Dynamic Forces: Christopher, tell us about this new comic you, artist Robert Wilson IV and colorist Nick Filardi are doing for Oni Press.
Christopher Sebela: Heartthrob is a romance/crime book set in the 1970s. It's about Callie, who's spent all her life in a cocoon of sorts, living with a heart defect. When she gets a heart transplant - which is still kind of a new science back then - it changes her life in all sorts of ways. While trying to figure out her new life, Callie meets Mercer, a mysterious stranger who woos her and turns out to be her heart donor. Only she can see and interact with him and they fall in love. The only catch is Mercer was a con man and a thief when he was alive and he offers to teach her everything he knows so they can get revenge on her old job, her old boyfriend and build a new life together.
DF: It certainly sounds like a strange comic, and yet deep and maybe even soulful. I understand you have had it in the works for some time?
CS: Yeah, I first came up with it back in 2013 after trying to figure out how to do it and have been working on it off and on since then. Despite the strangeness of the plot, it feels like the most grounded of my creator-owned books in some ways. It's very much about a woman trying to figure out where she fits in a world she never has fit before. Only with more bank robberies and making out.
DF: Robert, did you do the design work for the book? Did you work closely with Christopher or were you given carte blanche?
Robert Wilson IV: From a character design standpoint, yes, I designed everything. Chris and I have a Pinterest board where we share ideas and references but ultimately I'm kind of the art director. Dylan Todd (who is wonderful and everyone should hire) does the graphic design on the book and also did our logo.
DF: Tell us about setting the mood, the atmosphere for this unique comic with your layouts.
RW: Being set in the '70s and mixing usually dispirit genres is a really interesting challenge. I'm always kind of trying to balance the intimacy of telling a story about a relationship with the more visually aggressive elements usually associated with crime storytelling. I think a lot about layouts in terms of cinematography and I've tried to take a lot of cues from the Coen brothers. Their films feel so intimate and personal, even the really harsh crime or suspense movies like Fargo or No Country for Old Men. Even when I'm drawing a bank robbery, I want it to feel personal and hopefully more immediate and dangerous because of the personal connection the reader has.
DF: Nick, Heartthrob is such an unusual book. Tell us how you chose the proper palette for this series.
Nick Filardi: Heartthrob is tough to pin down. It is a crime book, a romance book, a heist book, a getaway book. It is going to be a lot of different things to different readers and I didn't want to get in the way of that. With color, you set the tone and my first impulse was to make this a crime noir book because that's the stuff I like. As I got into it, I realized that the noir betrays all the other elements of the story. In the first arc, Callie is falling in love, and I wanted the color to reflect that. Robert's work is very optimistic in tone, and so I tried to amp that up while trying to nod to the noir with shadows on walls if the moments of the story call for it. I tried to keep it light fun and bright for the overall palette choices because despite the situation, that's where Callie's headspace is and that's the narrative I'm trying to convey. As that narrative changes, so will the palette.
DF: How has it been working with Robert?
NF: It's been great. On the page, he does a lot of the heavy lifting in the narrative with really fantastic acting and facial expressions, which makes it easier for me to convey the rest of the tone. He also manages to ride this line between giving each page clear direction while also leaving moments open for interpretation at the color phase. It makes it so that I get to get in there and be creative, but also lets us both work toward the same goals. Off the page, he is very involved with every step of this book including color, and totally open to talking color. A lot of artists just rubber stamp each page but Robert does a good job of keeping me on my toes, which is great. The more a team collaborates, the better the book is going to be.
DF: Guys, what is your favorite thing about working with your collaborators on Heartthrob?
CS: Robert and I have been friends for a while and Nick is someone I've admired from afar who is also someone I really get along with. So my favorite part is making comics with friends. There's a trust there that really helps move things along when I'm stuck working by myself in some quiet room, knowing I'm part of this amazing team that's going to create something way better than the scripts I wrote.
DF: What are your thoughts on Callie. Who is she to you as a character?
CS: Callie has a lot of bits of me in her. And a lot of people I know. I think what draws me to her most is she's been waiting for this magic moment to happen to her and now that it has, it's nothing like what she thought it would be and she has to figure out how to live even after what seems like a miracle has happened to her. She's not perfect, she's got a lot of flaws, and those are what keep me excited to figure out what happens to her next, to see how she'll react to all these situations she's been kept on the sidelines from all her life.
RW: I think that the feeling of being sidelined or maybe even held captive by the circumstances of your life is a pretty universal thing. So she is in this relatable position but ends up making these really extreme life choices after escaping from the circumstances that she felt imprisoned by. To me, she is both relatable and kind of unpredictable, which I love.
NF: Callie to me is that part of everyone that is just super naive about where everything is going when you fall hard for someone. You just start making weird decisions that you don't even realize you are making, good or bad. And you don't even care! I think Callie embodies that early on in the book.
DF: I'm a reader wanting something different. Tell me why Heartthrob is the book for me.
CS: I feel like we've come up with something that's got a lot of weird moving parts and we've made them line up in a really interesting way. It's a romance book, but it's also a crime book and a comedy and a drama and it has threads of the supernatural and the historical. I think it's unlike any other book out there, not least of which because it's one of the most beautiful books I've ever been lucky enough to work on. Even if I had nothing to do with it, I could stare at the pages forever.
RW: Heartthrob is the best crime/romance/heart transplant comic ever made. It's like Fight Club, but with making out instead of punching. Nuff said.
NF: If you have any love for any kind of '70s music or culture, Heartthrob knocks all that stuff out of the park, and you just don't see that in a lot of comics. If Jamie McKelvie's Fleetwood Mac Rumours cover didn't sell you on that, I don't know what will!