Welcome back to the magical world of Cimrterén, as the second volume of Gene Ha's Mae hits stands September 25. In this new volume, the distant sisters Mae and Abbie continue to make their way through Cimrterén in search of their kidnapped father - but getting along might be harder than surviving in this strange, new world.
For Ha, Mae has been an adventure on the page and behind the scenes - going from a Kickstarter success story to Dark Horse book, then over to Lion Forge here in its second volume. Ha, who made his name in comics with work on Marvel's X-Men and DC's Top Ten, is building his own worlds with his own characters with Mae, and is already hard at work on a third volume.
Newsarama spoke with Ha about his month's second volume, the on-again off-again friendship of sisters Abbie and Mae, and how he is dealing with creator-owned comics as a writer, an artist, and a businessman.
Newsarama: Gene, how has Mae changed for you between now and when Mae #1 first came out in October 2015?
Gene Ha: It’s a lot less lonely! I started Mae as a Kickstarter, writing, drawing, and coloring the whole book. Both in words and pictures I shaped the story by myself. I was glad to have Zander Cannon on lettering and Rose McClain helped on color prep, but they didn’t work on story.
At Lion Forge/Oni Press I still write and draw the main story, but now I have help. My editors Andrea Colvin and Grace Bornhoft are great story collaborators. They understand the story I’m trying to craft and have the best advice on how to achieve it. I’m still a lone artist in an attic, but it’s good having friends to confer with. And Wesley “Wesflo” Hartman is in charge of color, which includes storytelling decisions. Color and lighting intimately affect how one reads a story.
Nrama: In this second volume, Mae went through the gate and ended up in Cimrterén and you've really gotten to stretch your legs artistically. How has that been for you as an artist?
Ha: Joyous and freeing. I follow the world-building advice of David Petersen, who creates Mouse Guard. He filled that series with things he loves to write and draw. Cimrterén is a world I want to explore, and I hope it’s one readers want to wander too.
My art rewards re-reading. It only takes about 15 minutes to read an issue of a comic, or a chapter of Mae. I want the second read to take longer and to feel deeper. I love telling a fast-paced story, but there are many little stories going on in the background.
And there are hidden stories in the foreground. If you’ve read to the end of volume 2, you know the last chapter has a huge reveal. It changes how every earlier chapter reads. I think good writing rewards re-reading.
Nrama: As a storyteller, you've been able to delve deeper into the relationship between Mae and Abbie - giving them more moments to get to know each other, and for readers getting to know them. How would you describe their relationship as Mae Vol. 2 opens?
Ha: The sisterhood is at a breaking point. Neither one can be the sister the other one hoped for. Mae Fortell been responsible for her dad and the family business, so she wants an adult she can depend upon. Abbie’s older but she’s not as mature as Mae.
Abbie is a hero on Cimrterén and wants that same adulation from her younger sister. Mae does worship her returned sister but soon crashes into Abbie’s limitations. Abbie doesn’t plan ahead, and Mae has to take charge of her own life.
Nrama: Publishing-wise, Mae has had an adventurous road as its character - Kickstarter, then Dark Horse, then Lion Forge, and now Lion Forge now in this unique arrangement with Oni and the new joint parent company Polarity. As a cartoonist and a professional, what's it been like beyond just doing the story and drawing the book?
Ha: Both in story and art, I’m trying to make the best comic book I can without compromise. Lion Forge/Oni Press give me the space to build that book.
I love Marvel and DC’s superhero books, but there’s much less creative license than when I first worked there. In the early 1990s the creative team and editor on a book at Marvel or DC were usually left alone by the top management. Line-wide crossovers weren’t the norm yet. Now, the whole superhero line is like an orchestra playing one symphonic suite. I admire writers who can craft great stories in a tightly-shared story universe but I can’t imagine writing that way.
Nrama: But now Mae Vol. 2 comes out September 25. What's your plan for the release of the collected edition?
Ha: I’ll be doing a mix of comic shop, bookstore, and library events. I try to spread the love of comics to everyone I can! I’ll be in Chicagoland for the comic shop release at First Aid Comics on September 25, and I’ll be doing my first Wisconsin library appearance at Brown County Central Library in Green Bay on October 5. Then I’ll be at Memphis Comic Con.
I keep a list of my appearances here: http://geneha.com/appearances/4594107662
Nrama: So what are your plans next for Mae?
Ha: I’ll be nailing down the script for Mae Vol. 3 while I work on some unannounced short projects for Marvel and DC. The Marvel project is a short story with almost complete creative license. The DC project is with a writer I deeply admire and haven’t worked with yet. Again, the writer has been given near carte blanche creative control.
Mae will always be where my heart is, but as long as the writer gets creative freedom I love drawing stories for DC & Marvel.
Nrama: Here's what I really wanted to ask about - any more from you as a writer, working with other artists? With your work on Mae and the extras you've released, that seems like the next step for you.
Ha: I want Mae to be an immersive story, and I think a consistent art style for the main storyline helps that. I bring in other artists for short side stories, such as when there’s a flashback or a major change of tone. The world looked different when Mae was younger or from Abbie’s perspective.
Artists like Paulina Ganucheau and Sally Jane Thompson get that point across. They draw differently than me because they see the world differently. There’s no way I could draw like them and I’m a huge fan of every artist I bring into Team Mae.