What comes up, must come down...or so that’s the way things used to be in the new Image series Skyward by Lucifer showrunner Joe Henderson and former Lucifer artist Lee Garbett. Skyward takes place in a world where gravity is almost non-existent after the scientific anomaly known as G-Day happened across the globe, leaving everybody and everything floating into space. Through the years, civilization has adapted, but Willa Fowler, a young delivery girl whose father holds the secret to getting things back to normal, couldn’t be happier with her world.
With the series debuting this week, Newsarama talked to Henderson and Garbett about the life in Skyward, the research Henderson had to do, to Garbett’s visual practical approach.
Newsarama: So Joe, even with a sci-fi story like Skyward, actual science has to be applied at some point so can you tell us what kind of research you went into for this story?
Joe Henderson: I did a ton of research. It was important to me to understand the rules I was bending and potentially breaking with my concept. Which is why I was happily surprised to discover that we really don’t understand how gravity works. I mean, sure, if gravity suddenly became a fraction of what it is now, we’d probably just all get sucked into space and die, but… the fact that we don’t understand gravity opens the door for other possibilities. Which, to me, opens the door for story.
So then, it became more about making sure we establish a world where our rules are consistent, so that the world feels real. So that it has, pardon the pun, the right weight to it.
Nrama: Let's talk about our main character Willa here, she was born a little after G-Day and doesn't remember anything about the Earth before. There's a lot that reminded me of Ariel from Disney's Little Mermaid. She feels restless, among other things.
Henderson: Yes, very much so! Ariel is a woman who didn’t think about consequences, and then suddenly had to face them and overcome them when she made a reckless decision. Willa’s arc is very similar to that in the beginning – she gets herself in way over her head, and a lot of the early story is her trying to clean up her own mess.
But also, I love the infectious positivity of both characters. Ariel was obsessed with the surface world she could never visit, and Willa just loves the world she’s in. I think there’s something so wonderful about going on a journey with a character like that, no matter how dark or dangerous the journey becomes.
Lee Garbett: I’ve never seen Little Mermaid. I feel like I’ve missed out. I could probably sing the songs from it, though.
Nrama: I don't know how that'd translate in a transcribed interview... so next time, Lee! [Laughs]
In the second issue, we see that there's an entirely different society still on the streets using gravity-intensifying technology. Do you feel like there would be an actual class war between the uppers and street folk?
Henderson: 100%. Whenever there’s a catastrophe, there are people who will seek to benefit. But also, to me, it’s all about the human element. If you have a family, you want them to be safe. Hell, even if you don’t have a family, you want to be safe. The sky can kill. So, you want to be as close to the ground as possible, right? How much would you be willing to spend? How much would you be willing to do to maintain that safety?
And I think it would be a subtle class war in the beginning. Most people would be too focused on surviving that they wouldn’t realize the transfer of power - and safety - until it was too late. One day, all the poor people look around and wonder how they ended up crammed into these penthouses, so close to the deadly sky. And suddenly that’s just your normal life.
But that doesn’t mean people won’t start to fight back…
Nrama: You're working with Lee Garbett on the project so tell us about the collaboration process. Did you have notes for characters or did Lee have carte blanche?
Henderson: I was pretty specific about characters early on, but less on details, more conceptually - the ways they all reflected different aspects of this new world. I described Willa as a woman who reflects low gravity itself - free, boundless, and with hair that could reflect her personality depending on how she moved. Lee took that and absolutely ran with it. I love, love, love his rendition of Willa. She’s the perfect character to carry us into the world, and that’s due to Lee.
Every character is intended to reflect a different aspect of the low-G world. But Lee constantly surprised me in all the best ways, taking my thematic ideas and making them shine. For example: I wanted Shirley, Willa’s boss, to be a larger woman, since weight is a bit meaningless in our low-G world. Lee took that idea and came up with a brilliantly charming design for her that both reflects the reality of the world, but also Shirley’s warm personality.
Garbett: Not a huge amount [of notes], it was a very simple process and Joe and I have pretty much been on the same page throughout. There were basic outlines for each main character - and I always ask if a writer has anything/anyone in mind, just to give me a jumping-off point - but most of it came from the personalities that shone through in the script. Joe’s writing is incredibly rich and characterful, and everyone has their own distinct voice and viewpoint, so they seemed to pop off the page for me.
Nrama: How did you go about designing the upper world?
Garbett: The key thing was to make sure it felt very much like today’s world, in terms of buildings and tech - but less populated and with less stuff to float about, so in that respect it was a case of “stripped down or strapped down.”
The transition to the new, low-G life meant a good few years were taken with people trying to cope and adapt. There’s not been a lot of technological progress made. Also, with the rich moving down and concentrating their efforts groundward, there’s a sense of deprivation and ruin that’s creeping into the upper levels of the buildings.
The hardest part, I found, was keeping it non-sci-fi looking. The minute you start adding floating life-rafts or populating the sky with people with jetpacks, goggles and helmets - all quite legitimate measures in a low-G world - it started to look too futuristic and that wasn’t the vibe we wanted for this book. It had to feel like our world, turned upside down.
Nrama: What were the signs that Nate, Willa's father, saw coming that led to G-Day?
Henderson: That will be a big part of the story we unravel in the series - how did Nate know what was coming? What all did he do to try and prevent it? Can he really fix the world? And more importantly… should he?
Nrama: You establish who the antagonist is in the second issue, but aside from being on the run, what do you think will be Willa and company's greatest challenge?
Henderson: Other than trying to stay alive, Willa’s greatest challenge will be a very personal one – can she learn to understand her father? And, in turn, can he learn to understand her? She’s fearless, and he’s afraid of everything – to me, neither extreme is healthy, and so the challenge is these two characters trying to learn from each other. And hopefully, in doing so, healing the rift between them. If they survive everything else, of course.
Nrama: In a real-world scenario, who do you think would benefit most from a zero-G world?
Henderson: I think it would be people like our character Edison, who has no legs from the knees-down. In our world. He might be in a wheelchair, but in this world, he can fly through the air.
One of the most important things, to me, was to present the low-G reality as not necessarily better or worse than our own. It’s just different, with different upsides and downsides. Which makes Willa’s struggle with whether or not to bring gravity back all the more difficult…
Nrama: Lee, can you talk about your approach to practical fashion here from Willa's work uniform to the outfitters for the street folks?
Garbett: Willa works for 'Rocket Messengers,' so I wanted to use a believable courier uniform and then tweak that enough to give her a sort of costume, something recognizable as a character design that would identify her and maybe see her cosplayed. The other fact is Willa and Nate don’t have much money, so she makes do with whatever she can lay her hands on, like her fire-extinguisher jet pack, etc.
There is a change of outfit in Skyward #2, when she heads down to the swankier ground levels but even then, she’s basically wearing her Dad’s old suit jacket with a belt. She just has enough natural style to carry it off.
The people on the ground are busy trying to pretend nothing’s changed and live a magnetized life but they dress a little more extravagantly. We reasoned there’d be little magnets and fasteners on everything, so a lot of stuff would stay the same. Suits with magnetized hems, trousers with foot loops. Jumpsuits, with less lifting parts, would be very “in.”
Short or gravity-defying hair styles would become the fashion. Again, just form following function.
Nrama: Joe, did you feel like you needed to switch gears when writing TV and then going to comics in how you present things?
Henderson: Definitely, but in the best ways. TV and comics flex different muscles which, I think, help give me a better understanding of the other. In TV, I just like to let the characters talk to each other and then have a director figure out how in the hell to shoot it. In comics, you have to choose the exact moment for each panel, which forces you to be a bit of a director. It’s a healthy thing because it’s forced me out of my comfort zone a bit, which is exciting.
Also, I don’t have a budget for Skyward, so it’s fun to write absolutely bananas stuff and see Lee bring it to life.
Nrama: Do you guys have anything in the pipeline that you might be able to talk about before we head out?
Henderson: The last five episodes of Lucifer are airing right now, building up to a season finale that I think is our best yet. So hopefully, if the ratings gods are kind, I’ll be working on season 4 and, of course, more Skyward!
Garbett: Right now, it’s pretty much Skyward all the way for me – but Joe and I have a couple of projects cooking for further down the line that I’m really excited about!