Bruce Livingstone and Mike Willcox On Their Coming Of Age Classic ‘The Lost City Of Heracleon’
by Malissa White
Fresh from Boom’s Archaia division comes a new graphic novel from iStockphoto founder, Bruce Livingstone, and artist Mike Willcox, whose work has been featured on the LA Times and sold at Urban Outfitters. Brimming with adventure, The Lost City of Heracleon centers on two heroes, Shiro and Lou, as they dive into an epic journey to reset history, face down the gods, and reset history to save their missing father.
The Lost City of Heracleon reads much like a Wes Anderson remake of Indiana Jones come to comics, while refreshingly sweet and original in its own right. Livingston’s cinematic present tense narration can’t be read without hearing Jason Schwartmann’s voice and dry comedic timing. Over this, Willcox layers dreamy art deco and mysticism with a solid nod to the Golden Age classics.
Despite how direct Livingstone’s descriptions are, his style is clear, tender and humorous. Willcox capitalizes on these descriptions with the playful imaginations of our heroes Shiro and Lou, perfect for this coming of age adventure. My favorite panels and pages involve a ghost pirate and phantom parrot, a fun suiting-up montage, and giant ants with guns.
I had the chance to discuss The Lost City of Heracleon with Livingstone and Willcox. Read the interview below!
Malissa White: What drew you to telling The Lost City of Heracleon? What were some of the influences?
Bruce Livingstone: I wrote the story for my son in a time of transition for both of us. It was therapeutic for me in a way to work through some remaining grief from the death of my brothers and my father. The characters in the book are based on the ideal relationship I would have had with masculine influences – father, son, teacher, leader, etc. It’s a way for him to know these people, having never met them and a way to keep their ideals and voices alive. To answer your question more directly, some of my influences include Lewis Carrol, the Wachowski’s, Tolstoy, and Douglas Adams.
MW: The Lost City of Heracleon is rife with Greek and Egyptian mythology. What inspired you to feature both religions? What about the Zeus and Hercules mythos stood out?
BL: We love Greek and Egyptian mythology and really wanted to develop some interest for the reader in the old stories and monsters. I thought it would be compelling if the immortal Gods could work together. It’s interesting to think about what Zeus, Hercules, and the others have been doing all these years – sitting idly watching the world go by and getting more and more bitter that nobody cares about them anymore.
MW: Greek mythology has its own warrior goddess in Athena. Why did you choose to feature Egyptian goddess Sekhmet?
BL: Since the battle is in Egypt, I think she was a good choice, I was trying to show how different cultures and religions could work together if they wanted to.
MW: Much of the graphic novel goes without featuring a prominent female leading character. The women featured are mystics, guides, warriors, and in one case, a Banshee. Lou and Shiro’s mother isn’t mentioned. Can you speak to how women are represented within The Lost City of Heracleon?
BL: The story really focuses on the ideal relationship with the masculine. I intentionally wrote it this way to lay the foundation between friends, fathers, sons and teachers to try and help my son develop that type of fellowship with masculine role models. When I look at a character like Captain Iggy, she is a fierce warrior and leads a squadron of fighters. I hope that I represent female characters as strong, powerful and with equality. Lou and Shiro’s mother isn’t mentioned because of an upcoming plot-line that I don’t want to give away, hopefully that will come out in the next book.
MW: There are also subtle references to the places and ideas Lou and Shiro experience with Syd and Shorty throughout their seaside home. Without giving too much away, can you discuss how imagination and history bring their adventure to life?
BL: I actually can’t believe you noticed this! The seaside home is my actual home. We do check traps, almost daily. We dive regularly and fish, boat and adventure. I’ll give you an Easter egg from the book. If you type the coordinates of the submarine into Google, you’ll see that bay that’s just in front of my home.
MW: Among touching moments of genuine humor and playful levity, The Lost City of Heracleon features the violence of war. How did you navigate children (in adult bodies) experiencing this violence for the first time?
BL: Our lives are filled with jolting and sometimes violent experiences filled with fear, first job, first time driving a car, first fist fight, first day of high school, first break-up, conflict, death. Life is going to be uncomfortable and challenging. It’s ok to be scared and to talk about it like Lou and Shiro do in the book. The kinship that develops with the characters is what helps them progress, although the fancy technology, weapons and super powers certainly help considering what they’re up against.
Mike Willcox: I think since they were so suddenly thrust into this fantasy world and endowed with great strength and power, they were able to roll with it quite well without fear. And being alongside their older mentors, with a clear stance against the darkness and evil they were up against, makes it possible for their young minds to handle. I think it also helps that they were up against mostly monsters in the beginning.
MW: The knowledge of seafaring culture is extremely present and well described. Are you seafarers yourselves? What elements did you wish to highlight?
BL: Aye! I have a few boats for different uses. I’m an avid fisherman, trapper and adventurer. Where I live on Vancouver Island I’m fortunate to be surrounded by unbelievable and untouched wild coastline, temperate rainforest and creatures from the deep!
MW: My father is a fishing guide in the Florida Keys. I lived there for over 20 years, so the ocean has always been a big part of my life since I was a child. Illustrating the nautical scenes was really fun. I love doing research, it’s my favorite part of what I do. My grandfather was on submarines in WW2: he was the guy who built the periscopes, so studying those was also really rewarding.
MW: Triangles, circles, and the nine pointed star feature prominently in the story. Is there a particular part of their symbolism that you wanted to feature.
MW: Thanks for noticing! This is something I use prevalently in a lot of my personal artwork, and for the book I wanted to use something sacred for their source of magic. The number nine is so special I could write a whole book about it. It’s three pyramids in the nine pointed star, which is called an enneagram. Three threes is nine. Nine months in the womb. Nine times any number ends up reduced back to nine. There are a lot of really bizarre mathematical phenomenons with the number nine. Nine year cycle in numerology. Nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno. Nine is prevalent in Norse, Mayan, Aztec, Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, Greek, and Egyptian cultures. There are nine realms in Norse mythology. There are nine muses in Greek mythology. There was also a group of nine Egyptian deities called the Ennead. Each culture’s use of the number goes well beyond that. So I thought it fitting for use as the codex and some other elements when magic is around, like the empath’s quarters. It’s a good time!
MW: Fans of Wes Anderson and Stephen Spielberg will definitely find some parallels in your graphic novel. Are their works an influence? What other works influence The Lost City of Heracleon?
BL: I grew up on Spielberg so I’m sure his style of storytelling is evident. Ideally and mechanically I wish my life looked like a Wes Anderson film, but it’s too chaotic. He’s a great storyteller and fantastically methodical.
MW: I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose a lot of my ideas on how to frame shots came from Wes Anderson and Spielberg most definitely. I love those guys.
MW: You are both prolific in the fields of art and business. What drew you to comics? What are some of your inspirations within the medium?
BL: I just started writing one day. I never thought the story would become a graphic novel. I was working with Mike making t-shirts and objects d’art for http://exlibre.com where you can find some of our other collaborations. As our friendship blossomed over the years I just decided one day to share my story with him. It wasn’t until that moment did I ever consider it could be a graphic novel.
MW: I’m a bit new to comics. I was originally attracted to the idea through Frank Miller that I could write and illustrate a story and someday have it turned into a film, so I actually began working on a story before Bruce reached out for me to illustrate his story. Which was some pretty fantastic cosmic alignment. As far as inspirations within comics, I found a bunch of Golden Age stuff from the ‘40s and ‘50s and only let myself look at that.
MW: There are elements in the description that read like a film script. Are there plans to adapt your graphic novel into a feature or animated series?
BL: Mike was incredible at adapting the script into a storyboard. Quite a bit of the descriptive text about a scene could just be removed once Mike created drawings. It was hard for me as a new writer not to be precious about it. It was a true collaboration of creative trust. We’re hopeful there might be some interest in developing the story into a feature, but creatively we’re moving into other projects. Besides the animated show we’re working on, I’m also halfway through writing another story I’m hoping to pass to Mike in the next few months.
MW: Bruce’s writing style is very vivid and cinematic and a lot of that got cut out because I ended up drawing a lot of the descriptions. And for me I actually find a lot of comics kind of difficult to follow and read so I did my best to illustrate it how I would see it as film scenes. I would love for this one to end up as a feature or animation. Most recently we began working on the writing for an animated comedy series called “Flip Flops” that we are working on getting produced. Between the two of us we have a few other stories written we are hopeful to turn into either film or animation or more graphic novels.
MW: What are you most excited to share with audiences? What do you hope readers take away?
BL: Besides the non-stop action and monster battling, I’m hoping that the reader will take away a few key messages about how we need to treat each other and our planet with more empathy, respect and care.
MW: The Lost City of Heracleon is an adventure of epic proportions. By the end, we’re left wanting more of their heartfelt adventures. Are there more stories planned for Lou, Shiro and Syd?
BL: There could definitely be more stories coming, but we don’t have anything planned yet. We’ve actually been working on an animated show for adults in the last new months.
Thank you, Bruce and Mike, for chatting with me!
The Lost City of Heracleon is available at Boom Studios’ web shop, Amazon, bookstores and your local retailers. Digital copies are available on Comixology, iBooks, Google Play, and Madefire.