Andrea Fort and Michael Christopher Heron are the writers behind the Vault Comics title Songs For The Dead, whose first volume released last year, with artist Sam Beck. The series, which follows the bard and necromancer Bethany, is set to release its second volume this summer. I sat down with Andrea and Michael at Emerald City Comic Con to talk all things Songs For The Dead.
Tim: Songs For The Dead wrapped its first six-issue arc last year and a new arc was announced for this summer. Can you talk a little about what you have planned for Bethany?
Mike: Absolutely. The first arc is very much about introducing people to Bethany and letting you know who she is and what she’s all about. The next arc is really going to show you her growth. That goes for Ellisar too, her partner. They both definitely go through a lot of growth. For anyone that’s read the first volume, you’ll see where things left was pretty shaky. We’re definitely going to resolve some of those issues and introduce some new ones as well.
Andrea: Introducing new issues is definitely part of the plan. They say if you love your characters, you should torture them, so we definitely want to make things a little more difficult going forward.
Mike: Lovingly tortured.
Tim: When I picture a typical necromancer, I picture an old man in a cloak. But Bethany is a young woman. What was your approach to mixing up that trope?
Mike: That was what kind of inspired the whole thing. Andrea and I are both huge RPG fans. We play D&D. We play video games like Dragon Age and Skyrim. We’re very big into that. It came from the idea of loving the skillset of the necromancer, but thinking why does it always have to be evil. Why does it always have to be a scary grim guy that looks like Skeletor? What if you go the opposite direction and make it a kind-hearted young woman, who has a heart for adventure and helping others. She just happens to know how to raise the dead. From that idea is how the whole thing blossomed.
Andrea: I’ve always liked to play against type too. I’ve never been one to fit into a mold, so the opportunity to tell this story of a necromancer, who was this young woman who is bubbly and optimistic. Kind of like a twisted Disney princess sort of thing really appealed to me. Turning the whole trope on its head.
Tim: How do you balance the dark aspects of necromancy and raising the dead, while keeping the comic upbeat and light?
Mike: I think a lot of that comes from writing Bethany herself. I think by staying true to her character and always having that hope in her heart, it always influences the way the story goes. We deliberately put her in a grim world. Beyond the necromancy itself, a suffering of bad things happen all around her. She sort of is that beacon that keeps things afloat. In a way, we’re drawing inspiration from real life. There’s a lot of things that make it hard to live in the real world right now. Holding onto that hope is sometimes the thing that moves you forward.
Andrea: He said it really well. A character-driven book focused on Bethany really lightens up the world.
Tim: What’s your writing process as a duo?
Mike: As a partnership, it’s definitely more unique. Andrea and I both come from writing backgrounds, just on our own paths. When we came together, there was a lot of trial and error. We eventually landed in a place that we sort of play it by ear.
Andrea: There’s a lot of spitballing and developing the idea together. Then, one of us will go off and script. The other will rip it apart and reorganize. We come back together, then go back and rescript, until everybody is happy with it. It’s almost like internal editing. But the genesis of everything comes from us as well. It’s been really, really rewarding and challenging to work with a partner. More rewarding, I would say. We challenge each other’s weird ideas. When someone is telling you “I don’t know if that works,” you really have to find a reason to defend it. I think that makes the story much stronger.
Tim: How do you decide who scripts when?
Mike: Again, it’s a lot of playing by ear.
Andrea: I’m going to give Mike a lot of the scripting credit, only because when I script, it tends to take a lot longer.
Mike: We both have different processes. I think we sort of take each other’s cues, seeing who’s really feeling this particular story. We’ll let them run with it, while the other person works more like an editor. We go back and forth in that way.
Tim: How did you team up with artist Sam Beck?
Andrea: Is the greatest.
Mike: Sam is the greatest, first of all.
Andrea: Just putting that out there.
Mike: When we started, we started as an independent comic. We did everything on our own, beginning to end. At first, it was very much cold-calling a variety of artists we were interested in. We didn’t have a lot of experience. It was a lot of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what would work and whose vibe really worked for us. When we found Sam, it was perfect. Lightning in a bottle.
Andrea: Sam understands the vision. She understands the songs and the characters and the story. She makes the story so much better, by virtue of working with us. She did a test page for us, and after going through the process of going through all the people, that test page was wow. “This could be our book?” She agreed to work with us. I don’t know why, but I’ll take it.
Mike: It was like she read our minds. That’s what we were looking for most when we were looking for an artist.
Andrea: I told her to get out of my head.
Mike: Then also not.
Andrea: Don’t, because I need you in there. I can’t make sense of it.
Mike: We were looking for someone who was not only super talented, but somebody who understand what we were going for.
Andrea: Massive bonus points to her being in the same city as us since we get to work face to face, which I think is rare in this business. It’s actually kind of fun.
Tim: Lastly, do you have more Songs For The Dead planned beyond the second arc?
Mike: We definitely wrote the books with the intention we could just keep it going forever, basically. We created this whole universe. We have tons of ideas about things we could explore, stories we could do. Even some that go beyond Bethany and Ellisar. We definitely talked about things between us. Without pulling the curtain back too far, there’s definitely an intention to keep the story going.
Andrea: As long as people like it and as long as Vault will have us, we’ll keep going. We have other stuff as well, but we would love to keep telling this story because I believe Songs is very close to both our hearts now.