I’ve read a lot of comics. Chances are more than you ever will. And many of the books I’ve read aren’t particularly very good. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. There have been some brilliant writers in the medium and there have been some books that have brought me overwhelming joy or excitement.
Unfortunately, those days are more the exception to the rule. Recently I had the opportunity to read the first three issues of Hadrian’s Wall, an upcoming 8 issue series from Image Comics written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel and illustrated by Rod Reis.
And it’s good. Better than good. If the rest of the series is as good as the first three issues, you’re going to have a book that will sweep awards, find mainstream audiences and have a large audience of readers in line for their next project.
I had the opportunity to discuss the upcoming title with Higgins and Siegel and am already anticipating December when the fourth issue (the next one I’m waiting to read) is released.
FOG!: What is the premise of Hadrian’s Wall? And what was the genesis of the project?
Kyle Higgins: It’s a locked-room, murder mystery on a spaceship. Our main character, Simon Moore, is an investigator who’s hired to rubber stamp the death of an astronaut, Edward Madigan, who dies in the opening of issue one.
Simon heads to the ship– named Hadrian’s Wall– initially out of a sense of Schadenfreude, as the deceased is not only an ex-friend of Simon’s, but was also married to Simon’s ex-wife. Of course, once Simon arrives and starts getting into things, he realizes that the situation is even murkier than we thought. So, in addition to trying to figure out this case, Simon will also have to navigate his own failed marriage. His ex-wife, Annabelle, is both on board the ship and also a suspect.
The background to all this is a Cold War between Earth and its biggest colony on Theta, which makes the book as much about broken relationships as it does a murder mystery.
Having read (and loved the first three issues), how did you approach structuring the mystery? Was the entire series outlined before you started writing?
KH: Not super intricately, no.
Alec Siegel: We had big sign posts and knew our ending, as well as some of our twists though. And the emotional arc, and the characters.
KH: Right. And look, locked room murder mysteries are– in the best way– character studies. Who are our crew members? What brought them out to the ship? What are their sordid pasts? And what are their relationships to each other? Those are the building blocks for this story, and Simon’s investigation into them brings those histories to the forefront.
AS: Yeah. For example, there’s Franklin, the ship’s geologist, who dislikes authority, resents the very fact that there’s an investigator on the ship, and didn’t particularly like or respect Edward. Then there’s Captain Drekker, who is skeptical of Simon’s investigation… but is it because he’s hiding facts about Edward? Or because he doesn’t trust the very company he works for?
There’s also the ship’s physician, Dr. Kharlamov, who failed to do a proper autopsy and Selina, the ship’s astrophysicist. Both of them are willing to aid Simon, but he’s not sure where their allegiances lie, or if they have ulterior motives. And then, of course, there’s Annabelle, who has to deal with the fact that her husband is dead and her ex-husband has been brought out to investigate. For her, it’s no longer about just dealing with this tragedy, but trying to avoid her past life with Simon.
KH: On the process side, one of the benefits of the current setup at Image– where you have to fully finish the first three issues before you solicit– is that it gave us time to go back and shore anything up that we may have missed, or that might have changed during the actual process of writing the book. Murder mysteries are tough, and you’re constantly juggling reader expectations and misleads with clarity in the killer’s plot. It’s tough to do, and there was definitely a lot of discussion, outlining, and rewriting as we went along. I will say, as far as normal comic production goes, this was actually a very freeing way to work.
The series is very reminiscent of both Alien and older James Cameron films especially The Abyss. The characters are in a science-fiction environment, but are very realistic, work-for-hire employees; there to do a job until someone turns up dead. What were your influences/inspirations for the series?
AS: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head. Kyle and I always approach things from a standpoint of, how could this work in real life? So we try to make our characters feel like real people with real problems… no matter what the extraordinary circumstances of the story are. We talk about this a lot, but the aspect of world building that we really pride ourselves is figuring out what the normal and the mundane would be within the extraordinary. That helps us keep things centered and relatable.
Movies like Alien, Blade Runner, The Abyss… anything that feels grounded, despite its sci-fi nature, was a big influence on us.
As co-writers, how do you collaborate and what do you feel that the other brings to the table?
KH: Alec’s a fantastic world builder. Which is part of why we keep doing these big alt-history and alt-future stories together. As he kind of just alluded to, he’s able to to world build in a way that stays grounded but still gets us the most mileage out of the idea. That’s a big thing to me– with any sort of high concept endeavor, the way you explore the concept and present the idea is paramount. We spend a lot of time going through different iterations and permutations, as we’re both pretty obsessed with making sure we land on the most interesting version that also provides the most story and emotional mileage. He’s also someone who can put up with me, which is definitely no easy task. I tend to be incredibly type A as a writer, and if something isn’t working… I don’t mince words.
On the flip side, it’s never, ever personal, and he knows that. I might kick the tires on something over and over, getting myself caught in obsessive compulsive loops, but it’s just part of my process and he doesn’t judge me for it. We’ve been close friends since high school, and have been writing together in one form or another since college. We were also roommates for a long time, so yeah. We know each other really well. At the end of the day, the number one thing that keeps us working together is that it’s fun, and we’re really proud of the work we do together.
AS: Yeah, exactly. We can be seemingly brutal when it comes to how we receive ideas and give feedback from one another, but it’s all in service of the story. And like Kyle said, it’s not personal. It’s never personal. It’s just one-hundred-percent honesty, and it’s always about the idea and what it gets us, as opposed to some judgement on the person who gave it. We know each other so well that neither of us worries that’s what the other is doing. And that’s important, because we need to be able to be completely honest in order to push things further and make sure we’re not settling for the low hanging fruit idea, if there might be a more complex and interesting version that we just haven’t fully figured out. Spoiler alert… there usually is.
KH: Like any relationship, ours is based on respect. He knows I respect him, and have his back, which means that when I say Hm, yeah, I feel like there’s a more interesting version of that… I’m not judging. And vice versa.
AS: As for the process of actually working, we’ve got kind of a fairly stable routine of breaking stories and issues more or less together, and then divvying up scenes and tackling them independently, before trading and rewriting each other. By the end, though, one of us is usually siting at the computer typing while the other paces and we actually write any final lines together.
As Kyle said, we’ve known each other for so long and been through so much together that there’s not much that really rattles us.
How did Rod Reis get involved in the project?
KH: Basically… because I refuse to let him go. Honestly, at this point, it’s hard to imagine NOT doing a book with Rod. C.O.W.L. was so much fun and so creatively fulfilling, we all knew we’d caught a bit of lightning in a bottle, working together. So, when we were wrapping it up– for now– we immediately started looking for something else to do together.
I had this concept of a murder mystery on a spaceship that I’d wanted to explore for some time, but never really had much more than that. The idea of Rod bringing that world to life, though, in a retro-futuristic 80’s-inspired comic was so exciting that it got me to dive in and start building.
I want to work with Rod for as long as I’m making comics. Mark my words– he’s going to explode into a superstar talent. I can’t wait for people to see how incredible his work on this book is.
Murder mystery stories are finite and this is only eight issues long. Would you want to revisit P.I. Simon Moore or the world you created in a follow-up?
KH: The world is very interesting to us, yeah. So, without giving anything away… yeah. It’s a possibility. That said, you nailed it when you said murder mysteries are finite. And there are other aspects of our story and world that are finite as well. Which is a long winded way of saying… you’ll have to read the book to see what I mean.
What else so you have in the pipeline?
KH: Well, I’m doing a few other creator owned books that aren’t announced yet, plus Mighty Morphin Power Rangers at BOOM!. I’ve got another cool work-for-hire project that may be announced in the next month or two, and I’m starting to screen a film I wrote and directed last year– called The Shadow Hours— at festivals. It’s a neo-noir thriller starring Tom Riley and Britt Lower, about two identical twins with a condition– only one of them can be awake at a time. You can head over to theshadowhours.com to see more about it.
AS: I’ve also got another solo book in the works, but it’s a little too early to say much about it other than it’s a period action-adventure concept I’ve been kicking around for a long time and I’m excited that it’s finally taking off.
KH: It’s a really cool one.
What are you currently geeking out over?
AS: Like many people, I really enjoyed Stranger Things. I also just saw some of the behind the scenes photos on the new adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. It may be time to read the book again. I’m also excitedly waiting for Star Trek: Discovery.
KH: I LOVED Stranger Things.
AS: And you know the Duffers.
KYLE: I do, yeah. We actually went to film school together. The year before I made The League, which is what C.O.W.L. is based on, they made a film called Eater. People should look it up– it’s super sharp, especially when you step back and realize they were 21 or 22 when they made it. It’s awesome that they’ve popped like they have– they’re two of the most talented filmmakers I know. It was never a question of if, but when.
So, yeah. Stranger Things. I’m also the last person on the planet to have discovered BoJack Horeseman, but it’s ridiculously good. I binged all three seasons in, like, two weeks. On the book front, Brubaker and Phillips’ Kill or Be Killed is– surprise surprise– AWESOME. I also really like what James Tynion is doing on Detective Comics right now. I’m really excited for him and how much fun he and Eddy seem to be having on the book.