Sam Humphries & Joe Eisma Are Illegal on ‘Higher Earth’ #5 [Interview + Exclusive Art]
Created by Sam Humphries (Our Love is Real, Ultimate Comics: Ultimates) and published by BOOM! Studios, Higher Earth is a science fiction adventure set across multiple Earths whose citizens serve (whether they know it or not) at the pleasure of a “Higher Earth” that’s conquered over a hundred such worlds in different parallel universes, each with its own specific function. The sold-out issue #1 introduced the concept very effectively in the form of Heidi, a young woman who had no idea that there was anything more to existence than garbage falling out of the sky onto her world, which was essentially the trash can of the multiverse. The mysterious warrior Rex removed Heidi from her planet to traverse the network of Earths on a violent quest for revenge against an as yet unrevealed adversary. Unfortunately for them, they are designated as illegal on multiple Earths.
On sale next week, issue #3 will find Rex and Heidi running for their lives on an Earth where dinosaurs never went extinct, but what Humphries and BOOM! are very keen on talking about is September’s Higher Earth #5. Not only does the issue reveal the grand mysteries behind the series, it features guest artwork by Joe Eisma of Morning Glories. We spoke with both Humphries and Eisma about their work on Higher Earth and took an exclusive first look at in-progress artwork from this crucial issue, as well as cover art by Phil Noto, Mitch Breitweiser and Frazer Irving.
ComicsAlliance: Higher Earth #1 debuted very strongly with a $1 issue and a similarly sold out #2. Issue #3 hits next week, but you and BOOM! are doing a big push for issue #5. Of course, a lot of this has to do with the vagaries of the direct market system, whereby retailers need to order issue #5 this week even before your readers get a chance to check out issues #3 and #4, but there’s quite a bit more to Higher Earth #5 that makes it a critical issue for this young series. What can you tell us about this key issue and what it means for Higher Earth?
Sam Humphries: Issue #5 is “the secret origin of Higher Earth.” No, it’s not going to be an issue of me in the shower coming up with ideas for the comic book called Higher Earth. It’s the secret origin of the empire called Higher Earth. You’ll witness the moment where ambition met technology and someone realized the ability to hop the quantum multiverse should be used to create an imperial civilization that could never fall, and why. After this issue, readers will know more about the genesis of the empire than the actual citizens of the empire.
This is a stand alone issue — it can be read in isolation from the others — but in many ways it wraps up our first arc. It answers a lot of burning questions from the first four issues, and sets the stage for what comes next.
CA: You’re working with Joe Eisma from Morning Glories on this issue. My understanding is that issue #5 was written specifically for him?
SH: I don’t think many people are aware, but Franceso Biagini has been drawing two monthly books from BOOM! — Higher Earth with me and Elric: The Balance Lost with my brother from another mother, Chris Roberson. Not to mention, he’s been killing it on the page. So we couldn’t be more psyched to have Joe Eisma join us for an issue to give Biagini a break. It’s the perfect timing, as I was feeling ready to diverge from the main narrative of Rex and Heidi, and delve into a little history. But when I knew we had Joe, I knew we had the guns to go big. He’s just crushing it month after month on Morning Glories, and I wanted to do something a little different, see a new side of Eisma. So I set this issue in two worlds that are different from the Morning Glories milieu, and focused on one specific character.
CA: Joe, you’ve been working on Morning Glories almost exclusively for the last two years. A guest spot from you is rare, so I’m curious to know how you got involved with Higher Earth, if you were already a fan of the book, and what it is you dig about it.
Joe Eisma: I’d become a fan of Sam’s after Our Love is Real and Sacrifice, so I started following his work. I bought Higher Earth #1 when it came out and really enjoyed it, so I was already onboard as a reader. And you’re right — this is my first non-Morning Glories work in some time. My collaborators on that book all said yes to other projects after we’d launched, but I turned things down to focus on the book. Sam and I had been emailing and hanging out with each other this year at conventions, and I knew the time was right for me to branch out. When he asked me if I’d like to be involved in this issue, it was a no-brainer for me!
I really dig the straight-up science fiction aspect of the book. I’d grown up immersed in that genre and haven’t had a chance to really draw anything otherworldly. I love that Sam has really created an infinite canvas with this book — he can go anywhere and do pretty much anything with this concept.
CA: As you say, Higher Earth is a straight sci-fi story, quite a bit different in the visual sense from the school uniformed mysteries of Morning Glories. Was getting to draw something distinctly different part of the attraction for you here?
JE: Absolutely. I think Sam even had a “NO SCHOOL UNIFORMS!” edict! Seriously, though, I don’t want to just be a one-trick pony. We do go to a lot of different locations outside of the school and different eras in Morning Glories, but Higher Earth is a different type of animal altogether. I couldn’t wait to tackle some of the futuristic designs and spaced-out locations.
CA: We’ve covered Higher Earth on ComicsAlliance before and I think our readers have a handle on the style of the book and the kind of tone of the series. But I’d like to know more about it from your perspectives, Sam. What kind of thinking and influences went into the creation of Higher Earth? I know music is a big influence on you, and the first issue seems to open with a big Moebius homage.
SH: Some of it was just general frustration and disillusionment with the logistics of space travel, and seeing the quantum multiverse as a way to circumvent that. Some of it came out of what I’ve learned of colonial Europe by studying the Aztecs (see: Sacrifice). But yeah, a lot of it came from less concrete influences. Bands like Ladytron, F*** Buttons, and My Bloody Valentine, who seem like they are broadcasting from some distant, deranged future. Moeibus is one of my favorite artists and shaped a lot of how I see comics, and I struggle to not throw homages at him with every page that I write. The whole Euro point of view of putting characters front and center in sci-fi is something I really admire. I just saw Aliens for like the 8347026th time, but for the first time in Blu-Ray, and it blew a hole in my head. Most people remember that movie for the action, but its world-building is air tight. If you didn’t intuitively understand how Sigourney Weaver, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, and that little girl all fit into that world, the movie would just be Anaconda in space. And I can’t really pinpoint how or why this became a focus of my writing, but the more work I do the more I come back to questions of identity.
The setting of Higher Earth — a hundred interconnected alternate timelines — is the perfect place to get in and examine all that complex stuff. The bang that goes off at the end off issue #3 just gets louder in issue #4 and explodes in issue #5.
JE: For this, I loaded up my Spotify with electronic bands like Ladytron, IAMX, Soldout and Goldfrapp, and delved into the science fiction work of Ridley Scott. I’d just seen Prometheus a few weeks before landing this gig, so I was looking at some of the fantastic design work they did in that film. Comics-wise, I definitely went on a Moebius kick too — I’m adding some Moebius-influenced outfits to crowd shots, for sure. One book that was of particular influence on me this issue was Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar. I grew up in the ’80s, so I love those old school comics, and Dreadstar was one of my favorite science-fiction stories from back then. I love how Starlin could immerse you in Dreadstar’s world, and the way he drew environments.
CA: Higher Earth #5 is being promoted as the secret origin to the series and will focus on the mysterious protagonist known as Heidi. You’ve drawn a number of flashbacks in Morning Glories, effectively drawing the same character at different points in their evolution. What’s your approach to depicting characters as they change over periods of time?
JE: Yeah, that’s one of the hardest things in Morning Glories, is drawing that huge cast at different points in their lives. It’s almost like reverse-engineering their look. In their case, it helps that we’re much more focused on a smaller set of characters. I didn’t want the characters to look exactly like they have appeared–I wanted some ambiguity there. As they change at the various points, I just try to keep the basics inherent, and just play around with their clothing, hair, etc.
CA: Coloring is a big part of the art in Higher Earth. You have a very clean line style that meshes well with different coloring styles. Did you have to make any special coloring considerations while working on this issue?
JE: I’m a big fan of animation, which is probably where the initial influence for clean open lines came from for me. Clean lines are something I’ve been striving for ever since Morning Glories launched. Stylistically, I was still finding my feet in that first arc, and I’ve evolved it to a point that’s more satisfying for me these days. I think the technology used to color comics has gotten so good these days, that I love seeing colorists take a really active role in the aesthetic and storytelling of a comic.
CA: Sam’s a writer who’s been increasingly busy in a very short amount of time, kind of like your principal collaborator, Nick Spencer. What can you tell our readers about Sam’s work from the artist’s perspective?
JE: Sam’s script is dense! And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It kind of intimidated me when I first got his script for this issue. The way Nick works is his script is pretty straightforward, and he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on the panel descriptions, unless it’s a major story point — and then he’ll give me a few paragraphs of background. Sam loaded his script down with references and research, and he was very descriptive. That’s not to say he was too hands-on or micromanaged — he just really went all-out with the detail. It was very helpful in my situation since I’m a newcomer to the art duties on this book. Even with all the detail and background information he put in, the script was tight and I never felt lost. Working with him and everyone at BOOM! was a dream and I hope to do it again soon!
Higher Earth #5 goes on sale in September and can be pre-ordered now at finer comics shops or online from Things From Another World.