Interview by Anthony N. Castle
Hail is a superhero comic about a woman who crumbles into shards of glass whenever she has an episode of anxiety. Written by Miranda Richardson and illustrated by Rosanna Lam, Hail is a webcomic now being adapted to print with a story that explores conceptions of strength, gender and mental illness…
Hail isn’t your usual superhero comic but the story of Lena, a young lawyer who finds her life disrupted by her body breaking down as a response to anxiety. Is there a personal element to this story?
I was in Italy a few years ago without my usual support groups and safe spaces at home, which gave me more distress than I’ve ever felt since. I was in constant fight-or-flight mode and my whole body felt brittle, like I was made of a mesh of icy wires that could easily splinter and tear apart. I kept wishing I could just fall apart where I stood to release that anxiety and let everything go. And once I figured out what that would look like in my mind, I realised it was glass. Hail is about a woman who has that ability to fully accept and express her pain, which is a power I still aspire to myself, a power I consider to be heroic.
I think it’s important to portray an illness experience in a realistic way, so I’m not sure I’d be game enough to try writing about a mental illness I hadn’t experienced myself. Certainly, many of Lena’s thoughts came from echoes in my own head. Any fictional character you read will inevitably be derived from some facet of the writer’s personality, but I will admit that Lena became particularly close to me in my pursuit of a true representation of anxiety. Lena certainly isn’t me, but there is a recognisable autobiographical element to the story.
So you would definitely consider Hail to be a superhero comic with a focus on mental health?
Hail definitely has a focus on mental health, which is interesting to juggle alongside a power fantasy superhero narrative. We don’t see much illness narrative in fantasy fiction. Especially in superhero stories, fantasy tends to indulge in characters who are actually over-powered. The inherent confrontation with limits and disempowerment that comes with illness narrative could be considered contradictory to that theme. But there’s no reason to think that someone who has certain limitations couldn’t still move forward and find power in the ways still available to them.
Is there then a sense in which Lena is empowered by her struggles with mental health?
Lena’s power emerges alongside her experiences of anxiety. It’s a delicate thing to portray. I don’t want to make illness seem worth it or useful in any way because it’s not, but I also don’t want to imply that a person with a mental illness can never find any fulfillment or power, because that’s not true either. But that complexity is reflected in life, I think. You can’t extricate the bad things that happen to you from the good. A lot of people have no choice but to find strength in themselves they didn’t know they had when dealing with illness. My own experiences with chronic illness made me a better person. It doesn’t make the illness a good thing. But I can’t regret the things that made me who I am. That’s the complicated place where Hail exists.
Hail has certainly been building its world and story. What’s in store for the future?
The more of Hail that I write, the more I can get past the setting up stage and move deeper into character relationships and secrets. Writing it gets more fun all the time. The Shepherd, a serial killer with arms banded with dog collars who has been circling the periphery of the comic for a while, has a lot more to reveal about his nature. His first fight scene with Lena will be online on 1 July. I’m also really looking forward to showing something of Seth’s weird home life. Many of the characters have small quirks with much larger significance. And I’ll also finally get a chance in Issue 4 to throw in some romance, so I am extremely keen for that.
Hail is launching on the 25 January 2pm – 5pm at Greenlight Comics, 18 Stephens Place, Adelaide. For more information, check out the Hail book launch Facebook page.
Hail can be read for free online at hailcomic.com.