Cutting to the Heart with David Heyer of Battleax Productions

Cutting to the Heart with David Heyer of Battleax Productions

David Heyer is a storyteller, a writer and publisher who has slowly been gathering his forces to storm the industry. Here he informs us of rocky roads and dreams waiting to be conquered yet.

headshot_daveDavid, did you always have an active imagination, or was that a muscle needing to be exercised for you?

I don’t think I had an extraordinary imagination. I could be as bright or dull as the next kid. I think, imagination is like anything else that pertains to the body or the mind. The more you use it, the better it gets.

What were some early stories that really drew you in, so strongly that watching or reading them today still holds some treasure for you? Movies, books, mythology, anything.

I rarely reread anything. When it comes to reading, I’m always looking for the next thrill. Reading isn’t passive for me like watching a movie. It’s like an explosion of detail in my head. I keep separate lists of books and movies I’ve read or seen. I keep all of my comics and magazines separate according to if I’ve read them or not. I do rewatch shows and movies. It comes down to low impact comfort as far as film is concerned. Not a lot of thinking involved. I’d like to list and talk about the works that have greatly impacted me.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I read this book as a teenager in a single night. I always believed this book was about child neglect/abuse. This book was emotionally devastating for me.
Isaac Asimov’s Empire series and his Complete Robot short story series. In his short stories he had a knack for comedic writing which I wish he would have explored more. The genius of Asimov was his ability to interlock most of his sci-fi series into one gigantic universe. Asimov is one of my heroes because he was a true renaissance man. He clearly had one foot in science and the other in fantasy. I also learned from him, no matter what you write, it’s all drama.
Pearl S. Buck’s Pavilion Of Women. Psychological studies indicate that people do not fundamentally change past their early 20’s. This book is about metamorphosis and change.
A. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Series.
Robert E. Howard’s Conan.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. People always use this title wrong. It stands for despair and defeat.
A. Merritt’s Burn Witch, Burn! Creepy stuff.
Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Epic.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It’s one of the greatest buddy books of all time. Strangers become fast friends. I read this book when my mother passed. It helped me get through. The book also has distinct historical overtones. You could tell the writer was familiar with the ancient Roman histories. That also attracted me to it because I have an MA in anthropology and I studied the Mediterranean.
Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles Of Amber. The first five books.
Dr. Seuss. Too many to name. Fun for all.

Frank Miller’s The Dark Night Returns. Gritty.
Eisner’s The Spirit. I absolutely fell in love with the stories and the art work. Ebony is my favorite sidekick. He’s a scrappy little poor kid who just wants to help people. I was pissed he wasn’t in the Spirit movie but it was so bad I was glad.
The 4 major titles from Warren Publishing: Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and Famous Monsters. These comics turned me on to horror and boobs. My grandmother worked with a guy who gave her all his comics. Without them, I never would have found Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, and Forrest Ackerman.
Tales Of The Zombie by Marvel. My kind of zombie. Old School.
Vampire Tales by Marvel.

The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. Best buddy film ever.
George Pal’s War of the Worlds. Another one of my heroes. Pal started out as an animator. He made his puppets out of wood. Each puppet could have twenty arms, heads etc. He did beautiful work. A must see. The height of his puppetry was expressed with his art deco Martian war machines. What I admire most about Pal is that he understood the art of friendly persuasion. Even if his workers disagreed with him, he could convince them and put a smile on their face.
Forbidden Planet. A few years back, I went to Blob Fest in Phoenixville PA. A props collector was there and he had at the theater one of the original flying saucers and a ray gun. Dumb struck I was.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Best guy in a rubber suit ever.
The Wolf Man (1941).
Old Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons. Falling Hare is my favorite. Bugs: “Here Gremlin, Gremlin, Gremlin!!!”
The Fleischer brothers Superman. The Fleischer’s pioneered 3-D.

Mythology is tough. I’ve read a lot of it and folk tales too. Much of it was created to help people explain and structure their wold. It also gave you a reason why your life sucked. One mythological creature stuck with me, the Wendigo. The Algonquian peoples used this myth to explain psychotic behavior. In the winter, people would sometimes get snowed in. When the brain doesn’t get enough input to process, the end result can be psychotic behavior. Extreme violence can manifest.

Last and much more recent, old time radio shows. It could be anything. From comedy to sci-fi, fantasy to detective etc. These radio shows can be very expressive. They could really put a phrase together.MBDD_088

So many great ones there- I would say you’re drawn to archetypal characters, archetypal stories. Have you any thoughts on the work of Carl Jung? You seem to put considerable thought into the psychology of your own fiction.

Wow, I haven’t read any Jung in 20 years. It wouldn’t be fair of me to comment on him unless I reviewed his work. The psychology of a character is important. You have to construct their parameters. How far a character will or won’t go according to the situation. Of course, situations can change parameters. I like my characters to be believable. I like to know why something is happening. One of the things I did do was analyze my own psychology. I took slices of my own personality and built parameters around each slice. In some cases I took it to extremes. I also studied sociopaths. I needed to get that right in order to build my main character.

You mentioned studying Anthropology in school, but when exactly did you as an adult begin to really explore your creativity?

In the mid 80’s I toyed around with the idea of producing an animated film. I had a few short script ideas since high school. I did the research and decided it was beyond me. I took a year off from grad school and took a figure drawing course. I improved a lot but the instructor was such a jerk I dropped sketching.

In the early 90’s I wrote a short story called the Killer Carp Of Catasauqua. It was about a goldfish a buddy of mine gave me. He won it at a local festival. I put it in my tropical fish tank and it was immediately attacked by two barbs. They ate all the fins off of the goldfish. I didn’t see it for over a month so I thought it died. Then it reappeared. It was four times bigger and had long flowing fins. First it killed the barbs. Then it methodically killed every fish in my tank including my red oscar and my Siamese fighting fish. Then it repeatedly jumped into the hood of the aquarium until it bashed it’s own head in. It’s a horrible story but funny if you tell it right. I never tried to get it published. I got discouraged because I knew people pursuing creative writing degrees and they couldn’t get published.

At one point, I even thought about dropping out of grad school for a film degree but I got rejected by every school. When I was finishing up my thesis for my MA, I started building models and sketching again. I started copying pulp, comic and magazine covers. I was especially good at copying cartoon characters. We moved and I would sketch every once in a while but I got wrapped up in redoing the house. We moved again and I took one comic book drawing class but dropped sketching to work on the graphic novel. I did take one last stab at animation. I took a course in computer animation. It was overly complicated and the instructor could only make a truck move. I gave up in frustration.

One thing I got real good at but haven’t done for awhile is pumpkin carving. Not sculpting, carving with only knife. I got bored in a class around Halloween. I started doodling jack o lanterns. Then for some reason I started thinking of the jack o lantern in the credits of John Carpenters Halloween. I thought, I can do that. In the end, I went way beyond a simple cut. The best one I ever did was for Chester County Historical Society. It weighed between 100-200 lbs. It took me over four hours to carve. I have film of it. I should add the footage to my web site.

About 20 years ago I got badly hurt and couldn’t walk. Because of this and because I never had an assistantship, I was forced to leave my PhD program. When I could walk again and feeling slightly better, I started sending resumes to film production companies applying as a researcher. I got an interview with Disney’s Imagineers. The interviewer cut me from their list because she told me I hadn’t paid my dues. I sent a pitch to Paramount regarding their show Star Trek the Next Generation. A VP from Paramount called me to tell me they had no openings. Around this time, I started watching a show called Real Wild Cinema. Sandra Bernhard interviewed George Corman and Lloyd Kaufman. They claimed that they would give anyone a chance. So I put some pitches together and sent them to both. I never heard from Corman but Kaufman sent me a letter. He liked my ideas and told me to call Troma Studios. So, I talked to the guy in charge and he told me they had no money. Of course, Kaufman took around ten people to Cannes the following week. I guess, the only thing good that came out of this was a beginning idea which eventually gave birth to my graphic novel.MBDD_091

There is something to be said about the allure of creativity. Sometimes it culminates from years of perseverance, but sometimes it’s the creativity itself that insists on persevering, no matter which twists and turns life tries to take us away from it. I knew that your graphic novel had gone through years of gestation and evolution, but I had no idea, David. When did you first cross paths with Lou Manna?

I hadn’t realized myself how much time had passed. It’s been a real dog fight. I put an ad on Craigslist in 2007. Four artists contacted me. I hired Lou because he had the most experience. I thought going with a seasoned veteran would give me the best shot.

And not many artists can lay claim to having been trained by the great Rich Buckler, as Lou was. He stacked up some solid credits along the way. too. I understand his progress on the book was slow-going, but was it difficult for you in finally seeing your world come to life, though through different eyes?

During our first conversation, Lou and I agreed on the film noir approach. As the book progressed, Lou took charge of the artwork like any professional would. I would screen pages as they came in. I would step in as needed. As far as seeing the work through someone else’s eyes, I was more concerned with the flow of the book, were the characters distinctive enough, did the book stand up to modern standards of adult fantasy.

His style can be so photo-realistic at times, arguably even channeling some Gene Colan. Did he use much reference?

You’d have to interview Lou. I just assumed a veteran artist would have a box full of references. He did talk about using live models, but to the best of my knowledge, he didn’t go that far.MBDD_209

I think the final visuals suit the subject matter really well. The narrative of Moonbeams is very sharp though, in a total Heart of Darkness kind of way. Was it an emotional thing for you, to convey such dastardly actions on paper? Or was it a cathartic experience?

No, it was very emotional. The original story took me six months to write. Because the story took me so long to write, I actually was getting depressed towards the end of the writing. My main character Al, is very dynamic but totally without conscience. My wife made a comment: “You know you wrote a character that represents everything you hate.” I guess for me, I live the writing emotionally to some degree.

On the other hand, I wrote a scene where Al goes after an owner of an appliance company. Instead of what Al did in the graphic novel, we used a letter from a lawyer. In some ways, writing the scene was like sticking my finger in the jerk repair guy’s eye.

I am not a personal fan of the concept of creative works being easily transferable from one medium to another, but Moonbeams, Death Dreams really could work as a feature-length movie. Would you be open to the option should it ever spring up? And with Moonbeams, Death Dreams being the flagship launch for your Battleax Productions label, do you feel like your edges have been sharpened enough so that additions to your catalog will be easier to construct, like a baptism by fire? What does the future look like for you now?

Moonbeams, Death Dreams was originally a short story of about 24 pages. I turned that into a screenplay, which Lou directly rendered from. I have been trying to get into film for a long time, so that was the original intent of the graphic novel. Things have changed. My scope isn’t nearly as narrow. The nature of the business is to get as much millage out of a property as possible. If that means taking an option, sure. But it can’t be just an option. I’d want to be part of the production. It puts me in a position to learn and get paid at the same time. Moonbeams, Death Dreams is set up for a potential franchise. Be that movies, graphic novels, short stories, etc.

If I’m going through a baptism of fire, I’m still burning. Things have never come easily for me. There is no money in the kitty for a sequel or even basic marketing. I have to wait for my finances to recoup. This whole endeavor, creating a graphic novel and starting a company have been incredibly expensive. If I can’t get any traction for the graphic novel, Battleax Productions or myself as a writer, I’m done.

I don’t know, man I think your eggs are too imaginatively colored to put all in one basket. And I could name you dozens of creatives who folded after climbing smaller mountains than you have. Moonbeams, Death Dreams is a special story. It may keep some folks up late at night, but it is special. But presuming that an audience finds what you’re doing, what would you like to follow this story up with? What is the next big thing for you?

So, you’re not letting me off the hook! Let’s say that my book and company take off and everything is bitchin’. I would like to do a sequel to Moonbeams, Death Dreams. In some ways, my graphic novel is more of a crime drama than horror. I would like to explore the evolution of an empire builder and how he stays on top or doesn’t. There is also a supernatural element to the book. I would like to delve more into that and how the main character, Al, integrates that into his life. I’d steer away from the serial killer aspects. There’s a space opera I’d like to write about concerning genetic vampires. It would briefly start in the middle ages and progress to the stars. I was also thinking about some historical fiction. The story of the state of Wessex would be great. How the king and his men are forced into the swamps and how they switched to a gorilla campaign and eventually retook the country. I also thought of a series of children’s books based on my dogs. Everyone should know Kronos and Petra.

I’m actually feeling a little excited talking about this. That’s surprising in itself.

The world can never have enough new ideas, and you present a flood. David, it has been a gas and a half speaking with you. Thanks for opening up.

I really enjoyed talking with you. Thanks so much.
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For more David and/or Battleax Productions, check out the official company website, and follow their twitter.

All images copyright and/or trademark their respective copyright and/or trademark holders.

The Lottery Party is © 2014 Richard Caldwell. All rights reserved.

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