Interviews With The Fantastic
InterGalactic Interview With Barrett Stanley
by Randall Hayes
I've been hoping to do this interview since I met Barret Stanley at the Greensboro Zinefest last
year. Before you start reading, check out his Kickstarter video and his Tumblr page, where in
addition to stills from his very well-reviewed indie space opera comic Heartbreak Quadrant, he
has a series of portraits of iconic female characters from science fiction's herstory.
Hayes: So the crew of the Red Grapefruit are essentially bad-ass antique dealers. Are you a
collector yourself, or have you enjoyed other such characters, like DC's Jack Knight (Starman)
or Cory Doctorow's "Craphound?" How did your characters evolve into their current forms?
Stanley: I'm not especially interested in proper antiques, but I do find a fascination with what you
might call "old junk" - ephemera from the past that might not have any monetary value but which
gives a window into people's lives. Objects like that can tell stories, or inspire them. In the world
of Heartbreak, the Earth was destroyed twenty years before the story begins, and so for people
scattered through the galaxy, anything actually manufactured on Earth has a real mystique. As far
as characters, I started developing Heartbreak with an idea in mind to explore the archetype of
the "strong woman" character. I've always loved the idea of these characters, but I've often found
them to feel somehow remote or unapproachable. I wanted Ida, Kumi, and Nim to feel like bad-asses, but also like people you want to go out for a pizza with. I have many strong women in my
life, and they've given me a lot of inspiration in developing my characters.
Hayes: Every review I read of Heartbreak Quadrant mentions the color palette as a distinctive
feature. Can you talk a little bit about that? What goes into those choices?
Stanley: Color goes a long way toward establishing mood in comics. I wanted Heartbreak to
feel fun and exciting, so the palette I use is bright and energetic. Most pages have one or two key
colors based on the setting or the characters, and I generally choose the other colors intuitively,
being careful not to add too many, because that can be a mess. I use a weird hybrid analog-digital process where I create physical color panels using spray paint, scan them, and then apply
the scanned colors digitally. It gives a speckled, irregular look to the color, and I like the feel of
imperfection there. I think digital coloring can be too sterile and I like the randomness of spray
Hayes: Unlike mainstream comics, which use a collaborative assembly-line production model and
a regular printing schedule, it looks like you do everything on Heartbreak Quadrant yourself.
Why? Do you just prefer working alone? How does that process unfold over time? Do you have
to do it between stints of other paying gigs?
Stanley: I do it all myself, for better and for worse! In indie comics, you have no guarantee of
funding or of an eventual payoff, so initially, it just made sense to do it myself - I wouldn't have to
pay anyone else to help me. The deeper I go into making comics, though, the more attached I feel
to every aspect of the process, so ultimately, I'll probably just keep on doing it all myself, at least
for Heartbreak. I have the broad arc of the story in my head, and I begin each issue by laying out
storyboards, keeping a vague script in mind and making notes as to dialogue, which gets refined
toward the end of the process. I draw and ink the finished pages, then have them scanned, then
add color and finally, lettering. It's a long process, which is why it takes me a year or more to
finish an issue. I do other illustration and freelance work, but comics are what I love the most at
Hayes: You funded HQ through Kickstarter, right? Was that a one-time thing, or a standard
part of your business model now? Do you have marketing help of some sort?
Stanley: I've used Kickstarter for the first and second issues, and I'm planning to use it for the
third as well. It's been helpful both in terms of raising funds to cover the costs of printing and for
finding new fans of the series. Crowdfunding is a great tool for comics makers, but here again, I
handle all the marketing myself, so it takes a fair amount of time and effort. So far, though, it's
been time well-spent.
Hayes: When we met at the Greensboro ZineFest, I saw a bunch of ranger sketches at your
table. I can only assume that you are infected with the RPG bug (as am I; no judgement there).
What's your game play trajectory been like? How has that experience in shared world-building
affected your creative process professionally?
Stanley: I love RPGs! My friend Joe McCullough introduced them to me back in high school
and I've played off and on ever since. (Joe went on to become a successful RPG designer himself,
and invited me to illustrate his latest game, Rangers of Shadow Deep). I think that creating and
running RPGs is great experience for anyone who wants to write fiction. When you're trying to
come up with a scenario for your players, you have to think carefully about how to make it
interesting for them, and plan for all the possible avenues they could take during the course of the
game. It's a wonderful workout for your creative powers.
Hayes: There are soooo many fantasy systems, but relatively few space-based ones. Traveler is a
classic, and there's a FATE-based system called Diaspora that I've playtested. Have you ever
found a space opera RPG that you like?
Stanley: I agree, there is a dearth of space-based RPGs. I've never played one specifically made
for that setting, but I developed a series of space scenarios using GURPS rules, which I've always
liked a lot.
Hayes: Have you ever thought about a game set in the HQ universe?
Stanley: I have given some thought to an HQ-based game, either an RPG or possibly a
board game. It's a possibility I have been keeping on the back burner but someday, I'd love to
explore it further!
Hayes: Thanks so much for your time, and good luck with Issue #3.
Randall Hayes also writes the PlotBot column for IGMS.