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INESCAPABLE MONSTERS - DILLON GILBERTSON TALKS SWEET HEART

Interview conducted by James Ferguson

After creeping me out through two issues thanks to successful Kickstarter campaigns, Sweet Heart is making a jump to your local comic shop through Action Lab: Danger Zone. The unsettling horror comic from writer Dillon Gilbertson, artist Francesco Iaquinta, colorist Marco Pagnotta, and letterer Saida Temfonte has a vibe similar to Wytches and that's certainly not a bad thing. I had a chance to speak with Gilbertson about the project before the book makes its debut.

Being hunted is an everyday risk in Ellicott City and the town itself is designed to make life comfortable for its citizens while being actively stalked by the eerie, insatiable creatures that live among them. But when Ben is chosen by one of the creatures near his home, his mother struggles to cope with the certainty of her son's death.

James Ferguson: Sweet Heart has some parallels to your own struggles with diabetes. Running with this idea, I can only imagine how other diseases would translate into literal monsters. How did you channel that into the story's development?

Dillon Gilbertson: Most horror stories are centered around some seemingly inescapable monster, and with a mental illness or physical diagnosis of any kind, the “monster” is literally always there because you can’t run away from yourself. That part was relatively simple to translate, but things tend to get tricky when you're translating something like diabetes or addiction because there are very few, if any, ways to defeat them. They're things you have to live with and manage. And even though I could only speak from the perspective of Type-1 diabetes, I think most people with a chronic illness understand the idea of not letting it define you, which isn't always without its challenges.

The other part we wanted to explore is how friends and loved ones are affected. Few horror stories really get into the effect these things have on people close to the primary "victim". It's a tough thing to go through, to watch a loved one fight something like cancer. You would do literally anything to help them and it can be quite frustrating to realize all you can do is be there for them.

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JF: How did the creative team for Sweet Heart come together?

DG: I discovered Francesco Iaquinta after browsing Twitter and DeviantArt for hours. I had this very specific idea about what I wanted the book to look like, but when I found a page of a book that Francesco had won an award for, it was so good that I started rethinking how the book should look. The way he inks, the images almost look like watercolors but are somehow able to show an incredible amount of detail at the same time. That’s what made me rethink a lot of scenes. I saw later were these subtle changes in how obscured or “watery” some images were depending on the scene. Like in issue #1, where Ben is in the hospital getting this scary, confusing news, and the images are just ever so slightly more “blurry” than the previous pages. This visual change, to me, presents this dreamlike sense of confusion. Ben is getting a lot of news at once, but nothing he can fully understand or mentally grapple with in the moment. The reader feels part of Ben’s confusion, which was also to the credit of Marco Pagnotta’s colors, who was actually recommended by Francesco.

Marco and Francesco had worked together on previous projects, so they were totally in sync the whole way through. Then Saida Temfonte comes in and sews it all together with letters that blend perfectly. There’s this set of panels in issue #3 that is literally one of my favorite scenes of the entire book simply because of the special effects Saida used for the rain. It’s unbelievable how good she is! I couldn’t have asked for a better art team.

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JF: How did the design for the monsters in Sweet Heart come about?

DG: When I initially thought about the Stringers, they were partially clothed, almost like people with hoods and long necks. Francesco turned me away from and I’m thankful he did. We went through a few variations of Stringers and Bruisers, many of which were extremely muscular, but the muscles never felt right because the nature of these creatures in general. It is very feast-or-famine, so it made more sense to have them on opposite ends of the spectrum; either starving or overfed.

Those specific concepts and the way they behave, serve a variety of purposes. The idea of a very thin creature came from an early treatment for diabetes, which was simply starving the patients. They knew there was too much sugar in the body and eating only made things worse, particularly in Type-1 diabetes. And since they hadn’t discovered insulin yet, they would literally starve the patients hoping they would get better until they eventually died.

If you apply that line of thought to a type of addiction or an illness like Type-2 diabetes, it can represent this notion that recovery can last a lifetime; that you’re never truly free from it. Over time, things can get easier as the monster is metaphorically “starved” and becomes weaker than it was in the beginning, but it never truly dies.

Whereas the larger creature, the Bruiser, might represent an addiction or mental illness that is poorly controlled. The more you feed it, the more greedy it becomes; more vicious and hungry.

There were also a number of variations that looked a more “alien” or “fishlike”, but these were supposed to be woodland creatures, so that didn’t feel right either. I’m so happy we landed on those final designs.

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll show people those other concept sketches...

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JF: How does it feel having Sweet Heart make the jump from Kickstarter success to getting published by Action Lab? Did it change how you approached the story or creation of the comic at all?

DG: In short? Awesome. This personal little book is getting a lot of love from people. I think it was a couple months after the Kickstarter campaign for issue #2 when Action Lab told us that they were interested in the book for their Danger Zone imprint, and we were ecstatic! We already knew how many issues we wanted and most of the emotional beats we wanted to hit in each one, aside from the “unstoppable threat” difficulty, and Action Lab understood that. They gave us absolute freedom in what we wanted to do, which let me explore and work through those sensitive spaces. We were lucky to be picked up by a publisher and still be able to tell the story we wanted to tell and bring it to an organic conclusion.

Horror DNA would like to thank Dillon Gilbertson for taking the time to speak with us. Sweet Heart #1 is set for release on March 4th, 2020.

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About The Author
James Ferguson
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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