By Stefania Rudd. Once upon a time, Callie Boudreau’s heart simply gave up.
She got a new one. Her life carried on with a donor heart beating in her chest. Only thing is, the experience didn’t change her life in the way you might think. Oh, she learned not to take time for granted, and she re-prioritized her life just like anybody else would under the circumstances. But what drove Callie Boudreau to crime wasn’t just the fleeting nature of her new life. It was serendipity. It was Mercer. Her heart donor.
That was the enticing set-up to Heartthrob, the whirlwind romantic crime saga from writer Christopher Sebela and artist Robert Wilson IV. Callie and Mercer’s story played out within the confines of five marvelous issues, published by Oni Press last year, making critics swoon and readers take notice. As a kinetic blend of passion, comedy, violence, and music, the mini-series drew us in and left us wanting more — so much more. As we said in our review of Heartthrob #1, “[Is this a] new twist on the concept of “mad love?” Maybe. But I’m going to need at least twenty more issues to properly suss it out.”
Twenty more issues of Heartthrob may not be beyond our wanting, either. A second season is forthcoming, with Sebela and Wilson teaming up with colorist Nick Filardi for another bout of poor decisions, reckless love and, of course, all the Fleetwood Mac you can handle.
Christopher Sebela and Robert Wilson IV spoke with DoomRocket contributing writer Stefania Rudd about the next season of Heartthrob, the origins of their burgeoning partnership, and what music guides their creative hands.
1. ‘Heartthrob’ is a book that can appeal to so many different audiences. Romance, crime, drama… this story has it all. What was the inspiration for ‘Heartthrob’?
Christopher Sebela: It wasn’t intentional at first. I wanted to do a heist book and I also wanted to do a romance book, so doing them together seemed the most efficient way to do it. Then it was a case of figuring out how to do it without doing the same “lovers on the run” story. Once the heart transplant and Mercer stuff entered the picture, most of the hard work was done. And just personally, I like to mix stuff up. There’s plenty of room for jokes alongside pathos as far as I’m concerned.
2. How did you two first meet and what made you decide to work on a book together?
CS: We met at a con. The initial meeting is kind of fuzzy to me, but I remember an ECCC where I was tabling next to Mike Allred and Robert came by to talk to him and I said I’d text Robert as soon as he came back. Then I remember we both hung out at the Charlotte airport before getting on the same flight and we had the exact same backpacks. Also, that plane had to make an emergency landing. Pretty much the moment I got to know Robert I wanted to work with him. His art had already sold me back when I read the book with Ken Lowry he did—Like a Virus.
Robert Wilson IV: Chris and I had been friends for a few years before Heartthrob. We were both Monkeybrain Comics alumni and have always had complimentary tastes in comics and storytelling in general. It was one of those things where we would hang out at cons and be like “We should work together some day.”
3. What is your working process like? Do you run ideas by each other first or do you surprise each other with story and/or art?
CS: For the first season, I had already written the first three issues when Robert joined up, so I feel like the first season was much more locked in in a story way, but I 100% trust Robert, so I told him to do whatever he wanted with the pages and he always outdid what I had in my head. He also sneaks in Easter eggs that I only discover when I’m reading the finished issue. The second season we talked about story stuff a lot more and have had more in-depth talks about how to get where we’re going. I think for the third season, and we’re still in the talking stages how to do this, but we’re going to collaborate on the story together and co-plot/co-write. I’m really excited for how that turns out.
4. Music, specifically Fleetwood Mac, is big for the book’s main character, Callie. It’s her foundation; it helps her function even when she’s committing crime. Is there a particular song that pops into your head as you tackle things in your daily life?
CS: It depends on the situation, I guess. For inspirational, get-it-done type stuff I always liked “You’re the Best Around” by Joe Esposito from the Karate Kid soundtrack. Otherwise, there’s a couple songs by Titus Andronicus—“Titus Andronicus” and “No Future Part III: Escape From No Future” that I’ve always pulled out when I need to get it together and just get stuff done. For writing/working on Heartthrob, I have a playlist I’ve been curating of songs that fit the era, the story, or both.
RWIV: I definitely have theme albums for various tasks. Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool and Deafheaven’s Sunbather are drawing albums. Norma Jean’s Pool Similar and Run the Jewels’ RTJ3 are my “doing the dishes” albums. Beyonce’s Lemonade is a writing album for me. Things rotate in and out pretty regularly.
5. Being set in the late 1970s can allow for some creative story ideas. You can inhabit the world as it was, as well as revisit the real-life events that transpired back then. How do you decide to use the era’s current events, and how, if at all, do you let them affect your overall story?
CS: We’re dealing with history, but we’re not a historical book. But I definitely kept my eye on some historical stuff, mostly in big waves though. Like in the second season, we have AWOL soldiers who ran to Canada during the Draft, and we have the Red Brigade, sort of student protesters/anarchists/bank robbers. Both of these are kinda past their heyday, they’re the ones still hanging on, but that makes for interesting stuff to mess around with. Mostly I was concerned with making sure that our story lines up with certain events like a Fleetwood Mac concert or the release of the album Tusk.
6. Thanks to her heart condition, time is something that always looms over Callie—she’s intimately aware that her time will eventually expire. How do you build that urgency within the story? How do you shape that anticipation for the reader?
CS: We have it set up, but we’re not pushing on it too heavily, in the same way that Callie does her best not to think about the fact that her new heart has a limited lifetime built in. Or if she does, it’s that everything she’s doing now is built off that urgency. Most people have their whole lives to figure their life out. Callie has a couple years.
7. Throughout the first season, Callie goes through a lot of changes physically and emotionally. Can we expect the same amount of intensity in the second season? Can you give us any sort of teaser on what to expect?
CS: We’re definitely doing our best to explore some other sides of Callie, including her relationships with her gang, her ex and her life of crime. When Season Two starts, she’s basically trying to put it all behind her, to just be a normal person. And you can probably make a guess as to how well that works out.
8. At the end of the first season, Callie thinks that she is free from Mercer, but considering she is a part of him through her transplant that may not be as easy as it sounds. How much of a role will Mercer play in the second season?
CS: Mercer’s not gone. The line I’ve always had in my head is “How do you break up with someone when their heart is in your chest?” and the second season really tests that idea. Even people in regular, non-transplanty-crime relationships backslide after a split and Callie’s definitely not immune to that impulse.
RWIV: As much as Callie would like to be rid of him or have control of him, like you said, Mercer is a part of her now. Things are never as simple as we’d like.
9. If you could gain a skill simply by having another person’s organ transplanted in you, what person would you choose for what skill and why?
CS: You know those videos of people who play public pianos and just bust out an amazing piano version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” while the city’s marching past them? I’d take whichever of their organs let me play piano that well and without fear.
RWIV: I’d like to inherit the ability to make a 4-year-old go to bed at her bedtime.
10. Do you two have any future projects that you’re planning together? What’s next for the two of you that you can share with us at this time?
CS: Probably when we’re done with Heartthrob, Robert, Nick, and I are going to see other people for a bit. Doing a comic together is like being in a weird relationship with a lot of people, and when it’s done you kinda want to work on yourself for a bit. So we haven’t discussed it, but that’s just ’cause we still have a long way to go on this one.
‘Heartthrob Season Two’ #1 will be in stores June 21.