Interview: Mark Wheatley on the Breathtaker Collection from Titan

Breathtaker Collection HC

Breathtaker Collection HC


Mark Wheatley has worked on Doctor Cthulittle, Mars, Frankenstein Mobster, EZ Street, and he’s even done design work for Lady Gaga. Breathtaker, his 1990 collaboration with Marc Hempel, is coming back into print in a deluxe edition hardcover. Wheatley shares details about the book, as well as the new Wheatley/Hempel story, Make Way For The Man. Interview conducted by Westfield’s Roger Ash.

Creators Mark Wheatley & Marc Hempel

Creators Mark Wheatley & Marc Hempel


Westfield: For those unfamiliar with Breathtaker, what can you tell us about the book?

Mark Wheatley: Breathtaker is about a young lady named Chase Darrow, and she was born with the power to love a man to death. Chase might be the only real, living example of a succubus.

Chase has this crazy idea that the government should not be in the business of deciding how she should live her life. But now the NSA has set their prime agent on her trail. He is known only as The Man, and his toxic masculinity is as ramped up as his strength and agility. In a way, The Man is a symbol of just how frightened the government is of Chase. They don’t see the nice girl who wants to be left to live her own life. They see someone who is either going to be a threat or an asset.

Breathtaker preview page

Breathtaker preview page


Breathtaker is part horror story, about a woman with the power to drain men of their very life force … part romance, because her lovers are her willing victims … part crime story, as Chase is on the run from a government that has branded her a criminal … and part superhero story: The Man, in addition to working for the NSA, is a popular television and merchandising figure who also happens to have extraordinary powers and abilities that he is using to hunt down and capture Chase in an effort to boost his sagging Nielsen ratings.

I guess you could say that Breathtaker is all about Love, Death, Sex and Power.

Westfield: Can you tell us about the remastering process that was done for this new collection?

Color art with and without line art

Color art with and without line art


Wheatley: Nothing too exotic. Probably because I have been running a production studio for decades, and I’ve been a publisher, I not only kept about 80% of the original art from Breathtaker, but I also made sure to retain reproduction quality copies of everything. That way we were starting with clean images. But the great challenge was to match the line art to the color art. The line art was preserved as film (plastic) and the color art was watercolor and gouache on watercolor board (paper). Time, humidity, temperature and other factors all affect plastic and paper in different ways.  This means the color and line art did not fit together. Most of the remastering time was invested into stretching, warping and nudging the color art for each panel until it matched up with the line art. The result is far better than the original printing, back when these options were not available in the pre-digital age. I was also able to adjust the color on about 10 pages, to better match the originals. The original printing had not turned out quite right. Oh – and I was able to do better with the sound effects, putting them into color, where they had originally been black line. Beyond that, this is the first hardback edition of Breathtaker, and the book is jammed with extras!

Breathtaker Exhibition poster

Breathtaker Exhibition poster


Westfield: This collection was a long time coming. Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced getting Breathtaker back in print?

Wheatley: Getting the book back into print, if that was all we wanted to achieve, would have been a snap! But we had been asked by the Norman Rockwell Museum to launch a touring show of Breathtaker original art. A substantial chunk of the art had been featured in the wildly successful LitGraphic show that the Rockwell put on that included comic art from an amazing collection of highly regarded creators. That show was the most popular exhibit the Rockwell had opened to that date. Then it toured the US for years, hitting quite a few other museums. When it was done, they wanted to follow it up with something similar. And Breathtaker was it. The plan was that we would line up publishing for the book, and get the new show set to happen at the same time. There was one complication that none of us anticipated being a problem. The Rockwell has a policy of not repeating a show. And since so much of Breathtaker had been included in LitGraphic, it was decided to position the Breathtaker Exhibition as a touring show. Several venues showed immediate interest. Then for the next 6 years, one venue after another ran into problems right when we were about to announce the show. I should mention that the museum world runs at a much more sedate pace than publishing. So there was a constant tension from the publishing side as we were poised to jump into the PR and solicitation phase. And time passed. Years passed. Three times we almost pulled the trigger. And then McDaniel College signed on, about a year ago. That’s when the wheels started turning for the book market, then the comics market. We have learned a lot from this experience. And we fully expect the Breathtaker Exhibition to continue to tour for years to come. It just took a while to get that ball rolling. The Breathtaker Exhibition opens at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland August 24th and runs through October 30th 2020. It will be open to the public.

Make Way For The Man

Make Way For The Man


Westfield: An exciting extra in the book is a new story of The Man by you and Marc Hempel. How did this come about?

Wheatley: An added bonus to the Breathtaker Exhibition delay was that I was able to get Marc on board for a stand-alone comic book featuring The Man. In the original Breathtaker graphic novel it is established that The Man has his own TV show, toy line and comic book series. In fact issue #137 of Make Way For The Man appears in the story. From the early days fans were asking us to come up with a The Man comic book series. We didn’t want to do a series, but the idea of a single issue was appealing. The concept I came up with was to create issue #138 of Make Way For The Man. And the story in this single issue is the epic conclusion to a twelve issue epic. Readers will join The Man just at the incredible climax to this year-long story, and all the past details are supplied as the action tears along. This was a chance to get some of that wonderful super-action energy out of our systems. When it was all done, Titan’s publisher, Nick Landau asked us to create some added features that would firmly put this comic book into the publishing style of 30 years ago. I’m very pleased with the results. And we had a lot of fun doing it.

Make Way For The Man preview page

Make Way For The Man preview page


Westfield: This is the first time you’ve collaborated on a story with Marc in 20 years starring a character you haven’t written in a long time. How was it working together again?

Wheatley: Marc and I have been friends since 1974! We’ve been hanging out together for most of the time since. We think a lot alike and we have a similar, stupid sense of humor. We make each other laugh, and that is a good formula for being good friends. Working with Marc is different only in that when we are gabbing, I have to remind him to finish the art on the pages I’m waiting for. I will say that it has been a real jolt to see the completed pages and see that Wheatley/Hempel style again. It is a bit like there is a third creator that we make when we collaborate.

Breathtaker preview page

Breathtaker preview page


Westfield: Are there other special features in the book?

Wheatley: Yes, I think we have almost forty pages of alternate scenes, unpublished pages, character designs, pencil pages, and the behind-the-scenes story of how we created Breathtaker in the first place! Then there is the introduction to the book from the ever popular Neil Gaiman as well as an introduction to the Breathtaker Exhibition by Martin Mahoney, the Director of Curatorial Operations for the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Chase Darrow

Chase Darrow


Westfield: Any closing comments?

Wheatley: Well, there is a lot of interest in Breathtaker these days. The story is a perfect fit for the “MeToo” age, and it only took 30 years for reality to catch up. This means we are fielding quite a few media offers. So we will see what the next 30 years holds for Breathtaker!

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