Living in Space: Sandra Lanz on Her New Stela Comic, ‘House Girls’ [Exclusive]
The comics smartphone app Stēla is launching exciting new comics every week, all of them exclusive to the app and optimized for the phone-reading experience. The newest title is House Girls, a science fiction comic written and drawn by Sandra Lanz, with colors by Matthew Seely and lettering from Aubrey Aiese. It tells the story of a group of women who are serving as civil engineers for a human colony on an alien planet, who must conduct their own investigations when a mysterious force begins altering equipment, and possibly people.
We sat down with Sandra Lanz to talk about her influences and her ambitions for the series.
Comics Alliance: I love how the book opens on the barren, rocky desert that's more beautiful than we expect from that kind of environment. Was that an intentional choice?
Sandra Lanz: Yes, it was. I’m a big fan of the drawings of the Pre-Raphaelites, which often times were depicting violent landscapes that seemed larger than life, rendered delicately and with a lot of reverence. I tried to create that atmosphere with House Girls because I wanted to evoke the sense that this planet, though it is harsh and inhospitable, is still majestic in it’s own right.
CA: All of the characters in this first chapter are women. Is gender segregation a part of the setting, or is it a narrative choice? Don't get me wrong, I'm down for a woman-centric story either way.
Lanz: "House girls," within the context of the story, are women who commit their lives to civil service in exchange for permanent housing. So it was a natural part of the narrative for them to interact with each other primarily, since they live together. I wanted to normalize the idea that in this setting, female characters are freely able to motivate each other and the plot, without need for male counterparts. However, the following chapters will introduce more prominent male roles whose perspectives are just as integral to the story.
CA: The first chapter really gives the reader a sense of this setting, with minimal exposition. As the story moves forward, how interested are you in detailed world-building?
Lanz: Very! The following chapters continue to gradually explore this world and the way the human colony operates within it. The characters lightly touch on subjects relating to family life, distribution of resources, and the general government structure.
CA: The first chapter is very engaging, but it starts with a pretty hard science fiction" premise. Were you concerned about drawing in readers?
Lanz: I hope that readers, especially ones not familiar with the genre, will be drawn in by the characters and engaged by the mystery. Really, I wrote it to be a story about people more than about science, and I think readers who are open to something new will really enjoy it!
CA: Was House Girls created specifically for the Stēla format, or was it something you already had in mind?
Lanz: I didn’t write the story with a particular format in mind, so I was very flexible when Stēla picked it up. Maybe because illustrated it myself, too, I found it really easy to adapt to the vertical layout.
CA: Related question: How did you think about the interaction between space and narrative in the context of the Stēla app? Stēla has eliminated the page as a unit, and I'm curious if that change was tricky to get used to.
Lanz: In some ways it was an absolute delight to eliminate the page-based storytelling structure. Instead of focusing on how to lead the eye from left to right and top to bottom, I could concentrate on simply leading them downwards. It was tricky to figure out how to convey a passage of time, or a major change of scene, but using fades and larger gaps between panels did the trick!
CA: What are your science fiction influences? Are there specific properties or creators that you're drawing on as you create House Girls?
Lanz: The basic structure for the colony that House Girls takes place on, is based on my experience growing up in communist Havana, Cuba. Beyond that, the sci-fi twists are influenced by literary sci-fi writers like Charles Stross, Bruce Sterling, and Frank Herbert. The intricate worlds they build are fantastical, yet familiar, and they’re masters at making one re-examine what it means to be human, or, in many cases, post-human.
CA: How long is House Girls scheduled to run? And without spoilers, what can we expect to see?
Lanz: The story has a five-chapter-long arc. You can expect to see some eerie landscapes, a tentative romance, and an explosive conclusion!
The first chapter of House Girls debuts on Stēla tomorrow, May 17. New chapters will be out weekly, and you can read them, along with everything else Stēla publishes, for a flat subscription fee of $9.99 a month for new subscribers. If you've been using Stēla since the start, you still only have to pay the $4.99/month fee.
You can check out an exclusive preview of the first chapter below.
[An earlier version of this story stated the subscription price for Stēla was a flat $4.99, but has since been changed to reflect the new pricing model. - Ed.]