Mike Heimos is the writer and creator of “Fever Ridge: A Tale of MacArthur’s Jungle War” a very unique comic that is published by IDW. This might be his first published work in the comic book industry but definitely not the first time he puts a pen to paper to write, he’s been doing it for years! So we are glad that he has given as the chance and time to answer several of our questions so we can know more about him as a writer with a unique technique, about his comic book and possible future plans.
Q: First of all I would like to ask when did you start writing and when did you finally decide to pursue a career in creating comic books.
Well I’ve been writing for a long time, doing prose and poetry really just for myself, and writing articles and books in tax law which grow out of my career as a tax attorney, but I’ve not endeavored to have my fiction published until relatively recently. The story on when I decided to create some graphic novels:
Sometime in 2009, I decided to write the fiction that was swimming in my head all the years prior, including the 10+ years filled with practicing tax law. But without the technical structure one has in writing legal articles and such, at first the fiction writing was adrift. Then on a nice Friday afternoon, threw some cold water on my face and decided to devote the weekend solely to drinking some beer, making a couple of groovy dinners, and just thinking, writing down story ideas…
In those days I lived in Denver and was a huge, devoted Battlestar Galactica fan. During that beer-and-brainstorm weekend, in Sunday’s newspaper there was an advert indicating that the Starfest con in Denver was welcoming Katee Sackhoff as one of the celebrity guests. She was (and is) one of my favorite TV actresses, and I bought the con badge.
On arrival I learned that the comic book folks had a con in tandem with Starfest, so I popped over to see what the comic-con was all about. I had not been a devotee of comics, but I’m a curious guy, love learning new things, and at the con there were seminars about comics creation, writing, and other stuff that tickled my fancy.
Frankly, I had thought these things were only on the order of, “hey look at this extreme bodybuilder/superhero…” etc. But no, there were interesting people giving seminars, having stimulating discussions about art and story telling, technology and marketing and so on. Intrigued, I went home and had a few more of those beers (one toasted to Katee of course) and thought rather simply “…a couple of my stories would be awesome to see as well as read. Now I want to see them, or at least parts of them.”
My first level was to think about illustrated novels and novellas, sort of like a Mark Twain or Arthur Conan Doyle things, and the concept just grew that some of my ideas would be very slick as full on graphic novels, in the right hands of course. And one of those ideas was the WWII story that was inspired by my grandfather’s service in New Guinea and the Philippines.
And now, I’m quite devoted to building a career as a writer, both in comics and graphic novels, and in ‘traditional’ writing.
Q: Would you like to tell us a few things about your site Kingfishergraphicarts.com on why did you start it, what are its purpose and its aim?
I created the website back in 2010/11 (quoting myself!), “[as] primarily a foray in laying out a bunch of creative ideas for you, hopefully you enjoy! We’ll surely be submitting some works to appropriate publishers such as Image and Dark Horse, but whatever is not “picked up” (and it is assumed here that all will not…) will be self-published here and will be free-to-view [frankly, not sure if I’d stick to this part in the future 😉 ]. Some fun merchandise will evolve, there is a forum/blog for daily or other periodic observations, space dedicated to other creators as well, and other things will be added as they are dreamt up.”
I did a good few months of blogging on it, but thing is, the first idea I submitted, Fever Ridge, was picked up by IDW in 2012 and since, I’ve had my sights trained mainly on that project. But it is possible that the website will evolve more once we finish up Fever Ridge, though again, I will soon be pitching Red Forest and Penis My Dragon, the other two creations I’ve put up on the website to-date
I have loads more writing in my computer, waiting to be liberated! Most are not, but several other concepts would be slick as comics – other historical fiction, a huge space opera, a dystopian-future tale of a USA with a Stasi-like agency, a few comedies, etc.
Q: Fiver Ridge: A tale of MacArthur’s Jungle War is you first published work, was it also you first choice to pitch to a publisher?
It was not necessarily the first choice in my mind and heart back in 2011/12, but it just sort of happened that way. Right when Nick was finishing up Fever Ridge pitch pages, Tom Waltz at IDW saw his portfolio at San Diego Comic Con and he expressed serious interest in getting a pitch, so we did it.
Since Fever Ridge connects inter-textually with two other work I will create – Red Forest, which I mentioned earlier, and Gilded Steppe – but it actually comes last in historical chronology (Red Forest is set in the 13th Century, Gilded Steppe in Classical times), you might expect that I’d have started say with Gilded Steppe. But again, opportunity knocked as it did.
Q: How did the collaboration with the rest of the creative team on Fever Ridge come into existence?
At the Denver comic con mentioned above, I attended a great seminar with Nick on the dais. I approached him afterward about availability and whether he would consider collaborating on one of my ideas. He asked for summaries and in a few days he indicated being most attracted to the WWII story. And wow, am I glad he was!
Then Nick found Brandon DeStefano, who expressed keen interest in lettering; and Brandon got hold of Jordie Bellaire, who wanted to color. Then Jordie was wooed by Darkhorse and had to jump on an opportunity there, so she secured Nolan Woodard for us.
Q: You have mentioned in the comic book that a big influence for Fever Ridge is a story said by your grandfather based on real life facts, so are there any other influences both from real life and fiction that you brought into the story which played a major role in forming it?
There are lots, lots of influences from reality and fiction going into the creation of Fever Ridge. One of my secondary historical sources is a nice piece called “Silent Warriors” by Lance Q. Zedric, a history of the Alamo Scouts (see issues 2 and 3 of Fever Ridge); another is a cool history/self-propaganda, Four Years Among Cannibals by the enigmatic Hermann Detzner, an explorer of New Guinea prior to and during World War I.
As for fictional influences, well I am with Umberto Eco in arguing that basically all the literature one experiences in their past reading goes into the literature one creates. But I can tell you that some things that specifically influence me in making Fever Ridge are going to appear in Fever Ridge Issue 4, literally for you to see, and other influences include stories such as Saul Bellow’s works Ravelstein and Henderson The Rain King, and… others!
I think in the final trade paperback I’m going to provide both a complete bibliography and an exegesis essay that will sort of “line by line” reveal all the little elementals for the story and the ideas presented, because Fever Ridge is pretty complex and layered. Let me say that, for example, what many people seem to be thinking is the strictly history lesson of Issue 2 is BOTH that and fully part of the fictional story. So do NOT dismiss that chapter as “yawn, a history lesson,” if you care about fully understanding what happens with the characters. You will want to pay attention to Issue 2.
Q: In the first three issues of Fever Ridge anyone can see you have made tremendous research to the point it’s like reading a comic book documentary of that era both in history and environment. So how much of your time did this research consume and are you still researching for the following issues?
Indeed the research is constant; it really never ends until the book is off to the printers. I’m always re-thinking and re-reading and re-considering, and the underlying aim being not necessarily exact accuracy but plausibility, at least to the elements that call for historicity. But as I’ve said in other interviews, there too are magical realism aspects in Fever Ridge and thus, that stuff will be plausible assuming the existence of a little magic in the universe.
Q: Both story and art wise Fever Ridge is being told in a unique way! In many ways the story seems like it’s more like a statement of events, is this your usual writing style or is it “designed” this way specifically for this comic?
My “usual writing style” is fairly versatile, ambidextrous. But yes, we are aiming to be pretty unique in Fever Ridge. The art style, the color choices, messing with the time/space continuum, here and there breaking the “180 degree rule” to intentionally create surreality/disorientation (Nick and I are huge admirers of Stanley Kubrick, who did this a fair bit, e.g. famously in The Shining in the bathroom scene), not pulling punches on the gore, etc.
It’s all about showing war and ‘the War’ as the nigh insane thing that it is/was. Societies periodically ask – no, tell – young men to do things that otherwise would call for their being judged sociopaths, and within the context of ‘war,’ if they do it nasty and big enough, they get ribbons and medals and lauds. That’s a messed up thing…
And yes, Fever Ridge is being told as a historical fiction, and indeed will internally evolve to be…
Well, you’ll need to wait until Issue 8.
Q: How much input did you have in Nick Runge’s, Jordie Bellaire’s and Nolan Woodard’s art?
Essentially, I write a play and therein give Nick stage directions (I explain this in some detail in Issue 3’s essay), and he gives some directions on colors to Jordie and Nolan.
Some details that I need, I am VERY specific about. For example, in Issue 3 you will notice that the severed Japanese hand, found by Erik while he and Blackie are on their ‘final exam’ exercise in the bush, is a left hand. It’s a wee bit important that the hand be a left hand…you’ll see why later in the series. So, I wrote in the script, “Nick, it’s gotta be a left hand!”
Q: Are you satisfied of the final outcome in each issue’s form up to now and if you had a second chance would you change anything?
I think it’s no slight at all, to any of the visual artists, to say that the issues, the covers, etc., never exactly match what I had in my own mind. I think it’s a fool’s errand to expect that the writer/creator’s idea will fully, exactly become reality on the page (this is of course when, as here, the visual artists and the writer/creator are not the same person! but even then?).
Yet this does not mean that one cannot achieve satisfaction. Indeed, to date I’m quite satisfied because the essence of my scripts have been made real. Sure, there are aspects of the art, and my own writing, and the lettering that I would change or have changed if given the opportunity. But that’s the way of things!
You have to understand, that Perfection as a goal and a process, but something that can never really be achieved. As a fan of jazz, “the imperfect art,” I know that imperfections add depth and it seems to me that actually achieving perfection would be a bit of a tragedy.
Author Mike Heimos with friend, Lucia Notte.
Q: Is Fever Ridge a onetime story or is there a possibility of seeing the main cast of characters in a future limited series?
As to the main cast, it is intended to have finality at the end of issue 8. But, as the saying goes, I will “never, say ‘never’.” Never is a long time! It’s quite possible that a true “spinoff” can spring from Fever Ridge, quite a few angles come to mind.
By the way, I’m already on record – in Issue 2’s supplemental materials – disclosing that Franz will die in the War. Indeed, he will. As for the other main casts’ survival, you will have to see.
I’ll repeat here another disclosure that I’ve given in other interviews, that one of the characters is the vehicle for intertextuality that connects Fever Ridge to Red Forest and Gilded Steppe. Perceptive readers should be able to glean who it is, pretty soon.
So this is it thank you Mike for taking time from your schedule for this interview! Thanks!
Con Barbatsis for eCharta
Links: Kingfisher Graphic Arts Mike Heimos site, you can also follow updates on