Last month, AHOY Comics announced their latest series, Highball, from writer Stuart Moore, artist Fred Harper, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Rob Steen. The sci-fi comedy series follows a space pilot who performs best when he’s deeply, deeply, deeply intoxicated. Today The Beat is pleased to present an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the development of the series, with concept artwork from Fred Harper and commentary from Stuart Moore. Check that out below, and look for Highball #1 to arrive from AHOY Comics on Wednesday, September 7th.
By Stuart Moore
Welcome, humans and other conquered races of the galaxy, to HIGHBALL! This new series from the notoriously “humorous” AHOY COMICS, debuting in September 2022, tells the story of an ace space pilot with a crucial flaw: He can only hit the target when he’s dead drunk.
The universe of HIGHBALL is a rich and varied one, filled with wondrous alien races, meticulously constructed starships, and planets teeming with fantastic, deadly creatures. So of course, when artist Fred Harper and I began to assemble this vast tapestry of speculative fiction, we turned to the obvious sources: racecars and 1970s TV. Here’s a sampling of Fred’s design work for the series.
Highball (First Attempt): One of Fred’s early innovations, seen here, was that the characters’ hair would not be hair at all, but sort of a painted-on design that they could change according to their mood. Cool, I said, pretending I understood what he was talking about. (There’s a lot of that going on here.)
This design definitely satisfied the alcohol quotient of the series, but the character didn’t really seem heroic enough. Also, the green was a little too—well, green. However, this wound up being pretty close to the design for Chuck, Highball’s fellow pilot, who’s right about all the problems in the universe and wrong about all the solutions.
Highball (2nd Attempt): This one’s pretty close to the final, though our hero isn’t yet sporting his awesome, physics-defying hairdo.
Note the careful attention Fred has paid to the uniform’s functionality, including communications, alcohol provision, and gravity. Huh. I should probably think about that stuff more.
Tak Tak & Zero: Two of Highball’s superior officers. Tak Tak is the head pilot, torn between her desire to get out there and shoot things, and her middle-management responsibilities aboard the starship Masnach. As they say in every Star Trek movie ever made, sometimes it’s a mistake to accept promotion.
Zero is the first officer, a petty bureaucrat who’s scared of just about everything. He, too, started out as a pilot; believes he was given the call-sign “Zero” because of his awesome marksmanship. But, uh, no.
Zero is also functionally in command of the ship. That’s because of the captain’s…well, you’ll have to read the book.
These guys are pretty close to their final versions here. Zero became a little smaller, a little rounder, a little more…Zero. What’s going on with his crotch in this sketch? I don’t want to know, and you probably don’t either.
Buzzi: Buzzi is another pilot. Constantly infuriated by Highball because of his seemingly effortless success, so she gives him a lot of shit. I particularly like the expressions Fred gave her here—if we do a sequel, I’ll have to give her more spotlight time.
Byter (ship): Remember what I said about racecars? This is Highball’s ride, his one-seater, his baby, the love of his combat-happy life. Once again, Fred has really thought through where the weapons and thrusters are. I particularly like the “Surprise Bottom Guns.”
The Byter also has a deeply problematic A.I. computer that appears totally resistant to reprogramming. If it were around today, it’d probably still be arguing the results of the 2020 election.
Space Corp: This is the insignia of humanity’s proud exploratory service, the institution to which Highball and his colleagues have devoted their lives. Note, however, that that is NOT a human being glaring down at us. It’s a Mentok, one of the aliens who control…well, just about everything. You know that manager you had when you worked at the 7-11, the guy that could barely dress himself but loved to order you to scrub the Slurpee nozzles? The Mentok are a lot like that.
We all loved this insignia so much, Todd Klein actually incorporated part of it into the book’s logo. Note that it reads “Space CORP,” not “CORPS.” The Mentok are all about capitalism, so long as they’re the ones on top.
Shhh’kkk’reeeEEEeee: Shhh’kkk’reeeEEEeee is Highball’s opposite number, his nemesis, the Catwoman to his…well, I’ve probably said too much. Her people are a fierce warrior race, the only one in the galaxy that ever stood up to the bullying Mentok. Yeah, that didn’t work out too well for them.
And once again, Fred has taken my basic script direction (“Uh, maybe she got a mace?”) and turned it into something cool and organic to the character. He’s really making me look lazy, isn’t he?
Mentok Station: Now we’re getting into it! That’s our starship, the Masnach, making an approach to one of the Mentok’s strongholds. This is the setting for issue #2, wherein we learn much more about the aliens who control Earth’s government, economy, and armed forces. Can you wait? Can you? You have to! Hahaha!
And that’s just a sampling of the rich universe of HIGHBALL. For more gripping space adventure, NASCAR-in-space riffs, and cheap jokes about crypto, pick up issue #1 when it hits the bullseye in September. HIGHBALL!