Between the Panels: Writers Desirée Proctor and Erica Harrell on Chasing a Dream Cross-Country, Letting the Art Speak, and Using Zoom Before It Was Cool

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

There may be easier ways to find a writing partner than two people separately moving 3,000 miles before meeting, but that’s how Erica Harrell and Desirée Proctor came together. Since then, they’ve experienced the ups and downs of the writing life while practicing their craft in a variety of media, most recently as co-authors of the alternate history miniseries, Nuclear Power.
 
First off, the basics…
 
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writers
 
Your home base: Los Angeles, CA
 
Website: www.nuclearpowercomic.com
 
Social Media
 
Instagram: @desire_yay
 
Twitter: @ericaharell
 



 
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: As writers who have worked in other media, what attracts you to making comics?

Desirée Proctor: I think comics have always been a passion for both of us. As a kid, I loved reading the Supergirl comics and watching the X-Men animated series. Erica and I bonded during trips to Comic-Con. So for us, writing comics is something we do because it makes us happy.

Erica Harrell: I think there is something really powerful about combining words and illustrations. As a kid, comics were a treat because it was more than a book but less than a movie. Getting to work in this medium is a dream come true.
 
KS: What’s the secret origin of the Desirée-Erica writing team? Was it for a certain project, or did you know each other first and then later teamed up as writers?

DP: Erica and I graduated from the same college in Florida and met through mutual friends after I moved to Los Angeles. We bonded over comics, Game of Thrones, and Dr. Who, then I convinced her to pursue this completely unstable writing career with me. I like to think it’s worked out.

EH: All of that is true, but I like to tell people we met wrestling alligators in Florida. Because the point of storytelling is to make up stuff.

KS: Hold on, you attended the same college but didn’t meet until you’d both moved cross-country?

EH: That's true! I was at UCF [University of Central Florida] for a very short time completing my degree and trying to get out to LA as soon as possible. So, Desirée and I had a lot of mutual friends in common, but she moved out to LA about a year after I did. Our UCF group tends to hang out a lot, so that's how we met out here!

DP: Us Florida women always find each other.

KS: Roughly when did the idea of writing professionally start for both of you? Was it an early dream, or something you came to later?

DP: Writing was a longtime dream for me. I wrote my first feature film at 14, which I submitted to Project: Greenlight — it was terrible and I didn't make it past the first round. I continued to write mediocre things until they became decent enough to start getting me work.

EH: In college, I was a Film Studies major and transitioned into producing shorts and indie feature films. After I moved to LA, I began working in production and creative producing. I was able to make connections and ended up pitching a couple of ideas to Disney/Nickelodeon as a creative producer. Then, Desirée and I teamed up and began writing and pitching together. Then, we sold our first animated series idea to Amazon Studios.

KS: Were those the first big writing projects you both remember creating?

EH: Desirée and I combined our love of comics and animation and created a super silly TV pitch called Fritter: The Superpowered Hushpuppy. We had an artist create the fried hushpuppy character and a composer friend wrote a theme song that was similar to the old Superman radio show music. We didn’t have an agent or manager or any real connections, but we talked our way into pitching at Disney/Nickelodeon and finally ended up selling that idea to Amazon Studios. Unfortunately, the show didn’t go to series, but it taught me that we could get our foot in the door and impress people with our ideas.

DP: When I was 25, I was hired to write a 24-hour Christmas special for AT&T U-verse. It was such a big deal to me, because I was working as an assistant, just hoping to someday make a career out of this whole writing thing. I was very practical and didn’t quit my assistant gig to do this Christmas special, in case this writing gig was a one-off experience. So, I’d wake up at 4 a.m., get a couple hours of writing in, then go work my 12-hour shift. The experience showed me that I could write well, write quickly, and survive on minimal sleep.

KS: You were both in the DC Talent Workshop. Was that the first time you’d tried writing in the comics form?

EH: Yes! We had experience adapting IP like Minecraft into Minecraft: Story Mode and The Walking Dead comics into video games, but never in the comic book medium.

DP: In middle school, my best friend and I tried writing our own comic, but we didn't get very far because neither of us could draw. Does that count?




KS: Looking back on that experience, what was different about the two writers who came out of the program than went into it? You obviously had writing experience beforehand, so I’m wondering about something new that got added in your “utility belts.”

EH: Now when we write comics, we actually prefer to delete some of our dialogue to make more room for the art. Artists are actors with pencils; they can convey emotion with one look instead of us having to verbalize with too many phrases. Let the art speak.

DP: Before the DC Talent Workshop, we were writing longer form content, like serialized half-hour dramedies, and interactive, branching narratives where there’s three hours worth of content written for every one hour [of] player experience. The workshop taught us to be very concise with our dialogue. We let the art do the talking for us.

KS: Backing up a bit, what did your initial comics reading look like? Did you gravitate toward particular favorite titles or characters?

DP: I must have been in elementary school when I started reading Peter David’s Supergirl run. I gravitated to [her] because up until that point, the only female-led superhero movie had been the 1984 Supergirl film. My brother had Batman and Superman, but all I had was that one film, so I watched it endlessly.

EH: I loved the 1990s Uncanny X-Men series when I was in grade school. During recess, my friends and I would cast ourselves as the various X-Men characters. I loved playing as Storm, Rogue, or Jean Grey.
 
KS: Any particular comic story that really wowed you back then?

DP: In middle school, I read A Death in the Family and sobbed at Jason Todd’s death. That one really stuck with me. I couldn’t believe they killed off Robin! Such a major character. I was too young to realize that characters in the superhero-verse never die.

EH: Batman: The Long Halloween because it kind of scary as a kid and I always loved a good holiday theme movie, comic, or TV episode. The Long Halloween felt like things leveled up in Gotham. Bad guys became really bad, and the twist at the end really impacted me.

KS: Because working in the arts can be such a crapshoot and require a lot of belief in oneself, was there a particular moment — either individually or as a team — when you felt like you'd actually "made it?" In other words, some sense of validation when X project got picked up or when you accomplished Y, that this whole writing thing might work out?

EH: I don't think I feel like I've "made it," but I do feel fortunate that I have been able to support myself financially by writing for the last three years or so. But it took almost 10 years of trying to get to that point. With Nuclear Power, it is the first time Desirée and I have been able to fully release an idea that was purely ours and not an adaptation of another IP, so I am very proud of that.

DP: I always feel like I made it when we sell a project or get hired to write something, but as soon as I'm unemployed again I feel like a hack! There's a lot of ups and downs in the life of a creative professional. I'm learning to go with the flow.




KS: Speaking of Nuclear Power, I won’t ask where you got the idea, but do you remember the first “hook” that got you both excited about the project?

DP: For me, it was the alt-history take on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those thirteen days really affected my mother and her family — who are Cuban and lived in Florida at the time — and it’s had ripple effects through the generations.

EH: Claudia Tocci is Nuclear Power’s female protagonist, and I was drawn to a comic with a female lead who has been loyal to her government… until now.
 
KS: And how did you decide the best way to present the story? In other words, what factors went into coming up with a six-issue mini instead of, say, a single volume graphic novel?

DP: We wanted to tell a serialized story, hence the multiple issues. We think the cliffhangers at the end of each amp up the tension and drama. The reason we only did six was purely financial; we’re indie creators!

EH: If we were millionaires, we probably would have wanted to do more issues! But if the book is popular enough, we have ideas for how the universe could live on.
 
KS: What about getting Lynne Yoshii as artist?

EH: Lynne was a part of the DC Comics artist program the same year we did the writing program. The two programs only crossed over a handful of times, but Desirée and I were blown away by her work and definitely pestered her until she became our friend and now collaborator.




KS: How does your dynamic work when co-writing? Are you ever in the same room, or is it entirely trading pages/ideas/notes virtually?

DP: We used Zoom to collaborate before it was cool.

EH: Living in Los Angeles means that we were sometimes 45 minutes to an hour away from each other, so hopping on Zoom and using Google Docs really was an easier way to get more done without a commute.
 
KS: Which is your typical writing session milestone: page count, word count, or time at the computer count? Or does it vary from project to project?

DP: It varies. If it’s on Zoom, we only last a couple hours before the Zoom fatigue sets in. If we’re writing to a deadline, it’s scene count. For example, we’re writing a feature now that we have to turn in to the studio in a month, so we’re trying to hit a certain number of scenes a day.
 
KS: How do you know when a piece of writing is ready to leave the nest? Do you have trusted readers to give you feedback and/or do you serve as feedback-givers for each other?

EH: We were very fortunate to have industry friends in TV read our early material and give us feedback from the executive/seller point of view.  Now, we have our friends or manager read all of our screenplays beforehand. And usually it’s ready to leave the nest right when the deadline rolls around.

DP: Like Erica said, deadlines definitely help. And I think once we get to about five drafts of something, not counting polish passes, it's time to move on to something else.

KS: What’s a hobby of yours totally unrelated to writing? Something you study, collect, practice, whatever…

DP: I play Dungeons & Dragons each week. Currently on the “Icewind Dale” campaign.

EH: My hobby is making fun of Dungeons & Dragons. But I study Tik Tok and collect weird, vintage oddities from estate sales.



 
KS: As we come to a close, can you give us a comic from any era that you look at as an example of the best that the form has to offer?

DP: Vision by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta. I loved the commentary on suburbia and the “American Dream.” 

EH: Scott Pilgrim Vol 3. When that came out, I was the right age to be gut punched in the feels.

KS: Finally, with Nuclear Power wrapped up — at least for the time being — talk a little about your upcoming projects.

DP: We’re currently writing on an upcoming Disney Channel series about superhero luchador wrestlers. We’re very excited to bring a Latina superhero to the screen.

EH: We also wrote a short for Marvel's Voices: Comunidades, the Latinx anthology that will be published in December!
 




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