Last October at New York Comic Con, I spent half the convention holed up in the press area—a small space roped off from a larger hall—circling available electrical outlets and empty trays that I can only assume had contained bagels hours earlier. It was packed to the gills with press and creators growing progressively louder, their Sisyphean efforts to be intelligible on their recorders.
Crammed in this space, I interviewed writer Kyle Higgins and artist Rod Reis about the recently wrapped C.O.W.L. and the upcoming Hadrian’s Wall (both co-created/co-written with Alec Siegel and published by Image Comics). Higgins had just come from a panel but, after finding some coffee and exchanging a couple jokes about the routines of convention attendance, he was ready to match the energy Reis was bringing to discuss their collaborative efforts.
Mark Stack with Comics Bulletin: So C.O.W.L. has just wrapped up and the final trade is out. How do you guys feels now that this part of your collaboration has reached a temporary end?
Rod Reis: I feel good because it was something we started and we had this time of experiencing it. We kind of ended in a way that we both like. So it is something that now we are open for seeking something new- new experiences, a new genre… I think for now, we are done with C.O.W.L.. We have some ideas for the future. Maybe some day we can go back. The most important thing is we can come back fresh. We can have a new start, very fresh, and have other experiences in-between. I think we can grow old more.
CB: I felt like on C.O.W.L. the collaboration between both of you and co-writer, Alec Siegel, really reached a great point towards the second half. There was a page I talked with Kyle about earlier where Doppler grabs the “D” from the sound effects and hits someone. That’s the kind of thing that requires trust, collaboration, and clear communication between you guys. How would you describe your collaborative process during C.O.W.L.?
Kyle Higgins: Well, it started off with me micro-managing Rod way too much. And then it slowly turned into me not giving Rod enough information.
Reis: It’s all my fault.
Higgins: No, no.
Reis: No, the grabbing the “D” thing! It’s all my fault.
Higgins: Oh, that is all your fault, yeah. That page in particular is pretty awesome. That’s my favorite page in the series. I don’t remember– I can’t remember if it was Alec’s idea. Not the “D,” but the idea of using words from one of the balloons. And then you turned in a layout where he reaches up and pulls a letter out of a balloon.
Reis: Yeah because what we were doing is like change the line of the sound effect and turn into something different, like the POW! The line would be turned to KABOOM! And then I had this idea of Doppler grabbing the “D” and using it to hit Radia.
Higgins: Doppler was my initial idea because I love sound villains. I love sound-based characters in comics because more and more I like doing things in the medium that can only be done in a comic. Visually portraying sound effects in a unique and interesting way is a great– Turning sound effects into art is something you can only really do in comics. So that was where the idea of, “What if we took the sound effects and reworked them visually into other sounds?” Almost like converting the kinetic energy of the sound into different energy. Rod just kind of took off and ran with it.
CB: Now you guys are getting ready to start up on Hadrian’s Wall. How far are you guys into that?
Higgins: Rod’s wrapping up the first issue. We’ve got the second issue written and ready to go. And then Alec’s working on the third right now, with outlines.
CB: One of the things about C.O.W.L. that made it such a great book was how visually distinct it was; how you captured the time period and how you worked with that. What sort of look are you going for with Hadrian’s Wall? Is there a specific sort of visual you had in mind when creating the visuals for that?
Reis: Yeah, definitely is way less experimental than C.O.W.L. I like the way that I did C.O.W.L., but I found out that it was very polarizing. You either hate or love it. Then I decided to work in a style where it is easier for more people to like. Not so experimental, weird, and strange. It’s more of traditional comic book.
CB: So what kind of materials are you working with in the drawing and the coloring?
Reis: It’s all digital. In many pages of C.O.W.L. I tried to emulate some pencils but it was all digital. Now I don’t have much of this look, this watercolor. You can see it is different in some way, but it is familiar for people who like, for example, Black Science and other science fiction. You can see all that.
CB: Okay. So when the book was solicited, it was described as sort of a locked room, murder mystery kind of a thing with a sort of Cold War background. What sort of tone can we expect from the book? It’s sort of combining genres a bit with the crime and the science fiction. What where you going for on that?
Higgins: It’s definitely totally in the same wheelhouse as C.O.W.L. I kind of write the way I write. I think because there is a central character, it’s less of an ensemble piece compared to something like C.O.W.L. Having the central character has allowed us to do a bit more as far as subjective flashback panels and things like that. C.O.W.L. didn’t really have any. Other than the one moment with Arclight sitting at the bar in issue seven, we never really got any memory flashbacks. Remember the bar where you then see John with the ring in his chest as the cup?
Higgins: So it is more stuff like that. Simon, the main character, is remembering things about his marriage and things cued from other visuals in the book. So I would say that’s probably the biggest difference in not so much tone, but the way we are telling the story is a little bit different. But tonally it is similar to C.O.W.L. although maybe not as pulpy.
Reis: No, no, I wouldn’t describe Hadrian’s Wall as pulp or that kind of sci-fi. Art-wise, it’s more colorful than C.O.W.L.. I’ve tried to work sometimes with the psychedelic and a color pallet that reminds me of ‘80s European comics.
CB: When I read the solicit for it, I was really interested because you did C.O.W.L. and that’s a period piece. Hadrian’s Wall was described as sort of an ‘80 science fiction, Cold War feel. But it is set in the future, correct?
CB: What sort of release schedule are you looking for with Hadrian’s Wall? Like, do an arc, take a break for the trade to come out, that sort of thing?
Higgins: Yeah, it will be like the Saga model.
CB: I was curious; what is Alec’s involvement like in this book? I am a little unclear on you guy’s process.
Higgins: Well, we co-write. We have been best friends since high school. I describe him as my “Sometimes Writing Partner.” Depending on the project we co-write in the truest sense of the word and then other projects and series I write by myself. Obviously all my DC stuff I solo wrote. Although, he wrote a bunch of Batman Beyond from the “Mark of the Phantasm” arc and beyond he with me. We typically plot together and then each of us takes different scenes. And then we rewrite each other and back and forth. It’s just a co-writing relationship.
Reis: And sometimes you answer my e-mail and sometimes Alec does.
Higgins: Yeah. It’s always best to CC both. A lot of times we will be in the same room and will be like, “Did you write to Rod?” “No.” “Alright, I’ll do it.” Or it’s like, “Hey, did you see Rod’s email?” “Yeah.” “Can you tell him X, Y, and Z?” And then he’ll write back something that I’ve said, but he will pass it off as his own. Or I’ll pass off what he says as my own.