Monday, June 20, 2011

Mariah Huehner

One of the secret weapons of Womanthology is Mariah Huehner, editor and writer for IDW Publishing. She's worked on several titles, including The Last Unicorn and the upcoming True Blood. Best of all, she gets to hold up a comic in a comic book store and point out her last name on the cover.

 When did comics first enter your life?

Comics of some kind were around me most of my life. My father traveled to Japan a lot and he would bring back Manga, stuff like Lone Wolf and Cub. He would also take me and my brother to the local comics shop once a week where I kind of poked around, trying to find stories that I connected to. I tried out a lot of books: X-Men, Spawn, Wonder Woman. I liked aspects of them, but they didn't 

At about 13, I was already a story nerd, reading several prose books a week, and I was wandering around the shop, all teen angsty, and looking for something different. And I found it with Death: The High Cost of Living. That's still one of the most influential works in my life, I think. The story and the art continue to be one of the most perfect combinations, and the character of Death remains one of my favorites.

How did your career get started? 

When I was in college, at SVA for Illustration, I saw a sign by the job office about internships at DC Comics. I was a sophomore at the time, and while I knew I wanted to be an artist, I also knew it was a tough field. I loved comics and I thought, well, Vertigo is there. Maybe there's an opening and maybe I can learn more about the editing side of things. As it turned out, there was and I did. I ended up interning there for a year, working on everything from Transmetropolitan to Preacher as it wrapped up. Some of my ballooning is in the final issue. Everyone there was really fantastic and I learned a ton. 

When the internship was up I thought that would be it, and I went about the business of my last year in college. After I graduated I went back to visit the folks I'd worked with there, and about a month later I got a call asking if I'd like to interview for an Assistant Editor position that had just opened up. It was a combination of luck, timing, and having made some kind of positive impression as an intern. And here I am now, 10 years later.
You’re known for your work as a writer and editor but you also call yourself an illustrator. 

Am I known? That's a strange thought. If I'm known for anything I hope it's for being a devoted lover of stories. 

Between editing, writing and illustrating, do you prefer one over another?

I don't think I have a preference. I love the collaborative aspect of being an editor, of helping a team realize a story, of basically shepherding it along. I love writing for all the moments you get to create with dialog, and being so hands on with a story. And I love illustrating, creating something strange and entirely visual. I see them all as being a part of telling stories, which is something I feel very lucky to be a part of.
Is it frustrating being a writer in such a visual medium?

Honestly, no. I've been incredibly lucky to work with the artists I have, who I can talk to in detail about the visual needs of the stories I've told. I try not to be a dictator, of course, and let them interpret the script how they see fit. You have to trust the people you work with. 

One of the biggest pleasures of working in comics is writing a script and "seeing" a page in your head, and then getting something that still has all the elements you wanted, but is completely different from what you pictured, and realizing the artist interpreted it so much better than anything you were thinking of. I love that. 

You're very active on IDW Publishing's forums. Has fan input affected the series you’ve been involved in?

I personally care that the readers of a book I'm working on know that I care about the story as much as they do. That I respect how they feel and that, even if we do things they don't like, we're doing it for a reason. Other than that, you have to tell the story you believe is worth telling. No two fans want the exact same thing so you can't really let that influence you. That said, criticism is important and you have to be open to it if you want to evolve as a creator. 

I've had some lovely interactions with fans and I value their support. Without them, the stories would go unread. All I can hope is that I've created something, or been in involved in something, that they connected to. If I've done that, then I'll consider it successful, whether it's one person or 100.

Would you rather work with established titles, like Angel, or create original worlds?

At the moment, I've only worked on established works and it's been incredibly rewarding, challenging, and amazing. You are limited when you play in someone else's sandbox. But there's something really appealing about that, about trying to get as close to the original works tone and emotional moments that the audience "feels" like they're getting those same characters and stories in a different medium. It's hard as hell but worthwhile.

In some ways doing your own work is scarier, because you're responsible for every aspect of that world. You make the rules and, technically, you can break them all. That's a lot of freedom. You can't hide behind someone else's characters and rules, you have to build your own, set your own boundaries. I think some of the best work comes from having limits, and no matter what, you're putting something of yourself into any story you do.

I'm hoping to work on something that's entirely mine soon, but it's daunting. I've liked having the framework of someone else's world to keep me reigned in. Still, I have a ton of ideas bouncing around in here and I'd like the chance to explore them and, story deities willing, find an audience for them.

First Angel, now True Blood. What’s with you and vampires?

I've often thought the very same thing. How did I end up working on such iconic vamp tales? I mean, between the two you have a world created by Joss Whedon...and another by Alan Ball. That's kind of insane, when you think about it. 

I still don't know how I ended up working in both, with such important vampire characters. It's possible my gravitation towards the horror genre had something to do with it, though. We also don't seem to be able to get enough of vampire stories as readers, they continue to compel and interest us, and there seems to be an endless variety of stories we want to tell about them. To me, I think it's a way for us to work out our own existential dread. Vampires are beautiful and immortal...but they have to drink blood to do it. There's always a down side. And I like exploring that.

How were you introduced to Womanthology?

I had the privilege of working with Renae DeLiz on The Last Unicorn graphic novel for IDW, and she contacted me about the project. She'd already gotten a huge amount of feedback and interest, and since we'd worked together, she wanted to let me know about it so I could get involved. I was honored she asked me. I think the world of Renae. She's incredibly talented, sweet, and wonderful to work with.

What about Womanthology caught your interest?

Womanthology is about showcasing women creators with different levels of experience, from Big Names to unpublished newcomers. The goal is to show the breadth and variety of what women are creating, right now, and how important that is to this industry. Since all proceeds will be donated to charity, it's also a project being done out of a love for the medium and a desire to give back. That's a wonderful combination.

Will you be writing for the book, editing, or both?

Both. I have a story in mind that I may or not draw as well as write (my visual storytelling is rusty). I volunteered to edit along with two other editors, because it's such a fantastic project and I know how important it is, especially for those just starting out, to get positive encouragement and feedback. I've been very lucky in this industry and this is a way for me to encourage other girls and women to be involved, too.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to any writers struggling to break into the comic industry?

It's worth it. Whatever you're doing, if it's a story you feel is worth telling, then what you're doing matters. It's important. Don't give up, don't be too hard on yourself, and don't ever stop doing what you love. Life is too short. 

In honor of the show that inspired this blog, we'll end with the questionnaire developed by Bernard Pivot: 

What is your favorite word? 

What is your least favorite word?


What turns you on?
Stories, stories, stories, with great characters and amazing arcs, that make you feel.

What turns you off?

Hate, especially the thoughtless, ignorant, bigoted sort.

What sound or noise do you love?

Ocean waves crashing on rocky shores.

What sound or noise do you hate?

The tense silence after someone has said something awful and you don't know if you can find your way back from it.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Acting. I loved it as a child and I wish I'd kept it up.

What profession would you not like to do?

Politics. It seems like you'd lose all hope. 

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

You were right, I kind of screwed up. Let's fix it. Also: how about some tea?

Catch Mariah's upcoming True Blood series this July from IDW Publishing. Read the "official" press release at

Want more Mariah? Check out her blog on blogspot!

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