“I know it’s a heist story, but I couldn’t help but fit ninjas and westerns into it” writer Ben Kahn talks afterlife heists in Heavenly Blues
One of our favourite things here at Pipedream Comics is when we get sent a book that we’ve never heard of, from a new writer and artist and it turns out to be an absolute belter! The latest title to catch us completely off guard like this is Ben Kahn and Bruno Hidalgo’s Heavenly Blues, an afterworld adventure about a failed bank robber and an angry 17th century pre-teen who get persuaded to steal a valuable artifact from heaven! We catch up with writer Ben to find out more about this heavenly read!
Tell us a bit about the inspiration for Heavenly Blues? Was it always going to be an afterlife heist story or were Isaiah and Erin the main inspiration for the story?
Ben Kahn: The idea of a heist in the afterlife came first. There’s an old Irish proverb that goes, “may you be in Heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” The idea that you could have a half hour to break into Heaven was what first kicked off the idea of doing a heist in Heaven and Hell. Once I decided that all the characters would start out already dead, it made the most sense to make a kind of “All-Stars” team of thieves from across history. Of the characters I came up with, Isaiah and Erin were the most interesting and exciting to me, and it felt right for them to anchor the story.
We really like how you focus on Isaiah and Erin as individuals rather than worry about building the world and then working out the characters later – was that always important for you?
BK: There’s no point in building a world if you don’t care about anything in the world. You have to start with the characters first. And to me they bring such different view points to the afterlife. Isaiah knows his sins. He doesn’t like being in Hell, but he understands exactly why this is where he ended up. Erin though is fuelled by bitterness and rage. She was just a child when she died. She feels like she was cheated at every turn. I think a world just feels more real when you can view it through the lens of characters you’ve come to identify with.
And how important is the nature of their deaths and the flashbacks to the overall story? You seem to put quite an emphasis on it with all the flashbacks (especially in issue #2)
BK: I think the flashbacks are vital to fully understanding the characters. Where they came from, who they were, how they died, knowing all that crucial to fully understanding how they’ve become the people they are now. And from a plot standpoint, having these death flashbacks meant I get to play in a lot of different periods and settings and add variety to the book. I know it’s a heist story, but I couldn’t help but find ways to fit ninja stories and westerns within it. And with that, it’s really something seeing all the different eras that Hidalgo brings to life. The sense of atmosphere and style Hidalgo brings is just masterful I think.
How did you and artist Bruno Hidalgo hook up? Was it fairly early on in the process? Have you worked together before?
BK: Bruno was the only artist I ever had in mind for this project. We worked together on Shaman, a supernatural comedy graphic novel that was published by Locust Moon Press in 2015. They were the ones who paired us up initially, but we loved working together on Shaman and built a really good rapport. As soon as Shaman was over, I asked him to join me on Heavenly Blues. We’ve been working together for around five years now, and it’s been such a joy seeing Bruno’s art grow and develop. The stuff he’s been doing for Heavenly Blues is absolutely insane, and I’m so excited for people to see it.
And did his art style inform any parts of the story development? For example we love how you have gone for quite a colourful approach to the afterlife, rather than the usual doom and gloom gothy approach. We also love the death scenes with the graphic close ups
BK: And all the credit in the world for those things goes to Bruno. Bruno also colours the book, and he’s so committed to using the colour palette to build the world, give it life and personality, and use colour to tell the story. I think us going for a colourful take on a dark concept goes back Shaman, a book about a necromancer filled to the brim with bright pinks and vibrant settings. And I was never interested in doing a ‘traditional’ version of Hell. I always wanted a version of the afterlife that seemed like someone could really exist there for decades and centuries at a time. Hidalgo is so instrumental in making the world of the dead come alive.
We also love the covers, which feel quite Saul Bass esque – was that always part of the design of the series? Or something he brought to the table? It really suits the vintage soul feel of Isiah.
BK: We spent a while thinking about what the covers would be. Eventually, we came up with a theme thats worked out really well. We wanted them to be simple, striking, and focus on a different main character each issue. The covers also reflected the key colour each main character is associated with. Red, blue, purple, green, yellow, each main character has a signature colour that you can see in their outfits, in their cover, in their flashbacks. I got the idea from the Netflix Defenders series, but hey, a good idea’s a good idea. It all works together to try to make each character unique and distinct in look, personality, and feel.
In issue #2 we see much more of the afterlife, do you have a definite idea of how the world fits together with the different time periods and locations, or was that just part of the story-telling process?
BK: I wanted Hell to feel like a scarred, stitched-up jig-saw puzzle that doesn’t quite fit together. As millions of souls have passed through Hell, they’ve carved out spaces for themselves, building crude approximations of what they knew in life. As outlandish as Hell is, I wanted it to feel like a real city. And any real city is impacted by every wave of immigration it sees. It stands to reason that Hell would be ever morphing and changing to adapt to the non stop influx of newly deceased souls.
How many issues will Heavenly Blues run for? Is it a mini-series or an ongoing series?
BK: This first story arc is planned for six issues. It’s the complete tail of the Heist in Heaven & Hell. That’s all we’re looking at right now, but there’s definitely room for sequel stories.
And finally if you sum up Heavenly Blues in 5 words what would they be?
BK: Chaotic Desperation Done With Style.
Heavenly Blues #1 is released on July 26th, but until then find out more about Ben at www.benkahncomics.com