The Sleeper Eventually Awakens… or Sure, We’ll Go With That.
Jay Kennedy and I at the late Attleboro, MA Toy and Comic Show circa 2008.
In 2007, my pal Jay Kennedy and I started making comics, doing local conventions, and bothering the regulars of the New England area comic book industry. We self-published superheroes, horror, anthologies, and I published a few comics featuring my character Hellena (pronounced Hell-Ehnn-Uhh) under the Fat Cat Funnies banner.
Giant-sized first issue hot off the presses. A very exciting moment for me.
It was fun, stressful, and a learning experience. I was fortunate enough to have some amazing comic book artists contribute pinups and art to those issues, and I learned everything I could from them in the brief period of our collaborations. Some of those friendships have stayed strong to this day. Over the years, I continued to commission people to draw her. If someone I liked was free or if I heard someone was struggling with getting work, I’d commission a Hellena drawing from them for a future publication. I had plans of doing more books eventually, but I never knew when that would be. Those beautiful drawings just sat in a drawer. In the years since the last book, Jay and I have both gone on and worked for various publishers and companies on other projects in different directions from Fat Cat Funnies. We wanted to be pros and work in comics. At the time, Fat Cat Funnies no longer felt like a step towards that goal, but things changed.
What would be the last issue before the hiatus. We did two covers. The regular by Hannibal Hing and myself (Right) and the Con Special Cover by Pat Broderick (Middle, of which we printed fewer than 40 copies of).
In the five years since that break, I still drew Hellena nearly every day. She’d be in the margins of memos, on the backs of pages, and anywhere my mind would wander out to. She was a character that I could draw when I felt like I could draw nothing else well. She would save me from artist's block as she would save someone in one of her adventures.
She was always there.
Hellena doodles from years past that were originally done on scraps of paper. Scanned, cleaned, and put together.
Last year, I started drawing some more Hellena pages and writing some scripts. Friends convinced me to take those to conventions to show them to publishers. It was crazy to me how much interest there was. I had multiple publishers and editors that were interested in the potential book. Some wanted editorial changes, some wanted to make it an all-ages book, some wanted to change the title, but it felt like there would be a publisher that would put the book out in some form.
This was the cover to my pitch book and leave behind materials that I took to shows in 2019.
There were two publishers that always replied to emails, had shown the most real interest in putting the book out, and had even contracts started and lawyers involved.
Then the pandemic hit.
Emails dried up. For me, freelance published gigs that were tough to get before the pandemic and now felt nearly impossible. Once-trusted outlets for work and friendly editors suddenly became unable to afford me the professional courtesy of actually rejecting my work or replying to emails. That’s part of the freelance life. It’s really hard and some people just lack courtesy. The optimistic side of me says that they don’t want to reject my work and want to keep me in their back pocket until something opens up. The pessimistic side of me says that they don’t want to reject my work and keep me in their back pocket until something opens up.
It hasn't been easy. Stress has been higher than ever. Hell, I used to LOVE grocery shopping, and now that’s a weekly, reliable, and rushed stress bomb.
A drawing from early 2019 or late 2018
There was always one thing that I could do that helped--even on the worst days. It’s stupid. It makes no difference to anyone outside of my head... I drew Hellena.
She was always there, and right now became the time I needed to draw her more than ever. In my mind, she’s a real person that lives in a nuanced world. Instead of just fighting monsters and singular quests, there's so much more to it all now. I see elements of her story like something out of a John Cheever or Sherwood Anderson novel. I feel the different characters. They all have meaning to me that I can articulate clearly. Some of it is reactionary to the incendiary world outside of my studio. I see or read something, wrap my thoughts of it in a warm fantasy-genre blanket, and put them to Hellena.
In my small studio room, her world continues to grow and evolve every day. Njata and Saga know her almost as well as I do, and they both certainly know things that I don't. The people and creatures in it have real emotions and real motivations. They have flaws, folly, and indecent proclivities. They love whoever they love without the boundaries of the world I live in. The show emotion. They do things for spite and decency. They have actual motivations outside of just good versus evil. They don’t just and punch or stab things... but there is some of that too.
Some days, the real world feels smaller than ever but, to me, Hellena's world never does. For the first time, I feel like I'll be sharing her real world here without censorship or editorial mandates. It was always my personal sanctuary, and in the old books I only could share parts of it. Some of it was my shortcomings as a creator, and some of it was self-censorship. The world and its characters will live and breathe. There will be flaws, but they will be genuine, and I've always preferred flawed authenticity to perfect insincerity.
Coloring test. 2019.
I hope you’ll join me for the ride. I don’t know how long it’ll last. I’ve got SIX issues of Axe of Hellena plotted, so let’s start with that. New pages will start posting November 1, 2020!
Stay Safe. Wear a Mask.