Erica Heflin of GrayHaven Comics

Mary: GrayHaven proudly offers new and emerging writers and artists a place to showcase their work, particularly in its anthology series, The Gathering. As you put the first all-women issue together – your first as an editor – what were your impressions of the quality of the work submitted by these comic newcomers?

Erica: I was unabashedly surprised by the consistent high quality level of each story submitted. Everyone always has favorite stories, but in this book my favorite is more determined by my mood than anything else. Each tale brings something unique and relevant to the book. Every lady involved brought her passion to the project and it shows on every page.

Mary: Why do you feel it is important to encourage new comic creators in the indie market, particularly women?

Erica: Simply stated – I love comics. It’s a beautiful collaborative industry that embraces and explores imagination in a unique medium. Women aren’t a minority, but our representation in the industry is. There are so many women with unique voices and we need to better represent ourselves in every medium that matters to us.

Mary: We talked a little about the history of independent comics, including their decades-long progression from 1960’s back rooms and basements (“hippie” gathering places) to the current explosion in self-publishing. What do you envision for the future of indie comics, and the prospects for up-and-coming writers and artists?

Erica: I think that the financial barriers are going to diminish as time goes by, making it easier for writers and artists to be published. Right now we have access to crowd funding options, but as print costs become more reasonable the indie market becomes more viable. The hardest part will always be marketing yourself and getting people to appreciate the work that you do. You have to be willing to push every day to stretch that audience. What I can’t wait to see – and can’t predict – is how crowd funding will impact the future of distribution. I can feel the change in the air; I just can’t wait to see its form.

Mary: Most authors write, and artists draw, while only a few comics are both written and illustrated by the same person. What are the important factors involved in forming successful writer-artist partnerships?

Erica: In any collaborative experience the largest hurdle is to relinquish a bit of control over your project. The writer and the artist are pieces of the puzzle, and each must bring passion and energy to the project. Constant disagreeing, or an effort to be entirely in control, diminishes that energy and you can see it in the end product. That said, you also need to know when to fight for the pieces that you find important. Compromise but maintain your voice. That’s the balance. That’s the struggle.

Mary: Did you have a role in developing some of the successful creative partnerships seen in The Gathering’s all-women anthology?

Erica: I did, but not to the degree that I do in other books. Many teams were already formed and their chemistry was established before I took the reins. In the case of Cassandra James and Corrina Lawson, they were women who’d respected one another’s work before coming to this issue, so assigning them to work together was natural. Their chemistry is palpable in the story and it surges with energy. In the case of Jenny Langin’s story, we needed to find an artist with the talent to tell a silent story and we had to find her in the last minute. I contacted a good friend, Deanna Hiett, who has a background in incredible ink work, but no experience in comics. When she read the story she decided that she had to stretch her wings and draw this piece and it came together brilliantly!

Mary: With such diverse storytelling and artistic styles in one issue, how did you create a cohesive book that holds a reader’s interest while allowing each comic to shine on its own merits?

Erica: In this case, I have to admit that I was lucky. With each writer and artist pouring herself into her work, there was simply no way I could have failed. When we got to the production end of the work, I tried to put visually high contrast stories next to one another to emphasize their uniqueness. This forces the reader to jump into a new mindset with each story and experience the tale on its own.

Mary: As Editor, what did you hope to accomplish with this particular anthology? Do you feel you succeeded?

Erica: My concern was always that the book would emphasize one facet of being a female writer or artist over the others. I don’t want anyone to think that women in the comic industry fit into a neat box. We aren’t all sci-fi fans. We don’t all want to tell heart-warming stories. We are diversity. I want everyone who puts down the book to realize that there are talented women of all cuts working in comics. And I believe we succeeded beyond any expectation.

Mary: I have already told you how much I loved this book. What kind of reception has the all-women issue anthology received from other comics fans?

Erica: It’s really had an incredible reception. I’ve been blown away by the feedback I’ve received. It’s always wonderful to be at a convention and talk to the people who’ve read the book. I love learning what stories meant the most to readers and why. I’ve spoken with teary-eyed women who are moved that we’ve put together a book like this. It means a lot to me that we’re able to do it and that we’ve done it well.

Mary: One of GrayHaven’s projects involves a “for all ages” theme. During our talk, I suggested that there is “something for all ages” in this particular book, and you responded, “Families of geeks are being created.” Could you briefly expand on that statement and the GrayHaven approach to “all ages?”

Erica: I was reflecting heavily on my family at the time – both in terms of my two sons and my relationship with my mother. There was a time when we didn’t share many interests, but she always supported my love of comics, sci-fi, and fantasy. Now I have sons who are “second generation geeks.” I look around and see more men and women raising their children to embrace and enjoy the things they love. It helps that popular culture makes it less taboo to be a “fan” than it once did, but really having that at home support can make a world of difference.

At Grayhaven, we’ve been to conventions across North America and just as we see more women involved in geekdom, we see more mothers cradling sons and fathers holding the hands of their little girls. They’re being raised to love all the same things, but in industry there isn’t as much available to the younger audience. We wanted to make sure that all those kids could have a book to take home, too. We want to encourage them to embrace their love of comics from a young age. This is the way we can all grow our futures.

Mary: You are a mom, and in addition to all of the work that entails, you find the time to be a GrayHaven Editor and a writer of your own comics. Can you tease us with some information on your current and future books?

Erica: I am blessed with an incredibly full plate right now. The first comic work I ever wrote entitled “Of Wolf and Woman” will be released in the next month. It touches into the paranormal via werewolves, but really is much more a story about wolf packs and family and how we struggle with loneliness. Dale McKee takes his first plunge into comic art with this story, and he’s blown me away. After that, I have “Flesh of White” with artist Amanda Rachels. I don’t want to give too much away, as this Tanzanian horror story is something unique, but I’ll tell you that Amanda and I just have some serious synergy. When I approached her with the concept, her eyes widened. Not only was she familiar with the historical basis of the tale, but it was one she’d been wanting to draw. I’m incredibly excited about it!

Mary: The cover art for Issue #1 of “Mother and Son” is a great example of form and function: a beautiful image implies that an unsettling story awaits us. Do you think that artist Elias Martins accurately captured the “feel” of your new series?

Erica: Oh, he nailed it! You can’t look at that cover and not feel like there’s a very creepy story inside. I love unusual takes on science-fiction and fantasy and this cover – which in reality is very simple – introduces two of the most important characters in the book and makes you very nervous about their existence!

Mary: In non-comics life you have worked as a reptile rehabilitation specialist. They are a class of animal that some people find objectionable. I also notice that you enjoy “creepy” storylines: coincidence or connection?

Erica: I’m going to vote for coincidence, but then I don’t find reptiles creepy at all. I have, however, studied some unusual biology as an extension of my love for reptiles, and some of those concepts twist over into my writing. I love turning biology upside-down and finding the parts of nature that we find unnatural.

Mary: Congratulations on your success, Erica. Your energy, enthusiasm, and dedication shine through your words and your work. We look forward to more great comics from you and GrayHaven. How may aspiring writers and artists obtain information about submitting their work to GrayHaven Comics?

Erica: Thank you for having me. I’m really honored be in the company of women who are walking a parallel path in embracing fandom and geek culture!

As always, artists and writers should check out our website’s submission section. We are currently in an open submission period! Best of all, we’re looking for women who want to be involved in our second All Women’s volume of The Gathering.

We also spend a lot of time on twitter, with the main account @gatheringcomic and mine @raistlyne.