Sam Humphries is everywhere these days. Not only did his just-released, multiple Earth-hopping science fiction epic "Higher Earth" sell out before it even hit shelves, but the versatile writer is working on Marvel's "The Ultimates," "Fanboys vs. Zombies" from "Earth" publisher BOOM! and the self-published Sacrifice series, which is still rolling out.
According to BOOM, Higher Earth is about: "Heidi, a girl born in garbage. Rex, a soldier gone rogue. The only thing between them and their destiny is an empire of a hundred different Earths, across a hundred alternate timelines. One majestic planet dominates them all: HIGHER EARTH."
I spoke with Humphries via email about the daunting nature of writing a story like "Higher Earth," the potential follow-up to his fantastic sex-with-animals opus "Our Love is Real"(read it!) and writing "Ultimates" with fellow big idea-er, Jonathan Hickman.
Side note: Yes, my "Our Love is Real" question was totally "gotcha jounalism"! And yes, I'm totally proud of that!
Eddie Wright: What goes into planning a story like this? How intense does it get?
Sam Humphries: Pretty intense. You're imagining a world of worlds -- a scale nearly inconceivable in our day to day lives. It's like trying to imagine the impact of the Internet in 1977. Unless you were one of a handful of geniuses or on really powerful drugs, it would have been impossible. I'm not saying I belong to either group, but I'm going to give it a shot.
EW: Who are Rex and Heidi?
SH: When I was a kid they saved my life from a rabid badger at a petting zoo. I promised to make a comic book about them, and now my blood-debt is paid.
EW: In the first issue we see Garbage Earth and Sunshine Earth 9, how many Earths do you expect to visit as the series goes on?
SH: We'll see five different earths in each of the first five issues. We'll cover a pretty wide spectrum of what the empire of Higher Earth encompasses -- the good, the bad, and the viciously ugly.
Higher Earth bills itself as an empire of a hundred earths, but that's just the official count. There's an infinite number of earths out there and they've cracked the code for finding just the right ones. Of course, even timeline-spanning empires have to be careful what they wish for.
EW: You create an offbeat, quirky tone in your writing, is that something you consciously try to include, or is that what comes natural?
SH: Natural, I guess. Most of the time when I'm writing I'm usually either panicking from crippling self-doubt, or so deep into "the zone" I feel like an golden genius. In either case, I'm in a bubble where those things really don't come into play. Trying to be offbeat or quirky on purpose sounds like a recipe for disaster.
EW: Tell us about artist Francesco Biagini. How did you get involved with him? What does he bring to the table?
SH: Biagini's got an imagination as wide as the Higher Earth empire. I'm going to keep pushing him with increasingly bizarre things to draw, and see if he breaks.
EW: You've got some great artists to do variant covers for this thing (Noto, Irving, Oliver, Aja, Golden, Benitez, Gonzaga) How did they come on board?
SH: I recovered each of them from an alternate earth where they were doomed to work at Chuck E. Cheese for the rest of their lives., in the giant furry costumes. So you could say I called in some favors.
EW: How long do you see this series playing out? Is there an endpoint planned?
SH: Ideally, 20-30 issues. At the end, Rex and Heidi come to this earth and get pizza with me and the BOOM! Studios crew, just like when the Fantastic Four used to visit Stan and Jack in the Marvel bullpen.
EW: With Our Love is Real you tackled a very real issue of sexual politics through the cypher of offbeat sci-fi, is that something you consistently try to do? If so, what kinds of ideas are you working with in Higher Earth?
SH: Identity, revenge, home, and love.
EW: Speaking of Our Love is Real, in an October interview with this site you said: "I have the first page of OUR LOVE IS REAL volume 2 written. I know what happens next to Jok and Brin. I know who the president is. I have no idea how I'll get it published, if at all, but if the wide release through Image does well, it certainly increases my odds." What's the status of that?
SH: Ha! "Gotcha journalism" at its finest, well played, Wright. All of that is still true. I still know what that first page is and I know what the next story is. Right now everything is pretty busy and Sanders is kicking ass up and down the Marvel offices so it's on the back burner. Maybe we'll do it someday. But if we do, I'll probably deny it until the very last minute. No warnings.
EW: Following the success of Our Love is Real, you seem to be everywhere (Fanboys vs. Zombies, John Carter, Ultimates) do you think it's telling that a book about sex with animals and plants put you on the map? Is it a sign for creators to be unafraid to get weird?
SH: I think it's a sign to put yourself out there with stories that you can stand behind as a creator, stories that are truly and uniquely "you." Don't try to make what's "popular" or what you think people want to see. For me, at least, that meant getting weird.
EW: How does working for Marvel differ from doing creator-owned stuff? Is it a hindrance at all?
SH:There's some differences, but in both situations I'm lucky enough to have razor-sharp editors who call me out when I try to get away with cheap, bull***t shortcuts in my stories.
EW: On Ultimates, you're working with another writer, Jonathan Hickman, who isn't afraid to push boundaries. What's the process like working with him? Do the big ideas feed off one another? Do they conflict?
SH: Everything on the Ultimates started with Hickman telling me to write what I want to write. He made it clear that trying to write a book like him, or following his plans to the letter, or attempting to ape his voice would be a huge mistake -- and not what Marvel wants, anyway. After that, I felt free to suggest anything. Our big ideas usually meet each other in the field of combat and battle for dominance. The victor consumes the defeated, and morphs into a brand new idea that is either totally better, or completely inappropriate.
EW: What's the latest on Sacrifice? When will we see the next issue?
SH: Issue four is halfway done and moving forward. We want to get more of the book done before we start throwing dates around, but there's only six issues total so expect some news soon
EW: Finally, since you started in self-publishing, do you have any advice for up-and-coming creators? Is the future of independent comics a bright one?
SH: The only silver bullet, one-size-fits-all advice for up-and-coming creators is to work your ass off, don't be a dick, and be so good they can't ignore you.
"Higher Earth" is out now from BOOM for only a buck!