Caitlin Kittredge Talks ‘Coffin Hill’ At Vertigo [NYCC 2013]
With last week’s release of Coffin Hill #1 from Vertigo, writer Caitlin Kittredge has made the leap from novels to comics, teaming up with artist Inaki Miranda to tell the story of a young woman with a whole lot of deadly mistakes in her past finally coming back to haunt her — maybe even literally. It’s a stylish, compelling and thoroughly blood-soaked first issue, and what’s more, it’s the story Kittredge has wanted to tell for years.
During New York Comic-Con, I spoke to Kittredge about why she came to comics, what the adjustment has been like to move from prose, and where she’s going to go next.
ComicsAlliance: I think my favorite thing about Coffin Hill is that you straight up named your lead character “Eve Coffin.”
Caitlin Kittredge: It’s actually a name in New England. It’s a really old name, like a settler or pilgrim name, so I’m not making that up. I went to school with someone whose last name was Coffin. Her first name wasn’t Eve, but it’s a legit thing, there’s a Coffin Street where I grew up.
CA: I don’t want you to get the wrong idea! I legitimately liked that.
CK: I’m glad! That’s actually the thing that gets the most comments, I’ve found, in reviews and stuff. They’re like “Why is her last name Coffin?” and I get to say “Because it’s history and it’s real!”
CA: Or you can say “because it’s a spooky horror comic.”
CK: I could say that, but I just like to be like “History, bitches!”
CA: I read your blog where you were talking about how this was something you’d had in the back of your mind for years.
CK: I wanted to write the New England horror story, like the Stephen King style thing, for a long time. My novel career never really let me do that, because I pretty firmly started in romance and moved to dark fantasy, but I never quite made the jump to horror, because in books, frankly, it’s a really small market, but in comics, it’s totally coming back in a crazy way. There are so many great horror comics out right now. I was so happy to have the chance to finally pull the idea I had four years ago out of storage and pitch it to Vertigo to turn it into an actual comic. I’m excited about it.
CA: That leads into my next question pretty well. I know you’ve been a comics reader forever, and you’ve been a writer for years. You wrote for video games, then you quit that to be a full-time novelist when you were what, 25? So why comics? Was it just a matter of that being where the market was for this kind of story?
CK: It was that, and also that I’ve always wanted to write comics ever since I read Sandman in college, like “I want to write something like this.” I specifically wanted to write a comic that was on that level and told such a great story, and managed to be so engaging. A lot of times with novels, you can get a really deep, engaging story but there’s not a lot happening, frankly. Those books tend to be super-literary and dense and they require a lot of commitment, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you want fast-moving action and gore and plot and excitement, you can get shorted on that.
With comics, because there’s that visual component, I think it’s so much easier to marry those two things.
CA: What was the transition like? You talk about the visuals, and as a novelist, you’re very good at scene-setting.
CK: Oh, thank you.
CA: You have those very evocative descriptions, which are often completely unnecessary when you’re writing a script for a comic. You can just say “draw a spooky mansion,” and it’s someone else’s job to create that visual.
CK: I’ve been pretty fortunate, because the artist I’ve been working with, Inaki Miranda, who did Fairest, is great. We clicked really well. I don’t know what it is about my descriptions and the way he draws and does layouts, but I don’t have to give him much for him to draw exactly what’s in my head. We talked a little bit about the mood and the general feel of what the comic’s going to be at the beginning. I wanted it to be in New England, I wanted it to be spooky, I wanted it to always be kind of drizzly and foggy, and he said okay.
I really just gave him some basic ideas and references and he just ran with it. I’m really lucky in that way.
CA: What were the references? I know you live in a castle. You live in a turreted manor.
CK: I live in Stately Wayne Manor, yes. I sent him a couple of references of some old Victorian houses from around New England. There are a couple of really huge estates in Massachusetts that are falling into ruins now, and I sent those. Just exterior shots of small towns, roads with the autumn leaves falling, locational stuff for him to get the feel. He had some specific questions about the scene in Boston, like what people would be wearing, what street it was, and I tried to help out with that as much as I could. Basically I said if you’ve ever got a question of what someone’s wearing, just throw them in some Red Sox gear and we’re good for Boston. [Laughs]
CA: It’s an extra-sized first issue, and I was wondering if that was Vertigo wanting to give you a big push for your first comic, or if you went to them saying “hey, I’ve got a lot to get set up,” because there’s a lot going on in there.
CK: There is. There are three separate time periods in that first issue, and that was pretty much where we decided to make it a little bit bigger and explode it out a little more from the standard 20-page format. It’s 24 pages, so I packed a lot into those four extra pages.
CA: This is an insult everywhere else but comics, but it feels a lot longer than that.
CK: That is a total compliment. I’m very happy.
CA: Has that been an adjustment from novels? You can go as long as you want in those.
CK: Well, kind of. You can’t digress, you have to have a point to it even if your novel is 400 pages. Nobody except George R.R. Martin is getting away with thousand-page tomes anymore. They just don’t sell, so I’m used to moving things right along in my novels and making sure every scene serves multiple purposes and isn’t just there for fun or to stroke my ego or because I thought it was cute. But yeah, trying to fit everything into 20 pages, even though I knew I had art to do half of the storytelling for me, has been a big adjustment.
I had to get very good at saying “well, I like this but it’s not necessary, so out it goes.” It’s a little bit painful in the first couple of issues, but I’ve worked out the whole first arc now and I’m pretty used to it. Let it go.
CA: Back to that structure, you talked about the three time frames in the story: Eve as a cop, Eve as a troubled teen, and Eve after getting shot in the head and getting white streaks in her hair in the present. Why build it like that? Are the flashbacks going to be part of it going forward?
CK: Yeah, they are. They’re actually really important, and it doesn’t go through all three time periods going forward, issue 2 is just Eve in the present and Eve as a teenager. I tried to give people a little bit of a break with that, and also myself, because writing in three different time periods is really difficult just on a concentration level for me. In the first issue I was making charts and breakdowns and drawing scenes with stick figures so I knew where everybody was.
CA: How long is that going to be in place? I assume you’re eventually going to run out of problems from Eve’s teenage years.
CK: I’m going to run out of problems, but I’m not going to run out of past mistakes that she’s made anytime soon, if that answers the question.
CA: You open the book with her as a very by-the-book cop, and then you show her extremely misspent youth. It’s a transition that lends itself well to exploring.
CK: Oh, yeah, and one definitely plays into the other. She’s definitely so uptight in those years as a cop because of what happened to her as a teenager with all the parties and the black magic, as you will. It’ll lead you to get back on the straight and narrow when you accidentally summon the dark forces of evil.
CA: Is there an ending planned?
CK: I have a lot planned out, let me just say it that way. I’m extremely superstitious. For all of my novel series, everyone asks me “do you have a finite ending?” and I’ve always been either “yes, there’s a finite ending” or “no, it’s going to go on forever,” and neither of those things has ever been true when I’ve said it, so I’m not going to jinx myself. I’ve got lots and lots planned out, and other ideas knocking around in my head too. I’m kind of an obsessive pre-planner, so I have a lot of material.
CA: How did the approach come? Did [Vertigo editor] Shelly Bond read your books and reach out to you?
CK: We got put in touch by a friend of mine who also wrote urban fantasy, paranormal romance style books who got approached by Shelly about possibly doing a comic. She didn’t feel like she was the right fit because she’d never read any comics or written any comics, but she said “Oh, Caitlin’s a big comics person, I’ll put you two together.” Shelly apparently read all my books after our original conversation and decided I was a good fit.
I think I pitched her three or four different things before we decided Coffin Hill was what we were going to go with.
CA: So you have three or four other pitches in your back pocket?
CK: In theory, yeah.
CA: So when do you get the call to write Shade the Changing Man for the New 52?
CK: [Laughs] DC has my number, and I’m available. The ball’s not in my court.