Today we have an amazing interview with Heroineburgh’s Shevek (nom de plume). For those who don’t know Heroineburgh is a live-action video series featuring an all-female team based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The story of Heroineburgh follows a group of heroines and their arch nemeses after they gain their superpowers via an exploding meteor. Because of this event, strange and dark energies surround the city of Pittsburgh. What’s even crazier, is that it only mutates those with XX chromosomes giving females amazing superpowers.
Some citizens use their power for good, while others use their newfound powers for serious evil. I had an opportunity to speak with Shevek of Heroineburgh and talk about the series, the state of comics, and the future.
BIC: Please tell our readers about Heroineburgh, I see Pittsburgh is very important in the series, why is that and how has that affected the story?
Shevek: Heroineburgh is a live-action video series with an original universe of characters. The main characters are all female superheroes and the stories take place in a fantasy version of Pittsburgh which uses real locations. The idea to base it in Pittsburgh came about because I was inspired by a local stage production that reimagined the roster of Batman characters in a Pittsburgh context. The lightbulb went off in my head: instead of just transplanting from Gotham or Metropolis, why not create a whole roster of superhero characters for Pittsburgh? In fact, our city could be the epicenter of superpowered activity in this original universe! And then it went from there.
The setting has affected the story in the sense that Pittsburgh is almost its own character in the series. The superheroines reflect the city, representing different neighborhoods, ethnicities, and professions that one would normally see in the Pittsburgh area. We use lots of real locations that people would recognize (for example, there’s a wall-size mural of Magneto in front of a scrap dealer, so we couldn’t fail to include that), so the Pittsburgh that you see in the series is half real and half imaginary. But that shouldn’t keep anyone from around the world (because we do have fans in various countries) from relating to the situations and the characters if they’re not from here.
BIC: What drew the team to create a heroine group?
Shevek: Personally, I find powerful women to be attractive, and attractive women to be powerful. I created a group of heroines because one of the reasons I read comics in our youth in the 70s and 80s was because of the frequent and diverse depiction of female heroes, not just in Marvel and DC but also in the indies of the time. I stopped buying comics for about 30 years. Then in 2014, I randomly discovered from press coverage that there was a ‘new golden age’ proliferation of titles. So now I’m back collecting comics (mostly TPBs), while also attempting to catch up on what I missed in the 90s and 00s. And there was a lot! But overall, if you ask, am I obsessed with superheroines? Sure!
BIC: Did any comic series inspire you?
Shevek: Sure, tons of comic series inspired us, as well as TV and movies. I grew up watching Yvonne Craig, Lynda Carter, Lindsay Wagner, Joanna Cameron, and Erin Gray. I went to the local newsstand and bought comics off the rotating racks: George Perez’s Teen Titans and Wonder Woman, Chris Claremont’s X-Men, John Byrne’s She-Hulk, and also Dazzler, Red Sonja, and Cloak & Dagger. I searched out indies as well: Whisper, Elfquest, Elementals, Love and Rockets, Vampirella. During my comics dry spell I followed the screen adventures of Xena, Dark Angel, Black Scorpion, Birds of Prey, Cybersix, Painkiller Jane, and so on. I’ve also enjoyed following several YouTube series with prominent heroine characters: e.g. SuperFemmes, Super Knocked Up, and Chris Notarile’s Phantom Faye. As I re-entered the world of comics circa 2014, I discovered the likes of Sex Criminals, Empowered, Ultra, 2000s She-Hulk, newer Wonder Woman, and much more. That was around the time that the CW shows started to proliferate, and of course I’m enjoying watching the likes of Supergirl, Thunder, Vixen, and the various Canaries. Probably my favorite overall creative team is Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti for their work on the likes of Starfire, Power Girl, and Harley Quinn. Another amazing writer that I follow is Blake Northcott for Fathom, Agents of P.A.C.T. and Executive Assistant Iris. Right now I’m enjoying the Mera mini-series and just bought the TPB of Ted Naifeh’s Heroines.
But if there’s one comic book that inspired me the most to create Heroineburgh, it would have to be the early 1980s run of Dial H for Hero in Adventure Comics. Not because of the art of Carmine Infantino, but because of the concept of readers creating their own characters. I thought if anyone who reads a comic can do this, so can we. When I was in grade school, I wound up collaborating with a couple of similar-minded classmates and inventing a roster of characters for our own imaginary comic book company. One of those characters, Savanna, was re-adapted for Heroineburgh more than 30 years later!
BIC: What finally made you say “it’s time” to get the ball rolling?
Shevek: After being inspired by the Pittsburgh Batman adaptation, the spark which lit my fuse was an interning position at a local filmmaking school which gave me access to equipment. Over the course of summer 2016, with cameras and lights close at hand, I wrote a dozen scripts of superheroine origin stories, and these became the 13 episodes of the first season of Heroineburgh. As we started to film Heroineburgh in the fall of 2016, we began to acquire our own equipment as well, and that’s where we are today.
BIC: Now some behind the scenes questions, what is your favorite part of filming?
Shevek: Two parts of the filming process are my favorite: one is the strong positive energy of successful human interaction with talent and crew on set because there’s nothing more satisfying than a truly collaborative result. Everyone has to work together to make this happen. The other highlight is going over the dailies because it’s great to be able to see what we’ve captured immediately after we’ve filmed it. The only drawback is that sometimes it takes almost as long to finish picking the right takes as it does to film them!
BIC: So what are your least favorite?
Shevek: The post-production and editing process is the real slog. There are so many meticulous changes to be made, and yet sometimes it just still can’t come out perfect because the footage doesn’t measure up. But a lot of the problems are mitigated by having an amazing editor who knows a lot about filmmaking and constantly gives us good advice about how to improve the process. The promotion game is also very involved. Between publicizing the theater premieres in our city, promoting the series at the local Comicons (which draw from a regional area, including parts of Ohio and West Virginia), and keeping up with announcements on the Internet, there’s a lot to worry about. What we’d love to do is get more attention from the international comic book and moviegoing audiences, which is difficult putting up our original characters against those of, say Marvel and DC.
BIC: How have platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook helped or hindered Heronieburgh?
Shevek: I know social media brings us some attention but it’s hard to quantify. Facebook seems to actually suppress promotion unless you pay them regularly, but we make sure to add as many photo stills to our page as we can. Twitter and Deviant Art both seem to have a fairly limited reach for a project like ours, although I do keep up with both of them relentlessly. YouTube really gives us a boost in terms of people becoming familiar with our characters, because they can watch outtake clips, trailers, and heroine intros before going to the website and paying for episode downloads (essentially a half hour for the price of a comic book). And we do have well over 70,000 views on our YouTube channel, but it’s hard to say if much of that has translated into sales.
Actually, the most active market for our episodes has been frequenters of messageboards and specialty websites about superheroines since we’re already giving them something close to what they’re looking for. We’ve gotten some interesting feedback and loyal fans from those sources. And it’s introduced me to some other producers who are working on original superheroine series (most don’t have backstories and plots as elaborate as ours). The results of that interaction will be revealed when we’ll include some short ‘collaborative’ clips with those other producers as part of our Episode 13 finale of Season 1.
BIC: Speaking of social media, may you share your feelings about the current climate in comics today?
Shevek: As a lifelong voting Democrat, I consider myself a second-wave feminist. I’m pro-choice and I’m pro-same-sex marriage. But I’m also a believer in ‘classical liberal’ Western values and among those are free speech, free enterprise, and the democratic process. So, first of all, I’m concerned about the plummeting sales of the comic book industry, where it doesn’t seem like most titles are able to gain any new, younger fans to continue the hobby.
What makes it worse is the political fighting over the scraps that remain. Far-left progressives search for a phantom ‘woke’ audience of teenagers and 20-somethings that simply isn’t materializing, and ostracizing anyone who opposes their agenda. The opposite side attempts to create comics without being under someone’s ideological thumb, and are simply normal types or mainstream Republicans, but sometimes generate a hate mob of their own (I’ve seen the YouTube comments). The political situation in the comics industry simply mirrors the political landscape as a whole – the Internet is full of a small minority of people yammering from the extremes, while everyone else is simply trying to live their lives in the center, occasionally enjoying a superhero movie or TV show or video games, yet unfortunately not buying any comics whatsoever. Comics have become an extremely niche concern.
At Heroineburgh, I would like to think that we can represent the middle ground. First of all, our comic book-styled art is drawn by experienced DC comics colorist Jason Wright, who lives in Pittsburgh and has worked for both Ethan Van Sciver (on Hal Jordan Green Lantern) *and* Gail Simone (Secret Six). It would be hard to get more balanced than that!
There are aspects of our series that champion female empowerment and real political issues. We have episodes about sexual harassment, gentrification, and environmentalism. We have a good amount of diversity in our characters which represents the natural makeup of the Pittsburgh region: East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latina, as well as black, Irish, Jewish, Slavic, German, and Italian. We have heroines representing various subcultures like goth clubbers, heavy metal fans, and computer geeks, and a couple more who are lesbian and bisexual. But then, we also offer a lot for what is unfortunately belittled these days as the “male gaze,” because these characters are beautiful and complement their costumes very well, as well as being smart, capable, and powerful. And we also have a heroine who is a millionaire Republican entrepreneur…yes, she’s one of the good guys! I hope that viewers can approach Heroineburgh from several different angles and get something worthwhile out of it, regardless of whether it’s positive inspiration or just pure entertainment.
The crew at Heroineburgh have been growing their fan base over the last few months. And they plan on only growing some more. You can check out the trailers for each episode on their YouTube Channel, and go to their official website to purchase their full-length episodes.
And you can also check out their latest interview with Super Geeked Up below!