There’s No Such Thing As An Ending: Paul Tobin Unveils ‘Mystery Girl’ [Exclusive]
This week at Comic-Con International, Dark Horse announced a new project from writer Paul Tobin and artist Alberto Albuquerque: Mystery Girl, a new ongoing series about a girl who knows everything. Her name is Trine Hampstead, and if you ask her a question, any question, no matter how big or small, she'll know the answer. As you might expect, she puts her skills to good use as a detective, but there's a catch: She doesn't know anything about her own past.
The first issue of the book will hit stands in December, but to get the answers to a few of the mysteries about the series itself, ComicsAlliance spoke exclusively to Tobin about where he and Albuquerque will take the series in its first arc, the push for world-traveling adventure, and how it all starts with a frozen mammoth.
ComicsAlliance: The premise of Mystery Girl is pretty intriguing right from the start: Someone who can answer any question, no matter how complicated, but can't remember anything about her own life. That basic idea seems like it can go to a lot of places, so how did you decide where to take the story?
Paul Tobin: Well, I've watched a ton of mystery television shows and movies in my life, and also read countless novels, and they always end with the crime being solved. But, life isn't like that: there's no such thing as an ending in life. Things happen afterwards. So, I wanted to write a series that dealt with the complications of having the crimes be solved, the aftereffects involved. Because of that, I wanted a story that revolved around the solution of the case being more interesting than the crime itself, and use that as a launching point.
CA: I'm always interested in ideas like that, because it seems like there's a connection there to being a writer --- as the writer of the story, you're literally the person going in knowing how the mystery is solved. Did that make Trine an easy character for you to connect with?
PT: Maybe a little? But not anymore than usual, I think. I write characters that are easy for me to connect with, because that's what interests me to write. That's my anchor. And, if there are aspects of a character that don't interest me, I figure they might not interest a reader, either, so it's time to make some adjustments.
I've said this many times in the past, but I never understand a writer that says, "I wouldn't want to write such-and-such character, because they're boring or stupid." It's like... damn. Don't you know you're the writer? If a character is boring or stupid, that's on you. There isn't any character where you can find something you love, some kernel, and make that thing grow.
In the case of Trine, the titular character of Mystery Girl, I was already in love with her, the mystery of her, the way she looks at life, her attitudes, etc, and then the story began to revolve around her... what it meant to be the Mystery Girl, the relationships she has, her friends and lovers, and the fact that she can solve all the mysteries, in fact has solved all the mysteries, except about herself, and how that affects her.
CA: So what kind of approach are you taking with this story? One of the things I've always liked about your work is that it can be anything from fun talking gorillas to genuinely terrifying horror to a romantic psychological drama or anything else. A premise like Mystery Girl seems like it could go in a lot of ways, beyond just the mystery element.
PT: I very much wanted an adventure story, so I suppose it falls into that category, although of course it's my version of an adventure story. That means that character is king: I love to delve into the adventure of being human. I find people fascinating, and so while the first storyline very much has the travel and the locales of an adventure story, I'm having just as much fun with Trine's interactions with her friends and lovers, her enemies and allies.
CA: So is the focus of that first arc the mystery of what she's been doing for the past ten years, or is there something else going on?
PT: We're saving that part of the mystery for now. It's such a part of her character that I want it to settle a bit first, before we really start kicking up the dust. It's a mystery that's going to develop over time.
CA: In that case, what kind of question does she tackle in this first story? I'm guessing it's something a little tougher than "where are my keys," although 20 pages of phone calls from forgetful neighbors would be a pretty interesting storytelling experiment.
PT: Hah! Yeah... I start Trine out with answering some small questions, the usual detritus that a detective ends up handling, such as cheating spouses, lost items, and that sort of thing, but the real meat of the story begins when a woman asks about, of all things, a mammoth carcass. It seems that in the days not long after the first world war, a team of scientists discovered an incredibly well-preserved mammoth in the Siberian permafrost. Such a find would be an enormous boon to Trine's client, who studies extinct DNA.
Unfortunately, the mammoth was reburied for preservation, and then the entire original field team perished before making it back to civilization. Trine's mystery is simple: what happened to that mammoth carcass? But the greater overall answer leads her into a huge conspiracy, a hired killer, and one hell of a major surprise.
CA: Not to get into "where do you get your ideas" territory, but was there any particular inspiration for it being a mammoth? That seems like a very specific incident.
PT: I like mammoths and mastodons, etc. I'll never forget the full mastodon skeleton at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. You can stand right next to it, and then picture what this enormous creature would look like covered in flesh and muscle, and then have fun picturing your distant ancestors trying to hunt it with a pointy stick. I can't believe the audacity of attacking such a beast! So, they've stuck in my mind, and consequently amble into my stories from time to time.
CA: How did Alberto Albuquerque enter the picture? Did you develop the concept together?
PT: Alberto and my friend Steve "The Artist" Lieber met at an overseas convention, and Alberto took him up on an offer to come visit Portland for a couple weeks, which is how I got to know Alberto. That was a few years back, but Alberto and I have been looking for a way to team up ever since, and when I needed a co-creator for Mystery Girl, I nabbed him up.
Concept-wise, the book is all mine, but of course the look of the characters and the feel of the world is Alberto all the way. We have a really good working relationship, and then on a personal level we're friends, but have vastly differing favorite soccer teams, so we have the whole "working rivalry" thing going on. I can say that some future Mystery Girl storylines might depend on bets settled by seeing how Barcelona and Real Madrid perform in La Liga, next year.
CA: I know that in the past, you've been very big on providing reference for a character's fashion to your artist. Does that hold up for Trine as well?
PT: Definitely. I think fashion is an important marker for a character's personality. So Alberto is treated to a visual parade of what I think Trine and the other characters should wear, as well as a few cautionary notes for what they should avoid wearing at all costs. It's something I got into the habit of including in my scripts all the way back when I wrote the Models Inc. mini-series for Marvel in 2009: if you're going to write stories about Millie the Model and Patsy Walker, you have to think about what they're wearing, and it's been a thing for me ever since.
CA: Finally, a question that I imagine you're going to get a lot of when you're talking about this book, but it's right there and I can't resist: If you could ask Trine one question and have a mystery solved for yourself, what would it be?
PT: Oh, that's a tough one. It's like that "if you had one wish...?" question, where you learn if you're selfish or not. Do something for yourself, or for the greater good? Maybe I'd ask Trine... where's the closest intelligent life in the universe? That's something that intrigues me and yet has some "big picture" aspects to it. Having said that, this isn't the kind of question Trine normally gets. It's usually more along the lines of "My boyfriend and I lost touch after high school. Whatever happened to him?" or "Am I just paranoid, or is someone following me?"