Interview: 'Skyward' Creators on Their Big Concept and Bigger Ideas

Skyward, a new story published by Image Comics, is making its debut this week. Created by writer Joe Henderson and artist Lee Garbett, the series explores a simple question that creates a lot of problems: What if gravity ceased to exist on Earth? The story follows Will Fowler, who was born just before Earth changed, and her father who wants things to return to the way they were. caught up with the series creators to discuss its production, its big ideas, and some of the most interesting elements in the first issue. Skyward is one of the most exciting Image debuts of 2018, and Henderson and Garbett make it clear why that’s the case in their own words.

Skyward Image Comics Interview - Cover
(Photo: Image Comics)

ComicBook: Skyward features an easily understood "what if" concept at its core, what if gravity suddenly stopped working, that leads to a radically different world with a lot of changes to consider. What first attracted you to this idea as the basis for a series?

Joe Henderson: The concept behind Skyward is my childhood fears and daydreams brought to life. When I was a kid, I never understood why everyone else wasn’t freaked out by the fact that our world has no ceiling. There’s just sky. What’s really holding us to earth? An invisible force? That’s not terribly reassuring. But, like every kid, I was also obsessed with flying. Would it be so bad if gravity wasn’t what we thought it was…?

I’d been dying to tell a big, crazy adventure story, and I realized that I could use those two warring concepts to build a world. It had just the right balance of wish fulfillment and danger – a world where you can leap over a building with a single bound, but if you jump too high, you die.

It's clear from the first issue alone that you have both put a lot of thought into how that sort of world would function. What kind of research and development went into designing this setting and the many small details and changes it would include?

Henderson: We totally winged it.

Joking! Tons of research. Lots of articles about gravity, lots of videos of the International Space Station, and lots of conversations about what could happen in this world. How to make it feel real without sacrificing the fun of big, crazy ideas.

Lee Garbett: Yeah, we watched a lot of videos of astronauts doing the day-to-day stuff, making a sandwich etc where everything you put down just floats away. They solved it by putting a little patch of on everything and we figured most people would do that or magnetize surfaces and lids. It made me very mindful how non-cluttered the households would need to be too, unless you don’t mind your belongings hitting you in the head constantly.

Sometimes with high concepts there's a point where the science conflicts with the story. Have you hit a moment like that in Skyward, and are you more inclined to dig into the nuts and bolts or let the narrative take precedence in that conflict?

Henderson: What a great question, because we very much have. That’s the line we keep trying to walk – never sacrificing the reality of the world for a fun idea. The key we found is making sure there’s enough science the idea is rooted in, and then doing our best to make the execution feel as real as possible.

Skyward Image Comics Interview - Zero Gravity
(Photo: Image Comics)

What elements do you find most visually attractive about the premise? Why is it best suited to comics in your mind?

Henderson: I don’t think my words could ever properly paint the picture that Lee brings to life on the page. I think Skyward’s one of those ideas that HAS to be a comic – limitless budget, wondrous visuals, but most importantly, characters who you want to go on a journey with. That’s Lee’s superpower – sure, he can make every page look absolutely amazing and gorgeous, but he also depicts the characters with such humanity that you can’t help but be drawn in.

Garbett: Well, if you’ll pardon the pun here, the sky is literally the limit in comics, so it makes it a perfect story to tell in that medium – plus both Joe and I are passionate about comics in general.

Joe’s pitch had me from the get go. The characters leapt off the page and the whole thing really resonated with me, right away. It was strange how much it echoed the kind of concepts I used to draw for fun.

Antonio Fabela is doing the colors for Skyward. How have you noticed his work impacting the large expanses and other unique elements on the series?

Henderson: What’s nice is that Lee and Antonio have such a great shorthand working together, so Lee knows he can hand Antonio some challenging imagery and Antonio will nail it. One of the biggest things was a bright, blue sky. Gorgeous and compelling, almost making you forget how deadly it is. And Antonio just makes it sing.

Just want until you see what Antonio did with what rain looks like in low-gravity… jaw-droppingly gorgeous stuff.

Beyond the high concept, the story really centers on a father-daughter duo and the long history between these characters. What attracted you to that dynamic?

Henderson: For this big, crazy world, I wanted a very human, relatable core to the story. I just checked my old notes, and it’s been father/daughter since the very beginning. I think I was attracted to a very simple dynamic – a father who hates the way the world is now, and a daughter who loves it. So much of the book is the push/pull between those two characters, and how they learn from each other (or, at times, don’t).

Also, now that I’m a father of two young kids, that relationship has taken on a whole new depth as I’ve been writing it.

Garbett: If Willa’s the expression of freedom this new world brings, Nate is the embodiment of the danger and fear that goes with it. He’s witnessed the horror of it all, first hand, and it’s crippled him, but, to Willa, he’s the weight that’s keeping her from soaring.

I’m a father of two kids too, one a teenager now, so yeah… I’m starting to get a sense of all this in my real life.

Skyward Image Comics Interview - Cover 2
(Photo: Image Comics)

That's an interesting inverse of a more common dynamic. In Skyward, the young are leading the way and older generations seem like they have lost control. As parents is there now an element of wish-fulfillment in flipping the script for future generations?

Henderson: The children are the future, aren’t they? I think we always put the hope and the burden of fixing the world on their shoulders, for better or worse. But also, look at what’s happening in the world lately – I think we’re seeing a new age of the young leading the way, which is especially exciting.

But with any good story, I wanted to hit both sides – there’s a value to the wisdom of age as well as the fearless enthusiasm to young. There’s a value in listening and learning. Which is probably just me hoping my kids will finally start listening to a word I say.

Are there any elements to this story or the collaboration that led you to change your approach or try something new for this series?

Henderson: As I’ve gone on, my scripts have really scaled back on detail – in the beginning, I wrote four scripts having no idea who was going to bring them to life. As I’ve collaborated with Lee, I know I don’t need to spell things out as much. He’s got it and, chances are, has a better way of doing it than I could suggest. Or at least that’s my excuse for getting lazy.

Garbett: Ha! I’m not sure about that, I’d say it’s more that Joe’s writing is so full of character, with each having their own voice and viewpoint, that I can see the scenes play out as I first read the scripts and I know how each would react. Joe’s also still very capable of throwing me a curve ball with some crazy concept that turns things on their head again, so he never lets me get too comfortable.

What has you most excited about readers seeing the first issue this week?

Henderson: For all the big, crazy stuff that happens, the thing I’m most excited about is for people to meet Willa! She’s infectiously fearless and a wonderful guide into the crazy, upside world of Skyward. Hopefully people love following her journey as much as I love writing it.

Garbett: We’ve been working on the book since Summer last year, so we’ve been waiting a long time for everyone to meet Willa and co. I think the book is a breath of fresh air and it’s definitely a labor of love for us both. I hope people will see that on the page and want to join us for the ride because it’s gonna get a whole lot crazier from here.



The first issue of Skyward is available this Wednesday, April 18th.