by Vince Brusio
Gene Ha’s life is comics. Just visit his Facebook page if you don’t believe us. In addition to being world renowned for his work on books like Top 10, he likes to reach out to fans, and keep his feet on the ground, which is why you can find him at events like Indiana’s family-friendly NWI Comic Con. Recently Gene has taken things to the next level for family-friendly entertainment with his all-ages book Mae #1 (MAR160051) from Dark Horse Comics. In this PREVIEWSworld exclusive interview, the artist tells us this project has been years in the making, and the end result are heroes that look like people you’d run into at a comic con. This book’s for the nerd in all of us.
PREVIEWSworld: What’s the premise for this series? Mae appears to be some twisted mix of Alice in Wonderland and Labyrinth. Does that sound about right?
Gene Ha: Definitely! Mae was inspired by re-reading the childhood classics like the Peter Pan and Oz books. They look very different to me today. The two sisters represent both points of view. The older sister, Abbie, has adventured in the world of Cimrterén since she was thirteen. She grew into an action hero over the last 8 years. Mae doesn’t encounter this until she’s eighteen and doesn’t try to solve every problem with her fists.
PREVIEWSworld: How long have you been working on this project, and what does it mean for you? What’s your personal connection to the story?
Gene Ha: I’ve been playing with the characters and setting since 1998, but I only started writing and drawing it in 2013. In large part, it’s a tribute to the land where I grew up and the people who inspire me. It’s set in northwest Indiana, where I grew up dreaming of far-off worlds. I created Mae Fortell to celebrate the geeky women in my life. In most popular culture, geek girl main characters fix their lives by taking off their glasses and losing their geekiness. Otherwise, geek girls are support staff for the real heroes. That’s not Mae’s story. Mae makes a great hero because she’s a huge nerd.
PREVIEWSworld: How many drafts were revised? Did the story change any since its conception? And why did you decide to make it an all-ages book?
Gene Ha: I got the inspiration to write about two sisters from Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn. I loved the quick witted exchanges between cranky drunken Anne Merkel and her sister Laura, who has delusions that she’s the Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn. Mae began as Kyle Baker fan fiction! I liked the idea of two sisters, one of whom had adventured in outer space. With permission of Phil Hester, I swiped the scene of Mae bailing her sister out of jail from his 1998 book The Picture Taker. I really didn’t have a story beyond that for a decade. Around 2008 I did a drawing of Abbie wearing a colonial-era long coat, and that’s when things took off. I began building a world where Abbie could wear that outfit, and it no longer involved space ships and vacuum suits.
Harry Potter taught me how sophisticated young readers can be. Before then, Young Adult fiction tended towards glib easy reading. The Hogwarts books can be read as thrilling adventure yarns and deep character studies. That split view works perfectly for Mae and Abbie.
PREVIEWSworld: We’ll let you go free-style on this one: what would you like to say to PREVIEWSworld readers that would give them a good reason to check out Mae #1?
Gene Ha: If you’re a smart proud geek, I made this book for you. This is as beautiful as anything I’ve done, with a mix of mindless violence and brainy nerdity. I hope you love it. If you’re not a smart geek, I hope this book turns you into one. Either way, let your comic shop know you need a copy!
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