Hey! Welcome back to our special feature Spotlight Interview column. When we are fortunate enough to get to talk to creative professionals, we love to bring those conversations to you folks.
Gene is well-known for working with Alan Moore on Top 10 from the America’s Best Comics imprint of Wildstorm. He has done work for DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Malibu comics. Gene has won four, count them folks, four, Eisner Awards.
Beginning in 2015, Gene has focused mostly on his creator owned stories. His all ages story Mae was originally published by Dark Horse and has now been picked up by Lion Forge. It is the story of sisters, monsters, and magical dimensions. The second volume is finishing up in single issues and the first volume trade was re-released last year. We are big fans of Mae.
PopCultureSquad: What is your process like these days? Are you still using traditional materials or are you moving to digital?
Gene Ha: Honestly, I have hit the bifocals age. So, it’s hard for me to see anything except for the two distances where my lenses are set. Having pinch and zoom on an iPad Pro in Procreate and drawing there is a lot easier for doing fine detail. So, I have abandoned paper mostly, unless I am doing sketches at a convention.
PCS: Where does Mae’s voice come from?
GH: It comes from having a lot of female geek friends and realizing that I hadn’t heard a lot of voices that actually talk like them, who are the heroes of their story. There are so many stories that have a female geek character, but she tends to be support or the best friend of the hero.
When I started hunkering down and working on Mae, and nailing down the concept, I began doing research on female geek heroes. At the time, there really weren’t a lot. I found that, in the ones that I read, they would meet the cute boy. The cute boy would take off her glasses and say, “Oh My God! You’re beautiful! You’re not a geek!” Then the girl would say, “Thank God, I don’t have to be a geek anymore.” Then she wouldn’t be a geek for the rest of the story. I thought that was horrible. Everything that I liked about the character is just gone.
PCS: What do you find most rewarding about working on Mae?
GH: When kids tell me that they really love the story. Even though it’s labeled for a YA audience (12 and up), when kids say that, it is just the most exciting thing in the word. Because my biggest goal in Mae was to make the story as exciting for young readers as new books were exciting for me when I was growing up.
PCS: Are we getting more Mae?
GH: Issue #6 of the second volume should be coming out in a few weeks. [In your local comic shop on April 24th] After that, it will be collected into a Volume 2 Trade Paperback. Then, I am going to take a little break to write the next volume and spend some time talking about the book and making appearances at libraries and schools. I’ve learned that it is really hard to promote a book and do all the jobs that go into creating the book at the same time.
PCS: Excellent, but there will be a third volume, right?
GH: Oh Yeah! I’ve got plans.
PCS: Ok, I think that is the last of the Mae questions. Let’s talk about your career. Is there a work for hire project that you are most proud of?
GH: Top 10 is an obvious big one. (In Sales Pitch Voice: Top 10 with Alan Moore everybody. It’s still in print! If you want to get a copy, Alan Moore is a genius.)
The other “jewel box” of a story is this. In 1995, one of the greatest and most legendary editors of all time, Archie Goodwin, asked if I would like to do a short story for Showcase ’95 with any writer he could get. I said that I would love to do it with Alan Moore, but at the time he wasn’t working with DC. He asked who else I would choose. I said that I would, honestly, like to work with him. I told him I was a big fan of his work. He thought that I was kind of joking for a minute, but I was really serious. So, he wrote me a brilliant little story for Showcase ’95.
It was also one of the biggest learning experiences of my life, because he explained to me how he structured the story. For instance, at the beginning of the story I needed to not put my foot on the gas, because it wasn’t the climax. “Don’t go for the big action flashy scene. Just build the suspense.” I learned so much just having him explain the story to me.
It is also the high point of my cross-hatch style. At the time, I was not happy with the dark age of American comic book coloring. In the 90’s, we were just getting computers, and knowing the software was more important than being a great colorist. So, I was doing this fine cross hatch like on a dollar bill. Just etching and cross-hatch. It’s super precise, almost photographic, and if you want to see that in my work, that is the best of it. You can find it cheap. It’s Showcase ’95 #11.
Note: After the interview, we went out and found a copy. He is right. See some of the details at the bottom of this post.
PCS: As a long-standing veteran of the comics community, how do you view comics today?
GH: This is the second “Golden Age”. It is not as important as the first “Golden Age”, because that created super-heroes and built our industry. Other than that, this is a bigger, better “Golden Age”. We are expanding out in a more sustainable way with books in all these different genres. Getting into libraries and bookstores.
You know who Raina Telgemeier is, right? [We do] A lot of retailers and “Big 2” comics pros don’t know who she is, but in a year when she puts out a graphic novel, ten percent of all graphic novels, in the U.S., sold in bookstores are authored by her. She is huge. And for any readers of this interview who don’t know this. Check out her work! It’s amazing! It looks like [Lynn Johnston’s] For Better or [For] Worse, and it doesn’t look like superhero stuff, but it is so important. She has expanded out the market.
I suppose one of the most important comic books in comic book history is coming out this year. Raina Telgemeier is putting out a book on how to create comic books [Share Your Smile: Raina’s Guide to Telling Your Own Story, release date: April 30, 2019]. There are going to be thousands of 12, 13, 14-year-old kids across this country who are going to grab this book and it will spark the next generation of comic book creators.
PCS: That is fantastic. If you were to look back on your career is a there a singular “make or break” moment that stands out to you?
GH: There are so many. Getting to work with Alan Moore was huge. Getting edited by Archie Goodwin on both that Showcase story and a lot of Starman stories was big. How welcoming and kind so many people have been to me throughout the years. I just love this industry. I love the people in it. Our dark moments are dark, but the good people in our industry love the craft so much. Only idiots go into it for the money. Some people get rich at it, but only an idiot goes in for the money. We do it for love.
PCS: What do you like most about coming to cons like this?
GH: Meeting new people and new fans. Speaking to people who like my books and finding out what else they love educates me about what I should be reading and watching.
PCS: Well. This was wonderful. Thank you so much for this.
GH: You’re very welcome.
You can find Gene online at the following sites:
Gene’s public appearances are listed here. If you have a chance to meet him, don’t pass it up.
Now here are a couple of images that we scanned from the story that Gene was mentioning from Showcase ’95: