Traveling Through Space: Interview With Mike Maihack

GameStop, Inc.

c0c3646605160a7e9d9a40.L._V343415865_SX200_Ancient Egypt and outer space are two cool topics. Did you know that the pyramids and other ancient monuments are placed in a specific way to mirror the night sky? I always wanted to see Egypt and see the stars from the pyramids. It didn’t take long for me to buy a ticket and get attached to a tour group to see the pyramids. In order to accomplish my goal, I abandoned the group in Khufu’s pyramid, hid in a passageway, and waited for nightfall. With the stars glowing brighter than at home, I scaled the pyramid bit by bit and thirty minutes later (plus never scraps and bruises) I made it to the top. Just as I was about to set up my telescope, I discovered someone was already up there. Mike Maihack was there to draw inspiration for his series Cleopatra in Space. I let him borrow my telescope and he showed me his sketches while we talked about his comic career.

Whitney Grace (WG): Who are you and what made you decide to pursue a career in comics?

Mike Maihack (MM): My name is Mike Maihack (or so I’m told) and I’ve always been fascinated with stories. Because drawing is one of the few things I felt I was able to do on a halfway decent level, I thought comics would be the easiest (if not the only) way to express my own ideas. Which is kind of ridiculous, because creating comics is not easy. It is very, very difficult. But it is also very, very fun so it makes it even more difficult to stop.

WG: Did you do singular art pieces before moving into comics or vice versa?

MM: It’s tough to look back that far, but I believe I started immediately with comics. I was really into newspaper comics—The Far Side, Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbe, and other stuff like that—so the main reason I got into drawing in the first place was out of a desire to do something similar. A lot of it was simply creating characters for comic strips that would never happenor creating stuff with friends, but drawing comics has always been the end goal.

WG: What comics did you work on before your current project?

MM: I drew a webcomic for about six years called Cow & Buffalo, which was essentially a series of conversations I had in my head personified by bovines. It was a ridiculous, comedic series of strips that always seemed to spiral into these long, out-of-control storylines. Before that I made it about two issues into an (intended) epic fantasy comic called Seed, which featured faeries, pirates, mushroom folk, and all sorts of stuff I wanted to see a weird Jim Henson movie about. It was horrible of course, but I still think there are a lot of good ideas buried in it that I could dig up and use elsewhere.

WG: Were your Batgirl and Supergirl comics a fan work or were you hired by DC? Either way they are fun.

MM: Thanks! I draw them just for fun. I simply love the characters and I guess I kinda wish I was writing them? Haha. They initially started when my friend, Nate Cosby, knowing my love of the characters, challenged me to draw a one-page comic with them. It was so much fun I’ve found I can’t stop, even if I do find the time to draw them only once a year.

WG: What are your personal favorite comics/graphic novels?

MM: Well, Jeff Smith’s Bone is the series that made me make the switch from wanting to create newspaper comics to longer serial work. I discovered that right around issue six and it’s been my biggest inspiration ever since. I’m also a huge X-Men fan. I own every Uncanny issue from like 1990 to present. Other than that, let’s see…Darwin Cooke’s Parker series of adaptions are wonderful. Craig Thompson’s Blankets blew me away. Urasawa’s Pluto was amazing. Batgirl: Year One is a favorite. I read anything written by Brian K. Vaughan or anything drawn by Chris Bachalo. I literally could fill up this whole interview with comics that inspire me.

CiSWG: What is Cleopatra in Space about?

MM: On the surface it’s about Cleopatra, the actual Cleopatra, who’s been transported to the future as a teenager in order to fulfill a prophecy that she’s destined to save a faraway galaxy in danger of being conquered by an evil threat. There are talking cats, ray guns, robotic mummies, algebra, you know—everyday normal teenage stuff. Behind all that, though, is a container where I store a lot of the ideas that are important to me. Stuff like faith, skepticism, hope, and fate, and how those things affect the lives of the characters I’m writing. Creating a character like Cleo allows me to explore some of these larger themes in really fun and exciting ways without being heavy-handed with the reader.

WG: What were some of the inspirations that led you to create a comic about a teenage Egyptian queen in the future? Do old 1950s science-fiction B-movies factor in?

MM: Oh yeah. Old sci-fi movies are definitely the biggest inspiration, mostly the ones I saw during the years of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Combine that with UK shows like Red Dwarf and Monty Python, and that’s probably where a lot of my dry humor originates from. But also series like Buck Rogers, Duck Dodgers (of the 24.5 Century), and Flash Gordon. In fact, if Cleopatra in Space is ever made into a movie, Queen should probably do the theme song.

Doctor Who is a series I discovered more recently and it has certainly crept in as a major influence. Mainly in terms of how well it blends both playful and threatening tones. The likeness of Brian in Cleopatra in Space is actually based on David Tennant, who played the tenth Doctor. And of course there’s Star Wars and Star Trek, which are probably the most obvious influences. Ancient Egyptian culture is so fascinating that blending the little of what we know with the concept of space travel makes for an infinite number of fun ideas.

cleo_cover02_printWG: Did you do any historical research on Cleopatra or rely more on the romanticized version?

MM: A little of both. I wanted to be accurate as to who Cleopatra was but not necessarily who she is, if that makes any sense. There are certain aspects of her life—or what we actually think we know of it—that I’m purposefully going to gloss over or ignore, and things that I’m going to transfer into other facets of her personality. For example a snake wrapped around the hilt of a sword that appears in the first story arc of the comic: I don’t come out and say it, but that particular snake is an asp. Just a minimal amount of research about Cleopatra could foreshadow what that means for her. Likewise, her known resistance to authority, her reclusive yet aggressive attitude toward leadership, and her famous magnetic charisma: all of these still remain a part of my version of Cleopatra, but the goal is to take these things and create an eventual heroic protagonist out of them. A chance to give redemption to a character unaware that she needs it so to speak.

It also might be important to note that Cleo is transported to the future as a teen. Anything that happened in historical Cleopatra’s life after that has now been completely tossed out the window for the purposes of my story.

WG: Most male comic book creators I have met write and draw about male heroes. Why did you decide to go with a heroine?

MM: Interesting question. I honestly never really put much thought into it. I mean, what’s the difference between writing a male hero and a female one, other than the way you draw them?

I suppose there is a part of me that might relate more to females than males. I grew up with two sisters, my very first best friend was a girl, 90% of my cousins—all girls…let’s just say I was surrounded by them. So for a while, I always found girls easier to talk to. Of course that all changed once I became a teenager, but I think my initial inclination when it comes to creating new characters develops from those early relationships. Or maybe I simply prefer drawing girls. Or a combination of both. In Cleo’s case, it was really more about having this character I already enjoyed drawing, and then the opportunity to further expand her story and the world around her.

WG: How and what do you use to draw the comic?

CiS2MM: It’s an insane hybrid of digital and traditional methods. I digitally draw my layouts in Photoshop using a tablet. Once those are approved by my editor, I print those to my page size (7×11) and trace them onto 9×12 bristol using an Autograph LightPad. Then I essentially redraw each page in blue lead, ink them with a micron, scan them back into the computer, and do more digital and touch-up work in Photoshop. This is done two to three pages at a time until the whole comic is drawn. Then I move on to coloring, also done in Photoshop.

The second book, which I just finished drawing in March, will likely be my last major comics work using this method. Almost positive I’ll be moving to 100% digital from here on out. Hopefully on a Cintiq.

WG: How did cats eventually evolve and gain sentience?

MM: You ask as if that hasn’t already happened.

WG: If and when Cleopatra is returned to her time, will she be returned at the instance she disappeared or will more time have passed?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see! I will say, though, that as a result of her disappearance, the entirety of Earth’s timeline has been severely altered.

WG: Can you reveal any further plot details about future books?

MM: Hmm…there might be a potential love interest coming up in Cleo’s future. Anyone who might have some knowledge of her past—her real past—can take a stab in the dark at who that could be. But they won’t get along at first. Or for a while, for that matter.

WG: Lastly, do you have anything to declare?

MM: I declare this interview a success!

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