Disclosure: Jim and Alli Perry are the administrators of Comicadia, the webcomic collective that sponsors Under the Ink. Participants in the Webcomic of the Week column are selected mainly on a first come first serve/volunteer basis, plus occasional direct contact with creators. Professional favoritism, quid-pro-quo transactions, and bias—political or otherwise—are not involved in selecting the creators featured in and interviewed in this column.
An entertaining romp that proves even the most painfully clichéd of genres still has some life left in it.
Hasera Keenar is one trainee out of many. Just judging by how she presents herself, it’s very easy to forget that she’s the offspring of Keenar the Venerable, one of the greatest and most influential healers in the entire realm of Alteria… if not the greatest. Like the other recruits at the Academy she attends, Hasera will one day be bound to one of the Champions who protect Alteria’s nine realms. Champions like The Lark, whom Hasera absolutely idolizes, whose epic feats of bravado has inspired countless legends, bardsongs, and… choice other artistic depictions.
There’s just one tiny problem… well actually, two. First, Hasera can’t heal her way out of a moist satchel. And second, The Lark may not exactly be the winsome, chivalrous hero she imagined…
So begins My Hero!, which at the time of this article, is well into its fourth chapter with over one hundred pages of content. The creators, Jim and Alli Perry, are a husband and wife team—Jim handles the writing and Alli takes over the artwork and visual design—and My Hero! has their combined love of online games, high fantasy, and sword and sorcery flowing through every single magical iota.
Sometimes My Hero! showcases peril, mortal danger, and situations that generally… well… need a hero. But there’s a certain zaniness about the whole thing that makes even intense scenes have a bit of charm.
The comic is set in the world of Alteria, a world consisting of nine realms that seemingly overlay each other, each with its own God. It’s a setting that allows for and indeed promises a truly immense amount of visual diversity, and Alli Perry’s cartoony and dynamic visual style—which smashes together influences from ancient (Ralph Bakshi) and modern (Ian Jones-Quartey) with all the force of a giant’s club against a stable-boy’s skull—is set to handle all of it with aplomb. There’s simply never a dull moment in My Hero!, with colors practically exploding off the page and characters finding themselves in all manner of hapless situations. My Hero! can also be heavy on the visual, unspoken comedy for those who love such humor; it’s hard not to at least chuckle when Hasera painstakingly peels her gigantic, deluxe, beefcakey poster of The Lark off the wall next to her bed as she packs her things.
My Hero! has no shortage of delightfully cheesy fantasy: lanky and pompous elves, fel demons, dwarves with so much hair you can’t see their faces, wizened wizards with beards as long as their forearms, buff and sharp-jawed swashbuckling heroes, and scantily-dressed, Brobdingnagian-breasted damsels all abound in the world of Alteria. But hold your harlequin romance novels: these characters may draw from classical archetypes, but they’re hardly clichéd. They live and breathe in real time, feeling much less like stock characters and much more like people; Alli and Jim show off their deep love and appreciation for sword-and-sorcery in My Hero!, and they know enough about the genre to let the strengths flourish while keeping the flaws at bay. Hasera and The Lark make an extremely effective and entertaining pair of protagonists, playing off each other in ways that are simply rarely seen in comics. And what’s more, Jim and Alli are not afraid to poke fun at their own influences without verging into disrespect: one of the funniest examples involves The Lark having an entire in-universe series of trashy romance novels written about him.
My Hero! features what promises to be an expansive sandbox world, and all manner of intriguing fantasy races abound. This page spotlights three of the horned, demon-like Abyssals.
The world of My Hero! may seem rather complex and daunting (writer and worldbuilder Jim Perry goes over his approach to crafting the setting in the interview below) but give it a chance: it makes for an enjoyable afternoon read that never once fails to entertain, even if you’re horrible at trying to pronounce fifteen-syllable names or trying to remember the most built, statuesque lad in all the land (spoiler: it’s The Lark). Thanks in no small part to the creators’ aforementioned love of the genre, My Hero! is also a comic that never stops being aware of itself. As a result it mostly dodges many of the pitfalls that plague fantasy stories, such as an ensemble cast so massive it fractures the flow of the story and bogs down the comic (Drowtales in particular unfortunately suffers from this problem), conlangs and world elements that obstruct the reader’s understanding of the world instead of enhancing it, and hamfisted dialogue that crosses the line from cheese to cringe. If you’re more of a greenhorn than an Order recruit when it comes to fantasy comics, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better starting point than My Hero! And if you’re a jaded veteran who has long since become sick of the genre’s tired tropes and contrivances, you’ll get as many knowing laughs out of My Hero! as there are hairs on The Lark’s chiseled, manly barrel chest. Yeah.
The sword and sorcery genre needs a hero… and My Hero! may very well be the Champion everyone’s looking for. A fantastic read.
My Hero! has quite the cast of characters. Which ones were your favorites to design starting off and why? Which ones are now your favorites to write and why?
- Alli: My favorite characters to design are between Abyssals and Seraphs. They each have their own uniqueness to them, the Abyssals with their horns, claws and long hair and the parakeet-like Seraphs with their colourful wings and sparkles.
- Jim: My favourite character to write is hard to say because the story focuses around much more than just a single character and their experience. It revolves around all the characters and how they interact with not only each other, but the world around them. If I had to choose, I’d have to say that out of the entire cast, my favourite to write for is Magnus – even though he hasn’t shown up in the story, yet.
Every scene with him is like watching this horrific trainwreck that you can’t turn away from. The way he talks and the way he acts makes him one of the most amusing characters to write for, but for him to work, he needs an audience. It’s like reality TV – people don’t want boring. They want excitement, travesty, and the occasional rage-induced blackout.
What about aspects of the world, lore, and backstory? Which tidbits are your favorites?
- Jim: The lore of My Hero! is twisted, to say the least. Every part of it is fun to try and figure out a way to reveal it without having to do a huge exposition dump. I personally dislike when characters go into huge speeches about something everyone in their world should know about. So, we play with name drops, breadcrumbs, and visual clues.
For background noise, I like to continually make the world of Alteria grow. I have a document with the entire lore of the creation of Alteria, how the Gods arrived, the entire societal breakdown of each of the races – including what they are like as a default, taboos among their own people, where they rank in beard glory (hint, Delvers have that one at max), how they view the other races and which God-slur they won’t say because either that God is a friend of theirs, or because they don’t agree with the slur itself.
When it comes to the lore, though, I think my favourite thing to do in My Hero! is write about the terrible family relationship of the nine Gods. Their squabbles, how they came to be, different legends some may have been involved in. Like the story behind how they each gained followers, how it was originally a plot by one of the Gods to spy on his siblings and how the other Gods eventually found out and turned it against him. Good times.
I can’t really say what my truly favourite story is, however. That would put the overarching plot of My Hero! in the light. Just keep an eye out for something that doesn’t quite fit. I’m sure some people already have an idea, but I like to play with expectations.
What was the rationale behind making the main protagonist, Hasera, a healer?
- Jim: Healer is a bit of a misnomer for Hasera. If she had a magical healing club that would make you feel better when she hit you with it, then she could be a healer. Truth be told, the decision to make Hasera a healer stems off of the relationship between Alli and I.
Most people think of a healer as a timid, quiet and shy person. Whereas whenever Alli plays a healer in any massively multiplayer online game, you can bet your sandwich that if you step in the fire, she will beat you to death with her staff, resurrect you and then beat you to death again for having given her the stress of having to beat you the first time.
We took that sentiment when we went in with making Hasera (inside scoop, her original name was Hasina, but there was some kerfuffle and we changed the name. Hasera works better, anyhow). We just went a little bit further and decided to play with some of the politics that happens in the world of Alteria.
With Hasera’s dad being one of the best (if not THE best) healer across the nine planes, everyone would think that his daughter would be a natural. Turns out, she can’t heal a houseplant (there is literally a planned short story about her first week at The Academy about this. It doesn’t end well for the house plant, but at least she meets Lu). No one wants to disappoint Keenar, however and they just keep passing Hasera forward by focusing on the non-essential parts of Guardian training – like survival and strategy.
Then, when it’s finally time for people who could actually stand up to Keenar to put her in her place, she goes and gives them the sword of Damocles and puts herself on the table with a smile. Not only does she get what she wants, but if she and Lark die, there’s a plethora of problems that will be solved.
If you had to pitch the comic to a first-time reader, which characters and significant events would you spotlight?
- Jim: I would probably spotlight the end of Chapter 2. From the point where Hasera walks into the bar. That scene sets the stage. It not only shows what Lark is about and how jaded he is, but is also shows how Hasera is so hard-headed that she willingly puts her life on the line to prove she’s right. We all know how that went.
This kind of interaction, especially the first exchange between the two is important, true to both characters. I hope that it will not only make the readers want to have Lark get what’s coming to him, but also stop and think about times in their lives where they had the same “Well! I’ll show them!” mentality that wound up leading to a heap of trouble. Trouble that could have been easily avoided if they had just stopped and appraised the situation.
If that didn’t get them, the following chapter with the Abyssal wyrm would hopefully pique their interest. I mean, it is a giant wyrm. Who doesn’t like them? They’re adorable!
My Hero! has a world more richly detailed than many other comics we’ve featured in this column. What are some of your favorite parts about the world? And finally, do you have any advice to share for aspiring worldbuilders?
- Jim: My favourite part about the world of Alteria is the nine overlayed realms that make up Alteria itself. This idea of nine different Gods having had their own playgrounds and altering them to their own desires, but still having the same general landscape makes for a lot of interesting things that we as the creators can play with.
We plan to bring to life the terrifying death-jungles of The Savage Lands of Kurthal where the plant life could eat you alive. We have great design ideas for the Forever Blooming Garden of Lo’Ani where everything is bright, colourful and the trees are simply massive stems of oversized flowers. We have 8 of these to show off – each having its own specific look, feel and lore that we plan to hint at, explore and sometimes debunk.
I see a lot of people plan large plot points and massive, earthshattering reveals, but because the world that these great twists happen in feels stale, it misses the impact because there was no time dedicated to getting the reader invested in something other just the main character(s). Just remember to keep it in the scope of your story. If the setting is a high-school, build around the high school, classmates, parents, teachers and perhaps the occult followers that are running the show from behind the closed stalls of the third floor bathroom… you don’t need to add what’s happening three continents away.
One bit of advice that I would like to stress is that the world around the main characters must not feel like a paper cutout for the heroes to stomp through. Stories/worlds should feel lived in. People should never be seen as one-dimensional set pieces, but instead have their own flaws, virtues, vices and agendas – as should the towns, kings, space emperors and whatever else has an impact on the way the world of the story works.
Think to yourself: why did the world evolve this way, what conflicts led to this state of being, how have characters’ views been altered by the world around them, and what would these characters be doing on their own time? You don’t need to explain the entirety of the universe in a text crawl, but hinting at the larger picture through commonplace, day-to-day interaction gives a lot more believability to a world than simply telling people “this is how it is.”
Do you need a hero to come along, with the strength to carry on? Check out My Hero! as well as the creators’ social media profiles here: