Actor Oscar Isaac remembers poring over comic books as a kid, but he never imagined that one day he would help create one of his own. In a keynote conversation with Heidi MacDonald at the U.S. Book Show on May 23, Isaac described his new graphic novel Head Wounds: Sparrow as a "labor of love" undertaken by a collaborative team of visionary writers and artists.
Head Wounds: Sparrow, which will be published by Legendary in August, was codeveloped by Isaac and Jason Spire, written by Brian Buccellato, illustrated by Christian Ward, and created by Robert Johnson, with a story by John Alvey and Johnson. Longtime friends of Isaac, Alvey and Johnson first approached him with Head Wounds as an idea to possibly develop into a serialized television show. But the story, Isaac said, "was so fantastical, and the scale of it is so big," that the graphic novel format would ensure they wouldn't have to sacrifice their vision or limit their imaginations to fit the constraints of a production budget.
Cale Boyter, a producer on the 2021 film Dune, in which Isaac starred, agreed that Head Wounds would be a good fit for the comics arm of Legendary, where Robert Napton soon helped to spearhead the project. The graphic novel format ensured, Boyter said, that the team would be able to "tell the story the way we want to tell it without having to edit it down." Isaac's new production company Mad Gene Media, which he cofounded with his wife, Elvira Lind, also signed on to produce the graphic novel. "We are in a time when [graphic novels] are taken quite seriously," Isaac said, "and there is a much bigger opportunity to be able to bring these wild stories to life."
Head Wounds tells the story of Leo Guidry, a dirty cop in New Orleans. One day, he is visited by an otherworldly presence and suddenly begins to take on the wounds of the citizens he is sworn to protect—"a kind of stigmata," Isaac said—until he changes himself for the better and cultivates empathy for others. "You can imagine different people in authority would be more apt to do the right thing if they were literally feeling the pain of others," Isaac added.
Ward, Isaac said, was the ideal artist to illustrate Head Wounds. He loved Ward's "cinematic" sensibilities, and praised in particular how his visual storytelling foregrounds "beautiful details" and "elements that seem almost mundane." Moreover, he admired how Ward "relishes the use of color," often infusing psychedelic elements into his work.
"Comic books influenced me so much," said Isaac, who collected X-Men and Spawn comics growing up. "The way these stories are told and the mythic quality of them—to be able to use these genres to tell really emotional, personal stories within these genres is really fun for me." Just as his most recent television project, Moon Knight, uses the "language of the superhero genre" to tell a story about trauma, Isaac feels Head Wounds tells a story about empathy and hidden pain using the language of noir, the supernatural, and paneled storytelling.
"Creating IP from the ground up is an exciting thing," said Isaac. He expects that readers will see more of Head Wounds in the near future, as plans for forthcoming installments have already been mapped out. "I hope people love it as much as we loved making it," he said.