Kyle Higgins Talks Hadrian’s Wall
The man who shot Simon Moore four times and married his ex-wife has been found dead aboard the spacecraft Hadrian’s Wall. But Simon isn’t a suspect, he’s the private investigator hired to explain the death, and it’s his ex-wife who emerges as one of the suspects. This fall, writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel, reunite with artist Rod Reis for Hadrian’s Wall, an intergalactic noir with drugs and divorce, crime and conspiracy, and a last chance for redemption in the far reaches of space.
The eight issue series kicks off September 14th and the final order deadline is August 22nd.
I got a chance to talk to Higgins about the series and why he loves creating politically tinged entertainment so much.
Graphic Policy: First, thanks for chatting. The question I always like to start with is where did the concept for Hadrian’s Wall come from?
Kyle Higgins: It’s an idea at its most basic level is a murder mystery on a space ship and I’ve had it for a long time. It’s very in line with some of the isolated sci-fi films of the 70s and 80s that I really like. From that standpoint, I always thought it was a premise that was interesting, but didn’t have a story for. And then, it just clicked at one point where I found this character Simon and the idea of his ex-wife being someone he has to investigate and that’s where everything really plots together. And from there the concept of the backdrop, a new interstellar Cold War between Earth and its biggest colony started to frame things for me. It became a book and story about broken relationships and… it was an organic process from there. That tends to be how I work. It may start with a kernel of something or a premise, but it takes getting into it and finding an interesting way to explore that premise that I actually start to get to the meat as to what makes it interesting.
GP: I’ve read the first four issues and the issues build to a twist. You could have easily been a murder mystery but you’ve layered the series with so much more. What go you to want it to be more than a murder mystery in space?
KH: Yeah, it could have been really easy to just do a murder mystery in space but I think that, especially in comics, it’s hard enough to tell a story with characters who resenate when you’re doing a lot of character work. It’s drawings and printed text. That’s what you have as your medium to build characters. A murder mystery in live action, a lot of times the character work is secondary to the case. In comics, I don’t feel like that works really well. At least in live action there’s an actor and performance that gives something to resonate for audiences. It gives you something to connect to. In comics you don’t have that to fall back on. As we started plotting it I didn’t think it was sustainable to do eight issues of “who killed Edward?”. I knew early on I like it when stories take unexpected turns. You start a story you think will go one way, but it becomes something else. Especially in 2016 when the market is so saturated, you better be doing something interesting and different. There’s too many really good stories that are competing for readers attentions.
GP: You’ve had a career of writing comics that have political themes. With this series it looks like you’re diving into that too. What interests you in weaving that in your stories?
KH: It’s funny because I’m the least political guy you’ll meet too. I think what fascinates me is political structures and man made structures. I’m intrigued by systems and institutions. C.O.W.L. was as much about the corruption and downfall of an American institution as it was superheroes. We were using superheroes to explore that concept.
Hadrian’s Wall is similar. There’s this dynamic between the colony Theta and Earth and this cycle of paranoia and distrust. The opening to issue number one, the precursor text paints the situation. In 1985 nuclear bombs dropped in New York City and Moscow. After that, they found peace by the decision to jointly colonize space. 100 years later there’s a new Cold War between Earth and its biggest colony. There’s this idea of history repeating itself and once we get into it and readers see the dynamic between Theta and Earth, and the companies on Earth that shift to Theta, and how Hadrian’s Wall factors into that… those dynamics intrigue me. They create a lot of gray area. I really like stories that aren’t black and white and super cut and dry. I think a lot of those political and corporate structures and instituions in our lives provide for ample opportunity for a little more ambigious exploration.
GP: With the opening, it’s 1985… is there a reason you chose that year?
KH: I was born in 85. A couple of reasons. The mid to late 80s were interesting as far as a Cold War standpoint. There was a situation in 83 where nukes came close to being launched. But, the other part of that, from a visual aethestic, Rod, Alec and I were all interesting in building this alt-future world as if it was designed in 1980s. Everything we’re doing is inspired by the sci-fi films of the 70s and 80s we grew up on. So we decided it’d be fun to design our world with this retro future aethestic. It was kind of nice tie-in to this split in history happening in 1985. It felt thematically connected.
GP: The beginning of the comic has this map of space and all these worlds. Are we going to see some of these world come into play in the series?
KH: That’s a great question. I don’t want to tip my hand too much. Alec and I love maps. We love visual world building and even though our story is very contained, mostly taking place on board Hadrian’s Wall, the idea of the larger world outside and how Hadrian’s Wall factors into that larger world, us kind of a key part of the story.
GP: When it comes to the world building, how much detail have you done? Have you figured out what all those planets are like?
KH: No. No. We tend to world build what we need to. For example, if there was an issue down the line where we explore a specific planet. We’d build that planet out as necessary. The stuff with Theta. The stuff with Earth. That’s what we built out. As far as other colonies, we have an idea about them, but nothing we could publish tomorrow.
GP: I’ve always been fascinated about how much details creators get into when they tell this type of story. Clearly this map has been thought out.
KH: I want to give a shout out for that for Rick Bloom our designer who designed the book as well. He did a killer job for that. He painted the background and built out the coordinates. He did the big map in C.O.W.L. as well.
GP: How did the rest of the team come on the series?
KH: We were wrapping up C.O.W.L. and I called Eric Stephenson who’s the publisher of Image and I said our numbers aren’t great for C.O.W.L. but we’ve been working on this other book for a long time. Alec and I have lived in this world for one form or another for ten years keeping it in our mind. Based on our sales numbers it made sense to wrap things up. If there was an opportunity down the line to come back to it, we’d be open to it. We wanted to keep working together, we built this tight three man team between Alec, Rod, and myself. Eric totally agreed and thought there was something we had together that resonated for readers. He said we should stick together and asked if we had anything else. I said we had been toying around with this idea of doing something with an intergalactic noir, a murder mystery on a spaceship and we wanted to roll into it after C.O.W.L. Eric said great.
Rod did some content paintings and things like that. I asked Rod if he’d be interested. And he asked if that meant drawing something other than 60s superheroes and if he could start tomorrow. You do one thing long enough, you want change, that’s normal.
It came from there. It came from us wanting to do something very different than C.O.W.L. but we wanted to do something thematically similar, or similar enough. We didn’t want to go off and do a big slapstick comedy book. At this point we all working together. We talk about the relationships in comics that have lasted. Brubaker and Philips is the gold standard to me, people will reader anything they do together. That only comes with doing a bunch of stuff together. We just want to keep working together and find new stories to tell. Hadrian’s Wall is the second of what’s hopefully a long line of stories to come.
GP: How much of the science of the series is right? Do you research it all?
KH: It’s pretty accurate. Alec is a big space guy. He’s our bullshit detector on a lot of that stuff. There’s different things that pop up in the series that we have fun with. For instance the syringe we came up with, it has no needle so there’s no mark which is a plot point. Stuff like that we get to play around with. It’s also retro futuristic. I wouldn’t look too deeply into the science, but we try to make it plausable.
GP: Speaking of that retro futuristic, why’d you go that route? The style of it reminds me a lot of Alien and Aliens. There’s paper with tracks on the side like dot matrix printers. There’s keyboards that look like typewriters. It’s a cool style.
KH: For what you said. Alien, those films, were insperational to me. But also there’s a lot of sci-fi books out there. We wanted to do something unique. I’m proud of where it landed. I think it feels very specific. It was what appealed to us. Those 70s and 80s sci-fi films are very inspirational to us for a story like this. We wanted to do something in that veign.
GP: The final question is, where did the name for Hadrian’s Wall come from?
KH: Hadrian’s Wall is the name of the further outpost of the Roman Empire. We wanted to name the ship something that invoked the isolation of loneliness of it. The idea is that someone named it that because it’s a survey ship that goes far out in space and it’s a shitty outpost, it’s a shitty assignment.
GP: Learn something new every day! Thanks so much.