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Kevin Smith explains the heartfelt message behind his gory Hit-Girl comic

Following a heart attack last year, the cult director has a message to share about compassion – through the medium of a teenage assassin

For the last 25 years, Kevin Smith has been a significant figure in the indie movie scene, ever since his black and white directorial debut Clerks hit the silver screen in 1994. Films like Mallrats, Dogma, Zack And Miri Make a Porno, and Red State have earned him (and them) somewhat cult status in the time since, and because of his much-publicised love for all things comics, he’s penned a few comic book runs for DC’s Batman, Green Arrow, and Marvel’s Daredevil too.

It’s no wonder then that comic book aficionado Mark Millar tapped Smith to pen a limited arc, set in Hollywood, for his infamous tween assassin Hit-Girl – though when he set out to write it, the director tells Dazed he was not in a good way. “Out of nowhere, Mark emails me and asks, ‘Would you be interested in writing a Hit-Girl mini-series?’” Smith says. “It felt like a fun idea so I said ‘yes.’ Then I had a massive heart attack and almost died. So, during the month I was recovering, I had plenty of time to write my arc.”

At the time of his heart attack, last February, he posted an emotional statement on Instagram about being thankful for his time on Earth. It forced him to reflect on his life and how he had lived it, and that positive attitude may well have influenced the message he wanted readers to get from his Hit-Girl run. “Be kind and compassionate to everybody you ever meet,” he says of the meaning of the miniseries. “Number one, it’s the right way to live. Number two, you never know who’s carrying a knife or gun.”

Mindy McCready certainly has plenty of knives and guns on her; it’s what she’s famous for. That and her love of curse words, of course. The 12-year-old antihero has made a bit of a comeback over the last 12 months, with Millar commissioning writers and artist from around the world to tell new stories as she embarks on a solo global adventure. So far, she’s hit Colombia and Canada, and her next destination is Tinseltown, in order to stop the production of a Hit-Girl movie.

Fans of Smith might recognise the storyline from one of his earlier films, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which sees the titular characters similarly trying to stop the production of a movie that is based on comic book characters inspired by themselves. “I chose it because it totally worked once, so I figured it'd work again,” Smith says. “Ultimately, I'm not a very creative person, and I’ve built a 25-year career on low-hanging fruit.”

Smith is definitely known for a certain brand of comedy which some critics love and some hate, but often the filmmaker should be given credit for finding ways to make grander statements in easily digestible ways. Take Dogma, for example, which poses several theological and philosophical questions about the world and society even though it has a penchant for profane and literal toilet humour. Smith touched on religion again in Red State through his satirical take on a homophobic, Christian hate-cult. Now, he’s using Hit-Girl to reflect on some of the biggest societal problems being faced in America right now: school shootings and sexual harassment.

“Superhero stories have always been about righting societal wrongs, with nearly every premise being ‘the world is full of injustice, but what if there were folks in masks who could balance the scales in a way the courts won’t?’” Smith explains. “So with a character as over-the-top as Hit-Girl, you get to take that concept to a bloody extreme – far further than you could go with it in the average masked-justice fantasy.”

“I made Clerks because I wanted to see me and my world represented in media so I completely understand any artist who says ‘Why not me?’ or ‘Why not this story?’” – Kevin Smith

“I read the news every day and see things that horrify me and I wish there were masked avengers that could swoop in and save the day or, at the very least, beat the shit out of the people responsible for the horrors. Writing this Hit-Girl arc was very therapeutic in that way.”

When the news first hit that Smith was writing this Hit-Girl run, entitled “The Golden Rage of Hollywood,” much focus was put on the sexual predator aspect of the storyline, assuming that this may well be a way to show his support for the #MeToo movement. Certainly, since he’s spoken widely about the shame he felt of having his films financed by The Weinstein Company in the past, it was easy to believe that this could have been the raison d’etre of his arc. However, Smith doesn’t want to do a disservice to the movement by claiming this as “a #MeToo story”.

“That is a serious, important movement and this is a four colour fantasy about a pre-teen girl who butchers bad guys,” he said. For some, that may come as a relief – many people aren’t ready for #MeToo stories to be told from a white male point of view, so it’s certainly refreshing that Smith isn’t trying to hinge his Hit-Girl arc on the movement. But he is still a middle-aged man writing a 12-year-old girl’s story; how does one get in the mindset of someone so different to who they are?

“Issue one was easy, because there were no voices at all,” Smith explains. Each one of his four issues were created as a nod to a different age of cinema, and chapter one is “The Silent Era”. “I stole that idea from John Byrne,” he says. “Years back, he did a storyline for DC entitled ‘The Many Deaths of the Batman.’ There is no dialogue in the first issue beyond Jim Gordon saying ‘Get out.’ I always loved that, but I never really thought in terms of a pre-teen girl mindset for Hit-Girl.”

“I felt that, like Bruce Wayne, Mindy McCready was not afforded the average childhood,” he continues. “She had to grow up at a young age. And while she's chronologically young, she's got an old soul that comes with witnessing - and committing - horrible acts. That’s why I love the high school sequence in Issue One: it’s Hit-Girl playing at being a traditional superhero. She’ll never have a normal adolescence, so she goes around making sure other kids will. That's very Batman.”

Smith did benefit from having a female artist to work with, though, choosing Pernille Ørum after falling in love with her work which includes animation on DC Super Hero Girls. “I just love Pernille’s art and wanted to see more of it but I was also thinking that a Disney-esque looking take on our Hit-Girl in Hollywood story might be a cool stylistic choice as well,” he said. “And as a creative partner, she made the book even better beyond the art, with super suggestions and kindly corrections.”

There’s been a lot of talk about Hit-Girl returning to the silver screen after Chloë Grace Moretz originated the role in 2010’s Kick-Ass and returned three years later in Kick-Ass 2. Though Moretz has said she wouldn’t want to reprise the character again, Smith is in an obvious position to turn his arc into a movie, however, he recognises that that film should not really be his to make. “Let's be honest, a woman should be in charge of that,” he admits. “For a big job like that, why hire an old man to pretend to know how a girl thinks?”

It’s sentiments like this that shows Smith has a willingness to support the underrepresented in Hollywood. “I know I’m a middle-aged white man, but back in the early 90s, I never saw myself or my world represented on the big screen,” the director says. “I’m talking about the (now well-documented) world of soft guys who love comic books and movies more than sports and are never as sharp as the women they are baffled by yet love. That's why I made Clerks; I wanted to see me and my world represented in media so I completely understand any artist who says ‘Why not me?’ or ‘Why not this story?’

“If you see there’s a hole in the market place or an audience not being served, don’t wait for someone else to do the work,” Smith adds. “Try to fill that hole or serve that marketplace yourself. That’s the indie spirit, film or otherwise.”

Hit-Girl IV: The Golden Rage of Hollywood is available from 13 February