Interview with Anina Bennett - Jan 1996

Heartbreakers by Anina Bennett and Paul Guinan first appeared in Dark Horse Presents #35 in 1989. It has since appeared in other issues of DHP, most recently in #100-1, as well as various other places. This month Heartbreakers becomes a four-issue mini-series from Dark Horse. Writer and co-creator Anina Bennett recently spoke with Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger A. Ash about the mini-series.

Westfield: For those unfamiliar with Heartbreakers, what is the series about?

Anina Bennett: This is actually something that my husband Paul and I discuss occasionally, because the plot and what it's about are two different things. The best way to describe it is that it's a science-fiction action adventure, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but also somewhat thoughtful and curious. It's about cloning, genetic engineering, evil mega-corporations, and the nature of human identity.

The main characters are two women who happen to be clones of the same person - geneticist Therese Sorenson, who's dead now - but they were cloned for very different purposes. One of them was engineered to be a scientist and the other was engineered to be a soldier. So in some ways they're the same person, but in some ways they're complete opposites. That's where the question of human identity comes in. They're trying to protect Sorenson's legacy, which is a very powerful genetic retrovirus that can reprogram human DNA. Biovoc,the corporation that formerly employed Sorenson, is after this retrovirus, which is called the Paracelsus Matrix. The corporation wants to exploit the Matrix in various ways - chiefly as a bio-weapon - and will no doubt wreak havoc upon humanity and the ecosystem. These two clones, Queenie and Vector, are trying to do anything they can to keep it out of Biovoc's hands.

Westfield: Do people have to be familiar with the previous Heartbreakers stories to understand the mini-series?

Bennett: I don't believe so. It's a little hard for me to tell at this point because co-creator and artist Paul and I are so close to it, but we've tried very hard to structure the mini-series so that it's understandable for new readers. In fact, the first page of the first issue is almost a storybook-style synopsis of the backstory. It's summarized in just a few captions letting you know who the main players are and what's going on and then, boom, you go straight into the story from there.

Westfield: Those unfamiliar with Heartbreakers past may consider this a "bad girl" comic. How do you respond to that?

Bennett: I was a little bit distressed about how our series might be viewed when this whole "bad girl" phenomenon started. Queenie, the soldier clone, could be classified as a stereotypical "bad girl" because she's a woman, she's got guns, and she talks kinda tough. But she's deeper than that. Part of what she's going through in this series, and part of the reason she's acting so over-the-top, is that she's lost her main purpose in life. Her main purpose was to protect the life of Therese Sorenson. And with Sorenson dead, Queenie literally has no purpose. She's essentially a ronin, a masterless samurai, and is unconsciously trying to destroy herself by taking all these risks. What I'm trying to do by the end of the series is have her come to terms with the fact that she has to create purpose for herself.

Westfield: Why the title Heartbreakers?

Bennett: Partly 'cause it sounds cool. [laughter] Heartbreakers actually refers not so much to the two main characters as to the clones that were engineered for soldiering purposes - it's what they called themselves. Previously there were dozens of these clones, and they all were killed at the same time as Sorenson. Only Queenie and Vector survived.

Westfield: Heartbreakers is also getting a good deal of on-line support with the Heartbreakers Interactive Database. What is that exactly and how did it come about?

Bennett: That's something Paul and I created. It was inspired by a couple of things that we had seen on-line. One of them was the Babylon 5 Interactive Press Kit, I think they called it, which was this thing that you could download from various on-line services. When you open it up, it shows a graphic display and you can click on various buttons for different menus containing different information. This one was very sophisticated; it had animation and Quicktime video. Ours isn't quite that memory-intensive or sophisticated. But we started thinking, gosh, wouldn't it be cool to do something like that for Heartbreakers? People who are interested could get as much information as they wanted about the backstory and the environment and the characters. It would be kind of a fun thing for people to play with and maybe get a buzz going about the series before it comes out. We have a friend in Chicago - Norm Dwyer - who has worked on CD-ROM games, among other things, and is a computer whiz. He knows a lot more about it than we do. Paul and I sat down and wrote up all the information we could possibly think of about the main characters, the story so far, the plot of the upcoming mini-series, bios of us, where to find the mini-series, information about all the geographic locales in the series (which includes different areas of the city it takes place in as well as different parts of the solar system that figure into the story), and some of the scientific concepts like cloning and the retrovirus. The process of creating that forced us to think through a lot of details about the story, the characters, and other elements that we hadn't entirely worked out in our heads before then. So it was educational for us as well. We fed all this information, along with a whole bunch of photographs, drawings, maps, and things, to Norm, and he is in the process of creating the Heartbreakers Interactive Database. It'll have a graphic interface with music and different menus that you can click on to see the different types of information in graphic displays.

Westfield: Is this accessible through the Dark Horse Web Site?

Bennett: It will be. It's not up there quite yet, but by February, I believe, it should be accessible there. And it'll be available in two different forms. The entire thing will be downloadable, and the text itself will be reformatted in such a way that you can view it while you're on-line if you want to.

Westfield: From what I've seen of the database, you have a very complete and complex future world set up. Was it always set up, or did it come together as you went along?

Bennett: It definitely has evolved as we've created these stories. We originally created these characters about seven or eight years ago. It was in 1987 that we first started working on them, and in 1988 we started sending around some proposals. We had a lot of it thought out at the beginning, but it's changed over time. As you write stories, and create new plot lines and pathways for the characters, they start taking on a life of their own. You realize things about them that maybe you didn't know to begin with, and they start going in directions you might not have planned from the start. It's inevitable.

Westfield: How much of this information is actually in the story, and how much of it is for your own purposes?

Bennett: Much of the information about the characters and the scientific concepts is contained in those previous stories. We built on it a lot, extrapolated a few things, and added details. People don't need to know all of this to read the mini-series, though.

Westfield: Amidst all the action of the series, there's the serious matter of clone rights. Is their struggle for individuality based on any particular group in the present?

Bennett: There are elements of different activist groups throughout history, but it's not based on any one specific group. It's based on my own ideas about the nature of individuality and what makes one person different from another even though they might have had very similar, or precisely the same, experiences growing up. From my point of view, these clones, even if they're cloned from exactly the same DNA and given the exact same memories, from the moment at which they are "born," they have slightly divergent experiences. Those experiences form their personalities in slightly different ways. But in this world, clones are not treated as human beings - they're considered property. They consider themselves human beings, but they're bought and sold and created to do slave labor or other services, depending on what their owners want. Their struggle is for what we consider basic human rights: the right to vote, reproductive freedom. They want to have families, to live and work as people, not slaves.

Westfield: Is this going to wrap up the Heartbreakers story or will their be more in the future?

Bennett: We hope there'll be more. That partly depends on how well this series goes over sales-wise. We would definitely like to do more stories in the future, one way or another. Even though we've set up this relatively complicated universe, we're thinking about doing stories that are more self-contained and aren't tied quite so heavily to previous continuity. In fact, I'd really like to do a Heartbreakers story for Action Girl.

Westfield: You have a number of well-known folks such as Paul Chadwick, Alex Ross, and Jill Thompson, doing pin-ups and covers for the series. How did they become involved?

Bennett: We tied them to their drawing tables and beat them about the head and shoulders until they produced something. [laughter] Most of them are friends of ours in the industry. I've been editing comics for almost seven years, and Paul's been working in comics, as a production artist and a freelance artist, for about ten years, so we know a lot of people in the industry. We thought it'd be fun to see how some of our friends would draw our characters. Plus I've always liked cool extras in the back of comic books. We were thinking about doing puzzle pages, but at this point, I don't know if we'll have the time to pull that together. One really fun thing we're going to have is paper dolls, which I was dead set on from the start. I don't know why. I just wanted to have Heartbreakers paper dolls. Trina Robbins is working on paper dolls for the first issue - she's going to do one paper doll that has different hair and outfits so you can use her for either Vector or Queenie.

Westfield: How do you and Paul work together on an issue?

Bennett: We work sort of Marvel-style, oddly enough. Our skills complement each other pretty well. Paul is very good at coming up with basic plot ideas, which I'm not so good at because I tend to get sidetracked by all the little details. He comes up with the plot idea, then I take a look at it with my editorial brain and start thinking, "wait, there's a plot hole there," and "what if we took this turn instead of that turn," and "this character really should do this." I flesh that out a little bit. We go back and forth like that until we're both pretty happy with the plot, then he does thumbnails. Paul has an excellent sense of storytelling and composition, both in terms of panel layout and overall page layout. He has a very strong art background - both of his parents are artists. He was doomed from birth to have this career or something like it, I think. So his thumbnails are very strong, and I can see the story very clearly. While he's in the process of penciling, I work on the script. We usually try and finish up around the same time, then I go back and tweak the script here and there according to the pencils. It's a feedback process. I think we work together very well.

Westfield: Do you have any other projects, whether writing or editing, coming up that you'd like to mention?

Bennett: I don't have anything else that I'm writing at the moment, basically because I barely have time to write this one. I hope to write more in the future. As far as what I'm editing, I've been editing Nexus on and off for about six years. I edited it for a while at First Comics and then when it came to Dark Horse I started working on it, because I came to Dark Horse shortly after Nexus did. We've got the Nexus Meets Madman crossover coming up in May, then a new Nexus mini-series called Executioner's Song. We're trying to get at least one Nexus mini-series out per year. I'm always excited about Nexus - I've been reading it for almost its entire 15-year history, and I'm still a little bit of a fangirl about it. It's one of the world's greatest comics.

I'm working on Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, which will be relaunched this year as a 64-page squarebound quarterly comic. It's being reformatted partly so that we can get it into bookstores in addition to comic shops. If you've got a book with Harlan Ellison's name on it, you should be selling it in bookstores, but it has to be squarebound to get onto bookstore shelves. Working on that has been a real treat for me. I get to work with Harlan, whose work I've also been reading for a long time.

Westfield: Any closing comments you'd like to make?

Bennett: Just that I hope people enjoy our Heartbreakers series and will give us feedback on it. We think it's got broader appeal than your average superhero comic. The comics industry seems to be waking up to the fact that its survival depends on diversifying its audience, and we hope Heartbreakers will be a part of that process.