Chris Heath is the artist and creator of the webcomic featured here at the Essential Webcomics Showcase, The Flea. For the start of the new year, we have interviewed him to talk about his plans for the year of 2012, among other things.
RJD: Hello all, we have Chris Heath, creator and the author of the Essential Webcomics Showcase webcomic The Flea here for an interview about how far he's come in the year 2011, and where all he wants to go in the year 2012. Chris, how are you?
Chris Heath: Hey, man. I’m good thanks, how are you?
RJD: I'm doing great. To begin this interview, looking at your art from this time last year, in what ways would you say you've improved?
CH: Well, I personally feel like I’ve improved a lot over the course of the year when it comes to art. As you guys may have noticed my main style now is very dark, using many lines in the white areas to give things feel. I may have been heading that way last year, but this style certainly has become the most natural to me now, and I feel like it makes things look different and the way I want certain projects of mine look.
What I’ve also improved on, I feel, is the tone of the art with the story. Although the dark style is most appropriate to me and my sort of way, I can also go slightly lighter if I want to or even darker. So yeah, I’ve improved so much this year, hopefully I’ll keep improving too.
RJD: That's what any creator can only hope for, and likely achieve, with much practice.
So for anyone who is unfamiliar with your work, would you care to explain to us what The Flea is all about?
CH: Well the main guy, Rick White, wakes up with no memory of his previous life and in a costume that can shrink whoever is wearing it. Without having the time to think he’s talked into becoming a superhero with a man calling himself Atom. From here, Rick fights alongside Atom to fight crime and meets other heroes and also combats many villains alike. Basically, its Rick trying to get accustomed to this new life of his and discovering different people and learning not everyone is who they say they are. There are so many other aspects to The Flea as well to that. It’s not just all about the super-hero; it’s about the character more than anything and the people around him.
RJD: I think many people would say that the character is the most important thing, and the powers and costume are only things to make that character's life more interesting/complex.
As a writer, would you say your storytelling prowess has evolved since this point last year?
CH: That’s actually quite a tough question in terms of The Flea actually. From Issue One, I have always known exactly how the series would end and I knew pretty much everything that is going on and the different aspects inside of it. I think in the way of scripting the comic and maybe telling the story, yes I have improved so much. But then again The Flea is a story that I had planned for ages, so it’s hard to describe.
RJD: So even though you've always known how the series would end, has there ever been any moments in this series' run where you thought to yourself that an event you had planned might be better if it went in a different way, but the end game ends up being the same? I know that having plans and then executing those plans can end up resulting in different things, even if the broad strokes are the same...
CH: Oh yeah sure, I change things all the time in nearly everything I write, The Flea especially. I know exactly what happens at the end of each ark and I know, like you said, the endgame and the results of whatever goes on but I’m changing things all the time. I’m constantly going “oh wouldn’t it be cool if I did this or if this happened” and so I’m always changing different events and what happens to certain characters. I remember writing a script for a later issue and I must have gone through at least 7 entirely different versions of it before I was satisfied that this one would work the best.
RJD: That must be nice, having the freedom to do as many drafts until you feel it is just right.
Going along these same lines, would you say that the character of The Flea, or perhaps any of the other characters, have taken on a life of their own? In my own experience, and from what I've heard from professional creators, a character can begin to act and talk differently than the creator or the writer ever envisioned them acting, and it usually takes them by surprise when this happens. Has this happened to you?
CH: Yeah, this has happened to me quite a few times actually. I think the initial plan was to have Rick as a very down to Earth guy who would always see the good and positive things in areas and would have quite a good balance between knowing what is good and what is wrong. I think when you’re writing certain scenes though and putting these characters under certain situations that are very changing for anyone, then even though it’s not how you usually think they would act it also feels right as you’re writing it. Like I said earlier, The Flea is generally more about the people behind the masks and although I envision them as these certain people with different attitudes, when you put them in different situations you seem to just type what feels like what they should be doing. I love writing these scenes as well, I think it gives these characters a little more depth and we can begin to relate to them more knowing that they’re not perfect.
RJD: Very interesting perspective, I think.
The Flea is a webcomic. Do you find yourself modeling it after printed comics that you or I could buy in a comic book shop, because that might be the format that you're most familiar with, or do you ever try to look at what other comics exclusive to the internet are doing, and see if you can find inspiration there?
CH: It’s hard to say actually in terms of “modeling” I try not to do either. I just tell myself do it what feels right in a sort of way. I think that, obviously, you’ll probably pick some things up subconsciously that comics both in print and on the internet do and you can’t help that, but I do try to stray away from looking at them for inspiration. I very early on told myself that I want to tell this story how I want it to be told and I don’t want to feel rushed or anything in terms of the storylines or issue numbers. Like I said, I pick up certain things from printed comics and webcomics alike and I probably don’t do it on purpose. I also think that more you go on with a story, like The Flea for instance, you begin to get used to it and you realize what kind of way will work and what kind of way it won’t work.
RJD: So you think maybe the way you are presenting The Flea is something of a composite between things done by printed comics and things done with webcomics?
CH: Yeah, I think I pick certain techniques from them both. Like I said, as your comic progress it starts to become your own and then the way you tell it seems to be more your style than getting inspiration.
RJD: Very good answer, I think.
With The Flea, are you trying to go for a kind of "real world" approach, like what you might see on the now canceled TV show HEROES or The Cape, or are you going all out and trying to make this world as fantastical as your imagination will allow?
CH: It’s hard to say, actually. There are some very, very “real” approaches there such as the way characters act and some of their beliefs and integrity, but then we add in flying super-heroes and villains with masks and capes, so there’s a mix of the two. I’d say it’s very much like a super-hero comic, but then possibly “toned down” and made more realistic.
RJD: Well, I had a creative writing professor who said that a story doesn't have to be "realistic" as long as its "believable." Even though this story has technology that could not possibly exist, and historical events that probably differ significantly from our own, would you say that what my professor said is true for The Flea?
CH: Definitely. I try my hardest to make things believable in terms of The Flea. There’s some things you may just have to go along with but when you get adapted to this world it should hopefully “fit” nicely and seem as if this is something that should be in this universe I’ve made. I think the way the characters react to certain things like the technology also makes it seem believable as well. If they seem surprised by it or act as if they know this sort of tech existed, it should show the reader what kind of world we’re living in here and that sets a nice tone in the world that is The Flea.
RJD: That's a very good method, I think.
I was always bothered when I read the Marvel comics Superhero stories from the 1960s. Human characters in large crowds would be acting like the emergence of the Fantastic Four or the X-Men was something that had never happened before, when these very same issues would be telling the audience that there were superheroes very active on Earth less than a generation before. I always found that difficult to swallow, but by having characters react to events and things as if there is something of a background that the audience isn't aware of but the characters are, that can be very helpful in building your world, wouldn't you think?
CH: Oh yeah, definitely. Even if it doesn’t matter to much to your story, it builds backgrounds on the world and makes the reader seem more involved, hopefully I’ve been able to pull that off so far and people know what kind of world we live in.
RJD: So, moving away from that topic a little bit, you are not the artist on every Flea story, correct?
CH: Incorrect actually. I was planning on having people take duties on art for an ark or two earlier on last year but I recently decided against it. I’m drawing The Flea until the end. I will have help on art though during an upcoming ark from a number of artists which was going to be the annual before I divided it into issues. I’ll also be working with Robert Evans later on for a scene or two. I must say, I’ve seen work from everybody mentioned above and they all look superb for the comic.
RJD: In a similar note, I'll take this moment to ask you a question about this kind of thing in the comics you might read.
If a writer is on a comic for a few years, do you prefer for him (or her) to have one single artist teamed with him for the duration of his run, or do you prefer to see different artists give their interpretations of these characters, and give the audience a chance to see some different styles? I feel it is similar to what you are doing with the Flea. You will be handling most of the art throughout the series, with some help from others...as opposed to rotating new artists on certain arcs while you took a break on the artistic chores...what do you think?
CH: Well I personally like there being one artist for the course of the series. It’s a matter of opinion, really, some people may like a change but I personally like to see the same artist throughout the series (if the comic is a series, that is.) Take the comic “POWERS”, for instance, it’s actually very hard to imagine the world Bendis has created without Oeming by his side drawing it. The two have created this world together and I think it seems very fluent if you stick with the artist. The same applies to Robert Kirkman and his longtime artist Charlie Adlard on Walking Dead. Sure, I know Tony Moore started it, but with the period of time the two have had together now, I personally feel it wouldn’t feel right if Charlie wasn’t providing art for the story after spending so long on it. Like I said, it’s just a matter of preference for the readers, but I feel like a series should start and end with the same artist throughout.
RJD: It does give the series a sense of cohesion with one artist, it would seem.
Moving on, what other works are you planning on doing during the year of 2012?
CH: It seems the year 2012 is going to be the year of creation, man. I’m going along with The Flea strongly and hitting a pretty big storyline which should be enjoyable. I’m also working on another series called “Sleepers” with the artist Roberto Soares and boy is that looking good so far. I’m also writing up another story called “Shield” which won’t be ready for a while yet but I think it’s going good. I’m also currently in the planning stages of another series called “Line of Duty” which I’m very excited about and am in contact with an artist about getting to work on that. I also have another story planned which doesn’t have a name yet but does have the story planned out. Like I said, it should be a very busy year.
RJD: And are all of these ongoing series', or are a few of them limited or miniseries'?
CH: Sleepers and Shield are going to be mini-series, but I already have plans in my head of perhaps having sequels of some kind. Line Of Duty is going to be ongoing and I already have planned many arks and issues so that is something I'm very excited about. The other project which has yet to be given a name is not really a series and is more of a large comic-book. It's just one issue, but should have over 100 or so pages.
RJD: And how do you find so many artists to work with on all of these projects, lol?
CH: Haha! Well, just go looking really. Luckily with some people, like Roberto, we knew each other previously from an old RPG and I got back in contact with him when the idea of Sleepers came into my head because I just thought when I wrote it he would be the ideal guy. As for other projects, some have contacted me saying they want to get to work. It’s been pretty hard looking for people but the people I have found have been brilliant so far, hopefully I can find more.
RJD: As you have done almost all of the art on The Flea, have you had much experience writing scripts for other artists to follow?
CH: Not really. This is actually something really hard when I’m writing a script for other people due to being so use to following the way I do things. I find myself writing possibly too much sometimes. I think as I go on I get used to it and I know the way the artist works. It takes a while to get used to it but it’s also fun and new at the same time.
RJD: And do you give detailed panel by panel descriptions, or do you give a detailed plot summary for the whole issue and let the artist decide how he or she will lay it out?
CH: I give detailed page by page, panel by panel descriptions. I think it works nicely as it looks how I envisioned it and paces itself as I wanted it to.
RJD: So do you feel that giving very many details on instructions might ever be a hindrance for you artist, creatively speaking?
CH: It depends what’s actually going on. If it’s just talking heads in a room or something, give them the creativity I think. But then with certainly action scenes or when drama is going on, I feel like detail needs to be given. Maybe tone it down as you get used to the artist, but when certain events occur and you want the reader to see certain things, then maybe give more detail.
RJD: That sounds like a good approach to scripting.
In what ways does The Flea differ from these new stories you will be doing in the coming year?
CH: Well The Flea is very super-hero based and throughout I don’t want to tell the reader what to think with certain matters, they have to work out the constant puzzles for themselves. The others, sure, will have puzzles and some will have super-heroes and some will not but in a completely different way. They’re all different worlds with different points of view and a different mind-set with the characters. They all have things similar with each-other and The Flea, but they are all different in their own respect.
RJD: Very interesting. Do you feel like these different points of view will be difficult to write after all of this time writing from perspective that you are doing on The Flea?
CH: I actually think it will be the complete opposite of hard. Like I said earlier, I’ve progressed as a writer with The Flea and I try hard to make each character act different so if anything, this has given me experience on getting into a different character's head. With these other comics, I’ve planned ahead, I know where they’re going and I know where they’ll end up so that itself makes it easier to plan what type of person they’ll actually be. The characters, for me, are the best part of a comic or TV show so hopefully I can create a variety in these different comics.
RJD: Well, I think that might wrap things up. Do you have anything else you want to add before we close it down, Chris?
CH: Make sure you all come back next year on EWC because like I said earlier, it’s going to be a busy year and may be the year of The Flea. We may have some of the comics discussed here appearing next year, we don’t know in terms of the speed of the artists but certainly keep your eyes peeled. Also, next year The Flea will be hitting some very important storylines and more questions will be asked and that is certainly something not to be missed!
Thanks for your time, man.
RJD: Thank you, Chris.