Happy Friday Co-Pilots! With snow and extreme weather all over the country this week we hope you are all been safe and maybe even taking some extra time to read a few comics.
With the debut of the Carriers Kickstarter less than a month away, we took some time to speak with Erica J. Heflin, the superb writer of our first issue. We hope you enjoy our conversation as Erica takes us through some of the origins and making of issue one.
Q: How did you first become involved in the project?
Erica: I was friends with Ben on Facebook and he put out a call seeking a writer for the project. I was deep into several comics projects at the time, but was compelled to contact him about it as well. He projects a great kind of enthusiastic energy and it's very easy to get excited about his projects. Once he told me a bit about the rough concept, centered on the pigeon Sable, everything just started to fall together.
Q: I’ve heard more than one person comment that Carriers reminds them of TMNT. The comparison is obvious in some ways, but there are many key differences (the birds are not mutants, and indeed there’s even a question of how much of this is real vs imagined). Was TMNT in your mind when you were developing the book, and how much of your planning went into making it different?
Erica: I can see where people might think that, but in truth it's a fandom that I'm not as tied to. My experience with TMNT was mostly through shared play with my younger brother during the first two films. Instead, it's rooted in the same kind of source that the Turtles are rooted in. It's at it's core a team structure book, with different characters having their own specializations and personalities. Despite the animal basis, it's a fundamental that you see in most team comics and even buddy adventure movies.
I personally went with the four core pigeons to keep the team and personality balance, but also a gender balance that is classically tilted toward the men.
Q: Why pigeons? And why New York City?
Erica: Ben had the original character idea, but pigeons have some traits that make them particularly interesting. In modern times they're often viewed a nuisance birds and aren't given much thought, but their connection to wars through their messenger capabilities opens up a lot of door.
As to NYC, for US locations it's a pretty easy place to find pigeons. Ben wanted the visual backdrop to offer the dynamics of skyscrapers, and buildings old and new, and NYC is visually stunning. Compound that with the origin myth of the 'alligator in the sewer' and it worked out perfectly.
Q: Did Ben develop the look of the characters before or while you fleshed them out? What was the process like?
Erica: Ben developed the first character even before I was involved, but afterward it was a simple matter of deciding on their specific gear. Ben did all the rest, and his designs were perfect.
Q: The Croc King is mostly an unseen presence in the first story, denying us that reveal at the end and leaving us to anticipate seeing him in later stories. Were you trying to build anticipation for the reveal?
Erica: My day job and passion has been working with reptiles in addition to my comics work, so I loved integrating that element into the Croc King story. In fact, many years ago, I cared for a couple of alligators when their rescue facility was lost in a fire, and I learned a great deal about their behavior and care first hand. I was excited to use that knowledge to build toward the reveal of the Croc King. And I will tell you, there are very few animal encounters in America that give me goosebumps the way an alligator slowly breaking through the surface of the water does.
Q: Jim O’Riley and Elias Martins did some beautiful work on the issue. Did you know you were writing for them beforehand?
Erica: I knew Jim would be involved very early on. He and I had worked together before, through some anthologies, and I knew his attention to detail was remarkable. Knowing he was on it actually encouraged the layout of many of the early landscapes, which I feel is a really strong point in Jim's art.
Elias was the artist on my first graphic novel, Mother & Son, released by GrayHaven Comics. I was really happy that Ben enjoyed his work as well, and hope that I can continue to work with them both in the future.
Q: After the first five issues are re-released, Pilot has another series planned. Would you ever want to return?
Erica: I love the Carriers world and would love to return when time and inspiration permits. This last year has been personally dreadful and difficult. There was a great long pause in my creative output as my mother's health declined and healthcare needs grew. She passed away late last year, so I'm trying to catch back up and move forward again. I can't pretend it isn't a struggle, but the positive energy that Ben and the Pilot Studios team put forward will always compel me to come back and work with them. They're really just incredible people.
Q: What’s next for Erica Heflin?
Erica: I'm slowly getting back into my creative works. Right now I'm writing short stories for the Ain't No Such Thing podcast. I'm also continuing to work with Inverse Press, writing a few shorts, but we also plan to kickstart one of my digital first books, the four issue series Space Pussycat. It's a sci-fi romp featuring a bipedal cat, an octopus engineer, and the humans that get into trouble with them. I needed some sci-fi that didn't take itself too seriously, so I wrote some!
Carriers #1 launches on Kickstarter March 1st!
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Pilot Studios is owned and operated by Ben Ferrari. An independent comic book studio dedicated to making fun comics while spreading a message of social justice, we are the home of Always Punch Nazis, the anti-racism anthology that helped inspire the unionization of Kickstarter and was denounced by Breitbart