Interview: Joshua Henaman Turns Myths Into Legends With BIGFOOT- SWORD OF THE EARTHMAN
Late last year we reviewed the first four issues of a crazy, wild, and fantastic creator-owned series called Bigfoot- Sword of the Earthman. If the title didn’t give part of it away, the story is about Bigfoot on Mars in a “sword, sorcery, and sasquatch epic.” You can read the review by clicking here if you need a refresher. Well next week the fifth and penultimate installment of Sword of the Earthman hits next week, and ahead of its release I had the chance to speak with the writer and creator of the series, Joshua Henaman. We discussed all things Bigfoot, how he came up with the idea for the story, what it’s like publishing a series by yourself, and what the future holds for him and the mythical creature. Buckle up and read on for more!
So the penultimate issue is about to come out. Before we dive in, how do you feel about the response you’ve gotten for the series so far? It seems to be getting a lot of positive buzz.
Overall, it’s been a pretty fun ride. As an indie, I know I’ve barely scratched even a corner of the surface, but I’m excited (and relieved!) to hear that people are digging it… and I realize I’m nowhere close to being done as far getting the word out.
So what inspired the series? I mean there are Bigfoot stories and there are sword and sorcery stories. What made you go ‘hey, these things should go together?’
It was a quick chain of events that began with NASA’s “Bigfoot on Mars” image.
Back in 2009 I first stumbled across that photo. NASA’s Spirit Rover photographed what looked like a shadowy figure sitting on an outcropping of rocks. Various news outlets picked up on it and were basically making fun of it laughing, “It’s Bigfoot! Bigfoot’s on Mars!” As a Bigfoot fanatic, I thought, “Hmm, well, how did he get there?” After that, everything kind of fell into place. Bigfoot, alien setting… Easily within ten minutes of seeing the image, I wrote that first issue opening crawl that began, “The dying world needed a hero…” and ended with… “Lover of women… destroyer of men.” Right away I knew the tone of the series. Conan meets Bigfoot.
What inspired you as far as other stories out there? This is a completely original series, but you can see some John Carter/Planet Hulk/Conan influences in there.
The list goes on and on! There are definitely some heavy John Carter and Conan influences. I love all the old pulp adventures. You also wouldn’t be too far off to say you could see some “Krull” or a little bit of “Yor – Hunter from the Future”, especially when you start to see a merging of high and low tech throughout the series. It has that magic blended with science… Or as Thundarr the Barbarian put it… Super-Science! As a kid growing up in the late-70’s/early-80’s all you had to do was turn on TBS and see some funky sword and sorcery flick. I ate it up.
Hellboy is another influence that I really looked to quite a bit. Not so much for the elements, but more for structure. I love how you can pick up a trade or a one-off and still get a full, complete story, but it all plays to a larger universe. That’s something I could see doing for the Bigfoot universe.
There are really two main characters in the series. Bigfoot is the main draw of course, but he doesn’t even talk. Did you set out to shake things up like that by going with a sleazy narrator character who we follow as we see the adventure unfold?
Absolutely. I knew going into it I didn’t want Bigfoot to speak. Not even a grunt! For me, it kind of took away the mystique of this big hairy ape-like creature and would’ve felt like a cheat if he walked around having conversations about this alien environment. However, it made it infinitely more difficult as well. How do I convey intelligence? How do I get his emotions across? Or simply, how do I let the reader know that he’s not just some dumb animal? That’s essentially what the first three issues do.
You get Bigfoot as an instinctual animal until the big reveal in issue #3 when you find out he actually understands what’s going on for the most part. But the big thing was I didn’t want this to be so certain from the get-go. I knew I had to build up to that moment. And that’s where our narrator, Bagworm, comes in. I didn’t want the reader to be completely in the dark as far as how the world worked, so I knew Bigfoot would need some kind of guide. As untrustworthy as Bagworm is, I think he’s done a fairly decent job of letting us know the ins and outs of the alien society… or as much as conniving opportunist could. Plus, he’s a blast to write. Probably around 90% of the history and dialect about the world has come from Bagworm just randomly spouting off.
Let’s talk about world building for a second since you’re building everything from the ground up really. What went into that prior to having the main story put together? You have an expansive world with weird and fantastical creatures. Did you map out all the various people groups and flesh out the world? How did you make it feel like a fully formed world?
Surprisingly enough, not much of the actual world-building was done before I had the gist of the main story. I knew my beginning and I knew my ending, so I then had to go about filling in the blanks. The majority of the world-building came about in writing the actual script as I faced each issue on its own. Bigfoot – SOTE is one of those ideas that is open-ended and eclectic enough that I could sit down and say, “You know, I think Bigfoot should hang out with a bunch of guys who operate a giant bug-zapper in the middle of the desert” and then go about plotting it. It’s basically built around these cool little ideas like that and the challenge is how to tie them all together.
One way I do that is with the opening crawl at the beginning of each issue. As long as I’m able to convey it in an entertaining way, I can pack each prologue with tons of history and info. For example, in the beginning of issue #4 we learn that the Jungle of Turonia itself was at one point more massive than it is now, but due to some unknown environmental factor it’s severely diminished. It gives the reader that sense of time and history in the place. And that all came about because I had written the issue with Bigfoot in the jungle and I had to answer the question of why there was a jungle in the middle of the desert. As I moved along from the various writing phases, the world just kept growing. A lot of my world-building comes from having to answer the question of “Why” something is the way it is.
As far as the creature designs, once the script was written there was definitely a design-phase where Andy and I went back and forth on what the major alien races and characters would look like. Bagworm’s race, Korovan Muspin’s lizard-like race, the moth-vampires, etc. all came from going back and forth through emails. A lot of the background races peppered throughout the story are completely Andy creations, which I think gives the world a cool, Mos Eisley kind of vibe.
And you have an amazing artist and colorist for this series that brings everything to life. Can you talk a little about how you three connected and what you were thinking as you were getting pages in?
Starting off, I didn’t know any artists, so when I decided to actually make a go of Bigfoot, I put out an ad on the various forums. Andy was one of the artists who responded through DigitalWebbing. I knew I didn’t want your typical superhero-style artist, but I wanted someone with a little quirk. Andy was perfect. It probably took us a few months of character designs before we actually tackled the script. The first official page I received was page two, which showed the haggard looking Bigfoot sitting on the rocks. The feeling of seeing something that previously only existed in your imagination and was now on paper was mind-blowing.
It was through Andy that I was introduced to Tamra Bonvillain’s coloring work. She truly brought the world to life. From the blistering hot desert to the cold confines of the Great Mound to the rainbow palette of the Turonian Jungle, the book owes a huge debt to the coloring.
Five issues in, it’s pretty awesome to go back and see how the style of the team has evolved. That’s one of the great things about being an indie book as well. You really get to see how things progress, change and evolve for the better.
A lot of things have been building and they pay off with issue #5. Can you tease that issue and what we may see in the big finale?
Hmmm… This was tougher than I would’ve thought as so much happens in issue 5. But… it all boils down to one final image that defines the series.
Issue #6… When I passed the script off to Andy, I referenced the old Kenny Rogers song, Coward of the County. Mostly it was the specific lyric, “Twenty years of crawling, was bottled up inside him.” It’s definitely a vague reference, but it’s more about the overall underdog vibe.
Obviously we don’t know how it ends and we don’t want to know until we can read it ourselves, but is there a future for Bigfoot beyond these six issues?
I touched upon it earlier, but I would love for there to be a series of standalone adventures. Using that Hellboy or Conan model of, “The Further Adventures of…” I know the sixth issue isn’t out yet, so we really don’t know the outcome, but I’ve tried to build in some subtle hints at what could be done (playing with the history of the world, time itself, etc.)
And you self-published this with Brewhouse Comics. Can you talk about what doing a creator-owned series and putting it out yourself means to you? There’s a big push for creator-owned comics lately.
Putting it out myself means I actually did it. Writing-wise, I’ve had that carrot dangled in front of me for so long, I finally pushed it aside and said to myself that this was something I could do. Previously, I was always waiting for someone to give me that greenlight, but for some reason Bigfoot just clicked. I realized that at the end of the day, did I want to be that guy with a bunch of unseen scripts or stories in his filing cabinet or did I want to actually take that plunge and have something to show for it? And when all is said and done, it’s been a pretty awesome ride so far. Sure there have been ups and downs, but I’m writing a goofy little barbarian book with Bigfoot as the protagonist. How can that not be anything BUT fun?
If there’s one bit of advice that I can pass on to anyone even thinking about self-publishing is to start saving your money now. Even if you have just a germ of an idea you’ll want to start right away. Go to a bank that’s not your regular bank and open a new account and start funneling money into it. It doesn’t have to be much early on, ten bucks, twenty bucks, just as long as you start it going. There are so many costs associated with paying for artists, paying for printing, shipping, conventions, etc. that you don’t want to start off in the hole. Even if you are an artist or have a partner, the other costs are daunting.
Finally, are you batting around for ideas for another story? Do you already have something in mind for a follow-up to Bigfoot? What should we be on the lookout for?
If it’s one thing I’m absolutely horrible at, it’s multi-tasking, so I’ve been consumed with Bigfoot for the last couple of years. I kind of feel like Ripley in Alien 3 when she says, “You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else…”
So, with that said, I’m slowly getting two other projects moving. A friend and I have been talking about bringing something to life on one project, which will be odd and cool. I’ve also finished the scripts on a horror idea and have been toying with starting the artist search. Plus, I have some thoughts on a Bigfoot trade (as well as several “Further Adventures of… “ that I spoke of earlier!)
Our thanks to Josh Henaman for talking with us about all things Bigfoot: Sword of the Earthman. I’ll have a full review of the new issue when it hits next week so be sure to tune back in for that. I’ve really enjoyed this series so far and #5 is where a lot of things that have been building really play off in exciting and unexpected ways. You can keep up with all the Bigfoot goodness as well as what Josh and Brewhouse are up to by checking out @JoshSHenaman on Twitter, Bigfoot- Sword of the Earthman on Facebook, or the book’s official website here (where you can also buy the book). If you’ve been on the fence about this one, definitely check it out. What do you think about this weird and wonderful story of Bigfoot on Mars?