. For one, it’s a very personal story that’s painted with a brush of the absurd that only artist Valentin Ramon can do so wonderfully. It’s also a deconstruction of the concepts of heaven and hell; how we perceive the afterlife as it relates to us, to our culture, and how we interact with it, in many different ways. There is no right or wrong way to interpret such a personal thing—this just happens to be ours.
At it’s core though, Hot Damn is about one guy—Teddy Graham—who, upon death and damnation, is forced to really examine his life and what brought him here. It’s about coping with the things you’ve done, and atonement.
FS: Our through-guy in the first issue is Teddy, who finds Hell not to be what he was expecting. How did you decide how you wanted to construct your version of Hell?
RF: There’s many different ways of interpreting an actual, literal hell, and for Hot Damn, we wanted to approach it as we would a normal life and society. Hell, in this case, is a fully functioning, breathing city—in my mind, why wouldn’t it be? I also wanted to tackle the kind of world-building that Valentin can truly shine in. He is so phenomenally detailed, and there’s no better landscape for him to have fun and show how amazing he is than to make hell this sprawling, bustling city of sensory-overload.
FS: I’m a huge religion nerd so this book sang to me. Did you come at writing the book with a love of studying big mythological elements?
RF: Here’s the thing about Hot Damn—while I’m sure some can see it as us poking fun at organized religion—specifically Christianity—we’re really not. We’re simply deconstructing the concepts in a way that our minds of 2016 work. Are we holding punches? Not in the least. But although I was never raised with religion personally, I’ve always been very, very fascinated at the ideas within. Gods, afterlives—they’re so fantastic. So I most certainly have a love for all mythologies, be it religion, superheroes, fairy tales, those kinds of things. I realize and respect that peoples’ faiths and religions are so important, but at the end of the day you really can’t deny that there’s so much fantasy elements in the DNA of these things. And with Hot Damn, we’re taking a pretty human approach to it—this isn’t a story about gods and myth and biblical things; it’s a story about Teddy going through therapy and realizing who he is as a person.
FS: The dynamic between Heaven and Hell seems to be more friendly adversarial than what we often see. What can you tell us about that relationship?
RF: It’s true! In our version of heaven and hell, God and Satan have a unique friendship, stemming from Satan once being an angel. They had a falling out, and hell was created, and have since somewhat buried the hatchet. Like we explain in Hot Damn, heaven and hell operate as infrastructures, and these infrastructures rely on the whole system to operate well. Heaven and hell can benefit from each other, absolutely. But as you’ll see in the rest of the series, it’s a very delicate balance, and when the system is taken advantage of, that relationship will absolutely deteriorate.
FS: The mythological structure of the book seems to be made up with a conglomeration of elements from various religions and philosophies. What are some on display in issue 1 and can we expect to see others down the line?
RF: While our focus is mostly on Christianity, there are a few other elements and concepts added to the mix. A huge amount of that is in Valentin’s artwork, as he adds some really great flourishes in the pages. Without spoiling future issues, there are some elements of other religions—ones that may lean more towards the “supernatural”—that come into play in a really big way.
FS: The mix of humor and the metaphysical at play work really well and are reminiscent of Mel Brooks’ work and books like Good Omens in all of the best possible ways.
RF: Thank you so much! That’s a huge compliment. When Valentin and I worked on D4VE and D4VE2, although we were dealing with robots and aliens, we really wanted to tackle some interesting things in Hot Damn, and a big part of that is the metaphysical aspects. And there will be a lot more, in big ways, as we continue.
FS: You’ve pulled from one idea of Hell for the series that I always heard growing up in the southern Baptist south—that Hell is where you relive all of the sins you’ve ever committed. Will we get to see other folks besides Teddy trying to grapple with this existence?
RF: You hit the nail on the head with that comparison, absolutely. More than the idea of penance through physical pain and torture, we are fully holding onto torture of the heart and of the mind. Physical pain will subside and heal, but emotions can last forever—guilt and remorse can be eternal—and that’s the very soul of the book. We will get to see a couple of others in the same position, but a large aspect of the story revolves around Teddy’s ex, Maria, and how his life and his decisions—and ultimately his death—affects her in really impactful ways.
FS: With the nature of the relationship between Heaven and Hell in Hot Damn and with Teddy seeing his gal in the land of the living, will he be trying to find loopholes to escape?
RF: Without wading too far into spoiler territory, yes. Yes yes. In a huge, huge way.
FS: The issue is filled to the brim, with every panel hiding something to be found. (I especially liked the dictators in the Dark Lord’s office.) What was the design process like for deciding how you wanted the book to look?
RF: That is almost entirely Valentin Ramon and his utter brilliance. With the exception of a few specific characters, Valentin goes totally wild. We bounced around a couple of basic ideas, but then he goes into crazy art beast mode and has the freedom to go totally nuts. I love it.
FS: What can you tease about issue 2?
RF: In issue 2 we really dive into Teddy’s goal, and we see the start of something huge happening in heaven. I’m really excited for the heaven stuff. There’s also a torture scene that is making me giddy just thinking about it. But we guarantee that Hot Damn #2 will be even wilder than the first, by a long shot.
Hot Damn #1, written by Ryan Ferrier with Valentin Ramon on art, is on sale now from IDW.