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Kinetic Action & Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: In Conversation with Fraser Campbell, Writer of Heart of Steal #1

We were swept away recently in Fraser Campbell‘s Heart of Steal #1, a vibrant, rugged, optimistic sci-fi action comic that’s a world away from Campbell’s more recognisably grittier output. #1 of Heart of Steal kicks off a tale of youthful vigilantism in a near-future, vaguely utopian landscape.

The comic is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter for the first of its four issues, so we caught up with Campbell to discover more about Heart of Steal, its creative crew, and how the comic distinguishes itself from Campbell’s back catalogue!

A Place To Hang Your Cape: Heart of Steal is quite a different flavour to your past work. What would you say makes this title different from your previous comics?

Campbell: I think the obvious difference is it’s a bit lighter in tone than my previous comics. Heart of Steal still has plenty of action and fraught situations, but hopefully there are a few laughs in there for readers too. And some more endearing characters than you might get in my other books!

AP2HYC: Was it at all difficult to step out of your comfort zone?

Campbell: I think it’s probably a very good thing to step outside your comfort zone a little with every new project. To be slightly more ambitious in scale or tone or style. That said, I didn’t feel like Heart of Steal was outside my wheelhouse at all really. I know it’s a bit different from my previous stuff but it’s the kind of amiable action/caper stuff I grew up adoring really. From Alias Smith & Jones to Firefly, I’ve always loved stories about well-meaning rascals getting in over their heads.

AP2HYC: You mention in the comic how your daughter was a big inspiration behind the comic, and how you wanted to create a comic someone from her age group might enjoy. Did any other inspirations go into the comic?

Campbell: A lot of it stems from a combined love of adventure anime, TV shows like Firefly and Veronica Mars and character driven comics like Saga, Crowded, Stumptown, Jessica Jones, Bandette and Giant Days. I also wanted to write something like this to show that I could, and have something a bit different on my table at conventions from my darker stuff that might appeal to a broader section of readers. We’ll see if that’s how it turns out!

AP2HYC: This is #1 of a four-part story. How may the story develop over the next 3 issues?

Campbell: That would be telling! Suffice to say the story expands to bring in a lot of new characters, some human some not-so-human who combine to make things more and more difficult for Toni to get to the hospital and save her brother. Things also hot up for Oscar and Michael as they both try to figure out the best way to get what they want and stay alive as well.

AP2HYC: What’s it been like working with Rebecca Horner and Katie Fleming in illustrating the comic?

Campbell: They’ve both been great to work with. Katie and I have been knocking this around for a wee while and I think she can be really proud of her work on this. You mentioned my comfort zone here and I think this was a little outside Katie’s as well, and she really rose to the occasion. Rebecca came in at a later stage and working with her was just very smooth. She picked up on what we were looking for straight away.

AP2HYC: What style would you say they bring to Heart of Steal?

Campbell: They bring so much energy and flair to it. Katie’s art is very kinetic and the ways she draws the characters is so expressive and engaging. Even in an action comic setting, she brings a lot of charm, frailty and vulnerability to the characters which I think will help readers connect with them and root for them. It’s absolutely what’s needed for a story like this. I gave Rebecca a few very loose notes on the kind of tone and style I was looking for with the book and she absolutely nailed it.

You can tell Alpha City ain’t exactly a utopia, but it looks very different from the typical ultra-grim near future sci-fi dystopias you tend to see in comics, games and movies. She’s done a brilliant job, really highlighting the massive influence a colourist has on the look, feel and tone of a comic. I’ve often worked with David Cooper who is also very collaborative and adds tons to everything he colours. It’s great to work with people with this level of craft and creativity.

AP2HYC: What skills and expertise have Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and Harry French been bringing to Heart of Steal?

Campbell: Harry is a superb writer and he’s a very good, demanding but patient editor as well. I really feel like when he’s editing my scripts, it gets that extra percentage of quality out of me. He asks questions I don’t think of and pushes me to improve stuff I’d probably let myself off with, all in a very encouraging way.

As for Hass, he’s been brilliant. His lettering is great with some really innovative touches. Plus his SFX for this comic, which really are an essential part of the book, are often hand created and fit the bill perfectly. They really add to the pace, energy and kinetic feel of the story, which is important as it’s intentionally a pretty breathless first issue! Hass also put together a great looking two page comic “trailer” that has helped with promotion. An absolute pleasure to work with.

AP2HYC: What’s been the most rewarding thing for you about bringing Heart of Steal to life?

Campbell: It’s always great to see a new comic come together, one of the great pleasure in life for me. However, Heart of Steal is my first project since suffering a really serious health scare earlier in the year, one I nearly didn’t come back from. So, it might sound a bit corny, but I suppose I have to say the most rewarding thing is just being here and still getting to make comics. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t!

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About the author

Fred McNamara