Sierra Barnes is a comic creator who grew up in Northern California and moved to the Washington, DC area about two years ago! She loves history and folklore, and spends most of her time either writing about them, drawing comics about them, or researching them. She thought she was going to be a historian, but after she returned from her Fulbright Scholarship in Austria, she got bitten by the comics bug and never looked back. She thinks it has worked out pretty well! She is the creator of Hans Vogel is Dead.
Synopsis: Hans Vogel is a German fighter pilot and card-carrying Party member in World War II–at least, until he’s shot down and killed in the Battle of Britain. He finds himself transported by a Valkyrie not to Valhalla, but to the world of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, where he learns that the evils of fascism have corrupted the stories and brought the world under the heel of the evil Erlking. Along with a girl cursed to look like a fox, a boxing champion princess, and a cursed fey knight, he must undo the evils caused by fascism, learn to accept responsibility for the things he did in his life, and overthrow the Erlking and his evil henchmen once and for all!
Is your comic available in any other languages? If so, what language(s)?
Not yet! While the comic has German sprinkled throughout, I’m working on creating a full German translation hopefully in the near future.
Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
I got an undergraduate degree at the College of William & Mary in History and Germanistik, and last year a MFA in Comics from California College of the Arts.
What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
I like to define HViD as “historical fantasy”, like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (both excellent books!). The story takes place in both the real history of WWII and Interwar Germany, as well as a fantasy world based on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm (which also has a lot of historical influence). I love reading fantasy novels inspired by real history, and think that fantasy can be used as a means of commenting on or critiquing history, and that combining the two can have very interesting results.
Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
Horror! While I wouldn’t define HViD as a horror comic, I use a LOT of horror elements while writing and drawing it, and the history of classic horror films from the 1920s was HUGELY inspirational while creating this book. I highly recommend Scott Poole’s book, Wasteland, to anyone interested in the history of horror movies–it’s a great read!
What was your inspiration for the story?
I read a lot of postwar German literature that juxtaposed the trauma and surreality of WWII with fairy tales (especially The Tin Drum and Krabat), and that kind of interplay between folklore, collective memory, and history really intrigued me. I think that was the start of the premise, and then a lot of other aspects were inspired by visiting various war memorials around Germany and Austria and talking to survivors and people who could still remember the war and immediate postwar period. With fascism being a prevalent topic again, I kinda wanted to talk about brainwashing and deconstruct these fascist narratives of war and glory and supremacy and whatnot and show that it’s a lie sold to desperate people.
Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
Obviously a lot of German postwar writers like Gert Ledig (Payback), Ottfried Preußler (Krabat), and Gunter Grass (The Tin Drum), but Jason Lutes’ Berlin and Nora Krug’s Belonging have also had a huge influence on HViD. Art-wise, I’m really inspired by Mike Mignola, A. Szabla, and Der-Shing Helmer.
How long does it take you to complete one page?
Anywhere from a day to a week! Recently closer to the week side, quarantine hasn’t been kind to my motivation.
What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
I work entirely digitally on an extremely old copy of Photoshop Elements 9. It’s what I learned to draw on and now I’m stuck in the habit haha. Typically, after I’ve scripted the entire chapter, I’ll go through and do loose pencils at size for all pages in the chapter. Then I go through one-by-one. I usually go through two additional rounds of pencils, getting tighter each round, and then finalize the inks. As I’m working on inks, I’m also placing in the speech bubbles to make sure I have enough room and that the images don’t get squished. After the inks are done (that is usually the longest part), I do the flat colors, then add in effects like lighting, texture, shading, etc. etc. After all that is done, I draw in the speech bubble tails, sign the page, and save for web! Then all that’s left is to post. 🙂
Is your comic a finished work? If not, how long do you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
HViD is not anywhere near finished, but the first volume is! I’m currently at the end of Chapter 5, which I anticipate ending somewhere around June, which will be the end of the first of four volumes. I have the entire plot figured out, so there is an end, it’s just a long ways away!
How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
The earliest concept I had for Hans Vogel was from 2010, my senior year of high school. I originally planned to have Hans be a Hessian soldier in the American Revolutionary War who escapes his tyrannical CO and defects to a group of Pennsylvania Dutch militiamen, but that was changed pretty early on. I didn’t touch the comic at all throughout my four years of undergrad, and then only really seriously started rewriting and doing in-depth research and character designs for it when I was in Austria. It was another year before I ended up finally starting to draw actual pages and put it online!
What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making your comic? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
Motivation, or a lack thereof. I’ve hit a few spots of burnout and frustration, and it’s easy to get caught up in the fear that all the work you did was for nothing and it’d be a lot easier to give up now. I definitely don’t have everything figured out, and burnout is still an issue, but if I could go back in time and say to myself that five years later(!!!) I’m still making this comic and going to conventions and talking to people about it, I think that’d go a long way.
What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
I love telling stories! My favorite part of the process is kind of all of it? I work with a loose chapter outline, so I can rewrite at a page level at any point in the process before I go to inks. I like being flexible and having the ability to make changes as I go. I think making a webcomic is the best because releasing stories one update at a time once a week makes me feel like I’m in the process of telling a story to my audience, and that we’re all participating in the story as it’s happening. That’s really neat.
What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
Definitely the issue of motivation and burnout. Some days working on art is just a struggle, and that’s how it is. I wish I had a good answer for overcoming it, but really, you just gotta keep going. Someone once told me not to have “zero days”, so it doesn’t matter how much you get done a day, just as long as you get SOMETHING done every day. A little progress helps!
Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
Fritz and Uli are definitely my favorite characters to write for! They’re Hans’s best friends in life–Uli is a Bavarian spoiled rich kid who gets away with everything, Fritz is the half-German, half-Japanese stick-in-the-mud–who are also in the Luftwaffe and who have their own problems. They’re complete opposites and constantly butt heads, which makes them fun, but they’re both fiercely loyal to Hans and so after Hans’ death they’re kind of just stuck together, both dealing with it and ultimately growing closer and better as people. They haven’t shown up a lot in the comic so far, but I love the storyline I have planned out for them, and they play off each other in such a delightful way I can’t wait to tell it.
Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
Eulenspiegel, it’s sort of this villainous conscience that hangs around Hans and spews out Nazi rhetoric. I have a hard time getting its dialogue to sound horrible enough, and it always just makes me feel bad. Bad character, bad ideas. Drawing its evil monster self is fun though.
Do you have a favorite character to draw?
Hans is probably the easiest to draw at this point. I think I could draw him in my sleep by now haha. As far as favorites, I LOVE drawing monsters: the Witch, Eulenspiegel (the barn owl), the Gryphon, the Werewolf–all those bad guys. They’re super fun. I think the Witch is my favorite design, at least for all the characters who have appeared in the comic at this point.
Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Reineke! She’s one of my favorites, but I find it so difficult to make her look consistent across every page. Fox faces are hard!
Where can we find you?
Website: sierrabravoart.com (<–I have several other comics as samples in my portfolio here!)
Online store: shop.sierrabravoart.com
Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
I appreciate everyone who reads and leaves comments, and I hope you guys enjoy the story! 🙂
Shout out to ShadowBestie for editing/formatting this interview <3 <3