Sam Humphries Interviews Joe Eisma about HIGHER EARTH, MORNING GLORIES & More

Alright, this is cool. BOOM! wanted to promote Sam Humphries new book, Higher Earth. The fifth issue is a stand alone store with art by Morning Glories’ rising star artist Joe Eisma. What resulted was this long and actually interesting interview between writer Sam and artist Joe.

Sam Humphries: So, Joe, you’re a talented artist with a rising profile, you’ve got a successful ongoing book with a hot writer at an on-fire publisher (Morning Glories, Nick Spencer, and Image Comics respectively)… why the hell are you throwing it all away to draw an issue of Higher Earth??

Joe Eisma: I’m a wild and crazy guy, obviously! Seriously, though, my collaborators on Morning Glories have all dabbled in other projects, and for the past two years I’ve said no to every offer. Just didn’t want to put the book behind or take anything away from it. I’ve gotten faster with drawing as time has gone by, so I’m more free to do fun things like this. Plus, I bought issue #1 of Higher Earth when it came out and thoroughly enjoyed it. How’s that for an ego stroke?

SH: Ha! Well, the first issue was only a dollar, so I guess that’s more of an ego pat on the head. But I’ll take it and, I’m super psyched to have you aboard. You’ve done 20 issues of Morning Glories, which is a great run in this day and age. Can you talk about what it means to maintain and pace and style for so many pages of a breakout book? And maybe the flip side of that — are you afraid that you might get pigeon-holed by the success? That people will think there’s only one side to Eisma?

JE: Thanks! It’s not been an easy 20 issues, but overall I’m proud of the pace that I’ve maintained. With Morning Glories, I feel attached to it in a way that I want to see it through–hopefully to the end! I’m passionate about the characters and the world I’ve helped to create, and I basically just don’t want to miss anything. I hear from our readers all the time that they hope we maintain the same team throughout, so I know it’s important to them as well.

And most definitely, I’ve been concerned about being pigeon-holed. As fun and as diverse as Morning Glories is, I do feel there are aspects of my art that don’t get explored. I’m happy for this opportunity on Higher Earth to do just that!

Oh and I notice you listen to a lot of Ladytron on Spotify (thanks, Facebook!) I’m making a Higher Earth playlist and they’ll feature pretty heavily on it.

SH: Yes! Ladytron is awesome, the perfect epic, sleek, stylish, psychedelic future music for sci-fi. Gillen and McKelvie have been a proponent of them for a long time, but I really “got it” when I saw them live. Their latest, Gravity the Seducer, is probably the unofficial soundtrack of Higher Earth. I was listening to it in large doses when I formulated the series.

Rotating artists has been something of a minor controversy these days but the artists’ POV is rarely included in the debate. Do you feel that the deck is stacked against artist? Are the tastes and styles demanded of today’s books too strenuous for a monthly pace? Or is one book per month, more-or-less, a fair schedule?

I love your work in Morning Glories but I’m excited to see you stretch a little bit. That’s why the inviolable rule for issue #5 of Higher Earth was NO SCHOOL UNIFORMS.

JE: That’s too cool. I always love hearing about the non-comic stuff that’s influenced creators. Gravity the Seducer is a great album, and now I can totally see how it fits into the Higher Earth universe! I am envious that you’ve seen them live–I’ve yet to have the opportunity.

Yeah, you know–the whole concept of a ‘fill-in’ artist has always been rife with debate for as long as I can remember. Personally, I don’t mind it, as long as it doesn’t occur in an actual issue. I remember comics of the ’90s that had the first few pages be the regular artist, then all of a sudden it was a rotating crew of vastly different artists for the rest of the issue. Totally threw me. These days, I think it’s sensible to have an artist take a break after an arc, because, yeah–drawing these storylines can get intense and wear you down. Seems so many artists are more detail oriented these days, that it makes sense that they’d need a month off to recharge.

Thanks, man! I’m excited too. Haha, I’m sure some of my readers will cry foul of that statement, but I like to push myself and draw different things as much as I can. It’ll be nice to take a break from the uniforms for a bit!

My question for you: We talked about Ladytron, but what were some of your other influences in bringing Higher Earth to life? Did you have a Grant Morrison-esque fever dream and it all just came to you?

SH: Ladytron is one of the LOUDEST live shows I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended. Fuck Buttons are also a great future sci-fi band that will wreck your ear drums for weeks (for life???).

Well, part of Higher Earth comes from the frustrations of space travel. Space is fucking dead. It’s light years of empty space. By the time you get to a habitable planet, everyone you know on Earth is dead. Sci-fi has a rich history of side-stepping this but I wanted to take it in another direction — using quantum physics to imagine the colonization of other earths. I’ve done a lot of research into the Aztecs, one of the results being Sacrifice, my self-published limited series. And you can’t get into the heads of the Aztecs without getting some exposure to Cortes, Spain, and colonial Europe. That history gave me a framework for the empire of Higher Earth.

One of the things that happened to me as I do more and more work is I realized I have a preoccupation with identity. I’ve found it in a lot of my writing in hindsight. HIGHER EARTH, with multiple timelines, multiple earths, and multiple analogues of the same character offered a chance to tackle a lot of that sticky psychological stuff head on. When we get to issue 5, with you on the art, we start to see how uncomfortable and complex questions of identity are going to be for Rex and Heidi.

Oh and then I blasted by brain with bath salts from Nepal for twenty years and the resulting fever dream gave me the idea for having a comic book with swords. Because no one has thought of that before.

JE: I KNEW bath salts were going to come into play at some point! I’m going to put that on my grocery list.

I can definitely see how the concept of identity plays a huge part in Higher Earth. It’s one of those things that I tend to wonder about when my mind veers into sci-fi territory. That if there were a parallel Earth or whatever, what would that version of me be like? It’s fun when you think about all the infinite possibilities based on all the choices you made in your life; how a version of you on another Earth could have chosen differently.

That reminds me–I was floored by how much you put into your scripts! I mean, I’m generally used to kind of basic panel descriptions, and occasionally some one or two paragraph explanation of things, but you packed that script to the gills! Don’t get me wrong, it was real helpful. Definitely gave me insight into how to approach drawing the issue. Have you ever considered publishing or putting your actual scripts online? Granted, you’ve got a lot of spoilery stuff in those notes.

SH: Ha! I don’t know about publishing my scripts. To me, unless you’re studying to become a creator, a comic book script is literally the LEAST exciting way to experience a comic. And yeah, there’s a ton of spoilers in there… not just for the “end of the issue” but for the end of the entire series!

Higher Earth definitely requires the longest scripts of any book I’ve ever written. Each issue so far has taken place on a completely new earth, which means a lot of descriptions. Not just the environment, but also the condition of the earth, the society of the people, how they’re dressed, what their building look like, how they carry themselves, etc, etc. It’s not like The Ultimates where I can say “Iron Man is in New York City” and call it a day.

Your issue takes place on two earths we’ve never seen before, or, hm, at least two earths we haven’t quite seen in this condition. Is that vague enough?? Haha. And they’re very different from each other, so I can’t just say, “oh it’s like the other earth, just with more guns” or something like that. Higher Earth is by far the most complex and intricate bookI am writing right now. Each issue is a whole new world.

I’m glad it was very helpful — I’m always mindful of not overloading the artist, or becoming a micromanager of the art, or going full-blown Alan Moore. By contrast, I did plot-first for Ramon Perez on John Carter: The Gods of Mars which was a much looser script — different book, different situation. Higher Earth and Morning Glories aside, do you have a platonic ideal of a script in your head that you think would work best for you? Would you get bored working from the same kind of script all the time? Or would you rather it be consistent and focus on the art?

JE: This is true. I think Nick is in the same spot with Morning Glories–he doesn’t put a whole lot of future spoilers in the scripts, but there are times that he does, and there would be no way for him to release scripts then! And I don’t necessarily think it’s boring, but I’m kind of a process junkie!

I will say it was pretty daunting to be presented with two brand new worlds basically to bring to life! I had to read your script a few times and let it digest, but I started to get a vision for them in no time. Do you have more Earths kind of sketched out, or are you letting the story dictate where the characters go? I mean, do you have like a board with a bunch of Earths laid out that you want to do stories on, or are things more improvised–and you build the Earth around the story?

I didn’t think your copious script was micromanaging or anything. haha. I appreciated all the description and reference since I’m just jumping right in here. When I started on Morning Glories, I felt it took me three or four issues to really get that world and everything in it. Don’t have that luxury here!

I think it would get boring, working from the same kind of script every time. I’m a fan of consistency, but I do like to change it up here and there. I like improvisation. One of the things that I feel Nick and I gel on is he knows when to be hands on and when to be hands off. There are certain story beats that we hit and he’s very hands on with those scenes, and that’s cool with me. I want to get it right. On other stuff, like fight scenes, he’s more open to my interpretation, and gives me the reins.

SH: I have a few earths in my head — especially the native earths of Rex and Heidi, the worlds they grew up in. I also have a structure laid out — how the empire connects their earths to maximize security and resources. And certain classes of earths — ones that the empire uses for a single, specific purpose, like the trash planet in issue 1. Beyond that, a bunch of notes and snippets of ideas that I may pick up on when I need a new world…

But generally I let the characters do the driving. The book is about the people of Higher Earth, and the world are there to inform who these people are. Don’t get me wrong, things like a planet full of dinosaurs are a lot of fun, but they’re not the star of the show either. I want to get past all the “multiverse” concepts we’ve seen before — hence cycling through a half dozen earths in the first five issues — and get closer to the human experience of this weird society.

It’s interesting to hear how you and Nick work together — it’s similar to how I work with Dalton Rose on Sacrifice. We kind of shift between plot styles — sometimes it is panel-by-panel, and sometimes, particularly for the action scenes as you note, sometimes it’s plot-first for a couple pages. When working with talented visual storytellers as I have been lucky to do, I often feel like my best scripted action scene would pale in comparison to what the artist could do with a general scenario and a couple blank pages.

So, you told me offline that you’ve been on a bit of a sci-fi journey recently… some film, some Moebius, some other things… spill. Tell me what’s percolating in your brain.

JE: Yeah, I can’t wait for you to explore Rex & Heidi’s native worlds! It’s always reassuring to hear a writer has a plan and has things mapped out. I mean, we deal with that a lot on Morning Glories. Nick is always saying he has a plan, but has enough leeway that if he happens upon a plot thread he’d like to explore more, he can. I think it’s great that you basically have all these options for Francesco–I don’t think he’ll ever be bored from the sounds of things. To go from dystopian futures to dinosaurs–and in just the first few issues alone!

That’s really cool about you and Dalton. Do you find that there are types of scenes that you don’t like writing? For Nick and I, he has told me many times how he dislikes writing action scenes, and I think it stems from it basically being ‘panel 1: they fight. panel 2: they fight some more.’ I mean, that’s a real basic stereotype of writing action scenes, but I think the feeling is that if you dictate these things too much, you might lose some of the spontaneity of the scene. I’ve worked with other writers who didn’t like writing lovey-dovey scenes, too. I guess everyone has their foibles and aspects of the process they’re not big on.

Indeed I have been on a sci-fi kick! That was the major appeal to me for doing this issue–I’ve not had the opportunity to draw a straight up science fiction story. Morning Glories does have science fiction, but it’s all in the context of that universe, which is very much kind of rooted in the real world. With this, it’s got all the tropes of science fiction that Idon’t get to explore in my other work. I’ve been digging looking at this Moebius tumblr that I follow–they post lots of great pieces from him. And I’m still being influenced by Prometheus, weeks after I saw it. It was kind of a polarizing movie, but I thought the design was fantastic. Lastly, as a big animation fan, I’ve been rewatching old episodes of Aeon Flux to get some creative vibes from. It’s got a killer soundtrack too.

SH: Yeah, there’s a plan. I know how Rex and Heidi know each other, I know where they’re going, I know how they’re going to split apart, and I know their final fate, alongside the fate of Higher Earth. There’s a lot of space in between to be spontaneous, but it’s their journey, along with the journeys of their analogues, that are the backbone of this story.

Biagini is fantastic. I can throw any idea or environment at him and he makes it all look like it’s from the same fabric, y’know? It helps to tie this crazy sprawling universe together into something cohesive and real.

Fight scenes are a pain in the ass, because so much of it is beyond your control. I mean, a punch in the face can be the most boring thing in the world or the most dynamic thing in the world — but it’s all in the artist’s hands. And if the panel would be even better as a kick to the face…? Well, it’s basically the same thing, 99% of the time, so why am I getting specific with it? With Dalton, I tried to characterize the fight more than anything else. Here’s this guy, and this is his fighting technique and his goals. Here’s his opponent, who will be used to fighting with weapons of this sort because of X, Y, and Z. I try to set up a dynamic where Dalton can think about the action as an expression of the characters and the stakes, and leave the specifics of the punch-kick-‘splode progression in his hands. I wish we had more space in Sacrifice for action scenes because he’s so good at it.

As for other kinds of scenes… well, I love writing dialogue-based scenes between two characters who want different things but aren’t saying it out loud. Age of Innocence is one of my favorite movies because it’s all about that. But I hate that I’m not quite to the point where I can make that endlessly exciting in a visual medium. Maybe one day.

Man, I love that old Aeon Flux stuff. It blew me away when I first saw it on MTV’s Liquid Television. Strong stuff. Moebius is an all-time favorite, and yeah, I didn’t hate Prometheus the way everyone else seemed to hate it. I recently got to see a short sci-fi film called Pumzi that blew me away. The director Wanuri Kahiu is Kenyan and she approached science fiction from a very different perspective. We need more diversity and less whitewashing in our sci-fi. She’s trying to make it into a feature and I hope she succeeds.

JE: Very cool. You really do have infinite possibilities with this story, which I think is one of the best hooks of it. Francesco brings things to life with such vividness! I think it’s going to be a helluva journey, and I’m grateful you guys let me be a part of it. I hope I can continue to be a part of it in some fashion, as well!

I know we’ve got to wrap things up, but I could go on for ages talking sci-fi here! Sounds like we’ve got some similar tastes and influences in that regard. We’ll have to talk more in depth about it at the next con you and I are at!

SH: Yes, that sound you hear is the long fingers of iFanboy tapping us on the shoulder and saying WRAP IT UP DUDES.

I know, we barely scratched the surface of the sci-fi conversation we WANTED to have… Jim Starlin and Katsuhiro Otomo will just have to wait until next time. Thanks for doing this with us and thanks again for joining us on Higher Earth! Hope to have you back again.

They went on for a while, I know, but I think it was pretty well worth it. I want to thank both Sam and Joe for taking the time, but it also sounds like they had a lot of fun, so good for them. Be on the lookout for Higher Earth #5 in September, and more Morning Glories from these fine comic book craftsmen.


  1. I love hearing about craft and the inspirations behind ideas, so this was a great interview. I could read several more pages of it, to be honest. Thanks guys!

  2. Higher Earth is good so far and love that image from #5…this book and Extermination are two of my new favorites and both BOOM!.