Art of Survival, Drew Dillon and Emmett Helen Interview

This post is a part of a series of articles about Cloudscape’s Life Finds A Way anthology. Visit the landing page for more information on the project.

Art Of Survival Panel

What’s your name?

DD: Drew Dillon.

EH: Hey! I’m Emmett Helen, a cartoonist based in Atlanta, Georgia.

What’s your artistic background?

DD: I have undergraduate degrees in Literature and Creative Writing from Cal State Long Beach, and started making comics in 2016. Most recently I had stories published by Future Quake Press and Arledge Comics.

EH: I’ve been making comics pretty much my whole life, though I only got into superhero stuff recently. I graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2015 with a BFA in Sequential Art.

What comics/comic creators inspired you to make comics?

DD: Joe Hill, Katie Cook, Dirk Manning, Gail Simone, Jim Zub – the list goes on.

EH: No one in my family was into comic books, so newspaper strips are what I started on. Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants, Calvin and Hobbes. I started reading webcomics in high school and that’s the only time I saw people like me telling stories, stuff like Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name. I get embarrassed listing influences, but the books I keep around my desk are Black Cloud, Space Riders, The Family Trade, and Tradd’s run on Ghost Rider.

Art of Survival Concept Art

What about Life Finds a Way caught your imagination enough to submit a story?

DD: The hopeful twist is so intriguing! Like, the world ends, everything you know crumbles to dust, Christmas is cancelled – how do you keep going? It’s a great challenge.

EH: Drew actually sent me the script as just, like, a peer review to get some thoughts and feedback. I immediately knew I wanted to draw it. Post-apocalypse stuff is usually not my beat, it’s so bleak, but this is totally in line with why I value storytelling.

On our theme of hope, what did you find fun about creating stories within this framework? Furthermore were there any unexpected challenges?

DD: The most fun was getting to torture my characters a little. Any story is going to have conflict, but when you know it’s going to turn out okay, you don’t feel so bad twisting the screws a little tighter. It’s like tickling your kid – the equal mix of joy and terror is addictive.

EH: I think with any story that centers around grief you have the challenge of keeping things light without ignoring the darkness of it. Drew kinda effortlessly composed this four-page short that goes from funny to haunting to heartfelt, and I think that mirrors the complexity of the subject really well. The difficulty on my end was making sure to nail those whip-smart tonal switches naturally.

Part of the fun of Post-Apocalypse is the worldbuilding, how do you deal with the limitations of the short story format with that in mind?

DD: A good story is based in the characters, and the characters are reflections of whatever bonkers world they live in. So, every single thing the characters do – their actions, the words, their motivations – have to be in service of building up this not-too-distant world. Not a panel can be wasted.

EH: This is probably more Drew’s dominion, but we reigned in the world by having it take place in this one cavern with one monster. Something I added was to color Mom’s clothes like this giant scorpion, to show she’s more of a fighter, while Squirt is colored to blend into the environment. Drew is right in that you really have to pack as much info as you can in one panel and that it has to be efficient.

What’s your favorite post-apocalypse media, and why? (Games, Movies, Books, etc.)

DD: I love Adventure Time! It’s accessible, inventive, and manages to be both meaningful and deliriously entertaining. As post-apocalyptic fiction, it shows that what we think of as the end of the world is just another kind of beginning, one with limitless possibility. Which I think is pretty rad.

EH: EH: I love indie games, and one of my mainstays is one by Hinterland Studios called The Long Dark. It drops you in the Canadian wilderness, in the dead of winter, trying to figure out why all these towns were suddenly deserted. Meanwhile, you have to make fires, find food, craft. It really shows that “the end of the world” can mean so many different things.

Art of Survival Rough

Clichés, our editors outlined some that we did not want in our stories in our narrative guide. What elements about post-apocalypse media do you think are over-done?

DD: Zombie stories need to die, but true to form, there’s always another batch just around the next corner.

EH: Yeah, I play a lot of video games and the zombie stuff is almost suffocating. I think people use it as a shorthand to up the stakes, but the real sparkle of post-apocalypse stories are the small-stakes stuff.

Post-apocalyptic fiction can often be a reflection of anxieties that occur in contemporary society, does your piece reflect any societal anxiety that you can identify?

DD: I think I’d call it a generational anxiety, wondering if the next generation is best prepared for the future. In other words: How can I teach my kids not just to survive, but to thrive?

EH: Drew’s got this perspective as a parent that makes this story so incredibly special. I’m looking at it more as a person born into trauma and how you cope with that, how not to lose yourself when it seems like everything you loved disappeared.

Do you think you could survive a week in the wild with a knife, a poncho, and a fishing hook?

DD: Which wilderness? I mean, I’m going to die wherever you drop me off, but if it’s a temperate climate I might live long enough to do a little sight-seeing before succumbing to Wrinkly Kneecap Disease, or whatever’s trendy in that ecosystem.

EH: I used to play survival pretend as a kid in the woods. That doesn’t at all qualify me for survival, haha, but I think I’m a “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” kind of person and might eventually figure things out. Especially if I had a knife.

Where do you look to find hope for humanity’s future?

DD: My kids. Duh.

EH: I don’t have kids, but I do definitely see this new generation of folks growing up and are really carving out a place for themselves, and I really respect that.

Do you have any projects you’d like to plug?

DD: My comics blog is

EH: Me and Rick Spears got a book coming out through Oni Press next year called “My Riot” that deals with a teen girl finding herself through punk music. It’s beautiful, exciting, unique, and reads like a 1980s teen anthem movie. I also recently had a series greenlit but that’s all hush hush for now. Y’all can follow me on Twitter to keep up with my stuff!

Art of Survival Preview

Click here for more updates and behind the scenes content for the Life Finds A Way anthology.

Leave a comment