Sunday, July 14, 2024

“I Want My Comics To Connect To People”: A Peek Into The Mind of Heather Antos

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Heather Antos has only been working in comics for a few years now but has already racked up an impressive pedigree of titles she was a part of as a comics editor. You might have read her work on Deadpool, which had the Merc With A Mouth face down Old Man Logan and introduced the sensation of Gwenpool to the masses. Or perhaps you’ve read her work with Star Wars, helping to adapt the latest movies to the screen, bring legendary Grand Admiral Thrawn into the canon, and help create fan-favorite character Dr.Aphra. After leaving Marvel, she worked as a freelancer on books like Redlands and Bitter Root before joining Valiant Comics earlier this year as an editor. Heather was a special guest at this year’s Indy Pop Con, and was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss her career in comics, what a comics editor does, and what is the deal with the penguins?

Art by Michael Wash

Fandomentals: The obvious question is to ask how you got into comics. But let’s go a little further back. How did you discover comics and become a fan in the first place?

Heather Antos: Growing up, I was introduced to comics by the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman 66′, which was on TV all the time. I read the Sunday comics with my family every week, and my brothers and I would fight over the comics all the time to the point where my parents had to literally assign times for us to read them. I drew comics probably before I really knew what a comic really was, and I didn’t really have a local comics shop growing up. It wasn’t until high school that I discovered comic shops and reading, and I had always been a fan of storytelling and art so it was really a natural progression for me. When I was in college, my American Fiction class read Sandman and the Vertigo comics, and when DC came out with the New 52  it really acted as a gateway to all the superhero stuff. It all sort of went from there.

“It’s the human connection that was so important to me in the stuff that I watched and read and consumed growing up”

FM: So how did you transition into it professionally?

HA: Throughout college, just as sort of a hobby or pastime, I wrote for a lot of pop culture and review sites. I covered the Marvel movies and the Batman films, I did comics reviews, I went to Comic-Cons and interviewed comics professionals and creators. When I graduated college and was trying to find my next step in the world, my friend turned to me and said ‘Well, you like comics? Why not just do that?’ And it was funny because up until that point it never crossed my mind as an option for me.

Growing up in the small town Midwest they don’t have a career day where, like, a Batman writer comes in to tell us about what they do. It’s just never presented as an option to you. So it was really just a light bulb moment where I said ‘Holy shit, I’ve got to find a way to make this happen.’ So, like any good millennial, I started tweeting at comics professionals to see who would talk to me. That’s how I met Jordan White at Marvel. He was at C2E2, I was at C2E2, and he agreed to sit with me and discuss what it is that comics editors do. And I left the show with an idea of how I was gonna do it.

The Unlawful Good anthology was Heather’s first professional editorial work in comics, and it launched her career

“I thought ‘Holy shit, I’ve got to find a way to make this happen.'”

For the next six months, I put together a giant comics anthology. I reached out to friends and colleagues and social media and said ‘If you write or you draw, I will publish it, I will produce it, I will fund it, I will market it. I will do the hard stuff, that no one else wants to do. And you just do it. And by New York Comic-Con that same year, I ran into Jordan White again. I said “Look what I’ve done since the last time we met,” and he asked, “Well, would you ever be interested in moving to New York?” And I absolutely was. A month later I had an interview with Marvel, two months later I packed my bags and moved to New York. And the rest is history.

FM: You mentioned briefly how you were told what a comics editor does. Do you think you could go over what those duties are?

HA: I cry a lot, I drink a lot of coffee, I go to therapy. But really, what I like to say is that the closest correlation to comics editing is TV and Film producing. Your job is to put together a project from start to finish, on a deadline, cast it, come up with a single creative division, make sure everyone gets along…and you do that for about ten to twenty projects at a time. There’s some projects where I’ll come up with the idea, some that creators will come to me with, and some that my bosses come to me with an idea. It’s my job to then take that idea and uphold the integrity of the project, see it through, and hope that it’s good!

FM: As an editor, you obviously have to be adaptable. But when you’re working on a comic, especially when you have some say in what you’re working on, what sort of comics do you like to work on? What do you want comics that you work on to do?

HA: At the end of the day, I want them to be fun. Even my horror comics like Redlands I still want to be fun. My big thing is that I want them to connect to people in some way, shape, or form. Whether it’s someone seeing themselves in Gwenpool as a fan who wants to be a superhero or giving someone escapism when they don’t want to think about the real world anymore. It’s that human connection that was so important to me in the stuff that I watched and read and consumed growing up, and I want to give people that joy and that community, I think, that we need.

FM: You’re a horror fan as well, and I’m curious what it is that you like about horror that makes it an interesting genre for you?

HA: I think, for me, it’s the way that it deals with all the human psychology, why we do the things we do, as well as exploring the true capability to do horrible things that humanity has. Horror is a dark reflection of who we are as people. Bitter Root is a horrific book with humans fighting monsters, but it’s a personification of anger and hate literally turning people into monsters. There’s social commentary there and while it’s fun because they’re these cool anime looking things; there’s a story there. Redlands is about these oppressed women who fight back against this misogynistic community. Do they do it in the right way? Ehhhhhhhh…who knows? But there’s a lot of social commentary there. It’s a reflection of the world we live in, and it’s a way to discuss things happening right now in the zeitgeist.

“Heather’s work with your old buddy Deadpool coincided with my own massive success as a box office star. I’ll be the first to admit I can be a bit of a diva, and it got worse once the Hollywood cheddar started rolling in. I honestly don’t know how Heather stuck with me for so long but just between you and I, I think she’s sweet on me” -DP

FM: Let’s talk a bit about your time at Marvel. What was it like working at Marvel when, while it hasn’t yet begun to peak, it was handling all these properties that were the hottest things in entertainment? Not just with Marvel in general, but you worked on Deadpool when he was exploding, and of course Star Wars.

HA: It was insane. But it’s really funny because the only Marvel comic I read leading up to my time at Marvel WAS Deadpool. I’d been reading Deadpool all throughout high school and college but once I started interviewing I thought that I should maybe start reading some other stuff (Naaaaaah- DP). I’d also been a massive Star Wars fan my entire life, so it was really just the best coincidence (well, not coincidence, because Jordan interviewed me for these titles because he knew that’s what I liked) but to be offered the two groups of books that I love…was just such a dream come true. It was such a dream come true, especially with Star Wars as it entered this new era of Disney taking over and the modern telling with new characters and new stories.

FM: You’re getting to mold canon, you’re not as stuck with decades and decades of history like with a lot of stuff.

HA: And it’s been refreshed as well! The only things that are canon are the movies and the cartoons and the comics that we’re putting out right now. To have that impact and to get such positive response to the new characters…it’s just indescribable. And it’s the same thing with Deadpool, you know? People have been wanting the Deadpool film for so, so, so long and Deadpool is such a unique character who touches on so many things. You can do tragedy and horror and even blue collar comedy as you put him up against Punisher and Gambit and Old Man Logan (I can still smell the Bengay- DP)…it’s just fun, so much fun.

“It was such a dream come true”

FM: And the movies are being handled well, so brand new people are being exposed to it.

AH: Exactly! The amount of people writing in to me about Star Wars who tell me that they’d never read a comic until the Star Wars comics, that was their gateway into comics. It’s just so cool to be a part of someone’s journey like that.

FM: Is working on a Star Wars comic any different from working on a superhero comic?

AH: Oh, 100%! I mean partially because you have LucasFilm involved so the process is completely different. But, also, at the end of the day it’s all people. Peter Parker is just a guy trying to make ends meet and be a good guy at the end of the day. That’s all Luke Skywalker is too. There’s a lot of similarities between superheroes and these space opera stories, it’s just the rules you have to play with are different.

FM: What was it like creating Gwenpool and Doctor Aphra and seeing the positive reception they got from fans?

AH: Helping create these new characters in the midst of huge, established franchises and then see them take off in toys and video games and merchandise…it’s weird. It’s really, really weird. But it’s so cool. I was at Celebration on a comics panel and there were like…twelve women there dressed as Doctor Aphra. To see that and to have been a part of that creation process is just so cool. And the big thing for me was that when I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of characters in comics that I related to, that I saw myself in. That was my goal with Gwenpool and Aphra, I wanted to make characters that I would want to read about and that other young women like me would learn about them too.

FM: Moving from Marvel to your “wayward time,” what was it like shifting to freelancing?

AH: It’s definitely different.  When you’re an editor for a publisher, you’re the keeper of the keys. It’s your job to protect the integrity of the character and at the end of the day you make the rules. If a writer came up to me and said “I want to kill Spider-Man,” I’d be like “That’s great and all…but we can’t,” and they’d have to listen to me. I was, essentially, the voice of Marvel. But if Warren Ellis sends me the script for Injection and he tells me that he wants to blow up the world I have to tell him “Warren, that’s a bad idea, if you blow up the world we’ll have nowhere to tell the story,” he can just say “Screw you” and blow up the world because he’s the keeper of the keys. He brought me on and I’m just there as a creative consultant and advisor.

FM: Image is wholly creator controlled, is Valiant that way?

AH: No, it’s its own established universe and heroes though we do work with creators on projects.

FM: How did you end up at Valiant?

Released February 13, 2019, Livewire #3 was Antos’s first issue as an editor for Valiant

AH: It kind of came out of nowhere. I’d had my break from “Big Two” publishing and just needed some time off, and I’d done some freelance stuff but I really wanted to get back into it full time. A friend of mine asked if I’d talked to Valiant, and when I said no he helped set up an email introduction. At the time, I’d been checking in with friends at Penguin and other publishers, doing networking, all that stuff. So when Robert Myers at Valiant asked me to do lunch, I expected it to just be meeting with people and talking but it actually ended with a job offer. That’s how it happens. Did NOT see it coming at all, but very happy. And it’s been so much fun the past five months getting settled and playing with their universe.

FM: Livewire was your first project and it came out earlier this year. Can you tell us a little bit about her?

AH: Yeah! So, I was brought on to finish her run, I didn’t get to develop it or launch it. Issue #1 had already come out by the time I started and #2 had literally gone to print on my first day. Livewire is a technopath, which means she has control over all technology. For instance, she can control the Internet which, in today’s society is…pretty useful. Y’know, kids these days can’t let go of their cell phone. She is on a bit of redemption arc right now, thanks to a recent storyline (Harbinger War Two) where the government was literally hunting down “psiots,” which are people with abilities like Livewire. She panicked and didn’t really know how to handle it, and she handled it by ended up turning off power for the country. Planes crash and streetlights don’t work and hospitals shut down and, even though she did it with good intentions, the world now sees her as this huge villain. Her story right now is to try to redeem herself and psiots in general so people don’t see psiots as these villains. What’s been fun has been getting to dive into this character who’s very proud and doesn’t want to admit that she’s done anything wrong. It’s her “come to Jesus” moment. It’s been a lot of fun getting to explore those layers.

FM: So your first “proper” big launch as an editor will be XO Manowar, correct? He’s a pretty established character, a Jim Shooter original.

“It’s been so much fun the past five months playing with their universe.”

HA: Exactly, he’s one of the big ones for Valiant, one of their mainstays. Of the projects I’m working on that I can talk about (there’s so many that I can’t), XO Manowar is one of the most interesting. He’s a Visigoth warrior from Ancient Rome who got abducted by aliens (y’know, as you do). There’s this “sword in the stone” moment where there’s a suit of armor that the aliens have that only the “worthy one” can wear. Everyone else who has tried to wear it has died. Aric (EN: Aric of Dacia, said Visigothic warrior) gets it, puts it on and it doesn’t kill him and now we have this Ancient  Roman warrior wearing the most powerful suit of armor in the world. It’s kind of like if Thor or Conan the Barbarian was wearing Iron Man’s suit, you know? There’s a lot of fun to be had with that. I brought over Dennis Hopeless (Jean Grey, Spider-Woman Vol. 5-6) to write it and Dennis is really just so great. He really excels at character and character interaction, I love his run on Spider Woman. I brought over Emilio Laiso (Rogue One, Doctor Aphra), who did a lot of art with me on Star Wars. I just can’t wait for people to see. The covers are by Christian Ward and are stunning. 

FM: You said that there isn’t a lot that you can talk about, but at one point Valiant mentioned that you’d be working on your own titles. Is there anything you can tell us about that?

HA: It’s a brand new IP, brand new things. I can’t say what they are, but I can tease. For anyone who follows me online and knows my love of horror and true crime and murder…this might be a book for you. It’s so cool to get to develop new characters in a pre-existing universe. I got a bit of that with Aphra and Gwenpool, but those were almost happy accidents. Aphra showed up in Darth Vader #3 and nobody expected her to take off like she did, let alone getting her own book out of it. Gwenpool was just a variant cover, did very well, got her own book. So to be doing it with the sole purpose of creating a character in this universe that is still young and developing…it’s so much fun. It’s very cool, it’s very scary, but I’m lucky to be at a publisher that believes in me and trusts me with doing it.

FM: And it will be in the set in the Valiant universe, you won’t be creating your own universe or anything?

AH: No, it’s set in the Valiant Universe. One day though, one day…

FM: Time for the hard questions. If you had to pick, who would be your favorite superhero?

AH: See, I like anti-heroes a lot but I’d say Gwenpool.

FM: Is there a comic, a trade or a single issue, that is your favorite that you’ve ever read?

AH: I think Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, that was the volume that made me want to make comics, but specifically the”24 Hour Diner” issue (Sandman #6). I like gruesome, fucked up, murder, horror things, as we’ve discussed, and that’s what that issue is. Everything leading up to that, though; it was such a well-earned payoff. It’s such a great example of the reader knowing something the characters don’t know, because the reader knows how these seemingly random patrons of the diner are connected even though the patrons themselves don’t know how. I remember while reading that issue that my stomach was turning, but that’s just because it’s so well done. Props to Neil Gaiman who knew exactly what he was doing when he laid all that out. It’s not easy to do and he does it so well, so so well.

Other than that, I’d say Black Widow #1 by Mark Waid. It’s just a masterclass in comics storytelling. It’s just so good.

FM: Finally…what’s with the penguins?

HA: Uh…penguins are awesome?

You can follow Heather on Twitter and Instagram, and see more of her work on her website

Images courtesy of Marvel, Valiant, Michael Walsh

*Portions of this article have been edited for the sake of clarity and to protect the innocent

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