After a few years working with GreyHaven Comics, Erica J Heflin was given the reins for Zenescope’s ongoing Wonderland series. Turning the psychotic stories a bit on their side, she is now taking the title in a new direction. She chatted with us for a bit and told us what it is like to go down the rabbit hole.
Graphic Policy: How did you cross paths into Zenescope and Wonderland? Was there a magical looking glass involved?
Erica J Heflin: No looking glasses! My general history of disliking what I see reflected means that I avoid mirrors handily.
In this case it was the perfect combination of luck and hard work put me behind a table slinging my own books when the delightful Pat Shand happened upon the table. This was several years ago, and while he introduced himself as a writer I didn’t recognize his name. We had a pleasant conversation where I both told him about my books and tried to get him involved in an anthology project that I was working on with GrayHaven Comics. We exchanged some books and continued to share books at different cons. When the opening for Wonderland occurred, I was invited to pitch!
GP: You picked up writing duties on the series after Calie had managed to finally conquer Wonderland and take over as its queen. Do you foresee a change in tone to the overall series now that she has “won”?
EH: Oh, yes. Her victory and conquering of Wonderland really changes the entire landscape of the book. While it’s still a fantasy-horror series, the madness and claustrophobic lack of control isn’t as pervasive. These were some fundamental motifs in the earlier books and the ongoing, so it’s a pretty substantial change.
But in addition to Wonderland’s changes, Calie changes a lot too. She’s no longer in a position where her survival – and her daughter’s – is threatened in each moment. Though she has enough paranoia and experience to know that Wonderland is still a VERY dangerous place, her own relationship with it has changed. Moreover, Calie’s experiencing a life event that is both very normal and very emotional for a parent. Violet’s grown and is stepping out into the world as her own woman. So at the most basic level the dynamics of Calie’s life are changing.
GP: The Grimm Fairy Tales version of Wonderland is a combination of fantasy and wonder with horror and terror. Which one do you think defines the realm more?
EH: I’d say that in its natural state Wonderland holds to a combination of fantasy and wonder. Through the last several years it’s leaned heavily away from this whimsical charm and into the dark horror and now Calie is struggling to return the balance to Wonderland. Calie’s life hasn’t made her a particularly whimsical person, so watching her struggle to embrace the fantasy and wonder of the Realm she commands is a lot of fun.
GP: Mental health has been an ongoing theme in the collected series thus far. Is that an important aspect to continue with, or do you think that Calie has kind of moved past this?
EH: It will continue, but manifest in different ways. We’ll see a bit of it with Violet as she struggles with the spirit of the Hatter as well as her own demons. But overall there’s a shift away from featuring these concerns, simply because many of the characters of focus are now either birthed of Wonderland or have been fully absorbed into Wonderland. Though now that the creatures of Wonderland have free will – and free control of their destinies – there’s bound to be a lot more questioning of who and why they exist.
GP: Did you read the novel as a youngster or just watch the movie?
EH: I watched the movie when I was very young, but started reading Lewis Caroll in my teen years. It was assigned reading, I believe, but fantastical or horror stories were easy enough for me to get fully engrossed in.
I ended up reading Caroll’s work several more times – on my own, in college, etc. I love the way he built such an immersive universe and still managed a sharp commentary on historical events. I’m also a nerd for linguistics, and Caroll’s works offer such a rich breadth of word play that I love to revisit.
GP: Do you have a favorite character?
EH: I love Calie, but I have to admit that my favorite character to write at the moment is Dark Cheshire. He comes from such a unique background, and is continuing to struggle with the questions of who and why he is. He also has a history of not just doing terrible things, but taking joy from many of them. There’s a gleeful sense of affection for his own history even as he struggles to rise above the horror of what he was. It makes a very interesting dynamic to write.
GP: Does having a favorite affect how you see the series going forward?
EH: My concept of Wonderland is very Calie-centric, but her relationship with the Dark Cheshire is deeply important. Through Dark Cheshire we get a deeper understanding of Calie and her relationship with Wonderland and its people. He’s a great gateway for both her and the reader. His presence doesn’t change the story’s direction, but allows for a deeper understanding of all the characters involved.
GP: Are there any elements of the original Wonderland that you feel that the series has been missing so far that you would like to introduce?
EH: Because of the nature of the stories, Wonderland has focuses on a tiny corner of the Realm, coupled with a lot of overlay of Earth life. Going forward I’m going to show how vast Wonderland is. This is a land with a long history – history that isn’t interlinked to Earth’s – and I’m very excited to pull away that curtain and reveal the rest of Wonderland.
GP: Lastly and most importantly, why is a raven like a writing desk?
EH: You know, I have a strong desire to undermine the nature of this question and ramble about the talented Mr. (Raven) Gregory.