It’s not every day that a wordless comic book hits spinner racks, everywhere; when one does, there’s often good reason to take notice. Hedra, Jesse Lonergan’s unforgettable, visual-only narrative, was recently released to great critical reception and has since gone into a second-printing. If you haven’t had the chance to experience Hedra, yet, be sure to do so.
Hedra creator, Jesse Lonergan, recently sat down with me to discuss his latest work as well as the stories that inspired it. Here’s how the conversation went:
(Charlie Chipman/The Brazen Bull) Before getting into your most recent work, Hedra, why don’t we talk about how you got here. When and where did you start with comics? Why this medium?
(Jesse Lonergan) I’ve always loved drawing, and it’s been something I’ve done regularly since as long as I can remember. I discovered comics in high school, fell in love with them, and they’ve been this thing that has stayed with me.
I find “why this medium” a very hard question to answer. It feels like I should have a deep meaningful answer, but trying to be deep and meaningful often results in the opposite. I simply love drawing and making comics.
When you discovered comics, what were some of the first few that you read? Did you keep up with them, reading them regularly? Or did you continue to expand your horizons, reading across multiple series?
I guess I should say I discovered comic books and comic book shops in high school. As a kid, I had Asterix and Calvin and Hobbes, and those are comics I still love and often dig out and look at.
The comic books I first got into were Spawn and Savage Dragon, early Image stuff. I also really liked Kelley Jones’ Batman and the Hewlett and Martin Tank Girl. I read those regularly, but I think by college I had stopped picking up ongoing stuff with any consistency. I’d just go to a shop and get whatever caught my eye.
It always seems there is something new to discover. I found indie comics like Hate and Eightball. Manga was a whole other world, and I got really into Akira and Naoki Urasawa stuff. European comics have a totally different sensibility. All those Norton editions of Will Eisner books came out. Then, I come back around and look at something that I’ve seen a million times before and all of a sudden it hits me in a new way, which happened for me recently with Jack Kirby and John Buscema.
What are you reading, or watching, now? Have your tastes changed much since discovering comics?
I don’t really read in any organized fashion, so recently I’ve read some Criminal by Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker, a Showcase Presents edition of Metamorpho with comics from the 60s (and a lot of Ramona Fradon art), and some Valérian and Laureline collections.
I think my tastes are always changing, and so I might not like things I used to like, or I might like them in a different way than I did before. I think in high school I would have found Joe Kubert’s Enemy Ace incredibly boring, but now I just look at the way he draws smoke or water and I’m completely enthralled.
It takes only a glance to notice that Hedra isn’t like other comics. Why did you choose to not include words and instead narrate visually?
I didn’t sit down with the intention of it being wordless, but as I worked on it, words didn’t seem necessary for the kind of story I was telling or the ideas I was conveying. Ultimately, I think words would have detracted from Hedra.
I agree that words would have detracted from Hedra, but I can’t put my finger on why, exactly; do you have any insight to offer, here?
I think Hedra is at once very indulgent, but also very austere. There isn’t much there that doesn’t need to be there, and words really aren’t necessary, so I think they would take away from the simplicity of the comic.
I also think that as you interact with any sort of narrative or media, unspoken rules come to be understood. With Hedra, I think one of the rules that a reader understands very quickly is that it’s wordless, and if a word suddenly appeared, it would be breaking the rules. I’m not necessarily against the breaking of rules, but if rules are broken it should be for a good reason or a great reward, and I don’t think there was a good reason or great reward to be gotten by having words in Hedra.
If you were to sum up the story, how would you describe Hedra to potential readers?
It’s about an astronaut who leaves a war torn earth in search of new life and finds things beyond belief.
What creative works, comics or otherwise, inspired Hedra?
People often bring up Chris Ware, Moebius, and 2001, and those were all definitely inspirations. Star Wars and Joseph Campbell are there, too.
I don’t think their influence is as visible, but the comics of Eleanor Davis and Jesse Jacobs did a lot in terms of freeing up my mind about what could be done in comics.
I imagine that you’re referring to the original Star Wars trilogy?
For me, it’s really just the original trilogy that matters. I don’t really feel one way or the other about the new movies.
Where do you go from here? Are you planning to work on another visual narrative?
I have a graphic novel called Planet Paradise coming out with Image, in November. It’s a quieter comic than Hedra but has more characterization and narrative nuance. That’s in the final editing phase right now.
The comic that I’m actively drawing at the moment is tentatively called Prime, which follows elemental beings in a primordial world.
I’m looking forward to reading one of your upcoming longer works, but given the positive reception of Hedra, are you planning to, or currently working on, another one-shot?
I actually just finished a comic called Faster that is a fantasy race car story. It’s 44 pages. The plan is to have it come out toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year in a two-color risograph printing.
Thank you to Jesse Lonergan for taking the time to sit with me and discuss Hedra. Keep an eye out for his upcoming work, and if you’re interested in reading Hedra, check out our review, here: Hedra Review