Noelle Stevenson and Todd Casey Introduce ‘4 Wizards’ [Exclusive Interview]
Fans of Noelle Stevenson have been curious to know what she might do next following the print publication of her award-winning webcomic Nimona and her decision to step down as one of the writers of Lumberjanes. Publisher's Weekly answered that question on Thursday afternoon, revealing that Stevenson will team with screenwriter Todd Casey for the fantasy adventure series 4 Wizards from HarperTeen, to be published in 2017.
The publisher describes 4 Wizards as the story of an eccentric wizard, Hugo, who is forced to take an apprentice, and gets stuck with sarcastic teenager Ivy, a medium who is sometimes possessed by her powerful and unpredictable alter-ego Nightshade. The two of them must work with their neighbors, a disgraced paladin named Zan and her druid apprentice Brambles, when their world comes under attack from dark forces.
Stevenson and Casey met at Disney when they were working on the animated series Wander Over Yonder, and it was there that the idea for 4 Wizards first developed. ComicsAlliance spoke to the creators to learn more about the wizards and their world, how the pair collaborate, and why they're drawn to the fantasy genre. Stevenson was also kind enough to share her first character sketches exclusively with ComicsAlliance!
ComicsAlliance: I get the sense that there are some big personalities in this book. Where did the inspiration for these characters come from?
Noelle Stevenson: The original inspiration were these little wizard doodles I was doing at the time, and Todd saw them and said something like, “I bet I could write a whole pitch around those.” So we pretty much came up with the characters to fit these drawings, based around the idea of mismatched wizard/apprentice pairs. I think our earliest idea for Hugo and Ivy was, “what if Aubrey Plaza interned for Gandalf?”
Todd Casey: Part of it was the characters influencing each other as they emerged. We wanted them to have diverse personalities that could rub against one another to make some fire. And, with anything you write, parts of yourself go in and become exaggerated. We thought as much about how they relate to each other as we did about who they are.
CA: Do you each have a favorite character?
TC: I identity a lot with Ivy and her struggle, but am probably most like Hugo since I'm a hermit who talks to furniture and constantly forgets people's names. Zan and Brambles have a selflessness about them that I admire in their devotion to looking after each other, so I love their dynamic. It's like picking a favorite child — you have one, you just don't want the others to know.
NS: I don’t know what Todd’s talking about. I love all my wizards equally. (earlier that day) I don’t care for Hugo…
Just joshin’, of course. I love the main four, but I think my actual favorite character doesn’t show up until halfway through the story.
CA: I understand this is planned as a series. Is there a grand arc, or is it more a vast world that you want to explore?
NS: There is something of a loosely-sketched long-term plan, but I think most of all we’re both just interested in getting to play in this world. For me personally, my first comic project Nimona had this very definite ending, and I wanted something that gave me more time to spend with the characters and let them grow over a longer time frame.
TC: The first book is tightly focused on the core group but, as we go, we're hoping to introduce a lot of new faces — some of whom Noelle has already drawn. "We'll save that for book two" has become a familiar refrain in our story breaks.
CA: Can you give up any hints about the great threat that drives the story?
NS: It’s a very subtle threat at first. Their world might seem like an uncomplicated, idyllic fantasy world but it’s actually built on the ruins of an ancient empire that was supposedly wiped out thousands of years ago… but maybe not as thoroughly as everyone thought. It’s about to come back into play in a very real way.
CA: What's your approach to fantasy? How do you think it reflects back on the lives of your audience?
TC: With magic as a driver for the story, we had to make sure the characters had some limits on their power. The world itself, to us, is limitless. To them, there are rules and boundaries. We don't want to run into a situation where our heroes are constantly escaping danger with convenient spells that they produce from nowhere. Each character's abilities operate with their own rules.
NS: Fantasy is usually considered an escape, but it’s also a way to deal with weighty real-world issues from a safe distance, and in a context where you usually have some kind of power that you don’t have in real life. That’s absolutely our plan for this book. All the characters have problems that we don’t, and powers that we don’t — suitable to a fantasy world of myth and magic — but their wants and fears are very recognizable nonetheless.
CA: What's your process for working together, and does it feel very different to when you were working in animation?
TC: We were fortunate to have worked so closely for so long that we developed the same language for talking about story. We still have that, but we no longer have all the fancy equipment we used in our writer's room at Disney. We're low-tech using markers and index cards instead of wireless keyboards and digital notecards on a giant screen. We also don't have access to the same snacks… it's a cold world out here...
The rough picture of the story is pinned up with index cards, then we do an outline followed by the script and the long process of drawing. The story changes with each step as you come to a deeper understanding of who these characters are and how they talk. As far as the actual writing, we don't sit next to each other at a computer and do it, but instead bounce documents back and forth. We've agreed on enough of what's supposed to be there that there aren't any surprises.
I've also found it super helpful to have art and know just who these characters are before starting. In screenwriting, you know the character, but you have no idea who the actor will be until much later — that can be tricky.
NS: We shared an office for over a year and so our creative shorthand and our process for sharing inspiration — usually in the form of Taylor Swift videos — is almost as important as ‘formal’ story meetings. Certain interactions from when we’re just hanging out, like Todd trying to get me to take some kind of nasty herbal supplement when I was sick, go directly into the characters’ interactions with each other.
The first volume of 4 Wizards by Noelle Stevenson and Todd Casey will be published in 2017 by HarperTeen.