Shawn Kittelsen on Heart Attack’s Newest Arc and Its Expansive Universe
Skybound’s graphic novel titled Heart Attack is sci-fi graphic novel that combines the power of romance, truth, and the importance of human rights in a new and unique story that sees variants being birthed as a result of disease-ridding gene therapy. But what happens when these variants are neglected the same human rights as others? Charlie North and Jill Kearney’s instant connection might unlock answers as a rebellion begins to form.
The series comes from writer Shawn Kittelsen who co-created Heart Attack alongside artist Eric Zawadzki. The graphic novel collects issues 1-6 of Heart Attack and includes six additional chapters that will give the epic dystopian tale a conclusion.
Kittelsen touched on what has gone into developing this story and the real-life events that fueled his creativity. It’s also worth noting that Heart Attack has a series adaptation on the way in collaboration with Fuji Entertainment.
Check out the full interview below and be sure to grab your copy of Heart Attack at your favorite local comic shop.
Thank you for making time to answer our questions. Can you share a bit about yourself?
SK: Thanks for having me! I’m a writer and game developer who’s spent most of my career working on big franchise titles featuring super heroes, martial artists, and zombies. I love all that work, but for a while I’ve wanted to put out something more grounded and personal. That got me started on a romantic drama about Jill and Charlie, two teenagers who find they have “powers of mass destruction”whenever they touch, protesting social injustice in near-future Austin. It’s been my passion project for the last 10 years, but the complete Heart Attack, co-created with the brilliant artist Eric Zawadzki, is finally out!
Heart Attack touches on a state of the world that relates to real world issues we are facing today and oddly enough; you conceived these ideas before the state of the world today. Was this purely coincidental and how did you come to create the themes in the series?
SK: Heart Attack was always intended to be socially relevant, but the near future in the story is a lot nearer. It hits a lot closer to home in the 2020s than I knew it would. Every day, we have conversations about social inequality, rising authoritarianism, and living in a post-pandemic world.
Back in 2013, those themes spun out of me being a news junkie. I compared media coverage across the political spectrum, engaging with perspectives from libertarian press to socialist press and everything in between. The polarization of American politics was obvious long before 2016.
I saw the militarization of police in Central and South American countries, and the protests and unrest provoked by that militarization, and those trends seemed just a few years ahead of what was happening here in the USA. We had global H1N1 pandemics in 2009, and the advent of gene therapies with CRISPR Cas9 in 2012.
All that detail was swirling in the background when I was developing the story in 2013, thinking about what kinds of crises Americans would face later in the 21st century. By the time first volume of the book launched at the end of 2019, we had no idea that “later” was about to become “right now.”
What can you share about the upcoming chapters that are set to conclude the story? Can we expect the same, almost clairvoyant, inspiration?
SK: The first arc (or first half of this new complete edition) culminates in a major tragedy that Jill and Charlie are responsible for causing. Jill had all these optimistic ideas about how the powers they share could change things, but in the new chapters, all that optimism is shattered.
Charlie shares her guilt, and he finds himself in the crosshairs of someone with a vendetta against him, someone who also threatens Jill and all their friends. So the second half is darker, the stakes are higher, and the connection between Jill and Charlie is put to the test.
As for how prescient these chapters might be, I wish I could know for sure. I do think the real world has a lot more challenges ahead for us. We’re all going to be tested. But I didn’t write this book to be a harbinger of doom. Without spoiling anything, I wrote the ending as a personal wish for the future.
A reminder that no matter how bad things get, we can find a better way forward together. Life’s no fairy tale but it doesn’t have to be a dirge either.
After a cliffhanger ending in 2020, can you walk us through your feelings of knowing you’d get to finish your story years later?
SK: Relief and fulfillment! Eric and I had nearly finished all these new chapters back in 2020 when the book went on hiatus due to all the disruptions in the comics market caused by the pandemic. It gutted me knowing that we were leaving readers on this big cliffhanger for years. I’m so grateful to Skybound for keeping faith in us and publishing the finished story.
Much like Jill and Charlie’s chemistry evolves, can we expect the collaboration on the creative team’s side to evolve moving into the new chapters?
SK: It’s an evolution. I wrote the first chapters before Eric came onto the project, and started writing the new chapters after he’d already drawn the first 100 pages or so. I put a lot of trust into my collaborators, so Eric had free reign to adapt layouts and character performances as he saw fit, and every adjustment on his part made the story more vivid and emotional.
I learned so much about his process by seeing how he drew those early scripts. The new chapters benefited from all that learning, so I wrote toward Eric’s strengths. For his part, I think Eric grew more comfortable inhabiting the characters and their particular chemistry, and you can see that in these pages.
What goes into balancing such a powerful story of oppression with romance? Can we expect the spotlight to remain on Charlie and Jill moving forward?
SK: It’s easy to get lost in the bigger world of things, to try and make the story broader and more expansive. But this book is Charlie and Jill’s story, so the balance was always asking, “If we’re spending time away from our two leads, how does this scene relate to them? How will it affect their emotions or relationship?” That relieves the pressure to go panoramic or comprehensive. Instead we go specific and personal. The story about oppression becomes more relatable through the eyes of characters we’ve emotionally invested in.
What’s one moment in the series that you really look forward to the reader’s experiencing?
SK: Freedonia Festival. We’ve talked so much about it from the first chapter on, and in the new chapters, readers finally get to experience it. That’s a big moment that Eric and I put a lot of effort into realizing.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the spotlight remaining on Charlie and Jill. That being said, this world leaves much room to explore beyond the two characters. Any plans to expand the universe in the future?
SK: First off, I’m grateful you enjoyed it! Eric and I would love to work on another project together, and I’d love to tell more stories beyond our two starcrossed lovers. There’s no plan for that at the moment but who knows what the future will bring…
Lastly, is there anything else on your docket you’d like to share with our readers?
SK: Heart Attack is being adapted as a live-action TV series in Japan by Skybound and the same company behind the One Piece anime, Fuji TV. Shooting is supposed to start sometime this winter. Hopefully, I can get over to Japan for a set visit, because that’s a dream come true!
Beyond that, you can check out the Omni-Man DLC coming to Mortal Kombat 1, which I worked on with Robert Kirkman and NetherRealm Studios. There’s also the visual novel Invincible Presents: Atom Eve, which I pitched and developed for Skybound Games.
And this year I started a new job at Skydance Interactive, the studio behind The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners on Meta Quest and PSVR2. Our next VR game, Skydance’s BEHEMOTH, is coming in 2024. Can’t wait for folks to get their hands on that!
A variety geek who enjoys geeking out with friends over video games, comics, or movies/TV shows. An avid wrestling fan since the days of the Attitude Era and N64’s No Mercy, he now spends much of his time reading and collecting comics. All of my puns are intended.