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DF Interview: Maria Llovet lets readers indulge their bloodlust in new horror series, ‘Heartbeat’
By Byron Brewer
Eva, a high school outcast, finds herself witness to a horrible secret: the most popular boy in school enjoys the taste of blood and will kill to get his hands on it. Horrified and intrigued, Eva lets herself be pulled into Donatien’s macabre world. He offers the escape she has been looking for…but how much is Eva willing to betray her moral code in order to find something that gives her life meaning? And will she—or Donatien—ever find redemption?
From BOOM! Studios comes Heartbeat, a new original five-issue series by comics creator Maria Llovet (Faithless, Loud) ... a dark, violent, decadent, disturbing story in which life and death, blood and love, are inextricably intertwined.
DF sat down with the enthusiastic and always interesting Maria Llovet to chat about the work.
Dynamic Forces: Maria, congratulations on this new limited series, Heartbeat. Tell our readers, if you would, about the genesis of this dark, rather disturbing tale. Was there some inspiration that took your mind down this path?
Maria Llovet: Thanks, Byron! Sure! The idea of Heartbeat came to mind after I saw the Japanese movie Kokuhaku (Confessions) at Sitges Terror Film Festival in 2010. In this movie (which by the way is wonderful), they mentioned a pair of girls that were fans of a serial killer.
This idea made me think a lot, the fact of being a fan or groupie not of an artist or a musician etc, but of a murderer, it seemed a very interesting concept. This brought me to think about the central plot point of Heartbeat, what if my main character was to see the person she liked doing something terrible, what would happen? Which values would be put above others in her life?
DF: Introduce us please to Eva. Who is she and what drives her actions as this story begins?
Maria Llovet: Eva is a lower-class teenager who attends an upper-class high school thanks to her mother's contacts with a rich family for whom she worked as a maid.
This creates an enormous insecurity in Eva who is mocked, even by staff members, like the receptionist when she delivers her scholarship papers, and bullied by another student in her year, Violetta.
Eva herself is the first one who feels ashamed of being lower class, though. I think this makes her perception of not belonging worse, and this creates a cycle difficult to break.
She's an unusual main character; may even not inspire that much affection, but she's interesting. For example, Eva recalls different times when she feels weak, but I think she's not really that weak. She's strong but displays weakness. And of course, she is a victim but her attitude towards it is ambiguous as the story progresses.
And there's the fact that Eva is an unreliable narrator; she is telling us her story from an undetermined future, through her own conclusions and ways of understanding and coping with what happened, even after the ending.
DF: Tell us what you can of Donatien. How did he get the way he is, and what has this done to him?
Maria Llovet: I think Donatien is the kind of person that you could watch all day, see him at his routines, or spend days with him talking about life, and after years of repeating this and thinking you know who he is, realize you don't know him at all. He doesn't let anybody in, he's completely hermetic.
The "Eva-Narrator", the one who is telling the story from the future, is totally aware of this. Only the "present-Eva", who lives everything from a kind of ironic naivete, thinks she knows him.
What's really interesting for me about him is that he's the catalyst for the rest of the actors participating in this story. He himself does not alter his "path" of action. On the contrary, it’s everything around him that gets altered by his presence. He creates a negative spiral that drags everyone who comes into contact with him.
And there's the most interesting point for me, to see how the other characters act, which decisions they make and how they let themselves be dragged in or not by that spiral.
DF: What other characters in Heartbeat can you introduce to us here?
Maria Llovet: We have the twins, Amber and Mack, whom Eva has known since they were kids because her mother worked at their house.
On the other hand, we have Violetta, who torments Eva laughing at her in public and punching her in private, but hides her own motives and fears. She presents herself as a rich, confident girl, but she's really trapped between what her family expects of her and her own inner desires, which frighten her more than she's prepared to confess.
The school and its fields are also characters, who are witness and accomplice to what happens there, and become a very deep psychological weight for Eva.
DF: You are weaving an unspoken morality play here for Eva which is reflective of similar (but not nearly as ghastly or bloody) decisions most high schoolers must make today as they become adults. Can you speak a little about that?
Maria Llovet: I don't think this is a moralist work at all. I mean, everyone can see what's going on is wrong, I don't think there's any doubt about it, even for the characters themselves. What interests me is what drives them to that path, even with that knowledge.
Meanness and selfishness are what move the characters here.
This is obviously an exaggeration, but I find it fascinating that we humans can make bad decisions while totally aware of the implications.
Also, when addressing the subject of adolescence, I always like to leave the characters as alone as possible, as detached and unaided or unguided by any parental or institutional help. Adults are mere scenery. I think it’s something that increases the feeling of isolation that is already present in adolescence, the feeling that no one understands you. Some adults forget what it means to be young, and I think the teenagers perceive that, even if unconsciously.
I took this as far as I could in Heartbeat, without completely erasing the adults from the story.
DF: Talk a little about your beautiful and unusual art. How do you use your artist’s toolbox to reflect the various moods in a comic? I find this fascinating.
Maria Llovet: It's so weird for me to see Heartbeat now comparing it to my present style! This comic was published in 2015 but I made it between 2012 and 2013, if I recall correctly. The truth is that it was very tough for me, it was a slow and painful process that led me to wonder why I was doing what I was doing.
After finishing it, I reconsidered the way I wanted to take my career and my style, where was I going because I saw the road I was taking wasn't the correct one for me.
I think the story in Heartbeat is brave, but I was still very frightened art-wise. When I finished, I was able to analyze it in a more detached way and that was a big point of inflection.
I have to say, though, that when I finish a project, I usually hate it! Ha ha! Then, after a while, I see it with new eyes and I can judge it or appreciate it in a different light.
With the perspective, I see good choices in Heartbeat that I think have aged well despite my change of style. The storyboard was the most elaborate one I've ever done and I think it shows.
I was telling you the process was painful; it took so much for me to finish the inks, and then I felt without strength to approach coloring. I stopped for a month, time I dedicated simply to draw anything I wanted. I did a bunch of semi-erotic drawings with a more loose style and I think they were the grounds to what came later. This injected me with a bit of energy for the coloring process thankfully, because I was having lots of doubts. I even considered to get someone else to paint it. But after the break and with my spirits high, I did it and I think it turned out really well.
About creating different moods, I think visual narrative is a great tool in this respect. The rhythm, the silences, they are elements than conform the scene and how it is perceived. We never have total control of how this will be received, each person who sees it sees something different, and this is an interesting part of the artistic creation, it mutates in shape and meaning for every reader.
More particular to Heartbeat, there are various oneiric scenes with some fantasy elements. They represent Eva's fantasies and add a certain tone. In those dream scenes there are flowers, specially Papaver Somniferum, the opium flower, but also smaller flowers to accompany. These smaller ones slip into the "real" world of the awakened Eva when she's living a particular moment of daydream or her judgment gets clouded, can't thing straight and she confuses her desires with what's really happening.
This is a constant throughout the work, accompanied or not by visual elements like the flowers.
DF: Maria, what other projects of yours, current or near-future, can you tell our readers about?
Maria Llovet: Right now, I've just finished the sixth issue of Faithless, and I feel like I should spend a whole year writing! I have so many ideas in my head, some from projects I already had, and some new ones, and I really need to get all this chaos in order somehow.
Between all the projects is the one I'm going to work on in the next few months. It's a story that has been with me for a long time now. I finished writing it last year but I felt it had become a very open project and had lost some of its initial essence. So I reduced it again and I'm rewriting it with a new focus that I think it's going to work better.
It's a project about witches and magic, but in very different terms as the magic that appears in Faithless for example, and has nothing to do with an illustration series of witches I did some months ago.
I really love this project, I can't wait to start working on it. But it's also possible that I change my mind again and start making another of the ones I have in mind, it has happened to me before! Until I really start, there's no way of knowing with me, ha ha.
In any case, I don't have much time, because next year I have more commissioned work in sight... I don't know if I can say anything yet, so I won't!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Maria Llovet for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions. Heartbeat #1 from BOOM! Studios hits stores Nov. 20th!
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