HEART IN A BOX is ‘Road Trip Paved With Blood & Heartache’

'Heart In A Box' preview
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Everyone experiences heartache, whether they be young or old, and an upcoming graphic novel is showing what happens when someone with that kind of heartache tries to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Heart In A Box is a new graphic novel Dark Horse is publishing by the upcoming co-writer of Marvel’s Captain Marvel & The Carol Corps, Kelly Thompson, and Hinges artist Meredith McClaren. Set for release on September 30, Heart In A Box follows a young woman who’s reeling after a heartbreaking relationship goes sour and finds a mysterious stranger with the ability to take all of it – the hurt and the heart – away. But when Emma finds that being heartless is a struggle in itself, she embarks on a road trip to assemble what she lost while dwelling on why she gave it away in the first place.

Newsarama: Kelly, Meredith -- how do you describe what Heart In A Box is to people you meet in person?

Meredith McClaren: Emma, the lead, makes the Faustian deal to wish her heart away after a terrible break-up. Realizes that is a terrible idea. Only to find out that the devil is in the business of re-distribution. So now she has to track down all the bits and pieces of her heart, whilst trying to come to terms with the person she is now, post relationship schism.

Kelly Thompson: That's a really great answer...hold on while I write that down! Seriously, I can't do better than that. I think in the pitch we said something like a road trip of the bizarre and twisted kind, paved with blood and heartache as a woman attempts to reclaim the literal pieces of her broken heart at any cost. 

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Nrama: How did you two connect to do this graphic novel? 

McClaren: Kelly won me over with shameless, shameless flattery. 

Thompson: She is not wrong! I'm a big fan and I knew she was the right artist for this. It's funny, since now I'm doing Jem and The Holograms with Sophie Campbell, but it was Sophie that originally drew my attention to Meredith when she knew I was looking for an artist for Heart In A Box. I reached out to Meredith, plied her with praise and sent her the pitch. She liked it and so soon after I sent her the full script. She loved it and we were off to the races working on the pitch. 

Nrama: Meredith mentioned Emma earlier – can you tell us more about her?

McClaren: Emma is very human. Her triumphs and her flaws are not exaggerations or extremes. That's what I really like about Kelly's writing of her. It's very difficult to bring to life someone who errs in a way that is understandable. And she's really just trying to claw her way out of a difficult time.

Thompson: Yeah, I think Emma is probably the most baldly flawed protagonists I've written yet (well, except for Lola LeFever from The Girl Who Would Be King). Emma is complex in that she's wonderful and also awful which I think feels real because most of us are both wonderful and awful. Emma is funny and smart but she's also defensive and sarcastic. She's good at a lot of things but has a short attention span and isn't truly great at anything - she's very average in most ways and I think that makes her relatable - most of us are pretty average, doesn't mean we're not capable of extraordinary things. Emma makes a ton of mistakes and some very selfish decisions, but she also grows a lot and makes some incredibly selfless choices. I guess through the course of Heart In A Box I like to think we see both the absolute best and worst of Emma. 

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Nrama: This takes a metaphorical idea and makes it real -- visually that is ripe for comics, but for story was it hard to get that conceit across without dulling the story? 

McClaren: Kelly can have this one. I made my efforts to convey Emma's emotional upheaval (both realistically and magically) as clearly as possible. But it's difficult for me to ever know for certain if I've done a proper job of it.

Thompson: Gah. I feel like if Meredith doesn't know what exceptional work she has done making this metaphorical idea so real and emotionally gutting on the page then I have greatly failed her. Meredith! You did the most amazing things! You took this idea that could have been laughable and completely not landed and instead made it just soar. The journey Emma goes on -- both literal and metaphorical takes her to a lot of dark places again, both literal and less literal, as well as some great heights and it's thanks to Meredith that all of that feels rooted...grounded in reality and thus emotionally resonant and real. Meredith can crack you up one minute and then have you near tears the next, which is incredible and exactly what the script demanded. I think the visuals are pretty seamlessly integrated into the story - the metaphorical idea and the story are one in the same for me. I think it only would have been tough if I'd had a less talented illustrator bringing it all to life.

Nrama: So what's the journey like when Emma realizes her heart isn't something that should have been given away?  

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

McClaren: It's hell. It's regret and a lot of effort to make things right. I think that's a point in Emma's favor that she really deserves to be admired for. That she does try to make it right. Maybe only for herself. But have you tried to fix something you've deeply regretted? It's so much easier to leave be and let happen. To admit an error is much more difficult. It almost certainly won't win you much support. And even after that, you'll be required to put in a lot of time into fixing it.

Thompson: I actually love the way Meredith thinks of this. I tend to think of Emma's initial journey as being quite selfish, but Meredith is right, there is something really valuable and courageous in standing up for yourself and for going after something you want or need, in fixing a mistake. I think though Meredith's take is ultimately the right one, initially Emma's motivations are pretty selfish but become more complex as she goes along. She comes to really weigh the costs her actions are having on her and others, and not just as related to specifically getting her heart back. Some of the people she encounters change her deeply and force her to confront things about herself and her past that someone like Emma typically prefers to bury because that's the easier way to handle it. 

Nrama: Kelly, how did the idea for Heart In A Box come about?

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Thompson: Well, I suppose it comes to the surprise of nobody anywhere that I came up with this idea after getting my heart broken. 

While I don't want to give away the ending of Heart In A Box, I will say that early drafts of Heart In A Box were a more traditional romantic love story, obviously driven by my own heartbreak and desire to get back what I had lost. But over time the story changed and grew, became about more than just that romantic devastation I'd gone through. It became about what makes us who we are and how we feed into that and how we can also break it down and become something better. Who gives us strength, and who diminishes us. Romantic love is the thing we all dream about and idealize so much, but the life of a real heart is all layers, it's so much more complex than just romantic love.

Nrama: That brings me to my next question – how much of your own heartache from relationships from you two have been put into this story?

McClaren: Romantic heartbreak? No. The other stuff? Disappointment in others, disappointment with oneself, loss. I think I have enough of a handle on these things to have lent some insight into the story. But I can't name anything specifically that has contributed. 

Thompson: Yes, definitely. The entire story, as I said, was conceived in the wake of a brutal heartbreak for me. One that just gutted me and really woke me up in some ways. I wanted to be free of feeling anything and I thought if I could just do that, I could move on...and so I created Emma with her magical option to do just that. But what happens after you do that became the question worth exploring.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Nrama: Last question - who would you say would be a good fit to read this book?

McClaren: Anyone who is old enough to have gone through a big emotional upheaval. And that age varies from person to person. Of course anyone of a certain age can read and enjoy it too. Kelly has written some great moments of humor and action. And I'm really quite proud of the look of the book as well. But I think the people who will take the most from it are those that have had, or are going through those big life shake-ups, and can empathize with that struggle.

Thompson: From a technical point of view there's some sex and violence, some brief nudity, and lots of cussing...so this one is not for younger readers. I'd say teen and up as far as far as the age group it's technically appropriate for. As for who it will resonate with...like Meredith said, anyone who has been through a significant emotional upheaval...but that's a huge audience I'd imagine. Best seller status here we come! ;)

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