Gene Ha is a six time Eisner nominated artist and illustrator who has worked for both Marvel and DC as well as independent publishers like Americas Best Comics where he famously partnered with fellow Eisner alums Zander Cannon and Alan Moore on Top Tens and The 49rs. His most recent project is Mae a project that has exceeded its initial funding goal on Kickstarter and is working its way towards its final stretch goals which include new art prints and new artists working on the project. A project Ha was kind enough to share his time with us to speak about fresh off its announcement at this years C2E2.
As we were talking about before we started recording, Mae is my dream project. I have been planning on doing this for over ten years but it is finally going live now. It is the story of two sisters from Indiana. One of whom, the older one Abby, found a doorway to another world and rarely came back until she messed it all up by the age of 21. Her younger sister had no idea where she was for the past eight years. She had finished school, took care of their father and finally found out where she’s been when she gets a call from the Sheriff saying that she needs to come pick up her sister and that she’s drunk. Everything seems to be working out fine until she realizes the monsters have followed her back to Indiana.
Now this magical land. This wouldn’t be Chicago would it?
No! We wanted someplace a little more interesting than Indiana that wasn’t just Chicago. The town where the sisters are from is named Zenith after the brand of televisions that used to be manufactured in Indiana. The brand is owned by a Japanese conglomerate that doesn’t make them anymore so it’s kind of dead. The fantasy world is (I am going to mispronounce this) Cimerteran. It was first discovered in the recent modern era by Czech explorers in fact by Cimerman. So then more Czechs came and eventually Americans populated this fantasy world as well, but the doorways have mostly been closed except for the one Abby found. It is full of mad scientists and monsters. Some made by mad scientists and some that preceded them.
How much of this was based on your own experiences. Just living in Indiana and moving to make a more exciting life for yourself which you have done by the way, cough, six time Eisner nominee, cough.
I was born in Chicago but raised in Indiana. So it’s a bit of my experiences, but it’s also based on my wife’s experiences. She was born in Indiana and grew up in the town that inspired Zenith, Wolcott Indiana. Which is a place filled with really nice people and not a whole lot else.
I am shopping this around already. There are a few that expressed interested but nothing that I can talk about right now. If this does well it will show there is interest out there for this project, and it will help find a publisher. I want to get this out there. I want Mae to be a series, but I do not want to put this out there on my own. If there is any problem they are going to listen to the guy who has twenty books out each month rather than this guy who has one book.
So it’s dealing with distribution and diamond solicits and previews and things I should probably know how to do, but I’m a dude and I have to draw the thing and write the thing as well. Presumably you are doing the scripting as well so you have to be like. Wait why did I want to draw that? Because I have so much free time that I’m going to make this enormous spread and it’s going to look gorgeous, but, why oh why did, I say I was going to draw laser beams?
Let me just say having dealt with myself as an editor, where I am about as compliant an employee as I could ask for I have gained a lot of respect for all editors out there. I have learned I do not want to be an editor. The scripting though isn’t the hardest part. Its trying to do all the creative stuff while the business stuff is going on at the same time. It is like trying to write and draw while people are shooting you with nerf darts all the time.
You collaborated with Allan Moore quite a bit. So what was it like working with him? Did you get to interact at all or was it very much just pushing finished pages under a door and maybe a whiff of smoke coming from the other side of the door or some polite grumbling. What is working with Allan Moore really like?
Back when we were doing Top Tens we would talk over the phone every once and a while, maybe every two issues. He was one of the smartest guys I have ever talked to. At the time he was being nothing but very cheerful and kind to me. Sometimes he would ask if I had any ideas of what I wanted to do on the project. I would throw an idea at him, and he had two kind of reactions — and keep in mind he was always being very cheerful, kind and polite to me. So I would say can we do this and he would give this really long pause, and I would realize that I had just pitched him an idea that I had accidentally stolen from him that he’d done twenty years ago. Or the better reaction was that I amused him. For instance I pitched him the idea of taking a hero like Superman and having to throw him into the drunk tank, but you are just a normal super hero and he is Superman. He went “Oh that is pretty good. You know what would be better what if it were Godzilla.” So yeah I can’t beat Alan Moore. He is a tough man to keep up with.
A Kaiju in a drunk tank. A nightmare for any policeman
And it shows up in Top Ten. He found out how to do it in a story.
When we were talking last year for our panel here at C2E2, diverse means for diverse worlds, we had talked about is that you did have lgbt characters in your work, in the 49’rs, and one of the things that I asked and am curious about again is that you expressed there wasn’t any difference as an artist in drawing a gay character or a straight character in terms of just showing affection or holding hand or kissing. It just wasn’t any different to you as an artist. I thought it was really impactful, and I just wanted to see if you had anything more to say on the topic?
What I will say is that part of my early inspiration for Mae was wanting to draw something different than what I had been previously known for. I mostly have drawn these kind of classic 1940’s/1950’s characters, and they are almost all exclusively white men with an occasional white woman thrown in.
And occasional German Vampires.
Yeah. Top Ten was good for that. But when I started thinking about this as a writer I immediately applied the Bechdel Test. I was thinking as a guy how can I write these female characters that are not going to just talk to each other about guys. That is the reason it is centered around two sisters, that and also my love of Why I Hate Saturn. Also as the story progresses it will be made clear that one of the Major Political houses in Cimerteran is African American. Not black but explicitly African American. One of the major characters that shows up is going to be a lesbian and we are going to be going through the whole history when this character shows up she is going to be meeting her exgirlfriend. It will be fun! Its appropriate. It’s a part of Mae, and I am glad you brought it up.
To close what else are you working on outside of Mae?
I am one of the many people working on the last issue of Fables. Number 150! I am excited about getting that out and I am curious to see what I draw.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1401254934]