The People Behind the Puppets: Heather Nuhfer

Considering she was one of the people responsible for launching the new Fraggle Rock comic, it seemed only natural that we should talk to Heather Nuhfer as part of our look behind the scenes of the comic. Heather Nuhfer (who was credited as Heather White in our book, but has since changed her last name) wrote our very first lead story. What that really means is that her 20-page story, “A Throne of my Own,” was the first new Fraggle Rock adventure to be released after a two decade hiatus.

Facing that sort of pressure would be a daunting task even for a seasoned comic book writer, which is why it’s all the more astonishing to learn that her Fraggle Rock story was Heather’s very first comic book project…ever. Not bad for someone brand new to the medium!

First off, Heather, is it Heather White or Heather Nuhfer? You were Heather White when we worked on Fraggle Rock together.

Tim, you can call me whatever you please! Though, please, call me Heather Nuhfer or I will hit you.

Okay, Ms. Nuhfer, I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve had a pretty diverse career that has taken you up and down the California coast and has included a stint at The Jim Henson Company. Now you’re living in LA. Do you think you’re going to stay here for a while?

I’m completely, 100% Los Angeles-based. You’re all totally stuck with me now! Sorry. It’s great to be here. Finally. I love being closer to my Los Angeles friends.

About when did you start writing? Initially, what was the reason for it?

Well, I started really writing around eleven or twelve. Mainly because I was obsessed with movies and wanted some of them to have sequels. I took it upon myself to write the sequels to many classic films that I deemed worthy, but would never be made. Well, with the exception of the new Lost Boys movies… they should never have been made. Actually, I think we all should forget they exist altogether. Anyway, I pretty much started with fan fiction, and went from there.

How exactly would you define yourself as a writer? You’ve worked in comics and as you pointed out, you’ve written some fan fiction, but you’ve also written screenplays.

Yeah, I really started out wanting to be a screenwriter. It’s something I would still love to do, but I also super duper love writing comics. I tend to think in screenplay format, in terms of ideas and how I visualize things, but comics, to me, are quite similar, since they are both really visual. I find writing for comics more challenging, but in a good way. There are so many little, but hugely important, elements–you know, deciding what the panels should look like, where your page breaks are in terms of telling the story better visually, keeping dialogue short enough, but still making sense–a lot of thinking has to be done. Screenplays are so much easier, technically. I have three…ish of them completed. I’m sure they are pretty awful.

I seriously doubt that! So you see screenwriting largely as a hobby, or do you plan on making a serious effort to develop as a screenwriter now that you’re in LA? And what sort of films interest you?

I’ll always be working on a screenplay. It’s like therapy for me, really. It doesn’t matter if anyone ever sees them, or if I ever try to sell one–though I probably should now that I am here! I love action movies and classics, to be honest, but I generally write dark comedies and quirky RomComs.

As far as writing goes, would you prefer to focus on one thing–like, say, building a comic book writing career–or do you prefer wearing many different hats?

I think that is sort of the curse in comics–as much as most of us would like to have that be our only gig, finances rarely agree. Unless you’re at a major publisher, you have to be writing comics because you LOVE it, because for most of us it’ll never be very lucrative. Generally, I’m happy if I’m doing creative writing work. I’m not horribly concerned with what format it ends up being in. And I look good in all sorts of hats.

Now, all the writing that I’ve seen from you has been very all-ages and kid-friendly. Is that naturally what you’re drawn towards? Do you think you have an R-rated screenplay in you?

I’m a perpetual kid, so writing all-ages comes pretty naturally. I love how relatable those stories can be and the challenge of making them so that everyone can get something out of them. I really want my all-ages stories to have something not only for the kid, but also the adult who’s reading it with them. Alright, confession: I really have a soft spot for uber-violent, bloody movies. I can’t write them though! I wish I could!

A page from “A Throne of my Own,” Heather’s Fraggle Rock lead story.

You wrote the very first Fraggle Rock story in the very first Fraggle Rock comic for Archaia, and it also happened to be the very first comic book you had ever written. That’s a lot of firsts! Was it overwhelming?

It was! Jumping into it the way I did was really scary, but I tried my best to keep a healthy facade of confidence. I feel incredibly lucky that my first comic writing experience was guided by you and Joe LeFavi, and published by Archaia. The amount of support and the level of care that everyone put into it was the best introduction to how the process should go.

As a huge Fraggle Rock fan, how did it feel writing those characters? Was there a lot of pressure to get it right, or did you just have fun and go with it?

Honestly? I seriously stressed about it for a while. These characters have been part of my entire life, you know? Being able to put words in their mouths was a bit surreal, and it freaked me out. Then I realized my nerves were messing up my writing, so I started forcing myself to just have fun with it. I would drink as much caffeine as I could and eat tons of cookies to get all jacked up on sugar, so I could feel like a hyper little Fraggle. I like to think of it as method writing.

More art from “A Throne of my Own.”

There was a moment of panic when we were working on the first issue when you discovered that the idea you had originally pitched was actually used in an episode from the show. Care to elaborate?

Oh, gosh! Yeah… Worst. Day. Ever. I discovered my own foible, too, so I felt like a double idiot. Telling your editors that their lead story is unusable isn’t the greatest feeling. I was sure it was all over after that! You guys were awesome though and helped me work it out. I am eternally grateful! After that, Muppetwiki became my best friend! There were just SO many episodes of the show, dodging similar themes was tricky.

So now that you have that first comic book under your belt, what are your next steps? What are you looking to accomplish in 2011?

More comics! I would love to be writing for more properties and hopefully be able to pitch an original idea or two.

I’ve noticed something about you which is that the people you’ve worked with really seem to take to you. You’ve made a lot of really good friends in the industry in such a short amount of time. What do you think is the reason for that? Are you the nicest person in comics?

Oh, hush! I think I’ve bumbled my way into the lives of some truly amazing folks, and am waiting for them to realize I am not that interesting or cool! Until then, I will enjoy their company and try to be a good friend.

Along the same lines, one of our Fraggle Rock Vol. 2 writers–Katie Strickland–is someone you introduced us to. Did you expect that she’d be following in your footsteps as a Fraggle Rock writer? And what did you think of her story?

It’s awesome that Kate got on board, are you kidding me?! She’s been my best friend for twenty years! She is a glorious, supremely talented writer and I can’t wait to see what she does next. She did such a wonderful job with her Traveling Matt story–his voice is so hard to get right–I was really impressed. One of these days we’ll finish something we’ve started writing together! I have faith!

One of Heather’s recent creations–a fully knitted Wicket. Who says Ewoks aren’t cool?

You also knit and crochet fabulously geeky items like Ewoks, Cthulhus and Sandworms. How did that start? And why don’t you ever sell them? It seems like you could have a cool little side business selling knit items on Etsy.

About 5 or 6 years ago, I inherited TONS of knitting and crocheting supplies and taught myself how to do both. I like to knit more traditional things every once in a while, but it’s SO much more fun to work on my geeky projects. I actually used to have a little craft business called “Harpy” and did a lot of alternative craft fairs. It (like all of my endeavors) was never really cost effective, so I stopped making things to sell and have been creating stuff for my own enjoyment since. I do have an inkling to get some of my newer ideas made and put them on Etsy… well, at least until the licensing folks hunt me down.

Another of Heather’s knitting projects–a pair of Beetlejuice Sandworm mittens. Modeled along with her dog, Einstein.

Where would you like to be a year from now?

Hmmm. Drinking a mai tai, I guess. On my own private island. Possibly on the best terraformed section of Mars.

Okay, I just have to ask, when you were at The Jim Henson Company, did they ever have impromptu puppet shows at the office? Like, maybe between cubicles? It just seems like it would be in the spirit of the place.

HA! There were so many great things just sitting around, but you couldn’t touch any of them! It was torture! I ended up with about 50 action figures on my desk so I’d have something to distract me from the Skeksis or Rygel hanging out in the rafters…

And finally, as a huge Fraggle Rock fan, maybe you can answer this for me. With all the running around and acting crazy that the Fraggles did, do you think they ever accidentally stepped on some of the Doozers? I mean, the Doozers are pretty small and are always around, and the Fraggles don’t exactly look like they’re watching where they’re stepping…

They wear hardhats for a reason, Tim, and it ain’t because Doozer constructions are unsafe.

I’d like to thank Heather for taking a break from the LA sunshine to talk to us. Keep an eye out for some new comic book projects from her throughout the year. And check back again soon for some more Fraggle creator interviews!

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