Comics BOOM! Meet Alex Heberling, who proves UFOs are scariest when hovering over Columbus

Justin McIntosh, Columbus Alive

There's something particularly unsettling about pictures of UFOs when they're hovering over landmarks you recognize. Case in point: Alex Heberling's web comic "The Hues," which imagines "Sailor Moon" and "Independence Day" colliding at high speeds.

The comic begins in the Arch City, with our narrator, Samhita "Sami" Raju, sitting on her bed, behind her a wall of sprawling clues. Sami starts her web video recounting the UFO's appearance some "forty-two days ago … in the dead of night," and the hexagon-like symbol it continues to project over the Columbus skyline. The symbol, the President tells us, is thought to be some sort of clock counting down to some undefined date. The apocalypse perhaps? While half the city, Sami says, is just "trying to keep going like normal … the other half is saying 'to hell with it.' Like it's the end of days."

Sami, of course, is doing neither. She's seen the symbol for years in her dreams, and she wonders if she's not alone. Soon enough, she finds her answer, kicks some alien ass by tapping into some unknown well of superpowers and sets about saving the world with others like her.

Heberling started the comic as a 12-year-old, but back then it was simply a written book. She gave up on it for a while, pursuing other web comics (like a "Clerks"-esque slice-of-life yarn and a fairytale-inspired series).

Now she's weeks away from a printed version of the web comic arriving at her front door thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that saw her raise nearly $9,000 from almost 300 backers.

It's easy to see why "The Hues" has caught on. Not only is the story fast-paced, enthralling and beautifully drawn, it allows Heberling to incorporate her more recent influences like the body acceptance movement and diversity representation.

"That's become very important to me with 'The Hues,' because when it started it was not that at all," Heberling said. "There was one non-white person of color and none of them looked particularly different from each other except for hair and eye color and that kind of thing.

"Honestly a lot of it was from Tumblr, learning about representation and the structural racism in entertainment and media and how roles in Hollywood get whitewashed so often. In the process of three to four years, learning about that fueled me in resurrecting 'The Hues' because I didn't really know what to do with it for a long time. It was just sort of like this trite magic girl fan fiction I wrote when I was 12. Learning about that helped me sort of realize I could make this something really special and different, hopefully something that could inspire girls 10 to 12 years old today the way that 'Sailor Moon' did for me back then."

Heberling's since noticed she's not alone with these desires to expand the comics world. Her series of plus-size fashion drawings accompany her to conventions, and inevitably they draw attention.

"Girls will come up and look at these things and they'll see the giant 'Hues' banner and the main character, Sami, is Indian-American and they're like, 'Wow, this is so different from everything else I'm seeing in this gallery.' It's exciting to see and hear that people are noticing.

"It's really cool. Small change is happening and it can only ripple out."

Photo by Meghan Ralston

Alex Heberling

Age: 29

Neighborhood: Clintonville

Hometown: Toledo

Influences: "'Sailor Moon,' a bunch of peers and web comics, and lately the body acceptance movement, diversity and representation."

Describe your work in one sentence: "'The Hues' is about post-apocalyptic magical girls fighting aliens."

Twitter: @alexheberling