For the past two decades, Gene Ha has done various comic work as an artist for Marvel, DC, and several independent publishing companies. Having worked on Batman, Superman, Wildstorm, and the X-Men, this four-time Eisner Award winner knows his way around the industry. So when he announced three years ago that he would be taking a sabbatical to focus on creator owned content, some may have thought this was his way of easing into retiring from being a comic artist.
Well, everyone can rest assured that Gene is making good on his promise and has recently unleashed his pet project, a graphic novel entitled “Mae”. Due to its success, both critically and financially, Dark Horse has given Gene Ha the opportunity to continue the story of Mae in a regular monthly comic. The first issue was released last month and the review written by yours truly can be found HERE. I had the pleasure of asking Gene a few questions about his journey creating Mae and the story he has crafted for our enjoyment.
Comic Crusaders (CC): First of all, I loved the first issue of Mae. Tell us what the story is about and who the central characters are.
Gene Ha: Mae is the story of two sisters from rural Indiana. Eight years ago at the age of 13, Mae’s big sister Abbie disappeared without a trace. So Mae had to grow up without her, taking care of their aging father, helping with the family business and finishing school. Then Mae gets a call from the sheriff’s department saying they’ve found Mae. And she’s really drunk, can Mae pick her up? Abbie says she’s been on another world, full of mad scientists and monsters and leading an army of barbarian warrior cats into battle. It’s all very hard to believe… until some of the monsters follow her back to Indiana. In Mae #2 the monsters begin crossing paths with Mae’s family. There’s a lot of destruction for a small country town.
CC: Would you say that sisterhood is at the core of this title? Or is it the fantasy-world concept?
Ha: The genre of the story is definitely fantasy. But the heart of the story is about sisterhood and growing up. Mae and Abbie want to be close to each other but it’s a struggle. They don’t know each other anymore and they have very different ways of dealing with the world. Abbie is an action hero, and assumes every problem can be solved by knocking the right heads. Mae can’t punch out a troll, but she’s smart and brave and can create solutions Abbie would never dream of.
CC: I noticed several references to popular fantasy books within the pages of Mae. What was your inspiration for this comic book?
Ha: There are so many! I was inspired to write about sisters by Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn. His storytelling sculpts such vivid personalities. That story has just a hint of fantasy in it, even if it’s just one sister’s delusions. As far as fantasy goes, reading J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan as an adult taught me a lot. For a child it’s a story of thrilling adventures. But like the fantasies of children, Peter is much scarier than re-tellings acknowledge. Peter kills pirates because he enjoys killing pirates, even if they’re posing no threat to him. I love the complexity of that world, but beneath all that it’s still a simple ripping yarn for kids to enjoy. That’s one of my goals for Mae: I want it to be a thrilling action story for kids, and a deeper tale for folks my age.
That’s why it’s important that Mae isn’t an adolescent. Mae is 18, on the edge of adulthood. She’s ready to ask questions.
CC: This is your first real venture into writing comic books. Did you ever consider working with another writer to co-plot and/or script, or was the plan always to handle this on your own?
Ha: There were a few attempts. I started work on Back Roads with Bill Willingham but scheduling conflicts scuttled that one. Zander Cannon and I began a modern fantasy story under France’s Humanoids US branch, but they folded up their tent and headed back to Europe before we got very far. Finally, I signed an exclusive contract with DC hoping to do more Top 10 with Zander writing. It was a great contract with a bumped up page rate. Sadly, I learned that DC had no interest in using their limited time under the contract to publish more Top 10. They gave me great projects that were more profitable for both of us, but not the one I really wanted.
That was the point where I decided I needed to control my own project. And that’s why I didn’t want to launch it under a publisher or to hand the copyright to someone else.
CC: Did you encounter any unexpected obstacles while creating Mae?
Ha: Not worse than with any other project, or anyone else’s Kickstarter. I’m really struck by the support I’ve gotten, both from readers and from other creators. The pin-up art fellow artists pitched in was amazing. And I’m deeply grateful for the advice I’ve gotten from more practical creatives like Jimmy Palmiotti (Harley Quinn, Paper Films) and Ryan Browne (God Hates Astronauts). They’ve each done a few Kickstarter creator owned books, and they kept me safe from many a pitfall.
CC: What led to Dark Horse picking up the story as an ongoing title?
Ha: They were very excited by the Kickstarter, and the pages I showed them! Dark Horse is determined to put out great original material. They have a true sense of mission about it.
CC: Did Dark Horse set you up to continue Mae so long as you have more story to tell, or is there a definitive end point in mind?
Ha: There’s no end point, either in my planned story or with Dark Horse. I have plenty of threats and enemies for Mae and Abbie to deal with. And beyond that, I’ll always enjoy writing about how these two sisters learn what it means to be sisters.
CC: Mae #1 finally hit stores last month and as I understand it, you had several signings scheduled across the Midwest. How has the fan reception been and how did those events go?
Ha: To meet deadlines, I haven’t been able to travel much, so all the signings were in the greater Chicagoland area. They were great fun! I love comic shop staff, and all the shops had great patrons. I’m hoping to travel a LOT wider when the first collection comes out. Maybe a road trip book tour down the East Coast? And some trips to places like Texas and California.
CC: Are you planning to make your way around the convention circuit?
Ha: That’s mostly for 2017 after the first collection comes out. For now my appearance schedule is pretty sparse and mostly in the Chicagoland area. I am in discussion with various shops, but it’s early days yet and I don’t have specific dates!
[Ed. Note: For a full list of upcoming appearances, visit http://www.geneha.com/appearances/
CC: Are you working on any projects besides Mae currently?
Ha: I wish I was faster! Beyond a pin-up every month or two, nothing. I’ve placed all my chips and almost all of my waking hours into telling the story of Mae.
CC: We appreciate that! So, where do we see Mae headed after your original story finishes in Mae #2?
Ha: On the first page of issue three Mae takes her first steps on the world of Cimrterén! It’s very, very different from Indiana. There are impossibly giant fossils and monsters guarding the gates of free cities.
CC: Finally, if you had to choose your favorite between Mae and Abbie, who would it be?
Ha: A cruel question! I’d love to hang out with either of them and adore them both like nieces. Abbie is more fun to party with, and Mae is more fun to talk to.
Abbie and Mae are both very geeky girls, and I love hanging out with geeks. There’s a real shortage of geeky female characters out there, so I’m happy I can add two more for all the real geeky girls to read about.
I will say that Mae is one of the few books to be added to my personal pull list after reviewing it for Comic Crusaders. A fun and fantastic story, written and drawn by Gene Ha, Mae #2 hits shelves on June 29th!