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James Heffron Interview (APR 2009)

 height=James Heffron is the creator of the old west meets aliens comic, Territory 51. This month, he's back with It Tolls For Thee, a book that combines the plague with the living dead. Westfield's Roger Ash recently spoke with James to learn more about the book.

Westfield: What was the genesis for the story?

James Heffron: I started this project after I did Territory 51 and another project which still isn't out in any mainstream market. I had it out at conventions. It's called Gangs of Camelot which is a whimsical goofy little book, just to do something different. I felt the need to go back to the darker territory. I found over the last number of projects that it's the area I tend to gravitate towards as far as subject matter. I really wanted to do something set in medieval times centering around a plague. Zombies have been all the rage for a while, but that wasn't the motivation other than I found the idea of putting a twist on it with these bodies being taken away via carts and dumped somewhere interesting. Tying them into another legendary story was the icing on the cake for me, which I want to keep as a surprise. There's definitely more to this story than meets the eye. The challenge was how to weave all of this back together with a cohesive, intriguing punch. The reader will have to decide if we've succeeded.

Westfield: You have a mixed group of characters in the book. Why did you choose the characters you did?

 height=Heffron: I really wanted complete diversity in the characters. How could all of these different individuals be drawn into a single unified tale? What brings them together in this moment to battle a great evil, to stand united for one last stand? There's the noble Templar Knight with a mysterious agenda. The farmer's daughter who is a victim of circumstance. Her parents have died from the plague and she is merely trying to survive. The Nun and the Blacksmith both with shaded pasts. One now serves the greater good, the other is looking only to protect his family. Lastly, the ambassador who's just passing through and is now stranded in this accursed place. I thought it would be interesting to have all of these different people, none fully intending to play the role of hero, and there they all are. What are they going to do about it?

Westfield: As you mentioned, the story is set in medieval times. Did you do any research for the story?

Heffron: Yes. My research for this started all over the place. Why would the dead return, who or what could be responsible? I researched the plagues of the middle ages, what their causes were and what was done to deal with them. As the story evolved, the evolution turned toward the island of Cyprus. The more I researched it, the more I realized that Cyprus was really a chess piece for the Templars. It was a port during the Crusades. It was a place that changed hands depending on what the political powers were. I thought it would be a neat melting pot where all these different groups could all be in one location. I also wanted to bring in part of a story we are all a little familiar with, but keep it as a reveal. That was the beginning of it. I like to think I always research enough to say it could be possible, if it wasn't entirely fiction! When I was doing Territory 51, I did some research on secret railroads that were used to transport munitions and money for the Military. I created the Topeka-Pacific that traveled through the New Mexico territories at the time. The actual railroad didn't arrive until the 1880s and my story was set in 1873 so I felt it could be entirely plausible. I feel the details are important. If I'm reading a story, I want to be able to buy into it. Now this might be a somewhat maniacal example, in Territory 51, I had one of the outlaws using a Schofield .45. When the story was nearly finished, I discovered the Schofield was still being developed in 1873 when a Major George Schofield of the US Cavalry converted a Smith & Wesson #3 revolver into a Schofield. The Schofield .45 wasn't really in play until 2 years later. So I changed it to Smith & Wesson #3. That might be a little overboard, I sometimes think would anyone really ever care about those details other than me? Who knows, but I would like to think I did my research.

Westfield: Are there any other projects you're working on that you'd like to talk about?

 height=Heffron: There's Feast of Fools for Radical Comics which is going to be three issues. It's the story of a group of vampires who take over a prison. The next book is a supernatural tale set in the west. For anyone who read Territory 51, that was more of a mash up of sci-fi and the old west. This is going to be more of a straight horror tale. After that is a futuristic love story. I'm also working on a book I just felt had to be done and it's something I've never done, superheroes (well, sort of). There's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? And it made me think of a story that was sooo ridiculous I had to do it.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Heffron: Thanks to Roger and the terrific folks at Westfield for the interview. Our goal as a publisher is to put together top talent, high production values and make the price appealing. If you're a fan of supernatural horror with a twist please give this a shot!

To link to this interview, use this link (right click and copy)

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