This week I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Erica Heflin, a production/editor/writer/letterer at GrayHaven comics. The first issue of her newest series Mother and Son has hit the shelves and she also has a webcomic running on the GrayHaven website called A Prisoner Of War. With Phase Two now in session, she discusses not only her history at GrayHaven but, future as well.
So, without further ado:
How did your career in comics begin? Why did you choose this medium to tell your stories versus others like novels, screen plays, etc?
I actually started in screenwriting. It was very indie level; not art school independent, but C horror. It was a lot of fun, but often I worked off of other people’s basic plot concepts, and the end results (for the productions that actually made it that far) are very low grade. For all the time and energy you pour into projects, it’s very hard to have a good looking and sounding movie on a low budget.
When I decided to fully delve into my own twisted imagination, my love for comics and desire to create an end-product that was visually pleasing pushed me away from screenwriting and into comic writing. I like the collaborative process and how tightly you can control scenes. In film the confines of budget push you to work with locations and props that are less than ideal. While comics creation has its own series of hurdles, the artistic element is much easier to control.
How did you find yourself tangled up in GrayHaven‘s fantastic efforts as both an editor and creator?
I’d pitched a couple of short stories as my way of dipping my toes into the realm of comic writing, and spoke to several members of the staff on a regular basis. As Andrew, our director, was looking for someone to run the All Women’s issue, my name came up and they asked me if I’d be available. I said yes without being entirely certain about what I was getting into, but I’ve never looked back.
Issue one your mini-series Mother and Son is on the shelf, what can readers expect of this series? What inspired its sci-fi roots?
I’ve always been an avid lover of sci-fi, but I’m also a fan of abstract biology. I studied it for a time in college and have since done a lot of work in animal husbandry fields. It’s a story sparked by biology and a love of space, in a time when our own human advances into the stars are in question. Moreover, it delves into the relationship between a mother and her child, and the emotional impact of such an (in this case) unusual family structure.
One morning I awoke and looked out the window toward the sun, and wondered what if we’re wrong? What if that fiery ball that sustains us is also here to destroy us? That was the spark that lit the series on fire.
With Mother and Son serving as a mini-series, what can we expect from you once it has ended?
I’m actually working on several projects that are in different phases of completion. Of Wolf and Woman with Dale McKee is actually the first comic story I wrote, and it will be released through Grayhaven soon. I’m also working on a Tanzanian horror tale with Amanda Rachels called Flesh of White. Though it’s supernatural in nature, it deals a lot with recent history. I’m incredibly proud of what we’re putting together there and the themes we’re tackling.
With writing both full issues and webcomics, how does your approach to a story differ for each medium? Do you prefer one over the other?
Oh, I definitely prefer full length comics. The pacing styles are extremely different. In a webcomic, you have to offer a certain amount of intrigue or amusement on each page and hook the reader to come back in a few weeks for another page. When I write in comics I like to have longer scenes and more complex action sequences. Some writers really excel in writing webcomics, but I find the single page release to be a struggle!
As a person who has dabbled in many aspects of the comic book world, what advice would you give to people looking to get into the industry?
Find your own voice. Don’t try to be “the next” or stylize yourself after a writer or artist who already exists. We don’t need a new version of someone who is already out there. When you look at the writers and artists whose work you admire, it’s not a about unlocking the secret recipe to their success. Comics are really a strange industry when it comes to getting in the door. Some people come from prose, some from film, but everyone has something out there for people to look at or read. You can’t get noticed by keeping your work to yourself. Take all the feedback that you can get, but use it as a learning tool rather than something that defines you. As you learn and grow, balance everything you’re told against your own voice. That voice is the reason you write or draw. Don’t give up on it, but always let it grow!
What is your stance on digital comics? How do you feel about the current trend of tailoring the paneling in paper comics to suit digital versions better? (For example, the vertical two-page spreads)
My feelings on the matter pull me in completely different directions. On one hand, I love that the digital medium is growing in popularity. The comic industry needs an infusion of fresh blood, and digital is one of the best paths to reach new audiences. It makes a lot of sense for companies to multi-target when designing page layouts.
However, I love double page splashes. I love increasingly artistic use of panel layout and design. Panel control is such an important part of the medium and is unique to comics, so I hate to see creators becoming more limited in their panel usage. I hope that as technology improves the limitations will become fewer, particularly for creators outside of the mainstream who want their comics to be available digitally.
What are some writers and creators that have inspired you to do what you do? Were there any particular series’ that stand out in terms of sparking your creativity?
Speaking strictly in terms of comics inspirations, the creators that have inspired me the most are Gail Simone and Terry Moore. They’re both incredible storytellers and can weave a complex character in the span of a single bit of dialogue. If I sit and dissect their work I’m blown away, but most often I simply try to read and enjoy these tapestries they’re building. I’ve never met Terry Moore, but Gail is incredibly supportive of those of us who are getting into the industry or work in any form inspired by a love of comics.
While growing up I read a lot of superhero books, but while I love reading them I ultimately can’t imagine writing them. While the depth of character inspires me, I think I draw my inspiration from many sources outside of comics. As noted, I love biology. I also love archaeology, and spent some time in Greece intending to build my life around ancient civilizations. I think everything that you love inspires you, and I find my greatest inspirations outside of comics.
Will you be visiting any con/expos this year?
I just got back from a wonderful trip to Seattle for GeekGirlCon, and it was a wonderful experience. I definitely plan to return next year, though I may have to go as a fan so that I have more opportunity to see the panels!
This year I will be at Baltimore Comic Con and New York Comic Con with Amanda Rachels, and then I’ll be doing the local Tampa Comic Con at the end of October. Next year I’ll be at Megacon and Emerald City for another adventure in the west coast! It’s a busy schedule ahead!
Thanks for your time Erica, I really enjoy the work you and everyone else have put into making GrayHaven what it is today and will become over the course of Phase Two. Any last words?
Our second phase of comics features many talented writers. Elena Andrews novel Run Like Hell is being brought to life in graphic novel form by the talented George Amaru. Additionally, Victor Gischler (Deadpool, X-Men) has teamed with The Gathering’s own Sam Tung for the sci-fi/western Titanium Star. It’s a really exciting time for us! We’re running a kickstarter to support phase 2 right now and have some incredible script and art critique rewards for aspiring writers and artists. Right now we are also running our open submission period. Information is available at http://www.grayhavencomics.com/submit/
Opportunities for writer submissions are rare in the comic industry and we really pride ourselves on being able to offer regular open pitch periods! And I can tell you that there is nothing quite like seeing your work brought to life!
- GrayHaven Comics Phase Two Kickstarter Campaign (comicsforge.com)
- Interview with GrayHaven’s President, Andrew Goletz. (comicsforge.com)
- City of the Gods interview with Steve Crompton (comicsforge.com)