For many aspiring writers and illustrators in the comic book industry, working on Batman projects for DC or Captain America storylines for Marvel seems like a dream job. For one of L.A.’s prominent comic book writers, Kyle Higgins, it was only the beginning.
“Work-for-hire stuff — Batman, Nightwing, Power Rangers, etc. — can be incredibly fun, but sometimes creatively limiting,” Higgins says. “You don’t own the characters, right? But at the same time, there’s years and years of material to draw on, and the characters and their relationships are pretty well-defined. So, as a writer, you’re not starting from scratch.”
These days, Higgins is focused on his second original series of his professional career, Hadrian’s Wall. Teaming up with writer Alec Siegel and artist Rod Reis — the same team that put together Higgins’ last original project, the widely acclaimed sci-fi thriller series C.O.W.L. — Higgins and his partners’ latest work is essentially a murder mystery aboard a spaceship.
“I’d had the basic idea of a murder mystery on a spaceship for a while, but never really fleshed it out further than that,” Higgins says. “When Alec, Rod and I were winding down on C.O.W.L. and trying to figure out our next project together, this was a concept that kept popping back up. I had just gone through a breakup at the time, and the idea of exploring broken relationships through the lens of a murder mystery — as well as a new interstellar cold war — felt like a really exciting way in. Fast forward a year and a half, and I’m actually going through another breakup right now, while I write the back half of the book.”
As disconnected as an outer-space murder and a very real breakup may seem, Higgins explains that murder mysteries really just come down to figuring out who each person is via character studies. In Hadrian’s Wall, the main character is struggling through his own relationship issues while getting caught up in an astronaut homicide case. It’s about human interaction and relationships more than about a single murder, and there’s a certain retro vibe to everything that prevents it from being too bleak and cold, which is exactly what Higgins and crew were looking to channel.
“In a lot of ways, this book is our love letter to 1970s and 1980s sci-fi films,” Higgins says. “From a relationship standpoint, there are elements of The Abyss. Tonally and aesthetically, we draw a lot from things like Alien, Aliens, Blade Runner and Outland. That’s where our inspiration for the visuals comes from, too. … It’s the year 2085 as envisioned in 1985.”
But before Higgins was inventing his own interstellar colonies or contributing new angles and stories to Gotham City — even before the Illinois native wrapped up his superhero noir film, The League, for his senior project at Chapman University in Orange — he was just a kid who loved superheroes and comic books long before every month held a new Marvel- or DC-based blockbuster. Although the 31-year-old doesn’t really watch many superhero TV shows or movies anymore, he knows that 12-year-old Kyle would’ve been over the moon about all the comic-based content in mainstream media these days.
“When I was a kid, I found comics as a result of X-Men: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series, [Tim] Burton’s Batman and [Richard] Donner’s Superman,” Higgins says. “So, there certainly can be a trickle-down effect [to comic book popularity] with the other media interpretations serving as a gateway drug. At the end of the day, though, comics haven’t really figured out a way to bring the masses to the medium that inspires it all. It’s certainly better than it has been, but there’s a long way to go. … Superheroes are mainstream now. Monthly comics are not.“
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Closing in on a decade in the industry, Higgins has found in recent years that he’s been too busy to pursue one of his other passions. While comic books likely will always be his primary option — even if it doesn’t pay nearly as well as many other media forms — the film world will always hold a special spot in Higgins’ heart. Don’t expect to see the veteran writer at the helm of a superhero megahit anytime soon, but you will be able to see Higgins’ latest cinematic project sooner rather than later — and it sounds just as strange and thrilling as Hadrian’s Wall.
“I’ve got a new film that’s just starting to hit festivals called The Shadow Hours,” Higgins says. “It’s a psychological thriller starring Tom Riley and Britt Lower, about two identical twins with a condition — only one can be awake at a time. They pose as one person, each awake for only half of each day, and work as private investigators — until one wants out. It was incredibly wonderful to get back behind the camera after a few years, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.”
Hadrian’s Wall #1 (of 8) is released on Sept. 14 for $3.99. Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel will be signing copies at the Comic Bug in Culver City from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on release day.