We recently caught up with Ben Jelter, creator of the comic Heliosphere to discuss life, love, and his latest passion project. In theory, that’s true, but most definitely less Entertainment Weekly than it sounds. Take a read and discover Jelter’s story-telling roots, his love of sci-fi, and his fascination with shapes.
AP2HYC: How did the idea for Heliosphere come about? What drew you to science fiction?
Ben Jelter: As a child, my dream was always to be an astronaut. My grandad (Tor Hagfors) was the director of the Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy, so he got me interested when I was pretty young.
Some of my favorite books to read are science fiction, but after writing quite a few comics I realized that they were all surreal rather than sci-fi. I had a ton of sci-fi ideas that I had written down over the years but never utilized, so I decided to wrap them all together into one huge story.
Another factor that I can’t deny is that I have become frustrated with the way that some comics and movies use sci-fi as a sort of ‘skin’ for action movies instead of a vehicle for cool ideas. Ideas have always been the most appealing aspect of sci-fi to me.
AP2HYC: There are so many detailed mechanisms to this comic; it’s so wonderfully complicated. Can you take us through your writing/drawing process?
Jelter: Thanks! I really wanted to build a convincing world. For the story, I start with a small summary of the story and then draw a bunch of characters. Then I write a more complete plot synopsis. Since this project is very big I am still working on the parts that are years away but the script for the next few chapters is usually finalized before starting on them.
For the world I just thought about a lot of the things that I like to draw and asked myself what kind of world could actually produce all of these things if I had to actually explain it.
AP2HYC: Why did you decide to title your comic Heliosphere?
Jelter: I know that a lot of people say that it’s best to work with creative limitations but I’m not a big fan of that idea. As a sort of joke on creative limitation I said to myself, “My creative limitation is that the entire story has to take place in our solar system.” The Heliosphere is part of the outer boundary of our solar system so the name seemed appropriate.
I also figure that there will probably be a very long period of time where humanity has the capacity to colonize the solar system but not travel to other stars. This story takes place during that period in human development.
AP2HYC: All the characters are individually styled. How do you come up with all these designs for characters without overlapping? What were some of the characters’ inspirations?
Jelter: I’m a big fan of mutants and cyborgs. I feel like there were a lot more interesting designs for characters in shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than there are in modern sci-fi. One of the biggest tricks to making characters distinctive is shape design. As long as each one has a unique shape they will look different. I think that many artists know that, but the thing that is often overlooked is the idea behind a character. Krang was a brain controlling a robot body. That’s pretty cool! Mutant turtles are cool, too! Shapes are for people’s eyes, but I think that we should try to engage the brain too.
AP2HYC: You dedicated Heliosphere to your dad. Have some of his bedtime stories crept into your story-telling career?
Jelter: My dad was a great artist and storyteller. Watching him draw as a kid was very inspiring. When I was young, he would tell me a bedtime story about a pirate girl named Janette. She had stowed away on a pirate ship and become part of the crew. Every time the story would continue and he’s make it up as he went along. I think that that is part of the reason that I decided to have a female protagonist when I started doing a long, continuous story. Pirate stories were the adventure/exploration stories of his generation. He dreamed of sailing of seas and I dream of going to space (maybe Heliosphere will take place in space at some point in the future!).
AP2HYC: What can fans expect next from you and Heliosphere?
Jelter: I just started on the second book of Heliosphere! It’s called Plasma Burn and you can read the first chapter on the website: Heliospherecomic.com. It will take some time before book two is finished, but book one is available on Amazon already.
Have you delved into Heliosphere yet? Tell us your thoughts in the comments, or send your thoughts over on Twitter!