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Spending '40 Seconds' with Jeremy Haun on sci-fi, realism in fiction, and confronting readers

Comic Books

Spending ’40 Seconds’ with Jeremy Haun on sci-fi, realism in fiction, and confronting readers

The artist/writer talks his compelling new comiXology sci-fi series.

Whether he’s writing or drawing, Jeremy again knows how to bring new life to beloved genres. His art is arguably the beating heart of emotion for the noir-esque The Beauty. He also brings the real magic in The Realm, a kind of fantasy mish-mash. For his latest project, Haun is providing the very same treatment for sci-fi.

40 Seconds (which features art by Christopher Mitten and colors from Brett Weldele) follows a group of research scientists as they “travel through a series of alien gateways… answering a distress call a galaxy away.” Along the way, they face an unknown threat, which fosters this rich, emotionally-rich narrative about our own endless curiosity and search for meaning. Issue #2 of the series hit comiXology just this week.

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Shortly before the issue’s debut, I touched base with Haun to talk about the series’ origins, what it means to make sci-fi in 2020, where the story is headed, and much, much more.

40 Seconds

From Issue #1. Courtesy of comiXology.

AIPT: What was the genesis for 40 Seconds? How would you describe the series in 3 existing comics, films, books, etc.?

Jeremy Haun: 40 Seconds is my big world hopping sci-fi epic. I wanted to do something that took all of the things that I love about science fiction and run it through my own, slightly weird filter. Sure it has all of the classic trappings of all of the brilliant work that’s come before. But because I’m me, I can’t help but mess with things a bit. You get vast worlds and alien threats, but also a strange building mystery and more than a bit of horror.

I like telling different kinds of stories that still fit in my mythos. I wanted to do something a little different than my current Boom series, The Red Mother. I’d had the idea for 40 Seconds for quite a while. I liked that it was this big, sci-fi thing… but, without giving too much away kind of tied to the things I’ve done in The Red Mother and a lot of my other work.

Describing things based on other things is always a little tricky. I thought a lot about the amazing seven-issue run of Weird Science Fantasy from EC while I was working on this. I loved the feel of those stories. I also love Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom/John Carter books. Of course, I can’t ever do sci-fi and not think about Alien. My thoughts are never far from ALien.

AIPT: There’s a prevailing sense of “genuine” reality throughout the series. How important is it to feel “grounded” in a way in dealing with such a galaxy-spanning sci-fi story?

JH: I always feel like stories, no matter how epic, need to be about the characters. Anything can happen if you care about the people in the story. I think of it most often with horror. The best horror stories make you forget about the monster or whatever because you’re worried about the relationship of the family, couple, or whatever.

With 40 Seconds, I wanted to create a story and characters that feel real…and then send them across the universe to beautiful, strange, dangerous worlds where anything can happen. You need to know these people…because you’re going to probably lose some of them once things get big and crazy.

Spending '40 Seconds' with Jeremy Haun on sci-fi, realism in fiction, and confronting readers

From Issue #1. Courtesy of comiXology.

AIPT: How would you describe issue #2? Why should people pick it up if they missed the debut?

JH: Well, first they should go back and pick up the debut issue. It’s comiXology. Snag them both and then binge read ’em.

Issue two picks up right where the first one left off. We see a whole new and amazing world and learn more about what has gone wrong. We get a real sense that everything isn’t quite as it seems with this issue. There’s more to all of this. We definitely raise more questions, but they are things that we’ll answer before this series is done.

AIPT: Speaking of grounded, I feel like the art is more nuanced and restrained than some other sci-fi stories/series. Is that part of the storytelling process? What did Christopher Mitten bring in terms of the art?

JH: My art team on 40 Seconds is just fantastic.

I’ve known Chris (Mitten, artist) forever. I wanted to write this project specifically for him. I kept thinking, “What would Chris love to draw?” As the story goes on, things get weirder and weirder. I love the way Chris can run with that and still make the story feel grounded.

Things got even better when Brett Weldele (colorist) came on and agreed to color the project. I love seeing what two artists like Chris and Brett can do together. Every issue just gets better and better.

It’s also important to bring up the design and lettering work from Thomas Mauer (letterer). Thomas and I always talk about the design — the feel of our projects. He takes that and makes it perfect. 40 SECONDS feels like both a throwback to pulp sci-fi and something absolutely modern at the same time. His lettering work also merges perfectly with what Chris and Brett do. This is a group of folks that understand collaboration and I couldn’t be happier.

Spending '40 Seconds' with Jeremy Haun on sci-fi, realism in fiction, and confronting readers

From Issue #2. Courtesy of comiXology.

AIPT: I really enjoy the methodical pace; it definitely helps with building connections. Is there the sense you’re really taking your time and slowly layering things in?

JH: That’s always tricky. I feel like I’m constantly fighting with pace. When you’re telling a story, no matter what the length you have to figure out how to establish the world — the characters enough to make them feel real and then set them off on whatever crazy thing you have to do. 40 Seconds builds. Without giving too much away, it kind of starts out as one thing and really ends up being something pretty different. It’s a sci-fi epic…that’s also bit of a spooky mystery, too.

One of the wonderful things about 40 Seconds was that we had a bit of leeway with the page count. A lot of stories have to come in at twenty pages. I get it. Hell, I like the challenge most of the time. With this book we were able to take a few moments– especially in the last issue and let them be what they needed to be.

AIPT: There’s always a ton of sci-fi series out in the ether, all with their own varying levels of quality and gimmicks. Was there any hesitation in entering the “marketplace,” and how does 40 Seconds stand out for you and the rest of the team?

JH: There’s a lot of fantastic sci-fi out there. I’ve got to be honest, though — I don’t really do a lot of calculation about the “marketplace.” I just try and tell the stories I want to tell.

Spending '40 Seconds' with Jeremy Haun on sci-fi, realism in fiction, and confronting readers

Issue #3 Debuts November 24. Courtesy of comiXology.

I mean, you don’t want to have an Armageddon/Deep Impact situation, if you can avoid it, but that’s kind of a different thing. Sometimes you see people trying to calculate what’s “hot” right now. That always feels like a mistake. There’s always going to be some kind of story from just about every genre. Tell the story you need to tell.

And that’s exactly what 40 Seconds was for us. The story we needed to tell right now. More than anything, Mitten wanted to draw something sci-fi. I wanted to do something big and fun. That’s all the reasoning we needed.

AIPT: I’ve asked other creators, but because this a ComiXology Original, does that impact how this story is told? Does it change the tone or feel or even how you write/create?

JH: Not really at all. There’s an incredible amount of freedom to working with ComiXology. They let you do your thing exactly your way.

Sure, you don’t really want to do double splash pages because of the format, but I’m always hesitant to give up that kind of story real estate anyway.

I’ve always tried to take the right project to the right company. 40 Seconds was a perfect fit for ComiXology.

AIPT: Why is 40 seconds so perfect an amount of time? Why not 30 or 60 seconds?

JH: 40 seconds is a long time. Especially when things are in chaos. 30 seconds felt a little short. 60… just a bit too long. A lot happens in those 40 seconds — something is coming for our team, and it’s not going to stop.

AIPT: Without spoiling anything, what can people expect for the story at large? Where do we go headed into issue #3?

JH: We’re building to something big. A revelation. We’re going to lose people. Maybe collect a few more along the way. This thing that’s coming after our team isn’t going to stop. So the only way is forward. Through the gate…and the next.

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