Mark Waid is one of the comic industry's most respected veterans, and a big reason why is that the writer has never been shy to try something new. That drive is part of what made him take on his latest role as Director of Creative Development on H1, the new superpowered comics line from Humanoids.
Developed alongside Humanoids CCO John Cassaday and a diverse lineup of creators including Kwanza Osajyefo, Carla Speed McNeil and Yanick Paquette, H1 is a concerted effort by Humanoids to deliver all-new American-style comic series after spending years as the premier U.S. publisher of European graphic novels. Anchoring the H1 line are an interconnected line of super-powered comic series starting with the teen-centric Ignited by Waid, Osajyefo and artist Phil Briones.
Ahead of the debut of the entire H1 universe on Free Comic Book Day, Waid spoke with CBR about what his Creative Development title really means, how the artistic powerhouses of Cassaday and Paquette build up the H1 identity and why he and his collaborators are interested in delivering comics in a modern vein that don’t conform to simple superhero labels.
CBR: Mark, to put it bluntly, I think you may have more experience conceptualizing new superhero universes than anyone in comics. What was your guys' guiding principal in making H1 a brand-new setting that matches what fans already expect from Humanoids as a publisher?
Mark Waid:To be fair, I don’t dare take credit away from the original architects -- Yanick, Carla and Kwanza, as guided by editor Fabrice Sapolsky. They did the heavy lifting and I came in later, but I’m wholly on board with their philosophy: Allow us the one moment of fantasy in all the H1 books where seemingly random people are granted superhuman powers and abilities in times of extreme global stress, and we'll deliver the very natural, very real consequences those people would face. These books are designed first and foremost to entertain, but they’re not apolitical. The characters are driven to make the world a better place, whatever that may mean to them. Their first challenge, however--especially with the kids in Ignited -- is how exactly to go about it. There aren’t supervillains to punch.
You are carrying the title Director of Creative Development hand-in-hand with John Cassaday's job as Humanoids CCO. I'm having trouble coming up with any projects the pair of you have worked on before. What's it like having John as a partner, and how does his approach to design and visuals shape H1?
That we’ve not worked together is a crime. I first reviewed fan-John’s portfolio at a convention in the ‘90s, that’s how far back we go. He’s great to work with. He’s open, he has opinions and convictions but isn’t dogmatic, and he has a great eye for design and for new talent. He signs off on every cover, every layout, every piece of art, and he always has insight.
Beyond John, there are so many cool folks working on the line (as you mentioned), and it's a team that reflects as diverse a set of comics styles as I can think of. On the writing end, Kwanza Osajyefo and Carla Speed McNeil are very different talents, but both of their works have an almost anthropological approach to storytelling and world-building. What's grown from having those voices in the room to shape your ideas for what a universe can be?
What’s come of it, both with the characters and with the universe as a whole, are voices that don’t come from the usual suspects in mainstream comics. Everyone in that room has something to say, to some degree about craft, but beyond that about representation in a modern world. Again, I can’t take the credit for most of the hiring and casting of these books -- tip your hat to editor Fabrice Sapolsky -- but I look at the diverse creative crews on all our books and don’t mind in the least being our token white male.
Yanick Paquette is also playing a key role here. What does having an artist of his caliber contributing on the ground floor do to the underlying ideas of this line?
Yanick was instrumental in designing the individual characters. I’m hesitant to speak at length for him, but I know his self-imposed mandate was to work without capes and spandex to create heroes who nonetheless have “signature looks.” He did wonders.
Personally, your first full title to debut will be Ignited. I know that "superhero high" is a classic trope at this point, but from the early solicits, this take on the concept seems to have some more weight to it vis-a-vis the kinds of experiences and fears that teenagers have in 2019. How did you, Kwanza and artist Phil Briones use that idea both as a launching pad for the series and the H1 line as a whole?
Ignitedis about a small group of high school kids who were survivors of a domestic terror attack -- as Kwanza says, let’s not call it a “school shooting,” which has tragically become a numbing phrase, let’s call what it really is -- in their school. They’ve now been given a variety of superhuman abilities and the power to effect change. Like many actual survivors, of whom I am in awe, their big takeaway from what happened was that they don’t want to feel helpless ever again. They begin a grass-roots movement against gun violence that escalates faster than they’d accounted for. Their heroism is tested, it needs direction -- but it shines.
Looking forward, I know Mike McKone and Afua Richardson are both on tap for books in the line, and a lot of this will be revealed in the FCBD issue. Like Carla, Kwanza and Yanick, those artists have their own distinctive styles. What do the previews in the FCBD issue show off about how this line is going to stand out in comic shops?
We’ll meet all our main characters in two- and three-page vignettes created especially for FCBD that are flash-forwards to later adventures (or in the case of Strangelands, the moment before their page one) so you can see the characters in action. Each is a great showcase, and there’s a hint overall as to how it all fits together. As a bonus, we also preview three other H1 projects that aren’t part of the shared universe -- Meyer(a crime story starring gangster Meyer Lansky), The Big Country(a Texas noir murder mystery), and Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, a smart supernatural horror tale. You’ll hear more about these projects as they approach publication, but FCBD gives you a sneak peek.
Overall, as a person who's experienced launches like this before, what are your hopes for what H1 can do both with its individual titles and also as a cohesive universe of superpowered books?
We can load you up with smart stories and spectacular visuals -- and there’s no shortage of them in our line! But at the end of the day, what matters most to us -- what we deliver best and strongest -- are believable human characters we can feel for and root for.
Humanoid's H1 line makes its debut this weekend on Free Comic Book Day.