DF Interview: Richard Blake unleashes a strange parallel dimension in his sci-fi miniseries, ‘Hexagon Bridge’
By Byron Brewer
Explorers Jacob and Elena Armlen find themselves trapped in a strange parallel dimension of elusive landscapes and shifting architecture inhabited by mischievous entities. Now it's up to their clairvoyant daughter Adley and sentient robot Staden to rescue them!
From artist/writer Richard Blake comes Hexagon Bridge, an intricately told science fiction tale. I was understandably curious and so sat down with the creator to discuss his creation.
Byron Brewer: Richard, before we get to your miniseries, Hexagon Bridge, tell readers a little about yourself and comics. Is this your first published book, and how does comics vet Jonathan Hickman figure into you landing at Image for this project?
Richard Blake: I think like most creators, I started out as someone with an aptitude for drawing very young, then at some point discovered sequential art – either through editorial cartoons or comics – and suddenly drawing had a whole new gravity. This notion that drawing could be more than just interesting pictures – that you could actually tell a story, provoke emotions and play with ideas – was just very exciting. The first comics that made a significant impression on me were the translated European comics found in Heavy Metal, particularly the 1980s issues. Artists like Moebius, Bilal, Jimenez, Schuiten: not only was the drawing incredible, but the stories were uniquely strange and complex. I drew a few short stories but drifted more towards fine art in general. I didn't pick up a comic for many years, focusing on fine art through grad school, and eventually was showing paintings and drawings in NYC and elsewhere. I also got involved in film, doing everything in production from editing, cinematography and storyboarding and it was actually my frustration with film that made me start thinking of comics again. Film has so many moving parts, and requires a lot of people – and money – to get going. The idea of just being able to sit in a quiet room and weave a story through drawings became really attractive as a practice, so I started coming up with ideas and drawing short stories. I also rediscovered the European comics of my youth, and that really got me going.
What's that T.S. Elliot quote? “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” That has very much been my progress towards making comics.
This is indeed my first published book. Once I had a certain amount of pages done, I started posting stuff on the web and just kinda sending things out to various open submissions and showing it to people in the industry who I happened to meet – just to get an outside sense of the book. Hickman saw the work in one of those submissions and, very generously, sent it over to Eric Stephenson at Image Comics – and here we are, with the first issue about to debut!
Byron: That is awesome. Congratulations! … What was the origin of Hexagon Bridge? Is this story a new inspiration, or has it been simmering on the Blake back-burner for awhile?
Richard Blake: The book started out, like most things I do, with a random series of loose ideas and images that I found intriguing. I was reading various things on alternate dimensions as well as the John Noble Wilford book on the history of cartography. It was in that book that I learned about the Cassini family of mapmakers and astronomers, and the idea of a family of cartographers attempting to map an alternate dimension came about. So I started drawing pages, and creating characters and slowly everything started to fall into place in terms of a actual narrative.
Byron: Introduce us to Jacob and Elena Armlen. What can you tell readers about their lives?
Richard Blake: Jacob and Elena Armlen are part of larger team of scientists and explorers researching an alternate dimension of realty referred to as “The Bridge”. The Armlens’ task is to create navigable paths for safe and reliable travel. Their mission was proceeding as planned, but all contact is suddenly lost, and this is where their daughter Adley arrives into the picture…
Byron: I understand Adley is clairvoyant. Is this a talent the girl uses often, or is it one of those rare powers that really take something out of its possessor? Has she had a great deal of experience using it? Tell us what you can. Hey, she’s got a sentient robot sidekick! Cool!
Richard Blake: Adley Armlen does indeed have clairvoyant abilities – an ability that has been experimented with by the team at large – as a way of tracking anyone who enters into The Bridge. After Jacob and Elena are lost, Adley is called upon to use her abilities in an attempt to discover their whereabouts. She gets some sense of where they might be, and a rescue mission is initiated – and this is where Staden the robot arrives on the scene. I won’t say too much so as not to give away anything, but I will say that Staden takes on a very important role. He’s less a sidekick and more a central character than suggested, and definitely has his own narrative arc.
Byron: Can you introduce any other important characters here that we might keep an eye out for?
Richard Blake: The other notable character in the story is a mysterious figure named Gerardus. He seems to be someone with a lot of experience in The Bridge and understands its structure and vocabulary in a unique way. Whether he is using that knowledge for malevolent ends, readers will have to discover.
Byron: Not to repeat the solicit for issue #1, but can you give us an overview without spoilers of what will be going on during this adventure?
Richard Blake: The first issue is an introduction to all the major players in the book, even if they are not seen entirely. Readers will get a glimpse into the world of The Bridge and also the team of explorers who work out of a facility called Hexagon 12. It sets the stage, but also provides a taste of where the narrative is going and what might be seen.
Byron: So what has it been like for you, crafting this book, Hexagon Bridge, as both artist and writer? Is that a blessing or a curse (LOL) and who wins out in a disagreement most often, Artist Blake or Writer Blake?
Richard Blake: Haha! As I mentioned, the beauty of comics is this ability to just sit down and start realizing stories without depending on a ton of money or a large crew. If you have a story you are passionate about, there’s nothing like watching that unfold on paper before you. It’s not easy, especially in the beginning, but once certain things are established there is a kind of flow that takes place. The characters seem to kind of do their own thing and you become a fellow traveler in their adventures. It’s what I imagine it was like for an artist/writer like Herge and TinTin: drawing and writing this way is a form of travel and the final book feels almost like a document of those travels that readers can interact with if they wish.
Byron: Richard, what other projects in which you are involved can you tell readers about?
Richard Blake: I have another story that I’d love to tell – with similar themes as in Hexagon Bridge – but set in the past, more specifically in the early 1960s. There's also a few more experimental things I’d like to do, including using the newspaper strip format. Aside from that, I find myself showing paintings and drawings in NYC again at the wonderful Philippe Labaune Gallery. All of that is quite enough to keep me busy for awhile!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Richard Blake for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Hexagon Bridge #1 from Image Comics is slated to be on sale September 13th!
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