A psychically damaged cop with empathy issues battles demons and angels in Head Wounds: Sparrow (Legendary Comics), a supernatural noir graphic novel created by acclaimed actor Oscar Isaac, Bob Johnson, and John Alvey. The project was developed through Isaac’s production company, Mad Gene, with Jason Spire of Inspire Entertainment. Veteran comics author Brian Buccellato wrote Head Wounds: Sparrow, while the art was created by illustrator Christian Ward.
Issac, Buccellato, and Ward spoke about the process of creative collaboration and about what drew them to the story of Leo Guidry, whose greatest challenge is overcoming his own internal darkness.
Oscar, can you tell us a little about your background as a fan of comics and graphic novels?
I started collecting comics from a pretty young age. I was a big X-Men fan for a long time—that was my comic of choice—and then Spawn. There’s something about that medium that’s always been a really exciting way to digest stories. When you read a graphic novel, obviously the pictures are there but there’s so much that your imagination has to do to connect the dots. That gives you a lot of room to experiment with the way that a story unfolds and take more risks visually.
Tell us a little about your relationships with Bob and John and how the book came together.
Bob and John have been friends of mine for an incredibly long time. We went to high school together; we made music together. We’ve always created things together. We’ve made movies together—student films. Bob has just such an expansive mind. He has terabytes and hard drives filled with writings: short stories, poems, songs, novellas. He really does it all. He has just such an interesting perspective and such a unique voice. He’s actually had quite a few brushes with death—hit by lightning twice, broken all manner of bones, had a subdural hematoma—and ultimately got diagnosed with stage-5 lymphoma. He was battling cancer when this story came to him—about empathy and the idea of having something that’s killing you that no one else can see. When people can’t see it, it’s easy to dismiss. So, that’s where this story first started.
Can you talk about how Christian and Brian became involved with the project?
I first saw Christian Ward’s artwork when it was sent over to me as we were starting to develop the comic book and I was just blown away—not only by his use of color and his imagination when it came to framing the action, but also really the way he would tell a story. He would sometimes include a panel of something seemingly very mundane, but then in the context of the story it takes on significance—the details he decides to focus on within the panels are so unusual and unique. I feel that he approaches his work almost like a filmmaker. And Brian Buccellato: I just found his writing to have a ring of truth in it and he’s such a great collaborator. He’s worked on so many different, fantastic books. I just felt so lucky we could get him on board to really take this amazing, wild world that Bob and John created and distill it into the most powerful, strongest story.
Christian, how did you know you wanted to come on board to create the art for Head Wounds: Sparrow?
Ward: Obviously, the opportunity to work with Oscar was what initially drew me to the project, but once we got talking about the story and the themes behind it, that's when I knew it was a project that I wanted to be involved in. To do a story in which empathy is its driving force felt very timely to me. I was excited by the challenge of drawing a story that was in a completely different wheelhouse to my usual cosmic space operas. I'm a huge fan of the noir-detective genre. It was thrilling to discover what this world would look like with my aesthetic and in turn how the noir aspects would change my aesthetic.
Your art for Head Wounds: Sparrow so effectively captures the intensity and tone of the story. How much time did you spend absorbing the text and storyline before you began creating your images?
Ward: We had the luxury of talking about the world, characters, and story at length before I began drawing the book, so I felt like I’d soaked everything up and had a good handle on the vibe of it. Part of it is discovery though. Of course, you must stay true to the script, and to the drama and emotion on the page, but I’ve learned to trust my instinctive way of working.
Brian, Leo Guidry, the complicated antihero of the story, suffers from an unusual ailment that transforms his world and his perception of it. How did you go about “getting inside” the head of such a character?
Buccellato: I'm not sure it's different than getting inside the head of any protagonist I've had the pleasure of writing in my career. It's about learning where they came from and what motivates their actions. It's human nature to have needs that are derived from life experiences. To get in the head of Leo, I just had to venture into darker places to understand someone who had fallen so far from grace.
Your work within the comics universe is vast. What do you feel makes this particular project so unique?
Buccellato: In terms of my career, I've been known mostly for my DC superhero work and two horror books that I did with Image Comics. Headwounds is neither of those things. It's far and away the most hardboiled comic that I've worked on. It also feels super cinematic and large in scope, which is a testament to both Christian's art, and Bob and John's worldbuilding.
For readers who aren’t there to witness the multilayered process, what do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of creating a graphic novel?
Buccellato: It's hard to pinpoint one area as most satisfying because there are so many creative checkpoints along the way that are fulfilling. The finished product is always amazing to see, the lettered pages, the pencils... it's all invigorating to be a part of. That said, collaboration is probably the most gratifying aspect for me. Writing is solitary by nature, so going on a creative journey with smart and talented people striving for the same thing can make the work super satisfying.
Ward: What was unique to this project was the amount of time we spent developing the story. It felt what I imagine a writers’ room on a TV show feels like. It was a lot of fun to bounce ideas around and develop the story together. Of course, when you finish the work, there's a magic to seeing all finished pages together lettered. That's when the art truly turns into a story.
What do you hope that readers ultimately take away from Head Wounds: Sparrow?
Buccellato: Hope. Because if Leo Guidry can still have hope after all he's done and experienced, then we should ALL be able to.
Can we expect additional Head Wounds titles? If so, what excites you most about continuing the series?
Buccellato: That's above my pay grade. But if it were to happen, stepping back into Leo's shoes on his redemptive journey would be an exciting thing to explore. Not to mention getting to work with the same truly talented and wonderful people again.