Chris Hebert is a writer and artist, and one half of the HB Comics braintrust, who aim to bring the fun back to comic books. The New Englander is becoming well known for his blend of intelligence and positivity, which can be rather infectious.
Have comics long been a part of your life? Do you remember the very first comic you read, the first you obsessed over?
Being a “younger brother” for all my life, my interests were almost always influenced by my older brother, Alan. I think I was about 9 when Alan brought home the entire 12 issue run of Marvel’s Secret Wars. I knew about a few of the characters who had broken into popular culture, like Hulk, Spider-Man, and Captain America…and the idea that this was an event involving all of them was fascinating to me! I read each issue after Alan did, and by the time I was done with the series I was hooked, and hungry to explore the other cool new characters I had just discovered.
Since I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil, naturally my newfound interest in comics spilled over into my artistic development…suddenly I had something more compelling to draw. So I think my love of comics and my love of drawing really reinforced each other.
Has your creative bug ever strayed outside of sequential art? I know 2D animation isn’t as common nowadays, but you’d seem to be a natural.
I’ve always had a vague interest in animation, but it is such a different world from what I do I’ve never given it serious thought. (Or maybe I just never had the time!)
Oddly enough, just developing my art for the comic has taken me into new arenas I never expected. Comic/sequential art covers such a wide spectrum that’s it’s hard not to branch out into new disciplines by default. Particularly, I started experimenting with using 3D programs to create sets and backgrounds. 3D art is something that had never even occurred to me before, and I see myself growing as an artist the more I explore new ways to create our books.
What was your first published work? Do you see yourself as an advocate for self-publishing, or would your dreamjob entail more commercial efforts?
My first published work was a simultaneous release of Lazerman 1 and 2, at Wizardworld Philadelphia in 2008. I’ve devoted my entire artistic career to getting Lazerman going.
As far as self-publishing versus more commercial efforts…we have never submitted our projects to any publisher, and never intend to. Not that I have any animosity towards the “big two”, but our intentions are not to simply have a single successful book or property. Our goal was always to start a new label of our own, to build our own universe, our own “brand.” To succeed or fail based on our own efforts. I think in a lot of ways, my dream job would to be a commercial success making our OWN comics. Our company slogan is “Welcome to the new Mainstream”.
As Lazerman has always been the core and heart of HB Comics, where exactly did he come from?
Lazerman came from a genuine love of classic traditional superheroes. It’s no coincidence that an homage to those classic concepts is also the center of our universe. We are trying to tell a story of how the “real world” could become a world that exists in classic comics. As a comic book geek, Lazerman is sometimes at odds with the world he is in…we think it’s a compelling idea that Lazerman’s journey to become a hero parallels the changes in the universe we built around him.
Equally, from the sounds of it, his journey and battle aren’t too different from comic books versus the world at large, or of the heroic ideal versus modern apathy. Why do you think younger readers are being exponentially left out of the entertainment game? I mean, obviously what little is being targeted at them is shoddily produced, from toys to cartoons to comics. Why is that?
Yes, your point about the “heroic ideal” is right on. We’ve come to a point in our culture that the idea of being too “good” is somehow corny and dated. And I think the industry is trying so hard to break the stigma that “comics are JUST for kids” that they’ve gone too far in the other direction. Comics seem ashamed to BE comics.
We’ve known for years that comics aren’t “JUST for kids”. But the fear of that stereotype has lead to an incredible DIVISION between the comics that ARE meant for kids, and the more “mainstream” work. It’s not that kids comics aren’t out there…but they are clearly ONLY for kids, in most cases. Gone are the days that you could let a kid read a mainstream book…that division is what’s hurting us.
Which is bizarre, as most creators today I believe began as fanboys and fangirls themselves. Do you really think that mainstream’s changing identity is due to the need for validation in the public view? Sometimes I wonder if it’s a kind of shame at having before been so attracted to stuff that admittedly was juvenile. Why must modernism by default entail a sense of pessimism towards the past? You mentioned the Secret Wars- the Jim Shooter reign at Marvel was when I began reading “new” superhero comics too, though I’d had access to lots of older stuff from my dad. That was all well before deconstructionism. I’ve never known of another artistic medium that attacked itself, its history especially, with such rancor.
I think it’s all about validation, absolutely. These are guys who were into comics before it was “cool”. Now that comics and the medium have a growing acceptance in the mainstream, and even a “geek chic” factor…these guys feel the need to prove themselves as they never have before. So they are doing everything they can to try to tailor fit theses books to the mainstream, and they get awfully uncomfortable when there is any element with even a hint of cheesiness to it. I imagine these guys watching someone from the “mainstream” reading their books, and nervously watching to see if they roll their eyes at any of the geekier bits. It’s about acceptance. These guys are determined to prove that comics aren’t as “geeky” as the stereotype suggests.
Just look at how the creative community reacts when a mainstream writer gets involved in a comic. It’s like they roll out the red carpet. Kevin Smith, a Hollywood director, wants to write Spider-Man for a few issues? They go nuts. It doesn’t matter if there’s a 15 month wait in between issues…they’re just happy to have a “real” writer working on a comic. Notice a pattern? It’s a self-hatred..like these people are convinced doing the work they love is somehow not valid…like a “real” writer writes for movies, novels, or for TV. Completely disqualifying the whole genre we all devoted ourselves too as somehow not as valid. Consider this…if Mark Waid took 13 months to finish a 2 issue mini-series…would he sill have a job?
I can’t even entirely blame them for this. Society and the mainstream media makes repeated claims that all comic book geeks are “35 year old virgins who live in their mom’s basement and have never kissed a girl” I ask…have these guys ever BEEN to a comic convention?? A couple of hundred smoking hot girls dressed as Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Black Widow…it’s a case of the media’s ”narrative” being more important to them than the actual facts. The whole deconstructionist movement gained a lot of credibility with the mainstream, particularly Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. These are the books that actually took those cheesy elements and exposed them as silly and outdated. So now every comic tries to distance themselves from them. Except us, of course. We take an “embrace it all, love it all” approach. It’s what makes Lazerman so unique.
And with Lazerman as your flagship title, of course he should be the first to get a trade collection. Has the currently in progress kickstarter campaign been a royal nightmare for you and your brother, or just a rollercoaster to new vistas?
I think it’s best described as a month-long heart attack. Alan and I were talking about this. His words were: “It’s humbling to me…to see all this support” Oddly enough..I felt the exact opposite. I wasn’t “humbled” Humbled suggests being brought back down to earth. I was EMPOWERED by the support we’ve been shown. Part of me thought people wouldn’t step up to support us. I was clearly wrong, and didn’t have enough faith, I guess.
But either way, kickstarter is the most stressful thing you can go through. You are frustrated when you fall behind, then elated when somebody drops in out of no where and make a big pledge. It’s odd, because there are people I was SURE would help us, who suddenly disappeared when we started promoting this…or people who promise “of yeah of course I’ll help you out” and then don’t….but then there are people we NEVER ever thought would support us who stepped up in a big way. It’s really amazing.
So far the moment of the campaign for us was when a we received a $500 pledge. We scrambled to see who it was…and didn’t immediately recognize the person. After looking through our past convention pictures, we found them. It was a girl we had met 2 years ago at a convention, had never seen again, or kept in contact with. I believe at that point she bought one book from us, and apparently loved it. We never knew. That was one of the best feelings in the world.
That is incredible! One of the rewards that I noticed, and as far as I know have never seen elsewhere, is your volunteering to work on someone else’s property. This is a step above and beyond just doing a commission, as even just a few pages would be time consuming. Thinking outside the box is always cool, but that really is a great effort on your part, like passing on the win. I just thought that was a really great and original idea.
I wanted to know more of the behind the scenes stuff with HB. As your company has grown a bit beyond just you and your big brother, was the intention always to grow out your universe like so? You’ve brought in some great and often underrated artists like Rodney Jacobson, Harold Dean Cupec and Rick Lozano, and you yourself have begun dabbling in writing as well. Would it seem inevitable for you and Alan to eventually orchestrate your own Crisis on Infinite Earths, with the growing list of characters and talented alliances?
Yes, there was always, 100% the intention that this would bloom into a full blown universe. We figured, early on, instead of throwing the readers into an established super hero universe with dozens of characters they wouldn’t know/care about, wouldn’t it be far more interesting to show exactly how a “normal” universe could BECOME full of super heroes? How would people react if this started to happen in our world? We decided to start with Lazerman, and show this progression gradually, introducing new heroes/villains slowly so the readers would never feel overwhelmed…we would make the changing world the central story element of all the titles we were creating.
When we started this, it was just me, Alan, and our friend/fellow writer Kenny Youngquist. We knew we would have to grow..that the three of us would obviously not be enough to run the 4-5 titles we would require to tell this story. Fortunately for us, we’ve become friends with some extremely talented but yet undiscovered individuals who you’ve just mentioned. Folks with a true talent and passion for the kind of comics we wanted to make. Guys who could say “yes, this thing is worth getting behind” and who have thrown themselves into it, heart and soul.
As far as a “crisis” goes…yes, these heroes will certainly be meeting each other, and threats will present themselves that will force alliances and crossovers…and eventually some really big “event Crossovers”. However, we do feel that these titles have to establish themselves fully before we can really start diving in to all that. It’s all about buildup and development.
And that’s why getting it all started with this kickstarter is so important.
Now that you’ve spent a few years making your creative ambitions a reality and really building something, what do you think the secrets to vocational longevity are? Is it important to be a thick-skinned Hulk in business dealings, or to have backup plans to your backup plans to your backup plans, like Lex Luthor? Do you think morality is as important behind the scenes as in the panels themselves, or does survival of the fittest mentality even have a place in a creative industry?
This business is really a war of attrition. The biggest obstacle most newcomers face in breaking into the industry is their own will to keep at it. So many drop out if their book isn’t an instant success…or once they realize it’s actually more work than they thought it would be. You have to LOVE doing it to keep at it. Keep at it diligently and eventually, people will begin to recognize you…the key is longevity.
It’s important to remember, this IS a business. I make it sound boring when I say that, or like I’m not excited about it…but it’s true. And like any business, you will find a wide variety of folks with different approaches to it. I tend to feel that we are all kind of in the same boat when it comes to the indy market, like you have to make an effort to support other creators since this is such a fragile market as it is. But in the end, those same other creators ARE your competitors too. They may not have the same feelings of camaraderie that you do. It’s important to remember that sometimes.
I think your values permeate everything you do. When I hear a creator talking “smack” about another creator, or expressing obnoxious opinions, it tells me the kind of person they are..and I think it’s hard to divorce yourself from that knowledge and not let it affect how you view their work. How you hold yourself in public invariably flavors how people “read in” to what you write.
Which team Hebert seem to be doing a fine job of. Best of luck to the still in progress kickstarter and all things else, and thank you so much for opening up a bit with the LP.
Thanks a lot!