Jason Howard is best known as the artist for hit series like Trees and The Astounding Wolf-Man. With his next project, though, he’s rocking both hats as the sole artist and writer for the sci-fi epic Big Girls. The new Image Comics series follows Ember, a “300-foot tall monster hunter” as she her gargantuan cohorts “stand in the way of our world’s complete annihilation!”
I caught up with Howard recently to discuss the book’s storyline, pulling double duties, and much, much more. Big Girls #1 hits stands on August 12.
AIPT: How did the process come about where you wanted to create something wholly you? Is it the freedom that comes with being able to do as you please on the page? Do you feel as if you’re able to have a greater sense of storytelling with your pencil work because you’re solely in charge of the narrative?
Jason Howard: I’ve always wanted to both write and draw my own comics. Some of my early comics inspirations were the ’90s creators who both wrote and drew their books, people like Erik Larsen, Frank Miller and Mike Mignola. Before I was working in comics full time, it was a project that I was writing and drawing that helped catch the eye of Robert Kirkman and eventually led to us working together and my whole career since. So while I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very talented writers, it has been fun to take on that full control on this new project.
There is more freedom on the page, but honestly that is often the toughest part. Because I can do anything, the efficiency of attacking a script and having the story boundaries in place is gone. One of the things I learned early on in Big Girls is that I still prefer to have a script to work from. Because I wrote the script I give myself more freedom to improve it as ideas come when I’m drawing it, but I really prefer the having the script with the dialog and character moments all figured out before I start laying out a page.
AIPT: The tagline for this series is “Godzilla meets HBO’s Girls.” Do you have any specific influences other than those examples? The dystopian elements and coloring conjure up images of Children of Men for me, but those personal moments readers see already with Ember remind me of something I’d see in a half-hour dramedy on Netflix.
JH: The big visuals come from me growing up loving giant robot animation, things like Voltron, Robotech, and Transformers. When I first came up with the idea for Big Girls, I had been drawing a lot of military characters in my sketchbook and thought it would be fun to draw a “gun action” book. When I did a couple drawings of giant monsters, I realized the visual fun I could have with giant monsters fighting giant soldiers. As I continued drawing and sketching the idea I became excited about the possibilities and the book just grew from there.
From a story place, the inspiration really comes more from my life and feeling often frustrated about various issues in our world. Not only the issues, but the simplistic solutions that are often argued about. It seems sometimes like there is a lack of nuance and unwillingness to even try to understand others point of view. Is compromise a bad thing? How can we find common solutions? I wanted to explore a character stuck in that kind of complex situation. Setting the story in this sci-fi version of our world allowed me to blow the problems up to literal giant size, and make the consequences immediate and monstrous! I think comics work best with big ideas and big dynamic visuals so that what I’m trying to make!
AIPT: Beyond just the sheer entertainment that comes with the story you’re crafting, there are real world elements at play here. The ideas of overpopulation and globalization strike me immediately. Another aspect that hit me is the failures of previous generations and how people of today are reaping what those elders sowed. Towards the end of the first issue, readers see glimpses of male-dominated authoritarianism.
Given the title, it would seem obvious that gender dynamics will play a role throughout the series. What message are you trying to convey most with this book?
JH: All those are elements that I’m playing with. My artist side is happy just drawing cool visuals, but to write something, I want to have a little more meat and meaning. Asking questions about some of the bigger issues in the world satisfies that. Looking at our world and wondering what the future looks like for our children is a common parental worry. The issues of complexity and choices is one that underlies this story, but I try to bring the story concepts, character struggles and the visuals together in a satisfying way. My hope is that a reader thinks Big Girls is an exciting, dramatic and awesome comic! If there are themes that speak to them great, but my goal is entertainment first!
AIPT: Are the Jacks the most fun you’ve ever had drawing characters/creatures? How does that compare to something like your Wolf-Man work?
JH: My mandate to myself when designing the Jacks was that they had to be fun to draw! My last couple big projects (Trees and Cemetery Beach) were more grounded visually, so I haven’t had the chance to cut loose with big muscle drawing in a while. The Jacks are my outlet for that! And because they are all a little different from each other, it gives me room to try different designs ideas as they come to me.
In ways, its more similar to The Astounding Wolf-Man, which had more superhero dynamics than something like Trees. But Trees really gave me the opportunity to draw big vistas and play with the scale and size of things. Both of these approaches to visual storytelling really appeal to me, and Big Girls gives me the chance to do both. I embrace the sort of B-movie monster action and fighting dynamics, but also try to push the feeling of size and scale the characters have. I’m trying to bring everything I’ve learned in my career to this book.
AIPT: For readers who dug the debut issue, what can they expect from you in the coming months?
JH: I‘m really excited for people to see whats coming up! There will be lots of Big Girls kicking monster butt, but also some surprises. In issue #2, we meet some of the other Girls who protect the city. Over the series, the drama for Ember really ramps up as she faces some hard choices trying to find her place in the world.