Hadrian's Wall: Death & Mystery In Space [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: What's the significance of the title of HADRIAN'S WALL?

ALEC SIEGEL: Well, the real Hadrian's Wall is a defensive fortification in England that was built by the Romans. At one point, it marked the furthest reach of the empire in the region.

In our story, Hadrian's Wall is a survey ship tasked with traveling into unexplored solar systems to see what natural resources exist to be exploited. As such, she's always at the furthest expanse of human-explored space. Whoever named the ship was a student of history and probably thought they were being clever.

KYLE HIGGINS: Right. And the book is, at its core, a locked room murder mystery. The story predominantly takes place aboard this ship, with no real way on or off. So, everyone's a suspect, and while the whole investigation takes place on the far edges of space, the feeling of isolation was something we really wanted to allude to in the title...without calling the book something like, I don't know, SPACESHIP LONELY (laughs).

IC: Readers are introduced to Simon Moore in the first issue of HADRIAN'S WALL. How do you want the readers to feel about him?

HIGGINS: We just want them to be interested. I think everyone is going to develop their own opinion about Simon, especially as they get further into the book. That said, it does no good to write a series about a boring main character. So, as long as he's engaging, I'll accept whatever feelings readers have.

IC: A romance, a complicated one, plays a significant role in HADRIAN'S WALL. What does that bring to the series for you?

HIGGINS: Well, Simon's past relationship with Annabelle is, in a lot of ways, the emotional center of the series. I've described the book as an exploration of broken relationships—how they fall apart, and what it takes to put them back together—and the deeper we get into the story, the more applicable it is. Not to mention, the backdrop to all of this is the Cold War between Earth and the Theta Colony, which is dealing with its own potential fracturing.

IC: Simon appears to have a serious painkiller habit, flying cars are the norm, and space exploration is totally normal. What's the culture like at this point in the future? What's life like for the everyman?

SIEGEL: Our story is set one hundred years in the future, with the timeline having split around 1985 when the Soviet Union and the U.S. both dropped nukes...and then decided to make up and colonize space together. So, compared with that era, we seem to be doing okay on Earth (laughs). There's an exciting sense of possibility. New technologies are constantly being developed. The standard of living is better and life expectancy is longer.

That being said, this isn't a utopia. With the element of an interstellar Cold War, much of what drives our real world drives the world of the story—resource acquisition, corporate interests, simple greed. Those motivators bring with them all the problems that plague us today, in addition to the problems that come out of competition with new worlds.

So, in a lot of ways, it's the same problems we've always had, but a bit further from home.

HIGGINS: I sense a theme...

IC: What is the Antares corporation?

SIEGEL: Antares is the company that commissioned and owns Hadrian's Wall. They're a multinational conglomerate that focuses on resource discovery, extraction, and refining. So, they're a huge part of the new economy that's developed since humanity began exploring space.

IC: In C.O.W.L., your last series together, you focused on a superheroic labor union. In HADRIAN'S WALL, it's about an investigator on a spaceship. As storytellers, what do you like about juxtaposing normal occupations with extraordinary circumstances?

ROD REIS: Visually, these extraordinary circumstances create a lot of possibilities. Even though C.O.W.L. was set in the past, it was a version of the past that did not exist. Now, with HADRIAN'S WALL, we are exploring a version of the future that probably will not exist, either. As an artist, I like to think about the things that would be different in these eras, as well as the things that would not. The goal is to create a world that, while different, still feels relatable. I think that focusing on the normal occupations within these extraordinary worlds is a way to help accomplish that. It is a bit anachronistic, but I think it's fun. And what's the point of making comics if you can't have fun?

SIEGEL: I think part of it is that we approach things from a "how might this work or exist in the real world?" mentality. In the case of C.O.W.L., while the occupations our characters have come right out of the concept, they still have regular, everyday problems. Disagreements with co-workers, worrying about paying the bills, etc. I think this is what helps us ground things.

HIGGINS: Yeah. And, what interests me the most, is—like Alec alluded to—figuring out what the ordinary occupations would look like as a result of the extraordinary circumstances, and then playing those out. When it comes to high concept ideas, my goal is always to find unique ways to explore them...to take full advantage of the concept. In C.O.W.L., for example, we felt that creating fake villains in order to apply political pressure during a superhero labor negotiation was a pretty cool way to explore the concept of a superhero labor union. We have a similar approach with HADRIAN'S WALL...though you'll have to read the series to see what I mean by that.

IC: You have a pretty steady three-man team going on. What keeps you together? What do you see in each other's work?

HIGGINS: Well, Alec and I have been friends since high school, and have been writing together in one form or another since college. We were also roommates for a long time—up until very recently, actually—so I'd say we know each other pretty well (laughs). Like any co-writing relationship, we have different strengths and weaknesses. But, the number one thing that keeps us working together is that it's fun, and the finished product is usually something we're quite proud of.

Rod, on the other hand, is just someone I refuse to let go of (laughs). I mean, if I have my way, we'll still be working together twenty years from now. I think he's so immensely talented, a fantastic storyteller, and an artist with a very unique style and approach, who's constantly pushing himself. For those that don't know, Rod was actually a colorist at DC for a long time—C.O.W.L. was the first book he illustrated. And, while I think the work he did on it was remarkable, the leap he's made during HADRIAN'S WALL puts the C.O.W.L. stuff to shame. Writing for him is so much fun, and incredibly rewarding. We push each other, and it keeps everything alive.

REIS: Kyle and Alec always have interesting ideas for books and at this point they know what will fit my artistic sensibilities. They give me a lot of space to collaborate, to play visually with the world, and I really feel like part of the team.

IC: Rod, The design of the video phone is delightfully retro, and the spaceships feel very boat-like. How do you describe this approach to sci-fi design? What do you want this future to feel like?

REIS: We started with the idea that this book would be a love letter to ’80s sci-fi, so the first thing I looked for was how people from the 1980s might view the future. Talking about the project with Kyle, I said we need to make a list of clichés we have to use, like people smoking inside the ship, no laser guns, lots of steam and wires hanging from the ceiling, etc. And this approach is not only for electronics, but also for fashion, especially for Annabelle—she has quite the wardrobe onboard the ship. I also wanted to bring a European feel, a little Jean Jeunet surreal steampunk, a little Terry Gilliam craziness. I hope readers can see all these references in the finished art.

IC: Kyle and Alec, you've been friends and creative partners for a long time. What's your co-writing process? Is it still evolving, or have you two settled on a good system?

SIEGEL: We've settled into a fairly stable routine of breaking the issue together and then divvying up the scenes and tackling them independently. Then we trade and re-write each other. By the end, and certainly for the final lettering pass, one of us sits at the computer and we just work through it together.

HIGGINS: We're also weirdly in sync as far as when it's time to break and get coffee (laughs).

HADRIAN'S WALL #1 is available now.