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Indie Comics Spotlight: HEX11's creators made women rule their world of magic and mayhem
If you are a fan of witches, demons, and stunning artwork, then you are going to love HEX11 (Hex Comix). The sci-fi fantasy takes place in a future forever changed by an event that pulls magic from another realm, giving humans access to mystical powers. The government regards magic as new technology and seeks to regulate its usage. Many "naturals" — those who can access magic without the use of augmentation — find safe haven underground in the Hex, away from persecution. It's a place where witches, elementals and the occasional demon can live in relative safety.
The Hex is where we find Elanor, a witch's apprentice who is as powerful as she is naive. Her eccentric teacher Vera hasn't taught her how to use her powers, and when Elanor accidentally teleports home with a demon mercenary from another realm one day, things really get interesting. Elanor regards good and evil like black and white in a world that exists in shades of grey. Her sense of justice combined with her powerful magic, place her right at the center of a government conspiracy, fighting to protect those she loves with powerful magic she barely understands.
Nominated for the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics, HEX 11 has been a labor of love for its creator, artist Lisa K. Weber and writer Kelly Sue Milano (Lynly Forrest is the series' editor). Milano and Weber currently work as a ghostwriter storyboard artist and illustrator respectively.
SYFY WIRE talked to the duo about what it's like creating a completely independent comic series, the choice to make Hex a matriarchal society and how they're huge Buffy fans.
How did the two of you end up working together?
Weber: HEX11 had been in my head for years, but when I started to really develop it with Lynly's help in early 2014, it became clear very quickly that the book needed a writer. Lynly's husband mentioned that he knew the perfect person. Someone he'd worked with at an ad agency, who's "totally into this sci-fi/fantasy stuff."
When we met, it was like kismet. We had all the same influences and pop-culture passions. We started co-developing the story from there and it's been, well, magical ever since. Kelly Sue's writing brings so much humor and heart to the characters.
The worldbuilding of Hex is extensive. How long did it take to come up with the storyline?
Milano: The world of the Hex and its characters are actually Lisa's brainchildren — 15 years in the making. She had several character briefs and world descriptions, which gave me an incredible foundation to build upon. That, combined with my love of world-building specifically, made this the easiest part of the journey. It took us four months to arc out the first volume and create and publish issue #1.
Were either of you fans of Buffy, Angel, or Charmed? There are definitely elements of that era's banter in the writing.
The artwork is gorgeous and full of movement. What influenced HEX11's look?
Weber: I've always been a fan of the Golden Agers, Aubrey Beardsley, Kay Nielsen, Erte. Intricate and bold lines that perfectly capture powerful poses and imagery. My earliest animated influences were The Secret of NIMH and Sleeping Beauty. When I was 11, The Little Mermaid came out and the first time I saw Ursula's lair, I knew I wanted to make images like that for a living.
What exactly is the Verge and how does it threaten the Hex?
Weber: The way magic works in the world of HEX11 is that the Ether (what fuels magic) is pulled from another dimension called the Verge. It's a threat to the Hex in that the massive exploitation of the connection between the two worlds creates some unmanageable openings for demons to come through and for uncontrolled and destructive power surges, as experienced by Elanor and, to worse effect, by Argent in Volume One's climax.
Vera seems to be a very powerful witch. Why hasn't she taught Elanor much about her powers?
Weber: Vera is an oracle. She can sense the inevitability of certain events, but she believes people should make their own individual choices to get there. She sets Elanor up for success as best she can, but her teachings are mainly about patience and teamwork. Part of that is letting Elanor make mistakes and letting her find her own answers.
How would you describe Ellie's journey in this series?
Milano: Elanor's journey is one about owning personal power, cultivating your inherent gifts, but also understanding the level of accountability that comes with that. Anyone who dedicates their life to the greater good is also dedicating themselves to empathy and responsibility. She is also coming into a realization that you need a team and that no one is meant to carry it all on their own.
Elanor starts the series with a strong sense of justice coupled with an anger management problem. She sees mostly in black and white and tends to jump into situations without thinking about the consequences. I see her journey as one toward empathy. Learning to see and embrace the mess.
Women control the world of Hex. Was that on purpose?
Milano: The world of the Hex is very much in transition and part of that has always felt like a sci-fi take on the falling away of patriarchal structures. A matriarchy is what we can hope for but the hand-off probably wouldn't be graceful.
In our book, we see many women taking power but not necessarily changing the application of it. For me, it has been a study in what happens when an oppressed group of people has their power back and how those people might falter despite their intentions.
What is the government's role in this world?
Weber: The government in HEX11 is a corporatocracy, politics intertwining and indistinguishable from corporations. It is trying to make an ownership claim on the Ether, what it sees as a valuable resource. They want to control and manage access to it, and they want people paying for it.
At the start of the story, the Naturals are more of a loose end to them. While access to the Ether has always existed for Naturals, it's always been quietly and minimally used. When the powers-that-be start to mess with the balance, opening the rifts in the Event, they see more of what Naturals are capable of, leading them to want to control and exploit them.
What is your production process like?
Milano: We have a very tandem way of working. In the beginning, I would outline each issue and edit according to Lisa's notes. Once that outline was approved I would take it to script. Now we still start each issue with a "jam session" where we just talk about what we want to see happen, where the characters are going, etc., but from there I'll go straight to scripting.
We'll typically go through two rounds of edits but by that time Lisa has already begun rough layouts. It's a very symbiotic experience.
What's been the most difficult scene/panel for you to draw and why?
Weber: I usually have a new answer for every issue. I'd have to say the scene that takes the title of most difficult right now is actually from Issue #14, which is still in production. We ended up in a tchotchke-filled room with seven characters talking to each other. It was just logistically difficult to keep clear in my mind as I was drawing it where everyone was standing and what was behind them!
We get the feeling that Elanor hasn't reached her final form. What do we have to look forward to in Volume 3?
Weber: After what she's experienced in the story so far, she's feeling maybe a little too sure of herself and her idea of what is the "right" thing to do, even if that means going about doing it the wrong way. Volume 3 finds her continuing to make rash decisions without all the information, and the stakes are getting higher.
What is the one theme or concept you want readers to come away with from this series?
Milano: It isn't magic that makes someone magical. It's the intention behind it. This book is filled with diverse characters and we work to make sure that, whether we're dealing with a hero or villain, that these people are whole beings. There is no "One-type savior" and there is no "Pure Evil," the magic is created through these characters' choices and that's a power that we all have. The ability to transform a moment with our intention and how, no matter who you are, just one choice can change the world.