Joe Henderson and Lee Garbett Defy Gravity and Take to the Sky with Skyward

One day, gravity on earth suddenly became a fraction of what it is now. Twenty years later, humanity has adapted to its new low-gravity reality. And to Willa Fowler, a woman born just before G-Day, it’s…well, it’s pretty awesome, actually. You can fly through the air! I mean, sure, you can also die if you jump too high. So you just don’t jump too high. And maybe don’t stumble into a dangerous plan to bring gravity back that could get you killed….

Skyward is the new series from writer Joe Henderson, the showrunner for Fox’s Lucifer, and artist Lee Garbett who has worked on the comics Lucifer and Loki: Agent of Asgard.

The first issue is set to float on to shelves April 18th and before that happens, we got a chance to talk to Henderson and Garbett about the series.

Graphic Policy. I got a chance to read the first three issues and really enjoyed them and the idea as a whole. Where did the concept of Skyward come from?

Joe Henderson: Like most kids, I grew up obsessed with flying. But probably unlike most kids, I also thought the sky was kind of terrifying. I mean, it’s the big giant HOLE looming above us. Nothing keeping us from getting sucked up into it except some invisible thing called “gravity.” So, I’d often lay in the grass, stare up at the sky, and daydream about what happened if, suddenly, gravity wasn’t holding us down anymore. Daydream might not be the right word; maybe more, “lie there mildly terrified as I pictured myself getting sucked into space.”

To me, all the best high concepts have a mix of wish fulfillment and terrible consequence. So, I decided to combine my dreams and fears into one big adventure comic. Where you can leap through the air in a single bound; but if you fly too high, you never come back down.

GP: Lee, how did you come on board the project?

Lee Garbett: Joe dropped me a DM one day, asking if I could suggest any artists who’d be interested in a project he’d been cooking for a while. He sent along the pitch and the first couple of scripts and it was like reading something written for me. It was almost weird how it spoke to all the things I love and the kind of characters I would design for fun.

I messaged back saying “Me! I’m in!” … I’ve since learned that was his dastardly plan, all along.

GP: The series feels like a different type of “apocalypse” story.  There’s a society putting the pieces of itself back together. Daily life “duct taped’ together. When developing this series how did you two develop the look of the world?

JH: Conceptually, I wanted to skip past the post-apocalyptic elements. I feel like that’s very well-tread ground in fiction lately. What’s more interesting to me is what happens AFTER we’re back on our feet – what’s humanity look like when they’ve adapted to this new world? How is it better and worse? To me, there’s so much fresh, new story there.

Going in, we didn’t want this to feel far-future sci-fi. It’s life as we know it, just trying to cope with the new craziness with most of the things that are still available from the event. There were a couple of thug character designs I did that we dialed back on as they felt too futuristic. That’s been one of the hardest parts of it, keeping it super down to earth – yet floating.

GP: Beyond the look, there’s clearly “rules” to this world as well. When developing the story, how much of that is sketched out and how much have you two developed the world in the city and beyond?

JH: Lee and I talked a lot early on about the rules of the world, to make sure we had a firm understanding of how it all worked. Having said that, as we move forward, we keep running into new questions that could either challenge the rules of the world … or give us new story. Rain, for example. Does that exist in our low-G world? If so, how? At first, that was a problem to figure out. Then it became a really cool opportunity to make something familiar suddenly terrifying, which you’ll see in the first arc.

And since I’m currently writing issue 10, we’re already deep into the second arc. And let’s just say we definitely expand the world of the book beyond the city. We have some big, crazy stuff coming up!

LG: Yes! The second arc is going to be crazy – and creepy. I’m drawing issue 7 now and it’s some of the best fun I’ve ever had.

GP: There’s an interesting theme I noticed of “have” and “have not” and even a hint of cashing in on disasters which happens in real life. Was there thought to these underlying things as you develop the story?

JH: Definitely! For one, I loved the idea of using our low-G world to make a cultural comment. It’s fun to turn our society upside down – the rich fleeing the penthouses and scrambling to the streets. The poor suddenly stuck living at the tops of the tallest buildings and living in a new kind of danger because of it.

And in any disaster, there are people who are going to profit. Survival breeds opportunity. And, as you’ll see in future issues, our antagonist of the first arc is the guy who profited most. And is desperate to keep the power and money he’s gained.

LG: That’s a really interesting layer that runs through all of the book. You’ve got almost shanty town living at the top of the high rises, people scraping by with what they can find and cobble together – and the rich, who’ve all migrated to the lower levels and are doing their very best to pretend it never happened.

GP: The characters are all unique and have so much personality, especially in how they look. When it comes to developing them how did you two work together on that?

JH: Honestly, so much of the personality comes from Lee. Their expressions convey so much emotion, which I think helps make our crazy world feel so much more real. It was amazing when I saw Willa for the first time, because it was like he ripped her from my head. I mean, I didn’t picture her like that, but once I saw her, I didn’t know what else she could ever look like.

When it comes to how I conceived of them, I wanted to make sure each character in some way reflected the world visually. Willa loves the world, is a reflection of it, so her hair is always floating different directions, as buoyant as she is.

And I love how Lee designed Shirley, Willa’s boss; I told him I wanted her to be larger, because with no gravity, a lot of people would gain weight without the same consequence. But he took that idea and ran with it in such a charming design.

Most importantly, I wanted a diverse cast. Working in entertainment has really made me realize how important representation is. I grew up seeing characters who looked just like me everywhere (I’m a white dude). I’m glad things are shifting, however slowly. Having our lead be a young, black woman was very important to us.

LG: Because of the way Joe writes, with characters having distinct voices, I see them pretty clearly in my head, quite quickly and their body language stems from that look or their angle. I love drawing Shirley. She’s got an elegance and dignity to her movement. Willa’s personality is upbeat and bubbly, so she’s the most animated, moving around the panels. Her hair really helps with this, too. It’s always on the move too and it’s great for conveying mood. There’s a scene at the end of issue 1, where she’s feeling emotionally confined, and it’s the only time in that book where her hair is down and inanimate. Maybe no one would notice it, but I think it helps just push the general tone of a scene.

GP: This is one of the few comics with a high-profile character who has a disability. While that’s amazing, what struck me is that this situation in a way frees that individual, so the disaster wasn’t one for everyone. There’s also clearly thought in how this new reality impacts even small details like using the bathroom. When developing this world how much of that is planned out. How much is figured out as you go along? And where did that character’s development come from?

JH: I really wanted a character who represented the positive side of our low-G world. That’s where Edison came in. He has no legs from the knees down, and visually represents the good that came from G-Day. Because of low gravity, he can float through the air like anyone else.

I wanted Willa to be the character who never questioned the way the world was. So that when she’s faced with a dilemma – if you could bring gravity back, would you? – there’s a genuine debate on it. Nate represents the argument that we need to go back to the way things were. Edison’s a clear argument for the other side.

As for figuring things out, you look for the story elements that ask the questions, and then figure out the answers. In issue 3, I wanted Willa to sort of fly through all these different elements of this new world – what does an office look like? A school? A sex ed class? How different IS sex in low-G, anyway? Finding the answers was a big part of the fun of writing it, and I try to pepper answers into every issue.

LG: Drawing how sex works in low-G was interesting, too.

GP: While there’s discussions about how everything had to be reworked in society, I have to ask… what about bodies of water? I’m dying to know what happened to lakes and oceans?

JH: Oh, they’re out there. They may not be where they used to be, but they’re out there (he teased ominously).

LG: What’s that … in the distance …?!

GP: Lee, there’s some really cool imagery and it’s all so unique and fun. What have you enjoyed about developing and look for the series? Has there been any moments in the comics that have stood out to you?

LG: The opening sequence of issue 1, where we see G-Day occur, was a standout for me as it was the first thing that hooked me into the book, at pitch level, and I knew it had to really hit home, emotionally. I spent a lot of time laying it out so we, as readers, would bond with characters we’d maybe only know for a few panels.

Then there’s Issue 2’s opening. When I read the script for 2, I couldn’t believe it. It’s one of the coolest opening scenes in any comic. Ever.

Finally, the second arc … it’s a whole new group of concepts and imagery that I’m getting to play with and I can’t wait to get it out there.

As the book continues, I’m finding new ways to play with all the environments and to add new ideas to the world, so it continues to evolve.

GP: What else can we expect from you two this year?

JH: I’m finishing up season 3 of “Lucifer” right now, with a finale that I think is the best episode of TV I’ve ever written. I say that less in the “Look how awesome my writing is!” way, and in more the “Wow, I was so lucky that I got to write the episode where all THIS happens.” So, fingers crossed for season 4! Otherwise I’m working on some movie stuff and trying to stay ahead of Lee, which isn’t easy. He’s already inking issue 6! I thought artists were supposed to be terrible with deadlines! Give me a break, man!

LG: I’ll be drawing Skyward for the coming year and generally just making Joe sweat. It’s pretty much my full-time job and we’re not taking a break in the release schedule but I’ve got a few movie posters and other bits of comic work on the horizon too.

GP: Thanks so much for answering my questions and really looking forward to reading more of the series.