In the world of TV hosts, Blair Butler stands out. Sure, she's got great on-camera skills, but what really sets her apart from your average Hoda Kotb is that she can school you when it comes to comics. Butler started out as a stand-up comedian and scored a recurring spot on G4tv's "Attack of the Show" as the main comic book correspondent, and is now the host of "Fresh Ink!" She even appeared on the cover of DC Comics' "Booster Gold" #23.
But appearing on the cover of a comic wasn't enough, Butler wanted to actually write in the medium she's been discussing and reviewing on air and online. Come November, she will get her chance thanks to a four-issue miniseries from Image Comics called "Heart" drawn by "Lovestruck's" Kevin Mellon. CBR News spoke to Butler about the star of her comic, how "FF" writer Jonathan Hickman helped get the book moving and her love of mixed martial arts (MMA).
"I'm a huge fan," Butler told CBR News. "Most of my co-workers love the NFL, but MMA is my sporting poison. I talk about Anderson Silva and GSP [Georges St-Pierre] the way other folks talk about the Packers or the Bears, I'm like the Paul Aufiero of MMA -- he's the football-obsessed parking lot attendant in 'Big Fan.' And there's sort of an interesting analogy to be made to superhero comics and mixed martial arts, if Batman or The Punisher were real, they'd likely be training MMA to get in proper crime-fighting shape. The Huntress would be subduing muggers with a rear naked choke or a spinning backfist."
But "Heart" isn't about superheroes, it's about real world people entering the world of professional fighting, specifically the book's star, Oren "Rooster" Redmond.
"Oren is like a lot of us. He's toiling away at a temp job, doing menial office work and looking for his calling," Butler said. "His calling just happens to be punching dudes in the face. His brother, Jimmy, is already an established fighter in the fictional Kansas City fight scene and Oren follows him into the sport. But while his brother boasts a wrestling base, Oren is a brawler, a guy who knows he can take heads. And that's why he rises so quickly in the sport. Maybe too quickly."
With Oren and his struggle within the world of mortal combat at center stage, the title takes on a meaning very specific to the world of MMA according to Butler.
"In MMA, the term 'heart' gets thrown around constantly," Butler explained. "When fighters describe someone as having 'heart,' it usually refers to that fighter's drive to win, despite adversity. But, just as often, it's a euphemism for a fighter who takes a ton of abuse -- sometimes because his skill-set isn't as solid as it should be -- and still won't quit. Even when, perhaps, he should. If you get punched in the face non-stop for three rounds, but refuse to get knocked out, or throw in the towel, and end the beating, that's 'heart.' This comic is about a guy who discovers he has a talent -- and a passion -- for fighting and then has to face the fact that he may not have the heart of a champion."
When it came to finding a place for "Heart" in the comic book landscape, Butler approached her first choice and wound up landing the book there right off the bat.
"The only place I ever took the project was Image," Butler said. "They were my first choice. It just seemed like a perfect fit; the subject matter is a little risky and unconventional and the burden is really on the creators' shoulders which has been a great challenge. I'm learning more about the production side of comics than I likely would anywhere else. I will say not having an editor is a little daunting because you always want someone to look at the script with fresh eyes but that's where Kevin Mellon has been really invaluable. I know if I write something that blatantly doesn't work, he'll tell me."
Butler's working relationship with Mellon came about as the result of a conversation with another comic book writer with some experience at Image Comics.
"Comic book dynamo Jonathan Hickman hooked us up," Butler said. "I was trying to find a collaborator for the project, and felt like I'd hit a wall. But I was talking to Hickman about it and he rolled up a 'saving throw' and told me about Kevin's work. Honestly, I just got extraordinarily lucky in that I found him at a time when he was just about to blow up professionally, but had a window between gigs to take on a four-issue series. I just sent him the script and a day later, he agreed to do the book. He's a tremendous talent and is extremely gracious, especially when you consider that this is my first comic and I'm likely making all sorts of noob mistakes."
Butler fully understands the amount of pressure on her, considering she's a critic making the kind of product she reviews, but treated it like her one and only shot at making comics.
"It was exhilarating and terrifying," Butler said of her first comics writing experience. "The learning curve is really steep and I don't want to disappoint anyone. This is a story I've been dying to tell and I'm sort of treating it like I'll never get a chance to make comics again. I think there was a fair amount of fear, you know, putting yourself out there creatively, especially when you cover other people's comics on a weekly basis. But it's a leap I wanted to take and I've been so fortunate that Kevin Mellon, Crank! -- who did our logos and letters -- and Image Comics were willing to take the leap with me. Hopefully, I haven't led any of them over a cliff. That would be a bummer."