Infidel, Image Comics’ newest horror debut (and one of our Most Anticipated Comics of 2018), arrives on shelves this Wednesday to provide readers with a new source of nightmares and anxiety. Written by former Vertigo editor Pornsak Pichetshote with art by Aaron Campbell, colors by Jose Villarrubia and letters by Jeff Powell, Infidel offers a socially conscious take on the haunted house—Get Out meets The Conjuring. Fellow Image series Skyward, which arrives April 18th from Lucifer showrunner Joe Henderson, artist Lee Garbett, colorist Antonio Favela and letterer Simon Bowland, couldn’t be more tonally different from Infidel’s shadowy horrors. Set in a world with reduced gravity, Skyward is a coming-of-age tale about a young woman who might bring everything crashing down to Earth—literally. Pichetshote and Henderson go way back in their various careers, which meet at the intersection of television shows based on comic properties, and Paste is thrilled to host their long-winding chat about writing and collaboration across media.
Infidel #1 Cover Art by Aaron Campbell & Jose Villarrubia
Pornsak Pichetshote on Joe Henderson
I met Joe Henderson when he came into DC Entertainment offices to pitch a Ronin TV series. At the time, I was running DC’s TV department, where I helped develop and then oversaw shows like Arrow, The Flash, Constantine, Gotham and iZombie, having earned that invitation after my stint as a Vertigo editor on books like Sweet Tooth, Swamp Thing and The Losers. While the pitch didn’t go forward, Joe left an impression. It wasn’t just that he was a fellow comics geek. What made him stand out was his infectious enthusiasm and energy. He was a writer that wrote from the heart, a monstrously nice and encouraging guy, and someone you just wanted to succeed.
And succeed he has. Joe went from writing on FOX’s Almost Human to Hulu’s 11.22.63 before becoming the co-showrunner to FOX’s Lucifer TV show, one of DC Entertainment’s highest-rated shows. He’s expanded to features, currently attached to the Disney remake of Flight of the Navigator, and is finally writing his first creator-owned Image book. When I heard about that last bit, I was delighted. Part of it was the coincidence—his book Skyward debuts just one month after my creator-owned Image book Infidel. The other part was his co-creator—gentleman artist Lee Garbett—a man in the running for the highly competitive honor of nicest guy in comics. I’ve known Lee for over a decade and have watched his ridiculously impressive art just get better and better, as he’s slowly been drawing all the best toys Marvel and DC has to offer.
That said, Infidel and Skyward couldn’t be more different. In stores March 14th and illustrated by the great Aaron Campbell, my comic Infidel is a horror miniseries about an American Muslim woman and her multi-racial neighbors living in a building haunted by creatures that seemingly feed off xenophobia. Joe’s ongoing series Skyward is a sci-fi coming-of-age story about an Earth where gravity is only a fraction of what it is now, and follows the optimistic young woman who stumbles on a dangerous plan to bring it back.
Nevertheless, I was desperate to talk comics and TV with him. In the highly competitive life of a TV writer, Joe rocketed from baby writer to running his own show in seven years, and I wanted to know: What does it take to make it in TV, and how many of those skills are transferrable to comics? Our conversation ranged from The Infinity Gauntlet to Lucifer to representation, as I saw the myriad ways making our very different books were similar and got a fascinating look at the process of running a TV show in the process.
Infidel #1 Interior Art by Aaron Campbell & Jose Villarrubia
Pornsak Pichetshote: So this is something I love talking about with comic book folks, because I think it reveals so much about them as creators: The first comic I ever got was Amazing Spider-Man # 230, the back half of “Nobody Stops the Juggernaut.” The first runs I remember buying were Marvel Tales which reprinted all the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man, and Adventures of Superboy that I only bought for the Dial H for Hero backup strips. What’s interesting to me when I look back at Spider-Man, is how much I responded to that outsider/one-man-against-the-world feeling, and those themes has definitely carried over into everything I do—especially Infidel, where we have a Pakistani-American Muslim protagonist who doesn’t know who she can turn to for help against these creepy things that seem to be haunting her building. Whereas Dial H for Hero, it was its pure imagination, which again is something I’m trying to infuse into Infidel. So I’m wondering about you: What were your first comics, and has any of it carried over into your work?
Joe Henderson: What a great first question. So the first comic I remember buying was Infinity Gauntlet # 1. I remember it on the spinner rack. I remember buying it. I remember not understanding a single thing that was going on, and I remember being obsessed. [Laughs] There was no dipping your toe. I just jumped into the Marvel Universe fully formed.
The first series I followed that became the series I connected with was Darkhawk which was a terrible but awesome comic. I don’t even want to say terrible, because I loved it. I loooooooved it, and the reason I loved it was because it was your typical Peter Parker character…he had his version of the Parker luck—one step forward, two steps back. So whenever he had a victory, he also had a defeat. But he was also Iron Man, Spider-Man and Wolverine combined. He had Iron Man’s armor, Wolverine’s claws and he shot a little webbing thing with his grappling hook, so he was Spider-Man too. Someone had brilliantly decided to throw all my favorite characters—or the characters I would have loved the most if I had known about them—into one super character. So with that in mind, I think one of the things I always loved are coming-of-age stories. That’s actually what Skyward is, and I never tied that to my run of Darkhawk until this moment—which is terrifying.
But those are the stories I loved so much, because it’s that moment in time where you’re finding your place in the world. These stories where you’re in way over your head with a whole bunch of power and no idea what you’re responsibly supposed to do with it. I think it’s such a relatable thing for anyone growing up, trying to figure out where do I fit in.
And then with Infinity Gauntlet, I think it’s weirdly similar to what you were saying. Infinity Gauntlet was the scope of—okay, that’s one story. Here’s the whole insanely huge world, and a story where the only character who I really related with age-wise was Nova, and he got turned into building blocks in one panel! So I’m reading Infinity Gauntlet, and oh man, Darkhawk didn’t even make his way in there. He made it into Infinity War. I was very happy about that. But that thing was just way beyond what my 12-year-old brain could comprehend. It was awesome.
Pichetshote: Did that turn you onto Marvel specifically or comics in general? Did you have that company loyalty?
Henderson: I was all Marvel for a while. I was reading Silver Surfer. I had my feet in two worlds. One, I was reading all the cosmic books, and two, I was reading New Warriors. I loved Sleepwalker, I loved New Warriors—all those books that were tapping into the new Spider-Man teen angst issues. That was my bread and butter, mixed with this crazy cosmic world.
Pichetshote: Can you think of TV that influenced you in the same way? One of the things I’m struck by is that while it’s easy to list out my earliest, most seminal comics, I have a tougher time listing my influential TV shows as a kid. Can you?
Henderson: Totally. Duck Tales. Duck Tales taught me how to write. I genuinely believe that. Because it was clever, it was funny, it wasn’t afraid to go a little darker at times—especially in a five-part event like “Treasure of the Golden Suns”—and it had an unlikeable protagonist. It didn’t go for the easy swing. Huey, Duey and Louie were there for you, but the one you’re connecting to is the greedy old duck! That’s insane! I wanted to be Uncle Scrooge. I didn’t want to be Huey, Duey and Louie. I wanted to take them on an adventure with me.
It really formed my narrative structure, because every episode had an intent and a goal and an obstacle, and they used humor and danger to thread you through the story. It’s funny, because I was thinking about this a couple years ago, because I was asked that question. It took me a while to realize that Duck Tales was almost like House, M.D.. Scrooge McDuck was the doctor you reluctantly loved, because he spoke truth that others might not, but also because you wanted to go on whatever crazy adventure he went on.
Pichetshote: Okay, so fast-forward a bit. Was USA’s White Collar your first professional writing job?
Henderson: It was, unless you count an episode of Kick Buttowski—which is an animated Disney XD show I wrote a script of, but it never got made. I freelanced on Season One. It was my first gig, and I was so excited. I finally got a writing gig, and then the character that I based my story around got removed from the show, and they were like, “This isn’t happening.” I kind of wish it was on my resume, because your journey to becoming a writer can take such weird zigs and zags, and I think it’s important to always remember that you can go from a Kick Buttowski to a White Collar. By the way, Kick was a super-fun show to write and a really good show on top of that, but my point is, you can go from a children’s show to a police procedural to something else. To me, that’s part of the fun of writing: Not getting pigeon-holed into all these things. But yeah, White Collar was my first official gig.
Infidel #1 Interior Art by Aaron Campbell & Jose Villarrubia
Pichetshote: I still remember the story you told me about getting that job. I’m sure I’m butchering it, but I recall, you went in, and to get it, you pretty much on-the-spot pitched yourself as a writing team with a friend of yours whom you had never written with before, so your future bosses could get two writers for the price of one. And then you called up your friend later, saying hey, you want to do this? Is that right?
Henderson: It’s pretty close. I went in for a meeting, and then a couple weeks passed, and my friend went in for a meeting, and we both got the same response: We like you guys, but we’ve only got one spot left, and we need some incentive to decide who to hire. So when I heard that, I just blurted out, what about getting the two of us? We’re friends, we love each other’s writing, and then I called him up later asking, are you cool with this? And he’s like, “I just want the job. Get me in, coach!” But yeah, it was the funny thing of thinking, I hope he doesn’t mind me volunteering him for this.
Pichetshote: How long were you a writing team on the show before you graduated to being seen (and paid) as individual writers?
Henderson: The first season, we were a writing team. First seasons of TV shows are always insane, and this one was pretty nuts. We ended up acting as individual writers and ended up doing whatever needed to be written at the time. On Season Two, we split into separate writers, because we were the only two writers to survive Season One, which is not that abnormal for a Season One show, because there are just so many factors rolling around.
Honestly, we just got really lucky in that we got onto a show that matched our voices. By the way, people can adapt, and you can learn how to write a voice of a show, but we both happened to be on a show that we were literally already writing, to a certain extent. Like, White Collar was so similar to stuff my writing partner Jim Campolongo had written, and that I had written, that we were able to hit the ground running in a very fortunate way. So we did co-write two episodes in Season One, but then after that, we split, and were doing our own thing. I miss writing with Jim. He’s so cool.
Pichetshote: And then from there, you went from a baby writer on White Collar to its co-executive producer. I feel that’s so rare. That nowadays people bounce around more.
Henderson: I was very fortunate to be on a show long enough for me to rise up the ranks. I think one of the trickier things is, you don’t get a lot of shows that last long enough for people to climb the ranks from show to show. Also, I went up pretty quickly, because for one, we were doing 16-episode seasons that were often back-to-back. So we ended up breaking 24 episodes of TV in a year, because we got our pick-up immediately after, so we just kept moving on a season-and-a-half pace.
I also jumped onto Jeff Eastin’s other show, Graceland, and helped run that. So that meteoric rise, and the only reason I’ll call it meteoric is because I also spent eight years as an assistant, which is the opposite of meteoric. So I thought there was some karmic balance that may have helped me out a little bit, because I was just ready to go. I had written seven specs of pre-existing shows. I had done all of my research. I had written eight to ten pilots. I was so over-prepared, and the advice I give a lot of writers—which is the thing that no one wants to hear—is that every year longer it takes you to become a writer is the best thing that ever happened to you, because you’ll be more prepared when you get there. But you’ll hate it, because you’re not doing what you want to do. But it’ll help you have a career versus a job.
Infidel #1 Interior Art by Aaron Campbell & Jose Villarrubia
Pichetshote: The perception I think most people have for a show with shorter seasons like White Collar, is that you’re working half the year, but it sounds like yours was different? Were you working back-to-back?
Henderson: It was fairly back-to-back. I jumped onto Jeff’s other show. I also sold a pilot with Jeff one of the years. I’m always trying to generate the next thing, the next idea, the next something, because I always have that feeling that I’m doing what I love, and at some point they’re going to realize I’m a fraud. [Laughs] So I’ve got to get in everything I have before they figure me out. So that’s what helped fuel me and keep me going. I’m always pushing.
When I got off of White Collar, I did a couple other gigs. I decided I wanted to become a showrunner now, because I had learned how to run a show between White Collar and Graceland. But I had the skills to be a showrunner, but no one saw me as one, so actually, it was really scary. I had to put my foot on the ground, and say, “I can do this. Hire me for this,” and I did a lot of meetings where they would be like, “Yeah, but could you actually run a show?” And it took FOX and Warner Bros to change that. The head of FOX, David Madden, who’s at AMC now, had been an executive on White Collar. He knew what I had done. He rolled the dice on me. I liked to think he benefited from it quite nicely, but you always have to be pushing. You’ve always got to be fighting for the next thing. You’ve always have to be creating that next thing. To me, the minute that hunger leaves you in our industry is the moment you look around and wonder, what happened?
Pichetshote: So while I didn’t work on the Lucifer TV show with you, I know a lot of its convoluted history. Tom Kapinos (creator of Californication) wrote the pilot. Then, he left and Ildy Modrovich (current Executive Producer on Lucifer) was brought on to fix it. Jerry Bruckheimer TV is producing it, and they’re more known for grounded procedurals like CSI or Without a Trace. That’s a lot of moving pieces, when launching a new show is already complicated enough. Did it feel like a political minefield when you walked into it, and how did you navigate it?
Henderson: It was pretty nuts. Like you said, you have the Bruckheimers. You have Tom Kapinos on script. You’ve got Len Weisman [director of the Underworld franchise and Lucifer’s pilot] having had lots of creative input in the pilot. You had Ildy Modrovich coming in and doing a big pass on the pilot script, and then me coming in after all of that. Everyone had different perspectives on what the show was. But I think, weirdly, that helped the show find its wonderfully weird middle-ground of being a character-driven-mythological-procedural-comedy-horror show. It’s like a giant mashup! Which I love!
Season One was hard, no question about it. Are there enough procedural elements? Enough mythology? Is it funny? Will people care?? That balance, man—it takes forever to find and it’s a constant game of second-guessing. But we had a fantastic staff with passion for the show, and we found it together. Like with lots of season ones, you can see us finding the show on the screen in the first batch of episodes. But we really figured out what it was in the back half.
Then, in Season Two, Ildy and I started co-running. And, oh my god, it was the greatest thing ever. Because 22 episodes is really hard, but when you have a co-showrunner like Ildy, every episode can be good. We actually alternate episodes when it comes to producing and doing script passes. When you have a partner-in-crime like that—that can take half of the burden away from you—it’s the only way in my mind to make a good 22-episode show.
Infidel #1 Variant Cover Art by Jae Lee
Pichetshote: So how does that work then? I know some showrunners that aren’t in the writer’s room very much. They’re out dealing with the day-to-day aspect of producing the show, and just popping in to check in with the writers here and there. How do you balance your time?
Henderson: That is the biggest question, and that’s why working with Ildy is so great, because what we do is try to be in the writer’s room as much as possible. So many writers forget that the room is where everything is generated—not so many writers, but a lot of writers. To me, I’m in that room as much as you can be. On all the odd episodes, Ildy goes into the prep meetings and production meetings, and in all the even episodes, I do that. So then one of us can always be in the room. So at least one of the voices that can say yes or no, can be there approving something. Which gets the room moving so much faster.
But most of the time, we’re both in there, because we also don’t live in post. We don’t try to fix everything and fiddle-fuck our way through every little thing, and then come out and claim to be heroes. I’ve worked for the people who were like, Oh, I’ve been in post for the last three hours, and I fixed the show, and it’s like, you’ve been hiding in post for three hours, because you don’t know what the next episode is. And that’s hard, but what’s easy is sitting in post and playing, and that’s crap. I’ve seen it happen. I think one of the good things is you have more and more showrunners who have come up underneath and seen the good and the bad and have learned how not to fall into the same traps. And some, of course, just repeat it.
Pichetshote: So after starting out as a co-writer on White Collar, you’re co-showrunning now. Was it tough to get back into?
Henderson: I like collaborating with people. I love the room. To me, when the room is at its best is when someone pitches something, and it’s like, maybe not that, it’s this. Or no, maybe not that, it’s this. Or this!
It starts to become a symphony where different sections are coming in and rising and falling. To me, the fun of it is conducting that and playing with that, and similarly, I like writing with other people. I like working with other people, because if you can learn not to be precious, the next idea is a better idea, and if someone pitches something better, it only makes you look good. But you’ve got to step outside of yourself and be willing to hear it. And by the way, I don’t always succeed in that. But I try.
Pichetshote: When I was at Vertigo, one of the things I used to tell TV writers to try to woo them into writing comics—and it sounded good in a pitch, but at that point, I didn’t have the experience to know if it was true—was that the great thing about comics is that it’s your voice unfettered, and you don’t have to compromise. Since you’ve mentioned voice while talking about White Collar and Lucifer, I have to ask: What is the role of the writer’s voice on a TV show? First as a staff writer and then now as a showrunner, what are you looking for? How do you do that math?
Henderson: That is a such a great question. Look at Lucifer. Lucifer had Tom Kapinos’s, Len Wiseman’s and Ildy Modrovich’s voices. And weirdly, they had a voice that, when combined, matched mine. By sheer coincidence. So my job was more to be a steward of that voice, because I liked it. It was a great, bold, interesting voice, and it was one I knew I could write. I did calibrate it a bit towards myself, but I also tried to calibrate myself towards it. So in that case, that’s the weird one because I’m not stewarding my vision. I’m stewarding this vision. It’s important to me to almost remove myself from it, and say this is my version of it, but it’s also just a version.
One of the things I like about our show—which some shows just can’t do, because they are such a singular voice—is to see the other writers’ voices in an episode. I like it when you can say you’re watching a Chris Rafferty episode, or that’s an Alex Katsnelson episode, or oh, that’s definitely an Ildy episode. But sometimes you can’t tell. Because we pitch on lines for each other. I have my writers give each other notes before they actually get to Ildy or me, because I like that sense when you’re watching an episode with Mike Costas’ name on it, Jason Ning has a line in it. That’s cool because then every episode is ours, and to me, especially with seasonal TV, we’re never going to get nominated for an award for Episode Seven, but people might really like Season One. So the goal isn’t to make Episode Seven awesome, the goal is to make Season One great.
That’s really important, and it’s a hard thing to do, because you want your episode to be best, and hopefully you still try and do that. But the hardest thing is when you have a great idea and you’re like, should I save this for my episode? And making sure that you don’t, because if you don’t save it, then someone will pitch something even better for you for yours.
Skyward #1 Cover Art by Lee Garbet & Antonio Favela
Pichetshote: So when you say, you’re looking for writers who can write the show, what does that mean to you? What are you looking for in the new voices coming in? I assume there’s at least a new writer every season—
Henderson: Yeah, but only one. We’ve actually kept 95% of our staff from our first season.
Pichetshote: That’s amazing. And going back to your example with White Collar, can be rare in television.
Henderson: Yeah, it’s really nice. So the main thing I was looking for were people who could write humor from character. Not just jokes, but jokes that reflected the character of someone. So that was the thing I knew people had to write. Also, I wanted a sense of voice—of what perspective you might bring. You can teach a comedy writer drama, but you can’t teach a drama writer comedy. But in particular, there’s a difference between a punchline and a character-driven humor beat. That was something I learned on White Collar. Because White Collar, as much as it was a procedural about con men and FBI agents, it was a banter show. It was a show about these two guys and how it built through humor. That was the big thing I looked for.
And then, I looked for balance. To me, there are different categories. You’ve got your snipers who might have one idea per day, but man, when they speak up, you’re like, I need to hear this ‘cuz this is gonna be the idea I’ll be thinking about all day. And then you’ve got your people who just throw everything at the wall, and maybe a third of it sticks. That’s me. [Laughs] I’m messy. I’ll just throw bad ideas out, because they might create good ideas. And then you want your people sort of in the middle, and figuring out where they land. One of the last writers I hired, I asked him, what’s your superpower? He’s like, here’s what I do: You give me a challenge, and I’ll go away and come back with eight potential fixes. I’m like, that’s awesome. I don’t have that guy. I’m loud. Ildy’s loud. We hired a bunch of loud people, and here’s a guy who’s can step away and come back with stuff. And that’s okay. That’s a piece of the puzzle, because you want a mix. I have a 10-person room. If everyone’s super loud, I’m in trouble.
Pichetshote: And speaking of collaboration, we come to a medium all about cooperation: comics, and specifically, your comic Skyward. How did you find Lee? Was it because he was working on the Lucifer comic, or was he on your radar already?
Henderson: Lee and I follow each other on Twitter, because he worked on the Lucifer comic. By the way, I’ve been a fan of Lee’s, since Loki: Agent of Asgard. Which is a book filled with crazy, awesome big ideas grounded with humanity. That’s what worked so well about it. As much as it is absolutely insane stuff, there’s a core human drive to it, and a big part of that is Lee’s art, because he humanizes characters in inhuman situations.
So what happened was, I was trying to find an artist. I had no idea how to do it. No one seemed to have any really good ideas on how to do it beyond just saying, reach out to someone you like. And well, I love Lee’s stuff, and he follows me, so I can DM him, but I don’t know, is he going to think this is weird? Is he going to be like, who’s this dude? So I DM him, and soft-play it. I’m like, “Hey, if you know any artists who might want to do a creator-owned book, I’d love a recommendation. Any advice you could give…” and secretly I’m like, Please fall in love with this, please just do it, just do it, and he was like, just send it over, I’ll take a look, and I’ll try to see if there’s anyone I like. But just so you know, I’m not exclusive. And I’m like, whoa. Okay. And our courtship begins. [Laughs]
So I send him the pitch, and the first couple issues, because I had already written a bunch of it. And the next morning, I had an email where he was basically said, “I’m in.” I was like, this should not be this easy. And it’s been an incredible experience because Lee is a professional. I’ve never done a creator-owned book, and you hear all these horror stories of having to chase down artists and figure stuff out, but Lee knows how to do a schedule. But he also just knows how to bring character.
What I mean is, this book is a big, crazy, weird idea—someone has to humanize it, ground it, put us in our main character’s shoes, and that’s what he does so well. It’s funny, because you started talking about the writer’s voice, and one of the things I wanted to do early on—for better or worse—is I wanted to bring as much of Lee’s voice in as possible, because I wanted him to have ownership, because when you have ownership on something, you bring so much more to it. We co-own the property, but also, the storytelling. So when I would spell out a panel breakdown, the note would always be, unless you have a better idea. And he often did. So to me the fun of it is seeing things that I’ve imagined in my head come to life in ways that I never expected and better. That’s been really cool.
How about you and Aaron? How did you guys get together and what has your process been? His art’s absolutely amazing.
Skyward #1 Interior Art by Lee Garbet & Antonio Favela
Pichetshote: It really is, and I really hope if this book can do anything, it shines a spotlight on just how good and versatile Aaron is. When I started Infidel, the first creative decision I made was giving Jose Villarrubia a call. Jose’s a legend in the industry, and we worked together a lot at Vertigo and became friends. Back at Vertigo, whenever I got a new project, I would give Jose a call and tell him who I was thinking of drawing it and ask for his suggestions. Because he’s such a student of great comics art. He loves it so much. He could talk with you about Adam Hughes on Superman/Gen 13 and then rattle off the latest book to win the Angouleme. He’s got such a wide vocabulary of artists. So my first call was to him asking for his opinion of artists, but also—honestly, part of coming back to comics was the joy of getting reacquainted with old friends—so it was also an excuse to talk to a friend. He came back by telling me, “Pornsak, as you know I am a closeted editor, and based on everything you’ve told me about this project, I would love to edit this,” and I’m like, whoa, that sounds amazing!
Henderson: Oh wow, I didn’t know Jose was editing this.
Pichetshote: Yeah. It’s his first book as editor which I’m also super proud of. He brought Aaron to the table, since Aaron had gone to MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) where Jose teaches. Even though Aaron wasn’t one of his students, they knew of each other through the school. And Aaron’s done so much. He’s done James Bond: Felix Leiter with James Robinson, Control with Andy Diggle, The Shadow with Garth Ennis, and Green Hornet: Year One with Matt Wagner. But through that, he became pigeon-holed in noir. When I asked him about it, he told me, “You know what got me my first job drawing all this noir stuff? I was painting covers for fantasy novels with orcs and dragons on them, and somehow in that process, I became the film noir guy!” And he had been stuck in that pigeon hole ever since.
So when I talked to him, he was so hungry, and he so wanted to draw—and was such a fan of—horror. It all worked out. It’s one of those amazing alchemies where we discovered we have the same tastes in horror. We have the same philosophies on how a scare should work. It was kind of incredible, and it just made it so clear that he was our guy.
From there, our process was just—and I’m curious to hear what your process with Lee is like—discovering the things about your partner and how you can best utilize it in the work.
For example, one of the things Aaron can do—which was scary when we started out—was that with every project he does, he finds a slightly new art style to approach it with. And I’m sure you’ve been in the situation where that’s terrifying as all hell when the artist who you hired because they did a certain thing is like, yeah I’m not doing that anymore. But of course, I ended up loving the new style. Then, came the realization of, shit! If I’ve got an artist who’s this versatile, I’d be an idiot not to take advantage of it, so in issue three, now that the reader has had more of a chance to settle into the world of the book, we can get a little more experimental and give Aaron more of a chance to flex those muscles.
To me, that’s the fun of comics’ serial nature. In the films I’ve worked on, what disappoints me the most is right when you get to know each other, you have to say goodbye. Whereas in comics and television, you have an ongoing relationship where you’re constantly discovering things about each other. I think one of the things I gained from editing comics is—like you—I love collaboration. Like you, I love hearing all the voices happening at once and herding them towards a goal.
Henderson: That really reminds of working with Lee, because what I didn’t know was—and maybe I’m projecting a bit—but I think one of his favorite things to draw was Batgirl. He loved Batgirl, or at least maybe really missed it. Because he’s got such a talent at drawing young women who are kicking butt and are so relatable and awesome and fun and there’s a joy to them. Because in Skyward, it’s a woman who loves this world. As scary as it can be, it’s hers, and she adores it. I just knew Lee from Loki and his work on Lucifer. And on Loki, I knew he could draw people and draw heart. But I didn’t know how much heart he could bring. And that was the amazing thing. Seeing this incredible heart on the sleeve of this character brings you into the world, and that has just been incredible. So I think for Lee, it was that lucky opportunity of, I really wanted to draw a young female protagonist, because I love drawing them. I love bringing them to life, so when I handed him this story starring one and being able to draw this crazy stuff, he was like, how do you say no?
And in Lee’s case, I’m shocked he wasn’t on one of the biggest books. I think he’s probably going to be very soon, and I am so happy I could reach him before that happened. [Laughs] I mean, with Skyward, I just want to write stuff that gets him on top artist lists because he should be, and he’s got such incredible skill. So part of my goal becomes, how do I write something that can show him off, that can let him flex those muscles. He also brought his colorist that he’s worked with forever, Antonio Fabela, who is fantastic and they have a great shorthand.
Skyward #1 Interior Art by Lee Garbet & Antonio Favela
Pichetshote: I think one of the benefits of getting to work on creator-owned projects with experienced professionals is that it’s people who know what they’re doing, but are finally given the incentive to put 125% of themselves into the project, because they don’t know when they’ll get the next chance. For example, Skyward is the best work of Lee’s career. I’ve been a fan of his for so long, and Skyward is this crystallization of everything he does. It’s just great to watch creators get that opportunity and really take it.
Henderson: If it was a year later, I think Lee would be so deep in Batman or whatever big book, he’d be unavailable. But instead, we’ve gotten to create this world together, and it’s just been so much fun.
Pichetshote: Do you have an idea of how long you want Skyward to go on for?
Henderson: We have a 15-issue arc. I could continue the story afterwards—or not—and part of the question is just what the reception is. But no matter what, I am telling a 15-issue story that I’ve already got completely figured out. I would love to keep playing in the world. It’s just a question of whether or not the audience finds it, and whether or not people like it, but I’m committed to that. Lee’s starting art on issue six next week. [Laughs] We are so ahead. Because he’s so fast and so good. I think it’s good to have these sort of goal posts, which for us is 15 issues, no matter what. You’re going to get a beginning, a middle and an end. The mysteries that I’ve introduced, you will get answers to, the questions will be answered. Everything comes together, but there’s still plenty of story to tell in the world should we want to.
Pichetshote: How long have you had the idea for the book? How long did you develop it before you brought Lee into the equation?
Henderson: I’ve been working on this for about six years now, and it’s remarkably similar to what it was. Conceptually, I’ve always wanted to do this. It really became a question of how do you really do it? I work in TV, and now I’ve started working in movies, but writing a show about low gravity—or even writing a movie about low gravity—you are immediately bumping into budgetary concerns. So part of it was, I really want to tell this story. I wanted to tell a story about a woman trying to find her place in a world turned upside-down. That’s fun, that’s exciting. I know that’s a character journey I really want to explore. I wanted to tell the story, and I was like, Well, what’s the medium where budget doesn’t matter that I’ve always wanted to work in? So it really became that question of what’s the best format for a story.
But the question still became, you need an artist who can bring the budget, because if it doesn’t look gorgeous…. This is the kind of book that you need to feel like you want to go there. It needs to invite you in, even if it’s dangerous and scary. You want to flow through it. You want to explore it, and the key to that was getting Lee, because he brings it to life.
Skyward #1 Interior Art by Lee Garbet & Antonio Favela
Pichetshote: I love the cover for the first issue. I love it as a piece of art, but I also love it because if I had to think of any imagery when I think of you, that cover encapsulates it. The gleefulness at this askew world, the brightness… So I’m curious: What was the process of coming up with that cover, but since I figure that’s a pretty simple answer, the question behind my question is—bringing this back around—given you have your own TV show, that is your voice, what aspect does this book let you access that the show doesn’t, because reading it, I do feel I’m mainlining something pure in your perspective.
Henderson: To the first point, the process of the cover was: Lee drew it, and I loved it. [Laughs] I freaked out on him. I think I over-gushed on him. I was like, you literally encapsulated the entire book in one image. That first image, you just got her spirit, you got the concept in there, and it’s beautiful.
As for the second question, I’m writing a TV show based on a pre-existing character based on a whole bunch of voices that had gotten in there before me—which I love writing, because by sheer luck, it happens to match everything I love writing. Then, I’m working on a remake of a movie which is super awesome, because I get my own spin to it. But this is mine. And now it’s mine and Lee’s. But I’m the one at the beginning. I’m the one creating the voices and coming up with the crazy ideas. I both have no one to blame, and all of the responsibilities and fun, because this is coming from me.
I think it’s so important in our industry—while we’re working on something pre-existing—to also build our own universes, make our own worlds, make our own Star Wars, Jaws or Get Out. You need these original voices. I love working on franchises. I would like to work on more franchises, but I also really think it’s so important that we create new stories and new representation.
For example, I really wanted a black woman as a lead. I just don’t think we really see it that much, and this was two years ago when I started. Now this past weekend, Black Panther had this incredible weekend, and I want to think it’s the world catching up to the optimism of comics to a certain extent. I mean, you have a character like Miles Morales [the fan-favorite, African-Latino Spider-Man created by Brian Michael Bendis]. Honestly, Miles Morales was a big reason why Skyward has a black woman as the lead. I was looking at what was not being represented, at what imagery was not on the stands, so that everyone can see themselves there. It’s like what you’re doing with Infidel. It’s awesome. You’re doing something no one else is doing.
Pichetshote: That brings up an interesting question. For me, the most nerve-wracking part of writing Infidel is because I had a multiracial cast and the book is so much about religion and race, there’s this enormous pressure of getting the voices and their perspectives right—which meant I had to do a ton of research and talking to people with the perspectives I’m trying to represent. When you were conceiving the character of Skyward being who she was, was that ever a deterrent for you? Was it ever a source of fear or anxiety?
Henderson: I mean, 100% in so much I want to be respectful, but at the same time, because it exists in a world that’s 20 years after ours and so much has changed, it gives me an out on some aspects. But it’s something I try to remind myself of, because it’s something I need to stay cognizant of. I just try to write a person in over their head. Maybe I should be addressing things a little bit more, but to me, I kind of like that it really doesn’t affect the actual story. Like Finn in Star Wars—Finn being black doesn’t affect the narrative, but holy crap does it matter when it comes to representation. But at the same time, I love how infused with race Black Panther is, because it’s saying something. My God, it’s saying so much. But you, you’re tackling it head-on.
Pichetshote: Yeah, it’s terrifying.
Henderson: But it’s awesome. It’s giving you something new.
Skyward #1 Interior Art by Lee Garbet & Antonio Favela
Pichetshote: I hope so. It’s definitely a tightrope, because no matter how much you try to educate yourself—you never know what cultural blinders you walk into a project with until someone points them out. And we live in its age where -rightfully so, I think in many cases—people point with megaphones.
Henderson: What’s great is when you find out the thing that you didn’t even know. When people are like—That’s the thing you’re responding to? That thing? And then hopefully still learning from it.
Pichetshote: So much of the impetus of Infidel involves this conversation about race and bias we’re only just now taking baby steps in having as a nation. And part of the reason I think we’re not having that conversation is because it’s scary. We don’t know what the rules are, so we stay quiet. We’ve spent so long not talking about this stuff that we haven’t developed a language for it, and part of talking about it is saying, Hey, I’m going to open myself up to potential mistakes, because when you speak in a language that you’re not encouraged to use, clumsiness is inevitable. But I really don’t believe not speaking is an option anymore either.
So it’s a tricky dance. And once this conversation begins—and Lord knows we’ve tried very, very, very hard to mistake-proof it as much as we can—but if a mistake happens, how can we learn from it, how can that be factored into the conversation as opposed to insulating the conversation from it? These are questions that are very much on my mind as the book rolls out. Because so much about what Infidel is about—in this heightened world where people are reacting to these creepy ghosts—is also living in a world where bigotry and racism and Islamophobia are unequivocally real, and yet, it’s so hard for people to agree with what certain aspects of it looks like. And I’m just trying to portray that confusion as honestly as I can in a story that hopefully scares the crap out of you at the same time. And going back to what you said, hopefully in the process, it gives a platform for voices we’re not used to hearing.
Henderson: For an example of bringing things full circle, you know what? I look at Darkhawk. Darkhawk looked like me. He had brown hair instead of blonde hair, but he looked like me. The things that got into my head these past couple years is that there’s a lot of characters who look like me. Peter Parker looks like me. Captain America kind of looks like me. And I feel like we have a responsibility to change that up and to add to the characters in some small way. And if one little girl is like, “That looks like me,” then I’ve done it. That, to me, is the challenge. And hopefully, a little white boy says, “That doesn’t look like me, but I like the character, so who cares?” Because God knows people of every other color have had to do that with so many characters. That representation is so important, because people like me have taken it for granted.
Skyward #1 Interior Art by Lee Garbet & Antonio Favela