Between working at a grocery store and raising a child, Barrett Stanley spent the last three years making Heartbreak Quadrant. (Courtesy Image) 

by Daniel Wirtheim

It’s been 20 years since Earth was destroyed, and Ida and Kumi are making breakfast in their spherical pink spaceship, the Red Grapefruit.

Breakfast is simulated hash browns and some real coffee that they’ve been saving for a special occasion, which is now since they’ve just gotten the call they never wanted to get.

The vintage-item collection company is going nuts for a non-genetically modified girl and being that Kumi is the only one in light years, the girls are going to have to deliver some lethal punches in just a few comic book sequences.

It’s the world Barrett Stanley has lived in for the last three years. Between raising a child and maintaining a job at Earth Fare in Greensboro, he’s completed the first issue of his comic book series “Heartbreak Quadrant, which he hopes to turn into a larger series through crowdsourced funding.

It started at the health-food grocery store as a few employees were taking their morning coffee and talking about comics. Someone had posted a Mœbius comic from the ’70s, a European illustrator known for his highly-imaginative fantasy style. Stanley had always appreciated comics and those morning chats were compelling enough to make a 36-year-old oil painter want to spend the next three years creating his own.

There was no real space to work. Stanley just sat down in his home with new inspiration stirring his mind as he started sketching. The concept came quickly.

It’s a world based on quadrants, each with it’s own distinctive feel. Earth was destroyed and his heroine’s job is to pursue Earth-items, which are then considered valuable collectables. Stanley flushes out the details, creating his own fictional pop-icons and new curse words. And like so many great comic book series, Stanley gives the world of Heartbreak Quadrant a villainous corporation that tries to control the collection trading industry. It’s a scrupulously detailed world that Stanley couldn’t quit fantasizing about, even during his shifts at Earth Fare.

“It’s tough, especially if I go into work at night,” Stanley said. “Having to make that change is hard, to pull that plug out and go clock in to the store. In a strange way I think some of the feelings of working at a company comes out in the comic. As it goes on some of those villainous characteristics come out in the characters. It has sort of this anti-corporate theme.”

To stand against the evils of his comic world, Stanley wanted two heroines that he could relate to. Ida is named after Stanley’s own tough and witty grandmother, who has a shrewd response to every situation. But Kumi is the real fighter, and she doesn’t fit the Amazonian archetype. She’s shy and endearing, with more sensitivity than one might expect from a comic book character. Some readers have told Stanley that they sensed a romantic relationship between Ida and Kumi. Others see them as completely platonic. Stanley said it could be either and it doesn’t matter.

“I think I always have been drawn to heroic female characters in movies books and comics,” said Stanley. “A lot of times they can almost be too cold. It’s like they are a badass and that’s all they are, they hate everything and they don’t have a heart. I think women are more complex, they have a more complex inner-life to me.”

Stanley designed a signature color palette for “Heartbreak Quadrant. He spray-painted color swatches of airy pastels and faded neon and scanned them into Photoshop, where he made a palette for painting over the black and white outline sketches. He wanted to step away from the digital and “sterile” feel of modern comics and create a world where John Carpenter is a relevant historical figure.

“I pick and choose things that I like,” Stanley said. “Most of it is the throwaway stuff, like an old movie or tape deck. It’s junk to us now but it gives us a value because everything is gone. The whole thing is sort of a love letter to the ’80s.”

Stanley feels good about the first issue and working on the second now. If his Kickstarter campaign reaches its goal, he’ll have the first one printed next year. He thinks this might be his ticket out of the grocery store.

“I feel pretty good about it as a piece and I feel better when I put it in front of people’s eyes,” Stanley said. “I’ve worked at Earth Fare for nine years and if I’ve learned anything it’s patience. I’m not willing to give up anytime soon.”

Check out Barrett’s Kickstarter page here or read a preview of the first issue on the Heartbreak Quadrant Tumblr page.

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