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RICH DOUEK
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DF Interview: Rich Douek dives into a brand new world of horror and fantasy in ‘Heartpiercer’

 

By Byron Brewer

 

Atala thought she was saving the world, but hunting the great beasts wound up dooming it. Betrayed by her lord and left for dead, she awakens in a dark world overrun by nightmares, with a single mission on her mind: revenge.

 

Heartpiercer is a thrilling new dark fantasy tale from the minds of writer Rich Douek and artist Gavin Smith! I caught up to my buddy, Rich Douek, and discussed his new Dark Horse series.

 

Byron Brewer: Rich, you have often said your “earliest work in comics is deeply rooted in [fantasty]” and you see your coming comic Heartpiercer as a return to those roots. If you would, discuss those earliest works a bit here and tell how Heartpiercer is a product of your love of fantasy.

 

Rich Douek: My first two books were Gutter Magic and Wailing Blade, and both had deeply developed fantasy worlds as the backdrop. In Gutter Magic, we were in a world where a magical arms race rather than a nuclear one turned the course of WWII, and irrevocably changed the world that came after. While in Wailing Blade, we were in a far-flung future where mankind had regressed to a feudal state where power was wielded in the form of long-forgotten, barely understood technological relics. In both books, I spent a lot of time building a deep mythology to the settings, to the point where they almost feel like complete worlds that could be lived in. Heartpiercer gets back to that world building aspect, in that there is a whole system of mythology and magic at play behind the scenes that informs and guides the story, even if it’s not always apparent in the action.

 

Byron: I think Wailing Blade was the first book that I interviewed you about. Great world building there. … Talk a little about the canvas you and artist Gavin Smith will set readers down on in May, the world(s) – the mood, the atmosphere – you are building for your story to unfold.

 

Rich Douek: Gavin and I worked together to come up with a world that took some familiar elements – monsters like vampires and werewolves, for example, or the unicorn that features heavily in this first arc – and gave them a look and feel that was distinctly of the world we were building. When we travel through it, it’s a shattered world, overrun with darkness and danger, and we tried to reflect that in everything from the creatures themselves to the human survivors living there.

 

Byron: Introduce us to Atala: who was she, who is she and what great sin happens to set this saga in motion? What challenge(s) face her on her journey? (No spoilers!)

 

Rich Douek: Atala is a huntress, maybe the best the world has ever known. She, among others, was raised from a young age to track and destroy the great magical beasts that threatened mankind. Or so she was led to believe. When she takes her greatest prize –  the horn of the Unicorn, the last magical beast, the truth is revealed. Those beasts she hunted were protecting mankind, and the entire world from a great evil. And now that the world has been plunged into that, she must reckon with her part in bringing it about, and make whatever amends she can as she comes to terms with her actions along her road to revenge.

 

Byron: Can you spotlight some other characters here who will be important to this book, especially early-on?

 

Rich Douek: Sure! On Atala’s side, we’ve got a grizzled farmer-turned-warrior in Grost, and his nephew Eryn, a pair of villagers who grew up in this new darker world. Their village is under near constant assault by a pack of werewolves led by the fearsome Howler, who has a connection to Atala’s past. Another character from Atala’s past making an appearance is Blighteye, a witch and spy who serves as the eyes and ears for Kurrn, her dark lord.

 

Byron: When I think “dark fantasy”, for some reason my mind inevitably flashes back to Dark Crystal. Discuss a bit about how you marry fantasy, dark fantasy and horror in Heartpiercer. Who are some of your favorite fantasy/dark fantasy (horror?) writers?

 

Rich Douek: Dark Crystal is a great example – along with another classic of 80s cinema, Legend, starring a young Tom Cruise and Tim Curry in one of his most deliciously evil roles.  My mind also goes to video games like Dark Souls and Elden Ring, but also books like Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone, and Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman.

 

I think the wonderful thing about writing fantasy is that you’re creating an entire world’s mythology – and the deeper you go into it, the more you really think about the systems in place and the implications of the choices you’re making, the more real and alive it will feel. Pulling in darker elements like horror is all part of that – in this case, it’s creating a world where the night was held back for a long time, and now it’s all come rushing back. As we continue the story, I hope to be able to get way more into the history of the world and how it arrived at its current state.

 

Byron: Is there a BTS big-bad here (Atala’s lord, perhaps?) or does her circumstance take her so far that SHE becomes the big-bad in her own tale?

 

Rich Douek: I don’t want to spoil anything about where Atala goes, but yes, there is an overall “dark lord” type of character in Kurrn, the Black Stag. We don’t get to see much of him in this first arc, because he’s off conquering other lands, but he has a deep history with Atala, and an even deeper one with the beasts he commanded her to slay in her former life. As we move forward, we’ll learn more about his motivations, and what brought him to the point where he wants to destroy the world mankind has made.

 

Byron: Talk about the wondrous work of artist Gavin Smith.

 

Rich Douek: Working with Gavin has been amazing – the care he puts into character and setting design is evident on every page in the book. And his storytelling is just impeccable. He had to balance working on Heartpiercer with his excellent recent work on TMNT, making this book a real labor of love that I’m very thankful he made the time for.

 

I also want to take the opportunity to call out our colorist Nicholas Burgdorf and letterer Justin Birch who both did an excellent job bringing my script and Gavin’s line art to life. All together, the team created a great looking book!

 

Byron: Rich, what other projects on which you are working can you tell readers about?

 

Rich Douek: Quite a bit, actually! Heartpiercer is actually my second book at Dark Horse – the first one was the excellent Drive Like Hell, which should be hitting trade paperback fairly soon. I also have a short Cyborg Spider-Man story in Marvel’s Edge of Spider-Verse #2 coming out next month, and [another story in] the Mechagodzilla 50th Anniversary Special from IDW coming out in May, right before Heartpiercer. Both were a ton of fun to work on, and I hope fans will dig reading them.

 

I also recently announced A Phone Call Away, an OGN I’m doing with Mad Cave. It’s a tense crime story about the dark secrets behind a crime everyone thought was solved, and the price of fame. That one’s coming in August, and I’m looking forward to talking more about it in the coming months.

 

Dynamic Forces would like to thank Rich Douek for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Heartpiercer #1 from Dark Horse Comics is slated to be on sale May 15!

  



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