Portland's publishing scene includes a burgeoning pool of graphic novelists and artists, thanks in part to the economic influence of Dark Horse Comics, the third-largest comic-book publisher in the country. A job as a project editor at the Milwaukie company was what lured Chicago writer Anina Bennett to Portland in 1991-her artist husband, Paul Guinan, in tow. By the time Bennett left the company, the pair had bought a house and fallen in love with Portland. Their latest graphic endeavor is a quirky union, combining the pair's long-running sci-fi Heartbreakers series with Guinan's Internet phenomenon Boilerplate (see www.bigredhair.com/boilerplate), a fictional Victorian-era robot termed "cool" by the robotic-heads at NASA and featured in a U.S. News & World Report cover story on hoaxes. Karla Starr.

WW: What's the backstory for Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate?

Anina Bennett: Everything you need to know is in the book. It adds layers if you've read our earlier Heartbreakers stories, but it's not required. The basic concept of Heartbreakers is one sentence: The adventures of two women, cloned from the same scientist yet engineered to have wildly different skills.

How did you build a story around such different characters?

Anina: The biggest logistical challenge was how to get Boilerplate, [a robot) who was lost in combat during World War I, into the science-fictiony Heartbreakers world. We opted for the "Hey, look what's in this mysterious crate!" solution.

What do you think is behind this recent explosion of graphic novels-ranging from Ghost World to Sin City-transformed to film? Why now?

Anina: Since the 1980s, there's been a resurgence of non-superhero comics. Some of the people who've come of age during that period are now making movies, and the idea that comics are a legitimate storytelling medium doesn't get scoffed at so much anymore, so there's a broader pool of ideas to draw on, and more willingness to dip into it. I'm curious to see if it's an isolated set of happy accidents, or the beginning of a heyday.

Do you get different responses from readers who grew up with comic books versus those who are new to the medium?

Anina: Comic-book readers focus more on the art, whereas "civilians" tend to be drawn in by the Boilerplate historical material. But there's plenty of crossover.

How does working together help-or hinder-your work?

Paul: I'm visual and Anina's verbal. I'm good at plotting and art, and Anina's good at scripting and design. Neither one of us could create comics on our own. We're lucky that I've got a good ear and she's got a good eye, so we can critique each other's work.

What do you wish people would ask you?

Paul: "May I fund your next project-please?