Dillon Gilbertson talks about SWEET HEART

Dillon Gilbertson mixes real-life horror with monster movies and his personal life into a story of perseverance in Sweet Heart. It’s an unusual story viewing the world for an unusual place. Dillon was nice enough to stop by First Comics News and let our readers know all about Sweet Heart.

First Comics News: Who is Ben?

Dillon Gilbertson: Ben is one of the first characters we meet in Sweet Heart. We first meet Ben when he’s six-year and completely unaware of the dangers in his hometown, but he’s still a boy who gets scared. He has a close relationship with his mom who he relies on for bravery; to see there is nothing to fear. When she’s brave, he’s brave. But as he gets older and the story progresses, he learns how frightening the world can really be and that no one person can be brave all the time.

1st: What kind of monster is the Stringer?

Dillon: I’m not entirely sure how to answer that without giving too much away, but I might describe Stringers as monogamous hunters. They have a humanoid appearance and are extremely fast, almost the point of seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Stringers come from the woods outside of this small town and the only thing they know is hunting, but a Stringer will only hunt one person. So they have this one-track mind and a sort of tunnel vision when it comes to the prey they choose. They are so fixated, almost desperate to consume this one person that they will typically ignore everything else. And because of this, they can grow extremely thin, almost frail, if the chosen person manages to evade it/them for months or years at a time. So as time passes, you can imagine how aggressive and unhinged one might become to finally have a meal. In addition to diabetes, I’ve often likened Stringers to the concept of addiction in that it’s so hard to truly be free of it and going long periods without “feeding” it can increase how dangerous it is when there’s an opportunity.

1st: What kind of monster is the Bruiser?

Dillon: Bruisers are in the same family as Stringers, but are much more greedy. They don’t possess the same tunnel vision as Stringers in terms of hunting. They’ve since gone blind as a result of overconsumption, so they rely primarily on smell and sound. And while this might make them easier to run away from, it makes them much more aggressive. They still choose a prey, but they are more likely to take out other people while on the hunt. If you, again, use the analogy of addiction, it can be so much more unpredictable and harmful to everyone around you if it always gets what it wants.

1st: How did you come up with the concept of these monsters and how they relate to diabetes?

Dillon: Sleep deprivation. Haha. I had been awake for almost 30 hours and had to attend an endocrinologist appointment where I went in for a regular checkup with my Type-1 diabetes. After the appointment, I started thinking about my mother, when I was first diagnosed, and how upset she was in contrast with how confused I was about everything. That really affected me and I started thinking how hard my mom fought to keep me safe from it when I had no real concept of how big a deal it was. So I started imagining diabetes as a literal monster than I needed to appease my entire life and how much that impacted not only me but my family and friends. My mom really did all she could to fight it for me, which actually became a very specific scene in issue #1 of Sweet Heart that I really love.

When I started forging a story out of that, I’d had this image of a specific monster in my head that wants to kill you, and only you. You can manage it if you’re vigilant, but it’s possible you’ll never truly be free. All it does is hunt you and the most dangerous thing you can do is forget that it’s there, all the time, waiting in the dark. But Type-1 and Type-2 diabetes are kinda two breeds of the same monster, right? They progress differently, they’re treated differently, and they move at different speeds. So if I explored one, I needed to explore the other. But I didn’t want to pigeonhole this story as a diabetes tale, so the monsters themselves also reflect a wide number of ailments whether it/they be mental, physical, or social.

1st: When did you discover you had diabetes, and what was it like growing up?

Dillon: I was six years old on a family road trip to visit my grandparents. I honestly had no idea how to process it. At that age, it’s tough to wrap your head around something like that. I felt fine at the time, aside from mild sickness and having to pee all the time, but I vividly remember a lot of my family members crying. (I think that had a lot to do with my insistence on showing the affects the Stringer’s and Bruisers have on the loved ones of their “victims” in Sweet Heart. It’s harder than most people realize.)

Growing up, it was often problematic. You would think that carrying your supplies and emergency food would be forced by habit, but I had to bail on a lot of plans because I’d forgotten things at home. There were a lot of close calls with sugar spikes and crashes, too. One of the things that took a long time for me to realize was how those things can add up and affect your health over time if they happen too often; something I also get into in Sweet Heart. What makes it so frustrating is how completely unpredictable crashes and spikes can be, so it can be incredibly frustrating (and dangerous) as a kid.

One of the upsides of being diagnosed at a young age is that there aren’t many lifestyle changes to implement. I got used to the shots pretty quick, though my mom administered them until I was about 10, the sugar balancing act was instilled early, and I never had to break an addiction to sugary foods. In grade school, I had friends who remarked how gross diet soda was compared to the “real thing”, but I could barely even remember the taste of regular soda. I always just reached for diet soda if I ever wanted one.

1st: How much of Ben’s story is related to your feelings about the disease?

Dillon: Almost all of it. Ben sees a lot of the darkness that it can bring to a person, and there are a lot of really specific concerns I’ve had about it in my life. So, Ben was a valuable conduit to express those feelings.

1st: With the mother, can you explain how her story moves issue #1 along?

Dillon: Without saying too much, Ben’s mother, Grace, is motivated by her love for him. So when Ben is chosen, she struggles a lot to cope with the perceived certainty of his death. She’s very earnest about this responsibility to protect her son so you’ll see a lot of her actions are influenced either directly or indirectly by that responsibility.

1st: With Maddie, there is an element of completing a full cycle to the story. Can you give us a hint as to where the story will go from here?

Dillon: Any direction I allude to is bound to spoil an element of the story, so I’m afraid we’ll have to discuss that more once people get a chance to read it…

1st: What makes Sweet Heart so cool that no true comic fan should miss it?

Dillon: This story is for anyone who’s ever had a monster in their life. To me, it takes personal fears and distills them into their purest forms; forms that I think might apply to everyone in ways you might never have expected. And while a lot of horror stories hide their monsters, visually or conceptually to increase the dread that comes from the unknown, Sweet Heart isn’t about that. You’ll see the monsters, you’ll learn what makes them tick, but it won’t matter. The fear comes from knowing there’s no safety. They cannot be killed, they cannot be appeased; all they do is take. All they do is eat. As a horror fan, I think that’s cool as hell!

About Author