16. The Making of a Comic: 'Dead Dreams' and 'Spitting Image' with Heather Ayres
Getting to the heart of your story with a writer and editor
Howdy Brave Being,
Welcome back fine folks to The Making of a Comic. This week, my frequent collaborator Heather Ayres joins me to discuss editing and writing comics and what she’s working on lately behind the scenes. We’ll also dive into our work together on DEAD DREAMS: THE LUCID CHRONICLES as well as SPITTING IMAGE. Let’s hop to it!
Heather Ayres is an interdisciplinary writer and artist working copywriting, creative non-fiction, novels, and painting. She also edits and writes comics in her spare time, that is in between taking care of two precious pups, Leo and Coco with her long-time partner.
Heather and I met at zulily, an online retail outlet where we both wrote product copy. She was shy at first, but it didn’t take long before we bonded over Game of Thrones and, of course, comics. Then one day shortly before Thanksgiving, I was walking home from the grocery store and lo and behold when I turned on my street, there was Heather carrying too much to her car. Shocked, I rushed to help and asked if she lived in the neighborhood. It turned out, we had been living on the same block for months! We’ve been best friends ever since.
Brittany Matter: So Heather, what did you think that day when I approached you on the street?
Heather Ayres: Pure surprise! I was still relatively new to Seattle at the time and thought it was so wild to be running into anyone, let alone someone from work. It couldn’t have come at a better time because I’m pretty sure I was about to fall head over heels with an armful of pots?
BM: Tell us how you were introduced to comics.
HA: My dad. He would share his weekly haul with me and take me to the comic book shop in Flagstaff, where I grew up. It was located at the end of a dingy linoleum floored hallway flooded with fluorescent lights in the Sherwood Forest shopping center. Going down that hallway felt like stepping through an enchanted portal with nothing but adventure waiting for me at the end.
BM: How did you become a comic-book editor and writer?
HA: I was lucky enough to be asked by a friend (wink wink) who believed in me and thought I could help bring their story to fruition.
BM: Tell us a little bit about your role as a comic-book editor.
HA: I always think of myself more as someone to bounce ideas off of versus an editor even though I definitely do my best to provide what you would typically think of as editing services. I want to help writers find their voice and bring it fully to life by getting to the heart of the story.
BM: How did you tackle editing the miniseries DEAD DREAMS?
HA: DEAD DREAMS has such a rich and complex world that can seem daunting at a glance. I tried to think about the intertwining worlds as separate so I could best understand the motivations of each character. From there, everything clicked together.
BM: As you edited each script, what were your goals with each pass?
HA: With each pass, my goal was to make sure that each character’s voice was distinct within the intertwining worlds, their motivations clear, and that they served the greater themes and story being told. I looked at it like carving a sculpture. Little by little, the story reveals itself.
BM: What's your favorite part about the series?
HA: I think my favorite part has to do with the idea of self discovery and how people will chase it at any cost. I worked on editing this during a period of time where I was doing a lot of self reflection and that really spoke to me.
BM: What's your best advice for editing a five-issue miniseries, like DEAD DREAMS?
HA: Be patient and really hone in on the details of the plot. It can be easy for the story to get muddled across five issues, but taking your time and really thinking about the mechanics of the world you are helping bring to life will always be worth it.
BM: What editing techniques do you use to edit your own work?
HA: I always try to take time away from my work. When you’re deep in your head working on a piece, it is pretty much a guarantee that you will miss something. Even a week away from whatever project you’re working on can yield so much clarity and new insight that will make your story better.
BM: Tell us a bit about your supernatural short SPITTING IMAGE with collaborator Sally Cantirino.
HA: SPITTING IMAGE was so exciting to write. The exploration of the relationship between psychic vampire twins with gothic undertones was something I had never dabbled in before but was immediately interested in. The added challenge of writing an emotionally nuanced story in less than 10-pages was also so enticing.
BM: How was it working with Sally? What unexpected things did she bring to the story?
HA: I had had so much admiration for Sally’s work before getting the chance to work with one another on this comic. Even with that, I was so excited by the subtle, visual storytelling she did so beautifully elevated to something with a real atmosphere.
BM: What's your favorite part about this short?
HA: Personally, I always gravitate towards the end of the comic. I think in the writing process, scripting the background imagery of the twin’s Victorian house was one of the most engaging writing for myself, and to see that come to the page made it something really special.
BM: When it comes to writing comics, what's your process like?
HA: Episodic? I think I’ve also heard it referred to as being a “pantser”, like you write by the seat of your pants which I love based on punniness alone. Stories always come to me in scattered chunks, so it can become a sort of puzzle which keeps it almost like a game or mystery.
BM: What have you learned from writing comics that has changed the way you read them?
HA: More than anything, I appreciate the number of people it takes to create them and how all those layers of creativity come together in such a beautiful package.
BM: What advice would you give to aspiring comic-book writers?
HA: Broaden your writing horizons and do exercises writing in different formats like screenplays, novels, short stories etc. It will completely change your way of thinking on constructing a story and bring new depth to the comics you create. I think studying the other disciplines within comics creation is also a great way to improve your own writing by giving you a greater understanding of how it all comes together and the foundation you need to lay to get there.
Getting to Know Heather Ayres
BM: Writing and editing comics isn't all that you do. You're also a creative non-fiction writer, a copywriter, a novelist, and a painter. How do you find time for it all?
HA: The boring and pragmatic answer is that I do my best to make time for it. Whenever any one thing feels like it’s getting to be too much, I try to reassess where I’m spending my energy and make choices that won’t burn out my creativity or energy.
BM: How has your experience in comics contributed to the growth of your writing?
HA: The way that writing for comics pushes you to think about stories in a cinematic way has sparked my imagination and brought more depth to the way I describe setting and character. It’s made me a more well rounded and holistic writer for sure.
BM: What are you working on lately?
HA: I’m really excited to be working towards funding the Adventures Everywhere: A Comic-Book Anthology for Kids that goes live on Kickstarter on October 15th! My favorite part of the whole thing is that the comic you and I worked on together, One Big, Happy Family, from last year’s unfunded Kickstarter for our anthology KITH + KIN, has found a second life in Adventures Everywhere. I mean, who doesn’t want to read a comic that’s essentially Dante’s Inferno for kids? The cherry on top of that is definitely being featured alongside a lot of great comic creators and is something for which I am so grateful.
Aside from that, I’m working on wrapping up a couple of projects including a Sikh superhero comic series written with Jasbir Khara, a novel about white feminism in the shadow of #MeToo, a time-traveling banshee novel, and whatever random short story that comes up to distract me. Just keeping it casual as per usual.
BM: Wow, such variety. I love it. Can’t wait to see what’s next, Heather!
Follow Heather’s work here and don’t forget to follow ADVENTURES EVERYWHERE below and see a preview of One Big, Happy Family when it goes live.