Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Your work spans various facets of the comic book industry, given you work as both a writer and illustrator, as well as serving as manager for comic book shop Earth-2 Comics in Los Angeles, CA. What inspired you to venture into the sequential art medium, both as a storyteller and through retail?
Heather Kenealy: When I was a little kid, comics were sold at a newsstand at the grocery store my mother shopped at. This was back in the '70s, so it was fairly safe to just leave me there reading comics while she shopped. I loved the superheroes, Mad, Cracked, and, the occasional Archie, but while I was already writing my own stories, it never occurred to me that girls could write comics, because the names were all men, and I didn’t entirely feel welcome in my favorite genre, which was superheroes. I even stopped reading in high school, because I was insulted and called names for not reading “girl books.” It wasn’t until college when my best friend Steve loaned me his collection of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman that I remembered how much I loved comic books and sequential storytelling. But, still, I never assumed I could write them.
Eventually, the internet became a thing, and I ended up as a moderator on SpidermanHype.com which soon became SuperheroHype.com. In one of the forums, they created a fan fiction based in the Marvel universe called 2017 (the near future back then) and I was told, once again, that girls did not write comics. But now, I wasn’t an insecure 13-year-old. I was a grown-up woman!! I wrote a series called StepChildren, about a group of young, newly evolved mutants with the occasional X-Men cameo that received a lot of positive feedback. So, buoyed by this, I started really immersing myself in the medium. I started work at DJs Universal Comics in Studio City, where I worked for ten years before moving to Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, and I began to go to Comic-Con in San Diego. I studied the structure of storytelling, world development, dialogue, and, soon, I was confident enough to actually begin to submit to anthologies and contests. Since that began, I have won several contests at Cinescape, and other magazines, with the biggest contest, of course, being MTV Geek’s Stan Lee Presents the Seekers contest, where Stan the Man, himself, picked my script out of the finalist entries.
BD: The majority of your work in sequential art has been as a writer, having written serialized stories like Conquistadores from Beyond, webcomics like Tales from the Redline, countless comic book anthologies from Ladies Night, Red Stylo, Arledge Comics, Wannabee Press, and Dirty Diamonds, as well as having been a winner for the Stan Lee Presents The Seekers graphic novel contest. As a writer, do you find that you gravitate towards specific modes of writing (e.g., short stories, graphic novels, webcomics), and are there various genres that you prefer to steep your work?
HK: I am 100% a superhero girl. I have written in various genres like teen adventure, autobiographical, speculative fiction, or sci-fi, and even a post-apocalyptic war story, but I always gravitate back to superheroes, particularly teams. I like the graphic method of telling stories the most, but as a writer who is not a stellar artist, if I wanted to do any self-publishing, I would have to find an artist. Obviously, living in LA and working retail do not lend to a lot of spare cash, so self-publishing is not in my immediate future.
BD: For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you share with us about the premise of Conquistadores from Beyond and Tales from the Redline?
HK: Conquistadores from Beyond is a story I have been working on for a while, but haven’t finished. It’s based on a comedic short story my grandfather Nicholas Kenealy wrote back in 1939 about aliens who thwart the invasion of their planet by earthmen. My grandfather encouraged my writing fully, and was my first editor. I would go to his house a couple days a week, and he’d cook me dinner while I tikky takked away on his typewriter. I wanted to serialize his story and share it with the world, in his memory, as a thank you for his encouragement.
Tales from the Redline, though, is an entirely different thing. It’s a webcomic that I draw myself, in the cartoony style which is the best I can manage, based on the extremely bizarre events that happen to me as I head to work on the LA Public Transit system. It started as a series of status updates on Facebook, and received enough likes and comments that I began illustrating them on my Patreon page starting Jan 1st of 2018. I have nearly 200 episodes so far, including Comic-Con specials, A Broad Broad Abroad chronically a trip my mother and I took to Ireland, and the most recent “Safer At Home” editions in the times of pandemic. Tales is currently on hiatus, as I am debuting an all-ages fairy tale called Onfim and The Wild Beast, which comes out on Thursdays and Sundays on Patreon and my Instagram.
BD: The impact of COVID-19 has been felt far and wide throughout the world, including the comic book industry and community. In light of the changes and impact, what do you hope the future will bring in terms of opportunities for both comic book creators and comic book retailers in the coming months and years?
HK: COVID hit me hard because, due to the pandemic, a project I was working on for Lion Forge Comics was shelved indefinitely, and my comic shop was closed for an entire month. We’re back open now, and unlike so many other shops, we managed to weather the storm. We are a very lucky store to have such a wonderful community of readers and creators who supported us during the lean times, and the owner of the shop, Carr D’Angelo, really protected his staff, continuing healthcare for those of us who qualify and instituting new programs of curbside pick up and in store protection. We did lack the personal contact and camaraderie that is so essential to the comic retail industry, and that’s what I hope people appreciate. Everyone is so busy fighting over whether a woman writes this or a story has a diverse cast. At the end of the day, we are all a bunch of geeks who want good stories - well written and well drawn - to read, and if we just stopped getting hung up on the politics, and the petty squabbling, we could remember just how wonderful this type of storytelling can be.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. Are there any stories that have had a particular impact on you as a creator?
HK: My biggest influences, I think, are more thematic, than specific story. The reason I am an X-Men girl is because I have always felt like an outsider, a freak. I am a “woman of a certain age” - smart, asexual - who wants to work in a male-dominated field. My mother was a single mother, we were poor, I have social anxiety, ADD… all things that were not as understood or accepted back then. But if the X-Men could be heroes in a world that hates and fears them, I could go to a school where people bullied me for not having the right clothes and liking the right things. I am a nice person, a friendly person, who tries to do the right thing, because it’s the way I can make even the smallest difference in someone’s life. If I can send a little boy out of the comic shop feeling supported because I didn’t mock his choice of a Disney Princess comic or give a little girl her first superhero comic without telling her it’s only for boys, then for that moment, I can be an X-Man.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
HK: Besides Onfim and the Wild Beast on Patreon and Instagram, I am working on a graphic novel series that you will definitely be hearing about soon. I can’t say too much about it yet, but it’s an all-ages adventure set in space with a young heroine and a cast of fun, and sometimes scary, characters that we are developing for all avenues of content. I am the lead writer/co-owner of the story, and the team on this story is phenomenal. I can’t wait to debut it!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about your work?
HK: You can find me on Patreon where I have a lot of work up for public viewing (No subscription necessary, but there’s a lot more contact if you do. *wink wink*) and Instagram. Or find me on Facebook, I’m always there!