Robert M. Heske is the man behind “killer” anthologies like Bone Chiller, Cold Blooded Chillers, 2012: Final Prayer, and the original graphic novel The Night Projectionist. Along with this work in the creative field of comics, Bob also writes a regular column on Investcomics.com entitled IndieCreator, where he chats with industry professionals about the art that is comics. Recently, I got the chance to catch up with Bob and pick his brain about his work, the horror genre, and what it’s like being an Indy comic book Publisher and writer.
-Alex Rodrik, Editor of Features and Interviews
Alex Rodrik: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Robert Heske?
Robert Heske: A late bloomer in the comics world. The longer description? I’m a married forty-something, with two kids and two dogs (technically 1 and ½ since the 2nd pooch is an 11-pound cockerpoo), who is a financial writer by day and a screen writer/comic creator on lunch breaks and late at night.
I’ve been writing screenplays for over a decade and, up until recently, my biggest accomplishments were winning a few screenwriting contests and having some shorts produced that won awards at film festivals (most notably, Waiting starring Richard Schiff which can be seen at this link).
In more recent developments, in May ’09 I won an award for my Bone Chiller indie anthology collection and have a vampire OGN called The Night Projectionist that is being published by Studio 407 (Hybrid, Night & Fog, Smuggling Spirits) with film rights optioned by Myriad Pictures (10 Items or Less, The Good Girl, Jeepers Creepers 2, Kinsey, Van Wilder 1, 2 & 3). And oh yeah – I have a dark comedy called Love Stupid that hopefully (fingers crossed) will secure financing soon and I write a bi-weekly column called IndieCreator for InvestComics.com.
But enough about me …
AR: What brought about the move from screenplays to comics?
RH: I was doing a polish on an animated script (that never got made) and pitched my vampire idea. The gent I pitched it to was Alex Leung, the Managing Director of Studio 407 who helped bring The Ring series to the US and was an associate producer on the 2004 Jackie Chan film, Around the World in 80 Days.
I sent Alex Leung a detailed treatment. He loved it . . . but as a COMIC BOOK. Nearly three years later the graphic novel has been written, inked and colored. It will release later this year in comic book stores pretty much everywhere. Alex’s company, Studio 407, shared space with Myriad in LA while the book was being developed. The Myriad people saw some galleys, their interest was piqued, and the film was optioned in December 2008 (announced in Variety on 01/01/09).
RH: I don’t know, man. Ever since I got married, my wife thinks I’ve become a much darker writer. I used to write screwball comedies and animation. But, especially with Cold Blooded Chillers, there is something about horror shorts that really amps my creative juices. Thriller novelist and short-story writer Jeffrey Deaver once wrote that “Short stories are like a sniper’s bullet. Fast and shocking.” With horror shorts, it’s totally true – except I’d add “fast, shocking, and fatal.”
As for The Night Projectionist, the idea of an audience held captive in a theater where the night projectionist turns out to be a vampire and the coven he fled is coming to town – well, that set up a cat-and-mouse game that really appealed to me as a writer. The big questions surrounding the story are: Is the night projectionist friend or foe to the human audience he holds captive? Why did he abandon his coven? And why did he seek refuge in the town of Crosston Falls, inside this theater? In fact, I’d characterize The Night Projectionist as a mystery wrapped in horror – not just another vampire tale.
AR: Tell us a bit about 2012: Final Prayer.
RH: Well, you pretty much covered it A to Z in your Working Title column in January (thanks for that, by the way — it was a great column!).
AR: [Laughs] Thanks man! It was my pleasure.
RH: Anyone who hasn’t heard of the 2012 phenomena has been pretty much under a rock – it’s in movie theaters, in books all over Amazon, and has over 27.3 million hits on the Internet when you Google “2012 end of world”.
For the layperson, it relates to the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar which stops on 12/21/2012 at 11:11 GST. The calendar cycle is 5,126 years and began in 3114 BC.
What happens when it runs its course on 12/21/12?
Some people think Armageddon. Others think it will usher in a transformative event – such as a coded gene in all of humanity triggering and awakening us all to a singular consciousness. Others think it will merely be a re-setting of the clock – in other words, it will be just like us re-setting the calendar on New Year’s every January 1st.
What makes it eerie and intriguing is that some strange things are brewing in the cosmos which could impact the sun and our planet. For instance, on 12/21/12 the sun will be aligned with the Milky Way for the first time in 26,000 years. The alignment of energy between the sun and the stars (the sun will be allegedly blocking the black hole in the center of the Milky Way) will be disrupted at 11:11 GST.
Also, 2012 is supposed to be a year of peak solar activity (i.e., mucho sunspots blotching the sun’s surface) which could wreak havoc by triggering a solar flare that shuts down the national grid; not just for hours or days, but for months or years! If that happens, we go back to being an uncivilized world pretty fast.
It’s not just the Mayans that pinpoint 12/21/12 as “el final” (although many will say the Mayans don’t believe this at all, it is just Western hype), the date is also chosen as an end date by the Hopi Indians, the Hindus, the Chinese I-Ching (“Book of Changes”) and even at least one interpretation of the Bible. People focus on the Mayans probably because they were such amazing star gazers with an incredible system for mapping and tracking the cosmos. They were literally centuries ahead of their time.
Speaking of numbers, fans of numerology will enjoy this tidbit – the date 12-21-12 reads as, A-B-B-A-A-B (each number has a corresponding letter – 1=A, 2=B). When you consider tha
t the Hebrew language is read from right to left, this date would read BA ABBA which, translated from Hebrew, means “Father comes / is coming.”
(For an entertaining podcast on the subject, go to Jim Harold’s Paranormal Podcast at “2012: Final Prayer Roundtable” to listen to a one-hour panel discussion with myself and best-selling 2012 authors Marie D. Jones and Marshall Masters.)
Sure, no one knows what WILL happen until the proverbial Fat Lady Sings. But there are so many wild “could be” scenarios floating out there, that I thought I’d throw the premise out to comic creators to see what they could cook up.
Hence, 2012: Final Prayer.
AR: What brought about you choosing 2012 as the theme to your newest anthology?
RH: I began work on the 2012 end times anthology last May when I was at Borders looking for a book to read. My indie anthology (Bone Chiller) had just won a Bronze medal at the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards for Outstanding Horror, and I was trying to figure out what I’d tackle next. For some odd reason, I ended up in the “Divinity” section and saw a whole bunch of 2012 books. I’d listened to a few podcasts on the subject and started skimming back covers, thumbing through books.
I ended up buying Apocalypse 2012: An Investigation into Civilization’s End by Lawrence Joseph. It was a compelling read with a credible journalistic vantage. I realized the 2012 phenomena would make a great anthology, but knew I couldn’t write a whole end times anthology by myself (I wrote all of the stories in the Bone Chiller anthology, and hired different artists for each tale).
So . . . I opened up a contest on my website and contacted a few indie creators whose work I admired. I got some great submissions and, well, the rest in history.
Until 12/21/2012 at 11:11 GST, that is . . .
AR: What’s next for Heske Horror?
RH: Recently, I’ve been focusing on screenplays. I’ve done a few re-writes of a contest-winning dark comedy called Love Stupid (co-written with Kevin Passarelli) and have hooked up with a director, producer and a production company. They’re trying to finalize the $1.1M budget now so fingers crossed that it happens and we start shooting this Spring.
I also finished a screenplay version of The Night Projectionist which is out to gather financing as well ($6-$10M projected budget). I am cautiously optimistic about both projects since 8 out of 10 film options never get made.
And I am working up a pitch with a talented artist and letterist to send out to the smaller indie publishers in a month or so for a new graphic novel series. It’s a cool comic, and has a great marketing angle so we hope it catches on.
Finally, I am working on a project that I can’t divulge any details on BUT hope to have published by year’s-end. Oh yeah, and I may be collaborating real soon with a director on a micro-budget horror feature or two. So I’ve been pretty busy.
AR: Who are some of your biggest influences? What about their work inspired you to pursue writing?
RH: It is so embarrassing to say that I am late to comics and have only recently been inspired. Still, there is so much terrific talent out there from legends like Stan Lee and Bernie Wrightson to modern era wizards like Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. More recently, I like Chew written by John Layman and drawn by Rob Guillory. Like the old Guinness beer campaign says — It’s BRILLIANT!
AR: How do you define a good horror comic? Film?
RH: Fresh. Unsettling. Surprising. Those three words apply to both comics and film. Too many comics and films are “been there, seen that.” People who take a premise and turn it at an angle people have never seen before are, frankly, visionaries. It’s like looking into a prism and finding a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end. A classic example is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. Since the film broke new cinematic ground in 1999, how many people have copied that “he was really dead all along” twist at the end?
Oh, and you need an uber-talented artist. Diego Yapura drew The Night Projectionist and when the book comes out later this year I think that many people will agree he draws a “beautiful vampire book.” For those who want a sneak peek, check out Night Projectionist Noir on Studio 407’s website by clicking here — (the color artwork holds up magnificently in black and white).
AR: Of all the comics you’ve written, which one is the most personal and revealing? Why?
RH: None are too revealing about me. Although I wrote a short called Dead Dog which was drawn by Zeu (Infiniteens,Charlatan, Project Elohim) that quasi-mirrored my life.
One day I was writing at my computer when the doorbell rang and a man with a toy cocker spaniel told me, “Did you know there’s a dead dog in your driveway?” At the time, I had two dogs so my first reaction was to ask “What color?” It turned out the dog wasn’t mine, but an abused pit bull that had been dumped into my driveway. Mind you, this was 1:00 pm in the afternoon and no one had told me until then (it was a weekend and I hadn’t gone out to do errands yet). The police told me that since it was on my property, I had to get rid of the body myself (the Dog Warden was away until Monday). I was a bit surprised that they weren’t even interested in inspecting when I told them it looked like it was a fight dog that had been dumped (this wasn’t too long after the Michael Vick dog abuse incident).
Anyway, the first 2-3 pages are based on my firsthand experience but the story quickly takes a dark turn that has nothing to do with my actual life. You can read a few pages on MyEbook for free here. (Note: To read the ending, you have to buy the e-book!)
One other story that is a bit personal is Demented which appears in 2012: Final Prayer. It takes place at a nursing home with a son visiting his mother with Alzheimers. My mother has severe dementia; although she is not in a nursing home yet (my 81-year old dad takes care of her). My mom was at my house and went to use the bathroom. Inevitably, she locked herself in. I was yelling at her through the door not to break the lock. When I jimmied the door open she looked at me with an angry and then confused face and asked, “Who are you?”. WHOA!! It hit me that from one minute to the next she may not know who I was. After this unsettling incident I sat down and wrote Demented and was fortunate enough to have Irish artist Stephen Downey draw it for me (he did the artwork for Cancertown by Insomnia Publications).
AR: Any update on the Night Projectionist film?
RH: No, just that the script is still being tweaked and we hope to have funding locked up this year and to go to production i
n late 2010/2011. As always, screenwriters’ hearts get broken a million times, but I am extremely hopeful this project will get made.
RH: Aside from The Night Projectionist, I will probably publish another anthology and begin work on it in the summer. That is, if my wife lets me and I have enough cash infusion from any screenplay sales. I have an idea of what the theme will be for the anthology, but can’t announce it yet. I will likely go the same route as 2012: Final Prayer, and seek submissions from talented writer/artist teams rather than write all the stories myself.
AR: Where can readers go and buy their copy of your works?
RH: Amazon, Zaldiva.com, Haven Distributors, HeavyInk.com, Last Gasp Publishing . . . and I hope to be added to a few other distributors in the next month or so since I just got approved by major distributor Baker & Taylor. Digital downloads are available at DriveThruComics, MyEbook (store) and Yudu.com/store.
Zaldiva has the most copies of 2012: Final Prayer and Bone Chiller, so I’d try them first.
I greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time to buy a book and support indie comics – this is a tough gig to survive!
AR: And last, but certainly not least, rumor on the street is that your next anthology will feature the writing styles of the Alex Rodrik. From what I hear he’s pretty damn awesome! Care to comment? [Laughs] . . . sorry, man. I had to, I just couldn’t resist . . . [Laughs]
RH: Dude, you hook up with an artist and you are IN!!
AR: Awesome — I’m looking forward to it! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Bob. Keep us posted on what’s coming.
RH: Thanks for the interview, Alex.