A cynical view of life may result in the feeling that in life we just work till we die. But what if it turned out even after we died their was more work for us to do? I will be doing comic book interviews even after I die and I will be doing them in the Big Wait.
Creators Max Bemis and Eryk Donovan introduce the Big Wait in their new comic series, “Heavy.” In the series the Big Wait is a place “where folks who don’t quite make the cut go to work off their debt. Everyone in the Wait’s got a job.” The series will follow the character of Bill who is “heavy, whose job is policing the multiverse, making sure bad eggs get what’s coming to them. He’s on track to earn his Climb and reunite with the woman he loves… until he meets his new partner: the worst dude of all time.”
To learn more about the series “Heavy” and working a 9-5 in a limbo we spoke to creators Eryk Donovan and Max Bemis. The team discus building the world of The Big Wait, the action hero character, establishing tone in a series and more.
A huge thanks to Max and Eryk for taking the time to discuss “Heavy” and be sure to look for the first issue in stores and online this September 16th.
What was the original idea for “Heavy” that got it into motion and how did you two team up on this project together? Has the idea or scope of the series evolved a lot through your work as a team?
Max Bemis: “HEAVY” was my first comic idea ever and is actually about ten years old. When it first emerged, it was born out of my desire to spend eternity with the woman I had just married and my feeling of being unworthy of that. It resurfaced after having written many comics and having been married for a long time, and became just as much about how prescribed notions of masculinity force men to experience love, now knowing that life isn’t as simple as I thought it was back then. That said, it’s still a love letter to my wife underneath all the violence and dark humor and self analysis.
As for how Eryk has changed the book, nearly every visual manifestation of my ideas was shaped or conceived from scratch by him, including taking certain comic and thematic pieces to the next level. The book is basically written as a dare to Eryk pretty much every issue. The concept and script allow for (and require) the artist on this one to truly co-create the world I was visualizing and Eryk has not only killed that but served as a great sounding board for the fairly ““Heavy”” concept we’re examining through the book. We’re both millennial dudes going through the tail end of similar early mid-life crises.
Eryk Donovan: For my end, our excellent editor Tay approached me about “HEAVY” as a possible future project in the fall last year. We talked about the general vibe, synopsis, and it was hitting all of the notes for me. Sexy, Violent, fantastical, and with a lot of heart. We organized a call between Max, Adrian and the two of us, and we just clicked. I remember reading Max’s (first?) comic series POLARITY like a decade ago and now we’re making this trippy new story together. It’s been fantastic honestly.
Like many projects, it evolves as you go. “HEAVY” has this universe that I love working in, because anything is possible if I can draw it which allows for a lot of visual and story exploration. As far as the scope of the thing, one of the best parts has been realizing how certain characters are a lot more important than they may have seemed at initial conception, and I’m really looking forward to where we’re going to be taking you all by the end. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the 2nd half of this series is really going to pack a gut punch of emotional weight in there that we’ve been building with the first arc, and I can’t wait.Continued below
You guys tackle the idea of a “punisher” trope head on in this series. Why do you think the punisher style character and tragedy is one that has made itself home in comics and how have you approached that in your subversion of the trope?
MB: The Punisher is still my favorite superhero (sorry to say). I think he’s a perfect distillation of everything horrible and beautiful about the “dude vigilante” archetype in that his heart is in the right place but he’s ultimately a product of the system that destroyed his life. I could become him with the wrong set of circumstances and I’m not proud of it.
One could argue his admitted hypocrisy is the case with any number of superheroes who preach an end to violence while beating the shit out of anyone who disagrees with them. It’s the nature of any hero who accepts that there will be casualties to his war, and this works even on a political or philosophical level when we alienated other people for what may be a righteous cause. I think to subvert it we basically just admitted how dumb of a hypocritical fantasy it can be though still needed at times and we distilled it down to simply “hurting all bad people ever” instead of specifically criminals or, like, you know, Italian criminals as it stands in the Punisher books.
ED: Part of what’s so attractive about the Punisher character for so many is that he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, in fact even more so I think many of us men see a catharsis in this violence. It’s not healthy, and it’s often not productive or even very antithetical to our end goals, but we’re raised to be “tough” “stoic” and stifle all of our emotions but our anger. It really takes a lot of deep introspection, life experience and a willingness to be humble and grow to move past that.
With “HEAVY” we really want to tackle those issues in a fun and thoughtful way. Comic books give an opportunity to be bombastic and over the top with action scenes, violence, and gore that is hard to capture outside of animation, and subverting the tropes while walking the line of glamorizing and critiquing the violence of our characters has been a challenge that I’ve been pleased to take on. I grew up watching anime like Ninja Scroll, GANTZ, DragonBall Z, and playing hyper-violent videogames. I probably watched Fight Club 20 times when I was 17, I was obsessed with The Matrix, but of course I didn’t have the frame of reference or life experience to pick up on the more nuanced subtexts of many of those stories. As far as I’m concerned, Max and I are tackling something similar with “HEAVY”. So far I think we’re hitting the mark, but like all Art™ I think ultimately that will be up to our readers.
Almost instantly, you drop readers into the city of The Big Wait. What was your goal for the look and feel of this series?
MB: The Big Wait is surreal, silly, chock full of endless unresolved, very human problems that manifest themselves physically and linger into the afterlife.
ED: From a design perspective, I wanted to create something that said “Heaven” from a distance (It’s not) but can get really gritty and real on closer inspection. Lots of clouds, spires, tall towers. Travelers coming too and fro – Halfway, The Wait, is this afterlife that exists outside of time and space, filled with those working off their debts for the Powers that Be. It needed to feel active, alive, bustling like a city rather than some tranquil sanctuary in the sky. All of our characters who inhabit The Wait are just as real and flawed as they were in life, with the same vices and virtues. Like any city, the sun gleaming off of towers on the horizon belie a more sobering and messy reality.
“Heaven” as we commonly think of it does exist in our world, but it may not be what you expect.
Additionally at the same time the story creates a setting where there is almost an endless list of possibilities you could see Bill stumble into. Have you guys established rules and restrictions for how crazy things can get? I mean in issue one alone Eryk you seem like you get to stretch many creative muscles with this series.Continued below
MB: Honestly, I think we have some basic rules that help us tell a story that you can wrap your mind around but we’re relatively less strict when it comes to the “physics” behind everything works. It’s less science fiction than fable. People have brought up The Good Place in relation to the book which I think is a good comparison. It’s all about what’s emotional or entertaining and makes the reader understand what’s happening and what we intend on a primal human level. We want a Michael Bay level of gratification with a Larry David level of neuroses.
ED: For me at least, the limit is only my imagination. Every visual decision I make is with the setting and story in mind, but making things more intense, fantastical, and/or strange typically only enhances the scene rather than taking away. These guys are essentially super heroic assassins, and they have been Blessed (Cursed) with the power to pretty much commit any sort of violent act possible, so whether they’re doing that with a magic, a huge fantastical machine gun, or a katana it all has it’s place.
I’ve really enjoyed coming up with some of creative ways to play with a scene, and sometimes I’ll just push it even further than the original concept because of some harebrained visual that occurred to me when I was breaking down the moment. It can be a bit of a challenge as well when the context is itself and we’re making the rules up as we go, but that’s also part of the fun. Comic storytelling is the perfect medium for this, and I’ve really done my damnedest to find some new and unexpected ways to treat you with something cool and new in each chapter.
If Bill is a heavy, what do you feel like your roles in The Big Wait would be?
MB: Unfortunately, I’m pretty much a lot like Bill So I would probably end up a “Heavy” who needs like A LOT of physical training. Beyond that, since I’m even tubbier and not as tough as him perhaps I’d just be recruited as a inter-dimensional Gilmore Girls Troubadour who is sent to pop into the background of people’s lives and play an inspirational jam for them if they’re in a pinch and need motivation.
ED: Hmm. I dunno! Probably a fantasy cook or maybe Cupid? If it meant flying all over time and space I’d happily be the mailman. I’m over here creating all these crazy characters and playing God and I never thought about it. * sweats *
The tone of the first issue is a good balance of humor and violence, which both can be difficult elements of storytelling to pull off effectively. I think both humor and violence can skew so far into one direction it may lose its meaning or value. How have you as a creative team set out to balance the two and get the most out of the story you want to tell?
MB: I think the books and films I grew up reading that tread that same line served as inspiration. Garth Ennis is definitely woven deep into the DNA of this book. Kill Bill and whatnot, too, and then humor that crosses over into really gross or off putting territory like Tim and Eric, Monty Python, etc.
ED: Max has a great grasp on these characters, their voice, their personalities, and quirks so I had a lot to work with from the get go. The more I direct and act a character on the page, the more I get to know them as well, they quickly begin to meld, and something new is synthesized. We’ve had a few creative meetings about the direction of a certain character or scene if the need arises, but this has really felt for me like something we fell into naturally.
Assessing any given scene, how you depict violence really affects the way it’s interpreted. In my horror work I’ve typically been much more focused on the gore, splatter, and dark scratchy lines, where with “HEAVY” I’ve modified and evolved some of my drawing and inking styles to fit the story and world. There still may be guts and blood, beheadings and eyeballs popping out of mashed skulls or something, but drawing it in a slightly less detailed or gruesome way changes the way it sits with you.Continued below
Ultimately, I’m going to enjoy drawing all the violence and gore, but even just rendering it a bit cleaner can change the read.
A lot of the work you both have done, especially in the creator owned realm, seems to blend the inner struggles of people with issues in our society. Are these still topics you are covering with “Heavy” and are these ideas you feel can often be expressed and explored purposefully in comics?
MB: Firstly, thanks for recognizing my attempt to do so haha. Secondly, yes, very much so. Though “Heavy” is particularly focused on the nature of love, violence and masculinity, I’ve covered these topics extensively before. It also has a heaping dose of my “usual suspects” I.e mental health, morality, finding humanity in supposedly “evil” human beings, and quasi-spirituality.
ED: I’ll speak just for myself here, but inner-struggle has been a big part of my life as long as I can recall. I’m very hard and critical on myself, as well as unforgiving, which frankly leads to a lot of anxiety or stress if I’m not careful. I definitely am still exploring a lot of these themes both in practice as well as creatively with “HEAVY”. It deals with a lot of darkness, and it’s forced me to continually come to terms with some of that darkness in my own life, and taking my life experiences from divorce or abuse or failure in my past and putting that into these characters I think makes it very personal and a much richer experience as a result.
2020 has been both the best and worst year for making a creative work like this, as it seems like nationally and internationally there is one crisis after another. We’ve collectively faced down pain and death and heartache day after day and week after week in so many places, and my work is definitely a byproduct of everything going on internally and externally.
I do think comics as a medium is especially conducive to this type of examination, it has a unique ability to tie in images and text to effect the way a story is read, and you can tell two, three, or even more separate stories at the same time on a page that all come together as a cohesive narrative. Some of my favorite comic work, such as Blankets, really succeeds in tying these together quite well. The story we’re telling with “HEAVY” for example is as much about the brutally destructive effects of stifling love and sensitivity as a culture while praising anger, and the damaging effects it has on the psyche.
You both have worked with a lot of publishers in the medium and have successful series under your belts. Vault Comics has done a great job building a varied and unique roster of titles and creators to really push for a place in the comics market. What has the experience been like teaming up with Vault and why has this been a good place to tell the story that is “Heavy?”
MB: It’s been unbelievable. I’m already begging them to work with me again. I’ve been lucky enough to work with only awesome, kind and creative editors, and Vault is no exception. Like Boom, they’re forward thinking, progressive and encouraging. They also allow me to do literally whatever the fuck I want in terms of explicit content and pushing boundaries for the sake of art and truth. Imagine Vertigo without any corporate agenda, and more of a youth oriented approach. I see big things for them, and obviously I’m not the only one.
ED: When I was first getting into the medium, I was obsessed with Vertigo comics. There were so many unique, strange, and powerful stories coming from that imprint, and my goal was to have my own Vertigo series one day.
Vertigo is now comics history, but what I see Adrian and Damian (as well as Tim, Tay, and the rest of the team) doing at Vault as being poised to carry that mantle. They’re pursuing powerful creative voices, giving them a place to explore challenging, original stories and creating work you can’t find at any other publisher right now, all while pushing against the status quo. I’m absolutely thrilled to have “HEAVY” with Vault, and I’m looking forward to their hopeful future as a bedrock in the comics industry.Continued below
What can readers look forward to in this series that they may not be expecting?
MB: The ending may blow a few minds.
ED: I hope to surprise folks with how much HEART this book has. Yeah, there’s plenty of over the top violence, sex, and trippy insanity, but at its core this book is as much about personal growth and coming to terms with yourself as it is about shooting cum-yetis in the face with a rocket launcher.
What do you hope readers take away from their time with “Heavy?”
MB: That as progressives, we’re all in the same boat in terms of being only human and very much so behind the curve. Especially cis-gendered men. We’re all just schmucks looking for love and acceptance, and nobody is above these base drives; there’s nothing wrong with them. For me, it’s all about accepting that life’s meaning is that pure and simple and discarding the pretenses we impose on ourselves or have imposed on ourselves based on our deemed social construct that prevent us from accepting it.
And that in some possible dimension, lurking, exists the possibility of the Jizz Yeti.
ED: Honestly I just hope they love the characters, the art, the story, and that they want more when it’s all said and done. This has been one of my favorite books to draw; I hope they love their time in The Wait as much as I have.