Smash Pages Q&A | Otava Heikkilä

The Finnish cartoonist discusses the latest volume of ‘Letters for Lucardo,’ which is currently being crowdfunded by Iron Circus Comics.

Otava Heikkilä has been making the series Letters for Lucardo in recent years, and this week Iron Circus Comics will be crowdfunding the third volume in the series, Letters for Lucardo: The Silent Lord.

The series is about the relationship between a vampire and a mortal, and Heikkilä has brought a unique take and sensibility to the project. It’s a beautiful drawn and very delicately told love story with explicit sex scenes and it’s been striking to see how Heikkilä has grown as an artist and storyteller.

I’ve spoken with Heikkilä in the past, and we spoke briefly about this third volume, which is being crowdfunded starting today through April 28.

Otava, just to start, could you remind people where you left things at the end of Fortunate Beasts?

So, Letters for Lucardo is a four-part series about a romance between a late bloomer, Edmund Fiedler, who is a human, and Lucardo von Gishaupt, the heir to the mysterious Night Court consisting of immortals who follow the Silent Lord. Edmund is a 61 year old common scribe, who came to his queer identity in his fifties, and Lucardo is a forever-thirty-something who’s had all the time and wealth in the world to self actualize, being an immortal and all. The first book, Letters for Lucardo, follows the blossoming of the relationship between the two. In the second book, Fortunate Beasts, Ed has been separated from Lucardo by Lucardo’s practical father Ibauld, who wants to see Lucardo stop wasting his time with an old mortal. The two scheme their way back together, but at the end of the second book, Ed falls ill with a lung-rotting illness that will surely take his life. So, Lucardo is looking at either saying goodbye to his lover, or taking him to their cruel god-patriarch, the Silent Lord, to make a pact of life.

You always envisioned this as a four-volume series, and I’m curious if the story has changed as you’ve been working on it? 

I had the general building blocks from the start, but the story has definitely changed as I’ve grown myself. I started planning the series in 2015, when I was 25 and closeted about my own queerness, still very young. I’m now 31 years old, so legally dead in both online and queer years, and I’ve had a lot of things change in my own life and in some ways I feel closer to all the characters and themes within the story, which has changed how I approach them.

Now that we’re in the second half, the story has changed, where the characters are has changed, and there is a different tone and energy. And I wonder if it’s been difficult to adjust to that or do you find it exciting to change things as the characters change?

I’ve looked forward to the tone shifting at the mid-point, parting the curtains of the erotic drama and diving directly into horror, as our point of view character Ed learns the truth of the environment he’s been immersed in. I love writing stories that take their time revealing their true nature, because I love to be surprised and caught off guard by a story myself. But it is a little nerve-wrecking to introduce such a distinct change in tone, when the audience is here for the romance and the erotica, so I’ve been thinking hard about audience expectations and what kind of narrative shifts feel compelling and successful to the reader. I don’t want audiences to feel lied to, or made to feel stupid, the surprise has to feel like something you can look back on and go “oh, I can see that was coming on hindsight”.

I ask in part because the first volume was much more focused on them and the second volume opened up more on the world and other characters. It’s not just the two of them, and it feels as though you have a lot more detail envisioned than you’ve shown.

I’ve of course figured out more details as I’ve gotten further – so the me that did book three knows much more about the world than the me who did book one – but in the first volume I wanted the story to feel like all we saw was what Ed was seeing of this world. He had a very intimate and unique perspective of the Night Court, but he was still an outsider who was not privy to what happened behind closed doors, and I hoped to reflect that in what the audience saw as well. I also wanted the first (and second) book to feel like we really do get to see their relationship and passion in all its magnitude, so that when I arrive to ruin it all it actually stings.

The series has always been erotica, but it’s really a very sweet romance that happens to show them having sex. You just don’t fade away. I’m happy to just talk about the sex, but focusing on the sex distracts from everything else you do so well.

Aw, thank you! Yes, at the beginning I had this stubborn feeling that I want to take concepts that may not be held at the highest regard (just say “gay vampire porn” out loud in a social situation and I guarantee the reaction you get is laughing and jeering), and then just sustain sincere and serious eye contact with the reader all the way to the end. Of course its funny as well, and people are still welcome to laugh at it, but if I can make people have less tense emotions about looking at old bodies fucking, or being asked to take a fourt-part vampire sex story somewhat seriously, then I feel like I’ve sated that stubborn feeling guiding me at the start a little. So you’re absolutely right, it’s a story that doesn’t fade to black when it “should”. And if the poems of Gilgamesh can spend several verses right at the beginning describing the totally awesome sex Enkidu got up to with Shamhat and still be considered the height of human literature, I think we can put the debates about whether sex scenes have to be plot-relevant to rest.

You clearly love the details, the period clothing and decor; is there anything that you drew in this volume that you especially loved? Or especially hated drawing?

Haha, I’m glad if it looks like the details fit the part! Quite honestly I feel like the bar in the comics sphere when it comes to artists’ special interests in fashion, historical detail, technological knowledge or any niche focus are at an all time high, as everybody is becoming more highly specialized and have access to internet’s worth of resources. I feel perfectly mediocre about my detailing skills, though I do love to do historical research for work and fun. My favorite parts of this book were the darkest parts (both in terms of values as well as themes), where I got to do my best at recreating even an atom of the incredible mood in Bernie Wrightson’s inkwork, particularly the illustrations for Frankenstein.

Just to close, for all the people who have been eagerly awaiting this new book, what can we look forward to, what are you excited for us to see, what have you teased in the previous book that comes to fruition here. Answer that however you like.

Like I mentioned earlier, I love it when a story takes a while to reveal its true nature – so I’m excited about people going back to read the earlier books and see the little foreshadows I’ve left along the way. I think my personal favorite is still the small beat at the end of book one, where Lucardo has jokingly said that his family “are not animals”, to which Ed retorts with “oh really?” – and it really flusters Lucardo out for a second. Of course, that’s not really a surprise for book three in particular, as we learned of the Night Court’s lupine nature in book two. For this book, the Silent Lord – well, I’m just so excited for all the readers to finally meet the eponymous Silent Lord!

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