Bechko & Hardman Go to "Heathentown"

Coming fresh off a run on "The Crooked Man" for DC Comics' web venture Zuda, the married creative team of Corinna Sara Bechko and Gabriel Hardman turn to the old fashioned ink and paper format with a black-and-white graphic novel from the Shadowline imprint at Image Comics. Bechko, an experienced writer whose day job is that of zookeeper at the Playboy Mansion, and Hardman, a Hollywood storyboard artist on such films as "Spider-Man 3" and "Superman Returns" and illustrator of such Marvel titles as "Monster-Size Hulk," sat down with CBR News to talk about "Heathentown."

Heathentown follows Anna Romano, a woman who sees her friend brutally murdered while studying in Africa. When she attends the funeral in a tiny town in the Florida Everglades she finds that things aren't what they seem, and, in an attempt to discover the truth, digs up her friend's coffin, unleashing an ancient malevolence bent on her destruction.

"So many recent horror stories are played tongue in cheek," Hardman told CBR. "We wanted to create a scary story with a lot of twists, turns and crazy horror violence thrown in!"

"While crafting 'Heathentown' we tried to confront the horror aspects head-on," Bechklo said. "What would it really be like to see a monster? Terrifying yes, but also awe-inspiring."

The story focuses on Anna, of who Bechko said, "She is the outsider who gets pulled into a situation in a tiny town where she must contend with bizarre, possibly undead creatures. I think all she really wants is a rational explanation. Of course, she will never get one since humans are not always rational."

Bechko attributes inspiration for "Heathentown" to simply having called the Sunshine State home. "I defy anyone to grow up in Florida and not believe that there are monsters in the swamps! How could there not be?" she remarked.

Bechko grew up in Sarasota, Florida, on the Gulf Coast about an hour south of Tampa. "The Everglades were a bit farther south but my family often took trips down there for the weekend, and as a Girl Scout I went camping there many times," she explained. "I loved visiting the swamps as a kid and was lucky to have several big wilderness parks within an hour of my home. I think the creepiest experience I ever had in a swamp was when my Girl Scout troop thought we were being attacked by the legendary Skunk Ape. Of course, it turned out to be someone's father dressed up in a horrible costume to scare us."

Hardman has a target audience for "Heathentown." "If you like H.P. Lovecraft, Berni Wrightson, EC Comics, Warren books like 'Creepy' and 'Eerie,' this OGN is for you!" he said.

Added Bechko, "That said, I don't think we went into making 'Heathentown' with the idea of a target audience. We wanted to create a book that we would want to read - one that was atmospheric, suspenseful, frightening and graceful. Hopefully we fulfilled at least a little bit of that mandate."

While many collaborators in comics find each other through conventions, internet forums, or bring matched up by editors, Hardman and Bechko didn't have far to look at all as they are a husband-and-wife team. "We had spent years working on our own projects, often in the same room but separately, for our entire married life," said Bechko. "We figured it was time to team-up on the same project."

"Corinna had this story knocking around," Hardman added, "and I had wanted to try my hand at a comic after several years working as a storyboard artist on movies like 'X-Men 2', 'Superman Returns,' 'Spider-Man 3.' We decided the story would be perfect for a stand-alone graphic novel and set to work."

Previously, the pair have also collaborated on the webcomic "The Crooked Man" for Zuda Comics, which they plan to continue in the near future.

"I've also recently had a lot of fun doing work for Marvel on 'Monster-Size Hulk' with Jeff Parker and the 'Skaar: Son of Hulk Special' with Greg Pak," Hardman said. "I'll be doing more Marvel work in the future, too."

Hardman approached Heathentown with the philosophy "Atmosphere is everything." In "Heathentown," he combines modern and classic styles to create a timelessness. "I have been studying and learning from the work of great comics artists like Alex Toth, Berni Wrightson, Noel Sickles, Gene Colan, Wally Wood, and Alberto Breccia for years," he explained. "For 'Heathentown,' I wanted to take those influences and filter them through a modern sensibility."

"We felt like the story naturally played out as a single graphic novel as opposed to being broken up in a mini," Bechko said on their decision to publish "Heathentown" as a black-and-white graphic novel. "Serializing a story is a great tool too, but the OGN format just seemed to fit the tone of 'Heathentown.' Luckily Jim [Valentino, publisher] and Kristen [Simon, editor] agreed."

"The book was always intended to be printed in black and white," Hardman continued. "It's key to the atmosphere we set out to achieve. I love to work in color too but this story screamed black and white."

What's next for the duo? Is there a possibility for more "Heathentown?" Bechko responded, "I think this story is complete in and of itself, but never ever say never ever, as some say. That said, I think we will be working on other projects for the foreseeable future. I am very excited about a science fiction project we are working on called 'Arthur McBride.'"

"So am I," said Hardman. "It's an epic sci-fi story told from the point of view of two refugee cousins who are thrust into the center of a galaxy spanning revolutionary war."

"Heathentown" reaches store shelves on January 21, 2009.

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