Hart Jeffers first got interested in comics when he’d be sent to his room by his parents. It just so happened that his room included his parents’ old comic book collections. He’d read them by the stack.
He is the author a new comic series set in Charleston. Titled “Sol,” the artistry is unparalleled. Drawn by Anthony Mingacci, who also works as a tattoo artist at Blu Gorilla Tattoo, the images draw you in and offer a kind of thrill ride for your eyes, page after page.
The story is set in the future where robots are meant to be programmed so that they maintain just enough (but not too much) personal agency. The perspectives shift and the main character, Jane, struggles with her having an unusual amount of self-awareness of having been programmed. The issues in science fiction are always philosophical, but in this case, the fantastic story does not shy from engaging with philosophical theories directly.
Hart studied philosophy at the College of Charleston. If comics were once considered “low brow,” that impression won’t be maintained by the many references to philosophical theories in SOL. This is a comic that even recommends academic books as a follow-up.
I ask Jeffers why he makes his work so philosophical.
HJ: I’ve always been in love with ideas and how ideas shape our world. My mom got me hooked on science fiction at an early age, reading the likes of Ursula K. Leguin was like an atom bomb going off in my brain. Later, when I discovered that there is a several millennia old discipline dedicated to this pursuit: that was it. When I write I either start with the story I want to write and find the philosopher that matches, OR I start with an aspect of philosophy that is interesting me at the moment and build a story out of that interest.
There’s a plan and then there’s execution. I couldn’t help but ask Jeffers how one plots out a story as complex as that in SOL.
HJ: “I have a template that I made a few years back of very small comic pages. I constantly go between those as a master plotting guide for the whole issue and the script. There is a list of all the things that have to happen in each issue. So I try to fit all of those plot items into those 32 mini pages. From there I flesh out each scene dialogue wise and draw the individual page layouts on little index cards.”
I asked Jeffers about comics in general. Why do they seem to be dominating pop culture today, for example, when they were once things you had to hide from your parents? He had an answer I didn’t expect (but perhaps should have, from someone so philosophical!)
HJ: I think the shift has been one of generational cultural norms. When I grew up, liking comics was pretty uncool, especially among the ladies. Over the past twenty years, due to the movies and the assimilation of nerd culture into the mainstream. I think that hostility has been replaced with acceptance. Harry Potter helped a lot, and so did comics and nerd culture being less reflexively hostile to women. Comics readership is now almost 50/50 along gender lines. When I was a kid that number was 90/10.
And finally, what it is about Charleston that makes it Jeffers’ home?
HJ: When I moved to Charleston it was the first time in my life that I had ever felt like I was a part of a community and that people that I didn’t necessarily know cared about me. How our amazing city responded to recent tragedies is emblematic of that fact.